Theresa’s Story

Real Life

As you all know, I haven’t been writing much lately.  There are a few good reasons, and a few bad reasons, but that is not what this story is about.  This story is about my beloved daughter-in-law, Theresa.

Now, in addition to being a wonderful wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend, she is an educator.   She is an educator by training, education and deep in her heart and soul.  She is very, very devoted and very, very good at it.

But in the last year, she has suffered some pretty tough health challenges.  She is getting better, and will be fine, but it is the kind of better that is not the “wake up and thank god I feel better” kind of better, but rather a “slow, upward climb, with a couple of dips here and there” kind of better.

So, because of this challenge, she has not been able to teach elementary school kids as she has been doing for the last almost 20 years.  She has mostly been working at trying to feel better and also at being the centering force and caretaker of her family, my son and two granddaughters.  This should be enough, right?

Well, she is also a student.  She reads about educational stuff and a fact that she read some time ago has stuck with her.  There is a high correlation, proven through research time and again, that kids with home libraries stay in school longer – an average of 3.2 years longer to be exact.  That is independent of socio-economic status or the level of education the parents have achieved.  Stunning fact.

So, while recovering, she put 2+2 together, her passion for educating and her research as a student.  And started a project called “Loved Books”.  The concept is simple… ask students from more privileged families to donate their used books to give to students who need home libraries. 

To test the idea, she began a book drive at her daughters’ elementary school.  It worked.  That is the understatement of the year.  She collected over 10,000 books.  Yesterday, she gave them all away, so that hundreds of families can read books this summer, free of charge.  There were lots of happy folks at that school…the givers and the receivers.

This story isn’t finished.  If I were writing it for my blog, I would give it a twist, add a dramatic climax and then go for the happy ending.  But this is life…no drama, just a real authentic caring person as the hero with a long way to go. 

Way to go, Theresa.  You are the best.  I love and admire you very, very much.

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A Zealot’s Prayer

In the name of Organic, the Mother
Locally sourced, the Daughter
Non GMO, the Holy Spirit.

I believe in Whole Foods,
Properly cooked, preferably raw,
And in nuts and plantains and berries,
which were born of the virgin rain forests,
Were hand picked, unsprayed and whole traded.

Deliver me from the evils of red meat,
the scourge of hormones, and any
Non-free range animal products or by-products

further, I renounce thee, sugar, in all thy forms
Get thee behind me, not on my behind.

I believe in the communion of flavors,
The forgiveness of paper sacks
And life everlasting.

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Empty promises.
Full bottle.
High hilarity.
Stony silence.
Empty bottle.
How can something
you can’t remember
never be forgiven?

