Thursday, January 21, 2021

Finding My Way Out of The Wilderness

My dad’s uncle, my great-uncle Frank was one of the coolest people I have ever met. He was my grandpa’s brother. He never married, lived alone in a trailer behind the Post Office in a small town of 368 people. Most of those townspeople were related to me in some way or another. We always would joke that before dating a boy from there, you needed to do a family tree and make sure it wasn’t your cousin.

Uncle Frank was a quiet soul, soft spoken, but always liked to visit with my mom and dad. We had a cabin on a lake near where my parents were raised and the town my uncle lived. So we saw him just about every weekend we went up to the cabin. I remember we would drive into town, down main street to the cafe on the corner. It was called the Boston Cafe because the owner, Hannah, had been to a garage sale and found a globe shape sign that lit up with the Boston Cafe written on it. She proudly displayed that sign on the corner of the cafe for all to see.

The Boston Cafe was the place to go for great home cooking and baked goods. Hannah made everything in the morning and it was always fresh and delicious. At noon the town’s siren would sound and people would gather at the Boston to eat lunch, rest a bit and catch up on all the latest news. It was a small place with about 8 booths and a few counter stools and sometimes could get pretty crowded. But no one was ever turned away. People would just scoot over and crowd into the booths.

We usually would pull into town right after the supper hour on Friday evening when it was pretty quiet at the Boston. My dad would look to see if my uncle Frank’s hat was hanging on the hook near the booth he always sat in. If it was, he'd run in and let Uncle Frank know we were out at the cabin for the weekend. He’d hop in his VW van and would follow us out to the cabin. There my mom would put on the coffee and set out some coffee cake or dessert and they would sit and visit. Eventually, my mom would go to bed. I can remember lying in bed at night listening to the waves from the lake hitting the rocks on the shoreline, maybe hearing a lonesome loon crying out, and my dad and uncle Frank quietly visiting into the wee hours of the night. The next morning I would wake up and uncle Frank would be 

gone, but back again for supper and more late night visiting with my dad. I often wonder what they talked about for hours at a time.

My uncle Frank was a great outdoorsman and hunter. He and my dad spent many times together hunting grouse, quail and pheasant. My brothers who were older than me often times they got to go hunting with them. They’d come back exhausted and happy. I was always told I was too little to go. I wanted to go so bad and see what the big deal was about hunting with my dad and Uncle Frank.

Finally, one year when I was about 12, I was camping up North with my parents and Uncle Frank met us at the campsite. We were pretty far into the wilderness, away from everything. We were pulled over on an old logging road and were camping. It was near a river  so I was happy I could go fishing whenever I wanted. My only glimpse of a fish that time was the one that jumped in the air and caught my lure in its mouth and bit the line. 

One morning, my dad and Uncle Frank were getting ready to head out hunting and my uncle Frank asked if I wanted to go. I can’t even describe the excitement I was feeling that I finally got to go with them. I got ready and off we went, my dad and Uncle Frank walking and quietly talking while they circled and zig-zagged every which way into the brush, bramble and thick Northern Minnesota woods. It seemed like forever I was following them, paying some attention to the directions we were headed, but trusting they knew where they were going and how to get back out of the woods. It seemed like forever that I was following along, but eventually they stopped for a bit. That day, I don’t think much hunting was happening between them, they were more enjoying a walk in the woods and good conversation with each other.

After a long walk into the woods, Uncle Frank said it was time to go home and it was my job to get us back to the camper. He turned to me and said,”Find your way home.” He looked at my dad and I saw a little twinkle in his eye and he just nodded. I started walking, not too confident I knew 

where I was going as we had zigged and zagged so much getting to where we were currently. But I found our boot prints, and some broken bent branches and just kept walking with all the confidence of a  little lost puppy sniffing its way back to its mama. To my disbelief and surprise soon I was staring at the camper through the woods. My uncle Frank just smiled and walked past me back to the camper. My dad gave me a proud smile and followed uncle Frank. I ran to catch up to them, still amazed I found my way. 

To this day, 50 years later, I often think about that day, finding my way home to the camper. It was sort of a rite of passage into no longer being a little kid. I was led somewhere not familiar, somewhere new and told to find my way home. I struggled, I tripped on logs and fell, but I managed. I often wonder if uncle Frank and my dad had planned that life lesson or it just happened naturally. I won’t ever know for sure as they both have been gone from this life a long time. But the other day while talking to my 85 year old aunt, she told me a similar story of hunting with uncle Frank. I had to smile.

