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What’s a huckleberry?

  “I ate some really good huckleberry ice cream,” I told four Grands after one asked what I had eaten while Husband and I took a bus tour through parts of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.  “Huckleberry?  Like the boy in the book?  What’s his name?” one Grand asked. 

Another Grand answered. “Huckleberry Finn.  Was it his favorite kind of ice cream?”

Before we could discuss possible connections between Huckleberry Finn and huckleberries, my Grands asked more questions.  “What’s a huckleberry?  Do we have them?  What’d the ice cream taste like? Did you eat it a lot?”

Huckleberries are small purple berries that grow wild in the Pacific Northwestern United States. They thrive in the regions of the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone National Park, but don’t grow naturally in Tennessee.

Huckleberry ice cream is delicious and unique – a flavor combination of dark sweet grapes and cherries. I wish I’d eaten a lot.

Before leaving for this trip, several people told me to eat huckleberry ice cream so I was eager to try it. Husband and I spent the first afternoon walking around downtown Rapid City, South Dakota, where I expected to see ice cream parlors, but didn’t, and huckleberry ice cream wasn’t available at the restaurants where we ate for two days.

We made stops in Gillette and Sheridan, Wyoming, and stayed overnight in Billings, Montana, and I only found individual package ice cream treats, like in our local stores.  On to West Yellowstone, Montana, a small town, population 1090, and I spotted an ice cream truck parked on a street corner.

As Husband and I walked to a local 1950s style restaurant for supper we passed the truck, and I checked out the flavors.  Yes, huckleberry was on the list!  “That’s my dessert!” I said.  What I didn’t notice was the operating hours and an hour later, the ice cream truck was closed.

After a day in Yellowstone Park, we stayed in West Yellowstone another night.  At suppertime we walked to the ice cream truck, and  I ordered two scoops of huckleberry ice cream.  The young lady apologized, “I’m sorry.  We’re out of huckleberry.”

To go with my supper, cheeseburger and cheese-covered tater tots, and to drown my disappointment, I drank a huckleberry soda pop that tasted like a Nehi grape soda, except sweeter.  Never again.

Our last overnight stop was Jackson, Wyoming, well-known for antler arches on its town square corners and its ski slopes.  Surely, a resort town of 10,000 would also have ice cream shops on every corner.

Moo’s Gourmet Ice Cream Shop was on a side street and at the top of the flavors list was Wild Huckleberry.  I didn’t celebrate until I held two scoops in a waffle cone. Husband and I sat on a park bench, near an antler arch, and I slowly licked and savored that delicious ice cream. 

            Huckleberry Finn and huckleberries? Because huckleberries are small, the word ‘huckleberry’ was used to refer to something small or unimportant. Some scholars think Mark Twain had that in mind when he named Huckleberry Finn.

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Safe, in Timeout

“You’re all in timeout!  Please listen when I tell you to do something! That’s all I can say right now.” Jolie, our mild-mannered tour guide, was upset with the other thirty-five tourists and me who were on a six-day bus tour.  She sat down on her bus seat.

We’d bought lunches at a grocery store that morning, and Jolie directed the bus driver to a Yellowstone National Park roadside picnic area.  After eating, some people walked to the concrete bathrooms, some toward the bus, some toward the road, and with a few others, I walked toward the woods. Eddie pointed to the ground and said, “Well, a big animal’s been here.  Maybe a bear?”

Moist scat was only six feet from my lunch table. Because it looked similar to the cow patties I’d avoided in farm pastures when I was a kid, I guessed a bison had been there recently.  Everyone around me laughed when I put my foot beside the scat and snapped a photo.  How else could I show my young Grands how big bison scat is?

I noticed one of our group standing near the road and motioning ‘come.’  Two bison, about thirty yards away, were walking on the road toward the parking area and we tourists held our phone cameras.  Jolie screamed, “You got your pictures.  Get on the coach now!” 

I looked behind me and saw Husband walking near the bus.  I waved and hollered, “Just look. No pictures. We have to get on the bus.”  Jolie yelled something about how fast bison can move and again told us get on the coach.

A white pick-up truck turned into the parking area. A park ranger stuck his head out the truck window and yelled, “You’re in danger! Get on your bus!”  I saw Husband near the road taking a photo.  I screamed at him to hurry, and stupidly, ran to the picnic table to get my jacket, then ran the few yards toward the bus.

