Hometown Bound: Day 3

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May 14, 2021, Cloverdale, IN- Looking around this morning, in Joplin, for a breakfast place, I checked out one strip mall, across from Budget Inn and found it completely empty. A block to the west is Granny Shaffer’s- which, down to the feisty Filipina manager, is one of those “home away from home” places that serve as anchors, both to locals and to people like me, who keep mental sticky dots on the map of memorable spots. Like Gramma’s Kitchen, in Banning, CA; Harpoon Henry’s, in Dana Point; The Beachcomber, in Newport Beach; Fricker’s, in Richmond, IN; D’s Diner, in Wilkes-Barre; Bedford Diner, Bedford, PA; and Prescott’s own Zeke’s Eatin’ Place and Raven Cafe, Granny’s holds a strong place in the culinary register. With me, good food is one thing- but it’s the human connection that matters most.

I set out, after breakfast, as my cousin who lives east of Joplin was hard at work. Getting to Rolla, a bit after Noon, I found that another friend’s place, Cupcakes and Cravings, had gone under, due to Covid. So, it was onward and eastward, through a short bottleneck near downtown St. Louis and a somewhat longer, but not excruciating, traffic jam, due to bridge construction, once on I-55/70. When I-70 became separate from I-55, the traffic flow was much lighter. I enjoyed a healthful dinner at Niemerg’s Steak House (grilled catfish), Effingham, IL, with another standing welcome to come on back, whenever I’m in the area. That puts Niemerg’s on the above-mentioned roster. My server, L, never stopped working and told her manager that she didn’t need a break. I’ve said before, that there is no dearth of a work ethic among the younger generations. This is just more proof.

Another aspect of this road trip is mask-wearing. I have put mine on, when I see a sign requesting it. So far, Arizona and Oklahoma leave it up to the individual; New Mexico, Illinois and Indiana have posted signs asking that masks be worn indoors; Texas and Missouri pretty much have no state-wide mandate, but some individual businesses expect people to don masks, when indoors.

Here in the Super 8, Cloverdale, mask and gloves are required when getting our breakfasts (to take back to the room), and when in the lobby. I am fine with this. We will get through the rest of t.his, only with courtesy

Hometown Bound: Day 1

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May 12, 2021, Moriarty, NM- This time, I planned things out ahead of time, started packing the day before and was out the door, with everything in place, by 8:30 a.m. Even the houseplants being placed in suitable amounts of water was a thing that was done last night.

This is not a routine summer jaunt, nor is it a breakout from pandemic restriction. My mother made her own decision to move to a different residence, after 66 years in the house where her children grew up and where so many family memories were made. I told myself that when this day came, I would not be absent from the clean-up and moving of keepsake items from the house. It would be a gargantuan task for family members who live closest to the house. I’ve said that no one should ever have to take on a humongous task alone-and this is one such time.

The day brought me through breathtaking backcountry to Winslow, where a leisurely lunch at Sipp Shoppe, made slower by staff shortage, was what I needed, in that I had to relax and not concern myself with The Timetable. Ditto, for the construction-induced slowdowns on I-40, between Gallup and Grants. There were no long lines or gas shortages along the way, as there were reported in the Southeast.

I am in this mountainside town, east of Albuquerque, for the night. A lone server at Double C Diner was earnest and attentive-a young mother, taking care of all aspects of the restaurant-except the cooking, whilst tending to her toddler daughter. This is what happens in small towns; people just go to work and do whatever needs to be done, without complaining. I would patronize Double C, anytime I pass through Moriarty. The food is superb and the little family deserves support.

Day 2 will bring me through familiar turf, as well: Lunch in Amarillo, a zip across the middle of Oklahoma and hopefully, an overnight stop in southwest Missouri. All I feel, going through places in the heart, is love for the people who have made this life so very worthwhile.

Further Changes

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May 8, 2021- I received a supportive message from the principal of the school to which I referred yesterday. There will be some discomfort, for some people, but the children will be safe.
In a few short days, my mother’s life will become more secure. I will be on the road, towards my childhood home, and will help with whatever needs to be done, for at least a week. This was not expected-at least not this month, but life does not compromise with want-only with need.

I received word, this evening, that her next door neighbour of 66 years is dying. He is in hospice- a man’s man, reduced to lying in a single bed. I can only hope that his extended family, his cousins and closest friends, can be with him. If he is still with us, when I get to Massachusetts, I will pay a visit and thank him for being a faithful friend of our family, like his parents were.

