FC: SENIOR ROAD TRIP
1: SENIOR ROAD TRIP JULY 2012 ROLAND JENKINS
2: I began my journey at 5 pm on 30 June and pulled into my driveway to end my “Senior Road Trip” at 11 pm on 19 July. There were two critical dates I had to keep. First on my agenda was Alex’s Graduation Ceremony at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri on the 5th and 6th of July, then attend a court hearing with my niece Carissa on the 13th of July. On my travels east I intended to visit with family and friends along the way. What I did not realize when making these plans was how much easier and more enjoyable the journey would be. By breaking the 2500 plus miles one way up into segments I minimized the physical stress on these old bones and had some great reunions with old friends and family, some members of which I had never met. | INTRODUCTION
3: The road to Boise took me through the Columbia River Gorge and the ride was spectacular. I would love to take a mini vacation with Polly and take our time exploring all the beautiful sights and interesting historical monuments that make up the Gorge from Portland to the Dalles Dam. There we would cross over the Dam, hop on Washington Highway 97 up to Yakima where we would catch US Highway 12 going over White’s Pass and back home. On the last leg of my journey I dropped off Interstate 90 at Missoula, Montana and took US Highway 12 the rest of the way home. It was a bit longer and slower but much more appealing. Just after the town of Lola, Montana I encounter a road sign, I wish I had photographed, which read, “CAUTION – WINDING ROAD NEXT 99 MILES.” I had planned to do much of my driving during the day as night time driving had become more difficult for me. The oncoming lights now tend to blind me and the fear of deer jumping out in front of my vehicle is all too real now. However the second half of my drive into Boise was done at night and most of the road was divided so the lights were less of a bother and the night air was very pleasant allowing me not to use the air conditioner which would cause less stress on the engine and give me couple extra miles per gallon which over the course of the 5 thousand mile journey would mean as much as 80 to 100 gallons less fuel.
4: Chapter One- Boise The first leg of my road trip took me to longtime friends Tony and Pam’s house in Boise, Idaho where I spent the entire day and took off early the next morning before sunrise. Bob Gihle, a high school classmate and Jan his wife also live in Boise and they joined us for an afternoon Bar B Que and lots of conversational catch up. Bob and I were members of the Lisle High School Football teams coached by Mr. Ciesielski. We won the Frosh/Soph and Senior Year Varsity Championship under his tutelage. Bob and I also did a tour the same year in the same unit, the First Cav Division in An Khe, Viet Nam. Tony and I were two of the original 4 guys from Lisle that headed west for the beaches of Southern California and ended up in the Mountains of Colorado. Several of us including Jan and Pam ended up sharing homes and eventually starting our own families in the Bergen Park area. We have stayed in touch over the last few decades, but this was the first time I got to sit with them for many years. Pam and Tony’s home was the perfect spot for the reunion. It sits high on the eastern edge of the city and is surrounded by trees with a great view to the eastern foothills. Tranquility surrounded us on the patio as we brought each other up to date and reminisced about the past.
6: Chapter Two – Salt Lake On my way to Salt Lake I tried to not use the air conditioner, but about 50 miles out of Salt Lake with the temperature reaching 100 degrees I rolled the windows up and gave in. I reached Mike and Terry’s house a little before noon and settled in for another after noon of catching up and sharing of family stories. Mike and I met in Denver while studying martial arts under Grand Master Al Dacascos. We grew in the system together and remained friends through the years reuniting occasionally at tournaments sponsored by Grand Master Dacascos or the Kajukenbo Association. I had the pleasure of meeting Terry at a Las Vegas event in 2008. Their home is south of Salt Lake in a quiet residential neighborhood and is bordered on the north edge by a creek. Once again tranquility abounds as we move from the dining table, drinks in hand and toured the property. Terry excused herself and went out to resume the yard work while Mike and I settled in on his balcony resuming conversation about the martial arts as if it were only yesterday we had spoken. Mike is President of the Wun hop kue do Association and very active in the management of our organization while locally involved with teaching the art. It was great to have an in depth conversation with him all while watching Terry hard at work cutting the grass and pulling weeds. She and Mike told me how her neighbors across the creek would pull up their lawn chairs and sip on cool drinks watching her as she worked in the yard. I suggested she had “lawn groupies” and should start a newsletter for them or possibly a website. Terry and Mike had expected I would spend the night, but after my experience earlier that day I had decided to try night driving. After a delicious dinner with them I said my goodbyes and struck out once again my next destination Arvada, Colorado, just north west of Denver about two miles north of I-70 at Ward Road.
7: Chapter Three – Denver Polly’s best friend since school daze, Diane “Goob” lives there. I knew she would be leaving for work around 5:30 am so I planned to drive as far as I could, take a couple hour nap and try to catch her before she left. Her lifelong friend and husband Steve had died last year from cancer and she is living in a huge house they had built with the plan to sell and build or buy a smaller one for retirement. It was my intention to help her define an organized approach to preparing to move and sell her home. I drove down interstate I-15 to Utah Highway 6 and headed east through the mountains. With the sun at my back and gaining elevation the heat was bearable. The speed limit was constantly changing from 65 to 60 and back and with the highway changing from two to three lanes, one for passing, I just gave up on the cruise control. I have become a very wary driver and find the cruise control helps me maintain especially when I have to slow down entering towns. As I came down out of the last pass two cars passed me approaching the small town of Helper. I could see just before the two lane highway opened into a divided 4 lane there was a State Trooper parked facing our side of traffic. I looked down at my speedometer and saw it was between 60 and 65 so did not even hit the brakes. After we passed him I saw he had pulled out, when he got up behind me he turned his lights on. The Trooper walked up to the right side of the van and as he looked in and toward the back he did a double take. I had outfitted the back of the van with an air mattress set on steel milk crates for a bed and had plastic boxes for my clothes, food and equipment everywhere. I also had a cooler up front. On the dash was my Vietnam Veteran Cap and I was wearing one of my Army T-shirts. I did not hesitate to tell him I was on my way to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri for my youngest son’s graduation from Engineering School. He acknowledged that and asked me for my license and registration. I had my license out, but was fumbling for my registration when he pointed to it in the glove box. He told me I was going 65 in a 55 and I apologized, explained how the limits were continuously changing and that I had not seen the 55 or would have slowed for it. I got into how I usually always drive with the cruise control. He told me he would be right back and turned to walk away. I said, “Sir.” He stuck his head back in the window and I said in the most submissive voice I could, “Am I going to get a ticket?” He said he would see what he could do. When He came back to the van he had a sheet of paper in his hand. When he handed it to me he said, “I am going to give you a warning ticket.” I thanked him and asked him his name as I stuck out my hand. “Trooper Alton, Shaw Alton, Shaw.” He smiled, shook my hand and told me the speed limit was now 65 and wished me a safe journey. As I drove away relived that I had not been saddled with the obligation of a ticket I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the most beautiful sunset, unfortunately the result of wildfires in the area. By the time I reached Green River and I-70 it was dark and the air was quite comfortable. I stopped in Glenwood Springs to fuel up and get one last coffee for the evening then headed up Glenwood Canyon. By the time I got to Vail Pass it was to chilly to actually have the windows open and I was too drowsy to continue. The last time I was at this altitude for an extended period I got altitude sickness, but I was just plain beat and had to rest. I crawled into the back and as soon as my eyes were closed I was out.
