Tag Archives: nostalgia

Still Truckin’ to Truck Stops

Some travelers find truck-stop culture so foreign that upon entering, they reach for their passports.

I, on the other hand, grew up regarding a nearby truck stop as a highlight of my week. Neither of my pastor-parents felt like feeding five children after Sunday morning services, so — during that pre-McDonald’s era — they took us there for lunch.

We older siblings sat at the counter on fabulous red stools that twirled if our parents weren’t watching.

Seated nearby with toddlers, Mom and Dad occasionally missed a few tricks. However, misbehavior resulted in banishment to the station wagon, so we children didn’t try many.

We also would forfeit exploring a tabletop jukebox. We hoped other diners would spend their nickels and play our favorites. Occasionally, we approached the big jukebox, awestruck as it plopped, played and removed 45 rpm records as if by magic.

Truck stops have changed. Iowa 80, touted as the largest in the world, includes not only stores and eight restaurants, but a laundromat, library, business center and movie theater. Individual showers and a “dogomat,” where Fido also can get a bath, are available too. The kicker: Iowa 80 also boasts its own chiropractor and dentist.

If my childhood truck stop had featured a dentist, I might have stayed in the station wagon.

I also might have clung to the back seat if my parents had visited South of the Border in, of all places, South Carolina. Not that I wouldn’t have celebrated yummy Mexican food, piñatas, and other Hispanic delights. However, that truck stop also features a lagoon full of snakes, alligators and crocodiles. After riding with five kids hundreds of miles, Mom and Dad might have found the urge to unload us a little too tempting.

I gladly would have unbuckled to visit one truck stop in West Virginia, featuring art exhibits and theater. I’d gladly go there now. A plate-sized tenderloin sandwich and Shakespeare? Doesn’t get any better than that.

For some truck stop enthusiasts, abundant merchandise trumps even tenderloins. Where else can you find leopard-skin Bible covers or pink Harley-Davidson, metal-studded dog collars? Enough crossbows and knives to fight off an orc army from The Lord of the Rings should it invade the truck stop?

No other establishment boasts plaques with an animated, skeletal Big Mouth Billy Bass belting “Bad to the Bone.”

Even the most ardent devotees, however, admit many truck stop stores feature items they’d rather not explain to children and grandchildren.

Days ago, I reached for lip balm, only to discover it was labeled “Free-range Chicken Poop,” touted as Grandpa’s intensely organic cure for chapped lips.

At truck stops like that, I reach for my passport.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite find at a truck stop?

Little League Love

Fierce soprano voices yell, “Batter! Batter!” Super-sized helmets top skinny little necks. Pint-sized players wield mitts big as sofa pillows (and about as effective).

A hometown crowd cheers and munches hot dogs and popcorn.

It’s the season for Little League Love.

Unlike most onlookers, my husband and I are comfortable spectators. Our children are too old for Little League, and our grandchildren have taken different directions.

During our son’s baseball career, I spent years at ball parks with my eyes tightly shut — often double-covered with hands — only venturing out of hiding to visit the concession stand.

Now, I actually watch. These players’ ages range from nine to 12. Some kids probably do Gillette shaving commercials to supplement their allowances. Others might be mistaken for bats — except for hats, mitts and spit. For not only do they imitate favorite major league players with elaborate windups and batting rituals, they have mastered expectoration at near professional levels.

Moms don’t applaud this aspect of their game. But they cheer every catch, throw and at bat. Family members try to behave so their kids will. But when offspring are involved, the gentlest mom — and grandma — grows fangs when the umpire dares call their boy out.

I never acted like that. Though … I do admit going a little overboard in motivating my child, egged on by another mom.

Still, we helped our sluggish team morph into a slugging team. My friend jumped up and informed her 12-year-old that if he fanned again, she would dance for the crowd’s entertainment. I informed my son that I would sing. Very loud.

Not only did our boys smack the ball, we inspired the entire team. Yet nobody put our names on their trophy. Where’s the Mom Love in that?

A roar from the present crowd brings me back to the end of a last-inning 0-0 tie. On a wild pitch, a youngster steals home! After the good-sport slapping of hands, they adjourn to the concession stand, where winners celebrate and losers drown their sorrows in sno-cones — and all look forward to the next game.

