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Deb Kruse-Field

© 2000

Apron Strings

The summer I went to Colorado was about a lot of things. It was about letting my heart talk my mind into going in the first place. It was about journeys that begin before you even go anywhere. It was about apron strings.

My mom always said, “Everything you say and do always comes back to you.” She also always said, “Get out there and experience life!” Well, now I wanted to experience life right and left. And now she wasn’t as excited about it because sometimes experiencing life meant that it had to be without her.

When I was little, it was different. I wanted to do everything with my mom, especially in the kitchen. Her faded green corduroy pants would swish together like autumn leaves blowing back and forth. I’d follow Mom so close around the kitchen that whenever she’d turn around to slice a tomato or dice an onion; she’d trip right over me. What I remember most about cooking with my mom was her apron. The worn material was all covered in daisies along with remnants of fried meat grease and cookie dough. I’d grip right on to the strings of that apron whenever I needed her to see the important task that I was doing right at that instant; like cooking stew with my plastic vegetables or baking a cake with invisible batter. Often, I’d just grab on to be close to her. Sometimes if I’d been hanging on to the strings for just a little bit too long, she’d pick me up with a bittersweet sigh and say, “Even though you’re driving me crazy, sometimes I want you to hang on to those strings forever.”

* * *

“I guess you can go if your heart is set on it. Just make sure you bring a compass. Hard to navigate in those mountains you know,” my dad warned.
I turned to my mom. “Ok, ok, go!” she conceded exasperatedly, throwing up her hands in defeat. I was going to experience the world. At least experience as much of it as I could in the state of Colorado. At the age of thirteen, I had never been away on my own for more than one night, and now I was going to a camp in Colorado for a whole month.

People who I told about the trip commented, “Wow, how interesting. Be careful about bears.” Or, “But, you’ll miss being on the swim team and the Fourth of July parade.” Or, “You can hike and camp right here in Minnesota.”

But the mountains, those mountains. I needed to see the rising peaks, to climb on top of one. To look down at the rest of the world and say, “Look, I’m up here. I’m on top of this mountain. I can do this.” To be honest, even though I was passionate about mountains and adventure, I was scared to death of leaving Minnesota and my family. But something deep down inside made me feel like it was time to do something different than my family, something that was all my own.
Well, I wasn’t quite ready for “all my own,” so I convinced Nancy, my best friend in the whole world, to go with me. People said that it’s a good thing that we didn’t look much alike because otherwise when we got together, there was no telling us apart. It wasn’t that we were so much the same, but somehow when we were together, we could read each other’s mind. Our thoughts flowed together, just like the threads in a piece of cloth. All the threads are different, but together they make one big piece of material.

We spent the several weeks before camp planning, planning, planning. The best part was that we were going to take the train. Nance and I figured that every movie featuring a train had been adventurous and romantic, so why not take the train to Colorado. I convinced my dad because a) it was cheaper and b) he’s a real geography buff.

“What better way to see the terrain, Dad?” I questioned.

“Hhhmm…well, I suppose it would be a bit of a geography lesson. Just make sure you have a topographical map. Interesting to compare the landscapes, you know.”

My mom was less impressed with the whole train idea. “Why don’t you let your dad and I drive you out?” If it had been up to my mom, she would have stalled the good-bye right up until the end of the summer when it was too late too go anyway.

Right when it was time to leave for the train station, a big whirlwind filled with questions whooshed into our house. My mom began fervently marching in and out of rooms, trying to make up for the fact that she wouldn’t be able to perform “mom duties” all summer, “Are you sure you have enough underwear? Oh here, do you want these peanuts for the train? “Wait! Your ticket, do you have your ticket?” Did you remember your toothbrush?” My dad just stood nearby in the corner, avoiding the whirlwind and jiggling change in his pockets.

When we got to the train station I gave my dad a big huge hug goodbye, “I love you. Just make sure you are drinking enough water. Elevation sickness, you know,” he advised. When I hugged my mom the tears started spilling down both of our cheeks. Our salty water was a big mix of emotions streaming together. She held on real tight before she let go to take something out of her bag.

“Here take this,” she mumbled between tears as she handed me a thin white box that looked like it had held one of the ties my dad got for Christmas. “Open it up when you get to Colorado.” I took the box from her.

In my stomach it was like a gargantuan bunch of chrysalides had finally cracked open and suddenly there were butterflies everywhere. It was like the first time I attempted to jump off the super high diving board.

My dad had said, “I guess so. Just make sure you close your eyes when you hit the water. Chlorine you know.”

My mom had sighed, “Well, if you think you’re ready….” I assured them it would be wonderful and fabulous. I climbed up the ladder and carefully edged my feet across the sandpapery platform. Then, right when I got to the edge of the board, I froze. I looked down, convinced that the water was at least a mile away. The longer I stood there, the more paralyzed I became. My feet felt like they were double super-glued to the sandpaper below.

Then, right when I was about to pick up my glued-on feet and turn to go back down the ladder, a man’s voice yelled, “Just jump!” Something about that voice and those words caused me to take a deep breath, plug my nose, and jump right in.

Sometimes I get so excited to do something and right when it’s about to happen, when I really have to do it, I want to back out. So, that’s what I need sometimes. A voice in my head that yells, “Just jump!”

Nance and I climbed on the train and we were off. It’s good to have your best friend in the whole world right next to you when you travel faraway from home for the first time. We were so busy chattering away and getting excited that I almost forgot that I was sad to leave behind my parents and Minnesota. In the beginning, the train ride was thrilling. Lots of people had warned, “Oh sleep through Nebraska. There’s nothing to see there.” But when I first saw those wide, endless grasslands, it felt like the world had opened up.

The only problem with all of that wide empty space is it made my head fill up with all sorts of thoughts. I began to panic. What if I hated camp? What if I got elevation sickness? I thought about riding my bike to the pool, my dad dancing around his gas grill, my mom and I reading together on the back porch, sipping lemonade. I wouldn’t be in the family reunion picture this year. More chrysalides cracked open in my stomach and some of the butterflies fluttered up to my throat.

Eventually, in the distance the land no longer stretched out forever, but began to jut up. I held my breath as we approached the towering peaks. All over the train people were “ooing” and “aahing.” But right when I was supposed to be “oooing” and “aahing,” I felt like getting off of the train. I remembered the box from my mom.

I pulled the package out from underneath my seat. With the box on my lap, I used my fingernails to break open the scotch tape that held the sides together. Wondering what in the world my mom would give me in a tie box, I removed the lid and found all sorts of tissue paper. Beneath the paper was a note, and beneath the note were my mom’s old apron strings. Clutching the strings, I read the scrawled writing, “Thought you might need some strings, just in case. –Love Mom.”

Deb Kruse-Field was a 2000 Selective fellow. She taught fifth grade at Bluff Creek Elementary School in Chanhassen, but in fall 2000 she became a full-time graduate student. She enjoys drawing, running, biking, writing, travelling and playing Scrabble.