Authors: Bristol Palin
My bedroom was not as cool as the cigar room. The decor was stuck in 1972, with Pepto-Bismol pink walls, a floral print comforter with matching drapes, and other items we were warned we could
change. However, we did spiff it up a bit, with two new minifridges, a microwave, and pictures for the wall. Plus, it had three closets in it. One closet was full of jeans only while another was packed with color-coordinated, perfectly laid out T-shirts. It was a joy for a neat freak like me to have the space to organize everything in such a way. The bedroom had a balcony that stretched to Willow’s room. During the summer, tourists were always coming by and taking photos, so my friends, Willow, and I would get out there and make noises at them, like bird calls, to see if they’d notice.
For the first few months, we had a chef; and the basement was like a Costco, full of soda, ready-to-eat food, and cookie dough, which made me very popular with friends at school.
I took advantage of it.
The first people I had over for a formal lunch date were Marissa and a guy named Hunter Wolfe.
I was introduced to Hunter the first week of school, and I loved his shy demeanor and dirty blond hair. He was into football, trucks, motorcycles, and dirt bikes. In other words, he was a typical Alaskan boy. But something that was not so typical was the fact that he treated me so well.
Once I left basketball practice and saw a note on my windshield.
Hey cute bball girl, hopefully we can hang out soon!
“Check this out,” I said to Marissa as I handed her the note. “No one’s ever done anything this thoughtful before!” We were both surprised.
Sometime during the next few weeks, Hunter and I skipped class after lunch. I needed to go to the bank, and he came into the bank with me, even though we could’ve gotten into so much trouble for skipping school. Without even thinking about Levi back home, I immediately agreed to an invitation for lunch. It couldn’t have gone better. When he reached for the check to pay, I noticed that he smelled so good. He was a gentleman, quiet, and very respectful.
After we went out to eat a few times, I invited him and Marissa to the mansion.
Blowing taxpayer money sure had its advantages!
“Hello,” I said to our chef over the phone between second and third period. The school didn’t have a cafeteria with long lines, milk in cardboard boxes, or hairnet-wearing lunch ladies. Instead, we were allowed to go off campus for lunch to eat where we wanted.
“I’d like to have some friends over for lunch, please.”
“Wonderful,” she said. Since Mom wasn’t hanging out at the mansion all day, I think the chef was thankful to actually have something to do. “How many people have you invited and what should we serve?”
She could make anything for us—gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, homemade tomato soup, Chinese pot stickers, Caesar salads, pizza, any variation of salmon, and . . . well, just about anything. The first day I had my friends over, I think we agreed on serving grilled cheese sandwiches and soup, and I anxiously awaited the opportunity to entertain them in our new glamorous location. When Marissa got out of Hunter’s car, however, she somehow ripped her jeans all the way down the back. And that’s how my elegant lunch began, with a big laugh, a rush to my room to grab an extra pair of jeans, and good food.
Governor Mom, however, considered the chef an unnecessary luxury. The cook was bored at the house all day, and Willow, Piper, and I never wanted any of her gourmet undercooked meat. Plus, Mom thought it would teach us a bad lesson to always have a chef hanging around waiting to satisfy our every whim. And after she asked the government department heads to cut costs, she felt that we needed to cut costs, too.
After she unbudgeted the chef, we were sitting around eating moose hot dogs, and I couldn’t hide my irritation any longer.
“Mom, seriously?” I asked, holding up the moose hot dog. Though those hot dogs are actually quite tasty, I complained that our family was getting fewer perks than previous governors’ families. “We already don’t fly first class, we don’t have security detail at school, and we don’t have people chauffeuring us around. Why can’t we have any perks?”
Of course, she campaigned on fiscal responsibility, which meant making some drastic but important cuts. She replied, “Well, we’re not like other governors’ families, Bristol.”
Only now do I appreciate her wisdom. It’s hard to turn down things that make life easier, even if you know it’s the right thing to do. Self-reliance is a virtue my parents tried to teach us in Wasilla, and they’d keep trying to instill it in us in Juneau. (They’re still trying to instill it in us, come to think of it!) That’s why I know that even if Mom one day becomes president, the Palin kids will still clean out their own trucks, shop at Target, and cook our own meals. Or in my case, defrost them.
