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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?” 



????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I don’t jump into water.  Not into a swimming pool, nor a lake.  I don’t like water splashing on my face and I don’t like being a six-foot torpedo in depths known or unknown.  I ease down a ladder into water.  As a mother and a Gran, I’ve treaded deep water for as long as my children and grandchildren wanted to jump.  But jumping in water is one thing I’ve told how to do, but never shown. “Just jump.  You’ll come right back up,” I’ve said.  So imagine my apprehension when I was suited up to snorkel in the middle of the Caribbean Sea near Belize, and the guide says, “We’ll jump off the side of the boat.”

I’d been snorkeling before.  In this same location, but on a big boat – big enough that it had a ladder with wide steps so I carefully made my way down while wearing giant-size flippers.  This was a 25-foot dive boat that carried only nine people – a guide and eight paying snorkel guests.

I was excited about seeing water wildlife again and I was comfortable wearing a life jacket, a snorkel mask, and giant flippers.  Chris, the eighteen-year-old guide, stopped the boat at the Hol Chan Marine Reserve in the middle of the sea, but surrounded by many boats.   I could see at least a hundred snorkel tubes sticking out of the aqua clear water.  Chris adjusted my mask and I said, without my fellow snorkelers hearing me,  “I’m nervous about jumping in the water.  I don’t jump in water.”

Chris pulled strands of my hair out from under my mask. “No hair under mask so no water in nose.  The ladder is too narrow to go down.  You could fall and get hurt.  You can jump,” he said. I wasn’t so sure.  He guided me to the side of the boat.  “Sit here.” On the six-inch wide side.  “Now turn and get your legs over the water.  Push off with your hands.”  I could see foot-long silver fish and the ocean bottom, about twelve feet below.  “If you go under, count to 3.  You’ll be back up before you get to 3.”  That’s what he tells the little kids, I thought as I pushed myself off the boat.

I did go under and counted 1, 2 and surfaced.  Before I could focus my eyes I heard, “A turtle in front of you!”  A green turtle, as big as a galvanized steel washtub, swam just inches from my nose.  I felt his back flippers swish on my stomach.  I lay my hand on his shell and pushed to give myself some water space.  The turtle swam away.  I looked around to locate my friends and our guide in the water.

The snorkeling adventure was all I’d hoped for.  Thousands and thousands of brightly colored fish, turtles, anemone, coral, manta rays, even nurse sharks.  I’d do it again.

And now I have another reason to be eager for warm weather.  My Grands will be shocked when I put on my life jacket and jump off a pontoon boat into the lake.  Last summer they said, “Gran, don’t go down the ladder.  Jump in with us!”  I’ll be a nervous and I’ll hold my nose and I’ll count to three.

Eating High on the Hog (as my mother would’ve said)


Last week I ate way above my raisin’.  Squash Blossom Salad.  Shrimp and Grits.  Pulled Bourbon Chicken with Peach BBQ Sauce.  I savored every morsel.  While visiting Charleston, South Carolina, with my college girlfriends, we chose restaurants that served some mighty good food.

Those squash blossoms could’ve grown into yellow squash and then been sliced and dredged in cornmeal and fried in a black skillet.  But the chef at Carolina’s Southern Bisto stuffed the blossom with goat cheese, dipped it in a thin sweet batter and then deep-fried it.  Melt in my mouth good.  Served over blanched green beans and garnished with chunks of yellow beets and pickled ramps.  Yellow beets?  They taste just like red beets.  I wondered if those ramps were the same variety as the wild onions that grew in my childhood family’s pig lot.  “To preserve all those flavors,” the waiter said, “the chef sprinkles a light lemon vinaigrette.”  After sopping the last crumbles of goat cheese with crusty bread, I considered cancelling my entrée and ordering another salad.  It was that scrumptious.

South Carolina Shrimp and Geechie Boy Grits, Sweet Peas, Woodfired Fennel, Ramps, Poached Celeste Egg.  The description on the menu at The Husk was too enticing to pass up.  Geechie Boy Grits taste just like the Quaker grits.  And sweet peas?  Green peas.  Ramps, again?  “Just the bulb of the onion.  Quartered and sautéed to the peak of sweetness,” the waitress said.  The same with fennel.  What’s special about the poached Celeste Egg that was served floating on top of the grits?  Celeste raises chickens on her farm, just like my friend Karen who sells me her brown country eggs.  Beautiful presentation, that matched the description, and delicious.

During a cooking demonstration, a young chef prepared Pulled Bourbon Chicken with Peach BBQ Sauce, and she proved to me that chicken thighs aren’t just for frying.  But then any meat soaked in bourbon before baking is bound to be tasty.  “And then pull it apart to look like southern barbeque,” Michelle, the chef, said.  The recipe for the sauce included ketchup, apple cider vinegar, garlic, spices, and more – all the ingredients in any good barbeque sauce – with the addition of a cup of peach nectar.  “Gives it a zing!  Your family will think you’ve created a special barbeque.”

