By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The third installment of Truth Be Told, the Valentine’s edition, was held in the Colfax Municipal Building auditorium the evening of February 11.
The event started with music by the Colfax High School chamber choir under the direction of Carrie Christensen.
Featured storytellers were Michelle Knutson, Lisa Bragg-Hurlburt, Jaci Ackerlund and Trevor Hovde.
Hurlburt is the director of the Colfax Public Library.
Here is her story:
[emember_protected] I am definitely out of my comfort zone. I really enjoy this Truth Be Told forum. It’s been so interesting to sit in the audience and listen to different people from around the community get up and talk about their real life experiences. It’s a great way to get to know people and a great way to use this beautiful auditorium.
But as interesting as the past two themes were, first we had the spooky theme [October] and then we had the holiday theme [December], I couldn’t really think of a story that was worth getting up here and feeling uncomfortable for.
Until we got to February, and we got to the theme of love.
Love is something I feel I know something about. And not in the exciting romantic sense of the word. You can verify with my husband. I’m not too exciting. But more in the sense of enthusiastic appreciation for all kinds of things in this world as well as appreciation for the people in it.
I love beautiful objects and well put together rooms and show tunes and hot coffee with cream.
I love good dancers and good singers and people who feel things deeply.
I love blue and white plates and copper teapots and mechanical things.
I love finding out how things work and why people do the things they do. And anyone who pulls off the well-written expression of what it means to be alive.
I love sunsets and woodsmoke and clever things.
But most of all I love sincerity and kindness.
I love to laugh.
I could go on and on forever about the things that I love.
What I know about romantic love, however, I’ve mostly just read in books. Therein lies my story.
Romantic love was a topic I took most seriously when I was a teenager.
As a child, I read mysteries and adventure books, but somewhere along the way, I found the love story genre. And the first really great book of this type that I remember reading was “Jane Eyre.”
Now, for those of you are not familiar with Jane Eyre, this was a book written in the nineteenth century, one of the first great novels. It tells a story of a young governess, Jane Eyre, who was poor and plain and quiet and serious. She mostly kept to herself. But in order to make a living in the world, she went to work at a large estate for an intimidating older man named Mr. Rochester.
They eventually fall in love, but first there’s all kinds of obstacles. It isn’t at all clear for much of the book that the two are ever going to get together. Of course, they do, and in the end, Jane, and Mr. Rochester, and the reader, all have their happy endings.
As a novel, “Jane Eyre” was psychological and introspective at a time when I personally was psychological and introspective. I was a teenager. I was trying to figure myself out. What do I believe? What are my values? How would I accurately describe myself?
And here was this book showing someone else who was trying to do the same. And an added bonus was this all took place in a setting different from my own reality. A whole other time and place from where I lived, with different clothes and customs and accents. So it was a fascinating distraction from my ho-hum life in my hometown of Rhinelander.
After reading that one really good romance novel, I looked for more. And there were lots out there.
Unfortunately, they were not all the same quality as the book that got me started. They followed the same basic format. Most of the books were paperback and had long-haired, open-shirted gentlemen on the cover.
The names of the particulars varied from book to book, but otherwise, they were all very similar.
I’m not sure why I felt the need to read so many of them.
Now there’s imagination and there’s reality.
My high school experience was greatly at odds with my imagination. I believed that someday, I would have a great romance. But it was pretty clear from the beginning that it was not going to happen in my hometown.
None of my classmates were particularly interested in me. No one sent me flowers or asked me to a school dance. Definitely no one in high school declared their love for me.
So off I went to college, and things began to change.
For one thing I started wearing contact lenses instead of glasses, and that seemed to help the young men to notice my potential.
Another thing that probably helped was finding a group of people who hadn’t known me my whole life through all my nerdy ups and downs through grade school and junior high and so on.
For whatever reason, unlike my hometown guys, these college guys were noticing me finally. This was brand new, heavy stuff for me, and it messed with my focus and my academics for a while.
Instead of concentrating on my studies, I spent way too much time essentially trying to play the part of heroine in my own novel. Any day was a day that I might find Mr. Right!
So I spent anywhere from an hour or an hour and a half in front of a mirror, getting ready with makeup, clothing and a hair-care regimen that I called “the process” — which process involved a hair-do and a pick and eyeliner, and I shaved my legs every day.
