This story was inspired by a photo Otto von Munchow used in one of his posts. The story is purely fiction and any resemblance to any real life people is coincidental.
I’ve been traveling across what many call the “core” Southwestern states in the last seven years. Mostly for work. At first, the culture and the people seemed foreign in the way watching a Western was so external to me, having grown up in a large cosmopolitan Asian city. But, I enjoy things alien. And I consider myself adventurous and open-minded. This rather contrarian streak is part of my rite of passage to test the bounds of my capabilities after living in a household of extreme order and discipline. My father is an academic and my mother, a certified accountant.
I noticed right away that people here had “their own English,” and I prided in getting into the lingo effortlessly. Over time, I became accustomed to the variety of terrain even one state could lay before my eyes. Take Arizona, with its subtropical desert landscape and weather in the south and the lush four seasons in the north favoring miles of evergreen trees and wonderful white powder in the winter. I’ve treated myself to a few Sundance film festivals at Park City, Utah, a couple of times. There I met some interesting local folk.
This morning, just as the sun was coming out, I rented a car and made my way to the Parkers’ home. It wasn’t too far from the center of town. But the mountain passes certainly did not encourage pedestrians.
Noah and Abby Parker. Theirs was a long history of forebears having crossed the Atlantic ocean, landed in the Northeast, and finally made their way to these Southern states. They were both from Briton stock, intermarried over generations with some Scandinavian newcomers. Their families built the towns, mined the mountains, logged the forests, and along the way, sculpted the cluster of dwellings into towns, the towns into cities, and eventually these states.
I met the Parkers when I came to my first film festival. They had just retired from having worked more than forty years in the industry. They had moved to Colorado for a few years. But their hearts were always yearning for home, they admitted. Park City and its environs.
I walked into O’Callaghan’s Pub and Grill one snowy evening in ’08, breathless from just having arrived and rushed to my rental off the main street. The company maintained a few of these condos in various cities. There were Noah and Abby, O’Callaghan’s new owners, beaming at their guests pleasantly. They had warmed up to me almost instantly. I must have looked like a lost wet mouse begging for something warm. I appreciated their inclusiveness and even their doting-parent persona towards me sometimes.
They had both decided to retire here, a city they had watched intermittently, transform from the death throes of a mining town, when the industry shifted elsewhere, to a bustling recreational destination, and then, in the last twenty years or so, to become the center for über cutting edge independent films.
One afternoon, I was helping Abby prepare for a private party in the evening. We were decorating the place with gangster-like accessories for a themed event. The TV at the bar was on the news channel. She was arranging black and white ribbons together and I was distributing napkins and little bowls of nuts. Late breaking news flashed on the screen. Abby walked quickly towards the screen. I was not really paying attention. Then, I heard a choked cry. When I turned, Abby had both her hands covering her face.
“What’s the matter, Abby?” I approached her.
Abby was quiet, clearly trying to regain her composure. She grabbed a napkin on the bar and wiped her tears. I watched quietly as the creases on her beautiful face became more pronounced. Her lips trembled when she spoke.
“The last of them is gone,” she said. “I’ve let go of this a long time ago. I didn’t expect to feel anything for them after all these years.”
“What happened? Who are you talking about?” I came closer and I wrapped my arm around her. I led her to a chair and sat with her.
“Noah and I, we were so young. We met through my cousins. My family was visiting in Arizona. He was so good-looking and he had this mischievous twinkle in his eye. But I could tell, it was all a front. Deep down, he’s a gentle soul.”
I got up to get her a glass of water and sat beside her again. “We wrote each other for the next two years. My cousins were in on it so they made it possible for us to stay in touch. But my father found out about it one day. He made my mother go through my things and she found Noah’s letters to me.”
“Then my father told me that I had been promised to some older man. I was to be his third wife or something. I got desperate so I got word to my cousins and Noah came for me one night. I climbed out of my bedroom window and never looked back.”
Abby paused and looked at me. Then she smiled. “We found our way to California and got married there. I lied about my age or they wouldn’t have married us. Back then, it was easy enough. By the time my family found out where I was, I had Charles already. Noah had a steady job working on the studio lots. He was making good money.”
“They disowned me, you know. They said I would ruin the purity of the family by marrying someone who was part Navajo. As if it’s Noah’s fault what he is. It’s true. Noah’s great great grandfather was said to be half Navajo. Something like that. I didn’t care.”
It turns out, Abby severed all ties with her family, a great sacrifice from someone who was raised in a closely knit family with strong ties to their religious community. She was one of 33 children from 5 wives.
In California, they were nobodies, which suited them well enough. Parker is not their real name. But, as they got older, they started making short trips back. They chose Park City because of the connection to film-making.
Just then, Noah walked into the bar. He noticed us huddled on one end. He came around and strode towards us. “Old Obadiah can’t bother you no more, Abby.”
“Yes. But really, he hasn’t bothered me in more than forty years,” Abby replied in earnest.
The sun was starting to peek through the light fog as I drove up the winding road. I don’t know why I thought about that time when Abby’s father passed away. Or the fact that he had later in his life become a famous religious leader.
The Parker children did not have any ties with their relatives either. Not even when Charles was decorated with a Purple Heart posthumously. Nor when Emily got a lead in an off-Broadway musical a few years ago.
I guess we’re kindred spirits. We ventured far from the nest and in so doing, found ourselves. Now, I have to bid them my goodbyes. I’m moving to Germany. I’m getting married. My parents have retired and are back in Oslo.
I will take with me all that I’ve embraced from this place, the people, how my life has been enriched by being a part of their lives somehow, and I them. I will invite them to my wedding, and hope they can visit when we start our family. And I will come back, even to enjoy another week of Sundance Films. Maybe.