From Australia to Nashville: An Oven Cleaners Journey

I’ve my spent my whole life cleaning ovens in Australia.

It’s not a bad life. I love talking to people and getting my hands dirty, so becoming the best oven cleaner in Sydney was a challenge I¬†was well suited for!

With that being said, my dominance of the industry in this region has a few drawbacks. It wasn’t until last year that I left the country for the first time.

I’d not considered my non-existent travelling experience until I visited a particularly worldly client’s home. Their walls were covered in photos of their travels proudly showing all the different places that they’d visited over the years. We have thousands of tourists come to visit us every year here in Sydney from Columbia, India, England, Germany – all these places I’d heard of but I had no idea what they were actually like.

Despite its gargantuan size my homeland seemed to be shrinking more and more. It no longer felt like the exciting vibrant place it once was, it felt stale and a little lifeless. I told my wife this and she told me I needed to go away. She’d done her travelling when she was much younger and had no trouble in settling down with the kids when it came to it, but I was the country bumpkin who had been happy with his working week and weekends spent barbecuing with my mates.

The fact that the solar eclipse was working its way through Nashville, Tennessee was simply fortuitous. I’d long been a fan of the blues and the musicians that called their home in that most sacred of cities, so when I found out that this once in a lifetime event would be passing over there I talked to my wife and she gave me the thumbs up. I cleared two-weeks of my calendar in the August of 2017 and booked my flights.

The enormity of what I was about to do had not really gripped me until I stepped aboard the plane, it was the first time I’d ever done so and suddenly the thought of flying through the air for hours on end began to put the fear in me. I felt my knees shake a little and was glad for the in-flight entertainment system, although the take-off was certainly a lot more frightening than I expected it to be.

My first steps on a new land were confusing. It might sound strange, but it was the smell that first surprised me as I left security and made my way out into the bright Tennessee sunlight. In terms of the environment there wasn’t too much to tell it apart from rural Australia: dust, sand, shrubs, but it wasn’t long before the differences started showing themselves. The people dressed much different to Australians. Just like in the movies, big bellied fellas swaggered around with stetsons and boots, whilst their impossibly pristine wives were all spitting images of Dolly Parton.

I’d not been alone and in a foreign country before so I was very much in novel territory – instinct soon kicked in and with just 8 hours to go to before the eclipse I was in a dusty saloon bar, drinking beer, eating BBQ food and making some new friends. You can take the Aussie out of Australia…

Fires in the Shadow of the Moon

I began my role here at Sawtooth National Forest back in 2014.

When I was a kid I wanted to be a lot of things but a park ranger was certainly not one of them.

It might sound super dorky, but I’ve got no shame in admitting that Bill Gates was my hero as a child. Back then, before the rise of other competing tech firms and internet moguls, having a passion for technology did not put you in good stead with other kids. During the 90s rigid gender norms were still in place and, regardless of the bright future that everyone saw the 21st century bringing us, it was not ‘cool’ to be into computers.

My Father took the same view as the kids in school. Regardless of the ever increasing presence of technology in our lives my Dad was a man of simple tastes and values. He didn’t believe in a hard day’s work that didn’t involve some kind of manual labour, was rarely seen without his worn Dickies trucker cap and could not be separated from the TV when any kind of sport was on. Needless to say, there was very little we had in common.

Although my grades were half decent it was decided that I wouldn’t go to college. We may not have had anything in common, a fact that I my Father was certainly well aware of, but that did not stop him from directing me down the same path that he trod 40 years earlier. He got me a job straight out of school working for his scrap removal firm: ‘A job for life‘ he told me, as if it were something to take solace in rather than despair.

With so few jobs in our local town and very few business start ups for young entrepreneurs it looked like I was destined to trudge in my Father’s footsteps for the rest of my life, until I stumbled across a job in the local newspaper that piqued my interest…

The advertisement was clear enough:

Park Ranger Needed

No Experience Required, but must have Full Driving License.

The ad jumped at me from the newspaper whilst I was idly scanning it. It was so simple. There was no mention of price, but I was getting paid next to nothing working for my Father as it was – so what was the difference?

I didn’t tell him when I got the job. There was no need to. I didn’t have a contract with him, I had my own place and my own car.

