When I heard that there had been a shrine erected on a state highway 14 miles southwest of Coalinga, California I had to go see it. Apparently, several people have seen the Virgin Mary appear at the site. Over time, people began building a shrine where the sightings had been. There are a few points to this story that make it interesting.
First, I’ll say the obvious. Why would the Virgin Mary appear several times at a place that is extremely remote? Not that I would begin to guess what she’s thinking, but it seems as though, if she were to appear, that she would pick a place visible to more people.
Then, how is it that a shrine, complete with steps, a handrail, streamers, a bench, and the shrine itself, possibly get carved into a side of a mountain on a state highway without Caltrans knowing about it. People have to park on the other side of the road and cross two lanes of highway on a curve to get to it.
And, why would anyone take such time and effort to construct such a thing? They would have had to have brought in forms and cement for the stairs, flatten the space for the shrine, etc. In the shrine itself, there are many candles burning and there appears that someone is maintaining the area. It looks like visitors bring flowers, banners, candles, etc. and place around the area. Some have drawn pictures on the rocks and written Bible passages.
Finally, why would anyone drive 1 ½-2 hours one way to see the shrine? I can answer that one. Because it’s so weird on several different levels. It was worth the drive. The bonus was that we enjoyed an amazing lunch at Harris Ranch on the way home.
Epilogue: Due to the public’s sensitivity of the site, it was arranged to have the shrine and its surrounding mélange of mementos moved to a nearby monastery. I wonder. Will The Virgin appear at the new site? Or at the original site? Or not at all? I’ll report back.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of ‘Renaissance Man’ is a person with many talents or areas of knowledge. There was a Renaissance Man right under my nose for 35 years and I didn’t even know it. Frank Wallace Goeddel married my mother and consequently became part of our family. He died on February 10, 2021 at the age of 88 years old.
My mother, husband and I began cleaning out his belongings. As we went along, we became more and more surprised at the depth and breadth of his belongings. You see, when he moved in, my mom let him transform one of the bedrooms into an office. He had that space jam packed with stuff. We never went inside so we weren’t entirely sure what was in there.
His taste was uber eclectic. He had books on astronomy, movies, mathematics, gambling, religion, lottery, bridge, horse racing, games, frisbee, kites, cards, surfboarding, sailing, cooking, wine, classics, California history, fishing, art, exercises, diets, world history, politics, code breaking, poetry, motorcycle repair, and music. I’m probably missing several categories, there were so many and we didn’t think to write them down until later on.
Most of the books were clearly read with notes on papers used as bookmarks. So not only did he learn about things, he also jumped into each topic with fervor.
Our local library accepted his books as a donation. It took seven trips to get them all delivered. The librarians were amazed at his collection and commented that he was a real renaissance man. That’s when it clicked in my head that he was one.
He had all sorts of knick-knack things that each had meaning to him. He created devices for specific purposes, although, some of them we never did figure out what the purpose might be. One interesting device was a board that he affixed a large pipe to in the middle. If you stood on the board you could toggle to your left and right, which improved your balance. Apparently, this was to prepare him for sailboarding.
One day, I dropped my youngest off so that I could work. When I picked him up in the late afternoon, I discovered that my son and Frank had spent the day building a tree fort in the backyard. Frank had planned this surprise well in order to be able to finish it in a day.
While he could hold a conversation with anyone on any subject, we didn’t realize the extent of his knowledge. It’s interesting how you can know someone, but not really know them.
My job is to love, according to the Bible. My job specifically excludes judging others. I’m not very good at my current job, so why would I take on another one, anyway?
I wanted to sort out my thoughts about this and decided to do it here. How can I love someone I don’t know? How can I love someone I do not like? I think love is a choice and that if you control your thoughts you can achieve the love of everyone. It’s not easy and I haven’t achieved it yet, though.