8: Two hours later I woke up, chilly but refreshed. I wasted no time getting back on the road and to Diane’s home. I had just pulled into her driveway and was organizing things to take in with me when the garage door opened and a very surprised Diane walked out. She was not expecting me until the next day, but readily accepted my being there and said she would just call in and change her day off. | We went to breakfast at one of her favorite restaurants then spent the rest of the morning catching up on her progress with downsizing and preparing to sell her home. I took the opportunity to do my laundry and take a shower then we decided to go to a late lunch up at the Whippletree Inn in Bergen Park. For most of the 70s decade the Whippletree Inn was “the” hangout for the crowd I ran with many of whom had moved to the area from Lisle or the surrounding towns. It was the gathering place for most of the construction workers and a great place to find work. Diane and I enjoyed a great lunch and had a good conversation with the waitress who had been working there for 24 years.
9: When we got back to town we went over to her daughter April’s house and visited with the family. Her granddaughter’s boyfriend, Conner, had a baseball game scheduled for that evening so we all met over there to watch him play. By the time Diane and I got back to her home we were both ready to call it a night. I would get up with her at 4:30 the next morning and leave when she left for work.
10: Chapter Four – The Plains After a stop for two large coffees I was onto the I-70 Eastbound at Ward Road and ready for some white knuckle early morning rush hour traffic across the North side of Denver past Denver International Airport and into the plains. When I left rural Washington I figured the worst driving experiences I would incur would be in and around the large metropolitan areas and this morning bore that truth. Not wanting to waste story line on this suffice it to say I had a few animated conversations with myself around the Portland, Denver, St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis metropolitan roadways. Eastern Colorado and all of Kansas along Interstate 70 is all about agriculture, mega agriculture, mostly corn, miles and miles of corn. I could actually study my map while driving with minimal fear of incident in fact one time Polly called me and was going to hang up because I was driving. I assured her I could close my eyes for three minutes and not be concerned. I set a target of half way across Kansas somewhere around Salina as a good half way mark to Ft. Leonard Wood. I was a day ahead of schedule and did not want to push myself to much. With the mattress in the back I figured I could find a nice rest stop to take a good nap and get a cool early morning start to finish the ride into Waynsville, Mo. Tree farms and windmills are a new commodity for agriculture. Politics aside they both make sense to me. As a child I equated windmills with Holland and farms. As we traveled across the mid-west it seemed that every farm or ranch had their own wind mill to pump water for the livestock or crops. Tree farms to me were always something big corporations like Weyerhaeuser did to manage and replenish the clear cut property they owned. So far on my journey I have driven by several areas where farmers have leased their property and airspace to commercial wind farmers and in the most unlikely areas have viewed huge tree farm operations. I know there are some environmental concerns about the large windmills but believe it makes good financial management sense for the farmers to provide a base income to their bottom line while still managing to produce our nation’s food supply. The tree farms quite interestingly have been of the deciduous variety indicating a supply for wood pulp rather than structural use. I believe managed tree farms will provide the material we need and reduce or eliminate the deforestation of our long standing groves. This is a win-win situation in my book.
11: So, I am mid-morning and well into Kansas when off to my right I see this white wave moving across the fields. It appears to be about a mile long and about one half mile out into the fields. I did a double and triple take trying to figure out just what it is then I see the beginning of it is a double engine pulling about one hundred cars of giant windmill blades. I try to get a picture of it as I am driving but there is no way I am going to pull up on the freeway and get out to take one. I speed up the van, to the speed limit of 75 and manage to pull out in front of the train. After a few miles I come to a farm exit where the dirt road crosses the tracks with just a stop sign and only one farm visible. I pull off, park my van in the shade of the only tree about 100 feet from the crossing and wait for the train. As the train engine nears the crossing the engineer sounds the horn and sticks his arm out the window to give me a hearty wave. I wave back and move closer to take several photos and experience the passing close up. It is amazing just how large and flexible those blades are. That was a nice pause in my journey across the heartland, but time to get on the way as the temperature is rising.
13: About mid-day I am approaching Salina, but the temperature is close to one hundred degrees and there is no way I am going to be comfortable at any rest stop trying to catch some rest so I press on. At Alma when I stop to refuel at 4 in the afternoon the temperature is 103 degrees. There is no doubt in my mind now that I am going to just keep plugging away until the sun goes down and hopefully so does the heat. The one thing I begin to worry about is if I stay on I-70 to Kansas City I will be trying to navigate around and southeast of the city during rush hour. I decide to drop down south at Topeka and cut east on some state highways. I made it into Missouri with no problems, avoided the city traffic and had just gotten onto Missouri Highway 7 which will take me through some of Missouri’s most beautiful hill country past Lake of the Ozarks and onto Waynesville when I passed a quick stop that caught my eye. The gas prices had been steadily dropping from the $4.39 I paid in my hometown, but what I just saw made me find a spot about a mile down the highway to turn around and make a pit stop. I was so impressed with the $3.11 a gallon price that I had to take a picture and fill up even though I only needed 5 gallons. With my tank full of cheap gas and a new bag of ice in my cooler I set off now with the notion I could make it all the way to Ft. Leonard Wood this evening. The sun was going down as was the temperature, but I knew I had some winding, hilling backcountry highway ahead of me and was not sure I was up for it. I drove across the bridge at Lake of the Ozarks just at sunset and really wanted to stop for some pictures, but I had become obsessed with finishing this leg of the journey that night so I pressed on. I got behind a couple of locals that really knew the highway and we were cruising. I pulled into St. Roberts about 10 pm and got a room for the evening. I was now a day early and wondering what I was going to do tomorrow, but for now I just wanted some sleep.
14: Chapter Five – Fort Leonard Wood The room is just fine with twin doubles an air conditioner that is more than sufficient and a great shower. I had talked with Polly about renting a room instead of trying to rough it and we both agreed it was important for me to be comfortable for the four nights I would be here. I had picked a motel that was off the beaten path and was pleased with the cleanliness, professional staff and price so I decided to go ahead and extend through the night of the 6th which was the day Alex graduated. As I was preparing to go to the office I got a call from Alex. He had his phone, but would only have limited privileges with it today. I told him I was going to drive out to the base after breakfast to try and get a feel for how much access I would have and possibly hook up with him. He told me they were all finished turning in their equipment and today were on cleanup detail. He said he would call me whenever he got the chance. I drove out to the west back entrance of the base, parked and went into the guard shack. I told the MP why I was there and wanted to know what kind of access I would have. To my surprise all I needed to do was show my ID and I could drive through. He also told me the base would be having a 4th of July celebration starting at 6pm with fireworks at 9 pm and civilians were invited. I drove on in and spent a couple hours driving around finding the best location for me to park and stopping in at the Burger King for lunch. There were barricades on both north/south running streets and the one on the west side closets to Alex’s training compound was marked for VIPs and Handicap. Sure was glad I had my handicap sticker with me. When I went into the Burger King it was full of young soldiers, imagine that. I had on my Army T-shirt and my Viet Nam Veteran ball cap. Several of the soldiers shook my hand and struck up a conversation with me. I was a bit over whelmed with their curiosity, respect and friendly nature. It was a great honor and privilege to spend time with them. As I was leaving the base Alex called me and I told him I was going to be at the celebration tonight. He said they were going to be able to attend and that he would be able to find me and hang with me. I told him where I intended to park and that I would be there by 6 pm. I went back to the room to pick up the coolers and headed out to stock them with water, Red Bull and Doctor Pepper. In an earlier conversation with Alex I had pinned down where his barracks were so I could not wait and headed back to the base. I drove around and located his barracks, but there was no movement outside around any of the buildings so I headed over to the parade grounds. When I pulled up to the barricades I flashed my handicap sticker and the MP moved one aside for me. I pulled down underneath the shade of a tree and busied myself cleaning and reorganizing my van.
