When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to
the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of
course, the fact that hed caused it. I had liked living down
south on the edge of land, next to the pushing-pulling waves.
I had liked it with a mighty kind of liking, so moving had
been hardhard like the pavement the first time I fell off
my pink two-wheeler and my palms burned like fire from
all of the hurt just under the skin. But it was plain that fish
could live nowhere near or nearby or next to or close to or
on or around any largish bodies of water. Water had a way
of triggering my brother and making ordinary, everyday
weather take a frightening turn for the worse.
Unlike any normal hurricane, fishs birthday storm
had started without warning. One minute, my brother
was tearing paper from presents in our backyard near
the beach; the next minute, both fish and the afternoon
sky went a funny and fearsome shade of gray. My
brother gripped the edge of the picnic table as the wind
kicked up around him, gaining momentum and ripping
the wrapping paper out of his hands, sailing it high
up into the sky with all of the balloons and streamers
roiling together and disintegrating like a birthday party
in a blender. Groaning and cracking, trees shuddered
and bent over double, uprooting and falling as easily as
sticks in wet sand. Rain pelted us like gravel thrown by
a playground bully as windows shattered and shingles
ripped off the roof. As the storm surged and the ocean
waves tossed and churned, spilling raging water and debris
farther and farther up the beach, Momma and Poppa
grabbed hold of fish and held on tight, while the rest
of us ran for cover. Momma and Poppa knew what was
happening. They had been expecting something like
this and knew that they had to keep my brother calm
and help him ride out his storm.
That hurricane had been the shortest on record, but
to keep the coastal towns safe from our fish, our family
had packed up and moved deep inland, plunging into
the very heart of the land and stopping as close to the
center of the country as we could get. There, without
big water to fuel big storms, fish could make it blow
and rain without so much heartache and ruin.
Settling directly between Nebraska and Kansas
in a little place all our own, just off Highway 81, we
were well beyond hollering distance from the nearest
neighbor, which was the best place to be for a family
like ours. The closest town was merely a far-off blur
across the highway, and was not even big enough to
have its own school or store, or gas station or mayor.
Monday through Wednesday, we called our thin
stretch of land Kansaska. Thursday through Saturday,
we called it Nebransas. On Sundays, since that was the
Lords Day, we called it nothing at all, out of respect for
His creating our world without the lines already drawn
on its face like all my grandpas wrinkles.
If it werent for old Grandpa Bomba, Kansaska-
Nebransas wouldnt even have existed for us to live
there. When Grandpa wasnt a grandpa and was just
instead a small-fry, hobbledehoy boy blowing out
thirteen dripping candles on a lopsided cake, his savvy
hit him hard and suddenjust like it did to fish that day
of the backyard birthday party and the hurricaneand
the entire state of Idaho got made. At least, thats the
way Grandpa Bomba always told the story.
Before I turned thirteen, hed say, Montana
bumped dead straight into Washington, and Wyoming
and Oregon shared a cozy border. The tale of Grandpas
thirteenth birthday had grown over the years just like the
land he could move and stretch, and Momma just shook
her head and smiled every time hed start talking tall. But
in truth, that young boy who grew up and grew old like
wine and dirt, had been making new places whenever
and wherever he pleased. That was Grandpas savvy.
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