The Time I Was a Pioneer and Freaked Out Everyone on the Highway

In order for this next story to make sense, you have to know that I have the weirdest and coolest job in the world. No, I am not a professional pudding wrestler. No, I am not a ninja goddess. Those are good guesses, but not quite.

I am, in fact, a professional pioneer. It was a job I landed accidentally.

You see, I went to Nauvoo at the beginning of the year and felt so inspired that I came home and looked up my local pioneer reenactment village and tried to see if they needed any singers for their Christmas choir. Surprisingly, I was just in time for auditions, and scheduled a time to come down to the village to show off my vocal chops. Except, when I arrived (totally warmed up and ready to sing a rousing few verses of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen), I was led into a very large room full of people.

In my usual style, I simply figured this made for a better audience and started working the crowd. I had however, thought I was just going to be singing a song, so I had brought my very disheveled urchin of a daughter. She’s completely gorgeous, but puts dirt on like makeup and believes that Santa doesn’t visit little girls who use hair brushes.

So, I’m in this big meeting and everyone is introducing themselves. (“Jedediah is in charge of the train. Heber runs the bank. And Elizabreatha makes all our handmade toilet paper.”) Of course, I don’t remember any of these names. But I keep expecting someone, ANYONE, to say, “Okay. Go ahead and sing your song.”

They don’t.

Instead, they ask me about being a teacher. They ask me about my daughter. They ask me about cancer. They ask me when I want to work.

I say something like, “Well, I can’t work very much. Really, my ideal job is one where I do very little, I come in twice a week, and then I don’t get paid very much.” They were pretty excited about that.

Soon, I find myself back in my car, a handful of paperwork, and a bit of time loss. I realize three things:

  1. I never sang.
  2. I’m pretty sure I just got a new job.
  3. I have no idea what the job is.

They had ninja-hired me. They’d job-ambushed me. I’d been jobushed.

A few weeks later, I got an email to come back for a “fitting.” That’s when I finally got an idea of what I’d signed up for.

In dark recesses below the original buildings of This is the Place Heritage Park, there is a wonderful, magical land called THE COSTUME CLOSET. I’m 99% sure it is filled with every piece of clothing that has ever belonged to the Amish people. There were pork-pie hats, bonnets, button-front dresses, pinafores, bloomers, muffs, ruffs, fluffs…well, you get the picture.

The costumer gave me a pretty green button-front dress with a tiny flower pattern—a gorgous flour sack replica fabric. I was also given an apron, a petticoat, and a bonnet.

Whatever they had hired me to do, I was going to look FANTASTIC.

Over the next month or so, I mentally and emotionally prepared. Actually, that’s a lie. For the next month or so, I mostly just worried about what the heck I was going to wear as hair. From my history classes, I just don’t remember a lot of bald pioneer women. So I ordered new hair, braided old hair, and eventually came up with a very nice braided bun that matches my own haircolor pretty well.

It ended up being that I had been hired to be the teacher for many of the 4th and 5th graders that came to my pioneer park from all over Utah for field trips. As a legitimately certified teacher, I can’t tell you how awesome this job is. I teach 4th and 5th graders the SAME LESSON EVERY DAY. I only have 4 classes, and every one of them is 25 minutes each. Also, I get to threaten them with a wooden paddle.

1865 rocks, y’all.

I’m the ultimate pioneer school marm, and the kids love it. I never break character, and I love when I tell them our current president is Abraham Lincoln and how I’m so glad nothing bad will ever happen to him. You should see those kids’ eyes bug out, desperate to burst my bubble.

“No, don’t tell me!” I say, “You might break the space-time continuum!”

It was so short that I didn’t even bother to take normal clothes. I just got dressed at home, put on my beautiful bonnet, and slapped my hair on my head and went to “work.” Another hard day pretending to beat kids and forcing them to recite their times tables while curtsying.

One day, after I finished my awesome job, I headed home as normal. I had taken my hair off because it had started to get warm, but otherwise I was just enjoying my post-1865 high as I drove. I happened to look down at my phone and saw a message. It said this:

“I don’t know if you know this, but your website is covered in pornography.”

Then I saw another message. And another.

Well, friends, I was driving a car. But I was also not driving a car, mostly because I WAS FREAKING OUT. I frantically navigated to my blog with one hand, while driving with the other, my heart pounding. Then it completely fell out of my chest—I had been link-hacked and my site was COVERED in the grossest stuff ever.