It’s easy for me to laud the joys of Little League from my maybe-I’ll-go-to-the-game-maybe-not stance. For parents who spend enough time watching, waiting and transporting to earn a degree, Little League Love wears a little thin.

But one dad near us sees his sons’ games as win-win situations. If their teams win, he’ll return for championship competition. If they lose, he’ll stay home and run a combine over his neglected lawn.

This dad cares about his kids, but not too much about their games’ outcome. That’s the very best kind of Little League Love.

In Grandma’s eyes, no professional MLB player can compare with this little batter!

Your Extraordinary Ordinary:  What do you like best/least about Little League?

Magic Trees

When I was small, trees were magic. Especially the trees outside our church.

As preschoolers, my brother and I discovered friendly low branches that invited a climb. Every pint-sized Sunday school attendee welcomed that magic.

Moms, however, did not appreciate magic trees — especially mulberries. They transformed starched-white-shirt-and-ruffly-dress VBS populations into glorious, purple-tie-dyed messes.

Trees remained magical throughout my childhood, serving as bases, houses, castles and cathedrals. Schoolyard bike races morphed them into traffic cones. On sweltering days, I stayed within Mom’s sight under our backyard’s shady oak, yet traveled thousands of miles as I devoured library books.

Now an adult, I have planted trees that infuse oxygen into our atmosphere, provide shade and enhance property values. But I hadn’t visited magic trees for a long time.

Until our extended family’s campout, when sullen clouds alternately spat on us and poured rain like a waterfall.

Thanks to yummy pancakes and sausage, the group survived the morning. When rain held off, older kids found plenty to do. But as parents of a five-year-old and his three-year-old foster brother tried to fix a group lunch, the little boys seemed destined for war.

Anyone with sense would have run for a bomb shelter. But I am Grandma. Edging them out of range, I blurted, “Let’s visit magic trees!”

Perhaps the skeptical three-year-old had seen too much to believe in magic. But he followed his brother and me to an empty campsite, where the five-year-old beat on a maple with a stick.

He chortled, “Now the tree’s awake!”

I’d wake up, too, if clobbered with a six-foot cudgel. “What’s the tree saying?”

“He says I should visit a different tree.”

Smart maple.

By now, the three-year-old was a believer, too. We awakened all the empty campsite trees. Some also told us to visit different trees. But several told stories about nesting birds and skittery squirrels. Special trees talked only when tapped the perfect number of times. Then they whispered tales understood only by the chlorophyll crowd and preschoolers.

One oak interrupted, “Time to eat. I’ve been calling you for ten minutes.”

Correction: Hubby had entered the land of magic trees.

Instantly, my fellow adventurers dashed for the dining tent.

“Couldn’t you have waited?” I said irritably. “That tree was just about to tell us whether they make a noise when they fall.”

He rolled his eyes, as if barbecued chicken and macaroni salad could compensate for his breaking the sweet spell.

The five-year-old and I could visit magic trees again. However, court dates threatened to keep the three-year-old from adventuring with us.

But for one misty summer morning, he talked with magic trees.

I pray he will do it again.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you visited magic trees lately?

Precious Watermelon Memories

Watermelons. Luscious, refreshing and satisfying, they deserve another blog post.

Last week, I shared four essential ingredients for eating a watermelon the best way. This week, I bring one final ingredient to your attention for truly memorable watermelon-eating experiences.

Last essential ingredient, but not least

Watermelons, bought not from strangers, but grown in one’s own patch — although my father, a lifelong expert, declared the stolen ones the sweetest. As boys, he and his brothers patronized patches owned by Mr. Purvis Williams and Mr. T.C. Higgenbotham.

Of course, when Dad amazed the Louisiana town by becoming a minister, he swore off such pastimes. When he returned to his hometown as a 79-year-old retiree, however, he celebrated his first watermelon season there by investigating local patches. One flourished near his old homesite. He hadn’t seen watermelons that good since boyhood, the fat green-striped orbs almost bursting with juice.

The patch’s owner: his new pastor.

Dad managed to steer his next conversation with the reverend toward gardening and complimented him on his beautiful melons. As he’d hoped, the pastor invited his new parishioner to help himself.