I’ve been practicing. When I look at someone, I try to see inside them. See their soul and the beauty of who they are. It gets easier each time I try. Picking out virtues helps too. We all make assumptions about people based on how they’re dressed, how they talk, etc. We all size up strangers, even though it’s not culturally popular to admit that. But we do. I think it’s only natural to form an opinion, pretty sure we can’t stop that. However, I also think that we can control what we do with that opinion.
Several years ago, I was at an elementary school’s administrative office. The woman in front of me was pregnant, had a baby in a stroller and was talking to the secretary about her children that were enrolled in the school. It was revealed through the conversation that there were multiple dad’s and she needed to get the children on a free meal program. I don’t need to elaborate on my initial thoughts. At some point, I consciously caught myself judging her. I immediately felt guilty and began silently praying for her. That was a breakthrough for me in terms of avoiding judgment.
Fast forward to 2020 and I’m at the grocery store, bagging my items. The person in front of me is also bagging her items (duel conveyor belts). It was a particularly hot day. She was purchasing 2-liter sodas and snacks, she mumbled to herself that it was going to be a long walk home with the heavy bottles. I asked her how far away she lived. She answered that her house was just around the block (it turned out to be about 2 miles away). I asked if she wanted a ride and she said yes. She waited for me to finish and then we walked out to my car together. As I’m walking, I’m asking myself what on earth was I thinking? I don’t know her, if anything happened, no one would know what happened to me. I was starting to panic. Then, I made the decision that I would be ok until I wasn’t, so I wouldn’t worry unless I needed to. Another breakthrough. I drove her home without incident. She was very grateful. I was euphoric that I had helped her. I still think of that incident and feel good about it.
I guess the moral of my blog is that I’m happier and more at peace when I love versus when I judge. It’s my reward for trying to do my job.
Happy Valentine’s month <3
This is the type of vacation a person takes to rejuvenate their soul. Our family has been renting a house in Cayucos, California since 2001. At the time, the boys were five and one. They beg to come here and plan, strategize and dream for the time that they will arrive here. ‘Our’ house is one of only two rentals that are located on the beach in the center of town. We can park our car and leave it in the garage for our entire stay. Everything we need is within walking distance. The house is perched several feet above sea level with private stairs that lead to the beach. We go on off-peak seasons for two reasons; first, the cost is much less and second, there aren’t as many people on the beach, in fact, there are hardly any people in off-season.
With a population of only 2,692, it’s one of the smallest cities on California’s Central Coast. Locals and visitors alike have always been friendly to us and appear to be truly happy. You can not beat the vibe.
We stayed for one week in December of 2020. Our two college students had been attending virtual classes since March of 2020. With the Fall Semester completed, we all needed a break. When they were younger the boys would often stay in a room they shared and play video games all day. We would have to literally drag them away from the games to play on the beach. Now that they’re 24 and 20 they refused to bring their game console and chastised my husband and I if we got on our laptop or focused too much on our phones. They insisted on long walks and board games. Given that we had all been in close proximity to each other for ten months, this was a pleasant surprise.
The entire back of the house is windows allowing for an unfettered view of the ocean. There are chairs that we place along the sidewalk and we’ll sit there, lined up, as much as possible, just soaking in the beautiful scenery and scents that can only be found near an ocean.
We have our traditions. One of our favorites (well not ALL of our favorite) is what we’ve named ‘Cayucos Hose Surprise.’ When the boys were five and one, the elder hosed the younger from behind. I was lucky enough to capture the event on film. We’ve reenacted this moment in two additional years, just for fun. In 2020, we switched it up so that the younger (and now bigger) brother hosed the elder. And, we started a new tradition this year. It’s called Kintsugi, which is a Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted with powdered gold. My husband found a kit online and purchased it for us to do at the beach house as a family. This will be a new tradition for us and one that is completely unique and will capture our memories for years to come. The boys each made an ecosystem this year using pickle jars, oceanwater, sand and for photosynthesis, seaweed. They’ve brought them home and keep them in their rooms to remind them of their time on the beach.
