Kathleen Clary Miller

Kathleen Clary Miller has written 300+ columns and stories for periodicals both local and national, and has authored three books (www.amazon.com/author/millerkathleenclary). She lives in the woods of the Ninemile Valley, thirty miles west of Missoula.

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Where I was born and lived for 56 years, you could tell where someone lived by the quality of her tan. If someone was wearing sandals, they had either come from or were headed to the pool or the beach. Then suddenly, everyone was wearing sandals, strappy, spike heeled, and wedge, out to dinner at a five-star restaurant and in airports and hotels all over the country, come rain or shine.

In short, geographical origin has become more and more difficult to decipher. We hail from Anywhere, USA. Automobiles in Southern California betrayed status, but seldom one’s residential address. At least, there was no clear-cut line in the thick of suburbia. There, a car is a car is a car—and everyone has one that is sparkling clean, maintained that way due to perennially sunny skies that dictate perfection. Under such unforgiving solar
illumination, every spot or smudge is evident. Hence, the car wash is a weekly destination, complete with coffee bar, greeting card shop, and trendy automobile paraphernalia.

Then I moved to Montana—Missoula to be exact. Well, thirty miles west of Missoula to be accurate. Actually, five miles off the main highway, and on dirt roads. The townspeople of Missoula, the city folk who frequent asphalt, know my name—by my car and the muddy or dusty stripe on my pants, about three inches above my ankle. “It’s the running board,” announced my neighbor, also a former Californian who is accustomed to the fact that she can never arrive at any destination without first wiping down her pant legs with whatever is handy. When push comes to shove, a little spittle on the palm of the hand works well.

We might opt to live at the car wash, all of us ladies who strive to look our best in jeans, but here they are self-serve affairs. No coffee, no swarm of workers wiping and spraying windows until they sparkle and shine. I throw on a rain poncho and use the pressure washer. My new fitness routine is to crouch while sucking in my abdominals, to squat while bending at the knees in order to spray the entire undercarriage of my car. A river of thick mud washes down the industrial drain. For the morning, my running board is clean. I can open my hatchback without afterward washing my hands. Until I drive back home to Huson, only to begin all over again.

I’ve surrendered. Now I wait until the mud has covered every inch of automobile exterior and I can no longer see out of any of the windows. I officially join the ranks of the other cars I pass in town like mine—the folks who have wiped clean a small circle of sight. When even that is impossible to maintain, then I head for the hoses.

Worry about my wardrobe? No way. I’ve decided to wear my stripe like a badge of glory. I am brandishing the “Huson Tatoo,” or the “Petty Creek Scar,” as my friend Sue, who lives up a neighboring dirt road, calls her mark of mud-ness. We wear our dirt proudly—and the money we save at the car wash? We spend it on a new pair of jeans. Meanwhile, I just opened an e-mail from Sue informing me, “Today I leapt one-legged over the running board and remain unscathed!” Let’s call that the “Huson Hurdle.”