The bison ventured off the road and onto the roadway toward the bus. People bunched at the bus door. The bison walked nearer the bus and I saw Husband in the bunched group. 

The park ranger beside me yelled, “You’re too slow. Get on the other side of the bus! Now!”  About twelve of us plastered ourselves against the bus, opposite the door side.  The ranger said, “They’ll probably go in the woods. Stay quiet. Don’t move. No pictures.”

The two bison walked along the door side of the bus, turned at the end of the bus and toward the woods. When I saw them, just twenty feet away, I held my breath. “Don’t move or talk,” whispered the ranger.

After the bison walked deep into the woods, the ranger guided us to the coach door.  Just as I sat down beside Husband, who had gotten onto the bus before the bison walked beside it, Jolie put us in timeout.  Safe and in timeout never felt so good.  

This photo made by someone on the bus.

Remember that time when…

I sat in the back seat between Granny and my big brother Roger.  Dad drove our family’s 1956 hardtop Dodge, and Mom held a road map as we travelled from Tennessee to Oklahoma the summer I was ten years old. Granny and I sometimes swapped places and I could feel the breeze from the front seat window, rolled down just a few inches, and I’d crack my window enough to blow my ponytail.The reason for this trip was Granny wanted to visit her nephew’s family; it was my family’s only long-distance driving trip with her.  She wore a shirtwaist cotton dress, heavy black shoes and white anklets, and her white hair was cut short – all common for a 71-year-old-woman.  I thought she was old, really old. 

            As we traveled the two-lane highways, Granny and I played the alphabet game and searched for letters printed on billboards and road signs.  We could claim only one letter per sign from A to Z.  It took a long time to spot the end of the alphabet:  V, X, and Z.  Then we spelled words – our full names and random words.  

            Mom gave updates of how many miles to the next town, which might be just a gas station, grocery store and post office. We stopped at roadside parks to eat the picnic lunch Mom had packed.  Sandwiches, chips, cookies, and Cokes, in thick glass bottles. 

             Recently, I rode with Daughter’s family of seven in their ten-passenger van from Winter Park, Colorado to Cookeville, Tennessee.  During the first hour of travel, all eight of us took in the scenery.  Snow on the mountains above the tree line, arrow straight evergreens below, and deep slopes to valleys.  Switchbacks and steep inclines led to Bethoud Pass at 11,307 feet above sea level, then more curves down the mountain toward Denver.

            Son 2 and 17-year-old Grand sat in the front captains’ seats, taking turns as driver and navigator.  Four other Grands sat in their ‘regular’ seats: two-person bench seats, a three-person bench seat, and a jump seat.  During the two days travels, Daughter and I sat beside each Grand.  They had over-the-seat hanging bags filled with craft and drawing items, small toys, and snacks. And each had a device, a ‘screen.’

            Leaving the mountains, I sat beside Lucy, age 11, who stretched her legs across my lap, leaned against her pillow, covered herself with a quilt and listened to a book downloaded on an iPod.  Another Grand listened to music and solved Rubix Cubes.  Two watched a favorite movie for the umpteenth time.  Daughter took in a downloaded podcast.  All had earbuds or headphones.

            Enjoying the quiet, I read a book downloaded on my iPad.  But we weren’t quiet for the entire twenty-one hours trip, when I sat with my Grands we talked, played pencil and paper games, rubbed backs, and cuddled. 

            Maybe my Grands will have happy memories as I do when Granny and I rode side-by-side to Oklahoma.  They might say, “Remember that time Gran rode home with us from Colorado?” 

Vacation Wildlife Sightings

I looked forward to seeing wildlife while vacationing with Daughter’s and Son’s families in Fraser and Winter Park, Colorado.

            As soon as I sat on our condo balcony, a hummingbird swooped a little too close.  A robin perched atop a blue spruce and looked like a topper on a Christmas tree.  An iridescent black bird that looked like a crow, marked white on its wings and body, squawked as it flew past. 

            He’s the cousin of a crow and raven: a black-billed magpie.  Magpies were everywhere I was for five days.  On hiking trails in the middle of the forest.  At a concrete skate park in downtown Winter Park.  Among the natural undergrowth and trees surrounding the condo complex.  Magpies were easy to identify, and I sometimes heard their loud, harsh cries before I saw them. 

            Early one morning while I sipped my first cup of coffee, two female mule deer grazed nearby.  Their long ears turned toward me when I stepped outside, but obviously not feeling threatened, they lowered their heads to pick the wild grasses.  I sat quietly watching these animals that have broader chests and are more stocky than the white-tailed deer here in Tennessee. 