I joined a team of 30 other rangers on August 21st 2017, a day that I will always remember as my first day in a job that I felt truly valued. It was memorable for my new team mates as well. The Solar Eclipse attracted thousands of people to the Park, all of whom brought their families, cars, tents and BBQs. Our job that day was simple, spread out and ensure the safety of thousands.

It felt good to finally have a purpose and that’s how every day since has felt.

Looking Up To The Sky

My Dad always told me to look up to the stars for hope and for a long time I did.

Whenever I found myself up against adversity, felt lost or alone – I would wait until the sun went down and find a place to watch the stars.

Polaris, Sirius, Betelgeuse, Vega, Arcturus, Rigel – these names and their place in the heavens have been ingrained in my head for decades now, but they stopped giving me solace a long time ago. I grew up in Casper, Wyoming with my Mom, Dad and a revolving rogues gallery of ill-fated pets. Goldfish, hamsters, rabbits, dogs, cats; you name it, we had ’em. I used to blame the short life expectancy of the animals in our home on my own inability to look after them properly, but with parents like mine I now think its a wonder that I survived.

It would be wrong to say that I got whatever I asked for. Although my parents were all too happy to drop any kind of animal that I wanted in my lap, I rarely got what I yearned for most – friends, parents: companionship.

To say that my parents were hard-workers would be an understatement. They had both grown up in cities and spent their entire lives dreaming of escaping to rural America. Neither of them were that smart. They’d met in High School and had both ended up flunking their classes. My Mom always told me she was the best speller in her class, but considering she dropped out when she was 16 and barely went to school for the lat year, that meant that this was a title that she only held for a few years. Regardless of her past spelling prowess, she didn’t need those skills to work at the Wallmart in Casper, just under 100 miles away.

You could say that my parents belonged to a different era, they would have agreed with you, although they would have contended which one. They had wanted to belong to the Woodstock generation, they pined for those lost years of Free Love even more than they longed to break away for the city. Unfortunately, they followed their dreams blindly. After spending 5 years scrimping and saving, they were able to afford a four-room shack just outside the aptly named Lost Cabin. Despite working 50-hour weeks throughout their teenage years, they had succeeded in buying their home and escaping the city – but then they had me.

Although they had intended on living off the land, they soon found that growing enough food for three took patience, hard work and skills that two shop clerk attendants of 21 years old simply didn’t have. Even though they’d escaped the clutches of city life, they ended up spending the next two decades driving back and forth to separate cities just to pay the bills and keep me clothed. One day my Mom left for work and didn’t come back, my Dad came back from a night-shift to find me staring at the sky – that was the day of the eclipse.

Single parenthood taught my Dad that it’s not the stars that give you hope, but other people. I still live with him in Lost Cabin, but I don’t feel alone any more.


Thanks to Jessica Mayfield-Sawyer for sharing that story of how the eclipse changed her life. Have you got your own story to share? Send us your story!

Total Isolation and Nuclear Event Detectors

I was in no way prepared for the total eclipse when it came around – it’s a good thing I wasn’t driving!

 

Sometimes it’s possible to live your life in a bubble, all you have to do is to turn off your TV, your radio and your phone.

Understandably, not a lot of people choose to do this. For many it would seem like a cry for help or even a sign of madness. When I chose to do this at the start of August last year, I wasn’t in the best of places. I was three months into my new job as a technical engineer and I was hopelessly bored.

My parents always warned me of the emotional drop off that I was going to experience in the time after graduating from college. They were right, of course, I just didn’t expect the feelings of utter ennui to be as strong as they were.

Life is pretty sweet at college‘, my Dad had said, almost to himself. ‘Just enjoy it whilst you can.’

As much as I tried to take his advice on board, I constantly found myself getting stressed over my workload. Before I knew it, I was a week away from graduation and I’d spent the last 6 months of my college life slaving away in the library. I passed with flying colours, I found a job – my parents were proud. Still, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d missed out on something.

Although I’d been told that no one ever lands their dream job straight out of college, I still struggled to deal with the grim realities of working life. I had to move several hundred miles away from my home town of Chicago, away from all the friends that I’d made in college. I was starting all over, just for the sake of work and it didn’t feel good. The flat I rented in Fulton might have been within driving distance of St. Louis and Kansas City, but it still had that small town feeling that I couldn’t shake.