So I came home inspired to try my hand at these dishes.  If you hear of anyone whose squash blossoms mysteriously disappear this summer, I raided the garden.  The next time I make Shrimp and Grits I plan to announce, “Tonight we’re having Shrimp and Quaker Grits, Green Peas, Sautéed Onions, Poached Karen Eggs.”  And I have all the ingredients for chicken thighs and peach sauce – I even bought a bottle of Willie’s Hog Dust that is a Charleston’s man’s own creation of BBQ spice.  But, I’d never pass off chicken and peace sauce as barbeque.

All these fancy dishes have to wait.  Right now I’m craving beans and cornbread and a bowl of turnip greens.

Fall’s Biggest Social Events

How about the tailgating at TTU?  Lots of food and fun.  A bounce zone for the young and young at heart.  Fathers and sons playing football.  Corn hole games.  Frisbies.  Some folk bring their own food.  Some dine on the free food and beverages that are provided by local churches and businesses.  Tech cheerleaders pump us up for the game, and my favorite, the TTU Marching Band performs.

When did tailgating begin?  The American Tailgater Association, on its website, details the history of sharing food and drink before events and says the first documented tailgate probably took place in 1861 at the Battle of Bull Run.  It states, “At the battle’s start, civilians from the Union side arrived with baskets of food and shouting, ‘Go Big Blue!’  Their efforts were a form of support and were to help encourage their side to win the commencing battle.”  The Romans ate and drank outside the Coliseum before gladiator games.  Doesn’t that fall into the broad definition of tailgating?  Surely, they shared food and spirits and talked about the upcoming sports events.

In 1869, a group of Rutgers fans and players, wearing scarlet-colored scarves as turbans, paraded before the football game between Princeton and Rutgers.  This was one of the earliest recorded celebrations before a sporting event.

There are all styles and levels of tailgating.  Tailgating was simple when we drove a big wood panel station wagon.  We lowered the tailgate, spread out a plastic tablecloth and food.  Pimento cheese sandwiches, chips, and store bought cookies.  Then came vans.  We packed chairs, coolers with drinks, upscaled to ham rolls, fancy dips for chips, and cupcakes decorated with our team’s mascot.  Or we picked up a family-pack barbeque dinner on the way to the game.

For some folks, RV tailgating is the ultimate.  As good as life gets, I’ve been told, and an event that can go on for several days.  No need to go to the game.  RVers park close to the stadium and watch the game on big screen televisions.  They relax in their comfortable chairs, eat and drink all through the game, know there’s been a big play when they hear the roar of the crowd, and maybe even the game announcer, and celebrate when their team scores on the big screen.

Football fans on the Ole Miss campus take tailgating to the extreme.  And when I tailgated in The Grove, I made a check mark on my bucket list.  Ten acres in the center of a campus shaded by oak, elm, and magnolia trees.  Thousands of fans under a sea of red, white, and blue tents.  And the table settings and fare were fit for a southern girl’s wedding reception.  Elaborate centerpieces, silver candlesticks, tablecloths, fancy hor d’oeuvres, barbecue, fried chicken, shrimp, and all the fixings.

Tailgating isn’t just about the food.  It’s getting ready for the big game.  Food, friends, and fun —what’s not to like about one of fall’s biggest social events?

Muddy Pond Field Trip

I’m not sure if I load up my Grands in my van and go on Field Trips for them or for me.  As a retired teacher, I remember field trip days as fun days, and I choose places I want my Grands to know about.  Museums.  Fire department.  Post Office.  City Hall.  Cookeville Performing Arts Center.  Emergency Management Agency.  Cane Creek Park.  Pet stores.

My Grands don’t always like my choices, but they were excited about going to the Muddy Pond General Store.  That is, until they announced that they’d take their own money to buy Legos, and I told them that this store probably didn’t have Legos.  We were making this outing because they’d read When I Was Young in the Mountains, and they didn’t know what a general store looked like.  As we drove through Monterey and toward Muddy Pond, I stressed that we’d compare and contrast (teacher words that naturally flowed and I explained the meanings) a general store with the stores where we usually shop.

My Grands had $2.00 each to spend.  “What kind of toys do they have?” asked three year old Ruthie.  I didn’t know what kind of toys – if any – the Muddy Pond store would have.  I explained that most general stores sell everything that a family needs.  And this store would be like that.  Food, clothes, tools, pots and pans.  Everything that everyone in the family needed.

“If they have everything, they’ll have toys,” said Ruthie.

