Monday, July 31, 2017

Amazing Big Spirits, The Haves and Have Nots - Magic Mystery Roadtrip Revelations Part 4

Are these "The Haves" in Destin, Florida?

Are these more "Haves" in Destin, Florida?
No Access.
$$$$$ Everywhere!
Nope. Can't get onto the beach anywhere near here.
$ Pay to stay. $
Color-coded umbrellas according to where you're allowed to be on the beach.
There's a fence just on the other side of the hedge.
Peeps are not supposed to hop it.
Niceville, Florida, is very close to the Gulf of Mexico, near the beach, so I thought it would be great to have a small, private little ceremony for Rob's sister. We wanted to buy some white flowers, go for a walk on the beach, and scatter them in the water in tribute to her life.

So Rob drove us out to Destin, where there are miles and miles of beach. But what we discovered is that every mile is fenced and in some spots they even pay people to sit and guard the gated entrances so no one gets to the water who hasn't paid to be able to.


I lived in California for near 20 years and we went all up and down the coast, which is plum gorgeous and nary a fence can be seen. We went on all the beaches at all times of day and night. We spent afternoons swimming and building sandcastles and nights around bonfires.

So I was astonished to see that miles and miles and miles of the coastland in this part of Florida are inaccessible to the public unless they've paid big bucks to stay in a beach house, or happen to be wealthy enough to own a condo down in Destin. When I looked out over the beaches I saw, for all those miles, wall-to-wall people vacationing, and traffic was bumper to bumper with no parking anywhere. There were a couple of public access beaches but they were also inundated with people, so my dream of a private, quiet little ceremony for Betsy got trampled. We didn't buy the flowers, we didn't park, we sweated it out through the traffic to get the heck out of there. It was really one of my worst nightmares, right up there with root canals and IRS audits. Not the kind of naturey place that makes my heart sing.

We looked at the rental houses, homes, condos, and hotels, as well as restaurants, and found that though they were beautiful on the outside, they were also decorated with piles of empty beer case packaging, pizza boxes, and trash cans, should their occupants choose to use them. They were clearly money-making enterprises, grand environments for the collection of many, many dollars.

As I looked at them, their gates and fences, and paid entrance/exit attendants, and watched people swipe their plastic key cards through various gates to get in and out my heart felt squeezed.

"How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?" said Chief Seattle, and this sits close to my heart. I was appalled at what we saw in Destin. I wanted to run, just like Rob did, from the nursing home.

And here's the thing. As I looked at these money-makers and people enjoying the vacations earned with their souls, I wondered, really, who are the "haves," and who are the "have-nots"? I will tell you about some people we met along the way, and I think very much that they are the haves, though they might not agree. They have big, huge hearts. They have family. They work to protect us, though we don't realize or acknowledge that while we're vacationing and piling up empty beer case packaging.

The first "HAVE" I met climbed out of his truck the day we arrived at our hotel in Florida. I was at the Magic Mosaic Table having a cigarette, and pretty soon several other big trucks pulled up and parked and several burly, sweaty, dirty men climbed out and walked over under the shade of the little tin roof sheltering the Magic Table to smoke. I was glad Rob was with me, cause I was scared to be out there alone with these men.

They were highway workers. Steel toed boots, blue jeans, neon glowy lime-green t-shirts, helmets still on, rough talking, swaggering highway workers. And we got to talking. Remember I'm the "new kid on the block" so very used to talking with strangers.

OMG. They were so very impressive. One of them especially, took a shine to us, and sat a while and let me ask questions.

After some small-talk about what we do and where we're all from, I looked at the first guy who had arrived and said "Okay, you might know this or you might not, but I'm going to ask and hope it won't be too forward of me to do that."

"Fire away," he said.

"We have a couple of huge cranes in our little home town and I've said to my husband as we drive by them fairly often, "Wow, that's a helluva climb up in the morning. Wonder what they do for bathroom breaks. I'm sure they don't want to climb down all those stories every time. I don't see any kind of elevator."

"Backup Gatorade bottle," said the highway worker. "And you better watch out for showers around lunchtime cause they empty it."

Well. Well. Now we know and you do too.

He went on to tell us some of the inside story on highway workers and what all they have to deal with for their jobs. The heat. Drivers who actually go out of their way to try to knock down barrels or cones. Being away from home for sometimes two months at a time. The large regional territories they cover. The education they need to work the big equipment (impressive credentials). The risks - sizable. The weather - mercurial. The money - very, very good.

His boss drove up and parked in the parking lot, all the guys call him "Princess." He's a young guy of small stature and large education, and they tease him mercilessly. He takes it very well. He doesn't smoke.

After a time, this burly highway construction worker showed me pictures of his family, one of whom is his granddaughter, who had heart surgery when she was just two months old. Plunged the family into the kind of fear and trust and chaos and prayer that we all experience eventually, and he was so proud of that little spit of a girl. "What do your grandkids call you?" I asked. "Pocca," he said with a huge twinkle in his eye. And he showed me pictures of her birthday party where they rented a huge castle/water slide. "I wasn't there for it," he said, "but I made it happen." God. Bless. You. Pocca. And all those who work with you. I wanted to wave and honk the horn to all the highway workers I saw on our travels after meeting him. He's a Big Spirit Person with a huge, loving heart. He understands and loves and respects FAMILY. He was cool beans. He's a HAVE.

So when you see a construction site, don't bitch. Shower the workers with love and light. They're brave souls making the roads better for us all and taking big risks to do it.

Where I had fear, it was erased bigtime at the Magic Mosaic Table.

Down in Florida they have a military school that teaches several programs, one of which is how to handle and diffuse bombs in areas of war or terrorist activity. Shit. Really. It offers "training for compliance, use, disposal, transport, and safety of exposives by licensed experts." And at the Magic Mosaic Table, we met three magnificent spirits-being-human attending classes there.

