Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Visitor in the Midst of a Storm

 Friendship is a sheltering tree. 

Samuel Taylor Coleridge


In mid-March 2019, I returned from a trip to Mexico City and Troncones, Mexico to find a changing world impacted by an unfamiliar virus. Like everyone else, I stocked my pantry and prepared for the ugly sweep of the virus. I anticipated solitary days of reading, writing, yoga, and fiddling with a mountain of art supplies and having only my husband as entertainment. But that expectation remained on hold. While everyone else sheltered in place, I headed to the airport. I had company coming. 

 

I wasn’t picking up a family member. Nor someone particularly close to me. Truth be told, I’d never met the person. Her name was Celia and she lived in England. And she’d been my PenPal since 1965.

 

In spite of the growing infection around the world, Celia’s first trip to America remained in order. She and her husband, Nick, had arrived in America two weeks before. They had toured in California -- driving a rental car down the Pacific Coast Highway, arriving in San Diego to visit a lodger they'd had a few years before. 

 

As the world changed hourly, I’d checked with them a couple times via text. Seemed the virus trailed behind them down the California coast. With their flights still scheduled, they planned to plod on. I worried they might get trapped in America. Among other thoughts.

 

I was not nervous to meet her. I couldn't imagine it wouldn't be a fine meeting. Rather, I wasn't certain what might come with them from California -- or what we might give them -- before they could find a way back to England.

 

During WW2, my father was stationed in England. On the weekends a local woman, Ma Huckle, took in soldiers, fed them home-cooked meals, did their laundry, called them her sons, and offered moments of home, away from the bombings and terrors of the war.

 

My dad kept a written relationship with Ma Huckle, and her two daughters, after his return to the US. In 1965, Ma Huckle’s granddaughter, Celia, a year older than my eight years, and I became acquainted. We wrote our letters on onionskin paper as it was thin and didn't cost much to airmail across the Atlantic. My stationary was white. Hers was blue. We shared photos. 

 

I don't recall much of what we said. The past 35 or 40 years our exchanges were only a yearly form Christmas letter, both of us penning a note at the end that we must truly meet one day. 

 

Now, we were finally doing that -- in the midst of a pandemic. Yet her family had taken care of my dad in a harrowing time. I suppressed my fears and decided that no matter what lay ahead, I would take care of Celia now.

 

At the airport, only six or seven other cars were parked in the normally bulging short-term garage. The familiar dodge of vehicles while navigating the six-lane racetrack to enter the terminal didn't exist. Not a car or parking lot shuttle in sight. Reminded me of Omega Man, a really bad movie from my youth featuring the last person left on Earth.



Only two airport workers lingered inside by baggage claim. To say it was eerie is an understatement. I kept one foot in front of the other, and paced, trying not to touch anything. Of course, I had to pee.

 

I had no trouble recognizing Celia as she came down the escalator, and not because only 11 people were on the flight from San Diego.

 

In a normal time, we might have hugged. We didn't. I elbow bumped with her husband as they quickly gathered their bags. We chatted as I drove them the hour to my house, where my husband and I got them settled, took them for a boat ride, and welcomed them at our table for dinner. 

 

Beyond the lack of an initial hug, it never entered my mind beyond that to not feel comfortable, to finally have this woman in her 60's, just like me, sitting at my table. A connection of over 55 years. I knew her, so well. I didn't say that, but she did, a day or so later. That we seemed to fit right together.



We spoke of our travels, our children, our current interests and curiosities. We joked about which of our leaders took more time with their hair in the morning. They drank lots of tea. We drank lots of wine.

 

Rain poured from the sky for the next three days. No letting up. Cold winds. No more boat rides. No warmth from the sun. All the stores and museums and everything we'd planned to share about our Central Texas world -- closed. One afternoon we drove to the LBJ Ranch. The buildings were closed but where, in a brief respite from the rain, we walked by the former president’s grave and the historical posters of the Civil Rights Movement and Lady Bird's quest for a wildflower and litter-free beauty for America.

 

Longhorn cattle and Herefords grazed only feet from our car as we drove through the ranch. Springtime in Texas. Baby cows. Wildflowers and green, green, green. A peaceful place for a brief afternoon away from whatever lurked in the real world, our newly knit group in our own bubble.