I spent most of my summer on the road. The first summer after graduating and whilst my friends were travelling the world or working in vibrant cities, I was driving along the flat featureless roads of Missouri county, fitting Nuclear Event Detectors (from Wall Industries, Inc) into banks and security systems. The feel-good hits that the radios played didn’t chime with me, so I turned it off. The TV was full of beaming news anchors and sunny forecasts that I couldn’t enjoy – so I turned that off too. I had friends posting pictures of themselves partying, continuing their college lifestyles in earnest; so my laptop and phone quickly followed suit.

The 21st August 2017 was a Monday. I’d lived in a bubble for the last 3 weeks, simply taking call outs for work and grunting my greetings to any clients where necessary. That evening I was sat in my room with a beer in my hand, I remember casually wondering how much longer I could carry on this way and shrugged to myself. Rain beat against the window, reflecting my pitiful mood – I was considering going to sleep when the sun went out.

Complete darkness reigned. I was blind, I was confused. I spilled my beer everywhere.

Panic set in, I’m not religious but I remember making a brief prayer and then considering how stupid it was of me to hide away from the people that I loved. It was stupid to be wallowing inside when there were plenty of people out there who were in worse situations. I’d just about made peace with my mistakes in life when the sun reemerged and I realised that the world hadn’t ended.

The first thing I did was turn on all my devices to confirm what had just happened. The next thing I did was call my buddies in Chicago and tell them that I’d be driving home on Friday for the weekend. My bubble had well and truly burst.


Thanks to Jerry McCall who was able to escape his low-mood by being surprised by the eclipse – truly amazing! If you’ve got a similar tale that you’d like to share then Send Us Your Story!

Return to Alliance

‘Would you look at that, the total eclipse runs straight through Alliance.’

That was what my husband said when he was looking at the news that morning. I could tell that he was considering it.

The kids were busy eating their breakfast, quietly bickering with each other in soft tones, unaware of what was going through their Father’s head. Gerald had not had the best time growing up in Alliance. We’d talked about it plenty when we first started dating; in fact it was his frank admittance of being bullied as a teenager that had piqued my interest in him.

I was only 21 when we first met at a bar in Denver. He approached me whilst I was with friends and asked if I’d like a drink. I’d been drinking alcohol for a few months and my Mother had warned me about strange men offering to buy me drinks, but I still said yes. He might have been a stranger, but he was polite and smiled with a kindness I rarely saw in the more opportunistic members of the opposite sex.

He had this habit of fiddling with his glasses which I found cute, but it was how he talked that surprised me the most. His accent was straight-up Nebraskan, something that you didn’t hear every day; it was soft but well enunciated, not like the mocking drawl that you’ll hear some Denverites use when impersonating our neighbours. We ended up talking for the whole evening and the more he talked, the less he fidgeted and the more assured he sounded.

We discussed how he’d been the subject of bullying in high school, which had led to him leaving his hometown after graduation. He talked about ‘his life back in Nebraska’ as if it were half a world away, rather than just a four hour drive – but for him a decade had passed and he’d left that shuffling, nervous version of him back home. By the end of the night we were both laughing, joking about how petty our problems had been when we were teenagers. The pain had been real then, of course, but we were both different people. When we looked at each other we saw the potential of what we could be, not at who we once were.

The sound of the kids’ argument broke both Gerald and I out of our reverie. I knew he’d not even thought about Alliance, let alone returning there, for years. With a smile he turned the television off and stepped over to the kitchen table, then gripped both of our boys in a bear hug that they weren’t prepared for. Their squabble was soon muffled and turned to screams of laughter.

‘Now what’s all this about Rory taking all the syrup? Maybe I wanted some syrup? Maybe your Mom wanted some syrup?’

He looked up and flashed a wink at me.

‘How about we go for a drive and see this eclipse? I’d like to show you boys where I grew up, would you like that?’


Thanks to Katie Merryweather for this touching story of how the eclipse brought her husband back to his hometown. If you have a story about how the eclipse affected you life then please send us a message on this page.