Two of them were from Romania. They'd been studying there for six months, were looking forward to going home to help settle things down and protect people from terrorism. When we sat down one night, they were playing chess and each had a beer (Corona, yum). They were concentrating very hard, and every now and then, in-between writing in my journal, I'd say "Hey, check out what's happening on the left side of that board, you can get him in check."

"I already have him in check," one said. And that started our conversation, which lasted a couple of hours. After a couple of games, we were so into talking and sharing information that they put the chess game back in the box and just gave us their full attention. There's nothing like the attention of a "foreigner" who speaks English very well, but has an interest and passion for learning about and understanding the U.S. We talked politics. They had no idea of the depth of the American people's general embarrassment and mistrust in Trump, having very different histories. The U.S., to them, was still a great example of what to strive for. We talked about healthcare, families and where the children are living, community, mothers, cooking, and their girlfriends and dreams for the future. I was most impressed with their sense of loyalty to their country and wanting to protect people from outside terrorism. They were absolutely darling wonderful.

I met another student of the explosives academy who was from Pakistan. He was young, engaged to be married at home, and also very interested in protecting his people and being part of the restoration of his country. "It is like a vacation to be here studying," he said. "I can go wherever I want in safety, food is everywhere, and people are happy." He wore a very large, beautiful cream-colored agate stone on his finger. I asked about the ring. "It is to help ground my energies," he said. "We are very used to using the gems of the earth for various purposes." He went on to explain some of the personal ceremonies he was taught that help him to listen to Spirit and to direct his activities on earth. He was muslim. We talked about that too. And, as with all religions, there are crazy fanatics as well as really beautiful, good people who believe in creating beauty and sustaining life, for everyone. He was a beautiful person. He had beautiful green eyes, dark skin, black hair, perfectly white teeth, and a huge and loving heart. He was a HAVE. May he always be protected on his journeys in this life.

At the Magic Mosaic Table I met Betty. Betty was 77 years old. Black as night. Skinny. And very Southern. She loved to settle into a story. She told us of her family who lived a bit up north and her two daughters that work at the airport. One of them went to college and got some kind of degree that qualifies her to stand on the tarmac and direct airplanes into their parking spots along with other duties as required. She makes good money. Her other daughter also has a great job. "But there are six people living in that house, and that's just plain too many," she said. So she was in Florida to find a place to live, after the passing of her sweet husband, who was military. Betty loved the airplanes and when one went by overhead she stuck her cigarette in her mouth and put her hands together, collecting air, and woooooshed them up, over and over again. Sixteen times. "There. I gave them sixteen," she said. Lord, it was sweet, she was sending blessings to hold those planes up. Betty is a HAVE. She has a huge and loving heart that extends well beyond her own personal zone.

We saw Betty out there a few times and talked real estate as she was looking for a home close to where her husband had worked for a long time. Please send her the very best home ever, angels, where she'll be happy for as long as she lives.

And we met a family from Bosnia. Big, strong, truck driving husband and lovely, plump, super healthy and beautiful woman who'd come to America as a refugee many years ago. We talked politics and they were safe. She has her citizenship. She has family still in Bosnia. She lives in Iowa, and to hear her voice sigh out the name of that state you know it isn't the place of her heart. They have two daughters and were shepherding the daughters through the vacation as parents do. Sweet people. Reminded me of the movie and book Bridges of Madison County. You're safe, sweet woman, as safe as any of us can be. She's a HAVE because you can see her love for her family and loyalty to her husband even though Iowa isn't quite the place of her heart.

And we met very special women who waited on us at Waffle House. Yes, there were tattoos. Actually most of the wait people in the South had tattoos and wherever there's a tattoo, there's a story. So I asked about them. The first one had tattoos covering her whole right arm. Shoulder to almost wrist. "Can I get you anything else?" she asked. And I said "Yes, tell me the story of your tattoos. There must be some powerful stories there."

"Oh yes, there are," she said. "This one is for my mother, who passed, and this one is for my father who passed. This one is for my brother who passed, and this one (roses) is for life and strength. This little bit by my wrist that hasn't been done yet is for my baby, I'm four months pregnant. And this one is for my first husband, who killed himself. He was the love of my life. I have a daughter from him. He didn't make it because he was in Afghanistan and had to shoot a little boy who was about seven years old who pulled a gun on him. He had nightmares and just never could get over it. So he took some medicine that he knew he was allergic to and stopped breathing. We couldn't save him. He was the love of my life." Lord, lord. This girl is a HAVE because with all the heartbreak in her life she has never given up and is still working at loving and nurturing her beloveds.

So we have this new little baby coming for her with her new husband and here she is working her butt off at Waffle house four months pregnant and carrying the weight of grief. "You never get over it," she says. And I know what that means. But she's living. She's living with all of her might. Bless the new baby and the relationships in that family. She got a big tip from us xo.

And we met a hotel owner from Mumbai. This wasn't at the Magic Mosaic Table, but it was part of our journey. He had dark skin, beautiful white teeth, and the beautiful sing-song voice of an East-Indian. He was very friendly when we arrived and stood in the lobby with me and my luggage on the brass cart while my husband parked the car. I asked him where he was from and his eyes got a little guarded as he answered. I told him we had close friends from India and Lebanon and asked if he had family still there. He said yes and told us of his travels. Most of the employees in his hotel were family members, brothers, sisters, all bustling about taking care of us travelers. After we talked for a while his eyes twinkled and the guard went down. I am most grateful for owners who care, who keep things clean and stocked and who are friendly and accessible as we travel the long miles of the road. Blessings to this hotel owner and his family, some of whom he's still working on getting to the U.S. Good luck with the current admin on that. It might be a few years 'til we can get them in, but I welcome them with an open heart. Why is it that people from other countries so often appreciate the wealth and freedoms of the U.S. that we completely take for granted? He's a HAVE because he devotes himself to the comfort and well-being of not only his family, but strangers that come to stay at his hotel, hungry, and plum worn out.

