There is hope after all…

With the devastation taking its toll on the residents of Texas, it is heartwarming and downright encouraging to see the real soul of humanity being exposed for the world  to see. Raw and unembellished stories of people risking their lives helping others without a moment’s hesitation, forming human chains to rescue a stranded driver of a stalled hurricane_harvey_gi-800x445vehicle or an animal caught in a swirling current, steering their fishing boats and checking houses one at a time. The rain, dumping buckets of water, washed away homes, cars, enveloped major highways and buildings. But the rain washed away something more. In the midst of this deluge, the rain washed away color, ethnicity, religion and thankfully, division. Without fanfare, unsung heroes and heroines jumped into action to help their community. Why does it seem to take a catastrophic event to bring a halt to the division and bring back the best of human nature again?

I believe I found my answer one afternoon at my son’s swim meet.

I like to think my son is athletic…not the football, muscle bound type but rather the lean, running type. He’s always been involved with one sport or another but usually when he felt the urge. Long ago, as a tadpole, he loved swimming but that particular urge had faded nearly five years ago. So, when he decided to join the high school swim team his senior year, the announcement left his father and I scratching our collective heads. My son is no Michael Phelps…far, far FAR from it. But his exuberance was so contagious, we kept our opinions to ourselves, shrugged our shoulders and went along for the ride.

swim meet

Yesterday, he and his team competed against another local high school. As far as crowds go, a fair number of parents, friends, siblings and visitors gathered to watch their diversified team despite a threatening thunderstorm which failed to materialize. A nice cloud cover provided a respite from the sun and the meet began.  I snagged a chair with a bird’s eye view near one end of the pool, took out my tablet to pass the time while waiting for my son’s events.

If you have personally ever watched a swim meet, the first thing you realize as a parent is this. Once they put on the swim cap and goggles, it’s very hard to identify your child. Secondly, once they hit the water, it becomes damn near impossible. Thirdly, unless your child is a super, superstar, it’s kind of like watching paint dry…no offense intended.

Since I hadn’t spied my son on deck, I took an interest in the ongoing relay taking place in front of me, hoping I hadn’t missed his leg of the race. Being a relay, there were four team members ateam swimmingnd although they had already called the winner, everyone was waiting for the last straggling swimmer to complete his leg. Out of the four or five lanes, he was the only one remaining in the pool.

I can’t think of anything more agonizing…knowing the race is over and you have two laps left to finish. There’s just you…silently struggling to keep your mind on the task at hand, battling the fatigue and numbness overtaking your limbs, your arms now slapping the surface instead of slicing through the water. Coming up for breath, your throat burns as your lungs strive to suck in as much as air as possible, your legs slowly losing the will to kick and fighting the discouraging knowledge everyone is watching you.

As this young man struggled to reach my end of the pool, I could hear him gasping for breath as he paused before turning for his final lap…seemingly a mile away. He was a strapping fellow, broad shouldered and strong but this particular event was kicking his butt. I remember thinking, “He’s not going to make it. He’s completely exhausted.”

Then a surprising thing happened. Everyone rose to their feet, approached the edge of the pool and began shouting, encouraging him, loud and strong. The separation of team colors melted away as they came together to yell their support, willing him to find that last ounce of reserve to make it to the finish line. The sound was almost deafening.

Three races later, the same thing happened happened again. The race had been called leaving one lone swimmer to complete his last long leg by himself. Everyone, including me, rose up again to shout words of encouragement and cheer him to the finish line. They continued to applaud as his two of his friends, including my son, pulled him out of the pool when he touched the wall, his legs unable to summlone swimmeron the strength. It didn’t matter what school they represented, what religion they observed, the color of their skin or where their family came from. They were simply young swimmers doing what they loved.

And there is was…a golden nugget of evidence that all is not lost. That the thread of unity and love for our fellow man does exist in everyday circumstances. It’s there and it’s something we need to hold on to.

In the universal scheme of things, this meet will soon fade into the memory banks of most of the parents, swim coaches and team mates. Then again, maybe not. I know for certain there are at least three people who will cherish this event: those two swimmers who will forever remember the cheers, encouragement and vocal support urging them not to give up at a point in time when they probably felt most alone.

And me…who was lucky enough to witness something so very special first hand and write about it.