            Another morning, deer wandered from a cluster of trees and sauntered near the condos for their morning feed. Then they turned, walked toward the trees, stopped, kneeled to the ground under a large bush, and tucked their heads. Was this their daily routine?  Their feeding lot? Their place for daytime naps?

            The only moose and elk I saw stood perfectly still on the sidewalks of Winter Park.  Huge metal statues.  The moose was dressed in a red and white coat and blue pants to celebrate Independence Day.  Maybe, I thought, I’ll see wildlife while riding home with Daughter’s family for two days across Kansas and parts of Missouria and Kentucky. 

            After a nine-hour ride we checked into a hotel in Topeka, Kansas, and I put on my tennis shoes to walk outside and stretch my stiff body.  A few steps from the hotel’s front doors, I saw wildlife that marks this trip. 

            A doe and four kits waddled from under tall shrubs and trees about five parking places from where I stood.  I froze in place.  I never expected to see a stench of skunks!  (Yes, a group of skunks is called a stench or surfeit.)  Momma Skunk led her babies from their protected hide-away onto mowed grass, toward the paved parking lot.  The kits, following Momma, tumbled over each other.

            At the concrete curb, Momma stopped, sniffed, raised her nose, sniffed the concrete again.  She turned around facing her kits, then stepped through them and ambled toward the bushes.  The kits followed.

            I hate the stink of a skunk’s spray, and never want to be near one, but seeing the doe leading her kits and watching them play, I hoped no one would find their hiding place.  Skunks eat rodents, beetles, and larvae, and scavenger animal carcasses so that busy intersection in Topeka should be varmint-free, unless skunks are considered varmints.

Earth’s Biggest Natural Spa

A trip to Israel wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Dead Sea. The lowest place on Earth, sitting about 1300 feet below sea level and one of Earth’s saltiest bodies of water, ten times saltier than oceans. And my trip wouldn’t have been complete without floating on the Dead Sea. Not floating in, floating on.

The Dead Sea lies at the edge of the Judean desert where rainfall averages 2½ inches per year and is fed by the Jordan River.   Freezing temperatures never occur here. January’s temperatures average 60º and summertime temperatures hover between 90º-100º.

As I walked one block from my hotel on the sidewalk toward the Dead Sea, the October blue sky was filled with soft fluffy clouds. The beach looked like resort beaches. A snack bar. White plastic lounge chairs. Palm trees.

“Just walk in and lie back,” the tour guide had said. “Don’t try to turn over and swim. Don’t get the water in your mouth or eyes. And if you have cuts or scraps on your skin, you’ll feel the burn of salt.”

I saw friends from my tour group in the water so I put my towel on a chair nearby and kicked off my flip-flops at the water’s edge. A friend, wearing street clothes, said, “Are you sure you want to get in that water? I felt it with my hand. It’s really slimy and oily.” I nodded and smiled.

I avoided stepping on the scattered salt rocks that dotted the shallow water, took a few steps and stopped. I should have realized the salt rocks would be denser in deeper water and have sharp edges, like coral.   The bottoms of my feet hurt, but my flip-flops were far out of reach. Thankfully, a friend saw my dilemma and handed my shoes to me so I could walk until the water was above my knees. I lowered myself into the water.

What a strange sensation to lie completely still and feel as if I were on an invisible float. Only the heels of my feet and the back of my body were underwater. I raised my head and put both arms to my sides and continued to float. As I waved my hand high toward a camera, drops of water splashed onto my lips. It tasted like sticking my tongue in a bowl of salt.

I wasn’t concerned about being bitten by fish or bothered by other animals. Nothing, not animals nor plants, can live in the extreme salinity. This body of water, also called the Salt Sea, is a place for healing. The extremely high salt and mineral content is said to help people with arthritis, respiratory problems, and chronic skin conditions.

Floating on the Dead Sea was calming. I liked the smooth, slightly oily feeling, and the ability be still and completely relax in warm water. No wonder this body of water is known as earth’s biggest natural spa.

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Trained and Ready to Ride

Beside my driver’s license in my wallet, I have a new license that states, “The carrier of this card has personally been trained to ride camels professionally.”