The other waitress that we had that I fell in love with was somewhere down South busting her butt to make people comfortable on their journeys and she was the epitome of the hospitality that the South is known for. She took great care of us and we made friends. She showed us photos of her dogs. She and her boyfriend live on several acres and they have huskies. She had five of them, four black and cream colored ones, and one red and cream. She thinks the red and cream one was stolen because he's been missing for a while. Let's hope he was stolen and has a good home and didn't become bear dinner. She charmed the socks off of us and got a real good tip too. She's a HAVE because she loves animals and keeps a trusting nature even though one of hers is missing.

One more sweet person that I met I will tell about in my next-to last post. She was very inspirational and also very impressive. A big spirit.

You see, all of these people have stories. Beautiful, loving, caring, life-sustaining, big spirit stories.

What I learned from them was a lot about my own "station" in life. I am part of the top two percent in intelligence. I've been blessed with a career in higher education that has been very meaningful, helping others to attain their dreams. This is very special and a great honor. I am finally at the point in life where I can spend time doing what I love to do, which is painting, beading, and writing. I'm blessed.

Revelation Number 4 - The "haves" are not who we might think they are. They are the little people all across America, with huge, strong, loving spirits, life sustaining activities that support those around them. They are not "dollar collectors." They are just beautiful. I love them all. If I could shower blessings and prosperity on anyone it would be these people, the slice of Americana that I would not otherwise have encountered, that lit a lightbulb for me. Keep going it says. We are working for our futures and the futures of those we love, even the futures of those we might never meet. We are love. We rise above despair, we take risks, we leave our homes and families and go back with knowledge to support the whole.

We are the "WE". Not the "I".

God, I'm so impressed with every one of them. Thank you, my beautiful Creative Source and Universe and Angels, for the beautiful interaction with peeps who are really Earth Angels in disguise. I'm all for the "meek inheriting the earth," and I think we got a good glimpse of that. Rock on peeps, you have wings you may not even know about. I see them. May they lift you up eternally.

Sky Storms and Heart Storms - Magic Mystery Roadtrip Revelations Part 3

Heading into the storm
The third leg of our trip was so hard and the weather seemed to know it. It reflected our roiling hearts as we got closer to Florida, the family, and the funeral for Rob's sister Betsy.

But our hotel in Florida was a pure example of some of the magic of this trip that I had so dreaded. I'm a smoker, and Rob was kind enough to get smoking rooms when possible, but for the hardest part of the trip, the three nights we'd spend in Niceville attending the funeral, connecting with deeply grieving family members, we had a non-smoking room, which came with a gift from Spirit, The Magic Mosaic Table.

Heaviness inside our hearts, heaviness outside.
We drove and drove, with stormclouds all around us, wondering when the deluge would happen and if we'd find ourselves stricken or somehow protected.

Oh the clouds were beautiful, but so scary too.
The magic happened when we checked in to our hotel and realized that within walking distance to the right was a Waffle House for quick breakfasts, and a Hurricane Grill to the left, also within easy walking distance. And a little mosaic tiled picnic table outside underneath a protective tin roof. So Rob didn't have to drive for us to eat, I had a sort of safe haven to go for a smoke, and we had time to do some things we wanted to get done.

The first was to visit his Dad at the Nursing Home where he lives. His Dad is old as the hills and unfortunately doesn't have his mind about him anymore. He can talk but doesn't remember anything from one minute to the next. He rides in his wheelchair, and he likes to "walk it" himself. This means they don't put the pedals down, so he can use his feet to walk his chair all over the place. He likes to do that.

For a little while you'll have to use your imagination because I didn't take photos while we were at the Nursing Home cause we had too much to pay attention to. The first thing was for Rob to meet Cara in person, the lovely woman who manages the home. They'd talked on the phone, but since we live in Pennsylvania they'd never met in person. Cara was dressed in a brightly patterned summer dress, comfy sandals, and sparkly blue nail polish on toes and fingers. Her personality was just as bright. I think she picked out her outfits on purpose to be a ray of sunshine for all the elders.

We talked with her to make sure they knew to contact Rob over the next several days, and maybe weeks if he could help with any questions or decisions, since Betsy's husband Ron had already so very much to deal with emotionally. He and Betsy had been keeping a close eye on Rob's father Bob, and Ron and Betsy's children, Cathy and Joel, had visited him in the nursing home. But we wanted to make sure they'd have a stretch of time without too many outside obligations, a time for peace, for grieving, for loving each other, and for climbing back up.

So Cara took us to see Bob, who was having his lunch in the lunchroom. The Nursing Home was lovely. Homey, comfortable, nicely decorated, clean as a whistle, and fully staffed. Nursing and cleaning staff people were everywhere, taking care of all kinds of things, feeding the elders, sorting out medicines, vacuuming, and just generally being useful and working hard.

Cara walked down the hallways, leading us to Bob, and all along the way she'd pat someone's shoulder here, or tease someone there as she passed. Many of the residents liked to sit in the hallways and though they were mostly past the age where they could talk or socialize much they liked being out where there were activities and things going on.

So when we got to Bob at his lunch table, he was just finishing up, but still had his little tub of ice cream left. Cara asked him if he wanted to finish it and he said "Oh no, I don't think so." She introduced us and Bob didn't recognize his son. (Check one on the hard scale for Rob.) And he didn't remember me either. Rob had expected this since he'd been in touch by phone for years, and was aware of the decline in his Dad's mental faculties, but it was still uncomfortable and hard to understand emotionally.

There was a beautiful courtyard outside the lunchroom, surrounded on all sides by the big picture windows and stucco walls of the Nursing Home. It was lovely. So I asked Bob if he'd like to go outside. "I guess so," he said. So I got behind his wheelchair to help push as he walked himself out to sit in the shade by one of the picnic tables outside.