There is something odd that happens here. It can rain all night, yet soon after the rain has stopped, the outdoor chairs are dry. The weather can read 46 degrees yet, you don’t feel cold. You wake up in the morning and the sun is setting without you understanding where the day went.
We have our favorite restaurants and each of us got to pick one place to eat out each day. All other meals were prepared in our house or barbecued in the back yard overlooking the ocean. Our favorites are Duckies Chowder House, Schooners, Lunada Garden Bistro, and Ruddell’s Smokehouse. We did venture out a few times to get takeout from Morro Bay, but this blog is about Cayucos.
On the beach, dogs are allowed and many people let them run without leashes. A nightmare if you’re a dog hater, but a delight if you’re a dog lover. Us four are of the later ilk. Unfortunately, our house doesn’t allow dogs so we especially enjoy dog-watching when we’re away from our own.
It’s fun to watch the various types of birds feed near the waves. They usually stay in flocks and run to the waves when they’re receding and away from the waves when they’re coming in. The goal is to get as many sand crabs as possible to fill their stomachs. There is definitely a hierarchy to their methodology. It seems that some of the flocks separate between youth and adults. We watched a flock that had the adults merely watching from a safe place while the youth ran back and forth from and to the waves. We made up stories as to why they did this and what comments each group might be saying.
If you walk 1 ½ miles south from our house, you arrive at the sand dollar beach (our name for it). Here, there are hundreds of sand dollars on the beach, many of which are unbroken. We enjoy collecting them and bringing them back to our beach. If we find red ones, it means they’re still alive and we throw them back into the ocean. It’s not always easy to walk to this beach. If the tide is high, you have to wait until the waves pull back long enough for you to race around the rocks without getting pelted by the larger waves. Our oldest son especially likes the challenge of the high tide. In fact, he talked me into going with him one day. The tide was super high and all I could do was imagine myself being thrashed against one of the rocks. He made fun of my cowardice and asked why I was OK jumping out of airplanes but not OK with a few waves. Good point, but I still made him come back to our house with me.
Another reason we especially like this beach is because you can have fires on it. It’s nice to sit in the sand roasting marshmallows for s’mores with the waves roaring nearby. We’ve spent hours next to our fires over the years. There’s something hypnotic about watching the flames dance while in the midst of nature.
Each year, the Cayucos Chamber of Commerce hosts the Polar Bear Dip on January 1. I booked this year with the intent to participate. Like everything else, it was cancelled, and I was disappointed. But then, on January 1, heading back to the house from the high tide fright I noticed many people north of our house on the beach next to the pier. I realized that folks were doing the Dip even though the Chamber wasn’t organizing it! I ran up the stairs to the house and changed into the outfit I had brought especially for the event. Towels in tow, I headed that way to participate. Unfortunately, I was too late, and the people were all dispersing. On the way back to the house, with husband and elder son with me, we decided to do our own Dip (renamed Polyack Plunge) at the beach in front of our house. It worked out better because after the plunge, we were able to run up to the showers and warm back up. Another tradition I suspect.
Places we would have gone if it weren’t for the timing of our visit would have been Hearst Castle in San Simeon and Field of Lights near Paso Robles. Places we did go to either on this trip or on past trips included the Elephant Seals of San Simeon – a must see for anyone in the area. All three of these activities is a wonder in its own distinctive way. This year we went to Moonstone Beach Boardwalk in San Simeon which was beautiful. The most notable part of this hike was that the boys were able to climb on the rocks, uncovered due to the low tide, and sit just a few feet away from Harbor Seals, starfish, crabs, snails and anemones. The rocks here appear to have no life whatsoever, but when you stop and take the time to look, they are shockingly alive. We stayed until late in the day.
Cayucos was the perfect elixir for an upside-down year. We are all so grateful for the calm and simplicity that recharged us here.