 

As the world tightened its borders, Celia’s travel agency arranged flights two days early. After a brief car tour to show off the capitol building and Austin's jewel, Barton Springs Pool, we walked along the trail of Town Lake (now known as Lady Bird Lake), before arriving again at the ghostly airport.

 

We didn't elbow bump a farewell. All of us, my husband and her husband. Celia and me, embraced. We had come full circle in our few days together. Over 55 years of correspondence across an ocean. Not quite the visit any of us ever imagined, but a coming together nonetheless.


 

Somewhere, in my attic, are Celia’s childhood letters. I'd intended to find them before she came, but life changed for all of us in the days leading up to her arrival. I'd been lolling on that  beach in Troncones, Mexico and when I came home, all hell had broken loose in the world. Putting a well-stocked pantry together seemed more prudent than sorting through childhood boxes not opened in forty years.  

 

I will find them one of these days as things return to a new normal. Meantime, as a gift, Celia brought me a tin of Dorset tea, a box of Moore biscuits and a jar of England's finest marmalade. Each afternoon since her departure, I’ve made myself a cup of Dorset tea. The biscuits are long gone, as is the marmalade. 

 

At the end of our Christmas letters this year, I wonder what we’ll write. Maybe I’ll say something like how I can't wait until one day I drink a cup of tea and crunch a biscuit with marmalade in her English garden. Perhaps I’ll even hand her a ribbon-wrapped stack of old letters. 

 

This essay first appeared in NextTribe online magazine. https://nexttribe.com/international-pen-pals/


 

 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Stopping by the Woods on a Wisconsin Afternoon

When using a public campground, a tuba placed on your picnic table will keep the campsites on either side vacant. Author Unknown  

My husband and I bought a used Airstream trailer. I’d always kinda, sorta wanted one. I’m almost done writing a book about an Airstream caravan following a famous trail — a middle-aged woman’s coming of age story. 

An Airstream calendar from several years ago hangs in my house, still getting turned to months long past. On another wall hangs a barnwood plank depicting an Airstream hand-painted by my daughter-in-law, Chelsea. In the wall socket is an Airstream night light given to me by other daughter-in-law, Leigh. On the coffee table is a history book of Airstreams, given by my friend, Michelle, who is mad at me because I got one before her.  

So, okay. I really did want one. However, having a real one in our driveway was a little intimidating. The learning curve very high. Where most Airstreams look very small when you see them in RV lots next to the other brands, they do indeed appear tiny. Hook one onto the back of your truck, and, well, it ain’t so damn tiny. 

Walkie Talkies have aided in our backing up, provided the man in the truck takes the directions from —— a woman. And we’ve launched our first long journey. A road trip up north to get out of the oppressing Texas heat. 

Over a week ago, we took off on our first adventure. We’ve discovered covering 350 miles a day is an ideal distance for us — so contrary to our days of knocking out 900 miles. My husband is getting used to driving in the slow lane, now keeping track of how many cars he gets to pass in a day. Banner Day? 5. 

Our first campsites were only for one night so we booked pull through RV parks. Not very exciting. The one in Missouri was a big gravel parking lot with trailers lined up next to one another. Most of the people lived there full-time.  

On the road, it was easy to stop and use the trailer bathroom and make lunch. Didn’t have to go into stores or gas stations. Or eat fast food. Been a little interesting filling up with gas — with a trailer behind us. 

We made our way through Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois to visit with family in Wisconsin for a few days. We plan to visit some good friends in northern Minnesota, but right now we’re hanging in a beautiful state park on the Chippewa River in western Wisconsin. 

A little bit of crisp in the air says fall is here. On my bike ride this morning, I stopped to pick up several maple leaves that have already turned orange. I often set my kick stand to take in the beauty of the river and tall trees and the rustling of the leaves in the trees. I miss the large rustling leaves living in Texas. The leaves on most the trees are so small, one can barely hear them swishing against one another. Something I immediately notice when I venture up north. 

An occasional acorn lands on the roof of the trailer. I’m wearing a sweatshirt. I slept with two Mexican blankets covering me last night. 

And this is my new friend. He nudged my leg yesterday. I must be in his parking space.



For those of you yearning for a change of scenery, I am happy to share. 





I want to learn how to forage.