Rob and Bob in the courtyard
Rob and I had already talked about what was okay to talk about with Bob - since he didn't remember anyone and hadn't much been able to for many months, we knew not to mention the death of his daughter. It would only confuse and upset him. So as we sat at the picnic table with him we talked about the pretty flowers, the sky, the clouds, a plane going by overhead, and the breeze.

At one point Bob bunched up his shoulders under his ears, squinched up his face and smiled the most beautific smile I'd ever seen. He took a big deep breath and let it out real slow, and said, "Oh it feels good to be outside. The breeze feels so good and it's warm!" It was a very hot 87 degrees with drenching humidity, but like true elders often prefer, Bob was comfortably dressed in long, warm sweatpants, with a warm, soft jacket over his shirt.

After we'd had the same conversation for about 15 minutes, repeating ourselves because he didn't remember, I asked him if he'd like to take a "walk" around the courtyard. "Oh, I guess so," he said. So I got behind and pushed him gently while he walked his chair along the pathways. We stopped to look at the little garden planted in raised beds so that the flowers were eye-height as the people who lived at the home rolled by in their wheelchairs. We talked about the colors. We rolled past three different fountains, a cluster of hummingbird feeders, rose bushes, beds of all different kinds of colorful flowers and plants, and lots of gorgeous palm trees.

After we'd gone clear around the courtyard and across some of the diagonal pathways too, we went back to sit by the picnic table. We had a little trouble thinking of new things to say. So we told Bob it was time for us to go, and I asked him if he was ready to go back inside. "Oh, no, I don't think so," he said. And he melted my heart by doing his shoulder bunching, face squinching smile thing while declaring "Oh the breeze feels so good and it's good to be outside!" So I asked him if he'd like to go around the courtyard, feeling very Groundhog Day-ish. He said "Why yes, I think so."

But I was getting "the look" from my husband, who was clearly ready to leave, which I didn't quite understand. I motioned for Rob to help push his father around the courtyard so they'd have a bit of somewhat closer interaction. We went by the flowerbeds, hummingbird feeders, fountains, and palms again, and it was as if he'd never seen them before, Bob was so delighted.

Then it really was time to go, so we took him inside and took him to his room and said "We love you!" which probably confused him a bit cause he didn't say it back. And we headed out the door. But he followed us. That was a little heartbreaking. Partway down one of the long, carpeted hallways I saw one of the nurses working out in the hallway, getting medicines ready to distribute, and I whispered to her, "Could you make sure Bob doesn't follow us all the way out?" And she did.

She went to stand right in front of his chair so he couldn't see us, and put her little hand on her hip and talked cheerfully with him until we were around the corner and out of sight.

We got into the car and headed back to the hotel, mission one in Florida accomplished - we'd successfully connected in-person with the Nursing Home staff and with Bob. They had all the info they needed and we felt we could relieve a bit of the burden Ron had been taking care of.

And then something happened and Rob and I had a FIGHT. A serious one.

I was chattering away about my grandmother's time in her nursing home in West Virginia and how they were different and in some ways the same. Helping my Mom get Gammy situated there when her four caregivers were no longer able to provide all she needed at home was the scariest thing I'd ever experienced. Gammy's nursing home was also well-staffed and clean as a whistle, and the elders also liked to congregate in the hallways. But some of them were moaning. Some were banging dolls around, some were sleeping peacefully, and some were laughing. It scared me silly. I vowed never to live that long. I'd always wanted to be 90 but after seeing that, I decided nope. I don't know if Bob's nursing home inhabitants were more heavily medicated or whether it was just because it was my first time and it was my Gammy going in there, but I found it terrifying.

So as I was chattering along to Rob I made the unintentional mistake of saying out loud, "I don't know why you were so ready to go after the first round of the courtyard. What was with that look? If we can give him a few moments of pleasure, even if he doesn't remember them, what could be bad about that?"

It really hit Rob the wrong way. And we had to work and work to get back to understanding. He couldn't articulate what he was feeling, only that he hated it and felt responsible but there wasn't a damn thing he could do. He couldn't make his Dad, his Dad again.

I said "It's not so hard, I just understand that he's like a two year old. A child. So we have conversations like you would with a very young child, and we entertain him like we would a child."

This didn't help. Rob clammed up. When it was time for bed we were still trying to pick at it and work things out but nothing I said seemed to help. So I said "Let's go outside for a while," and I poured us a glass of wine and grabbed my cigs and a notebook. Down to the mosaic tiled table we went.

The Magic Mozaic Table, an oasis in a sea of storms.
As we sat down I said to him, "Let's do the exercise we learned from Brooke Castillo about intentional thinking." It's a great exercise for when you're stuck because of circumstances beyond your control and you need to break out of hurtful feelings. Rob and I have done it a number of times with really painful emotions and thoughts as we climb back from the anguish of my daughter's death.

The formula is: Circumstance/Thought/Feeling/Action/Result/New Thought/New Feeling/New Result (intentional thinking creates the new thought and new feeling, whereas unintentional thinking can keep us stuck in painful emotions). Our conversation went like this -

Me: What was the circumstance that threw you into defense mode?

Rob: (After a lot of wrangling, thinking, and some back and forth discussion.) You attacked and criticized me. You doubted my integrity.

Me: Okay. That was never my intention, but we'll go with that. Jen attacked Rob's integrity and criticized him. (This wasn't easy for me to "own" or write down, but it's important for the exercise to target Rob's perspective, not mine.) What was your thought that resulted from that circumstance?

Rob: Jen doesn't understand me or support me.

Me: Okay. I love you very much and want nothing other than to be supportive of you, and for you to feel understood, but if you believe that I don't understand or support you, let's see if we can figure that out. What's the feeling that results from your thought that I don't understand you or support you?

Rob: I feel inadequate, like I'm not measuring up.

Me: I hear you, but that's coming from you, not me. I respect and admire you very much. I was just trying to explain how I've learned to handle dealing with people who don't have their minds anymore. I didn't mean to criticize you. What action resulted from your thoughts and feelings?