This HSU semester, RJ took a World Religions course. His latest assignment was to ‘Build your own religion.’ He’s always been a creative writer. I thought I would share his paper here, just for fun.
Extreme Anti-Materialism (Frodoanity)
by RJ Polyack
Once a week on Saturday’s disciples of this religion will be required to sacrifice a single item of their choice. Preferably, something that holds value to the person. The reason for this is to teach followers over time how to be comfortable with letting go of a possession. Humans spend far too much time focusing on materialism and often lose the ability to stop and smell the roses. Each item brought in for sacrifice must have a story behind it and why it means something to that person. These items will be piled into a massive fire pit and doused with gasoline and lit on fire. This teaches followers to be okay with loss of possessions so they can focus energy into more important aspects of life such as interpersonal connections and nature.
The sacred “scripture”, if you will, is called Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. This novel is incredibly important to the religion because the main character, Frodo Baggins, has one of the most powerful items in existence and chooses to destroy it instead of give in to its willpower (yes, the ring is capable of exerting its will unto others). The entire premise revolves around characters battling against their own obsession with such a powerful object. Frodo is a prime example of what all followers of this religion should strive to be like.
Going back to the mythic narrative paragraph, it is clear that Lord of the Rings plays a relatively big role in this religion. With that being said, the main symbol and/or icon of this religion is a 6-foot-tall plastic sculpture of Frodo throwing the all-powerful ring into the lava of Mount Doom which can be purchased at your local GameStop. Believers will worship this figure with an undying commitment and love. If you are eating, 6-foot-tall plastic sculpture of Frodo from GameStop should eat with you. If you are showering, 6-foot-tall plastic sculpture of Frodo from GameStop should shower with you. And finally, make sure to always tuck in the 6-foot-tall plastic sculpture of Frodo from GameStop beside you before you go to sleep.
The philosophical doctrine of Frodoanity revolves around anti-materialism. Followers believe that materialism is the cause of a large amount of societal issues such as corporate greed, poverty due to materialistic greed, etc. In order to change the world around us, we must change ourselves first. However, most people were not raised this way and have come to rely heavily on material matter such as electronics, jewelry, and money. We acknowledge our own shortcomings and are dedicated to changing and bettering ourselves not only for the personal freedom one experiences but for others around us. Each day is a new opportunity to get rid of a vice that isolates us from the rest of world.
At the top of this Frodoanity’s hierarchical pyramid is our lord and savior Frodo Baggins. Below him but equally as great would be the author of our sacred texts, J.R.R. Tolkien. Below the author would be the Thing Wraiths who preach our practices and enforce our rules. Immediately below the Thing Wraiths would be the Fronks who are monks so heavily involved in Frodoanity that they have taken a vow of silence and a vow to never give in to their materialistic urges ever again. Immediately under the Fronks would be anyone else who practices Frodoanity but has not yet taken the pledge of the Fronk.
From the time he was born, our youngest made it a concerted effort to not wear shoes any more than absolutely necessary. It was so prevalent that when someone saw him in shoes, they would make a comment about it.
You know the sign ‘No shirt, No shoes, No service?’ Well we discovered that hardly any establishment actually meant it. In fact, the only time there was a real problem was when he and I went to a recycling center. There was broken glass all over, but somehow neither of us noticed until we got up to the clerk. He took one look at Michael’s bare feet and said we had to go get shoes for him. I had to carry him piggy-back back to our car. He hadn’t brought shoes with him, so he had to wait in the car while I went back.
In second grade, he and his teacher both didn’t like shoes. I remember coming to pick him up one day and they were both standing outside of the classroom without shoes. Only a small school would allow such behavior from either of them. Although, when you think about it, why? Why is it such a big deal? I guess you could argue that it’s for safety however if you felt the pads of Michael’s feet you would understand that they're nearly impenetrable. In fact, there are studies that indicate that going barefoot is healthier. And Michael was/is a very healthy boy, so there you go. People ask why we would let him get away with this. I always responded that I didn’t see why it was such a big deal and besides, there were other battles to fight that were more important.
