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  • Karen L Higgins

Ken and Barbie's Trailer Park Adventures

“Ken and Barbie?” I snorted, looking down at my swollen belly encased in my husband’s sweats. I was as big as a house. Granted, a small house, which was a good thing seeing as our real house was miniscule.

My husband lifted his shoulders and laughed. “I guess they’ve been calling us that since the day we moved in.”

“You could easily pass for Ken, honey, but I’m no Barbie.” I slid tonight’s casserole in the oven and stretched my back.

Ken, aka my husband, disagreed like the sweet man he was, and went out to mow our tiny lawn. I waddled toward the couch, plunking myself down sideways so my legs could stretch out on the remaining cushions. Baby started kicking and I rested my hand on my belly, wondering again who this little one was. One week overdue, which, oddly enough, was okay by me. I was excited to meet this little person, but I was also nervous, especially in the middle of the night. Nervous about labor and delivery. Nervous about caring for an infant. I was the baby in my family, so hadn’t had much interaction with newborns. Children, yes; even toddlers. But a newborn...would I somehow automatically know what to do? Would a mothering instinct kick in?

I heard Kay clattering dishes next door through our open windows. Her double wide was only about ten feet from our tiny trailer, which in turn was about five feet from the single wide on the other side. Living in a mobile home park was not on our five-year plan. But then again, since we’d never sat down to write a life plan, I guess this is where we ended up. We were more fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants kind of people. Met and fell in love in high school, married at nineteen, moved three hours away to Central Washington for our first married years, and now here we were, back in the Seattle area, living in a trashy trailer park and expecting our first baby.

Kay started to hum, then broke out into a hymn, her voice and the words a complete contrast to the surroundings. I closed my eyes and listened. She sounded like an angel, her voice fit for a castle with all the trimmings, and the only thing of beauty to be found in this place.

She stopped singing and I opened my eyes. Nope, no castle here. I was still in our 450 square feet, 1956 single wide, complete with hitch and license plate. I heaved myself up and checked on dinner in our avocado green kitchen. It was done, so I took it out and set it to cool on the counter. I wasn’t hungry, but I should at least make an effort in case baby came tonight.

Ken was still mowing, so I wandered down the dark paneled hallway to the baby’s room. The tiny space that once housed our washer and dryer was ready. We had spent money and time turning it into a nursery, painting the paneled walls a cheery yellow, laying a bit of carpet and fitting a crib and changing table inside. We even managed to squeeze in a rocking chair for late-night feedings.

I would sit in the rocking chair now and dream of baby things, but it was so hot in the house. I went outside and lowered myself onto the porch steps to get some air. Tammy, Kay’s single-mom daughter rounded the corner.

“How are you feeling, mama?” she asked.

I tried to focus on her face as I answered, her neon green string bikini on her mommy body was quite a distraction. I should be used to it; she wore it every chance she got.

“I’m hanging in there. It should be any day now.”

We chatted for a bit. Her boyfriend from down the road joined her, not saying much, but he didn’t need to. His mullet cut and attire spoke volumes. Somehow, he thought it was okay to walk around the trailer park only in his tight-fitting boxer shorts. I worked hard to keep my eyes on their faces.

Yeah, we didn’t fit in very well here. Both of us had been born and raised in nice neighborhoods, went to good schools, went to church every Sunday and never, ever thought we’d be living here. This trailer park was the eyesore and embarrassment of the community. I felt it daily as I went for walks among mansions, then came home to our circle of junky old trailers, junky old cars, pit bulls and garbage cans overflowing with beer bottles.

But there wasn’t anything else to choose from. We had to live in the fire district for my husband’s hoped-for career, and the fire district happened to be in a very affluent area. Our small paychecks couldn’t stretch any further than this trailer park, especially as we wanted me to be able to stay home with our little one.

Truth be told, I struggled with it all. A lot. After buying the place, I scrubbed and scrubbed my walls, trying to get the musty smell out. I sewed curtains, trying to make it pretty. Ken and I planted a garden and a tree, and he also built a nice deck out of salvaged lumber.

No wonder they called us Ken and Barbie. We stuck out like a sore thumb. Especially on weekends when they were partying and the cops were cruising through, making the occasional drug bust and breaking up fights, and we were trying to sleep. Honestly, I didn’t want to fit in. Not one bit.