15: Time dragged on, a band started playing, people were streaming in and I was beyond anxious to meet up with Alex. Finally the phone rang, Alex was at the parade field and he was trying to find me. As we bantered back and forth about my location I all of a sudden saw him running up toward my van in my rear view mirror. I jumped out and hugged the young man that just 14 weeks ago had left our home a boy. There were indications in his voice and the way he spoke, but within minutes of our reunion I sensed a change that as the night wore on would cause me to beam with pride. It was not just Alex, but all the young soldiers he introduced me to had a presence about them that exuded pride, confidence and respect.
17: I met Bullock his “Battle Buddy”, the other five ‘cruits from Vegas and so many other soldiers in his company that I gave up trying to remember names. During training each soldier is paired with another and they are never supposed to lose sight of or not be able to assist one another. We sat with Bullock’s family and several of Alex’s Company C Soldiers while waiting for the festivities to begin. I could not imagine a better place to celebrate the 4th of July than on this Army Base with my youngest son and his fellow soldiers. Interestingly enough 45 years ago I was drafted on June 27th 1967 and did my basic training on this very same base. In fact the barracks I was assigned to is just down the street from Alex’s. They are in the process of either being torn down or remodeled and stand empty now. The point I am making is I don’t remember having the opportunity to celebrate the 4th of July then.
18: As the sun set we decided to walk around and check out the booths. Several times soldiers came up to me and thanked me for my service. I was wearing my Viet Nam Veterans ball cap for the first time since I had received it in the mail from the VFW. I had never before advertised my service, but felt comfortable in doing so tonight. It was quite an honor to receive this recognition from these young soldiers and even more so in the presence of Alex. The one thing that struck me as odd was how “shy” all of them were around the young ladies either working the booths or in particular the “Red Bull Ladies”. Alex explained it had been drilled into them that they had better treat all women as possible Officers or Officer’s daughters and that to step out of line with one of them could result in “recycle”, which would mean a start over from day one of training. With just two days to go to graduation not one of them cared to take that chance. In fact for the next two days I was almost amused at how gun shy Alex was around civilian dressed individuals fearing they could be Army.
19: The fireworks began and what a show! It would build up with a big crescendo then start all over again. This went on for about 45 minutes and we finally just got up and started walking toward the cars. On the way out a civilian dressed man spoke to me exclaiming that it had been quite and evening. I looked at him and recognized that he was Army. I asked him if he was a drill instructed, he was. I asked him which unit, it was Alex’s. I asked him which Company, it was Alex’s. I then told him my son was one of his soldiers, big mistake. He asked me his name and I told him also pointing to Alex coming up the stairs. The drill Sargent told Alex to report to him at 04:30 hours and said good evening. As we walked away I believe Alex’s exact words to me were, “Jeeez, thanks Dad!” Alex walked me to the Van, gave me a heads up on where the Family Orientation would be held tomorrow at 0900 Hours and headed off with his “Battle Buddy” toward their barracks. The ride back to my motel room was a blur. I just kept going over in my mind the nights events and how this was my best 4th of July ever
20: Chapter 5a Orientation It was another hot morning with promise of 100 plus temperatures, but the orientation was held in the Field House which was an auditorium with air conditioners on full blast. The session was informative, but really, where are the soldiers? Finally we could hear them marching in shouting out cadence. The side doors were opened and we were dismissed to go meet with them. What a site, looking sharp in their dress B’s coming to a halt in the middle of the parking lot and preparing to present to the Commanding Officer. When they were released from formation they were given a day pass to spend time with the families. Some rules we had been made aware of in the orientation were a 50 mile radius boundary that could not be breeched and a 2100 (9 pm) hour curfew that could not be missed. Alex also informed me he had to stay in uniform the whole time. Any infractions of these rules and or their basic code of conduct would mean “recycle”. This word had become synonymous with hell. I waded through a sea of white looking for Alex, they all looked the same. Finally he spotted me. He had seen the van on the march in and had gone over to it looking for me. I saw Bullock his “battle buddy” and got the two of them to pose for a picture then asked him if he wanted to take pictures with any more of his buddies or anything and he just said, “Let’s get out of here.”
21: When we got in the van I broke down and immediately turned on the A/C for Alex. He looked miserable in his polyester uniform with sweat pouring down his face. As we drove off base we discussed the things he would like to do. Buy new boots was tops on his list. The only physical problem he had during the last 14 weeks was caused by his issue boots. During his basic training he was one of the few soldiers that actually gained weight. Right now all he wanted to do was pick up some Buffalo Wild Wings and head for our motel room to get out of uniform and relax. Donovan had UPSed Alex’s laptop to me, so as we sat and ate our Wild Wings Alex hooked it up and caught up on his cyber world. At one point he needed something from the van and I had to laugh at how he opened the door, looked to see if there were any military spies out there before he ran out, got what it was he needed and ran back into the room. His crime, he was not in uniform. After about an hour Alex stretch out on his bed and all most immediately fell asleep hardly moving a muscle for the next 5 hours. Soon after Alex awoke from his nap and was finishing off his Wild Wings I got a call from Ed Jones. He had driven down from Oswego, Illinois to join me in attending Alex’s Graduation Ceremonies tomorrow. Ed and I went to Lisle Community High School together, played on the football team and also both did our basic training here at Fort Leonard Wood, me in 1967, Ed in 1968. One last bit of irony, we both did a tour in Viet Nam at the same time in the same division. I was sitting at my desk at company headquarters for the First Cav Division in An Khe, Viet Nam when Ed walked into the office. He had been assigned to one of the companies located between An Khe and the DMZ. Thanks to the internet and Facebook, Ed and I have renewed our friendship and I was honored that Ed chose to join us. Needless to say Alex was impressed as well so for the next couple of hours we had a lively conversation till it was time for Alex to return to base. Ed had reserved a room in Rolla the town just 25 miles east of Ft. Leonard Wood’s main gate. We agreed to meet up tomorrow at the Graduation site.
22: Chapter 5b Graduation After I had gone through the main gate and was heading over to the parade field where the graduation ceremonies were scheduled I began to remember my own graduation from basic training here 45 years ago. It was a very hot early September day and we had multiple battalions marching onto the main parade grounds. I did not know it at the time, but my mother had driven down from Lisle with my 3 younger brothers to watch the ceremony. Today as I drove past the parade grounds and into the parking lot I could see that it was just Charlie Company waiting behind the tree line for the command to march in. It was already hot and I knew how they were feeling right about now. Ed and I met up in the parking lot and because of my “limited mobility” we were afforded seats in the covered VIP area. With our back to the sun and in the shade we stood as the Company marched passed us in review. The appropriate people gave their speeches, there were awards given out and all the while I just kept looking out at the company standing at attention in the middle of that field, facing the sweltering hot mid-morning sun and hoping for their sake it would soon end. It did and they were marched back to the holding area on the other side of the field were busses were waiting to immediately take some of them off to their next duty station. Ed and I hurried over as fast as my foot would allow and met up with Alex and his crew.
23: Alex’s battle buddy Bullock had told his squad that he planned to propose to his fiancé after the ceremony so when she arrived in the holding area they surrounded her in a tight circle stepping aside briefly to allow Bullock to enter, drop to one knee, with a towel thrown down first to protect his pant leg, and propose. She accepted his proposal. I heard the drill instructors behind me growling that they were losing control and I had a good laugh about that. Ed and I mingled with the soldiers, congratulating them and speaking briefly with them about their new duty assignments. I thanked a couple of the drill instructors for the fine work they had done, but knew they did not care for “parents” so did not push it. Well maybe I did just a little. I did get Alex to pose with them, much to his chagrin.