Rob: I told you you're horrible and we had a fight.

Me: Yes, and we're both feeling miserable. Can we come up with a new thought from your perspective that doesn't place blame?

Rob: (After a lot more wrangling and thought....) Jen has the perspective that Dad's a two year old stranger.

Me: Yes, that is exactly right. Does that help you to feel better? That I'm not attacking or criticizing you?

Rob: Yes. I feel better about that. I'm glad we're not fighting anymore.

Wow, I was so relieved that the intentional thinking exercise helped to get us out of the "blame zone." So we were able to go upstairs and go to bed. But that wasn't the end of it. Rob was still feeling like he wanted to run like hell away from that nursing home. And he used to work in one when he was young and considering becoming a doctor. He was really good at treating the elders with patience and good cheer, like two year olds.

He was sitting in the chair by the window of our hotel room as I was just waking up. "Morning," I said. "Morning," he said.

"I think I figured something out about yesterday. I can't do it," he said. "I can't see my Dad as a stranger or as a two year old. Dad's Dad. But he isn't."

"You can't make that leap," I said. "Well that's understandable. He is your Dad. It's easier for me because he's not my Dad. I don't have all those years of growing up and memories and love and attachment. It's perfectly natural for you to have a hard time with that. Now I understand why you want to run like hell from the nursing home. It's okay. If you were down here and could visit him more often it wouldn't be so much of a shock. You'd work your way through it. But being so far away you just don't have much of the opportunity to do that."

So though he feels a very strong sense of responsibility, he also feels a huge sense of vulnerability. And I'm very grateful for tools like Brooke Castillo teaches us to get us to understanding so we can love each other without the barriers that can crop up insidiously, without intention.

Magic Mystery Roadtrip Revelation Number 3: We can do hard things, especially when we are loved and loving, and there are TOOLS for this. For this kind of roadtrip especially, hard things came up, and I am grateful for the love we nurture between us.

Dinner that night, and all the nights in Niceville, was, appropriately at the Hurricane Grill. It was just what we needed. A bit of beachy lightness and really good food.

The tables were made of refurbished surfboards
but we didn't climb up and try to ride them.
The decor was beachy and lighthearted.
Apologies for the lack of photos. Pretend this chapter was more like a book. Next post is about the incredible people we met along the way and some we didn't meet but we all know the type, scary. Wow. Tattoos are a great conversation opener for their stories.

It's a Peanut Thing - Magical Mystery Roadtrip Revelations Part 2

On the road again....
The next leg of our 2200 mile trip was to reach Chattanooga, Tennessee. We drove and we drove and we drove.
Awesome summer skies
We had perfect summer weather. A few clouds to help shade us from the sun, and roads that were wide open with little traffic. So we talked. And here's the thing. When you're stuck in the car for days and days you get a little punchy sometimes and the conversation can get fairly randy. I considered it my job as "Helpy Helperton," Rob's personal driving assistant, to keep him awake and alert. There were even some signs along those long, straight roads warning us to "Keep Alert! Drive Alive!"

So as I looked at the clouds I began to see shapes in them. Elephants, dogs, dragons, angels. And somtimes tall towers with little puffs at the bottom that looked like penises. Yep, I did. Here's one, use your imagination. We stayed awake and alert for quite a while looking for penis clouds. I know, I know, I'm sorry, I sincerely apologize, but we were tired and I was getting punchy from so many hours in the car.

Do you see it?
Oh I saw some hearts too.

Hi Jess!
I had to keep putting my hand over my heart to remind myself that Jess was with us, she is everywhere, not stuck back home in my studio. It worked pretty well for keeping me stable.

And here's the thing. Along the road there are a lot of billboards of all kinds. They are very handy when you run out of penis clouds to keep the driver awake with. This wasn't a "romantic vacation," it was hard work, cause we were heading to a very important family funeral, so even though we didn't have all that spooning you do when you're truly "on vacation," we could joke about it.

So Rob and I had this very interesting conversation that began when we started to see how different the billboards are as you get farther south. I wish I'd been able to take a photo of each one, but they just whizzed by at 70 miles per hour.

Me: Oh look Rob! We can get a wonderful pair of Western boots from the largest warehouse in the world! Do you need some Western boots?

Rob: Sure!

(We didn't stop at the warehouse.)

Me, several miles later: Oh look Rob! We can buy some knives at the largest knife warehouse in the world! Do you want some new knives?

Rob: Sure!

Me, even more miles later: Oh look Rob! We can get a whole bunch of fireworks at the largest warehouse in the world! Do you want some fireworks?

Rob: Sure!

Me, later: Woah, Rob. We can rent machine guns and go shooting. Do you want to rent a machine gun and go shooting in our new boots with our new knives and then light off a bunch of fireworks?

Rob: Now why would we need fireworks if we have machine guns?

Me, even later: Oh my gosh, Rob. We can go to a moonshine tasting event! Do you want to get tickets and drink moonshine in our new boots with our new knives and shoot and light fireworks?

Rob: Sure!

Picture that for a minute. It kept us awake and alert for many billboards over the miles.

It was a very pleasant driving day, but we were really hungry by the time we reached Chattanooga. Right near our hotel was a sort of a steakhouse restaurant, so we pulled in for some supper before checking in.

The first thing I noticed was that something was crunching underneath my flip flops. Yes, with each step I took, something was on the floor.

"Come on in, y'all," said our seating hostess. And we followed her to our table, crunching all the way. I looked down and saw, wait for it, YES! PEANUT SHELLS! PEANUT SHELLS EVERYWHERE, COVERING EVERY SQUARE INCH OF THE POLISHED CONCRETE FLOOR! (Why, I never! Never in my life have I seen such a thing. What IS this peanut thing?)

THIS is the place to be!
Logan's Roadhouse! THAT'S what it is! They do peanuts like nobody's business! On every single table, there's a bucket of salted, cooked, unshelled peanuts just waiting for you to come and eat them.