To get this training, I travelled with a tour group to Tel Aviv, Israel, and then we rode a bus to the Judean Desert, near Mavo, Jericho and the Dead Sea. A metal sign outside a small building welcomed us to Genesis Land, advertised as where the patriarchs of the Old Testament lived. We saw the Jordan Valley, one of the deepest land trenches on earth, stretching to the horizon.

Six camels lay ten steps from the building’s entrance. Chewing their cuds, they ignored us tourists as we admired them, and I marveled how their legs folded and they lay with their bellies flat on the sand. Inside the building, we were given riding directions. Climb on and off a camel only under a guide’s instruction. Hold on tight to the metal bar with both hands at all times. And choose a tunic to wear while riding.

Marilyn, my traveling friend, and I chose green tunics and raised our hands when asked, “Who’s ready to ride?” The camels, dromedaries, were outfitted with double saddles. Over each camel’s one hump, was a metal and leather saddle with two seats and raised metal bars for riders to hold. “Just throw your leg over and hold the bar,” the guide said. “When the camel stands, she’ll raise her front legs half way up, then her back legs, so hold on.”

As our camel stood, Marilyn and I were thrown backward and then forward, and I spontaneously named her when I shouted, “Whoa, Nellie!” We settled into the flat saddles, and Nellie was the third camel of six tied together with ropes.

A guide led only the first camel so Nellie had some leeway. She wandered from the center of the twelve-foot wide path to the edge that dropped off at least 500 feet and sitting astride Nellie, it looked like 5000 feet. Nellie’s hooves were inches from the edge while she nibbled leaves of a palm tree and when the tied rope became taut, she moved quickly to the side and forward at the same time. Marilyn and I clutched the metals bars tightly, knuckle-white tightly. “Does she think she’s a Kentucky race horse?” Marilyn said.

Camels aren’t graceful. Because they walk using the legs on the same side of their body at the same time, it creates a swaying motion for riders. Marilyn and I were just getting our movements in sync with Nellie’s when our ride ended.

“Hold on and lean back. Her front legs go down first,” the guide told us. Marilyn and I leaned as far back as we could and we both stayed centered and astride Nellie as she lowered herself and us.

There was only one thing I didn’t like about riding a camel. The ride was too short. But now that I have a license to ride camels professionally, I can ride again. Maybe across a desert, a very small one.

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Glimpses of Israel

After a ten-day trip to Israel, I struggle to string words together. Maybe it’s the twenty-six hours of being awake and travel, with only catnaps. A bus ride from hotel to the Tele Aviv airport. A long wait to check-in, followed by a 11½ hour flight to Newark, New Jersey. Lines for U. S. customs and to board another plane. A two-hour flight to Nashville. A car ride, arriving home at 12:30 a.m.

Jet lag is a real disorder and is surely partially responsible for my lack of concentration. But as I begin this column for the umpteenth time, I realize the main reason I’m struggling is that I’d like to share everything I saw and experienced. That’s impossible. I travelled with a church tour group and many experiences were religious, but I’ll only share a few glimpses of Israel’s geography and its culture.

Tele Aviv is a huge city with billboards, traffic lights, and tall buildings, just like U. S. cities, except the gray or white buildings are rectangular shaped, void of decoration. As our group of 40 tourists travelled north toward Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee, I sat glued to the bus window. Dry grasses and short evergreen trees (the same as here, except cedar trees don’t grow in Israel) grew on the rolling hillsides that were dotted with limestone boulders, the size of beach balls and much larger. Tall trees were dusty, as if sprinkled with dull gray and brown glitter.

Along a two-lane road, compact cars zipped around our bus, and a man, dressed in muted brown clothing including a head wrap, rode an older model bicycle on the road’s shoulder. When we passed a small picnic area, I wondered if he would stop there.

Crops are grown with irrigation along the Jordan River valley between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Under white cloth coverings, date palm trees appeared decorated with blue plastic bags, but those bags are to protect and catch the clusters of fruit. Olive tree groves fill hillsides.

I expected deserts, like those I’ve seen in our western states, but my mouth dropped when I saw the massive brown rocks and sand mounds, like mountains. “How big?” my nine-year-old Grand asked yesterday. “You know how tall the Smokey Mountains are? Well, take off the trees and imagine caramel colored rocks and sand dunes,” I said.