Dad knew he didn’t mean it. A Southerner himself, he understood the man was just being lyin’-polite. However, while the pastor still regarded him as an ignorant Yankee who didn’t know any better, Dad took advantage. He raided the pastor’s patch and returned home in triumph with a prize watermelon. My parents and I chilled it ice-cold, then devoured it on the front porch with my cousin Tara on a sweltering July afternoon. I couldn’t imagine anything more luscious.

Still, this little feast did not compare with those of my childhood, when Grandpa iced down a dozen from his garden in a horse trough. By mid-afternoon, when even bees buzzing around the pink crepe myrtle bushes sounded hot and lazy, the entire family gathered on the back porch for a watermelon feed. Every uncle, aunt and cousin received half a melon to munch.

After we finished, the adults, anticipating the imminent Watermelon Seed War, banished us kids to the yard. There, we discharged our arsenals without harming any grown-ups.

Sometimes, Dad peeled thin green slices from the outside rind with his pocketknife. He fashioned these into Billy Bob buckteeth that put the costume-shop variety to shame. Dad pulled his hat down over his ears and gave us big green-toothed grins. We stuffed the “teeth” into our mouths, yuk-yukking at each other. Occasionally, one of the toddlers stuck seeds up his nose, which was always good for a little excitement when things grew dull.

Thirty-five years later, after we had devoured the last sweet pink chunk of his pastor’s watermelon, Dad saved the seeds and tended a prize patch that resurrected delicious memories of past banquets on the porch.

God help the rascally kid or retired minister who tried to steal his watermelons.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What precious watermelon memories come to mind as summer approaches?

Violets: My Purple Passion

Seeing these not-so-shy visitors arrive in my yard again, I had to look back on a blog I wrote in tribute to my uninvited but secretly welcome guests.

I first noticed these flowers as a preschooler. While dandelions flaunted fuzzy beauty like Hollywood starlets, violet faces peered at me shyly through leafy green hands. Mom said I could pick them! — unless they grew in other people’s yards.

One day my sister and I gathered a legal but meager violet bouquet in our grandparents’ backyard — until we wandered toward the neighbors’ weathered house. It resembled a log cabin. Did Abraham Lincoln live there? Even that possibility paled beside the ocean of violets before us. God liked purple, too!

The serious business of picking them all consumed us. I knew we should ask permission, but loudly legitimized our actions by announcing we were gathering special flowers for Mommy and Grandma. When we brought them wilted, wadded bouquets, Mom confirmed my niggling conscience’s pointing finger. We had crossed moral boundaries. The good news: too late to do anything about it. I loved it when sin worked out that way.

Not long afterward, Grandma died, and I never visited the magic Sea of Violets again. But as I graduated from picking flowers to picking guys, I never forgot them.

The spring break before high school graduation, I took an all-day walk around my hometown. Like any respectable teen, I’d hated it for years. Now, deep inside, I knew I was leaving Columbus, Indiana, forever. One shabby bungalow’s yard stopped me in my tracks. Thousands and thousands of purple violets. Now 18 and an official grown-up, I didn’t dive in. But I stood, mesmerized, for sometime.

I hung that violet picture on my mind’s walls. When my then-boyfriend, now-husband asked about a prom corsage for my lavender dress, I answered, “Violets.” I loved them — and didn’t want him to feel obliged to give me an orchid, the obvious, expensive answer.

Unbeknownst to me, his mother would worry because she could not find a violet corsage.

“Haven’t used violets in 40 years!” one florist said. “What kind of nut is your son dating, anyway?”

Finally, she told Steve his girlfriend’s purple passion would have to take a different direction. How about white carnations? Pink roses?

Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.

My date, who had remained silent during this woman debate, decided on a white orchid.

The violet vision must have remained with my future mother-in-law, though. After a church banquet, she instructed Steve to give me its centerpiece, a huge bunch of violets. Did she like me? I hoped so. Whether she knew it or not, she had become part of my violet history.

VioletsMeadow

Which continues to this day. My purple passion still guides my walks. If I find violets in your yard, I just might pick them without asking permission.

Girl Scout Cookies: the Legacy

Do you remember your first Girl Scout Cookie?