I was wildly deleting posts, sending apologies, all from the smart phone that I really wasn’t supposed to be looking at all while I was driving down the very busy highway. Fortunately, I didn’t kill anyone, but unfortunately, I was so busy trying to fix the dumpster fire on my website that I didn’t pay much attention to the blinking red gas light on my dashboard.

And that is how I got stuck on the side of the road. With no gas. In the commuter lane on Timpanogos Highway.

Now, the commuter lane is such that there is a SPEED MINIMUM of 60 miles per hour. So I was there, hugging the side of the road, watching as cars whizzed by me at killing speed. But it was hot. And I didn’t have anyone to call. My kids were at my friends’ house, Kyle was at work downtown, and there was no one else to bail me out of my mess.

Like the trooper my father raised, I got out of the car and began walking the two miles to the nearest gas station. In my pioneer dress.

Now, I hadn’t really remembered so much about the pioneer dress. But as soon as I started walking, I started seeing the faces of the people who were passing me. Incredulity. Concern. A little bit of abject fear. I have never walked so far along the side of a road before and NOT HAD ANYONE STOP TO HELP. Not a single soul.

But it makes sense. I mean, what kind of person is walking up the highway dressed like a pioneer in Utah? Maybe a crazy person? A historical reenacting zealot? Possibly a ghost of a polygamist’s wife? In any of those cases, stopping is a very bad idea. No one needs angry Elizabeth’s ghost coming home and haunting the sewing machine or whatever.

I walked all the way down the road trying to make at least someone look me in the eye. No dice. I made it all the way to a gas station without a single pair of eyes willing to meet mine. I got to the gas station, hot, sweaty, be-aproned and bonneted, and pushed the double doors open like a desperado. People holding chips gasped. Children sucking on lollipops cried. At least one person said a Hail Mary. Most of that is accurate, from my recollection.

And yet, the man behind the counter (large, stout, bearded, about 27, and completely over my shit), literally didn’t even blink.

“Can I help you,” he stated.

There must be some kind of training at Maverick headquarters so that all employees are as unresponsive as possible when something weird happens. This guy? He was Disinterested Employee of the Decade. I can only assume that somewhere, there is a very large room where employees are locked for hours at a time and random weirdos come up and demand gas cans from them. And then the employee gets smacked if they say anything but, “Uh. Yeah. Probably.” That’s the only possible reason he could have been so bored by my existence.

I get the gas can and go to the pump. I stand there, dribbling gasoline on my petticoat and thinking how EFFING SURREAL this whole thing is, when I hear a little boy behind me.

7-year-old boy with plate-sized eyes: “Mommy, what’s the lady doing?”

Very nice brunette lady with a Louis Vuitton bag, shuffling her kid as far away from me as fast as possible: “She’s just getting gas, dear.”

Yes. Just getting gas.

So, I finish up and start heading back. Now, and ONLY NOW, am I normal enough for someone to stop. Up until this point, every person in every car is half-convinced that I literally walked out of some museum somewhere and am just trying to find my way back. But, finally, a very nice couple in a half-million-dollar pickup truck stop.

“Hey, honey,” the woman with the most perfect spray tan and bleached blonde hair asks. “Do you need help with anything?”

Her husband, who has lived a life full of cheeseburgers and golf, leans over. “Do you need a ride somewhere?”

I almost say, “Yessir. I have to get back to the sister-wives before Beulah starts having one of her spells.” But I do not.

“My car ran out of gas. I am just wearing my work clothes. I’m not really a polygamist or anything.” I pause. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m just not. At least, not yet.”

They laugh at that, but not very much. It’s clear that the woman really doesn’t believe me.

Even as they drop me off, I think I see her scanning the back seat, pretty sure that there are a dozen babies in the back seat memorizing the Lord’s Prayer in Latin.

I got back to my car. I put in the gas. I drove back to the Maverick and handed the gas can back to the man who never even blinked. Then I drove home.

But I wondered what people who passed thought? What was the story they told their fathers, wives, children that day around the dinner table. “There was a pioneer on the side of the road today, honey,” I imagine a man saying to his wife.

“Did you help her,” she would say.

“Oh no,” he would respond. “She had it under control.”

His wife would nod approvingly. “Well, she already walked 3000 miles to get here. What’s one more to the gas station? Builds character.”

2 responses to “The Time I Was a Pioneer and Freaked Out Everyone on the Highway”

  1. Only you Willow! I love the way you tell your stories?? You are such a talent and I love you?? By the way, you make a great looking pioneer teacher!

    • Ha! Thank you so much. You are one of my storytelling heroes, you know. I can’t tell you how much I learned just laying in my tent and listening to all the Adamsons tell funny stories around the campfire. <3

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