Monday, April 10, 2006

Downey, Idaho: Population 613

With the popularity of the movie Napolean Dynamite most people are now aware of Preston, Idaho. Well my grandmother lives next door to Preston and to give you an idea of how small her town of Downey is, to its citizens Preston is the big city--not counting Pokey (aka Pocatello, another thriving Idaho metropolis).

Grace and I took a short trip together to visit Grandma and flew into Idaho Falls north of Downey where the airport is so small you can walk off the airplane (watch out for the propeller) straight to the rental car counter in the baggage claim area and be on the road with your bags in under five minutes. I timed it. Grace had never been in a tiny town before and I tried to prepare her for Downey's size during the hour and a half drive but I don't think it hit her until we saw the sign: Welcome to Downey, population 613.

After dinner during the five o'clock news from Idaho Falls (and that right there tells you quite a bit about the night life you can expect) the lead story was a five-minute piece about an Olive Garden restaurant coming to Idaho Falls. The news crew interviewed half a dozen people along the rumor chain, visited the potential site and speculated and drooled and burst with pride that Idaho Falls would perhaps be given the highly exclusive distinction and honor of having an Olive Garden within its fair borders.

By the time the story was over it was nearly bed time and we needed our rest for the busy day planned for tomorrow. Grandma was taking us to her water aerobics class at the senior center. We'd been prepared for this possibility and by 8:00 am the next morning we were on the road with our towels and suits to Downata Hot Springs, three miles south of Downey were the water was steaming in the morning air.

You don't really understand how droopy elderly people's skin is until you see them naked, the ladies' skin hung like thick syrup poured over their bodies and once in the pool I expected to see bouyant puddles of loose skin floating around each of them. But those sweet droopy ladies were so excited about us young girls joining them ("Dorothy's brought some skinny girls to do aerobics with us!") that I couldn't help loving them--and it was the first time I'd felt completely comfortable and confident in my swim suit. Soon all you could see were dozens of rubber bathing caps bobbing in the steamy air. And if you've never done aerobics accompanied by Frank Sinatra you don't know how brutal "Mac the Knife" can be.

That pretty much took care of the morning. After lunch we walked into the downtown district for a package of hamburger buns where it was so quiet you could lie down and take a nap in the middle of main street and never run the risk of getting hit by a car. But the real thrill was seeing the hippest place in Downey, the graveyard, the place where everyone was hanging out--probably because of the wicked modern art exhibit we found. Yes, folks, that is a headstone, and you need to zoom in for the full effect.

Topping off our wild weekend was a movie night featuring the weirdest movie ever made. If you like singing and dancing and musicals then you'd probably like this one, but if you like Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin as singing, dancing gold miners sharing the same ex-Mormon wife then Paint Your Wagon is the really the movie for you. Who knew the 60s could be so odd? We exited at intermission.

The second half of our trip was spent with my brother, Luke and his wife Becca farther south in Utah. Sunday morning he woke up at 8:00 am and fixed us breakfast. More specifically a casserole dish of hashbrowns, a tureen of scrambled eggs, a platter of sausages, a platter of biscuits with a pan of accompanying gravy, a dozen muffins, a dozen cinnamon rolls, and a plate covered six-inches high with pancakes (no exaggeration). Of course there was also chocolate milk, hot cider, hot chocolate, juice and smoothies to drink and various toppings for the pancakes. We did our best for king and country but hardly made a dent in the buffet.

Luke's same enthusiasm went into planning our activities where he had a dozen things he wanted to do but we convinced him to whittle it down to just one thing: metal detecting. This is Luke's passion du jour and he got my twelve year-old very excited about playing archeologist in the Utah desert. Time grew short, however, and they ended up with only enough time for him to take her around some of the nearby yards and do a quick search. I wandered by to check on them and see how they were coming along. There was my Carhart-clad brother sitting back and letting Grace wander with the machine until she could pinpoint something underground. Then he'd wander over, dig it up and pocket it. They found quite a trove, about 27 cents, a few nails and two old bullet casings. He let her keep the casings. She left highly disillusioned with the joys of metal detecting.

So the next time a vacation rolls around, who needs Hawaii, Mexico, Europe? Idaho and Utah have it all--and don't forget your bathing suit.


Richard Alspot said...

Wonderful post! I agree about Utah - to me it's not where you're at, but who you're with. Truly touching post. :-)