During the early 1960s, a neighbor girl rang our doorbell, and my mother happily did her civic duty. I tasted my first Girl Scout Cookie, a peanut butter sandwich called a Savannah.

Today’s savvy cookie-taster insists Savannah Smiles® are lemon-flavored half-moons, a 180-degree turnabout from those I first savored.

I thought my memory must be 11 short of a dozen. Comparing notes with other Boomers, however, I discovered I was right! Those peanut butter confections are now called Do-si-dos®.

I may forget my parking spot location, social security number and computer password, all within the same hour. But I never, ever forget a cookie.

Not that I ate many then. My brothers also tasted their first Savannahs. A severe cookie famine ensued.

I sought to ease it by joining the Girl Scouts myself.

I soon discovered my Girl Scout uniform did not come with a free admission to an endless cookie buffet. Each box cost (gasp!) 50 cents — a king’s ransom to an 11-year-old.

Somehow, I’d signed on an invisible dotted line to sell them. By then, I understood many people did not welcome door-to-door salesmen. Little-girl appeal redeemed my fellow Scouts, but my weed-like growth spurt nixed that angle. Walmart and cookie stands did not exist.

Still, a Girl Scout keeps her promises. So, I trudged through subdivisions, praying with every doorbell’s ring that no one would answer. Sadly, during the 1960s, everybody was at home. When doors opened, I had to say something. Usually, “You don’t want to buy any cookies … do you?”

Amazingly, they often did. Despite setting new substandards for salesmanship, I sold my share.

Both my daughters, cursed with my door-to-door DNA, did well in the cookie-table arena. Tiny, with Bambi-brown eyes, our younger girl even persuaded a kindhearted baker to purchase several boxes.

Our older girl later worked for the Girl Scouts, dedicating weeks of her life to sorting, distributing, selling and collecting payments for stacks of cookies that filled her living room.

Why didn’t she accept my offer to serve as official taster?

Our third generation Girl Scout.

Soon, my granddaughter proudly wore the Girl Scout sash and kept the promises, faithfully contributing a million-dollar smile to the cookie cause. Plus thousands of calories to Grandma’s mostly theoretical diet, which she was happy to break to do her civic duty.

I thank the Girl Scouts for promoting superior values, as well as good taste, throughout three generations of my family. Also, for providing inspiring, delicious writing material (munch, munch, munch).

If a cookie quality control position opens up in your organization, you know whom to call.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite Girl Scout Cookie?

College Christmas Break

Once upon a time, colleges didn’t evict students from dormitories three minutes after final exams. Back in the Dark Ages, Hubby and I stayed until the following Monday.

Eventually, some grinch discovered that supplying extra days’ heat for 30,000 students spoiled the university’s merry Christmas. College officials also realized that multitudes of sleep-deprived, de-brained students + 24-hour blocks of free time equaled … excitement.

In the early ’70s, though, they assumed we couldn’t wait to go home.

Right.

Sure, we’d missed our dogs.

If we’d hacked with colds, cough syrup and aspirin were blocks away instead of steps. We anticipated parents smearing us with love and Vicks® VapoRub®.

We’d languished without Mom’s cooking. Meals with fewer than 500 people might be nice. Plus, a refrigerator of free food would be at our disposal.

Free laundry, too! Mom might reintroduce us to clean clothes, as opposed to those sanctified by optimum time at the bottom of the hamper.

Add Christmas magic, and most students wanted to share the holidays with family.

Just not quite yet.

Having been chained to books, typewriters and labs, we needed to celebrate. Even our nondrinking Bible study required a two-day party.

We snarfed Christmas cookies by the bucket and played Monopoly all night. Only one guy owned a car, but 13 of us jammed into it, rolled down windows, and sang Christmas carols at the top of our flattened lungs. At stoplights, we emptied the car with Chinese fire drills.

Who needed sleep?

Besides, we comrades in the trenches of academia soon would part. For couples, December and January stretched like a forever, empty tundra.

Hubby’s long-haired college days, before the Christmas Break haircut.

During that long-hair era, guys dreaded welcome-home haircuts. We girls combed bangs out of our eyes to please our moms.