24: Alex and eight other soldiers were headed for Ft. Benning, Georgia for Airborne Training and had not received their orders yet so they were the lucky ones to catch all the cleanup details. He would be released later that day for a 4 day pass, but for now had to report to his Drill Instructor for detail. As I was leaving the parking lot I saw that they were assigned to roll up the State Flags posted at the top of the bleacher so I snapped a couple more pictures on the way out. About noon Alex Called me, he was finished and would be waiting for me out front of his barracks. I beat feet out to the base and went in the back gate. I was getting to know my way around by now and that was the most direct way to him. Shortly after I pulled into the parking lot I saw him humping his duffel bag up the sidewalk. He was the last man out. First on Alex’s agenda was to shop for some boots and running shoes. We went over to an on base mini-mall and found a shoe store that had the Blackhawk Boots everyone had been talking up, but could not find a good pair of running shoes. We ended up heading 25 miles east on I-44 to Rolla and found a JC Penny’s that carried the running shoes he wanted. After stopping at Subway for a couple of sandwiches we headed back to the motel for the evening. Tomorrow Alex would reserve a room for himself at a newer motel with a swimming pool and workout room. The one he actually did rent had a Jacuzzi whirlpool tub in it. He would spend the day with me, but then he wanted some Alex time. We spent some time shopping at Wal Mart and as we walked by this young family the husband asked me how many jumps I had. He was looking at the t-shirt Josh had given me that was from the 82nd Airborne. I explained it had been given to me by Alex’s older brother and that Alex was headed for Airborne. We talked awhile and as I left he thanked me for my service. I was impressed with how outspoken yet polite and respectful Alex was. When he caught up with me he said, “See, I told you, you never know who you are talking to. He is a Captain and is stationed here!”
25: On our way out of the store as we were walking into the parking lot another young family was walking in. Alex greeted the husband loud and clear with, “Good afternoon Drill Sargent!” The husband returned the greeting with, “Good afternoon Private Jenkins!” I laughed and introduced myself. After a brief discussion and we said good bye the Sargent turned to me and asked if Alex had said anything about him. I turned to Alex and asked, “Is this the one you were telling me about?” Alex cringed, but the Sargent and I had a good laugh and we parted company. Alex told me as we were getting into the car that this DI was his favorite, the one he had been telling me about. We went and had dinner at a restaurant close to Alex’s motel and I let Alex pay for it, which was a first. Then we said good bye, I know it was harder for me to do and I really wanted to stick around, but Alex had grown up and it was time for me to go. Chapter Six – Lisle vs. Oswego For the first time on this journey I was a bit depressed. I had so enjoyed the time I got to spend with Alex and his fellow Soldiers, plus having Ed join us for the Graduation Ceremony that I just wanted to stay. However I knew it was time for the ol’ man to move on so I set my focus on getting around and through Saint Louis. While Alex was taking that long nap I had got the maps out and drew myself a reference map on a 3x5 index card. For all my friends and relatives that I had visited and planned on visiting I had made a card with their address and phone numbers on the front and a site specific map on the back. When I started a new leg of the journey I would put that card on the top. Saint Louis got a card of its own. I would be driving through on a Saturday evening just before dusk and hoped the traffic would be fairly light. I made it through St. Louis with no major traffic problems and set my sites for the next 3x5 card which was Bloomington, Illinois and my niece Dee Dee’s home. Unfortunately I did not arrive until after 11pm and by the time I located her home there were no lights on and I did not feel comfortable trying to wake her up so I got back on the highway and headed north to my brother Bob’s home just west of Elgin, Illinois. He and Marcia are renting the main house of a working Horse Ranch and while it is within commuting distance of Chicago, it is rural Illinois surrounded by cornfields and farms. I knew Bob was an early riser, but was not sure he would have to work Sunday. When I got to his driveway I turned off my lights and quietly pulled half way up to the house. I was going to just sit back and maybe take a nap.
26: I wasn’t there 15 minutes when Bob and his dog walked up on my side of the van from the back. He had been up and his dog had alerted him something was up. It turned out Bob had the day off so my timing was perfect. I spent the morning just relaxing and hanging with Bob and Marcia. Bob and I took Marcia’s convertible to the store for afternoon BBQ supplies then we had a great afternoon when all their family arrived for an afternoon on the ranch. Daughter Lisa and her son Damion are living with Marcia and Bob. Cally the oldest lives about 10 miles away and they all usually go to church together, but had decided to skip church for today and spend some quality family time on the ranch. Illinois is going through a severe draught and today’s temperature was going to break 100 again. The kiddie pool was just the thing for cooling down then while Bob worked on the BBQ we all moved into the house to relax in the air conditioning. Cally has three girls; Katelyn, Jorie and Izzie. I noticed her oldest daughter Katelyn was sitting on the couch drawing a picture. I had brought with me a box of drawing paper, colored pencils and pens. I asked Lisa’s son Damion to go out to the van to get it and sat down at the dining room table with Katelyn and the two youngest girls, Jorie and Izzie. Along with Damion we began to play a game I like to use to get the creative juices flowing. One person draws a line on a blank sheet of paper and the other person finishes the picture with whatever comes to mind. Good thing I had just bought a ream of drawing paper, because we burned through several of them in the next couple of hours. All four of the kids picked up on the concept right away and we had a great time. Then I asked Katelyn to show me what she was drawing and I asked her to draw the same thing again only not trying so hard, using the same technique we had just been using in the game. Her subject was a jar and she did great, in fact the one that took only 3 minutes was just as good if not better than the one she had been working on for 30 minutes. It was fun to watch her let go and I look forward to seeing much more of her work. We then worked on creative writing and poem construction. The five of us sat at that table for almost 3 hours having a blast drawing cartoons and creating poems. There was a lot of conversation during this session and I got to learn a lot about my nieces and nephew that I would never had the privilege of otherwise. The BBQ was great, but the day ended all too soon. Bob and Marcia both get up real early, like before 3 am so the kids left and everyone was in bed before dusk. I planned to meet my niece Vickie for lunch and spend the next day with her family in Oswego.
28: Marcia woke me shortly after 2 am. I had indicated I might go with Bob on his route in the city, but when she woke me she said: “Are you SURE you want to do this?” It did not take me long to tell her I had changed my mind, but that I was going to get up and have a cup of coffee with them. Bob was pretty much ready to leave but I did get to have a good conversation with Marcia before she left for her work. She is an In Home Health Care Provider and has several clients. Marcia and Bob took my parents in during the last years of their lives. Marcia took that experience and made a career of it. I know my parents loved her dearly and were blessed to have had her service. Not long after Marcia left I fell asleep in the easy chair watching the news. Lisa and Damion woke me when they got up and I had the first of what would turn out to be several wrestling matches with Damion. All I had to do was sit at the edge of the sofa and he was relentless attacking me. For about 15 minutes I fended of his random attacks then I took the time to show him how to make a proper fist and how to execute a good solid punch. We worked on that for the next twenty minutes and I told him to practice it and if he got good at it I would show him how to kick. After a good conversation with them while they ate breakfast I headed out for the 40 plus mile trip to Oswego mapping out how to get to Vickie’s work then headed into Lisle to visit with Sister Darlene. When I got to Oswego, I called Vickie and she was just leaving for work. We arranged to meet for coffee at the Burger King just down the street from her work. It was so good to get a chance to see her even if just for a few minutes. I love each and every one of my nieces and nephews, but with some I have a connection with that has gotten strengthened through adversity. Vickie and I have one of those special bonds. She headed off for work just down the street and I headed for Lisle. Wow! I did not recognize Lisle Main Street when I turned South on it from Ogden Ave. Both sides were now completely filled in with the old original west side all Brick Veneered. Get this! There is now a stop light at Main and School plus a stop light at Main and Burlington! The uniqueness that was Lisle had been transformed into an imaginary “quaint” little ‘burb. The old school house was gone, the original train depot had been moved to its “museum” location and there were half a dozen or more new multi-storied brick buildings housing the fire department, municipal offices and post office. I had a bit of trouble, in downtown Lisle, finding Gary and Darlene’s Apartment building, but did so and called her. She was actually over at the Congregational Church on Ogden where she worked part time. I told her I would be right over and when I turned right on School Street going up past where I had once lived while going to high school, I got lost in a brand new sub-division that was once a wide open field we use to play baseball and football in. I finally worked my way out to Ogden Ave. about a half mile down from where I wanted to be and headed over to the Church. Darlene and I spent the next few hours together visiting at her home then I headed over to Bill Baron’s home and sat on his back porch drinking ice water and catching up. On the way back to Darlene’s I swung by the old high school and took a picture. It’s no longer the high school and hardly even looks the same. There was a Laundromat across from Nels Tavern that I stopped at before driving back to Darlene and Gary’s. By the time I got back Gary was home from work. Darlene put a great dinner on the table and we sat around bringing each other up to date on family affairs. Getting to spend the day yesterday with Bob and this evening with Gary was refreshing and long awaited. I miss my brothers and wish we were not separated by so many miles.
