Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Big Foot in Nebraska

I grew up in a small Nebraska town in the middle of nowhere. I know you think I made that up, but literally they celebrate "Middle of Nowhere Days". It's the kind of town where everyone knows each other and they don't forget what you or your parents did, even if it was pre-circa 1965. We had a main street with a dime store, a pharmacy, a little cafe, a western boot store, and the thrift store ran by the Hospital Auxiliary completed our little piece of Americana. Red, white, and blue flags flew and old Chevy pickups lined the store fronts.

Every town has "that" house where children are warned not to linger. Parents may be concerned about a dangerous dog, hidden cisterns, or a resident of questionable character. Children, on the other hand, have the imagination and available audiences to create their own mini urban legends surrounding these houses. My hometown was not immune to this, and the neighbor girl who lived at the end of our gravel road was a wonderful source for us.

In a time when "kick the can" was king and Google was only a number, Crystal reigned supreme over the neighbor kids. She was a few years older than the rest of us. She had braces and a boom box. Her mother let her watch rated R movies and listen to Cyndi Lauper. She wore lip gloss along with mascara and always smelled like fruit rollups. Crystal was pretty cool and so were her stories.

One of my favorite stories that she told was about the family of Bigfoot that lived near the creek behind our homes. This creek was nothing special or noteworthy. It didn't resemble Laura Ingalls Wilder's creek in her LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE books. It was dirty and cluttered with broken glass and old plates. If you were lucky, you could catch bullfrog tadpoles and minnows. The best part of the creek was all the trees that shielded you from your parents eyes and gave you a sense of wild adventure.

In our little wilderness it seemed very possible that a family of Bigfoot could be lurking. Especially, when they had an abandoned hunting shack and an old well to hide in. It was common knowledge, Crystal pointed out, that our parents only told us stories of the well to keep us away from the smelly predators who blended in with the shadows of the cotton wood trees. The tall prairie grasses helped hide their massive foot prints and the coyotes howled at the moon to mask the Bigfoot noises while they hunted the hills for their dinner.

According to our primary source, the Bigfoot were tall, hairy, and smelly. Their eyes glowed a color of red blood, but they didn't eat children very often. Unless- you looked them in the eye. They despised pigs and were afraid of their squeals. I don't know how she conjured up these facts, but I still recall them today.

Being the young impressionable sort, we gulped in all this information and took it to heart. We no longer played on that side of the creek with the old shack. We made sure to look at the dirt when we walked past the trees. On occasion, we wore pig masks made from paper plates to disguise us as we rode our banana seat bikes down the hill by the creek. At night, I refused to look out the windows, because I just knew I would see a set of red eyes glaring back at me.

Bigfoot was a hot topic for a few years growing up. We researched yetis, yowies, skunk apes, and any other name we came across. I think I was probably in the Sixth grade before I realized we had been duped. Crystal had gotten us good and now it was our turn. I managed to "share" this vital information with my younger brother and his friends.

Bigfoot is still a fun topic. I tell the stories to my sons and we play the "Bigfoot" game which entails a makeshift fort under the dining room table. I masquerade as Bigfoot, stomping around, grunting, and kidnapping children to put in a cave. Bigfoot may be a fictional character who was brought to life by the neighbor girl, but he is a fun and intriguing part of my past and present.

Nothing is as nostalgic and captivating as a good Bigfoot story. Somehow, this character unites me with my children and the place I grew up. It's timeless. I may not live in the Middle of Nowhere anymore or have a creek running through my backyard, but on a hot summer night when the coyotes howl I close my eyes and listen for hidden grunts or twigs snapping under a giant foot.

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