We loved our parents. But they would expect us to talk to them. To hundreds of relatives. We’d repeat our majors and future plans a gazillion times. If we didn’t have any, we’d have to make them up, quick.

Worse, our families went to bed early. At the crack of dawn, they took showers and slammed doors so a normal person couldn’t get proper rest.

Parents would expect help with the dishes. Why not summon the fairies who had done that all semester?

Ditto for putting gas in the car. Whatever happened to “free”?

Sigh. How had we lived at home so long?

After a 48-hour party, though, a 10 o’clock bedtime didn’t sound so bad. Eating a nutrient or two might be nice.

With the arrival of a station wagon loaded with delighted smiles and hugs found nowhere else on earth — well, Christmas break might be worth the sacrifice, after all.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: How did (do) you celebrate Christmas break?

To Watch the Clock or Not?

While riding our exercise bike, I pondered the importance of clocks — mostly because after achieving sufficient torture minutes, I could get off. And reward myself with a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

Usually, though, I’m not a clock-watcher; my devout, free-spirited parents lauded flexibility as a key virtue. Keeping track of time? Not so much. Church services they led not only seemed to go on forever, they actually did.

So, when my second-grade teacher instructed our class about telling time, I didn’t see the point. Besides, if the big hand was on two, plain as day, why did she insist it read 10 minutes after the hour? Why should insignificant dots between the numbers dictate the operation of the universe?

Given that cosmic view, I didn’t own my first wristwatch until eighth grade.

My husband received his as a kindergartner. Perhaps his family operated like normal people?

Liam, our time-loving toddler, is now 10 and still watches clocks.

Decades later, our toddler grandson, Liam, exhibited that “normal” behavior tenfold. Every visit.

LIAM: Grandma, want pretty “numbers-clock.”

GRANDMA: If you wear my watch, you must give it back before I leave.

LIAM: (nodding vigorously) I will.

(Grandma doubles the band around his tiny wrist.)

LIAM: (caressing the watch) My numbers-clock.

At least, I escaped the mugging Liam’s library storyteller suffered when he refused to give up his numbers-clock.

While most North Americans don’t go to that extreme, other cultures do puzzle about our clock fetish. The Lilliputians in Gulliver’s Travels, captured that viewpoint perfectly in describing Gulliver’s pocket watch as a god he worshipped: “He assured us … that he seldom did anything without consulting it. He called it his oracle and said it pointed out the time for every action of his life.”

Centuries later, I find this true, even at night. Do you, too, play peekaboo during the wee hours with merciless numbers that scare away sleep?

Cell phones, rather than clocks, often rule both nights and days. Still, I consult my watchless wrist. That failing, I consult my phone — after I find it.

Perhaps a residue of freedom from time survives, as demonstrated in our living room. Two clocks reside there, neither of which works. As dusty décor, they read 1:57 and 3:01, respectively. This annoys Liam, no longer a mugger, but still a clock-watcher at 10.

The first is my husband’s great-great-grandfather’s mantel clock, with its ornate brass lions, rings and trims. But I like the other best, a modest crystal clock Hubby gave me for Christmas long ago.

A note accompanied it: “My love for you is timeless.”

Clock-watcher or not, exercise-bike rider or chocolate-eating slacker, I have time for that.

Anytime.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: When do you watch the clock?

The Blue Dresser

How did the dresser start out in life? I don’t know, but its size and plain, sturdy lines said, “I belong to a kid.”

The dresser’s original kid probably wadded clothes Mom had folded and stuffed them into its drawers. Perhaps he yanked out drawers, climbed the “stairs” and jumped off the top with an umbrella parachute.

Years later, I discovered that dresser in a secondhand store, marked half-price. It would do until my three-year-old son started school. However, it wore a woebegone, cast-off aura.

My mother, two thousand miles away, whispered in my mind, “Nice find. Great price. But this little dresser needs happy paint.”

As a teen, I’d rolled my eyes when Mom painted end tables orange and a bedroom suite blue. Who did that?

Well … I did. After a critical paint chip comparison, I began painting the chest eye-popping blue. I planned to paint its handles equally vivid red.

