A month ago, when I discovered we'd be in Nebraska for the release of the latest Star Wars, I insisted we see it at the local theater. Peter also wanted to see it, so he investigated and realized the theater has officially entered the realm of the World Wide Web and created an online site. Unfortunately, the site flukes and our ticket confirmation fails to come through, leaving us two very concerned Star Wars super fans without guaranteed seats. More fortunately, Peter's mother has the theater owner's personal email (unsurprising) and remedies the problem with a minor adjustment: our sci-fi date has become a Jenkins family outing. Jim, specifically, is excited to see the return of R2-Be-Poo and C33-Po.
In line with his character, Peter insists we arrive at the theater an hour before show time. Considering it's a solid 20 degrees, we wait in the car and watch the first, braver Star Wars fans rush to the theater doors. Locked. Five more intelligent fans try the doors and return to their cars, but the sixth, a woman with a JACKETLESS CHILD, proceeds to officially start the outdoor line. With a sigh, we barrel out of our car along with the rest of the parking lot lurkers and edge our way into the line (10th spot). We shiver for twenty minutes while the mother with the jacketless child attempts to make small talk. Peter's face is set into a thin grimace and clearly says, "Clothe your goddamn child and stop speaking to us," but, with typical country charm, she ignores our desire to shiver silently.
Finally, the 18 year old skinny blond theater teller, with a fearful grimace on his face, unlocks the doors. We watch as the 9 people in front of us casually purchase their tickets - the whole web thing must not be sticking - and then head to the popcorn line. With a befuddled look toward Peter, I bypass the line and secure the center middle section, still wondering who in their right mind would purchase popcorn before claiming a seat. Thrilled with my city smarts and seat poaching skills, I entertain myself for 30 minutes by watching a Tetris-like assortmant of late comers arranging their odd numbered groups into seats. I was familiar with this part. What I considered abnormal, however, was when the theater owner paused the previews, flipped up the lights and cheerfully asked those next to open seats to wave over any remaining bystanders. Evener stranger, everyone complied. In fact, an entire row of people stands up and shifts two seats over so a young man and his date could sit together. All settled, with a few extra chairs carried in to be set on the steps, the lights go dark.
Afterwards, we return home, and I begin to see a pattern. Wine comes out, cards emerge on the table. I'm playing Pitch hands nearly by myself, with minor Julianna Jenkins assistance, and even partaking in the more complicated nuances of the game. For instance, after each round is played, the family pauses to discuss exactly which cards they had, why they did what they did, and what small changes could have tipped the odds in the other team's favor. I begin to think of the game as poker’s polar opposite; instead of hiding their strategies, the fun seems to be in entirely revealing them and somehow still winning. This is a culture of chattiness, it seems, and I’m witnessing a single facet of it. At 11pm, Jim starts the bed train, reminding us we have another task waiting for us in the morning.
We wake up to Julianna's bacon and eggs, and Peter's sister is kind enough to offer me some clothes. "Why?" I ask. "Trust me," she says, "You don't want to wear your clothes to get wood." With a shrug, I borrow some work jeans and a flannel. Julianna convinces me to throw on work overalls, a vest, a neck warmer and an ear flap hat. I'm told I look like a gnome in my oversized clothing. This is a compliment I often receive. Outside, I jump into the front of Jim's truck while Peter hangs off the back. Bella runs behind us, pausing to pounce on a farm cat (still yet to be de-wormed). A half mile down the road we pull into a tree filled area near the main work shed. I can see some of the trees are dead and a few have already split and tipped. We unhook the log splitter from the back of the truck, drag it toward a fallen tree and get to work. Peter handles the chainsaw - in my opinion rather flamboyantly, chopping over his head in ways that I fear will result in a tree taking him out - while Jim instructs me how to place the logs onto the splitter, hold them steady, run the machine, and repeat. Some of the logs reveal dead termites and crickets and I compare them to cracking open Easter eggs. Jim finds this hysterical. Bella runs between the legs of two horses (Dallas’s personal palominos) eyeing us curiously.
"Now imagine splitting each of these logs with an axe," says Peter as I line up another to be chopped. I look at our massive pile and assume chopping it by hand would take twenty times as long. "When did Jim get this equipment?" I ask. Peter replies with a glare: "After I went to college."
Of course, I think. The things these Nebraskans do to build character, I tell you.