It was the 1980s, my big hair and my big eyebrows were quite the thing.
Surprisingly the college age absorption with my appearance did not lead to finding Mr. Right.
It did lead to a couple of different boyfriends, each one, who made me think for a while, that maybe they were “the one,” but their interests changed, and it didn’t work out for whatever reason.
This was not part of that Harlequin love formula that I had been reading.
Unfortunately, the more I actually interacted with guys outside of books, the more I questioned that whole concept of one true love, at least for me.
When I met one, I would find myself worried about things I said, and things he said, and whether I should have said something else and so on.
It was very draining, and I was not very happy.
No More Mr. Right
Anyway, by the tail end of my college experience, I had given up on being perfect. I wasn’t looking for Mr. Right anymore. I was not shaving my legs every day. I wasn’t even going out with friends.
If I wasn’t at class or doing homework, there was a 99 percent chance that I was at home doing crossword puzzles — which is remarkably similar to my current life.
The big hair had kind of settled down into a big mess, and my wardrobe consisted of tee-shirts, flannel shirts, old jeans and sweatpants. It was the early ‘90s, and I was grunge, and I was one of the older kids on campus.
At 23, I almost felt like a non-traditional student. But on the night I met my husband, I let a couple of younger, former roommates who were in town just for the weekend, talk me into going out with them. We stopped at the Camaraderie on Water Street [in Eau Claire], which was one of the places I never would have gone because I considered it “sporty” and that wasn’t a good thing to me at that time.
I followed my friends in, but it wasn’t long before a couple of guys started talking to my friends.
And there was a third guy, who was Jon, and like me, he seemed a little bit older than the friends he was with, and a little bit more out of place, and we started talking to each other by default, and it was fine. But we went our separate ways.
Later that evening, a few hours later, we happened to run into each other again, and at that time, I gave him my phone number.
Right from the beginning, I acted more like my normal self around him than I had previously acted with anyone.
I was not trying to impress him.
And I was not immediately in love with him.
But he still kept hanging around. He grew on me.
That’s the best way I can describe it.
He grew on me.
The more we got to know each other, the more it seemed natural to hang out together. This eventually became love, and years later, marriage.
Over time, there were children and a house and bills and pets.
We got to know each other’s families. We began to share a history. Photo albums piled up with pictures of us camping and holidays and around the yard.
Our physical appearance did change as well.
But somewhere along the way, I completely lost my interest in paperback love stories.
But something else, something wonderful, was happening.
I was feeling real joy. Instead of worrying about my appearance and my relationship, I was paying attention to the world around me.
Secure in my relationship, the focus was off myself and out into the world. I had married into an outgoing, talkative family, and that started rubbing off on me.
I became more interested in other people and more concerned with making them feel comfortable. From my husband, I picked up a work ethic, and quickly realized that keeping busy was more conducive to happiness than sitting around worrying about stuff.
I worked a lot of mundane jobs, but I discovered there could still be a lot of meaning in my life.
I got to know my co-workers, took pride in my work and got creative with my house.
For years I was a stay-at-home mother, and that involved a lot of mundane work. I had to provide the kids with routine and comfort and food and a quiet, safe environment.
But there were rewards! I got hugs and kisses every day. I was important in a real sense, not in a looking-good romantic sense.
Fast forward to today to my current life.
I’m almost 50 years old. I am your library director. And I am still married to Jon.
I read almost every day, but not romance books.
What do I read about? Everything. I read about camping and traveling and crockpot recipes. I read about how to make things and how things work and why things happen like they do.
I read about husbands and children and best friends and people who live in other countries.
I read about arts and ideas and things that didn’t happen but very well could have.
I read about other worlds, and girls that fly and dreams.
If there are young people out there tonight wondering what the lesson to my story is, I hope they know it’s this — every single one of you has a love story.
It’s finding out what and who you love over the course of a lifetime.
It may involve one single, lucky hard-earned relationship or it may be a series of relationships.
It may not even be a relationship at all, but rather, your life’s work.
It may be finding a code to living that gives you meaning and joy.
Whatever it is, I hope you approach it bravely and playfully — and with all the excitement of turning the page in a good book. [/emember_protected]