It was packed with people. Families, kids, even someone had their dog under the table. The music was just right, and we found the rules easy to follow:

We could follow these rules, for sure!
I think I have a glint in my eye. I am about to be naughty.
Can she do it?
Yes she can!
I am just not sure what my mother would make of this.
And here's the thing: Magical Mystery Roadtrip Revelation Number 2: It's good to be a little naughty once in a while. Especially when peeps give you permission.

 "Who takes care of the floor?" I asked our darling little waitress. "We all do," she said. "After we close we all get out the sweepers and sweep up all the shells." "What happens to them?" I asked. That's a whole lotta peanut shells every day. "Oh they just go into the trash," she said.

Okay, now I know about the peanut thing. And I LIKE it. I think it's FUN! I also felt so much gratitude that somebody somewhere understands that sometimes life's too hard and we need a break. Laughter makes a really good break.

"We'll keep your seat warm and your longneck cold!"
A mix of locals and travelers.
What a wonderful respite from the driving. Ah, we could relax for a while. And the food!

I'm pretty sure they don't brag about any pimento cheese platters up north. Pimento cheese is a favorite down south - my mother loves it so much I learned to make it. Yum!

So Rob and I chilled out with good food.

Choices, choices!
And a glass of wine.

Gorgeous crepe myrtle outside the roadhouse restaurant
I love to watch the plants as we drive farther and farther south. I begin to see some I remember from when I was a kid that we can't grow up north. They smell so good and they're so pretty!

Nice big room with lots of space.
The comfort of TV, fridge, microwave, and Robert Dale.
We tucked ourselves into bed, knowing that we were now facing the hardest, most somber part of our journey. And the weather the next day reflected that in spades. Tune in to the next post for weather information.

Magic Mystery Roadtrip Revelations PART ONE

The New River at the foot of the Bluestone Dam,
my stomping grounds while growing up.
I dreaded the trip. I was scared to leave the protective environment I've been living in, surrounded by the beauty my husband, Rob and I make together in our home, my beloved animals, Lil Bear and Benji and Joey Max around me, and the place of my heart, my studio, where I live and breathe art every single day and 3/4 of most nights. The place where I guard my daughter. Still. I was relieved we couldn't afford for me to go but I was also torn about that because I wanted to be with my husband through hard stuff, we got married to do it all together.

Rob's sweet sister Betsy passed away, and she is beloved to him, so of course he wanted to be with his family to celebrate her life and mourn her passing, to offer strength and love, in Florida, 1100 miles away. There wasn't any way we could afford for me to go with him because we'd gone through about $70,000 over the past 3 and a half years with my daughter's sickness and her death. We're still climbing out of that hole and will be for a while.

And you know what happened? FAMILY.

My dear sister came over to visit as we were getting ready to pack for him and planning his trip. Plan A: I would hunker down with the pups and my kitty here at home, and he would fly to Florida, stay two days, and fly back.

My sis rang the doorbell (you know how I am about doorbells if you've read my blog posts about Jessie's passing). Well I opened the door and there was my 84-year-old mother right behind my sister, both wearing Madonna smiles on their faces. I invited them in, fixed everyone a sandwich and some iced tea, and my mother took my husband aside and handed him a cashier's check for $5,000. Yep, five grand. Oh my.

She said, "I love you. You will BOTH go. If this is not enough money, let me know." It makes me cry to remember it. It's the kindnesses that make me cry. When I called her later to say thank you after Rob told me what she did, I said, "Thank you Mom, it is right and good that I go and be there with my husband, and we will pay you back, and whatever we have left over we will give back to you."

"Shut up, shut up, shut up!" she said. "There is no payback on this. And I don't want any leftovers. I love you. And I want to do this. You can thank your father in heaven for making this possible too." So I shut my mouth and took a deep breath - this was to be the first funeral after my daughter's passing and I wasn't sure I could do it. I might pass out. I might have a total meltdown. I might just die on the spot during sweet Betsy's ceremonies, and what kind of help could I be to my husband, bringing my own heavy emotional load along?

Well. We were in for a lot of magnificent surprises.

Plan B: That five grand allowed Rob to rethink his options, and he said, "I want this trip to be a celebration of life for Betsy. For all of us. I want to drive down and live along the way."

So I made arrangements for our pups to have a little summer vacay at the Royal Pet Resort, and my wonderful next door neighbors took care of our kitty at home and watered all our beautiful plants. No small task, bless them, as my hubby is a horticulturist and we have LOTS of plants that need watering. We traded, and we're taking care of Kip, their kitty, while they're traveling for the next couple of weeks. Good trade. AND, my kitty, Joey, and Kip are BFFs. They can be seen lolling about on the grass or the driveways with their paws around each other. They get along, wow I love that.

We're old and we get stiff and sore sitting in the car without stretch breaks, so Rob said we could make a detour to West Virginia, where my beloved grandparents are buried. I never thought I'd get to visit that place again. And it was oh, SO special. Rob is my true husband, having been there when my father passed away, when my daughter passed, and doing the lifebucket things with me like taking me to Hawaii, which had always been a dream of mine. There's no one else I'd rather have with me for things like this. He's the one.

I know every square inch of this riverbank!
When I was a kid, we traveled all over the world with my Dad because of his job for the first 10 years of my life, so I never "belonged" anywhere, and didn't have the opportunity to develop close friendships. I was always the new kid on the block. BUT, whenever we were in the U.S. between overseas locations, my Dad made every effort to take my Mom to visit her mother and father in the Blue Ridge mountains. They lived right down the street from the Bluestone Dam, and this was my stomping ground growing up.

We could walk right down the street to the dam and play along the riverbanks and climb high into the pine forest beside the dam. This place was the only constancy in my life growing up - the place where all the kids knew us and loved us and all the grown-ups in that river mountain town loved us as if we were their own and we'd run from porch to porch along the stretch where my grandparents lived and sit on the porchswings and tell ghost stories and the women would feed us as if we were starving, pie, cake, cookies, ice cream, popsicles. God it was heaven on earth. It was as if all the children in the neighborhood belonged to everyone, and we never worried about a thing.

