My mother worked as an attendant in a drive through burger place called Scottie’s, and my father was a grad student at UW then. We had driven cross country from California in a 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster, and by the time we left we had traded the Gold Duster for a yellow Volkswagen camper van which we drove back to California. It all happened between around 1976 and 1980.
The town was surrounded by thick pine trees at the base of the Rocky Mountains. We lived in graduate student housing, near the football stadium, and every time a team scored a touchdown, a loud cannon was fired that shook the entire building.
We lived across from a wide, dry, yellow-brown field that was pock marked with prairie dog holes. If one went walking there at night in the dark one could easily twist an ankle or trip on one of the holes.
The prairie dogs made singing noises as they called to each other that sounded like birds trilling or crickets chirping. When alerted to danger, they would freeze in their tracks or stand completely straight until they could scurry back to the safety of their burrows.
Sometimes, since we lived very close to the field, one of the prairie dogs would suddenly appear inside our apartment, which was a small, two bedroom affair that was part of a flat roofed, painted brick duplex. My mother or father would have to gently coax the trapped little animal back outside and across the street to the field.
One winter day after heavy snow had begun to melt and a hot, bright sun was shining, my father decided to sun-bathe while reading for one of his graduate courses. He brought one of our California beach chairs outside and set it up beneath the window against the sunniest side of the building, facing the field. He applied coconut sun tan lotion to his chest and legs, donned black, Marcello Mastroianni sun glasses, opened his book with a pencil and began to read.
About an hour later, a young reporter in a plaid flannel shirt and cowboy boots from the local newspaper drove up and wanted to take his picture. By that time, my mother and I were invited to come outside, too, and enjoy the sun. The resulting photo of the three of us sunning ourselves in a pile of snow drifts made the local paper that weekend as the prairie dogs looked on…