When the boys were younger, we would volunteer to ring the bell outside the grocery store on Christmas Eve for Salvation Army. With the weather being cold, Michael would wear his Santa hat and no shoes. One man came up to him and offered to empty his pockets of change as a donation if Michael would put shoes on. He declined the offer.
While he hated soccer, he loved indoor soccer shoes (I mean, tolerated them the most). There was one type of one brand that he could stand, Nike Gato. As his feet grew, we’d go online and find another pair just like them but in a bigger size. When he was a sophomore in high school, we bought him the last pair of that type. His feet had stopped growing. He had that one pair and wore them exclusively when mandatory all the way through his freshman year of college.
When we left for the three-hour drive to San Luis Obispo for a scheduled campus visit at Cal Poly we stopped along the way for a McDonald’s breakfast. When I turned around to give him his order, I noticed he didn’t have shoes on. I asked if he had brought shoes. He looked around and said, ‘I don’t think so.’ We were close enough to go back home for them. Otherwise, we would have had to find a store along the way.
Once completed with his first year of college, Michael got a job for the summer. With his very first paycheck he had ever received we were shocked that he paid $500 for a pair of Nike Dunk Low Night of Mischief shoes. Somehow, this unleashed the shoe fetish within him. It’s now November and nearly all of his money has been spent on sneakers. At first, he was going to buy them and sell them for more. His problem is that he likes them all so much, he’s having difficulty letting go.
We had no idea that flipping shoes for a profit was a thing. Apparently, companies like Nike release limited special editions. They sell out immediately and then the price is driven up by a demand for the coveted shoes.
And just yesterday, Michael said he wants to design his own shoes. He knows what he wants them to look like, but he hasn’t figured out the manufacturing part yet. With his artistic flare and the design techniques he’s learned while studying architecture in college, we have no doubt that he’ll figure it out. From no shoes, to expensive shoes, to his own line of designer shoes. We are solely marveling at the transformation.
Liz The Mouser
Growing up, we had a cat named Elizabeth. She was solid black and had a unique meow that we could recognize without seeing her. She was the best hunter I ever knew. We lived at the edge of town with vineyards and a canal as our neighbors. This was the perfect environment for Liz to practice her craft.
She was part Siamese. No one can remember where we got her.
She liked to show us her prey. Whatever she had killed would end up at our back door. We became well trained in the art of carefully opening the door before walking out. Her modus operandi included carrying the creature home in her mouth, carefully positioning herself and said creature through the wrought iron gate leading into the backyard. Climbing up the stairs to the back door, laying her bounty on the mat and then meowing until we acknowledged her feat. Once she received the praise due her, she would feast on her victim, sometimes leaving innards, such as the liver, on the mat. She didn’t have a propensity to hunt the same type of animal. She brought home birds, mice, Jack rabbits, and lizards. You would think that we would be grossed out by such behavior, however, we weren’t. Perhaps we became desensitized.
Liz was also quite promiscuous. We estimate that in her 16 years she gave birth to at least 40 kittens. She would still be nursing when she would go into heat again. Cats from far and wide would visit our property. As a result, her kittens varied in coloring and size. But she was an excellent mother. Each litter was treated with the same regiment. When they were old enough, Liz would walk them, as a group, across the street to the vineyards. They would follow her similar to how ducklings follow their mother. In the vineyards, Liz taught them the fine art of hunting. Each and every kitten of hers knew exactly how to hunt before being adopted. Word got out about Liz’s abilities and we never needed any effort in finding homes for her brood.
Now you might think that we were irresponsible letting her have so many kittens. However, in our defense, we did have her spayed. Twice. Yes, twice. The vet removed her ovaries, and, after her surgical recovery, she got pregnant again. Apparently, the Wonder Cat had three ovaries. My mother was furious.