When Mom had to host dignitaries for dinners, it required laying out a nicer spread than her famous moose chili. That meant that I had to help her when she didn’t always have the help of a “First Spouse.” I helped Mom decide on the catering menu, select floral arrangements, help the house manager, and select fonts for the place settings. But my normal life had very little to do with being the governor’s daughter and everything to do with being a teenager.
And crushes are part of teenage life. One afternoon after school, a bunch of kids were over and we were watching movies with friends. Hunter and I went to go get some food for snacks in the basement. When we got down there, he leaned over and kissed me! I had butterflies in my stomach because I knew that he was developing feelings for me.
This was confirmed when, not too many days after that, a floral deliveryman knocked on the door of the mansion with a bouquet of pink roses. I’d just been out sledding with my friends, so I was in the shower when the flowers came. One of my friends went down to answer the door. When she came back upstairs with the gorgeous bouquet, we all were amazed.
“They’re for you!” she exclaimed.
I carefully opened the Hallmark card attached, which read, “When I wake up, I think about you. When I brush my teeth, I think about you. When I fall asleep, I think about you.” And then, when I opened the card, he’d written a sweet note in his distinctive handwriting:
Ever since we started hanging out, I can’t stop thinking about you . . . I hope you realize my feelings for you are true! Love, Hunter.
I was absolutely blown away. It was the first time a boy had sent me flowers! I actually figured out quite quickly that getting flowers was kind of a hassle, because you had to take care of them until they inevitably died. Give me chocolate anytime over flowers. But nevertheless, I didn’t know what to think of Hunter’s kindness. Our relationship fizzled out over time, mainly because I didn’t know how to respond to his kind gestures toward me. I’d always think,
Why is he treating me this way?
What did I do to deserve this?
But before that, I hung out with him, along with a tight knot of friends, including Marissa, Jacob, Susie, and Alex (Erika’s son). Although we were all so different, with very different personalities, we had a blast. We’d go shooting at the range, which was a lot of fun until one day the police stopped us. We’d apparently been shooting too close to the road, which gave the cop a perfect reason to check my driver’s license. I got a ticket because I only had a “provisional license,” which didn’t yet allow me to haul my friends without an adult. Oops! All of my friends’ guns got confiscated, and their parents had to go down to the station to get them back. (I am no stranger to tickets, though. I’ve gotten tickets for speeding, for having illegally dark window tint, and other little things. In Alaska, like in many states, you get points for violations during the year. If you accumulate enough points, your license will be suspended for a certain amount of time and you lose your driving privileges. At one point, I had only four points out of twelve left!)
When my friends and I weren’t shooting clay pigeons, we’d hang out and jump on the trampoline in the backyard, which seemed so out of place in the backyard of the Governor’s Mansion. Once, it was raining and we were out there, jumping around and being silly. That’s when Mom—the governor!—came outside, climbed onto the trampoline, and jumped with us.
We had so much fun in Juneau. After the cook left, we always brought up fun foods from the cigar room, and pretended to be chefs. Chocolate-covered strawberries was one of our favorite treats to make. We were always in that kitchen. Once, Willow was making everyone bacon, and the grease got too hot. When she burned the bacon, the smoke detectors went off and the fire department showed up at the mansion. It was a little embarrassing. (And this was the second time we had a visit from the fire trucks. The first time was when Mom tried to build a fire in the fireplace, only to find out the chimney was closed due to lack of use!)
We’d also entertain ourselves by repeatedly listening to rap songs, making fun of the lyrics, driving my car through car washes, walking around downtown Juneau, taking hikes in the mountains, and having bonfires where we’d roast marshmallows into the night. Sometimes, after Mom had gotten the fireplace working again, we roasted marshmallows right there in the mansion!
Some of the other people at school, however, didn’t roll out the welcome mat. I’m not sure if they were intimidated by the fact that we were the daughters of the governor or they simply didn’t like newcomers. They were mildly irritating at school, with the kind of petty viciousness only kids muster. They’d threaten me to stay away from their boyfriends, call Willow and me names, and gossip constantly about what we were—or weren’t—doing.