We'd come home after playing outside 'til dark and Mom would plop us in the bathtub, sprinkle baby powder all over us after we got out, and swab our mosquito bites with pink calamine lotion. Then plunk us into bed, where my sis and I would look out the window at the moon over the mountains and listen to the cicadas and the grown-ups downstairs laughing and every now and then shouting "YAHTZEE!!" If you've never played that game, try it, it's really fun. Kinda like poker with dice, (no betting in our homes).

My grandparents had the WHOLE set of National Geographic magazines and they kept it all lined up in a bookcase in the room where we slept and I'd lose myself in those magazines for hours, happy as a clam.

I am a mountain girl.
These are the very logs we played on in our flip flops 40 years ago!
Rob's skipping rocks, which we used to do for hours when we were kids.
Here's me taking the photo that appears at the top of this post.
Ah, sweet sacred territory.
So we walked all around the dam and I told Rob stories about what we did when we were kids, before music, men, marriage, just - it was the time of innocence. And I loved going to my Gammy's because at home we were taught to help out so we had chores all the time, dusting, cleaning bathrooms, doing dishes, all that stuff from the time we were about seven years old. Every freakin' Saturday, big chores, like oven cleaning or cleaning out the fridge, and on weekdays dinner chores and homework for school. When we got a bit older we cut the grass and weeded the garden and picked up fallen apples for Dad too. At Gammy's house there were no chores. We helped to clear the table after meals, and very occasionally helped with the dishes. But mostly it was "Go out and play and be home by dark." Yeah, baby. Good times!

We tramped all through that water when we were kids
while my Dad and Granddaddy fished.
Look at the bench on the far left....
See that bench on the far left of the photo? Something that cracked me up while we walked around, was that there are about 4 benches along the high banks, and they're the very same ones that were there so many years ago when we played there. However, the trees in front of them have grown so much without being trimmed that instead of getting a view out over the river, you find yourself looking into a solid wall of trees. I wish I'd taken a picture of those particular benches farther down, but I didn't because I was having too much fun scampering all around and wanted to get to the water. Yes, I got my feet wet : )

We drove past my Gammy and Granddaddy's house, of course they've been gone to heaven now for many years and the house has new owners. I learned something.

"Did you take a picture of the house?" my Mom asked me when we got home.

"No." I said. It would've broken her heart. I wanted her to remember the house as it was when my grandparents lived and loved there.

My grandmother had window boxes across the front of the house which they planted with fragrant purple pansies every spring, and my granddaddy grew and took care of roses in their backyard and also in several garden areas at the dam (they're no longer there). He was well known about town for his roses. He had a row of peony bushes that were fragrant and so very beautiful and my Gammy would cut some and bring them into the house. Gorgeous. I was hoping I could pick one of his roses and press it in a book if the bushes were still there, but it was not to be.

It was the grounding in family and in beautiful nature there, that helped make me who I am today.

But when we drove past the house, well, actually we parked along the street to look for a few minutes, every window was closed and all the blinds were down. The blinds were not in good condition. They were twisty and bent and misshapen. We drove down the back alley behind the house and there were no peony bushes in the yard and no rose bushes in the yard as it had been, and the cedar tree next to the wonderful screened in back porch was dead but still standing. The paint was peeling all off the porch area of the house. The yard was taken over by a huge bale of hay sitting in a huge garden of only tomato plants. And there was a big, old, faded black truck that took up about half of the yard. Just parked there. Maybe forever.

Revelation Number One. I learned, yet again, that a dream is built and comes to fruition through the love of the people who care for the dream they're building. It is very beautiful. It is loving and it embraces all who enter their abode. Their homes reflect their love, and when they die and the homes get new owners, the dream changes, and those new owners aren't always so loving of their environment, maybe they don't even dream at all.

The vibes were different at the house. I'd imagined buying a cake and some flowers and knocking on the door, introducing myself and seeing if they were up to letting me take a walk around the inside of the house for old times' sake. But seeing it - nope. That was not happening. They clearly didn't want any intruders. It didn't feel welcoming. It didn't exude love, it exuded domestic troubles and hiding inside. Definitely NOT how it was when my grandparents lived there - they used to hand out over 300 lollipops each halloween trick or treat night. I know because my Mom would buy the bags of lollipops to send to them every year. Not anymore. So we drove on by and went to explore the playground of my childhood - the dam and the gorgeous river.

On this leg of the trip my husband also took me to visit the place where my sweet grandparents are buried. Way up on the mountain, overlooking the most gorgeous vistas of lush, green mountains. Granddaddy always said he would "sit on top of the marble mausoleum where they're interred and kick his heels and just enjoy the view" after he was gone. It's a helluva place to do just that.

But I forgot to take a pic  of the view and here's why - I had spoken with the man who took care of both my grandparents' interment at the mausoleum and he'd given me directions on how to get there. Go across the bridge, cross over the railroad tracks, turn right, and follow that road up the hill past the cemetery to the mausoleum at the top of the hill.

We did that, but after we crossed the railroad tracks and turned right down this little tiny road winding around the bottom of the mountain, we saw that we were driving through a sort of neighborhood and there were houses lining the road. It really felt like a private driveway. "They're gonna shoot us," Rob said. He's a yankee through and through and I'm a southern mountain girl in my roots. "It doesn't feel right driving down this road because it feels private! I think we shouldn't be here." So we turned around and went back to town and parked in the Magic Mart parking lot to check my directions and see what we could do. I put a call in to Mark Fox, the funeral home owner and director and he answered right away. I explained that we'd just gotten into town (about 4 hours later than our estimate) and we tried to find the mausoleum but we were lost.