After she was spayed, Liz would leave us for long periods of time. Weeks, sometimes months. We were never able to figure out where she went. But based on her soft paws and well-kept coat, we assumed she had another family. When she would return to us, we usually heard her meow before we saw her. It was always a big event. We would all come running out to show her how much she was missed.
One day, I heard her in our front yard, under a thick cover of junipers. I couldn’t see her and she wouldn’t come out. I got my mother and father and we worked at locating her within the shrubbery. With some effort, we found her. She had been hit by a car. She was bloody and one of her eyes was bulging unnaturally. I didn’t want to touch her, but my father told me that she needed love now more than ever. I held her as gently as I could while my dad got the car. We took her to the vet and knew the inevitable was about to happen. And yet, being a Wonder Cat, she fully recovered, because she was Liz.
When Mom became an empty nester, she and Liz would sit on the back porch step. Liz liked to be petted but you could feel her bones because she became so thin. One morning Mom found her in the backyard by the kitchen window. She had passed away unceremoniously.
Liz was the best cat ever. Decades later, we still talk about her vivacious personality.
Early in my career, I moved from California to Illinois. I soon realized that I needed an MBA to advance in this market. I enrolled in Loyola University. Two years later I had my diploma in hand. My coworkers decorated my office with streamers, balloons and a banner that said ‘Congratulations!’ That day, my boss, Roger, walked into my office. He looked around and asked if it was my birthday. I said no, I just received my MBA. He said, ‘You got your MBA?!’ I said, ‘Yes, you’ve been signing my tuition reimbursement papers for two years!’ He congratulated me and continued to discuss the reason he had come into my office in the first place. When we were finished, he got up and walked out, throwing his head to the side and saying ‘Happy Birthday!’
It’s not like he had a lot of direct reports, maybe five or six others. He had literally been signing my paperwork for the program for two years. Months later he told me he had come home late from a business trip. He walked into his house and when he closed the door there was an echo. He turned on the light and the entire contents of the house were gone. That included his wife and children. As he’s telling me the story, I was reminded of my Happy Birthday experience with him and really could feel no sympathy whatsoever.
There were other instances at that company that fall under the same category (callousness, lack of empathy, narcissism). When I first started, I was in a meeting discussing bids that I had received for a project. I wanted to go with the middle one because I felt the quality would be better overall. One of Roger’s colleagues incredulously said, ‘You are obviously not Jewish!’ Some one had to explain to me later what that meant.
And one more story from that chapter of my life. We were a subsidiary of another company. The President and his entourage were coming to tour our facility. The week prior to the visit, the place was humming with vendors bringing in rented plants, painting the hallways and bathrooms, etc. The carefully orchestrated preparedness had the facility looking bright and shiny. After the visit, vendors came back to take away the plants and other décor. It was at this time that I realized they had painted only the areas that the visitors would see. The women’s bathroom remained untouched.
Ok, one more story. I was organizing a trip as an incentive to our sales team. The event would be held in Nassau, Bahamas. I had much of the planning completed when I got a call from the corporate president’s office stating that they had a yacht in Nassau and would like for us to use it for one of the parties. It was irritating that they would force me to do this given that much of the planning had already been done. With one of my vendors, we flew out to Nassau for a final site inspection. I needed to see the yacht to figure out how to incorporate it into the event schedule. At the harbor, I couldn’t find it. The slip was empty. I went to the harbormaster and was told that it had burned down several months earlier. Can you imagine? The corporation was big enough that the people forcing me to have an event there, didn’t even know. What if I hadn’t done a site inspection?