29: By the time I got up in the morning Gary was long gone. After a cup of coffee with Darlene we headed out for breakfast. There is a restaurant on Ogden Ave. in Naperville that I always enjoy going to. On the way to breakfast we saw a man camped out along Ogden Ave. and Darlene told me he was quite the story, protesting against the system. I asked her what his specific concerns were, but she wasn’t sure. I told her I was going to have to stop and talk to him. The look she gave me was no surprise as I know how shy she is about these kinds of things. I assured her I would do so after I dropped her off. When we left the restaurant and headed for our favorite Antique store we had to pass “Scott Huber”. I assured Darlene I would not stop until after I had taken her home. She shocked me when she said she was ok with me doing it now. We pulled around to the entrance side of the office building that Scott was camped in front of and walked around the building to meet up with him. Scott turned out to be quite the character. He is smart, articulate, educated and driven to fight a system he feels has robbed him of everything he worked for. Without taking a stand I suggest you go to Scott Huber on Facebook and check him out. I enjoyed my visit with him and Darlene was pleasantly surprised that what she had perceived was not the truth. I had filled a plastic bag with bottles of water, a jar of peanuts and a box of triscuits which I handed to him when I walked up. As we were preparing to leave I also opened my wallet for him. I sure hope he succeeds.
30: After perusing the Antique Store I drove Darlene home. It was time for me to meet Vickie at Sweet Tomatoes for lunch. As I pulled into the parking lot I was pleasantly surprised to see Carissa holding Hailey standing next to Vickie. After hugs the four of us sat down to a great soup and salad lunch. Of course Carissa and Hailey had to have Ice Cream Cones for desert. After lunch Hailey, Carissa and I went over to Hailey’s house to spend the afternoon till Vickie and Keith would get home from work. I got Hailey to check her mail box so I could tease her and her Mom about not checking regular for my letters. I was correct; the mail box was stuffed full! We enjoyed a great afternoon of playing and visiting. Hailey has a nice swimming pool and plenty of yard toys, but her favorite thing is to play her music and dance, girl, dance. Unfortunate for me I had come on too strong with Hailey to begin with and she had developed what Vickie called “shy pants.” I had tried to prep her with letters, pictures and even phone calls so she would recognize me, but our time together would be more limited than I hoped. Keith whipped up a great BBQ dinner and we sat outside well into the night enjoying each other’s company. Hailey let me use her room for the night and I slept great with the only problem being every one of my dreams were “Pink” in theme and I woke up in a “pink fog.”
32: Chapter Seven – Back to the Ranch I got up in time to see everyone off to school or work, filled my too go cup with coffee and headed into Oswego to try and hook up with Ed. He owns a fabricating shop there and I figured we could maybe have breakfast. Unfortunately he was out running errands and had not taken his phone with him. I just started working my way back to the horse ranch and stopped at an antique shop in Burlington mostly to ask the owner how the hamburgers were across the street at Mott’s Bar and Grill. She told me they were excellent and she was correct. The next two days I relaxed with Marcia and Bob at the ranch house. Thursday we traveled southwest to a farm they had visited that was a semi-working farm with the barn converted to an Antique Store. Some of the other out buildings also had merchandise and one even was converted to a “meditation retreat” for paying guests. The merchandise in that shed all revolved around helping to center you with candles, fragrances, crystals and energy stones for sale. On the way back to the ranch we stopped at a new forest preserve walking trails picnic area and enjoyed the sandwiches Marcia had prepared. Marcia actually is able to access these trails from a farm just across the street from the ranch. It was not long ago that Marcia had some serious health problems and I was impressed with how well she looked. She had gone from barely able to talk and wheel chair bound to daily walks and routine workouts on the exercise bike. Her job requires a lot of physical labor and she has rebounded to handle this challenge. I was concerned about her condition before I arrived, but those fears are gone.
33: Friday morning I took my time and prepared for what could be a long and stressful day. This was the second and last commitment I had on this journey and the only part of the trip that would generate negative aura. I needed to support my niece Carissa at a court hearing on a case that I helped her bring forward. We have been working toward a resolution on this for over three years now and today could be the turning point. Things did not go as we hoped, but it does look like she might get closure by the end of this year. Carissa, Vickie and I left the Du Page County Court House with a positive outlook and big appetite. We were on our way to Oswego and the Olive Garden. We encounter one heck of a thunder storm in route and actually had to pull into a convenience store parking lot to wait it out for about 5 minutes. Illinois as well as the whole Corn Belt is under an extreme drought so all though it was intense the rain was greatly appreciated. When we finally got back on the road and to the Olive Garden the sun was shining once again and Darlene along with Hailey Grace was waiting for us at the door. We no sooner got sat down and Gary joined us. With the exception of Gary who had the Tour of Italy we all enjoyed their Soup and Salad Lunch Special. Well into the meal and lively conversation our waitress came up behind Gary and asked if everything was ok. To all of our surprises as we nodded our approval Gary said yes with the exception of the fly that was circling him. We all laughed but then actually saw the fly he was talking about. When he said he was serious, the waitress apologized and quickly exited. Not long after the Chef came out and offered his apology which we all acknowledge while trying to joke about the damn fly. For the remainder of the meal our host fly buzzed us and when the check was brought once again the waitress expressed her and the Chef’s embarrassment about the fly and presented a check minus three of the six meals. Vickie paid the check and I left the tip based on the actual cost plus. We all felt it was not something easily controlled and exceptional based on all previous visits to Olive Garden. However that evening around the BBQ at Vickie and Keith’s home we did joke about our “Pet Fly”. If there was a theme for my Senior Road Trip it would be “Friends and Family”. Keith whipped up another great BBQ and we all sat around enjoying the evening while Hailey Grace entertained us with her swimming, super soaking Grandma, whiffle ball batting and dance routines. Grandpa Gary helped Hailey expend all that energy. After she went to bed we all sat around and talked of the day’s events and our hope for a satisfactory resolution.
34: I returned to the Ranch that evening knowing Bob and Marcia had plans for a family BBQ on Saturday. It would be one last chance for all of us to gather and hopefully some of the family I had not seen yet could join. Their oldest daughter Cally was moving her family to Arizona at the end of July so it was also one last chance for them to spend quality time together. The Ranch Home is an idyllic place for family gatherings. | Bob, Marcia, Lisa and I were standing out front of the garage around noon when Cally and Randy pulled up in both cars as Cally had to leave early to do a photo shoot. All the kids including Damion and Cally’s ex-husband Dennis were with them. No sooner had they gotten out when Gary and Darlene pulled into the drive coming from the east while Vickie, Keith and Hailey pulled in coming from the west with Carissa and Andy pulling in right behind them. In less than 5 minutes the whole party had arrived!