The next few days will see preparatory activities- a Mother’s Day call, a dental check-up, a car servicing, laundry and packing. There will be time, tomorrow, for a visit to a magical place: Montezuma Well. My Home Base will be secure, while I’m gone, and there will much to be done, when I get back .

School, though, will wait until Fall, or maybe Winter, as I honour marching orders, sent from a place unseen.

The Rubber Tire Fire

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May 6, 2021- The six and seven-year-olds watched, from the safety of the playground and grassy field, as a thick black cloud rose, five miles away. The four of us adults watching the group of fifty fielded lots of questions and assuaged the concerns of those watching, that the fire would be upon us, “any minute now.”

It had been a most productive day, from working on mixed addition and subtraction to working on a Mother’s Day packet. The children worked well in pairs and in groups of four, with a bit of “He said I have no friends” and “She scribbled on my Mother’s Day heart”. Some things never change, and are just handled with care.

I stood with a thoughtful little man and explained how the smoke would not affect us, while he continued to express concern about the chance it could zip across five miles of houses and fields. I assured him the fire department was on the job, and as the smoke drifted eastward, well away from us, we all happily watched as the thick black cloud diminished-then disappeared altogether.

It was a bad day for a junkyard owner, but a good day for some little ones to keep faith in their elders, and in their First Responders.

Cinco de Mayo

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May 5, 2021- On May 5, 1862, a force of Mexican soldiers and patriots drove a larger force of French troops from the garrison at Puebla, southeast of Ciudad de Mexico. This day is observed in the present time, as a minor holiday in Mexico and as a folk holiday in parts of the United States. Indeed, the United states Army and Marine Corps provided some assistance to Mexican President Benito Juarez, later in the conflict, as the French had established a puppet regime in the Mexican capital, calling it the Second Empire of Mexico. The combined North American forces drove the French out, a short time later.

Of course, I stopped in at a downtown restaurant, the Palace, and had a lunch of street tacos, small flour tortillas, three tiers thick and stuffed with shredded pork, grilled onions and pico de gallo. The celebratory aspect of the day brings out deals on alcohol, but having long ago given up that part of my life, I found my iced tea was on the house.

Although I do enjoy a good party, it is much more meaningful to ponder the strength of common people banding together to defend their territory against a force that is seeking to dominate them, against their will. It is also crucial to consider that citizens banding together is necessary to defend against dominance by an unelected elite. Even when that elite appeals to the popular will, by presenting itself as the sole protector of national cultural values, it is still an unelected elite.

On this Cinco de Mayo, I remain ever watchful of those who present themselves as guardians of the flock, so to speak.

Elbow Bumps

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May 1, 2021- May Day has traditionally been a day when I have looked back on my year of work, with a view towards successfully summing up what has been achieved and what remains ahead. This year will more or less conclude on May 7, the end of my series of special projects that has followed retirement. There could be other, unanticipated calls between now and May 27, or at different points next Autumn, and beyond. My major focus, though, will by and large be more a more fluid effort at community service.

Today was spent running a duffel bag filled with “Days for Girls” washable and reusable feminine products to a couple who met us in Flagstaff. The woman receiving the items was less than thrilled that I was the one who had driven them up there. Perhaps she was just embarrassed, though we have had a few issues in the past. We got the mission done, and a friend retrieved her truck, which had been used for water delivery on the Navajo Nation. I helped several girls and a long-time friend, which is what matter most. Connecting two equestrian friends was also accomplished, and I got to visit a bit with two wonderful horses.

I still found myself greeting my Dineh friend, in Flagstaff, with an elbow bump. We wore masks, for the benefit of those who remain immuno-compromised. Even if that benefit is merely psychological, it is worth their peace of mind. The residual effects of the virus will be with us for a short while longer in the U.S.-and longer still in countries, like India and Brazil, where it is still raging. While one can look beyond the present status of the pandemic in this and other countries, where it is under control, we must not lose concern for the well-being of the planet as a whole.

Elbow bumps will be a thing, for some time yet to come. We will, however, prevail as a species.

Among the Indigo

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April 30, 2021- The small girl spoke with a voice that was quiet, but full of thunder: “Don’t!”. Few people in my life, up to now, have shown the quiet determination to stand their ground and speak truth to power, at such a young age. She was not only speaking to me, but to several of her classmates, making it clear that the revelation she had just made about herself was the outcome of measured, long-considered self-evaluation.