Over the years, I have often thought back to that time in the wilderness. I didn’t know where I was, I had no compass or GPS to get me home. But I had my dad and my uncle Frank walking behind me ready to help guide me if needed, but never once did they interfere with the life lesson that was unfolding. That day I was shown my internal compass, the one that has guided me out of the wilderness and back home so many times in life. I was taught to trust in the walk, the journey will always get me back home if I just trust that internal compass.

Pandemic Travels

I’ve been trying to think of things we can do this year in terms of a vacation. Right now, we are still quite a bit limited to places that are open to the public. It is hard to know what the next few months will bring due to the pandemic and limited traveling around the country. Traveling cross country was our plan last Spring right before the country shut down and travel was not recommended. All bets were off at the time regarding what would be open if we traveled. So plans to go to see our kids In the Southwest and Western States were cancelled. 

Last summer instead of going cross country, we did several Day trips within the state, just to feel like we were getting some kind of vacation. So we gassed up the minivan, loaded it with snacks, drinks, and lunch. We packed anything that may come in handy, fishing poles, chairs, binoculars, and even our bikes and a canoe. In Minnesota you don’t go far without taking something to travel with by way of water. We headed out to places we had never seen before in MInnesota. It was pretty much like throwing a dart at the state map and heading towards that destination. We had invested in a Minnesota Atlas that showed all the little backroads that would weave around lakes and more off the beaten path areas. Off we went, packed for whatever adventure may come our way. And I have to say, considering we were never more than a few hundred miles away from home, it was awesome!

We mostly took the backroads and found many little lakes to paddle and fish and relax by the shores. We were beyond content. We were on vacation and it felt like we were far away from home. We drove through bigger towns and little towns with a population under 50. While maintaining social distance and masked we met people who had great stories about their hometown. We saw water towers made up as tea kettles, cows, hornets and more. We saw tiny little wooden one room churches of unknown denominations and we saw mega-churches that hundreds attended. 

One of my favorite stops was a boat landing up near the Canadian border. People with large fishing rigs and those with small kayaks were coming and going at the landing that day. They all had great stories to tell of their day on the water. Whether they had caught any fish or not, all were content and happy just to be out and about during the pandemic. You can keep your distance and still be Minnesota nice and visit at a boat landing. 

This Summer, who knows if things will be open and we will be able to travel cross country freely or if it will still be pretty limited. If the country opens up and the pandemic winds down, we will once again try to head West to see the kids. If not...I have a new book titled “Weird Minnesota Your travel Guide to Minnesota’s local legends and best kept secrets”. Many things to go and see. Some are indoor activities, and many are outdoor and even able to see through the windows of the minivan. First stop I am thinking is to see the Jolly Green Giant down in Blue Earth, Minnesota. Or maybe we will go and see the 28 foot statue of the Viking Warrior Big Ole.

No matter where we wind up this year, be it near or far away in other distant states, I have been reminded of a poem by Dorothy Colgan. And because of the pandemic or maybe even in spite of the pandemic her words ring in my ears…

“The joy is in the journeying and not the journey’s end”.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Trucks, SUV's and Minivans

A while back, we bought a used truck. Originally, I was going to use it for hauling my canoe or kayak in the summer. I drove it home and let the Love of My Life drive it to the gas station. When he returned, he got out of the truck, and walked to the house. While he was walking up to the house, I believe, he turned back and looked at that truck at least 5 times. At that moment, I realized that the Big Silver truck was no longer going to be my daily driver. It was to be his. The keys were turned over to him, and he accepted in a New York Minute.

That left me with having to choose between the minivan or the Chevy Trailblazer. While most assumed I would take the Trailblazer, since it was newer and had all the bells and whistles, leather and in better condition...I really wanted to keep my old minivan. I knew every nook and cranny and mile driven on that faithful van. Yes the gas gauge was broken (but I had never ran out of gas), and the Minnesota rust was showing its toll, but there was something comforting about that minivan. It had taken me up and down the road faithfully for many years. It had driven me 150 miles at 2 AM on a moonlit freezing cold night to go be with the grandkids when their mom went to the hospital to deliver their sibling. It had hauled all 15 grandkids at various times, to various adventures. It had hauled my kayak in the back for some of the best fishing times ever. And it was nicknamed Swamp Thing until I could get the fishy smell out of it.