A violinist!




Beautiful and peaceful. Except maybe for me. Forgive me if this post doesn’t look right.  I’m learning how to work on an IPAD. Many, many swear words have accompanied the process of this post. I’m working on the picnic table and the people next to us just packed up and moved to another campsite. Hmmmm. Thinking I don’t need no stinking tuba. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

What to Do in a Pandemic? Of Course, Buy an...

You can avoid having ulcers by adapting to the situation: If you fall in the mud puddle, check your pockets for fish.   Author Unknown

In April, my husband and I began a five-week trip-of-a-lifetime to New Zealand, Australia, and the Cook Islands. Yup. Dream trip come true. The two of us exploring -- from Milford Sound to the Great Barrier Reef, finishing with a weeklong stint in a one-bedroom cottage steps from the lagoon in Raratonga. Floating in the South Pacific. Heaven.

Our dream trip remains a dream. As does all the travel everyone else in the world has planned. Not much excitement for any of us -- except the navigation of life in the time of Covid-19. Due to a dedicated stance on masks, social distancing, and maintaining our "pod," we've been fortunate to escape the illness and loss many have suffered and continue to endure. For us, a long stint stuck in our home has proven to be our adventure.

I'm not one to get bored. I can't recall the last time I was bored. The pandemic hasn't changed that. My unread books pile up on my ToBeRead shelf like always and I'm borrowing audio books from the library, via Overdrive, like normal. (Okay, maybe a little more.)


There are more behind that front line.

Yup -- that front line of books has a back line.

Playing with watercolors and acrylics and practicing patience with my lack of ability while organizing my thoughts?  I haven't even begun to scratch the surface in that venture.


Now and then, I have grandchildren to play with. Makes life easier when you do what a four-year-old tells you to do -- or follow a 17-month-old around the perimeter. 

Of course, there is the online ordering of groceries and the creative cooking. Ina Garten's Instagram entries have certainly added variety to my repertoire of the past 42 years. Continuous watering of the container garden vegetables, since I didn't plant a garden this year, takes up time. (I wasn't supposed to be here for the spring planting and harvest. Right?)

And, one can always clean house. (For me an occasional necessity -- an activity I accomplish with efficiency and speed.) 

But, still, somedays, I get itchy. 

Not bored. Just itchy to be somewhere different.

So itchy, I announced to my husband I was pulling out all our old camping equipment and we were going camping. The tent. The campstove. The coffee pot. The lantern. The clothesline. Everything. We were getting out of Dodge.

My husband shuddered in his chair. "I'm too old to sleep on the ground."

"We'll buy a huge blowup air mattress for your tender body," I snapped. 

Once upon a time, we were big campers. On our honeymoon, we drove from Michigan to the Pacific Coast Highway, camping from Astoria, Oregon to below Big Sur. We didn't have much money in our early years so campouts at Lake Michigan, and, later, while living in Colorado, Utah, and Connecticut, became our vacations and getaways. Our entertainment.

Having all three sons become Eagle Scouts meant we did significant time at campgrounds. Since getting rid of the kids, we've taken to seeing the world. We don't stay in the fanciest of hotels as we only use them for siesta, shower, and sleep.  But much nicer to sleep in a hotel on the Zambezi River than a tent where the crocodiles can have you for a midnight snack.

With those future adventures on hold -- and even road trips curtailed from visiting family or anywhere to get out of the relentless Texas summer heat, camping was the only solution I could come up with to avoid hotels and restaurants. Camping with a river to cool myself.

My husband wasn't on board. While I researched open campsites on the Frio River, he pounded away on his laptop. One morning he said there was something we needed to see in Houston - a three-hour drive away.

Next thing I knew, this happened.

This was not an idea out of the blue. Our plan in our retirement was to purchase a used Airstream -- after we satisfied ourselves with more international travel. The afore-mentioned Oceania areas of the globe followed by South America, Asia, and Spain/Portugal/Morocco. And, and, and...

As long as our bodies and pocketbook held out, we were going for it. No fancy cruises. Rental cars and roadmaps, picnic lunches and guidebooks in hand. The Airstream would come after, when we were older farts traveling the US and Canada, leeching real showers off friends along the way.