37: The whole afternoon went by way too fast. The kids playing in the pool with the hose was the best way for them to expend energy and keep cool at the same time. Bob cooked up some great burgers and brauts. The one thing that I picked up on was how the conversations were fluid, not one group here and one there, but people moving around engaging and moving on. Best of all I saw a lot of one on ones with adult and child. I enjoyed that with every one of the children there that day. I had gotten to spend some quality time with each of them and conversation was now easy. Topics from the silly to serious were broached and I feel I have a connection with each of them that should and could continue a life time. That is of course with the exception of Hailey who still chose to wear her “shy pants” when I confronted her directly. Not to worry I got lots of time to work on her. The kids and I did sit down at the dining table again for some more creative scribbling. We quickly moved away from my introductory game and spent time drawing specific characters. Katelyn had written a poem since we last sat down and had posted it on Facebook. I was anxious to read it, but would wait till they were gone. We spent more time talking than drawing and the central theme was having to say good bye. I would be leaving in the morning and they would be moving to Arizona at the end of the month. I showed each of the girls how I made my envelopes out of a folded piece of paper and used the back side of it for my art and message. We made up one for each of them to send me a letter and one for each of them for me to mail when I got home. I put stamps on all of them and gave them theirs to mail to me. Haven’t received one yet, but then I haven’t had the time to sit down and create any of theirs yet either. I am looking forward to picking up three new pen pals though. Later that evening after everyone had gone to bed except me Damion came out of his bed room and asked me if I wanted to do anything. Earlier after the girls had left Damion and I had about a half our wrestling session. I sat at the edge of my chair as he relentlessly attacked me. He had been working on the punching and kicking techniques I had shown him and for a 7 year old he was inflicting some hurt on these ol’ bones. He also was wising up to some of the re-directing I was doing to him and getting more savie on his attacks. Throughout the week I had been teasing him, “Not bad for a four year old”. He always got upset reminding me he was 7. After we were through wrestling and having cold water I explained to him that I had been trying to teach him a lesson about bulling. I explained that words don’t mean anything and if you allow someone to upset you by just calling you names or saying hurtful things, they win, that you need to learn how to let words go. We had a good conversation about bulling and I said good night then good bye. I’m going to miss that lil’ Dude. When I got up at 4 am Marcia and Bob were already up with the coffee poured. I made myself a peanut butter sandwich and stood around in the kitchen with them for about a half hour then started loading up the van. The sun was not up yet and I was going to be heading right into it on the way to Cousin Darcy’s Blueberry Farm about 30 miles north of Milwaukie. Saying good bye is always hard and I have come to realize at this age on this trip I am going to be saying good bye to some for the last time.
38: Bob and I had gone over the map and the best route was actually state highways staying off the Interstates and Toll ways. I headed north on Illinois 47 and as I approached Woodstock the 35 mile sign kinda jumped out at me. I hit the hooks and none too soon. The local tax assessor was sitting back on a side street ready to write me up. I figured this would be a good time to stop for fuel and more caffeine. The long rides between individual destinations provided me much time to review and reflect on each of the encounters. So much was going on that I really did enjoy these times to myself. My CD player was broke and I had tried a couple of times to tune into local music, but I really did enjoy the solitude provided by the seemingly endless corn fields and relatively light traffic for the most part. There certainly were times I wished I had invested in a lap top or some type electronic notebook so that I could have taken better notes, but I did not miss the music. | Chapter Eight – Blueberry Farm With the exception of taking the business route through Milwaukie my pre mapping paid off. I arrived at Darcy and John’s Blueberry Farm between 8 and 9 am. Of all my cousins I would say Darcy is the one I have stayed in contact with more than any others over the years. Thanks to all that communication I felt somewhat familiar with their Farm with all the photos on Facebook and Picasa I readily recognized the “Blueberry Farm” sign and even the layout of the farm. I knew they had a Golden Retriever and was fairly certain she was friendly to strangers, but still did not want to chance it so I called Darcy from the van in front of their garage. Good thing after all it was Sunday morning and they were still in bed. It was a fairly long walk up to the front door for me and by the time I got half way Darcy met me with a hug that almost knocked me off my feet.
39: John met us as we walked in so we settled at the dining room table getting to know each other. Darcy put the coffee on and went upstairs to dress while John and I sharpened our wit and witticism on each other. Turns out he likes a verbal wrestling match as much as I do. The next 12 hours was entertaining to say the least. It was fun to watch he and Darcy compete when trying to share a story and some of our three way conversations moved along a razor’s edge of quips, one-liners and out right wise-cracks. After breakfast John took me on a tour of his barn and out buildings. There were cars everywhere, each one with a history and each one surrounded by “stuff”. There was a small cleared area in the barn on the main floor that John used to work on his operating vehicles and with all sincerity he offered to change my oil, do a tune up or anything I might need done to my van. I graciously declined and told him I had taken care of all that before I embarked on this journey and that the garage I used in Raymond was the best I had ever dealt with. When we got back in the house and were sitting at the table they told me of the fire they endured in their basement. We went down to inspect the damage and repairs and I was introduced to Darcy’s Laundromat. I don’t remember the exact way it worked out, but when they replaced the fire damaged ones they purchased and installed to front loading washers and two dryers, all four machines on raised platforms so there was no bending and all four top of the line. Darcy had offered to do my laundry earlier and I had refused telling her no way was my cousin going to be doing my laundry. After I got a look at her set up I told her I might reconsider as long as I did the folding. We went to lunch at a nice restaurant just off the docks at Port Washington. The food was great and we sat overlooking the bay. Darcy wanted to show me around the area where her clinic was, but I was not interested in downtown traffic so we headed back to the farm. We had settled in when John told me Darcy really wanted to give me a tour so when she came back down stairs we told her I had changed my mind and would like the tour. I am so happy John changed my mind for me. The ride down to her clinic was fun. It was Sunday so traffic was light, the hospital parking garage was nearly empty and her clinic was closed so we were the only ones there. The view from the lobby was of the lake shore and the park where the old water tower was. Darcy promised we would stop there on the way out.
40: As I stood in Darcy’s office reading her Diplomas’ I noticed her fresh dry cleaned white frock with the label, “Dr. Darcy Jenkins Holick.” I just had to get a couple pictures there. When we left the building we drove over to the water tower to grab a couple more pictures then headed on back to Blueberry Farm. As we pulled into the driveway I asked John if we could stop for a photo op. Two things I wanted to capture were their mail box and the tree that Darcy had planted as a memorial tree for her father. So glad we did. Dinner was great, but the conversation was fantastic. John and Darcy have a great partnership and their verbal exchanges are interesting and entertaining! At one point the conversation turned to my van and how well it was holding up in the heat. I mentioned that I had used the A/C sparingly to minimize the strain on the engine and maximize my gas mileage. Somehow I brought up the fact that I had been driving with my “check engine” light on for over a year now. That was a mistake. John insisted that we investigate, so the party moved out to under the hood of my van with John getting out his computer diagnostic gear and us spending about an hour running down the problem. I will say that I now can have an intelligent conversation with my home town mechanic about what we discovered. When we returned to the house it was time to call it an evening. Somewhere during the day Darcy had found the time to do my laundry and as I was setting up in the guest room she brought it to me all folded saying, “I am my Mother’s Daughter.” Sleep came easy and when Darcy woke me in the morning I was refreshed and ready to start the next leg of my journey. After a shower and breakfast Darcy and John walked the path with me to my van. I took one last look at the farm house and the outbuildings knowing I will view future pictures taken by Darcy with a whole new perspective. John and Darcy gave me a last minute review of the best route to take. It was a tough goodbye as had been all of them knowing quite possibly this would be the last one. I was going to follow Darcy until my cut off at State Highway 33 heading west to Minneapolis with specific direction to not turn left when I got to I believe Beaver Dam, but stay straight and go under the John Deere Bridge. I paid attention; I saw it and I went straight. I just wish I had taken a picture of it.