The trailblazer on the other hand had been reliable, pretty, less rust, more features, a better stereo system, and seated the same number of people. And yet there was just something that I could not put my finger on...I just didn't feel comfortable in it. When I would sit down and put the key in, the seat would automatically adjust to my height and comfort. A great feature, except there are times I feel like slouching, or other timesI feel like I need more space. I always wound up re-adjusting it anyway. 

I eventually made  the practical decision that it was time to sell the minivan. After all, we didn't need to keep paying insurance on it. So about 10 minutes after putting the ad in, I received a message that someone wanted to see it. My heart sunk, but I knew it was time. The people came out, and looked at it and decided they were wanting it. In an unconscious last ditch effort, I told them the Trailblazer was also for sale, but 800$ more than the van. They looked at it and drove it. They came back and gave me the money for the Trailblazer. The Love of My Life came out as the transaction was happening and they were hopping in the Trailblazer, looking very confused, and then a grin came across his face. He just walked away shaking his head. He has learned over the 40+ years together, best not to question my motives on many things, including car deals.

So, all the trinkets and dog leashes and hats and sunglasses and fishing tackle and diapers and maps were put back in the minivan. It was cleaned and gassed up, ready to drive down the road another 100,000 miles. 

Last year, my minivan finally was on its last leg. While it still ran great, the Minnesota rust was eating away at it to the point that I was getting wet inside when it was raining. And my feet were about sticking out the bottom like Fred Flintstone. The time had come to make the decision to sell it. Once again I put the ad online and within a few hours, it was sold and being driven down the driveway one last time.

So I figured I should look for something different. I thought I would try a new style vehicle so I got a Honda Pilot SUV. It was a beautiful vehicle with leather seats, seating for 8 and all around in great condition. And I tried. I really really tried to like it. It was comfortable enough, easy to drive, had AWD for the snow….and I tolerated it. I missed my old minivan and the ability to put the seats all up for the grandkids, or all down for the dogs and my kayak. What was wrong with me and not being able to conform to something different when driving. It had nothing to do with the vehicle, but everything to do with feeling the comfort of my minivan and all it was capable of doing for me. It could haul 7 of us, it could haul my kayak and all the fishing gear I could ever need. It could be converted into camper mode, with a bed, curtains and even a kitchen in 10 minutes to travel North camping or cross country to see the kids. All my previous minivans had the scent of the great outdoors and campfires...and sometimes fish.

Luckily my brother loved the Honda and bought it from me. He still has it and it now has over 300,000 miles on without any issues. And me, I bought a 2005 minivan with 150,000 miles on it. It is just getting broken in. It is just like my old one, only way less rust. I am happy once again with what I drive. The stow and go seats are constantly being rearranged depending on the task at hand. It has been reliable as the others and has gotten me through the winter roads so far. I feel like we are old friends doing a road trip every time I get in it.

Am I set in my ways, a creature of habit? It sure could be. I get laughed at often by those who drive way more expensive flashy vehicles and see my minivan. But over time I have come to the conclusion that I have learned to be comfortable in my own skin, finally. I don’t need the flashiness of a fine vehicle or possessions to find my identity. A 2005 Dodge minivan will do me just fine for what I need. I just need to feel comfortable in my own skin….and in my minivan.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Through the Pain

 There has been so much in the news this past week that it has been hard to focus on much else. There is a transition of administration and power taking place in our country. A process that has been happening peacefully for over 200 years. But in the midst of this transition there are many who would rather see the current president stay in office. So much so that thousands of his followers were willing to protest and riot and eventually break through the doors of the State Capitol this past week. What pursued was an all out riot with violence and destruction, and even death. 

Watching this unfold, and seeing so much disrespect and violence and destruction taking place was one of the most painful and heartbreaking things I have ever witnessed. To see a person shot, another person being crushed between the door jam and the crowd of protesters, pleading for his life as he was bleeding from his mouth, was something that will forever be etched in my mind. To see the destruction unfold to the things as a country we have held sacred for centuries brought me to my knees that day as I watched. It was something I have never witnessed before to that extent. 