However, one day things took a serious turn. Some of our new classmates posted an Internet threat against Willow. An eighth-grade girl told twelve-year-old Willow that her Samoan brothers were going to gang-rape her. It really unnerved Mom. Later, one boy posted something on MySpace about me: “Bristol’s a slut when she’s drunk and a slut when she’s sober.” My heart sank when I read that. I barely even knew who that guy was! That’s how, at an early age, I began to develop tough skin and quickly get over all the untrue gossip about me and my family.
Though it was generally a wonderful semester, I was still pretty happy when summer arrived. My dad and I packed my bags and drove my car (by way of a ferry) home to Wasilla.
laskan summers are a welcome change from the doldrums of winter. During the school year, we’d go to school around nine o’clock in complete darkness, and by the time we get out of school around three o’clock, it would already be dark again. But during summers, it’s pretty much light outside all of the time. And everyone takes advantage of the light. I remember how exhilarating it was as a kid to ask Mom, “Hey, can we go ride bikes?” Even though it was ten o’clock at night, she’d let us go by saying, “Sure, it’s light outside.”
asilla also never gets too hot, even though the new Wasilla Target has lots of swimsuits on the racks. In the winters, it’s not uncommon for temperatures to reach twenty below zero. And that’s not counting the windchill factor. (We rarely even talk about the windchill. That’s for sissies. Basically, it’s cold, it’s going to be cold, and it will always be cold until the summer when it’s slightly less cold.) That’s why my hometown has so many little coffee shacks dotting the main roads and streets. It’s not uncommon to see one, drive less than a mile, and see another. That’s why I decided that learning how to make coffee might be a good way for a kid like me to make a buck in the summer of 2007.
Mom and Dad didn’t force us to work. Though we weren’t wealthy, my parents took care of our every need. Sometimes, just sometimes, they didn’t see some of my wants as actual needs. For example, after I spent that time in Juneau, I was totally addicted to jeans. Seriously, I wanted to have every type in every color from Nordstrom. But after Mom bought me a few, she was sick of shelling out the money for a thirst that was never quenched.
“If you want designer jeans, that’s fine,” she told me. “But you’re gonna work for them.”
That’s why I got my first job that summer at an out-of-the-way café in Nordstrom’s in Anchorage. It was a stylish, casual café with caramel-colored walls and cozy places to rest a tired shopper’s feet. I got this job because by working there I qualified for the company’s 20 percent discount on all of the clothes. What a better way to get more jeans? Of course, by the time I’d pay for the gas to Anchorage, pay for parking, and take advantage of that discount, I was not even breaking even.
Over the course of my teen years, my coffee experience helped me get other jobs at several of the coffee “shacks” around the area. The shacks are freestanding little drive-throughs that allow customers to pull up, get hot coffee, and—I hoped—leave me a tip. I served lattes, espressos, cappuccinos, and brewed coffee at the Sunrise Coffee Shack, which was owned by the wife of my dad’s partner on the Iron Dog. Then I’d drive down the road to Café Croissant’s little shack and pour coffee in the afternoons during the second shift there. Then, about a year later, I got a job working at the Espresso Café across the highway by my aunt’s. Since it was all basically just the same job—smile, take order, pour coffee, take money—I don’t think they were ever concerned about me sharing company secrets.
My first job, however, came to an abrupt conclusion when I got caught speeding and got a ticket on the drive to Anchorage. When Mom and Dad found out, they made me stop making that drive.
That was okay, anyway, because it allowed me to work at Nana’s L&M Ace Hardware store in Dillingham, about four hundred air miles southwest of Anchorage. Every year, we’d make the journey down to Dillingham to see my dad’s mom, Blanche, whom I’ve always admired. Nana has been in Dillingham so long, she’s like a grandmother to everyone there and seems to be the glue that holds the town together. A long time ago, there was a perfume commercial that had a lady bragging that she could do it all, singing “Because I’m a woman, I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you’re a man.”