“If they don’t, it’s okay,” said Lou, age 5.  “Momma said they’d have sprinkles and we can buy some.  But she said we can’t buy candy.”  Spoken like a reigning Sprinkle Queen.

We made mental lists of goods displayed on the shelves.  Peanut butter.  Tomato sauce.  Plastic bags of flour, sugar, noodles, cornstarch.  A whole aisle of candy.  Kitchen goods – knives, plates, pots, pans, dishcloths.  Oil lamps.  “Come back here,” David, age 7, called.  “I found the toys.”  Crayons, coloring books, small metal tractors and cars.  “Let’s go upstairs.  I bet they have more stuff.”

Lou looked through a rack of long-to-the-ankle dresses.  “Do they have my size?”  I explained that many women and girls who live in Muddy Pond wore this type of long dress every day.  “Even when they play outside?”  Ruthie asked.  We tried out the hand made wooden rocking chairs, stood on stools, admired the quilts, and my Grands rocked on the rocking horses.  They found hand carved wooden boxes that Lou and Ruthie thought would be perfect for keeping private stuff.

Back downstairs, near the check out counter, we found the sprinkles.  Packed in small plastic boxes and every color of the rainbow.  My Grands spent their money on red, green, and yellow sprinkles, and I couldn’t resist the homemade peach fried pies and peanut brittle.

“Well, what do you think?”  I asked when we were all buckled in our seats in the van.  “Is the general store like the stores where you usually go?”  I forced a discussion identifying the differences and similarities.

After several minutes of silence as we journeyed on the unmarked paved country road, Lou said pensively, “You know what I think?  I think what they need is different from what we need.”

And that’s why we take Field Trips.


Motion Picture Show

     A cool, rainy day during our family beach vacation wasn’t a bad thing.  An excuse to sleep late, to get out of the sun, and to explore the area.  A day to browse a bookstore’s shelves.  A day to drive seven miles for a special hot dog, one with sweet potato mustard.  A day to shop the big box stores that we don’t have here at home.  And best of all, a day for the monarch butterflies in South Carolina to realize it was time to fly further South.

For a couple of days, we’d seen a few lone monarchs fluttering near the vegetation on sand dunes.  Beautiful, bright orange butterflies with black markings.  But when I walked on the beach in the early morning after our cool no-beach day, I had to dodge to avoid a butterfly that tried to sideswipe my ear.  They flew in small groups, three or more together, with an occasional single one fluttering fast to catch up.  They weren’t a mass of orange, like the film produced by National Geographic, but they created a calming motion picture show along the shoreline.  Right where I had my beach chair and my Grands played.

I knew enough to tell my Grands that these creatures were flying south to Mexico where they’d live through the winter and then fly back to their northern homes next spring.  And that they didn’t need a map; they flew by instinct.  After my Grands ran out of hearing range, Husband asked, “But don’t butterflies have a short life?  Just a few weeks?”  That complicated my explanations.  Would these same butterflies make the long 3,000-mile flight to Mexico, winter in tall trees for several months, and then fly back?

The migrating butterflies we saw, appropriately called migrates, are the great great grandchildren of the monarchs that flew north this past spring.  Monarchs go through four generations in one year.  Four generations from eggs to adults.  Next March or April, the butterflies we watched will return from migration to lay eggs on milkweed plants and die.  The first generation will live only two to six weeks after laying its eggs.  Same for the second generation that will be born in May and June, and the third generation, born in July and August.  And then the long lifers, the migrates, will be born in September or October.

“Look at the monarch that landed on my toe,” I said.  He sat, still, with wings outstretched.  My Grands weren’t impressed.  Maybe because I’d talked about monarchs all day.  I was amazed.  These small insects were imprinted with an inherited behavior that would bring them back along this same beach next March or April.  With lots of luck, I’ll remember how to make the 500-mile trip from Cookeville, without a map or a GPS, and meet them there.

After all, monarchs are the only butterflies that migrate.  Someone should greet them to celebrate their successful journey, and the sequel promises to be a picture show worth seeing.


Traveling with Lucille

Husband Allen and I made a road trip.  1290 miles, to and from Washington, DC, plus a few detours.  Some intentional, some not.  Just Allen, me, and Lucille.  Lucille was a helpful companion.  However, there were few breakdowns in communication, and we became frustrated with her.  Probably not as frustrated as she with us, yet Lucille never raised her voice.

Allen drove.  Lucille directed.  I tried to interpret Lucille’s directions or I stayed quiet.  (Many years ago, Mother told me that there are times when a wife can best help by being still and quiet.)  As we left Arlington National Cemetery, Lucille said that our hotel destination in Alexandria was 5.2 miles away.