We visited Masada National Park, an ancient fortress built atop a 1500-foot high plateau. We rode a cable car instead of hiking the winding switchbacks, the Snake Trail, to see the ruins of King Herod’s Palace that was built beginning about 30 B.C. We sat on stone synagogue benches and saw cisterns, bathhouses, living quarters, even holes formed in stone slabs for cooking.   Looking east, a thirty-minute drive away, was the Dead Sea, and in all other directions were stone mountains and desert to the horizon. Pictures can’t capture the vastness.

No wonder people travelled on camels through this desert, and I looked forward to riding one. That’s next week’s column.

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Anchovies, anyone?

Screen Shot 2018-06-21 at 7.23.45 AMWho eats anchovies? Those salty, slimy, oily little fish sold in metal tins – no thank you. Many times before ordering pizza for friends or family, I’ve asked what they like on pizza. And often the reply has been, “Anything and everything, except anchovies.” I’d never consider anchovies on pizza.

The only way I’ve ever eaten these little fish is in salad. A few minced anchovies, combined with mayonnaise, lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and Dijon mustard to make the dressing, adds zing to a Caesar salad’s unique flavor. It’s one of my favorite salads, but I can’t see the dark, reddish-brown, unappetizing minced fish.

And then I learned about fresh anchovies. While travelling in Italy recently, Lucca, our tour guide in Cinque Terre, suggested a traditional Italian meal at his friend’s restaurant, Teverna del Capitano. The waiter offered our group of seven a three-course meal: salad, fried fish, and pasta.

Sliced tomatoes with basil leaves and mozzarella balls drizzled with olive oil. Delicately battered fried seafood, fresh from the Mediterranean Sea only a hundred yards from our table. Calamari, shrimp, white fish, and anchovies. And clam and mussels pasta, topped with pesto and olive oil. All sounded delicious, especially shrimp, except I couldn’t imagine yummy delicately battered fried shrimp on a plate with yucky, stinky anchovies.

“Fried slimy anchovies?” I said to Lucca, who was seated beside me.

“Probably not like anything you’ve eaten. These are fresh. Probably caught this morning,” he said.

When the fish platter was passed, I chose several large shrimp, a couple of calamari strips, and fish. The whole anchovies, without heads, were silver and light gray, but didn’t tempt me.

On his plate, Lucca used a fork to split, beginning at the tail, a four-inch long anchovy. Then he lifted the tail and the skelton to leave two narrow strips of white and flaky meat. “You’ve right,” I said, “I’ve never seen or eaten an anchovy like that.” Lucca ate half and gave me half.

Oh my. In an instant, every preconceived notion I had about anchovies vanished. Mild, light, tender. Not salty. No strong fish odor.

“That’s delicious,” I said. “Show me how to get the bones out.” Deboning an anchovy was as easy as Lucca made it look. The flavor was better than shrimp and a squeeze of fresh lemon brought out the taste. I pushed the other fish aside and ate anchovies as fast as I could debone them.

I now know the processing of anchovies gives this fish its bad reputation. Because they are small and have a high oil content (a healthy oil), they don’t transport well. So anchovies are cured and packed in barrels of salt for several months and the white flesh turns a brownish red color.

Will I give fillets of anchovies packed in tins another chance? I don’t think so. I can’t get past the look: slimy and an unappetizing color. But when offered fresh anchovies, I’ll be the first in line.

You Will Arrive

Screen Shot 2018-05-31 at 8.00.02 AMTwo friends, Husband, and I recently traveled to Italy, and it’s the people I most remember. Especially those who shared their calm Italian demeanor.

We booked train tickets from Vincenza to Florence with an 11-minute transfer in Padova. Four people, four rolling suitcases, four shoulder bags to get off and on trains. European trains run on time and doors stay open very few minutes for passengers to deboard and board. The worse that could happen was we’d miss our train and catch one later, but we were determined to make this connection.

When I boarded in Vincenza I spotted a train attendant, who could’ve been Captain Kangaroo, fifty pounds lighter. Wearing a blue uniform, like a college band uniform, he walked toward me. Although I knew the seats closest to the door weren’t ours, I sat down. When Mr. Attendant came near, I said, “Please stay here. We need help.”

Mr. Attendant smiled and watched husband and our friend lift heavy suitcases onto overhead storage shelves. As we four travelers settled into seats facing each other (like a restaurant booth), Mr. Attendant stood silent.

“We’re going to Florence and change trains in Padova and we only have 11 minutes and we need help,” I said. Mr. Attendant ducked his chin and raised his hands, a calming gesture.