 

 

Advertisements

In Search of Kitschy on the Open Road

For me, turning on the ignition, tossing the map out the window and heading to unknown destinations is a delightful adventure. Traveling beyond city limits reaopen-roaddily provides a glimpse into our gentler past for there still remain worn reminders aplenty. If you have ever followed a narrow spit of asphalt past county lines where decades of saw-tooth fractures have been patched with heavy tar leaving a zig zag pattern like errant lightning strikes, you know what I’m talking about. Along these leftover remnants of our original highway system sit strings of motor and auto courts…motor hotels, better known as motels dotting the landscape.

In their heyday, over 60,000 dotted the countryside, forged from America’s burgeoning love affair with the automobile. No longer relegated to a limited radius of travel, families set out to explore beyond their backyards, the promise of excitement whistling in the wind. My own memory is a flashback to the late 60’s for our yearly spring trek from central Illinois to St. Petersburg, Florida to visit cousins. Stuffing our old station wagon with suitcases, pillows and bodies, off we’d go. At the end of the day, my father would begin looking for his favorite lodging establishment, easily identified by their bright orange roofs, capped off with a cupola and weather vane. Howard Johnson’s, a popular no frills chain, became famous for their “fried clams” and 28 flavors of butterfat rich ice cream. At the tender age of ten, the only idea worse than eating worms would be try fried clams. On the other hand, 28 opportunities to savor creamy deliciousness other than vanilla…my definition of heaven. Back then, travel was about the journey, not the destination.

During their infancy, the basic motel model of construction was simple and almost Bohemian. Designed economically, they were usually L or U shaped, framed a public lawn and fondly referred to as cottage or motor courts. Family and automobile friendly, they allowed guests to park conveniently next to their rooms. Unlike their snooty city counterparts, these roadside retreats stressed function not fancy. Travel time between large cities could take up to two or three days and these “Mom & Pop” sites became oases for as each motel popped up, so did diners, filling stations and general stores. The promise of a warm shower and cozy bed beckoned weary travelers when the warm glow of red, blue and green electric neon signs, piercing the night sky like a lighthouse beacon, loomed on the horizon.

1st-motel-in-us    Regarded as the original first motel, Milestone Mo-tel built in San Louis Obispo offered a two room bungalow with a drive-in garage for $1.25 per night. Located within a day’s driving from Los Angeles, the builder, Arthur Hienemen had a vision of building several motels all the way to Seattle like stepping stones along the coast. Instead of Holiday Inns, we might have seen Hieneman Inns if it hadn’t been for The Depression.

Another noteworthy motel was The Sanders Court in Corbin, KY. Unlike others, their accommodations included not only tile baths but an abundance of hot water! Instead of a simple mattress, guests would enjoy a Perfect Sleeper bed along with air conditioning and a radio in every room. Today, a Kentucky Fried Chicken stands on the site where Harland Sanders began his empire but one can still find postcards of the original Sanders Court in local antique stores. Stories such as these can be found in every black dot on every map of every state.

The 1950’s saw a booming expansion of motels as America took to the road in earnest. Not satisfied with mere day trips, people set out to find what lay across the country. This period also ushered in the terms “Novelty”, “Googie”, and “Doo Wop” architecture. Wigwams, teepees and even decommissioned railroad cars were used as accommodations. These quirky motels thrived, popularizing the term kitschy, describing something so tacky that it holds a special appeal. And the quirkiness didn’t stop on the outside. Ask any person under the age of forty to tell you about their experience with “Magic Fingers” you’ll likely be shunned as a slightly odd individual. Truth is these mechanical devices were attached to almost every bed in every motel at one time. For a quarter, cone-motela person received fifteen minutes of vibrating mattress bliss designed for relief from everyday stress. Ah, they knew how to cater to those traveling salesmen back then. When coupled with the advent of swimming pools, steam heat in the winter and air conditioning, free TV and phones, an overnight motel stay was a bargain at $8.00 – $10.00 per night.

A short time later, a certain gentleman returned home from a family trip, terribly disappointed with the motels he had visited on his trip to Washington, DC. Some facilities were filthy, others spotless. Some offered dining, others didn’t and not all offered swimming pools. A successful real estate developer, Mr. Kemmons Wilson decided to build his first motel along the main highway in Memphis. Every one he built thereafter would be the same, offering televisions, air conditioning, a swimming pool and a restaurant. He believed the amenities offered in Daytona Beach should be the same amenities offered in Memphis. His motel was named after a delightful musical starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby called Holiday Inn. (See…Mr. Heineman really was onto something.)

