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.

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Riding with a Rat

They come with the territory. Anytime there’s feed for horses or cattle or even dogs, they’re going to arrive to see what they can salvage from the smorgasbord. You may have the cleanest barn in the neighborhood, which we do, thanks to my OCD husband who blows out the barn aisle at every opportunity.

For the first time last evening, we saw a little unwanted guest. I, of course, am using that particular adjective loosely. Anything larger than a chipmunk should be charged rent. I heard my husband yelling, “Did you see him? Did you see him? You almost stepped on him!” That was a tidbit that I didn’t need to hear.

It turns out the interloper ran from the front of the barn all the way to the other end and disappeared. The little bugger. I never got an eyeball on him.

“Was it a mouse or a rat?” I’m not sure why that really makes any difference but it does. We horse people are a weird lot. Mice….hmm. They’re cute. Rats! It’s like the elephant in the closet.

“It was about this big.” He held his hands apart about 6″…. yep that’s a rat.

“Well he’s gone now and honestly, all the food is in a metal container. I wouldn’t worry.”

We headed up to the house without a second thought.

The next morning, my husband decided to mow the front lawn before noon. I don’t know about you, but I love the sound of a mower. It brings back childhood memories; the smell of fresh-cut grass, the distance hum of the mower and the memory of my father whipping around on his riding mower with his favorite farmer’s cap perched on his head. My husband is the same. He loves his zero turn, taking great pride in making sure the lines are even and level. Wanting to complete the lawn before the sun got too hot, he was in a particular jaunty mood, turning corners on a dime, zipping right along. Not only was my husband enjoying the ride, so was the rat.

Of course, the stowaway wasn’t discovered until my husband stopped to blow off the debris that collects in the filter. While he’s at it, he blows everything off. That’s when he discovered “Harold” literally flying off the mower when he got caught in the crosshairs. Then the real fun began.

In an effort to hide from both from my husband’s blower and further airborne torment, “Harold” darted into, of all things, our garage which was only open for the guy working on our base boards. In hot pursuit, my husband followed, cornered him and revved up his blower again. Once more, “Harold” was sent airborne, flying in a perfect five foot arch before landing outside the garage. His little legs working overtime, he scrambled toward the screened portch in the back of the house, my husband unsuccessfully trying to send him airborne into our neighbor’s pasture.

I heard a frantic thumping on the door.

“Get Charlie! CHARLIE! Come here Charlie! Rat! Get ’em boy!”

Charlie is our jackshitz…part Jack Russell, part Shitzu. Now you would think any dog with Jack Russell blood would take off like a lawn dart after such a prize catch but after leaping out the door in excitement, all Charlie could do was look up at my husband as if to say, “Yea, so? What am I supposed to do about him?”

“Harold”- unable to climb up the screen eventually took off toward the back yard and tried to disappear into the brush, with my husband, blower revved up to the highest rpm level, right on his tail, no pun intended. I would like to be able to say there is photographic documentation of this. An airborne rat is not something you see everyday. Unfortunately, as with most delightful escapades, it’s a visual one can only imagine.

Ah, life on a farm. It’s never boring.

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.

 

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

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parenthood = Roller Coaster

From the moment they are placed in your arms, you are overwhelmed with this immense sense of responsibility. They capture your heart when you hear the first flutter of a heartbeat and the love continues to grow. And although you would never in a million years volunteer for the “Rip Ride Rockit” at Universal Studios, you have unwittingly signed up for a lifetime front row seat to the roller coaster that is parenthood.

From the moment they take their first step, you would do anything to shield them from hurt. You know they are going to stub a toe, fall off their bicycle or skin their knee and your heart aches. That’s just the beginning. Next there is the first trip to the Principal’s office, being omitted from a birthday party or worse, not being picked for the sport’s team and you haven’t even left the single digit age bracket yet.

After this stage, we watch as they move to new schools, filled with the angst of making new friends and the navigating the social pecking order. You witness the first crush and the first breakup. During this time, you heart sinks right along with their own, although by now your support is mostly silent…after all, they are teenagers and “they do know everything.” Are we done yet? Not even close.

We feel their pain wishing with every ounce of our being we could take away the sting, knowing full well these are milestones they must experience just as we did. Knowing this fact does not make it any easier. The challenges are bigger, the stakes are higher and a simple kiss can’t make the booboos go away.