Lucille:  On the round about, right turn at the second exit.  Three lanes of traffic swirled around a statue. “This one, right?”  Allen asked.  We’d just passed a street.  Did it say one way – no exit?  There wasn’t time to discuss if the upcoming street was the first or second exit.  We drove across the Arlington Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River and straight toward the Lincoln Memorial.

Lucille:  Keep right.  Continue on for four tenths of a mile then left turn.  A second crossing on the Arlington Bridge, in the opposite direction.  It was 6:00 p.m. Sunday.  Allen maneuvered our van across four lanes of traffic and made the turn.  Destination 7.4 miles.

Lucille: Slight left merge onto South Washington Boulevard.  Then an immediate right. “This left?”  Allen asked.  I agreed.  We were obviously on a side street.  Two cars, no tour buses.  Destination 8.6 miles.

Lucille:  In two tenths of a mile, left turn.  We passed the Imo Jima Memorial.  Allen had spotted it on a map before we left Arlington Cemetery and said that he’d like to see it, but we wouldn’t be driving close by.  I didn’t tell him that the memorial is impressive.  Destination 9.5 miles.

Lucille:  In one tenth of a mile, turn right.  We drove over heavy metal plates, the kind that’s used when a road is being repaired.  “This is no fun,” Allen said in short controlled syllables.  I agreed and said that Lucille would eventually get us to Alexandria.  “When?  Tomorrow?”  Allen asked as he turned the steering wheel.

Lucille:  Right turn ahead.  Then in eight tenths of a mile veer left onto George Washington Memorial Parkway.  Destination 9.1 miles.  At last, we were headed in the right direction.

Lucille:  Continue on George Washington Parkway.  “Which lane should we get in?”  Allen asked.  I waited for Lucille’s answer.  Surely she knew we were in the middle of five lanes of heavy traffic, traveling 70 miles per hour.  A few more turns, and finally, we heard the long-awaited announcement.

            Lucille: You have arrived at your destination.  I’m thankful Lucille traveled with us.  But she didn’t see the sights around the National Mall or the White House.  She rested inside our van in the hotel parking lot for a few days while Allen and I rode the Metro and the Hop On-Hop Off Trolley in our nation’s capital.  I don’t think Lucille would have liked the road construction detours or the one-way streets.

They Say – I Say

They say Kansas is boring. Flat. Brown. I’d never seen Kansas until last month, but I’d visualized it for years. Ever since I eavesdropped while my daughter and two of her friends, recent college graduates, planned a sight-seeing trip to California. “Let’s take the northern route coming home,” one said. “Through Salt Lake City and Denver.”
“But that means we have to drive across Kansas,” another moaned. “Have you ever seen Kansas?” She rubbed her hand across my oak kitchen table. “See this table? That’s Kansas. You’ve just seen it.” So those travelers missed the Sunflower State.
Recently, a friend invited me to ride along on a trip to Denver. I like road trips, and I like girl trips, especially with two adventurous friends. And Denver is only an hour’s drive from my youngest Grand, and his parents welcomed me for a visit. I don’t pass up any chances to get Grand hugs. So I packed my bags and crawled in the back seat of a CRV for a two-day road trip. Even though a few people shook their heads and told me, “It’s a long drive with nothing to see.”
From east to west, Kansas is 437 miles, on Interstate 70 W. Imagine open, somewhat rolling land, all the way to the horizon some three miles away. That’s like looking across almost fifty-three football fields in every direction.
Deciduous trees dotted the eastern Kansas prairie. Most fields were green with what looked to be short corn. Field after field of stunted green blades waved. It wasn’t corn – it was grain sorghum grown for animal feed and silage. And the western plains of Kansas were gold, not brown. Warm, glistening gold.
Windmills, the old wooden kind, stood under stately metal and three-blade structures beside farm homes. We topped a small rise on the highway. “Look at all the windmills! One, two, three…” I counted to twenty-seven and grabbed my pen to write a note in my journal. When I looked up, it was impossible count all the silver statues! 100, 200, more. A panoramic picture couldn’t show all of them or the sun’s rays dancing off their gigantic whirling blades.
I admired the wild sunflowers that bloomed along the right of way. I knew that sunflowers are a Kansas cash crop, but I wasn’t prepared for the beauty of a field of golden sunflowers as far as I could see. I marveled at the platter-size yellow blooms and tried to estimate the size of field. As far north as I could see, times as far east, times as far west equaled an amazing sight.
There was more. A small white wooden church stood in the middle of a freshly plowed field, with no houses within sight. Old limestone square fence posts beside the new round wooden posts. Dust devils. And the sunset – a sunset that circled the horizon. Showing off the trees’ silhouettes.
I say Kansas isn’t boring. If it is my oak kitchen table, then it’s decorated with some of the most interesting centerpieces and set with the some of the finest pottery that our country offers. I’m glad I didn’t miss it.
They Say – I Say