After three years in Chicagoland I decided I wanted to move back to California. Just before the move, I received a call from a headhunter for a position in the City. I interviewed for it and narrowly didn’t get the job. So, I called the moving company and with my future husband and two dogs in tow, headed west. About a month after I was back I got a call from the same headhunter. The company I had interviewed with wanted me to come back and do the marketing for their international side. It would require a lot of travel overseas. They would pay to move me back to Chicago. I spent a sleepless night debating. I had just got back to California, I didn’t like Illinois in general (there were a lot of people like Roger there) and I was somewhat sick of travelling. The only thing tempting was the international travel, I hadn’t done very much of that yet. Alas, California won over international travel and here I still am.
Roger that. Over and out.
My husband’s job had been very stressful ever since the world stopped spinning in March 2020. Being a work-a-holic, he had accumulated too much unused vacation hours and was forced to take time off. He asked me to find a place that was secluded and somewhat nearby so that he could just relax. I scoured the internet and found the perfect spot.
A school bus that had been converted into a small house. Complete with bed, table, kitchen and shelving. It was located on 20 acres on a plateau near the top of a mountain in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. I presented him with my exquisite find and he was reluctant. Where was the toilet, where was the shower, he asked. Both were on other parts of the property, along with a trampoline-type apparatus to lay on and star gaze, 3 hammocks, a swing wide enough for two, a yoga perch complete with a bowl that made mystical sounds when you swirled a ladle thing around the rim, and a campfire area. Time was running out and he hesitantly agreed.
The 1 ½ hour drive up was uneventful until we got to the dirt road. Deep potholes peppered the one lane road (actually, it was more like a path) that hugged the edge of the mountain. Our SUV did fine, we were glad we hadn’t brought our smaller car. We were also glad that we hadn’t met another vehicle coming down. The directions included ‘veer left at the fork, after you pass the stream’ and ‘turn left at the sunflower sign, if you pass the abandoned house, you’ve gone too far.’ Rounding the final bend, we saw our Magic School Bus. Adorable. It was the perfect place to relax for a few days. Like children, we explored the property and the amenities, deciding to sit on the swing and look out at the mountain range and cities below us before unloading the car. The owners had made it very clear that they were stranded in Europe and had no idea what shape the property was in. Being seasoned campers, we were undaunted by their warnings. I was feeling smug at my amazing find. We ate, built a campfire and watched day turn into night with tiny twinkling lights emitting from the cities and stars sparkling from the sky.
When we decided to sleep, we doused the fire and turned off the Christmas lights that were strung on the outside of the bus. As soon as we turned off the inside lights, we began to hear rustling sounds. We fumbled around for our flashlights and turned them on. Nothing. We turned them off and laid our heads back on the pillows. Again, rustling. Faster this time, we turned on our flashlights and caught a glimpse of a rodent. We thought it was an adolescent rat based on its size. We got up and moved all of our exposed food to the SUV or ice chest. We got back into bed and turned off all the lights. Again, sounds, but now closer. When the flashlight went on, the rodent froze as if we wouldn’t see him if he didn’t move. I declared that he would leave once he couldn’t find any more food. I turned on my side and fell asleep almost immediately. My husband stayed up until 5 am battling the beast. It never left, never gave up and tormented my husband all night.
The next morning, we drove into the nearest town and bought mouse and rat traps. In all my years, I’ve never camped without traps, yet for some reason, it didn’t even occur to me to bring them this time. We set them with peanut butter and strategically placed them in the bus. That night, we built a campfire and expectantly waited to hear the traps snap. Later, I went in to inspect, assuming they had snapped and we hadn’t heard them. I was irritated that the devil beast had eaten the bait on all the traps without setting them off. My engineer husband took over the operation and reset the traps with bacon tied to the traps with dental floss. We went to bed, turning off all the lights. We could hear the rustling, but no snaps. Late into the night we decided to pack up and go home. We weren’t going to spend another sleepless night (at least for my husband, I had no problem sleeping with a rodent nearby) in the bus. We were just about to get up and pack when we heard the snap. We immediately turned on the light and the very large mouse had the steel bar of the trap firmly across its neck. He was looking at us with surprised eyes and his long tail was straight up. I grabbed my phone and began taking pictures of him. When we were sure he was dead, we took him outside, still in the trap. We left the remaining traps where they were and turned off the lights. Snap! Another mouse was caught. This one was normal size and a different color. We took him outside as well. Then, finally, we were able to sleep the remainder of the night and subsequent nights.
