O my God, every morning is fresh and lovely as if You, the Artist, stayed up all night just to surprise us. The trees, with lush greenness, shifting shadows and sunshine, shout, “Hallelujah!” OMG, borrowing Your air, I just have to join in.
Sixtyish adults who tent camp with grown children and grandchildren ranging from six months to age ten are certifiably insane. But my husband and I reached new levels of lunacy when we accompanied a large percentage of our family group to cave.
A forest hike would bond generations, educate little descendants, and keep them off campground roads inhabited by dinosaur-like RVs. They would view a cave like those immortalized in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
However, half the campground’s population also had braved this wilderness journey. Unlike Aladdin, we stood in line … then remembered we hadn’t brought flashlights.
Despite my Boy Scout husband’s protests, the herd crept forward with only dim illumination from our phones and a son-in-law’s small flashlight. The temperature dropped 15 degrees. Chilly water dripped down my back.
Who knew what might dwell within these cold, drippy underground walls? Injun Joe, the murderous cave-dweller who terrorized Tom Sawyer? Dragons breathed down my neck. …
“I’ll bet this cave has bunches of bats!” my grandson enthused. “I think cave spiders just crawled up my leg.”
Shades of Shelob! With The-Lord-of-the-Rings passion, I brushed him from head to toe.
Now shaking off a hundred imaginary crawlies, I fervently wished he’d kept his scientific curiosity to himself.
The ceiling dropped. Walls closed in. My hips, still inflated by Christmas fat, might wedge in a fissure forever.
Would my skinnier descendants return to camp, mourning my demise, and console themselves with the four buckets of chocolate chip cookies I had baked? Would they not bring me even one to ease my passage into the next world?
Primeval fears solidified when someone called, “Time to crawl.”
My sanity finally kicked in. “No. I’m going back.”
Others turned thumbs down. The grandchildren registered a vehement protest. Our son-in-law sided with the kids. He pressed on, taking them and the only flashlight.
Now gripping my husband’s belt — I hoped — I trailed him through the darkness. Eventually, we arrived at the cave’s mouth. Whew!
Hiking to the cave’s exit, we awaited the adventurers. Anxious minutes dragged. …
Fortunately, they appeared before we summoned the National Guard. Everyone returned to camp to celebrate survival with an appropriately unsafe hot dog roast — and cookies.
Have you ever taken your kids/grandkids spelunking?
Homemade posters taped to its front windows warmed our hearts. We had not arrived at a restaurant that demanded we share an appetizer and a dessert, the kind John Steinbeck said took pride in serving food untouched by human hands. Instead, the signs shouted all-you-can-eat nights. A picture of Mr. Blaze himself adorned one window — wearing a suit and tie fit to make his mama proud, with a tortured smile to match.
The poster said he was running for mayor.
What better way to please his public than to cook up the world’s best barbecue?
Inside, I poofed my ’do because big hair and hardworking blue jeans obviously were required. The dining room smelled yummy-in-the-tummy-smoky, as it does at a family reunion cookout, when Mom tells you to go play with your cousins until supper’s ready.
The waitress, upon greeting Casey Jack and Junior Lee by name, skipped menus. She handed them shovels and steered them toward the barbecue and fish bar.
Bankrupting the Piggy Pit on our first visit wouldn’t be neighborly. So my husband ordered a slab of ribs, and I selected pulled pork. With our first bites, my husband closed his eyes. My taste buds fell in love. We paused for a moment of silence.
Then Hubby proceeded to ruin the family name. Even a Yankee knows a true barbecue connoisseur picks up ribs. Instead, my husband not only used knife and fork, he surgically removed every shred of gristle and/or fat.
Mayoral race or not, it’s a wonder Mr. Blaze didn’t toss us out of the Piggy Pit.
I ordered cheesecake for dessert. Steve overdosed on pecan cobbler, suffering sugar-induced hallucinations.
However, we turned down complimentary golf cart service that hauled blimpy customers to their cars. I am proud to say we walked out of the Piggy Pit on our own two feet.