Growing up in the ‘60’s, I saw Viet Nam protests, sit-ins, and civil and racial unrest, and it made me aware of the process of demonstrating and protesting. I thought I had seen it all, the spectrum of peaceful protesting to more angry  and violent protests. But this past week was the most violent thing I have ever witnessed in our country. Looking back, I always felt peaceful protests and demonstrations did help us grow as a nation. Racial progress was being made, even if it was at a snail’s pace.. Watching the protests unravel into violence and killing this past week made me aware that we have not come as far in racial equality as I thought. I saw people with logos on their shirts condemning people of different minorities and ethnic groups. I heard people shouting to kill those who thought differently than they were thinking. We have only been stifling the racial tensions and tendencies lately. Instead of looking at one another as all being Americans, once again we are pitted against each other by skin color, rich vs. poor, right vs. left. Is this because of one person in office giving permission to behave this way without consequence? Maybe. Or maybe it is something deeper that has held on to our culture and has risen again above the surface because there are no consequences. Like children, do we only do good for fear of being caught? Where are the adults these days?

I want to believe we are better than that? But are we? Are we, as American citizens, better than the violence of many that took place this week. Like many other people who watched the violence unfold and the division between meaning American has brought me pain. It has also brought me to my knees.

In moments of quiet time, I have prayed for my country, for all of us living here in the US. While there is so much pain right now, I have to believe we, as a nation, will rise above this, that we will heal the scars on our hearts. We will find reasons to unite, reasons to give thanks and even be proud again to be an American. I really want to get to that place, how about you?

Monday, January 4, 2021

Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting

I was recently reminded of a mandatory meeting that I had to go to back in my Home Health Care Nursing days.

It happened several years ago, back in my Homecare Nursing Days. Instead of the usual routine of getting up and going to my normal job, I had to attend a mandatory class on personal safety. Because of the job I was doing at that time, I sometimes went into people’s homes to provide patient care. In the 25+ years of nursing, I have not run into anything that has been too scary...unless you would consider attack turkeys chasing you to your car dangerous. Luckily for me, the turkeys lost interest when they found cracker crumbs on the ground that I had thrown at them. And there were the infrequent punches from nursing home patients with dementia. But all in all I have never been too beat up.

I woke up that morning already grumbling to myself that this mandatory meeting was not what I wanted to be doing for  3 hours. I had the preconceived notion that for 3 hours I would be sitting and listening to some corporate person drone on and on about how to stay safe out in the homecare environment. A place where few corporate people have dared to travel.

When I got there, I found a back seat, in hopes I could put my iphone in book mode and catch up on some reading while pretending to engage in the class. Sitting in the back of the class, I had hopes that I would be left alone and wouldn't have anyone sitting next to me so I could read. But the class did fill up and there was only one seat to me. In walked the man that would be my partner in personal safety for the morning. He was over a foot taller than me, and had the forearms of the old cartoon character, Pop-Eye the Sailor Man. We greeted each other just as class began and the instructor told everyone to put cell phones and pagers on silent and ,yes, don’t have them even on the table or on your body.

The instructors were two nurses who had put together more of a sit-com than a training. Laverne and Shirley had nothing on them.They tag-teamed the instruction and made the time go a little quicker than the usual 3 hour meeting. And by mid-morning, it was time to put into action personal safety. It was a demonstration of how to get out of unsafe situations that may arise in the healthcare profession. They were the usual situations a nurse can face, like a choke hold, having your hair grabbed from the front and then the back, and the infamous two-hand grab that every female nurse is quite aware of. A piece of cake....except for the fact that I had the young 7 foot high Pop-Eye coming at 5 foot almost ready for social security me. And contrary to what I thought he would do, he didn’t go easy on me. And so I fought back as I would have my big brothers when I was younger. Nothing was off limits and he did receive a good punch to know the wind out of him.  I managed to get out of all the holds he threw at me. Having grown up with two older brothers and raising four kids into adulthood, I had many "moves" to draw from in keeping Pop-Eye at bay. All in all, the morning turned out to be.....well... fun.... compared to my preconceived thoughts from earlier in the morning.

Remembering back to that day several years ago, it made me realize that now that I am mostly retired, I need to put aside my thoughts on what my day should be like and what expectations I may hold. I need to look past all that I need to get done and  just really be settled in the moment of what is currently happening. By putting on an attitude of gratitude at what will face me each day I can keep looking for those “Kung-Fu” moments each and every morning when I rise. If I can remind myself to do that I believe life will just be a little easier when unexpected things get thrown my way.