For my part, everything within me said: “Abide this”. I had responded to her sharing with a standard concern, one that she had obviously heard several times before. The same concern came out of the mouths of her classmates. The notion of prolonged innocence is pretty well-embedded in our psyches.

Times, though, are bringing about a different, much earlier maturity-one that actually hearkens back to a pre-industrial past, while at the same time pointing to the evolving future of the human race. There is emerging a period of time, in early adolescence, when a person is examining feelings as to who attracts them, what it might mean for the short term, whilst recognizing that those feelings may very well change, over time. The person is definite about one thing: This is their life, and the number of people who get to weigh in on it is very much limited. Everyone else will be told, in terms that are, at least initially, respectful, but no less forceful.

I was in the presence of an indigo, someone fairly born with a sense of mission, a clarity of purpose. She is no less mirthful, spunky and mischievous than others her age, but in the quiet times when she ponders life, there is little confusion. All an indigo person needs from others is a respectfully listening ear and acknowledgement of the better angels of their nature. In turn, each of us gets to summon the better angels of our own nature. The appreciation of a child as an evolving, complete human being has never been more critical. We remain in good hands.

Unwanted Feedback

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April 29, 2021- Certainly, the title does not refer to input from friends and family, even if it is critical. Rather, I am thinking of the voice echo that occurs when one is speaking to someone who has Bluetooth on, in an enclosed space, such as a car. There is nothing more irritating than the sound of my own voice coming back at me, when all I wish to do is speak to the loved one on the other end.

This reminds me that so often, my ill-considered comments have bounced back and impaired my friendships with others. Sticking with a conversation topic, long after the flow of dialogue had moved on, was once one of my “specialties”. Then, there were the facts and figures that I felt everyone “should” know. It didn’t matter that the audience was not especially concerned with the information, or that it had little to do with circumstances.

Thankfully, all that is behind me now and topics of conversation are more germane to matters of common interest. Conversely, I do find myself being more patient with those who perseverate, or are “broken records”. Helping them get back on track is far more satisfying than mounting a high horse and acting as if their behaviours are a mere nuisance. The end result, of another person being able to take a welcome place in society, is magnificent.

The Snails Keep On

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April 26, 2021- India, I hear, is bleeding. Brazil is getting restless, with its government’s perceived inaction. Canada is still locking many visitors out. Europe and east Asia seem to be making progress-and there is not much word from Africa-with regard to the pandemic. Many are more concerned with trying to get work and pay their way.

Here, we are making a fair amount of progress, and across the U.S., there is rising hope of getting back to some semblance of a post-pandemic life. COVID is a whipsnake, though, and its opponents, whether allopathic or naturopathic, are snails. Sooner or later, the snails will triumph-but they remain snails, and can’t help but be slow and meticulous. Even a whipsnake will get tripped up, sooner or later.

It seems that is the way with most issues of social import. Progressives act like one can just snap the fingers, and voila, the barriers to social justice will disappear. Reactionaries wish the progressives would just disappear. The rest of us will keep doing what we have always done-move forward, but in measured, sensible ways. Police will always be needed-just not in tyrannical form. Thugs will try to force their will upon the vulnerable, and will need to be opposed-thus, a firm, but fair, police force. (I read Mitch Albom’s account of life in lawless areas of Port au Prince, Haiti. That sort of thing could happen anywhere, if people adopt an attitude of self-centered insouciance.) An attitude, and practice, of listening to, and learning from, people with differing points of view will be needed-if our steps forward are not to be followed by a pell mell retreat backwards-as almost happened on January 6. A respect for people and, by extension, their property, will need to be re-instated. The stance that “They’re only THINGS” cannot be maintained in perpetuity. This is a material life, and even the monk needs assurance that his rice bowl will remain intact. What is wrecking a Boys and Girls Club, or a historical museum, going to do to advance social justice, anyway?

The snails move on, and will not be deterred.

Things That Last

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April 24, 2021-

I have built friendships, over the past ten years. Those not founded on money, or any sort of desire, have lasted.

I have patronized several establishments and food providers over this decade. Those which honour me, as a single, older man, and base our transactions on a place of trust and integrity, have retained my patronage.

I have lived in the same dwelling for seven years. The landlord is old-school, “pay as you go”, knowing that I will honour my duty to remit my monthly rent on the first business day of the month and he takes care of anything that needs repair.

Faith and family have sustained me for seventy years. I know that neither is going to let me down. The Creator never will, nor will parents, siblings, spouse or son, whether they be in the flesh or in spirit.

These are things that last.