Does Mr. Blaze know about tax rates and sewer systems? I don’t know. Still, anyone who bestows that kind of barbecue on mankind — plus infinite hush puppies — for a reasonable price must be a man of mayoral vision, with deep concern for friends, neighbors and even hungry Yankees.
Definitely a winner, in my (burp) book.
When (and where) was the last time you ate bodacious barbecue?
Having finished writing a novel, I crave ice cream, human conversation and sunlight. A Moose Tracks sundae proves perfect therapy. My husband, still awaiting a coherent word, takes my grunts as portents of better things to come. Then — ah, the sunlight. Fresh summer air. Green, living things.
Ha! They do not realize this pale, flabby author will wage a down-and-dirty battle to rescue her oppressed plants. To arms, garden warrior!
I don grubby jeans, “No Fear” T-shirt, and holey tennis shoes.
Hubby: “No pajamas? You’re wearing real clothes?”
For him, it was a long novel.
We bathe in sunscreen, then assemble deadly weapons: hoe, rake and digger.
Weed phasers would be nice additions. But Hubby strikes vicious blows with his hoe. I attack a beleaguered tomato plant’s foes.
Sleek-looking cyclists zoom past. Hubby looks after them longingly, but continues his valiant efforts. Cute runners wearing designer exercise attire and perfect makeup stare as if they hope what I have isn’t contagious.
Whew! After a morning-long battle, we shower and wolf sandwiches. Hubby leaves for work. I decide to savor a rare view of our tidy garden.
My jaw drops.
An overloaded mulberry tree branch has dropped across it.
Hardly a whisper of a breeze cooled us this morning. Yet this beam-like limb collapsed, bending tomato plants’ cages. Branches, leaves and mushy berries smother veggie rows.
The tree providing our sole shade was in cahoots with the Klingon sticker weeds!
The moment Hubby’s truck departed, it unleashed its barrage. Briefly, I wonder if my dearly beloved is in league with them, too. But he did hoe all morning. …
The gnarly branch barely budges.
A swoosh of anger can fuel a woman to do great things, even energize an everyday person to ninja feats. Armed with hedge trimmer, two saws, and Hubby’s old Boy Scout hatchet, I reduce my enemy to sawdust.
Well, not exactly. But by evening, I’ve consigned most of the purply mess to trash cans. And myself.
This ninja still can’t move the big branch. Later, Hubby saws it into sections and hauls them away.
Miraculously, the garden suffered little actual damage. We wish we could we say the same.
But now I savor the rare sight of tidy vegetable rows.
Ah, the colorful sunset. The fragrant summer evening. Green, living things that are legal.
A tired writer’s perfect therapy.
Guaranteed to send her back to her laptop forever!
What has been your biggest gardening battle?
May madness sent me to greenhouses and discount stores, lusting after flower displays, amassing bags of manure as if hefting bags of gold. My car (a.k.a. the Flowermobile) resembled an escapee from the Rose Parade.
For awhile, I dove into dirt with the joyful frenzy of a toddler dressed for Sunday school.
I cooed at my baby plants, positive they would star as celebrities on the cover of Burpee Catalog. All this, despite 35 years of profound evidence to the contrary.
Each August, I finally face the truth: flowers growing between railroad tracks look better than mine.
No wonder. We own the only infertile piece of ground in Indiana.
Still, I nurture my flowers. I even read my blog to them every week. Yet the little rebels conspire to make me crazy.
Maybe some of their gripes are legitimate. My flower pot arrangements look as if Alien Florists, Inc., designed them. My petunias now realize the awful truth: they were adopted by a gardener with a mutant thumb.
“Be patient,” I advise. “In time, those lumps will shift to the right places.”
My mother told me a similar tale when I was 13.
It has never happened — for the petunias or me.
While I sleep, a flora/fauna mafia operation flourishes. Impatiens on one side of the flower bed strike protection deals with the rabbits. How else can I explain why impatiens thrive there, unmolested, while the other side resembles the Garden of Eaten?