He saw my train ticket and said, “You’ll be fine. Now, stay here, but on the next train it will be crowded so locate your ticketed seats.” We nodded.

“Can you tell us which platform we’ll arrive on in Padova? Which platform we’ll leave on? How to get from one to the other?” Our questions flowed, and Mr. Attendant simply smiled.

After we leaned back in our seats, he said, “At Padova, you arrive on platform 1. It is quite simple to get to platform 5 to board for Florence.” Simple if you know where you’re going, I thought, but like Husband and our friends I sat quietly.

Mr. Attendant continued, “Get off this train and go this way.” He extended his arm and pointed. “Walk to the lift and it’ll get you where you need to be in two minutes. Go down to first floor. Only one floor.” He stopped and looked at each of us.

“Off the lift, walk briskly one minute, this direction.” He pointed. Looking at us two women seated side-by-side, he said, “Seated as you are, walk left.” Looking at the men, “Your right, as you sit.”

“Now, on the lift. Up one floor to platform 5. You have time.” I exhaled. “Next train, you are in car 6. Take your assigned seats. Relax. First stop is Bologna. Second is Florence. You will arrive.”

We did a quick review. Arrive platform 1. One floor down. Walk this way (we all pointed.) One floor up, Platform 5. Car 6. Mr. Attendant nodded, smiled, and said, “You will arrive.”

And we did. We arrived on platform 5 and waited three minutes for our train. I still tell myself stay calm and relax like Mr. Attendant.

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Sturgeons, Butterflies, Skittles, and Potties

“Here’s Cookeville and here’s Chattanooga where the aquarium is,” I said, pointing to a map to show Elaine as she, Husband, and I travelled in our van. “Remember what we’ll see there?”

Elaine, age 6, cocked her head. “Lemur. Fish.” Together, we had looked at the Tennessee Aquarium website. “Jellyfish. Otters! And Pop will buy me candy!” My Grand opened her eyes and mouth wide. “When can I have Skittles?” Elaine asked.

“After you eat a good lunch,” Husband said.

“Ah. When’s lunch? Where’ll we eat?”

“The aquarium has two buildings. We’ll walk through one, then eat lunch at a restaurant,” I explained.

“So after lunch, Pop will buy me Skittles?” Husband nodded.

Before exploring the Ocean Journey exhibits, I suggested a bathroom stop. “Do they have flush potties?” Elaine asked. She meant automatic flush toilets, which frighten her and many young children. Upon seeing an automatic flush potty, Elaine decided to only wash her hands.

Elaine bounced through the aquarium. Lemurs crouched high on tree branches. Sea rays glided through water inside a petting tank. Elaine watched as I put my fingers under water. “Hold your fingers straight. The sea ray feels smooth and cool,” I said.

Elaine shook her head, “No thanks. Is it time for lunch?”

In the butterfly room, hundreds of butterflies live in a perfect ecosystem. Elaine slowly turned her head, seeming to study her surroundings. Seeing a butterfly land on a boy’s hand, she moved beside a bush where butterflies fluttered. She stretched her arm, holding her hand under leaves.

Still and silent, she waited until a tiger butterfly lit. “Elaine, look toward me. I’ll take your picture,” I whispered. She lifted her eyes, didn’t move or smile. The butterfly stayed on her hand several minutes while she stood statue still. It flew and she said, “What’s next?”

Elaine led us past huge tanks of ocean life. She briefly watched scuba divers feeding sharks and was mesmerized by penguins diving into water and swimming.

As we walked to the restaurant, Elaine asked two questions. “Do they have flush potties? After lunch, I get Skittles, right?”

Before eating the Skittles Husband poured into her hand, Elaine grouped them by color. Again, she refused a bathroom stop.

In the River Journey exhibits, huge sturgeons circled a petting pool. Elaine held two fingers underwater. For fifteen minutes, she stroked every sturgeon that came close.

Husband doled out Skittles all afternoon and I convinced Elaine I could hold my hand over the motion sensor on a potty. Unfortunately, the toilet flushed before she got out of the bathroom stall.

At Elaine’s home, I handed Daughter a list of twenty-one animals Elaine had dictated that she saw and she said otters were her favorite. “And Gran, where’s the rest of my Skittles?” Elaine asked. I gave them to Daughter. “And guess what, Mom? I’m not afraid of flush potties anymore.”

High fives all around for a fun aquarium trip. For otters. Sturgeons. Butterflies. Skittles. And overcoming the fear of automatic flush potties.

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