Mrs. Anderson’s son pulled into her driveway across the street. Good, it was about time he visited. I’d been over yesterday after she called. She was sure she’d won the sweepstakes this time and asked me to read the mail for her as she was nearly blind. Then she asked me to cut her toenails. Yeah, not what I signed up for. But I did, and then she asked me to read the Bible, which I was happy to do. Her disabled daughter sat in her wheelchair, her arms and hands moving spastically, her face changing expressions every micro-second, her moans drowning out the words to the Psalm. I had no idea how 84-year-old Mrs. Anderson cared for her if she couldn’t even cut her own toenails. It was a hopelessly sad situation.

Red-haired Julie zoomed past on her brother’s bike, giving me a tiny wave. I could hear her mom across the street in a full-throttle rage at her brother again. I’d be escaping the house also. I remembered the day I gave Julie a pair of cute shoes I had outgrown. You would have thought I gave her a trip to Disneyland by the look on her face. But the next day her mom marched over and gave them back, stating that they don’t take charity. Soon after that, Julie wasn’t allowed to come to church with us anymore.

It was hard living here. So many problems, right in our faces. This was not where I pictured raising our child. I wanted somewhere nice, somewhere with a little beauty, somewhere with clean-cut neighbors where I could go borrow a cup of sugar and talk about the weather.

I constantly struggled to be content. It was a daily battle as I woke up and crawled across the bed because our full-size mattress filled the whole room. As I looked at the leak patterns on the ceiling, listened to the neighbors fighting, and desperately tried to find beauty. Embarrassment filled me every time someone visited, and I would try to explain our circumstances and hope the neighbors wouldn’t start yelling.

But really, all those problems must have been around me growing up in my neighborhood on the outskirts of the country club. Because life was hard, it was messy. Sure, those wealthier people might have made better decisions, or they had parents who helped them. But they also knew how to hide their issues, put on masks so nobody could see what festered deep inside. Here, there was no hiding anything.

My husband put the lawnmower in our tiny shed and helped me to my feet. Together we walked toward our front door, but before I went inside, I caught sight of Sandy. Julie’s neighbor was hustling up her driveway, head down, arms loaded with library books. I tried to catch her eye, but she wasn’t paying attention to anything besides getting inside her house. It had been a while since she had come over to borrow my phone. She told me her daughter had been taken away and was being raised by her brother, and that she wanted to talk with her. I always let her use the phone, and didn’t ask questions, but I could read the shame and grief on her face. Now that I was about to give birth to my own child, I wondered what had brought this about. And I wondered how any mother could survive without her child.

I managed to eat a little and was getting ready for bed when the first pain hit. Oof, I didn’t expect it to be in my back. My voice tremored as I called to my husband, and his face reflected the excitement and fear that I was sure was on mine. He rushed to get his watch, a piece of paper and a pencil so he could time the contractions. But he needn’t have bothered, they came on fast and hard. He gathered my overnight bag and the diaper bag, grabbed the baby seat and got everything ready to go.

He helped me to the car, and that’s when I saw everyone. Somehow, word had spread...I never figured out how. But my last sight of our trailer park as we headed for the hospital was of everyone on their porches, waving and shouting good wishes. To me, the “Barbie” of the community, the clean cut one who didn’t fit in. The beautiful humanity of that sight has never left me.

They accepted me. How could I do otherwise to them? For, I was just like them. Or maybe I was worse. My inward decisions to judge them, to feel superior and to be discontent put me right in the same camp. Or rather, the same trailer park.

But I knew I would feel differently towards them now. The gift of their parting wishes has stayed with me and done much to give me a glimpse of what it’s like to be broken, downtrodden, to carry burdens that are overwhelming and obvious. The fact that they were still living, still trying, still giving of themselves was more beautiful than any mansion down the street of that trashy trailer park.

And believe it or not, when it came time to move two years later, God had softened me to the point where it was bittersweet. For this trailer park had birthed more than our first baby, it had birthed a growth in me that was a beautiful thing, a content and softened heart.

*Author's Note

Once again, this is all true. It seems so long ago now that that baby is 27! But still I remember them waving us off, and I remember the lessons I learned. Truth be told, I've had to learn those lessons again and again, especially the contented part. But God is tender and instructs me gently, and I am so grateful for those years in the trailer park.

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