I grew up in Glendale, Idaho, miles from anywhere that mattered and whole states away from the cities I dreamed of. Other kids grew up collecting the usual objects-stuffed animals, stamps, stickers. I didn't care for any of that. I collected money. Once I had enough of it, I reckoned, I would have a ticket out and that mattered more to me than any toy ever could. Until then, I would placate myself with soap operas.
Houses on farms are measured differently than houses in the city. Ours, it seemed, was majestic. Even though I'd never been to any big cities, or any cities outside Idaho, I knew that everything was different there. There was no shortage of people who confirmed that fact-it's just that they always assumed they were preaching to the converted. "Glendale is a great place to raise a family," they'd say.
My sister, Faith, and I did not have many playmates. Glendale is an isolated farming village, and no one ever came to visit. We were miles off the main road that was miles off the main interstate highway. Our social life consisted of the church and each other.
But, at home, we had it all. There was a beautiful pond, over which my father had constructed a swing that was ours alone. Our mother was a fantastic baker and, since we lived in the midst of the finest orchards, she made decadent pies and tarts all summer long. Her happiness came from serving my father and us. I didn't have the heart to deprive her of that desire so I never offered to help. My sister, who loved to seem more selfless than me, would rush into the kitchen in the morning and find out what was on the agenda. If it was blueberry pie, she would grab the basket that my mother usually used, throw on a smock and scurry down to the bushes to pick the berries. Her seeming servitude disgusted me. I knew that she did what she did so that my mother would call her a good little girl and ask her to sit on the kitchen counter while she rolled the pie shells. They would both cast knowing glances my way when the time came to eat pie, as though all along they had wanted my help and I had withheld it. I never deprived anyone of anything that they didn't willingly give up.
But, in those days of summer, I had better things to do. Most of my day I spent on the swing my father had built, which my sister complained I greedily hoarded. At any time she could have claimed it as her own, but she never did. She preferred life in the kitchen, on my mother's tail, to fending for herself outside with me.
The time alone served me well. Every summer, I made it my goal to collect as much money as I could into my hidden tin. Mostly, this meant keeping the little gifts given to me by the produce dealers who drove out to our farm to buy our famous fruits and vegetables. We had a stand out front that my father's apprentices usually tended, but that I sometimes took care of. When I was there, the older men that pulled up would slow down before stopping and peer out of the window at me in my white summer dress. They always found something to give me and tried to win my favour with gifts.
My sister and the other girls from church were afraid of men, but I never understood their fear. I suppose it was my boldness that paid off in the end. It wasn't their offering but my boldness to ask that filled my tin every summer with more and more money that I kept hidden from everyone.
Sometimes they would pay me just a tiny bit more than the total they owed, and would flash me a smile and tell me that they enjoyed my service more than my father's or that of his hired help. I'd smile and nod and, when the truck pulled away on the old dirt road, I'd put the little token in my pocket and think about how much more my tin contained. It was amazing what men would do to make a little girl smile.
There are several types of men, and I learned to identify them and use their weaknesses against them. Some men responded to outright professionalism, like my father's friend Frank. He had raised five boys, all long gone now, and with his wife gone too, he came out to our farm for my mom's baking. I was straightforward with him. I'd walk right up to him and say, "Hello, Frank. Can I have a dollar?" The first time, it caught him off guard.
"What if I don't have a dollar?" He patted the top of my head.
"Hmm, well, I know you have a bill clip in your pocket, because you leave a few dollars on my mom's windowsill for the pies every week. So I know they're in there and I'm just asking if I can have one." I was reasonable and forthright.
"And what if I ask you what you're going to spend it on?"
"I'd say I'm saving it."
"For my future."
He laughed. "Oh, well, aren't you clever?" he said, and patted my head once more. Then he handed over a faded-yet perfectly fine-dollar bill and shook my hand. He found me amusing and never denied me the dollar. Over the years it became our ritual. It was his toll fee, and I held out my hand and nodded my head with the kind of authority that I'd seen officials use on television. We both laughed, and I filled a whole tin with Frank's crumpled dollar bills.
By the time I got a little older, I became obsessed with the idea of leaving Glendale to become a rich lady, like the kind they showed on daytime television. The women that lived dangerous lives in exciting cities. The women who woke up to vanities and dozens of the finest department store perfumes.
There was no such thing in Glendale. My mom had an old bottle of perfume that smelt of lily of the valley and an even older bottle of a musky perfume with the label worn off. She'd had these for as long as I could remember and, even though she never used them, they were prominently displayed on her bedside table, like coveted jewels.
I wanted nothing to do with my parents' lives. My dad wanted to show me how to run the business. I was the daughter of choice to take over after him, and I was flattered. I didn't know how I would tell him-but I knew I would eventually have to-that I was going to move to the coast, to San Francisco or Los Angeles or New York, and I was going to make it big. Of course, I said nothing.
On Sundays, my father would haul us off to church in his pickup. My parents sat in the front of the truck's cabin, Faith and I sat in the back on the folding benches and the workers sat in the very back, outside the cabin. This order meant something to my dad. In my father's household, everyone knew their place. The man was the head of the household and everyone passively accepted that, except me.
The church itself jutted out of the landscape in the most unnatural way, with an enormous cross that stretched up to the sky, serving to remind the parishioners of how small we ordinary people are compared to the greatness of the church. The minister disgusted me. He was an old, lecherous man who spat as he preached to his tiny congregation and seemed to feel superior to all of us. His favourite subject was greed, and he would go on and on about how content we should all be with little. How humble we should be. Of course this did not stop him from asking my mother, who could never say no to a minister, to supply baked goods every Sunday to the social that followed the sermon. There were only twenty or so women in the congregation and my mother was the best baker by far. Faith was happy with the arrangement because it meant that she could spend every Saturday with my mother. If she could, my sister would still have been nursing at my mother's breast back then, when she was eleven and twelve and thirteen. And my mother, downtrodden by all her lost dreams and the life that surrounded her, was flattered by my sister's supplication.