41: Chapter Nine Minneapolis The ride into Minneapolis was long and hot, but as with the others I had lot’s to think about. My concern about how John and I would hit it off was totally unfounded and I was so happy to have gotten the chance to re-unite with my Cuz. Now I was headed into even more uncertainty. I had a great relationship with my Aunt Diane at the family re-unions and the numerous times I had “dropped in” on them unannounced and uninvited. The key to those encounters though was my Uncle Rol. He was more like an older brother and now that he was gone I was not sure how my Aunt would receive me. Once again I was worried about nothing. I had prepped a 3x5 card for Aunt Diane as I had all the others with her name, address and phone number on the front and a site specific map on the back. When I pulled into the Golden Pond parking area I was impressed with the layout. It was backed up to a linear park and the landscape was thick with shade trees. I parked under the shade of one and went into the lobby. At the security door I called Aunt Diane, but we did not connect on the buzz in so she came down and let me in. Her apartment was on the third floor with a balcony overlooking the park. It was a nice one bedroom with spacious living room and kitchen. It was signature Aunt Diane, everything in place like a model home, yet had the lived in comfortable ambiance. After a quick tour with her I quickly scoped out the living room to identify where Aunt Diane usually sat. I chose to sit in a chair opposite that and I was correct. For the next couple of hours we had a delightful conversation. I saw in my Aunt who was going to celebrate her 80th Birthday in just a couple of days a very healthy, vibrant and engaging woman. The one thing I did want to tell her was that I really appreciated how accepting and gracious she had been during all of my drop in visits. Aunt Diane’s oldest Daughter Jackie and husband Mike own and operate the Care Facility that Uncle Rol had lived in the last few years of his life. It was within walking distance of Golden Pond, which worked out perfect for Aunt Diane. In fact she still volunteers her time to assist in recreational activities for the residents. Jackie and Mike’s sons Ryan and Brady also work at the facility. Aunt Diane and I drove over to visit for a bit. Jackie was out on an appointment, but we got to visit with Mike, Ryan and Brady for a while then headed back to Golden Pond to meet up with my Cousin Pat. Cousin Pat arrived; she just lived a couple blocks away and had just gotten off work. Aunt Diane offered to buy and early dinner if we cared to go out and off we went to a restaurant they were familiar with about a mile from Golden Pond. I could write a story about this journey just based on the conversations I had with all my friends and family while eating a meal. I could not tell you specifically what I had at each meal, but I can recount the great conversations and feelings of love and friendship that were shared. This meal is no exception. Pat and Aunt Diane sat across from me and the words just flowed for over an hour. When we were getting ready to leave Aunt Diane had given me Pat’s mother Aunt Lue address in Saint Cloud which was on my way up to Ironton, my final destination before starting my long journey home. Aunt Lu and Camp Ripley were two possible stops depending on the traffic and my endurance. It had already been a long day and I was about to get into Minneapolis rush hour traffic.
42: As we were saying our last goodbyes outside I got simple directions to get on highway 10 headed north. A couple of long and meaningful hugs and I was off. Rush hour traffic indeed, I sat in traffic for 15 minutes just waiting my turn to get onto highway 10 and the stop and go did not even start to diminish until Elk River which was about 25 miles from Golden Pond. By the time I got to Saint Cloud and Camp Ripley I was almost literally burnt out. I focused on getting to Ironton.
43: Chapter Ten Crosby When I was a couple miles out of Ironton I called my cousin Bobbie to find out if she was home. I had arranged to stay with her while I was in the area and looking forward to the visit. Bobbie and I had spent a lot of time together as young teenagers and I was really looking forward to spending time with her. Bobbie told me she was just leaving the cemetery and would meet me in town on Main Street. As I we walked toward each other I could see in her eyes and smile the Bobbie I remembered. Forty five years had slowed our gate and warped the view, but visions of our childhood flooded my mind. The smells, the sounds and the landscape all seemed so familiar, but it was Bobbie’s voice and laughter that opened the curtain on what would be two full days of grand nostalgia. We drove just a few blocks to her home which was where I remembered it to be, but it was not the same home. Turns out her and Butch had moved from the original just a couple blocks away to a farm out southeast of Deerwood for about 15 years then had moved back into town to this home and had been here for just under 10 years. Butch had passed away a little more than a year ago so Bobbie was living here alone. Her son Tony lives in Crosby and did stop by to visit for a while the next day. We sat in her living room and reminisced for hours till I could not hold my eyes open anymore. Most of the buildings on Main Street in Crosby were still the same, but a lot of the old businesses were gone. Penny’s was now and antique store, in fact there were antique stores all up and down the street. Bobbie told me Crosby had garnered a reputation for being an antique mecca and I was going to have a hard time not spending time in at least one of them. Most of the Cafés were still there and while it had changed owners the Crosby Café was our choice for breakfast. Bobbie had retired a couple years back from her work with the city as the radio dispatch at the police department. Butch had been real active in city politics so the combination made Bobbie an unofficial local historian and familiar with every person we would come in contact with the next two days. When we walked into the café we stopped at each occupied table as she greeted the customers and introduced me. While we were eating every new customer that walked by got a friendly greet and introduction to her cousin Rol. | After breakfast we headed north up State Route 6 to Emily and Bobbie’s brother Woody’s farmhouse. Woody (Jerry) had owned and operated the farm for decades and when I asked him what his crops were he told me food for the game. To say Woody is an avid hunter is an understatement. I figured I would be seeing a few duck decoys lying around, but even knowing Woody as well as I did, I was amazed at the volume, quality and organization of his craft. Turns out he has or had planted crops that would feed and encourage game birds, deer and various other game to drop in. A large pine tree in his back yard has been home to a Bald Eagle family for years and friends stop by on a regular basis just to view the activities at this habitat.