My flowers do not appreciate the armies of weeds I’ve fought, the lethal squads of mosquitoes I’ve defied to water them. No gratitude is expressed for expensive gourmet fertilizers I’ve served them. Just flower attitude: I will bloom if, when and where I please.
Meanwhile, the only thing that grows prolifically is my Visa bill.
Finally, I snap. Instead of pampering the little ingrates, I bike through the countryside. But I find no refuge from flowers there. Fields of elegant Queen Anne’s lace mingle with masses of fuzzy blue bachelor’s buttons. Blooming morning glories overrun miles of fences and fields.
“Rub it in, Lord,” I mutter. “Even cow pastures look better than my yard.”
Still, I can’t help but enjoy His exterior decorating and appreciate once more where flower power comes from. Even a Better Homes and Gardens guru can’t grow one petunia unless the Master Gardener supplies miracles of seed, soil, sun and rain.
The biggest miracle of all? He lets gardeners with mutant thumbs help Him.
Tell me about the Flower Power in your yard.
Articles offering answers to workplace stress abound. These ideas usually involve yoga, meditation and/or unemployment.
Or possibly homicide. Especially when the sun shines while you remain chained to your computer — next to a gum-popping coworker’s day-long phone conversations with her boyfriend.
I suggest a different approach.
Decades ago, summer was spelled R-E-L-A-X. We children simmered in blissful boredom. Brief exercises can simulate that past. They cost little or nothing and require equipment available in most neighborhoods.
Ready to change your life?
- Slam a screen door. Again. Someone will yell at you — especially if you do not own it. Fond memories of Mom’s tender threats will surface: “If you kids slam that door one more time, I’m sending you to the principal’s house!”
- Instead of an overpriced iced latte, buy a Popsicle. Eat another. Let them dribble down your chin so that at a key afternoon meeting, your tie-dyed clothing indicates you think young.
- Observe an anthill. Note how one teeny creature tugs a hot dog a hundred times its size down its hole. You will conclude that your corporate life is a picnic.
- Remove shoes and socks or ditch control-top pantyhose. Wiggle your toes in nice, cool dirt. For greater enjoyment, mix mud pies. I do not recommend, however, that you bake them in the company microwave.
- Locate a full clothesline and bury your nose in freshly dried laundry. Invite a stray to play “yank the shirt.” Set new cardio records when the laundry’s owner seeks your head in a clothes basket.
- Lie under an unoccupied tree and count leaves. Ponder why God likes the color green. And why He invited chiggers and mosquitoes aboard the Ark.
- Jump into a car with other stressed coworkers, roll down the windows and play a Beach Boys song at break-the-sound-barrier levels. Hang outside and yell at the opposite sex as you screech tires throughout downtown. This is good for an extended coffee break, especially if Dad refuses to post bail.
- Sing “Jesus Loves Me,” glue sticks from the aforementioned Popsicles and drink cherry Kool-Aid. Presto! You’re back in Vacation Bible School.
- Chase grasshoppers through their favorite habitat: Queen Anne’s lace and bachelor’s buttons near railroad tracks. The resulting exercise will supply fresh oxygen to the brain and sharpen your intelligence — no matter what passing motorists say.
- Write a column about playing hooky during coffee breaks. Try each activity to make sure it works. When family/coworkers/boss question your sanity, inform them you are doing important literary research.
What’s your go-to hooky strategy?
A positive expression? Not usually. But during my childhood summers, I obliged anyone who threw it my way — parents, siblings, even dumb boys who said I couldn’t pitch.
Long before tourists clogged the rustic hills of Brown County, Indiana, my parents owned land on spring-fed Lost Lake. Spilling out of the back of Dad’s pickup, we kids took a leap of faith into the narrow bay our lot bordered.
Instant agony. Instant ecstasy. We dropped into an icy-cold, green, sunlit world far removed from report cards, chores and dumb boys.
We often rowed Dad’s boat to the sparsely-populated beach. There we played Shark and Dolphins, dove for rubies and sapphires (red and blue rocks) and built huge sand subdivisions.
