Living in Oregon, one is privy to myriad outdoor adventures and activities. We have lush, verdant forests, majestic snow-capped mountains, and a rocky coastline of such storm-tossed majesty that it would take your breath away. As such, one may assume that as I am a woman who loves her home state like a supermodel loves laxatives, I would be an avid outdoorswoman. One would be wrong. . .one would be horribly, horribly wrong.
Wait, allow me to clarify: I love the outdoors. . .in moderation. A fabulous two-hour trail run? Absolutely. An afternoon fishing at the lake? I’m your gal. But spend an extended (read: overnight) period of time being all ‘Man vs. Wild’; sleeping in the dirt, burying my bowel movements like a goddamned bull mastiff, and eating dehydrated food by the light of a freaking campfire? No. HELL, no. Therefore, I have no false illusions that I wouldn’t get spanked harder than a whore at a biker rally on ‘Survivor’. And for a native Oregonian, I also would have been the world’s shittiest pioneer. So, the fact that I was asked to help chaperone my son J’s class on their trip to a historic Oregon Trail* site was simply too replete with irony to resist.
*Insert your favorite “you have just died of dysentery” reference here. I made one dysentery joke on the tour and the guide glared at me like I farted on the Mona Lisa. . .tough crowd.
Now, there are two very important reasons why I don’t generally do the whole chaperone/play date/room parent thing. One, although I am a very proud mother of two exemplary short people, every other child on the planet annoys the ever-loving shit out of me; and two, I frighten the other moms. Well, perhaps “frighten” is the wrong word. “Offend” might be a little more apropos. Anyhoo, suffice to say that when my name shows up on the “responsible party” roster for any outing, the other parents grab their children and run faster than Usain Bolt on Red Bull.*
*I did wind up with four pretty rad kids in my group, although my son wasn’t one of them. This seemed a little odd to me at first, but my friend Kelly pointed out they probably wanted to give J some exposure to an actual adult for comparison when he decides to become an emancipated minor at eleven. Duly noted.
After a ninety-minute school bus ride that was enough to make the Dalai Lama go the full Chowchilla we reached our destination: The Phillip Foster Pioneer Farm. Now, Oregon has no shortage of farms, from hazelnuts to Christmas trees to black market North Slope trip weed; but this farm was so goddamned sweet it made Michelle Duggar look like Lisa Lampanelli. There was a central house, practically engulfed by a flowering lilac bush and surrounded by towering horse chestnut trees and gardens overflowing with blooming annuals and fresh herbs. Surrounding the perimeter of the farm were a haybarn, a blacksmith’s shop, a small mercantile, and a cluster of old-timey washtubs and wringers.*
*My first thought of course being: “DAFUQ!?!? I did not drag my sorry ass all the way out to Mayberry to spend my day off doing laundry. Oh, LAWS no!”
We filed out of the buses and stood in the middle of the central field, awaiting further instruction. Suddenly, from behind the barn came a cluster of people in full pioneer garb, shambling across the grass in their trailing skirts and work boots.
“Anyone else getting a ‘Children Of The Corn’ vibe here?” one of the fathers muttered. I snorted back my laughter and whispered “Malachiiiiiiii…” earning me a grin and a high-five.*
*I may have the survival skills of Paris Hilton on Nyquil, but I kick much ass at shitty 90’s movie trivia. So. Much. Ass.
The leader of the Amish mafia, a burly man in suspenders and a wide-brimmed hat, stepped forward to address our group.
“Welcome to Phillip Foster farm!” he bellowed with a steely glare. “First and foremost, you should know that this farm is one of only three stops on the legendary Oregon Trail still in existence. And we are the only site still running as a fully functioning facility. That means we are a place of business. We are not a museum or a playground, so I will expect each and every one of you to follow the rules to the letter and to treat the farm with respect. Understood?”
I looked around at the children; each one wide-eyed and terrified as they listened to this autocratic hick wield his muscled arms and sham bravado like Charles Ingalls after a shot of gym juice.
