I actually got that response once, from an older lady (you know, probably about the age I am now) at a campground on the east coast, when I responded to her friendly where-ya-from by answering “Idaho.” Unsure whether a third-grader were allowed to correct a Grownup, I defaulted by abruptly removing myself from the conversation, and the presence of the Idiot Grownup. A few years later, at a national conference of high-schoolers, I scoffed at some other kids who asked me (entirely in earnest) whether we had electricity or indoor plumbing.
Truth be told, though, I know a few people who live without either–and the public restrooms along some of our roads are hole-in-the-ground outhouses. For that matter, the single road which connects the northern and southern halves of our state is a windy little affair (often impassable due to rockslides or snow) that might not be deemed worthy of the name “highway” by folks in other regions of the country.
So although I have no wish to feed any stereotypes about a rural state, I do have to observe that there are some admittedly humorous peculiarities to be found here. Take, for example, the two-week “Spud Break” we had from school every September in eastern Idaho, when the older kids and most of the school staff were needed in the fields for potato harvest. Or the fact that, when I moved into my first Boise home just half a mile from the capitol building, my next-door-neighbors had a herd of goats in the backyard, while a number of horses pastured just down the street. Well within city-limits, mind you, in the state’s capital city. (I’m debating whether to use quotation marks around “city” in that sentence. If Idaho HAS a city, Boise is it. I’ll leave it at that.)
My sister and I used to play a “Travel Bingo” game on car trips; it was a scavenger hunt of sorts, setting us to look for items in an ascending hierarchy of difficulty. But the game must have been manufactured on the East Coast, because the “easy” level included things like a traffic clover-leaf (which we’d never laid eyes on), while the most difficult level included “covered wagon” and “outhouse”… Not a game designed for Idaho, where the “tractor crossing” sign is commonplace.
My other car-trip memory is my mother attempting to read aloud to us from books by Idaho outdoorsman Pat McManus. As I wrote to him decades later, when I was setting up an internet chat with the students of my “Idaho Literature” class, my mom would get to such a point of wheezing, choking laughter that she’d have to pass the book to the backseat so one of us could continue the reading. I still have my treasured copy of “They Shoot Canoes, Don’t They?“–signed by him at a Young Authors’ Conference in my gradeschool years. If you’re up for some classic Idaho humor, his books will make any fisherman howl with laughter.
With a nod to Jeff Foxworthy (whose Redneck observations are so funny because of the truths behind many of them), I offer the following observations on my home state:
You may be in Idaho if…
- The local car dealership offers a free rifle with your new truck-purchase. (Not joking.)
- Back-yard-chicken classes are advertised on your street corner.
- There’s a Live Bait Vending Machine in front of your grocery store.
- The roadside signs along the highway sport bullet-holes.
- A man who loses his leg to a thresher buries it in the local cemetery, with the rest of him joining it later. (Not joking. You can visit Ben Waldron’s headstone AND his, er, legstone in Samaria ID.)
- Participants in a mountain-man rendezvous, Indian pow-wow, or cowboy-poetry fiddle-fest are not people “dressing a part.”
When it comes down to it, though, how I REALLY know I’m in Idaho is that people don’t lock their doors, and strangers smile at each other. (In fact, there’s still a law on the books in Pocatello ID that “a person may not be seen in public without a smile.”) And on that cheery note, I’ll leave you with a little bit of hard-earned Idaho Wisdom: Don’t squat with your spurs on.