With his simple idea, Mr. Kemmons created the franchise chain concept. Only three years later, another began in Arizona opening with the moniker of Ramada, Spanish for “a shaded resting place”.  Others obviously followed, but the creation of the first national room reservation system belongs to Holiday Inn. For the independent owners, membership in this system appeared to be a double edged sword. By joining, individual establishments would be included in a roster promising high standards to their customers. In the long run, however, being represented by a franchise chain came at a cost…a cost, in the long run, most couldn’t afford. Furthermore, for the vast majority, the introduction of the US Interstate System signaled the beginning of their descent into obscurity.

Perhaps you may have heard of Amboy, California, home to Roy’s Motel and Café. No? Don’t feel bad. I hadn’t either. However, almost everyone is familiar with the “Main Street of America” – Route 66. This particular highway, the crown jewel of the transportation system, originally ran all the way frroy-s-in-amboyom Chicago, IL to Santa Monica, CA slicing through the heart of middle America. From one end to the other, little blips of homespun hospitality sprang up around the motels built on that famous stretch. People really did get their kicks on Route 66. Amboy’s existence, single handedly built by Roy Crowl in the 1940’s, became a bustling desert pit stop. Besides Roy’s Motel and Café, Mr. Crowl along with his son eventually opened a gas/service station which kept them both busy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At the time, the population of Amboy numbered around 700. However, on a sunny afternoon in 1972, all that changed. Interstate 40 opened, bypassing nearly all the towns and motels whose existence depended on a steady stream of traffic. With a stroke of a pen, these delightful little boroughs swiftly turned into ghost towns, dust bowls frequented by tumbleweeds.

With travel based on expediency and the life blood of motels dwindling away, most of these iconic structures were soon abandoned, demolished or worse, maintained as “cockroach motels” renting rooms by the hour.

While most have gone the way of the dodo, a few gems remain. Across the country, popular tourist attractions and beach communities proudly promote these old motels, lovingly restored and owned by people ready to cater to their clients whom they regard as family. The décor may have remained the same, the size of the complimentary soap useful for only one shower and towels the size of dish cloths still as rough as a loofah but if you find yourself off the beaten path, they are definitely worth the price. Who knows? You may even be lucky enough to stumble on the rare motel offering those “Magic Fingers”. If not, I know a vendor who sells them on Ebay for a song.

It happened When I blinked.

I have to confess…I postponed and delayed it. I prevaricated and accidentally on purpose, forgot. I cajoled, scolded, denied, the request. I danced around the subject so well, Mikhail Baryshnikov would have been impressed. I found every opportunity to waylay the inevitable. But like any young buck, chomping at the bit for that first taste of real freedom, I realized he could no longer be ignored.

So today, as my son sauntered happily into the DMV with me slowly  plodding along, bringing up the rear I watched as he crossed yet another threshold. I am, of course, talking about the dreaded upgrade from Driver’s Permit to Driver’s License.

“Did you bring your permit”

“Yes , mom. Do you have the insurance information?”th

“Yes.”

“Did you bring the registration?”

“Yes, Chase. In the glove compartment.”

“Did you bring my  birth certificate?”

“WHAT? You never told me you needed your birth certificate!!”

“Just kidding, mom.”

We made his appointment with literally a minute to spare. Darn..I was so close!”

Given only three minutes to cram from a one page, laminated study sheet, the Official Driving Instructor called his name and off my “little” man went. He returned about twenty  minutes later, walking two feet above ground.

“I passed, Mom! He said I was the best student he’d had that day! Can you believe it?”

Actually, I believe I can. Life is a wonderful enigma. The Rites of Passage of have existed throughout time. Oh , the characters and the scenery have changed. Even the definition of what we consider Rites has changed. And yet, it all remains the same. The “little” man who went out the door returned simply, a young man well on his way to wherever his dreams may take him. Our parents watched us venture out alone as did their parents before them and so on. It makes no difference if was on the family mule or the horse and buggy , the Model T, the family station wagon or Dad’s pickup truck. That very first taste of freedom is intoxicating and first only happens once. So although I approached this moment with very mixed emotions, I wouldn’t take away one minute of the euphoria from my son. He’s earned it.

I hear him call from upstairs.

“Hey Mom. Didn’t you need something from the grocery store? I can go to Publix if you want.”

Ah, I remember those days too.

And so it begins.

Three Little Wrens

Spring and early summer means birds nesting, hidden eggs in some hideaway, the loud chirping of mother birds and the eventual shallow squeaking of the babies when they respond. This is especially true in barns. I mean, what bird could possibly resist? Shafts of golden straw and hay, strands of long hair from horse rubbing their manes on fences all woven together with Spanish Moss from nearby Oak trees.