45: Jerry met us on the sidewalk out front of his home and once again the decades faded as we greeted each other and traded jabs about the physical changes. Woody had always been a stickler for everything in its place and his home reflected that, but there was more, something that made it comfortable, warm and lived in. I had not met Brenda, but I could sense her influence as we walked through the kitchen. We walked into the living room with the familiar sound of the King, Elvis resonating. It wasn’t the old record player with a stack of 45’s, but the latest CD player and surround sound. As I sat down at the dining room table admiring the view out over the front yard to the lake across the street I could see several geese taking a break. Almost immediately Woody brought over a stack of photo albums for me to review. Woody’s penchant for photography had a profound influence on my approach to the art. Woody had moved down to Illinois in the mid-sixties due to work shortage in northern Minnesota and had lived either with us or near us for 3 years. When I saw the photo journals he was building while living there and how much I was a part of them I realized I also wanted to document my journey with photo journals. I will be forever grateful to him for this. Three photo albums of nostalgia brought back some great memories of family gatherings and of so many that are no longer with us. It was great to share old stories with Bobbie and Woody and to be brought current on who is still with us. Both have suffered the loss of one of their children, an event no parent should have to endure. As I pushed the albums to the center of the table Woody laid one more in front of me grinning ear to ear and said, “I saved the best for last.” It was an album of his son Mitch during his high school years. Crosby-Ironton Rangers Football and Basketball in the 21st Century! Great album, I feel as if I know Mitch now without having had the chance to meet him. More than just a proud Pa Pa’s album you can see that Mitch indeed is a great athlete and team leader. It was time for lunch and Woody took us over to a great sports bar/restaurant in Emily. I was not as familiar with Emily as I was with Crosby, but on the way over I realized the difference was the 4 decades of tree growth had given the whole Cayuna Range a mature look that really enhanced the area. When I was living there the open pit iron ore mines dotted the landscape with their deep pits and huge flat top dirt mounds bare of any growth. The trees had most all been harvested for lumber and the paper mills so what was growing was less than twenty years old. The mines are all shut down now, the pits filled with water to form 500 foot deep lakes, the mounds all grown over and those young trees now 60 years old or better. In a nutshell the area has reclaimed itself and it is beautiful. After lunch we went back to Woody’s and I got the grand tour. Our first visit was to his memorial garden where he honors the life of his daughter Lisa and Bobbie’s daughter Tammie. It is a beautiful garden in the middle of a large pine grove that circles the house, garage and shop. As we entered the shop it became apparent its primary function was to store and restore hunting equipment. Duck decoys were everywhere mixed in with canoes, camouflage gear and assorted weapons. At the work bench Jerry showed me the equipment he uses and described a typical post field day in which the bird carcasses would be dipped in melted paraffin, left to cool then stripped of the wax and any remaining feathers just prior to being placed in the freezer. The walls were filled with memorabilia from hunting trips across the north and west, even into Canada
46: In the two car garage there was barely room for the two vehicles with hunting gear for all occasions hanging at the back and hunting equipment along both sides. Once back inside we went down stairs to Woody’s “Man Cave”. Aside from Mitch’s apartment at the front all the remaining space was devoted to a life time of “Collectables”. It was a cross between an Antique Store and Museum. I had a great time down there and really enjoyed the tour. By the time we got back upstairs Brenda was home from a day of shopping in Brainard with Mitch’s girlfriend. It was great to finally meet Brenda and though it was brief the five of us enjoyed a great conversation. When Bobbie and I left Jerry and Brenda walked us out to the car to say good bye. As we drove away it dawned on me that this was probably the last time I would spend quality time with my good friend and cousin. The magnitude of this trip was starting to sink in. Bobbie and I were in no hurry to get back to the house and decided to visit the cemetery where Grandma Ora and many other relatives were buried. As we drove out there Bobbie describe where all our relatives were located, but once we got there I told her the only gravesite I wanted to visit my Grandma’s. She understood and we drove directly to it. As I walked up to her a flood of emotion and memories poured out of the depth of my mind and soul. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted and I was standing surrounded by a sea of calm. I closed my eyes and listened to myself breath. Grandma thank you, I love you. We left the cemetery and headed for Deerwood. Bobbie want to show me the farm Butch and her had lived on for 14 years. It was out south east of Deerwood. If you look at a map of this portion of Minnesota you will see that there are lakes everywhere. “Land of Ten Thousand Lakes” is the state motto and I think 9000 of them are in the Cayuna Range. The roads were gravel but well maintained and the ride was absolutely gorgeous. We circled out to the farm then back to Deerwood and on back to Bobbies home. Bobbie and I spent the remainder of the evening in her living room talking about everything and everyone. More like brother and sister than long separated cousins. In the morning we had breakfast at a different café on Main Street, but the setting was quite similar. Bobbie knew everyone that worked there and every customer that came in. By the end of breakfast so did I. Bobbie had business to attend to in Aitkin, about 15 miles north toward Duluth so I planned to visit at least one antique shop before we were going to meet up to go to the family re-union luncheon over in Deerwood at eleven. I went to the largest shop on the street. It actually cover three floors, but I only perused the first floor before I ran out of time. As I was leaving the store Bobbie called to let me know she was back. I met her at her house, loaded up all my gear and told her it best if I drove over also in case plans changed, which they in fact did.
47: When we got to the restaurant Cousin Pat and Husband Jack were there as well as their daughter Shelly. Cousin Diane and husband Larry had already arrived also. The tables we were to sit at were to the back and away from the main area which was great. Lots of hugging and kissing and a couple of tears later we all began to sit down when Brenda and Jerry walked in so we went through another round of hugs, love them cousin hugs. Bobbie’s son Tony’s wife Jorin joined us, Tony had to work. We spent over two hours there talking about the good times long ago and the challenges we face today as the family “elders”. I moved around and was able to have great individual conversations with each of my cousins. When the time came to break the gathering up it was a long slow painful process. More hugs and tears were shared along with group photos and loud good byes as we worked our way out to the cars. Brenda had informed me that Mitch would not be home that evening from Fargo as expected so she was releasing me from my promise to Jerry that I would stick around to meet him. I thanked her as I was at the end of my endurance and ready to start the long journey home.
49: Chapter Eleven – The Long Road Home As we all drove out of the parking lot I ran scenarios through my mind as to the options I had in extending the visit and by the time I got to the gas stationed had made up my mind to follow through on my departure. With a fuel tank full and a fresh large coffee with cream I reset the trip odometer and settled in for what would be a 36 hour marathon across Minnesota, North Dakota, Idaho and Washington States. With the exception of a two hour nap somewhere in Montana late that evening there would be no stopping except to refuel and bathroom breaks. I had never been to North Dakota or Montana and now I can say I have been, but other than that they were no different than South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas or Oklahoma. At least they were not from the Interstate point of view. Montana was the biggest disappointment. I know the Rocky Mountains are there somewhere, but I sure did not cross them. I was cruising along early in the early morning somewhere in Montana feeling a bit drowsy on cruise control five miles an hour under the speed limit when a car that was passing me blew a right front tire just as came along side of me. I am not sure who was more shocked by it, me or the driver. I thought at first they were actually firing a gun at me! He handled it perfectly slowing down without slamming on the breaks and pulling off to the left shoulder. I didn’t stain my shorts, but I was no longer fighting the fatigue. My heart was pounding and I was now wide awake. Earlier that morning about an hour before sunrise I caught movement off to my left and as I looked out my open side window a huge meteor shot straight down to earth. I watched for some kind of fire ball but nothing. I had never seen one so large nor had I ever seen one shoot straight down like that. I had made tentative plans to stop at Sarah’s home outside of Missoula Montana and the day before had called her to confirm this. She had two appointments in the morning, but would be free in the afternoon. I had figured that would work if I stopped somewhere for the evening. Well except for that two hour nap I had been back in my old way of drive, drive, drive. When I spoke with her she told me she lived in the “four corners” area of town. When I pulled off the Interstate I pulled into a quick stop for a large coffee with cream. As I was getting out this young cowboy was walking up to his pickup and I asked him if he could direct me to the four corners area. He gave me great directions so with coffee in hand I headed over there. When I got there I called Sara, woke her up and could not talk her into breakfast before her meetings. She offered her place for me to rest, but I decided to keep moving. I apologized for waking her and mouthed that tired refrain, “Maybe next time.” I broke off Interstate 90 shortly after that and took US Highway 12 the rest of the way home. As I crossed into Idaho and started up Lola Pass there was a sign that read, “Winding Road – Next 99 Miles”. They were not lying; man it was follow Lola River up Lola Pass, down the back side following another river, up another pass following another river, down the backside of that pass and so on. Beautiful country and great roads I just wished I was not so driven to get on home. Eastern Washington was also much more than I had expected. The winter wheat was ready to harvest and the rolling hills were golden and moving in waves with the wind.
50: White’s Pass through the Cascades was beautiful, but a challenge not only the winding road, but the Elk and the threat of Elk on the road were enough to keep my weary eyes open. Interestingly enough the last 50 miles of travel, the road I had become the most familiar with was the hardest for me. I was so ready to be done. By the time I pulled into the driveway I don’t think I could have driven one more mile.