Enter the virus. Adaptation. The re-arrangement of the plan. Online shopping to explore grey/black water hoses. And, our first adventure. 60 miles from home at Blanco State Park. Floating down the river. Oilcloth on the picnic table. AC! on a hot August night in a campground. 

I write this post today as my husband and I celebrate 42 years of marriage. Where we had to use our wedding gift money to fund that 6000-mile honeymoon trek, and our VW broke down in Chicago, and my parents towed it home, and lent us a car, and it snowed while we figured out how to put up our new tent in Yellowstone National Park--in the dark -- we are now in a little better position to purchase our used 2014 Airstream. 





Although we're not snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef or watching the glowworms in New Zealand or hiking up to Machu Pichu this year, we are back where we started -- at a campground.


Needs a little decoration.

Poetic, I'd say. 

Now, if this thing could just learn how to back up by itself. 

Hope you're all doing well as we all plod through this, our newest lesson, in perseverance --

and life. 



Tuesday, May 19, 2020

The Introvert's Dream

I get along with myself quite well. 
Julie Sucha Anderson

In this day and age of Shelter-In-Place, I must say that I, the closet introvert, is not having that hard of a time. The virus has made me take notice that I've cut a world out for myself where not having to go anywhere is sort of what I prefer to do.

I'm not a total recluse. I do like people. I'm in lots of groups. Book Club (18 years), Bunco Bitches (29 years), writing groups, creative circles. I love worldwide travel and studying new cultures, museums, and talking with the local people--whether we speak the same language or not. I'm a foodie, so eating in restaurants that have tasty and delightful dishes works for me.

However, I do get weary if I'm out and about for too long. Back in normal times, once a month I had what I called my Social Week. Bunco, Book Club, and writing group all met during the same week. Dinner out or in with friends and family, too, most often.

It's all fun but when the week is over, I breathe a sigh of relief and return to my quiet world.

As to those who might say I'm not an introvert? Those who call me the Camp Director? Well, I am a great hostess. Hundreds of people have stayed in my home. I've never been one to shy away from hosting a shower, a party, or out of town guests.

But there is introvert heaven in that, too. For if you're in your own home, you can always hide in your bedroom. Or leave the scene to get something, anything ready. Feign sleep while in your hammock.  Introverts learn how to do these things. For me, it's often much easier being the hostess rather than a guest.

Enter Coronavirus 19. Enter Zoom. Oh. My. God.

If someone had told me years ago you could attend meetings from home, sitting in your favorite blue chair, via Zoom? Host Bunco, book club, happy hours or join your writing group, even a Yoga class, via Zoom? See your entire family or extended families all at once without airport pickups or having to change sheets, via Zoom?

Talk about a revelation. I can invite people into my home and not have to clean it first -- or wash my face. Or put on makeup. Or pluck my chin hairs. I can wear yesterday's clothes. No cooking or cleanup afterward.

 Zoom? Where the hell have you been all my life?

I can now go to Happy Hour and not worry about driving home.

I can still bring people together and joy of all joys, if someone is monopolizing the conversation and not understanding they have to wait their turn to talk, I can mute them. Ha!

Having everyone before you on your computer screen, you can see their reactions to someone's tale. So fun to study them and see your friends and family laugh or frown as they chat.

Bunco Bitches (missing a couple -- late to the photo taking)
Some of the Book Club (again, too late to get all 15)
I must say it isn't only Zoom that suits my life during this troubling time. Take Curbside pickup at the grocery store. I order online,  pull into a parking spot, and someone puts it in my car. Wonder of wonders.

I check out my library books on my Overdrive App and load them on my Kindle or receive it in audio form.

Perhaps I fit into this world so well because I've dabbled in this direction for years. I'd rather write letters than talk on the phone. I'd rather argue in a letter, than in person. I'm a big fan of catalogs and online shopping. If I have to enter clothing stores, it's a surgical strike. I know what I want and get in, and out. I have better things to do than meander for hours in a store. Just ask my friends. I'll always meet for lunch, but don't call me to shop. (Unless it's a book store or garden center.)

Right now, I'm more than ready to travel somewhere. But, this isolation thing isn't bugging me too much. My husband retiring a couple years ago helped with having to see him every day -- all day long. We've actually managed our time together quite well. He goes for long walks. I hide in my hammock.

