In the year 1970, or it may have been 69 because my mom still had a beehive, either way, the Pedigos lived in the town of Perryton, Texas which is located in the gas and oil fields of the Northeast Texas Panhandle.
Ralph Pedigo, my mother’s husband at the time and also the father of my brother and myself, had relocated our family to this tiny place in the middle of nowhere, on the high plains surrounded by a forest of massive oil rigs and pumpjacks after being hired as an officer for the Highway Patrol.
Ralph proudly wore a Stetson Silverbelly felt cowboy hat and a gun and would cruise the desolate highways and farm to market roads enforcing the speed limit and asking people if they knew why he had stopped them. With tickets usually being issued regardless of the answer.
Sometimes in the evenings, after a trip to the Dairy Queen, we’d drive those roads in his patrol car and watch the sunset. Because that’s what you do for fun in a small town, eat ice cream and watch as day becomes night. There’s a wonderfully achy loneliness that washes over you when the sun descends on a stark landscape. It’s always been a good match for the melancholy part of my personality that enjoys feeling sad and like it’s me against everyone.
During that magical moment at dusk when the sun, moon, and stars are simultaneously visible in an orange and purple-y sky, I’d stare out the car window at the 40 foot-high pumpjacks watching as their giant heads slowly moved up and down, extracting crude oil from the wells, like a toy drinking bird in his little top hat, waiting for the red fluid to move up into his head making him top-heavy so he could finally dip forward. It felt like I was the only person in the world, and I’d dream about how when I was big, I would sit on top of one and ride it no matter what anyone said.
Although only four years old at the time, there are a lot of memories of that place. The little white house with green trim we lived in on Colgate Street, and the smell of Dippity Doo hair gel on Saturday evening as we’d sit in front of the television watching Laugh-In while my mom would torture me by trying to make curlers stay in my baby fine hair, so I’d look pretty for church the next morning.
I remember once being at the grocery store with my mother and realizing I had to get out of there. The town, not the store, which was a Piggly Wiggly.
It started as just a normal outing. Me in the shopping cart with my legs dangling, occasionally kicking my mother in her crotch while she tried to shop and prevent my seven-year-old brother, with his bright red hair shaved in a flattop, from putting anything he could get his paws on into his mouth or the basket.
Everything was fine as we began our checkout. My perch in the cart was the perfect vantage point to watch the cashier, wearing a red and mustard yellow polyester uniform and a button with a picture of a cartoon pig wearing a butcher’s hat, and also, I could keep an eye on the Chips Ahoy.
The cashier made small talk with a cheerfulness that didn’t quite reach her eyes as item after item was robotically rung up and then slid towards the kid whose job was to put things in paper bags and then into the trunk of our Cutlass.
Somewhere, between shampoo and cans of dog food for our Chihuahua named Rodrigues, I was overcome with a feeling of dread. The kind of dread that makes you mad and your gut hurt, and you try to casually spot the closest exit without anyone noticing, in case you need to make a run for it. And I remember thinking to myself, “This will never be my life.”
I may not have been old enough to know what her life was, but I somehow knew what it wasn’t.
Maybe she was married to a roughneck that worked in the oil fields, and they had kids and roots in the town and were happy as pigs in shit, or maybe not. Sometimes people are satisfied because they just are, and other times it’s because they think they have to be. But whatever, that was not going to be me.
I haven’t told many people about that memory because it seemed kind of arrogant, but recently it dawned on me that everyone has their “Piggly Wiggly Moment.” That moment when God or the Universe, your gut, whoever tells you that you can do anything you want and if it feels like there has to be more to life than “this” then there is, and it’s okay to go find it.
It’s been over fifty years but to this day, whenever I’m scared to do something or hearing too many voices, including my own, tell me I can’t, I always go back there and try to channel that little girl with the wild heart who wanted to ride an oil pump like a bronco and didn’t care what anyone thought about it. And then I just go for it. Because no matter how scary something is, there is no way I’m letting a four year old be a bigger badass than I am.