Then my young husband needed an emergency appendectomy. While Hubby slowly recovered from complications, I slowly finished the dresser. Late at night, I added a second coat, a third, maybe more — I don’t remember. I experienced a glad moment when I hauled the completed dresser upstairs to my son’s bedroom. An even happier one when I brought his daddy home.

David, flanked by his older sisters, was a toddler when I painted the dresser a vivid blue.

Both had jobs to do. Daddy returned to work. The dresser once more endured yanks, shoves and a “helpful” kid who stuffed clothes Mom had folded into its drawers. (He also attempted to climb to the dresser top, but I stopped him on the second step.)

A doggie bank constructed from a Pringles can resided on it, along with half-consumed PB&J sandwiches and piles of baseball cards. With ABC curtains, Mickey Mouse sheets, and a carpet perpetually layered with toys, the dresser helped make the room my kid’s haven.

But adolescence sneaked in. The first clouds of Eau de Gym Shoe settled over his room and, with them, a dark cloud of protest: Mickey Mouse sheets? Seriously? Did he really need ABCs displayed on his curtains?

David with his wife and their first baby.

I changed his décor to manly navy blue. Strangely, he didn’t ask me to lose the dresser.

Perhaps, even he realized he didn’t need a bigger one. Why, when his wardrobe resided in heaps on the floor?

Plus, the doggie bank’s big smile still matched the dresser perfectly.

One day, he departed for college, then marriage. The cheerful blue dresser, deprived of its kid, looked a little sad.

Now, though, it proudly houses coloring books, finger paints, and Play-Doh for grandchildren.

That dresser was made for kids.

And this old kid still loves it.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What furniture in your home tells your family’s story?

Touring Away from Other Tourists

If you’re like my friends and me, you’re still mulling your summer trips. Whether traveling by plane, train or hang glider, or staying in tent, hotel or castle, we all agree on one issue: We try to avoid places where other tourists go.

We require hotels much quieter — and cleaner — than our homes. Campers hope no one will locate within a mile of their Winnebagos. Both kinds of vacationers pray their rowdy, late-night parties will not be disturbed by some other rowdy, late-night party.

Patrons at both rough-it and refined ends of the getaway spectrum seek restaurants that attract no screamy children but their own.

We want to fill cyberspace — especially the pages of envious relatives — with amazing photos of eye-popping attractions. Attractions that should never draw other visitors, yet must include:

  • Infinite-sized, free parking lots.
  • Plentiful, pristine restrooms with no lines.
  • Classy, dirt-cheap souvenirs.
  • Educational adventures even grandmas and insurance companies consider safe.

Children, however, have long considered “education” and “vacation” a contradiction in terms. They love tourist traps.

Hubby and his brother, who as children stayed at their grandparents’ Wisconsin lake cottage, could have fed their morning cereal to deer peeking in the windows. Still, no vacation was complete without visiting nearby Diddly’s Delightful Deer Farm.

Today’s media-soaked children still reverence such attractions. Admission fees are in direct proportion to their pointlessness, reflected in souvenirs, e.g., oozy green livers from Mutant Body Parts Wax Museum and litter-shaped candy from Pretty Kitty’s Cat Condo.

Even teens welcome such enticements — if they can ditch parents.

Surprisingly, our college-aged daughter once asked me to journey with her in Honduras, where she’d spent the semester.

My airplane seatmate, a native who had moved to Texas, advised me to remove my necklace before we landed: “Pickpockets jerk them off.” She also counseled me to avoid taxis if I didn’t know the driver personally.

Long and scary story short, my daughter and I did rendezvous, enjoying a tropical paradise together. We also shared a bus ride along a favorite hijacker route to another seaside town. A town where bank security guards carried automatic rifles and strips of ammunition crisscrossing their chests. There, we unknowingly risked our lives watching a tribal dance at night.

At our mountainside 1950s-style hotel, a white cat with malignant eyes kept vigil on the front desk. Sen֮or Blanco listened to our complaints about no locks on our door. The often-AWOL owner didn’t.

But we never had to stand in line.

My daring daughter is currently planning a South American visit. Her husband will go adventuring with her to places tourists never visit.

As for me? Diddly’s Delightful Deer Farm, here I come.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite away-from-the-tourists vacation spot?