“We will be taking you through several stations here at the farm.” He continued, pacing before the children. “The first, is the barn. In the barn we will be teaching you how to use a cross-saw. Each of you will have a turn. We ask that you remember to pull the saw rather than push because pushing will cause the saw to bow and it can recoil and gash open your arm or leg. We do not have medical facilities out here, so please listen. After that, you will see the blacksmith’s. There are many things that can and will burn you there so keep your distance and keep your hands to yourself. Next, we will be taking you to the laundry station. The wringers we use are authentic wringers so make sure you listen to your guide carefully at that station or you can and will get your fingers caught and crush every bone in your hand. After the laundry station you will get a chance to tour Phillip Foster’s original home. Please be careful on the staircases because they are very steep and have no handrails. Last week someone was not following the rules and took a nasty spill. Any questions?”
“Yeah, I have a question.” I whispered to the woman next to me. “Where are they taking us next week, the set of ‘Deadliest Catch’? In what way can this possibly end well?” She glared at me and turned away.*
*As aforementioned, the other moms love me mad hard. Whatev…the dads seem to like me. Probably due to my juvenile sense of humor and encyclopedic knowledge of all things ‘Duck Dynasty’…or my low-cut shirts. Either way, yay me!
My group ambled toward the barn and the children lined up dutifully for a chance to use the cross-saw. As this activity looked suspiciously like actual manual labor, I wandered off to explore, turning the corner to see this:
Now, I get the whole authenticity vibe we have going on but for the love of Hannibal Lecter this is some serious ‘Saw III’ shit up in here. As I was quietly pondering exactly how many dead prostitutes one could successfully bury on the property, my son J followed me over to a display of rather dubious hand tools and held one up for my appraisal.
“Look, Mommy!” he cried with glee “It’s a hair curler like yours!”
“Yeah, pretty sure that’s not a curling iron, Butterbean.” I said, cringing at the sight of Dildo Baggins clutched in my son’s tiny fist.
J squinted behind his glasses and regarded the object seriously. “Was this one of Phillip Foster’s tools?” he asked.
“I’m pretty sure that was one of MRS. Foster’s tools.” I replied, taking it gingerly from his hand and leading him back toward his classmates who were slowly making their way toward the blacksmith’s shop.
“Excuse me, little lady!” our tour guide barked with a grin. “You didn’t get a chance to try the cross-saw!”
“Oh, that’s OK.” I laughed, backing away nervously. “I caught the whole ‘recoil and gash open your arm or leg’ disclaimer, so…I’m good.”
“Well, you can’t be too careful.” He nodded sagely. “Use these tools the wrong way and a flesh wound is the least of your worries. I’m seen death and dismemberment from these bad boys in my day. Sure you don’t wanna give it a whirl?”
I shook my head slowly. “Noooooo, not so much. You know, you could have stopped right at ‘flesh wound’; that was more than enough of a deterrent for me. I mean, it was nice of you to add the whole ‘death’ and ‘dismemberment’ thing but to be honest you could have followed it up with ‘free cookie dough’ and ‘naked photos of Jeremy Renner’ and I probably STILL wouldn’t want to try it. You know. . .based on the whole aforementioned ‘flesh wound’ thing.” Flashing Jethro a brilliant smile, I scurried after my group, valiantly attempting to protect them from any imminent ‘Backdraft’ scenarios over the blacksmith’s fire. 15 kids, 2 adults, 5 red hot pokers, and 1 large open flame. Number of injuries? Zero. That’s how you chaperone like a muthfuckin’ BOSS, yo.
Having successfully survived the first two stages in our personal Hunger Games arena, our guide then led us to the mercantile and handed us off to young man with severe acne and an overwhelming miasma of apathy to complete our tour. Now, I must admit that while farm equipment and wooden phalluses are not exactly my raison d’etre, I do loves me some shopping, so this was by far my favorite part of the day. Unfortunately, the wares available for purchase ran the gamut from confusing to macabre; and not in a kitschy John Waters way, but more of a creepy David Lynch-y way. Par example:
Sports Illustrated 1842 swimsuit edition
Hey! They named a candy after me!
"Down here, we allllllllll float..."
After leading us through Magorium’s Emporium of randomosity, our guide rolled his eyes and gestured lamely toward the gardens outside.
“That’s the garden.” he mumbled with a sigh. “The Fosters grew stuff there for the pioneers passing through.”