We were lucky to have two separate nests this summer…of course, when the mother flew up from seemingly nowhere, it caused our hearts to jump. Fortunately, she situated her second nest in a less conspicuous stall and we were able to monitor the babies from a safe distance.

One morning, while emptying the water buckets to refill while the horses were in the paddocks, we were alarmed to discover what I previously thought to be a “road apple” turned out to be drowned wren. Could it be the mother? We crept into the unoccupied stall to check out the now fledgling babies. Immediately three gaping mouths reached upward to receive food, obviously hungry.

Damn!

As animal lovers, we were worried without their mother they wouldn’t last much longer. Immediately, we googled “what to feed fledglings”. Isn’t Google wonderful? I never realized I’d done it wrong all those years ago. Under definite no-no list was bread and water. Surprisingly, soaked dog kibble (very soft) or crushed meal worms. I opted for the soaked kibble and a small syringe, all the while reminding myself their stomachs were half the size of a pea.

Frankly, we didn’t think they would last throughout the night but we tucked them in, made sure their nest remained intact and placed a small wool towel around the base.

The next morning we were greeted with three gaping mouths and high pitched squeaks. Hallelujah…we hadn’t killed them.

About two days later, we heard what was definitely a mature wren chirping quite loudly. Who knew suchIMG_3898 a small bird could emit a sound 10x its size? We continued to feed them but since we were now being scolded, we let the male bird take over…or what we thought was the dad.

Doing night check the following evening, we noticed the wee three amigos perched together on the stall door. We had watched the activity from the previous day. Obviously IMG_3901the parent had encouraged his entourage to spread their wings. It had only taken 24 hours for them to leave the comfort of the only home they had known up until then and begin their journey into the great beyond. Fortunately, we were able to photograph them before they disappeared entirely.

We are happy to report, the next morning they hopped from hay bale to hay bale before flying to the window and taking that final leap into the unknown. I’d like to think we played a small part in their success if only with a few meals.

 

Memories of Summer

In response to https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/summer/

 

Lazy afternoons,

Lying in the tall grass

watching billowing clouds

slowly floating past.

Grilled hot dogs, chips

and root beer floats.

Jumping in puddles

wearing yellow raincoats.

Running with sparklers

on the Fourth of July

capturing lightening bugs

right out of the sky.

searching for crawdads

 in the creek down the road.

The smell of green grass

that has been freshly mowed.

“Hide ‘n Seek”, “Red Rover”

“Ollie Ollie Oxen Free”

Games played with friends

when we were carefree.

Catching a snowflake

on the tip of your tongue,

climbing a tree

just because it’s so fun.

Tire swings that arc

over the swimming hole

and the best cannonball

was the ultimate goal.

Those nostalgic moments

that I can recall

Were idyllic moments

all in all.

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The True Definition of Perfection

In response to  DAILY PROMPT   https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/perfection/ 

They sat together as they had for years, tucked away in their booth, out of the way from the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Close enough to watch the fascinating dance of waiters carrying well balanced food trays weaving between tables covered with white linen cloths.

Slowly, he reached across to grasp her hand in a loving gesture of perfect harmony. He felt the softness of her skin and rubbed his thumb over the familiar simple gold wedding ring. A perfect moment where the din of the banging cutlery and china faded into silence. It was their anniversary and here, they could have their own miniature celebration before joining friends later that evening.

For those sitting nearby, their display of perfect affection drew slow smiles of appreciation and yet those witnesses probably didn’t comprehend the thoughts behind the value of perfection.

Perfection to him didn’t mean flawless or a fashion magazine’s interpretation of ideal beauty. No. As he caressed her hand, he could feel the soft skin dotted with well earned age spots and permanent creases. Cerulean blue eyes met his gaze…ones that had seen much edged with radiating crow’s feet signifying decades of laughter and joy. Lines from the corners of her eyes showed where life’s tragic events created a path for tears. Together, they had survived life’s struggles, family tragedy and experienced the most joyous moments life has to offer. When he looked at her, he saw imperfect perfection. The silver hair, the glasses, the soft lines of living and the knowledge that together they had weathered the good and the bad. In sadness, they had discovered  strength. In happiness, they had experienced inner peace. In frustration, they had learned the importance of patience. Ultimately, their imperfect life was perfect.