This entire psycho mouse experience reminded me of another camping experience from a few years back. As I’ve said, I always bring traps. We were in a cabin and I had set the traps in the kitchen. When the lights were turned off, the traps started snapping. Before we left for home, we had killed several mice. Because they had been so prevalent that year, I took the traps to campers who had just arrived. They were very young and I was sure they were inexperienced. I told them about the mouse problem and offered my traps to them. The woman incredulously stated, ‘I would rather the mice ate all my food than kill one of them.’ I smiled and said, ‘Enjoy your trip.’ On the morning of our last day with the Magic School Bus, I thought about that exchange and wondered if she had been remorseful about turning down the trap offer. For the second time, I felt a bit smug.
When I was told that I would be spending an entire month in Virginia, I had a meltdown. Afterall, it was going to be in July, and this would turn my vibrant social life into a nothing life. I sulked, argued, begged, attempted negotiations, anything I could think of to get out of having my summer ruined. My parents wouldn’t budge. It was 1976 and the nation was planning a big celebration for our bicentennial. My Uncle lived in Virginia and was stationed at the Pentagon. It would be a perfect base camp for us. The day we left I wasn’t speaking to them. When we landed at the Dulles International Airport, we discovered that the super-sonic Concorde would be landing soon. My mother found a great spot to watch it and signaled for me to join her. I refused. I sat away from the crowd arms and legs crossed with a scowl on my face. My mother ignored my silent protest and continued to beckon to me until it was less embarrassing to just go stand by her than to be part of the scene she was creating on my behalf. Not going to lie, it was pretty cool seeing it land, although I don’t think to this day I’ve ever admitted that to her.
On July 3, 1976 we drove into Washington DC for the Constitution Avenue Parade. It was amazing. Vice President Rockefeller started off the procession of famous people such as Johnny Cash and Telly Savalas. I find it funny now that the person who stands out the most in my parade memory is Kentucky Fried Chicken Founder Colonel Sanders. There were an estimated 500,000 parade viewers on hand for the Capital’s Bicentennial Parade which included 50 bands and 90 marching units. It was the largest crowd in Washington history besting previous record holders Gen Douglas MacArthur’s return home, President Kennedy’s funeral and a Vietnam demonstration.
The parade had been carefully thought out. First up was the Drum & Bugle Corps dressed in redcoats. Historic depictions followed highlighting America’s varied past and multi-cultural influences. There were Navajo code-talkers (which were used in World War 2 for coded messages), Latin musicians, German dancers, Koreans in stovepipe hats, Chinese jostling dragons, Scottish pipers, Dutch dancers in wooden shoes and the list goes on.
On July 4, 1976 from the Capitol steps, we watched the fireworks at the end of the National Mall over the Washington Monument. One of the top three fireworks displays I’ve ever seen. What I remember most about that day is trying to find a parking place. My Uncle had a Cadillac and we circled and circled looking for a place to park. He finally spotted what must have been the only space left in the entire city. It was too small for his car, but he was undaunted. He whipped that car into that spot as if there was plenty of room. Of course, he is a pilot who lands jets on Navy aircraft carriers in the dark, so why were we all surprised. I’m still impressed to this day.
We had many, many experiences on the Eastern Seaboard that summer. It truly was a trip of a lifetime that can never be replicated. So, I will grudgingly thank my parents now for dragging me across the country kicking and screaming with the intent of making their lives miserable. It would have been so much easier just to leave me at home to bask in the sun and enjoy my friends. Thank you, Parents, and Happy 244th Birthday, America!
Thoughts that are alien to any of my other projects can be found here.