“What kind of stuff?” asked Lily, an elfin redhead from J’s class.*
*Lily has major diva-tude, a complete lack of verbal filter, and a wardrobe to die for. In short, Lily is the shit. She’s one of very, very few short people who could almost make me lift my fatwa on child aversion. . .almost.
The guide stared at Lily as though she’d asked him to recite ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. . .in Farsi. “You know,” he shrugged lamely “STUFF.” Seeing that Lily was not to be deterred, the young man rolled his eyes again and replied “They grew fruits and vegetables, you know. There wasn’t any fresh food on the trail so they grew it here. In the garden. And sold it. You know. . .’cuz Foster was makin’ a buck offa these guys. Selling. . .vegetables and. . .stuff.”
Wow. Slow clap, my friend. I don’t think I’ve heard a speech that jaded and apathetic since Jose Baez delivered the Casey Anthony defense. What’s wrong, did mom and dad insist you get a part-time job and they weren’t hiring at Abercrombie & Bitch? Before Dylan Klebold here could expose the children to any more of his teen angst and neo-Amish approach to fashion, I shepherded them out into the afternoon sunlight.
After an uneventful (read: I had my headphones in listening to Bone Thugs & Harmony and was therefore oblivious) trip to the Foster House and laundry station, we led our tired and hungry children to the picnic tables for lunch, where we were greeted by an angry and sweaty (oh, so very sweaty) tour leader.
“I specifically told you children that this place was NOT a playground!” he sputtered, waving his anvil-sized hands for emphasis. “In the last hour I have seen the following: Running! Tree climbing! Cartwheels on the grass! Climbing on the hay bales! What do you think you were doing!?!?”
Ordinarily, I would keep my mouth shut and let such an asinine diatribe roll off my back, because. . .yeah, no. I’m just shitting you. Seriously, if you think I’d sit there quietly then you obviously haven’t been paying attention.
“They were being kids.” I told him, shrugging and taking a swig of my Snapple. Suddenly, the table got silent as Andre the Giant turned his cold blue eyes in my direction.
“I’m sorry. . .WHAT did you say?” he asked me, staring me down like he was Lindsay Lohan and I was a rock of pure Columbian ice.
I quickly wiped the peach iced tea from my lip and smiled beatifically. “I said that they were being kids.” I stated firmly. “You know, running, playing, tumbling. . .it’s what children do. Especially Oregonian children who spend nine months out of the year relegated to indoor activities because of the weather. Give ‘em an open field and a little sunshine and it’s Lollapalooza. So, before you go all “HULKSMASH!” on a coterie of nine-year-olds, might I suggest that you take a little Snickers break, regulate the ol’ blood sugar, and get back in touch with your inner Mark Ruffalo?”
Our guide glared at me, narrowing his eyes menacingly. I continued to meet his gaze, my smile unwavering.*
*For a 5’4” woman who weighs about a buck-fifteen soaking wet, I am the queen of the Mexican Standoff. You’d better recognize.
Suddenly, I saw my opponent’s lip begin to twitch, then curl, then he suddenly threw back his head and guffawed.
“Fair enough!” he chuckled, wiping his dripping brow. “You just make sure you get these little ones back on the bus without breaking anything, OK. And try to keep ‘em off the hay bales.”
“Roger that.” I said with a grin and a salute, ignoring the incredulous stares of my fellow chaperones as he headed back toward the barn.
“I can’t believe you SAID that!” one of the mothers gasped. “He’s so SCARY!”
“Scary?” I replied, popping a Wheat Thin into my mouth. “No. Trust me. I spent close to eleven years listening to that kind of noise. This guy’s not ‘scary’, he just has a raging inferiority complex. Besides, there ain’t no-way-no-day I’m going to be talked down to by someone who looks like he’s spent the better part of his life on Darwin’s ‘no-fly’ list.”
The other moms continued to stare at me silently for a moment, then one by one they began to smile. The pretty blonde mother, the one who’d glared at me earlier, grinned and extended her beautifully manicured hand. “I don’t think we’ve ever met,” she said warmly “I’m Sara.”
So, all in all, I declared the day a win. I got to give Fezzig a verbal smackdown, the short people got some much-needed UV ray exposure, no one lost any major appendages, and I was finally able to use my inner asshole for good; chipping away at the societal wall between myself and the other moms.
Ooh! And did I mention they had a Starbucks?
Check and mate, party people.