During my teens, pressures (a tiny allowance, a tiny bust, and no cute dumb boys in my life) weighed heavily. So I floated on my back, letting a daisy sun in a scrubbed-denim-blue sky warm me. …
Fast forward 20 years. I frequented another lakeshore called Price’s Pond, which boasted a small beach edged by grassy, tree-shaded areas. We young mothers with sleeping babies took refuge there while watching sand-throwing toddlers. I joined my kids in playing “Motorboat,” bouncing on big plastic Sea Puppies, and catching minnows. They took swimming lessons with curvy young lifeguards, and my mom radar shifted into hyperdrive as my babies swam past the confining rope, always reaching for deeper water.
We celebrated our children’s baptisms at Price’s. One day a daughter danced with her new husband near the beach where she and I once baked pretend brown-sugar cakes in the summer sun.
Fast forward again. Now Taylor Lake invites me to play hooky. After weeks of hard work, my grouchy laptop and grumpy me need space apart before we kill each other. So I bike to the lake. Surrounded by grassy, tree-shaded areas, young mothers with sleeping babies and sand-throwing toddlers take refuge.
I no longer belong to that club. My baby’s 6’6” frame hangs off any beach towel, and his wife now keeps him out of trouble.
But some things don’t change. Boys with cracking soprano voices stampede the beach. Strains of “Marco!” “Polo!” again fry adults’ brains. A new generation of curvy young lifeguards swings whistles. Perhaps I should spare the world the sight of my lumpy-frumpy-bumpy body. But the sparkling water allures.
Go ahead. Tell me to jump in the lake.
A little bit of heaven awaits me there.
Where is your favorite summer refuge?
Nostalgia washed over me. My father helped me get my first job at a Howard Johnson’s restaurant. Because the boss knew Dad — a charming southern gentleman in work coveralls — he hired me, sight unseen.
No wonder you don’t see many Howard Johnson’s restaurants anymore.
I learned more about human nature there than if I’d pursued a Ph.D. in psychology.
I also waitressed one summer in Klamath Falls, Oregon. The town’s welcoming sign read, “Kill your wife in Klamath Falls, the Murder Capital of the World.”
My mother helped me get this job — were my parents trying to tell me something?
I worked night shift, serving inebriated cowboys who wore the menus and pulled me onto their laps. Thank goodness for the 4:30 a.m. arrival of gentlemanly garbage guys!
I switched to janitorial work, often a solo job. Cleaning men’s rooms, I, a college music student, sang loud, high operatic scales. Few guys attempted to use the facilities with Madame Butterfly on the premises. My brother and I tidied lawyers’ offices whose open bottles of whiskey smelled like floor stripper. We also cleaned Klamath County’s 86 phone booths. We ate greasy hamburgers, laughed, sang and spent our best time together.
Then I worked at a nursing home, caring for Alex, an elderly schizophrenic with light-bulb eyes. I also met gentle 90-year-old Minnie, who daily fried imaginary chicken for imaginary threshers, and Freddie, once a dapper young stagecoach driver. I often ducked John, who thought I was an island girl during World War II.
Gradually, I became accustomed to Stan’s Bath Ceremony. Each line of his accompanying song began with a string of profanity in Bohemian, followed by:
“Take off da shoes. Dirrty, loussy, rrrotten, no-good VOOMAN!” He removed his shoes.
“Take off da socks. Dirrty, loussy, rrrotten, no-good VOOMAN!” He removed his socks.
“Take off da shirt. Dirrty, loussy, rrrotten, no-good VOOMAN!” He removed his shirt.
“AAAAAHHHHH!” This prelude to verse two was accompanied by a swing of his fist through the air. Once he donned a robe, though, Stan followed me docilely to the shower room.
My first permanent office job didn’t involve serving eggs to menu wearers or bathing Bohemians. Finally, I had arrived.
Within ten minutes I discovered summer jobs were only warm-ups for the real world. …
My daughter snare-drummed her fingers, bringing me out of my reverie. She repeated, as if I were mind-impaired: “Mom, how do you get a summer job?”
“Don’t worry, honey,” I assured her in my most motherly tone.
“I’ll help you find one.”
What was your most memorable summer job?