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Desert Bottom

The gap below the bottom of the black-out shade sends a narrow band of bright sunlight to her right eye, exploring it like an optometrist’s instrument. Slowly waking, stroking upward, upward out of the depths of sleep, Dina’s dream comes back to her. Dressing carelessly in her crumpled white jeans and thin T-shirt, the one declaring “You Are Here” with a small dot on the Milky Way, she leaves off her sweatshirt worn against last night’s chill in the Northern airport. The sour in her mouth reminds her of the dry, surprisingly good mini-bar white wine that last night dimmed her feelings enough to sleep.
As young girl here in this dry desert land, when this hotel was the place where celebrities stayed, escapees from Hollywood and Vegas, it had seemed to her like a holy oasis, where mere mortals could not dwell. Now, 40-some years later, it is a dark and dingy property with a ghostly feel about it. The remnants of better days peek through the ersatz plastic furnishings, a porte-cochere with big earthquake cracks, lovely cement Italianate planters filled with weeds, a once expensive wooden shutter barely attached to the French doors – good bones, but lousy make-up.
During the autonomic actions of early morning, her Tsunami dream lingers. She reprises, revises, analyzes. Dina remembers that dreamy viewpoint, from an apartment window above the shoreline, remembers seeing the threatening encroaching wave. Those people, out in the surf breaking on the coral reef, face the shore and remain unaware of the huge wave building up just behind them. No way to warn them even as she screams her muted dream-scream through the salt pitted picture window of her dream perch. In this remembering, she draws back again, holds her breath.
Dina tries to re-imagine it then, makes the waves gentler, places her dream window farther away from the shore. But the theatre behind her eyes keeps lifting its curtain to reveal the replay in vivid color. She searches for another way to mitigate her dread, tries uncovering the personal symbols, trying to make peace with them. The ocean is her subconscious. The window is her viewpoint. The people are her alter-egos. She dredges up Freud and Jung, calling on them like illusionists, urging them to conjure a benign meaning.
No dice, it seems. The dream angst remains.
Looking, really looking at her reflection in the mirror for the first time in years, Dina also finds no comfort in this activity. Instead of fixing her mouth into a flattering line, instead of softening her gaze to an airbrushed preconceived notion of the “Dina” she wants to see, she stares into her dark eyes with their lightening circles of age around the brown irises. Narrowing her focus to each individual feature, she acknowledge the lines, the sags, the “life lived” writ there. She shakes her head and moves away from her cold reflection.
Then, lifting the black-out shade, pulling back the cheap floral print drapes to let in the desert sun, she turns back to the mirror, fixing her face into the mask worn each day, carefully applying colors and shadows with her brush.
. . .
Self-reflection follows her around all day like Mary’s little lamb. In the rented yellow-green VW convertible, the lone vehicle left in the airport car rental lot late last night, Dina’s trip to the past continues up Hwy.111 through the corridor of golf courses, all new since she last drove this way. Sprinkles of water evaporate in the dry hot air before they can land on the greens, and the sand traps blend into the surrounding empty desert lots. Gravelly hillsides with fading patches of desert brush from an unusually wet winter – three rainstorms, an El Nino winter – beckons her up the cul-de-sac of La Quinta, her childhood nest. Parking far away from the rows and rows and rows of ticky tacky subdivision houses, an entirely changed landscape from the deserted little town of her youth, Dina begins her climb up the rocky hill to a shady spot carved out of the basalt. This is the place where she went to cry when Dudley Swearingen broke her heart in the 6th grade, where she had her first Kent with Mary Finn, where she learned to play cards with the Barker brothers, and they tried to turn it into strip poker.
Settling in and lighting her now self-forbidden smoke, the dream comes back as a reminder that the desert floor just below was once covered with the salt water of the Pacific and skeletons of shells and fish remain behind in the sand. She pushes it away but the mood brings out her real reasons for dread.
What exactly has happened to her carefully planned life, set up for success with an appropriate number of ups and downs, but the general trend being up? How did someone so “in control” lose the compass, mistake down for up and end up smashing her nose against the bottom? Seeing her younger self, sitting right here, looking down, waiting for her daddy’s bright orange and blue Cavanaugh Electric truck to snake up the road after work, knowing if it didn’t make it home by dinner, there would be hell to pay later when he sneaked in drunk and broke. That same sense of watchfulness has governed her marital interchange and cast its shadow on trust forever.
Unlike Pete, her starter husband, Jay has held her in his spell for 30 years, with a generosity of spirit and a joie de vivre that is enchanting. They met and married quickly, thoughtlessly, really, then marveled for years about how well it had all turned out. But, now after the fights, the silences, the cycles of health and illness, the restless sneakiness and wine fueled make-up sessions, they have retreated to their separate corners to reconsider. Peeled away, like old wallpaper, are the myths upon which Dina’s second marriage has been built. The flat dull surface of the blank wall could serve as a canvas for a new mural or…
Dina’s part in all this, as clear as this desert day, haunts her even more. Having the kindest sister in the world and long-time, close friends, she never learned how to girl fight and is now a hopeless adversary to her many stepdaughters. Stingy with praise, free with criticisms, setting standards of behavior, breaking her own rules, she has climbed to the head of the line of shitty stepmothers. And now she has lost the will to constantly compete for the attentions of a sick and distracted man. He is like a bottle of brown booze: his first family keeps taking long pulls on him, then replacing them with water, leaving her with something pale and weak – unintoxicating.
Sitting here, high over the Valley, Dina draws comparisons to her childhood wounds, and reels from the similarities. Her father, a kind and gentle man, left those qualities behind when gripped by his addictions. He, like Jay, had been deserted by his mother at a young age, then half-raised and left again by his father’s death when barely a teenager. And, like Jay, he took on the chameleon skin of a charmer when he had to get what he needed from women.
Climbing down, watching the path erode below her footfall, little crumbles of rock and sand precede Dina’s arrival at the car. Memories, old and newer thrust themselves at her, crowding out her attempts to plan, to control, to resolve. She turns on the radio, set to mellow rock, and hears Ray Charles sing his bluesy version of “Yesterday.” The steering wheel burns the palms of her hands as she retraces the path of her morning drive, through the small communities of Bermuda Dunes, Indian Wells, Cathedral City, no longer the isolated little outposts of her youth. She rolls down the window to allow the hot desert wind to dry her sweat.
In the shadow of Shadow Mountain, Dina walks the decrepit grounds of the hotel. Wandering just beyond the overgrown shuffle board courts, she sees a signpost with painted pickets pointing in every direction: SSW -Honolulu, 2,506 miles, NE -Paris, 5,112 miles; vestigial relics of another era for this grand old lady of a hotel. Nail holes indicate where the North sign has been pulled away. Using the patchy grass as her zafu, her meditation pillow, Dina focuses on her rosary-like Zen chant, “May my heart be filled with loving kindness; may I be happy; may I be well; may I be peaceful and at ease.” A grove of date palms in the near distance allow only a glimpse of the quarter moon rising to try to light the summer evening.
Returned to her room, avoiding the lonely big bed, Dina peels off the salty two-day-used clothes and draws on her stretched and faded yellow one piece. With effort, she closes the warped room door behind her. With equal effort, she shuts out her thoughts, concentrating instead on the banded gecko with a recently abandoned tail, making its way into a crack in the broken rock wall that faces her door. When she can no longer see him, she hears the echoes of his squeaky mating chirps.
Down at the old cement pool, a sign advises her that no lifeguard is on duty, with warning that swimmers should not swim alone. Dina drapes her thin white hotel towel over the sign, holds her breath and dives in head first, swimming toward the deep-end, lined with broken blue tiles. She remembers an old childhood game then, counts slowly as she holds her breath underwater, pretending to be a creature she is not, one that water, not air sustains. After a slow count to thirty, she relents, surfaces, gulps air. She needs that air, she realizes again, or she might die. No, she amends, not might. She will die.