Ghostly Memories of Thanksgiving Past

imagejpeg_0

A writing prompt group I belong to threw out a suggestion about the aromas we remember from previous Thanksgivings. Perhaps it was from the fumes of paint stripper as I worked on a new writing desk that made me grab onto the subject and take time to ponder my response. After doing so, other memories from decades past bubbled to the surface and a face came into focus of one I hadn’t really thought of for a long, long time…perhaps too long.

As l remember, her salt and pepper hair was always pulled back in tightly pinned bun. After all, she lived on a farm and wearing one’s hair down just wasn’t done. It wasn’t practical and if my grandmother was anything, she was definitely practical. Every black and white Polaroid showed a taciturn woman, a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles perched on a less than feminine  nose, wearing a plain, cotton house dress typical of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s that ended mid-calf and covered a thick pair of stockings rolled to just below her knees. The only words to describe the shoes she always wore are black, blocky and durable. I believe they were called “Cuban” shoes but definitely capable of trudging through the muck typical of a working farm. To complete the ensemble, Grandmother always wore a top to bottom apron, a virtual necessity of that era, which covered a range of duties from holding freshly laid eggs to protecting her frock from flour during bread making. Most importantly, the apron covered her ample bosom.

Legend has it, my grandmother’s ample girth and bosum hid untold treasures which was later confirmed by my older sister many years later. As the story goes, there lived a woman on the outskirts of town who, to put it delicately, serviced interested gentlemen in the county. Perhaps she was beginning to feel the time had come to pack up and move along but whatever the reason, she came to the decision to sell her forty acre parcel. My grandmother was a shrewd business woman who knew a good investment when she saw one. They decided to meet and while their two attorneys were hashing out details in the parlor, my grandmother and the woman came to a mutual and satisfactory conclusion, sealing the deal with a handshake in the kitchen over a glass of buttermilk. Then my grandmother reached into her bosum and pulled out the agreed upon sum of cash. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m sure her bosum was safer than the bank.

Truth is my grandmother had been widowed far too early in her marriage: a difficult and frightening situation in a town of about 150. By all accounts she remained stoic and faced the adversity the only way she knew how; with determination, pragmatism and a no-nonsense view of the world. That particular era seemed to be in short supply of warm and fuzzy emotions so I’m sure it couldn’t have been all roses for my father yet he possessed a delightful prankish sense of humor.  Looking closely once again at an old photograph of her, I swear I could finally see a little mischievousness in her eyes too. Perhaps there was more to this woman I always remembered as flinty and slightly distant.

As I continued sanding and stripping, a particular memory slowly came inching back. A visit to my Grandmother’s farm was the closest thing to bliss in my youth. There were pigs and dairy cows along with a stern warning to stay clear of both. She had three devoted Chows, two of which never left her side while the third, a teddy bear with a thick black coat joined me on my adventures. An abundance of bullfrogs and crawdads filled the creek that sliced through the pasture. She always seemed to have a new litter of barn kittens darting out and about the barn sheds. When the mood struck, I would leap on my pony with two lead ropes attached to the halter and ride into town for a cream soda at Pearl’s mercantile. I usually ended up tossing feed to the chickens and the two turkeys in the backyard. On this visit, however, the turkeys were conspicuously absent.

My mother called me in to wash up and a mixture of heavenly aromas hit me as I walked up the back stairs. It wasn’t until I saw my grandmother stand up in front of the cookstove that I mentioned the missing turkeys. Wiping her hands in her apron she didn’t immediately respond but did manage to block the opening. My mother shot my father a guarded look which I didn’t catch but before he could spill the beans about the truth of our guest of honor, my grandmother spoke up, explaining turkeys often wandered off for days at a time. “I’m sure they’ll return by the time you come for your next visit.” I must have taken her explanation at face value for nothing more was said.  She gave my shoulder a little squeeze before shooing me off into the living room to play Chinese Checkers.

Sitting down for Thanksgiving supper at a table covered with a vast array of the most delicious looking vegetables about twenty minutes later, a plate with a slab of ham was placed in front of me. In fact, everyone was served ham. If anyone had thought to question the menu, she must have silenced them with a warning gaze over my head. Maybe she didn’t approach every situation with knife edged bluntness. Perhaps time, age and life had taught her a little levity and holding on to childhood innocence a bit longer to be more important. As the memory came inching back, I’m certain of it.

I look at those old family photographs differently, especially those of my grandmother.  Yep. There was much more to that lady than she let on.

Hope everyone’s memories from holidays past bring a slow smile to your lips. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!