Today, I unknowingly took my reserved front row seat on that exhaustive roller coaster. My son loves tennis. I’m not quite sure he understands the sacrifices required to become as good as he wants; only time will tell, but he has stepped up his game in the past few weeks. The next stage will involve competition…at least two tournaments per month, plus setting time aside to practice serving and using the ball machine for consistency. It is during tournament play where the rubber meets the road. Previous matches have not always resulted in a win which is a difficult concept difficult to grasp. This morning yielded the same result—a complete, unequivocal defeat. Needless to say, our young son exited the match disappointed with his performance, feeling completely talentless, stating he should quit but wanting a reason to continue. Unfortunately during times such as these, a parent’s words of encouragement just don’t seem enough. I gave him the same pep talk and pointed out things he might have done differently when I realized he’d crumbled into an emotional heap in the car seat beside me. Truth be told, these teenagers, for all their bravado, are still children.

We sat in the parking lot of Publix and for the first time, I kept my mouth shut; a first for me, unfortunately. I just let him vent, cry, and pour out his frustration. When he was done, we didn’t talk about it and just went to lunch. As luck would have it, next to our table sat a woman with her two sons. The oldest, probably 8, was having a full blown meltdown, albeit quietly while his younger brother, about 5, looked on. After things had calmed down a bit, the mother stood up to get the food and the napkins. It was during this time the younger brother said something to his older brother. Although we were watching, neither of us could make out the words, however, it became clear within seconds whatever it was displeased the older brother immensely. He gave his brother a deathly glare that could only be described as the most incredible “unibrow stinkeye” we had ever seen, again and again. We broke up laughing.

I don’t exactly know what happened to my son during those hours between matches. What I do know is when he walked out on the court later that afternoon, he was different. He carried his head high, walked with purpose and carried a positivWait for ite attitude ready to listen to the little voices of his coaches he carries in his head. Without fanfare or hullabaloo my son had grown up on his own…he had turned the lemons from the morning into afternoon lemonade. Every time he looked at me during the match, he gave me a confident nod. Gone were the outbursts of exasperation and the barely audible swear words. When he walked off the court after losing 6-2, 6-4, he proudly told me, “I think that’s the best I’ve ever played.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Memories of a 12 yr Old

At the dining room table,

her blonde pigtails askew

sat a young girl of twelve

eyeing her mother’s beef stew.

Slumping deep in her chair,

she felt weak at the knees

knowing deep in the bowl

lurked loads of gross peas.

The rule of the house

which the girl thought unfair

before being excused

she had to eat a fair share.

Chewing small stalks of broccoli

was like eating tiny green trees

while the bland taste of cauliflower

could be improved with cheese.

Onions were fine

on hot dogs and such

while tomatoes on salads

she didn’t mind so much.

Left raw and uncooked

carrots weren’t really that bad.

She shared them with Pinhead

the black pony she had.

But peas for some reason

left her sick and uneasy

their mushy consistency

always made her feel queasy.

But several weeks earlier

she’d had a brilliant thought

a way to escape

without getting caught.

When her mom wasn’t looking

while at the table she sat

she’d pack peas in her cheeks

like a little pack rat

With her plate fairly clean

wiping her mouth with a dab

with a smile and wave

she’d scuttle out like a crab.

To the patch of green grass

she would quickly hightail it,

ridding her mouthful of peas

with a well practiced spit.

So, knowing her plan

she dug into her stew

leaving the disgusting old peas

until she was almost through.

So it came as shock when

       her mom sat down to speak

as she sat with those veggies

       stuffed inside her cheeks.

With a smile and a nod

her mom started to say,

“You’ll never guess where I

picked those peas today”

“As I watered the lawn

on this side of our home,

I saw blooms of pea pods

near the old garden gnome.”

“They were ripe and ready

nearly dripping with pods

so I picked them for dinner

although I must say it’s odd.”

“You see, I never bought seeds

Nor planted a garden

In that spot or near there

of that I’m quite certain.”

Her mother looked gently

into the little girl’s eyes.

“So how those plants got there

I can only surmise.”

Feeling cornered and caught

the girl lost all bravado.

unable to leave

she could only swallow.

With a hack and a grimace

leaving her mother amused,

“Take your plate to the sink.

Now you may be excused”

The moral’s annoying

but it has to be said.

parents really do have eyes

in the back of their head.