Other than him, that love of my life, I don't see anyone. Except for these guys. They get exemption from Zoom. After an initial several weeks of quarantine, to insure everyone's safety, we've helped care for them while their parents try to work from home without day care.





A three-year-old -- sits still longer.
The older grandchild we get to see more often and treasure the time. The younger lives further away so the time together is beyond precious. Wears our old butts out, but it's also become a new weight loss program. Chase a 14-month-old for seven days and see what your scale says.

As the world begins to open up, I know I'll have to rejoin it -- at some point. Meantime, I'll share the world outside my window. I'm humbled with gratitude to have it.



As well as my new virtual world.

Zoom -- The Introvert's Dream.

Stay safe everyone. 


Thursday, May 16, 2019

When Your Son Has a Son


A baby dances with its feet in the air.
Ruth Krauss

In 1988, my husband and I lived in Connecticut. We rented a house two blocks from the beach on Long Island Sound. I had a great job in New Haven. My son had the best babysitter in the entire world and we had many friends. I loved exploring New York City and New England having moved there from Utah two years earlier. 

My husband hated his job. When he was offered a job in Austin, Texas, let me just say this. There were fingernail marks in the freeway from Milford, Connecticut all the way to Texas. I wasn't upset only for the things I would miss. I was also six months pregnant. I knew no one there. And now my second child would be a Texan rather than a New Englander. God forbid. I'd never been to Texas, but.what I'd heard scared me. What if my new baby came out wearing a ten gallon hat?

Austin turned out to be a great place to raise our family. And that new little baby, my Jordan, well, he was a sweetheart.


He did grow up to wear a hat, but not like I pictured. After years of wearing one like this while running Pioneer Farms Living History Museum, 



he now wears another. That of a father. 

Last September he moved from Austin with his pregnant wife (I so felt your pain, Leigh) out to East Texas to take a job with Texas Parks and Wildlife. At the beginning of March, I was boogie boarding with a bunch of wild women aging boldly while this incredible child was born. Too much fun showing everyone my new grandson's picture. 





Miles Robert



I spent five days with Miles when I returned and they are five days I will cherish forever. 


I watched as this beautiful new family worked through the exhaustion and trials of new parenthood, My daughter-in-law quickly realized that she had prepared well, but just because women had been having babies forever didn't mean first time around they knew what the hell they were doing, especially when your body has been through the ringer and you're sleep deprived. With that simple recognition she chose to trust herself. Smart mama. Great mama.

The first bath
I watched that son of mine as Miles added more days to his young life. So calm, so relaxed. Little Miles so comfortable and safe in the arms of that gentle soul. 



Watching my children with their children is something that leaves me in awe. I'm not quite certain how to describe what I see as I'm not certain how to interpret it. I still can't believe they are old enough to have babies of their own, yet I'm proud they participate in the raising, the doing, the work of raising children. Such an exciting time in their lives.

One afternoon I watched my oldest son as he and his daughter lay on the grass in the back yard, 'noculars in hand as they searched the sky for birds.


Or another day where I watched a tired new dad sit, his new son, Miles, lying in his lap, both content with the world. 


Baby Miles. Of course we ask questions like "Who does he look like?"


His Mama?


Or his daddy?

You decide.






Does he have Uncle Ian's cheeks?


Will Grandpa teach him good stuff or bad stuff? Will Grandma have to monitor?


Will he always keep us entertained?


Aw, little Miles. So very sweet. I'm sad he is two hours away. Now I know something of what my mother used to feel, her grandchildren 1402 miles away. I do get to see him every few weeks and rock him in my arms or have him sit in the crook of my crossed leg. To show him pages from a book or play a little music for him. In his early days of hanging with me, he responded best to the Stones and Eine kleine Nachtmusik. Gotta like that.


When I say goodbye, I can't wait for our next visit. For Miles, dear Miles. Even though I might still be learning about little girls, your cousin Maisy will tell you that hanging with Grandma is an okay thing to do.

But here's a little secret. This Grandma knows how to do boys. She's well seasoned in boys. We will have great fun. Just you watch.

When my son had a son, I cried. I knew he'd be a great dad and I held such joy for him. I have no doubt Miles will become as fine a man as my Jordan, my son.


Congratulations Jordan and Leigh.




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