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As a teenager, I had come to know my uncle as one of the coolest adults I had ever encountered. His excess drinking had landed him in some serious trouble with my aunt. She moved away needing some space which left my uncle a lonely bachelor while his son was in college. Which turned out to be good news for me and my cousins because he had a lot more time on his hands.
He took us floating, we would have bonfires, and on occasion when we wouldn’t shut up about it, he would let us drive his truck around his property. He was the cool party uncle and we were all right at the age to really appreciate his carefree, laid back approach to life.
So, when things were getting miserable at my house and my mom had the idea for me to go and live with him, I was all for it. My mom seemed to have a different view of her ex-marine older brother. I’m sure the idea of him “keeping me in line” was all she envisioned. Little did she know my uncle was on his own downward spiral at the time barely coping with my aunt leaving him.
I was apprehensive about starting a new school, it wasn’t my first-time switching schools but you never get used to it. My uncle lived in the middle of nowhere. He owned a cabinet business in the city so he was long gone before I ever even woke up for school. I had to get myself up and ready, making sure to never miss the bus because I would be screwed with no way to school. The bus ride seemed to take days and I hated that I had to be on it twice every day. But luckily being at school was a different story.
Despite it being a small school, it was very diverse. Although primarily it was covered with teenagers in camouflage and cowboy boots, there seemed to be a camaraderie among everyone. Of course, they had the cheerleaders, but these cheerleaders were super friendly and approached me on the first day about joining the squad, telling me they hoped to see me at tryouts.
What? Friendly cheerleaders? I thought maybe it was a joke but they insisted that the first week I sit with them at lunch. I was not the cheerleading type but I appreciated their friendliness.
Then the prayer group got a hold of me. I didn’t even know you could have those at school, but sure enough there I sat before 1st-hour head knelt and praying. I did that for a few days until it still seemed weird to me and I quit showing up.
Everyone seemed so friendly, always approaching me before I had a chance to feel awkward or isolated. I didn’t know school could feel like this. I found myself intrigued by sitting with this one group in particular at lunch. This table included some redneck cowboys (and girls), 90’s grunge rockers, geeks, and even some kids from the prayer group. It was intriguing for sure.
One girl I really hit it off with. She seemed so cool. She wore JNCO jeans. I couldn’t believe it! I too was the proud owner of JNCOs back then as well (why I do not know). She listened to the same music I did and she seemed just as intrigued with me as I did with her. She was friends with everybody and introduced me to more people wearing JNCOs, one guy in particular that she was crushing on.
She made sure I was in the know about everything and knew where to be on the weekends. She was big on hugging, something I wasn’t used to but learned to embrace really quickly. She was so genuine. She was the one that first introduced me to Chris. When we were together, we were having a blast. Despite her appearance or mine for that matter, we still engaged with whatever redneck country event was going on.
There was a restaurant/truck stop/billiard that everyone liked to hang out at. I loved this place. There was something for everyone and I felt grown every time I was there, smoking and playing pool, not having to answer to anyone. When I wasn’t there you could find me on the back of a 4-wheeler riding through back roads.
Or on occasion, I would end up at a place called the Fox Pen. It was always night time when I would end up out there. Apparently, the property belonged to the family of someone in our group although I never figured out who or just can’t remember. There were supposedly real foxes out there in pens. Again, with it always being night time and possibly having a drink or two, I never noticed any actual foxes in pens. I was, however, very aware that there were no bathrooms.
I rode the bus with siblings of a very prominent rodeo family in that area. They had a big family and they all lived and breathed rodeos. Even the little ones would get on the bus wearing their cowboy hats, Wranglers and boots. They would include me in their conversation about who placed what in the previous weekend’s rodeo. I heard stories about horses and cows, bulldoggers and calf ropers, and tried my best to follow along. I wasn’t as interested in the rodeos as I was the cowboys that rode in them, and let’s face it, the Wrangler butts were a huge selling point. I went to a couple of rodeos for the first time in my life and were fascinated by seeing how serious, brave and determined these young guys were.
Some weekends were spent doing redneck things, while others I was in the city at my friend’s house or at the movies. Some weekends were spent with a group of friends and my cousins on my uncle’s property, while others I would retreat away to my grandma’s. Then sometimes I was forced into “hard labor” sanding and staining cabinet doors at my uncle’s cabinet shop, but even that didn’t seem that bad since usually my cousin had to help too.
My time living with my uncle didn’t last long. But the people, places, and experiences have stayed with me and always will. A lot happened in a short time, and it was a whirlwind. That time left a huge impact on my life. I remained friends with my best friend from that school years after that, seeing each other through multiple relationships, a funeral, a baby shower and one child later until we drifted apart. And looking back, I can’t help but laugh about the irony of wearing JNCOs and going to rodeos.
May I also just take this time to express how grateful I am that my 15-year-old son is nothing like I was!!!!