"What are you drivin'?" he asked with a slow, Southern drawl. "A green honda accord," I said, wondering at his question. "Where are you?" he asked. "Magic Mart parking lot," I said. And he said, "You just hold on and wait faaave minutes. I'm still in town and I'm goin' to get in my truck and you'll see me coming around the Sunoco. I'll take you up there myself." Wow. I mean it was late and I'm sure he wanted to go home for his dinner and family time, but he came around that corner in faaave minutes and pulled to the side of the road. I waved, he waved, and we followed him on the very same route we'd taken before. Crossed the railroad tracks, went down the tiny road through the little neighborhood, did not get shot at, and ta da! after a while, the land opened up to this huge mountainside dotted all over with beautiful headstones and at the very top was the mausoleum. We parked next to it and he got out and we exchanged hugs.

Mark Fox, the owner of the Ronald Meadows Funeral Home
You know what else they did for us? I told my Mom I'd have flowers put into the vases that are mounted on the mausoleum tiles and Mark, smart businessman that he is, hooked us up with his flower shop. Crystal, the girl who works for him there, drove all the way out to get the vases, made the flower arrangements, and drove all the way back to hang the vases on the crypt door tiles. Wow. Such service. She really went out of her way for us. We couldn't just pick up flowers because their flower shop closed at 2 on Friday and we didn't arrive 'til way later than that. And there's a "thing." In a small town like Hinton, where everyone knows everybody else, you wouldn't think of buying flowers from anyone other than "the people who took care of your people," it's just not done. Relationships last not only lifetimes, but generations, down South.

Something funny about this photo of Mark Fox. He's a very busy, smart man. He owns the funeral home (there are only two in town), a thriving flower shop, and also runs both of the family farms.

I asked him, "Mark, may I take your photo so I can bring it back to my mother?"

"Nope," he said. "I'm in my farm clothes."

"Oh, but it would mean so much to her, and you look wonderful, please?" I begged.

"No m'am!" he answered.

"You know Mom, Mark! She wouldn't care if you were wearing nothing but an old flour sack. She loves you, and she would never forgive me if I didn't bring her home a picture of you!"

"Well, all right, just this once." Phew. He does look really good in a suit and tie, as you can imagine.

They got very close when he took care of her parents. He was working at the Ronald Meadows Funeral Home as an employee when her father died, and he did such a beautiful job taking care of everything. That was the first dead body I'd ever seen, and my beloved grandfather really did look like he was just taking a nap. They put his glasses in his jacket pocket and I'd never seen him without them. That was weird. I was pretty young. So when Mom's mother died, she talked with the receptionist at the Ronald Meadows Funeral Home to get things started before making the trip down from her home in New Jersey. Mom said, "I don't want anyone else to touch my mother except for Mark Fox, who took care of my father!"

And Mark Fox didn't even work there anymore. But they called him, and he came and dressed my Grandmother and she looked absolutely beautiful. He told us he'd been visiting with a friend of his the night before who had made some blueberry wine, and invited him to taste it. "Gol' durn it!" he said, "I meant to have just one glass and git on outta there so I could do Miz Fergie the next morning, but we wint through the whole bottle and I almost slept right through the next day!"

"I had a hangover the likes of which I never want to feel agin, but I got in there and fixed up Miz Fergie right purty. I did it for Jane." (My mother.) He told her the story of the blueberry wine and their friendship is such that she laughed and laughed.

"Mark told me I'm the reason he bought the Ronald Meadows Funeral Home," Mom said. (I love to hear her stories.) He said he always loved it, so after he took care of my grandmother he made arrangements to buy it and run it. Mom said, "He asked me for a little handful of my ashes when I die so he can hang them over his desk, because he says if it weren't for me, he never would've had the gumption to buy the place." I will remember to send him some. He's done well, and lives in one of the most beautiful homes in Hinton, a gorgeous palatial place with columns spanning two floors on the front of the house, a magnificent porch, and lots of beautiful architectural detail.

"Mark," I said to him before we left the cemetery, "I hope you know how special your work is. How much it means to us to have such love and care as we put our loved ones to rest. You make everything easy and smooth and special, not just their bodies, but the hard conversations we have around arranging things, and the thoughtfulness you put into all the details."

"Well thank you," he said. "That's why I do what I do. I want people to know we care." Wow, I was so impressed with all they did - from fixing the flowers and going out of their way to take them to the mausoleum, to driving in to meet us and take us to the cemetery when we couldn't find it, to the stories and conversations we had while there. He treated us like he had all the time in the world just for us. Thank you Mark Fox!

My Grandaddy's resting place - Julius David Ferguson (Mr. Fergie)
My Grandmother's resting place - Thelma Williams Ferguson (Miz Fergie)
After we'd visited my grandparents' resting place, we drove to the Dairy Queen in Hinton - which is located in the most beautiful spot of any Dairy Queen in the nation. It's built right beside the New River, and you can sit outside, or in one of the rooms that are so close to the river it seems to be rolling on by almost underneath the building. We ate there frequently when the whole family was alive, so to close out this leg of our trip, Rob and I went to sit by the river with full and grateful hearts. I ordered what I always did, a plain old cheeseburger and fries, and he had the BBQ pork sandwich. I declare it was the best I've ever enjoyed.

So when we arrived at our hotel after dinner, Rob watched a little TV and figured out the next leg of our trip while I wrote in my journal. I didn't climb into bed 'til 2 in the morning. I was so excited to be there in Hinton, West Virginia, one of my very favorite places. We started one of those soft bedtime conversations in the dark, and Rob's always really good at waking to listen. I told him thank you so much for bringing me back to my childhood, and told him how much happiness I felt in my heart. We talked for two hours about our childhoods and didn't fall asleep til 4 in the morning! Good thing he had been asleep for a while before I joined him. He was driving the next day.

This leg of our trip gave us such unexpected feelings and experiences. It was so precious to be able to share that part of my life with my husband. And the resulting conversations were also really precious.

The next leg of the trip wouldn't be so easy, but it was also full of unexpected surprises.