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Scene I

“Some pills make you happy;
And some pills make you small;
But the ones that mother gives you,
Don’t do anything at all.
Go ask Alice…”

The door slams behind me and the music fades in my ears but not in my head. I complete the line mentally, “…when she’s ten feet taaaaallll.” I can hardly wait to get started on my first road trip in Mom’s cobalt blue ‘66 Chevy Super-Sport. Newport Beach, here I come!! The inside smells like new leather and Tareytons, and my butt burns on the hot seat as I plunk down behind the steering wheel. I am outta here, with my Madras shorts, bright pink T-shirt and matching flip flops telling all the world I am headed for the beach. I jam my finger onto the radio button and the last words of the Jefferson Airplane echo,

“Remember what the dormouse said
Feed your headddd
Feed your headddd.”

The sand dunes and white rock roofs disappear behind me as speed up Hwy.99. The car is practically lifting off as it leaves the Valley floor and the desert behind. The sweat dries quickly on my forehead and armpits when I roll the window down partway to a blast of hot desert air. If I keep on cookin’, I’ll be at the beach in time for dinner. But the radio music cannot drown out mom’s admonitions:

“Make sure you check the oil when you stop for gas.”
“Don’t drive over 65 mph.”
“You can take my credit card but only for gas.”
“Do NOT go to Mexico, whatever else you do. Newport only, no Mexico.”

What the hell is that all about? We’re not going to Mexico. And I’m in college, for Christ’s sake, almost 20 years old, meeting up with my really groovy college friends for a summer vacation. I have never done anything like this before and I am so stoked.
And a little nervous. I really can’t believe I have been invited along. Deirdre and Sheila and Marcia and Helen and Heather and Carol will all be there when I finally get there. I know Marcia really well, but the rest of them I just kind of try to be like because they are so with it. Deirdre irons her hair and gets blonde frosting. Sheila has a sweet boyfriend, Jerry and they seem so happy. Not like me and Pat, who are always fighting. Heather is little nut and so funny. She is so blasé about it all. Helen and Carol are complete mysteries; Helen with her Villager outfits and intense conversations, Carol, a.k.a. Gypsy, has long black hair and big hoop earrings and never giggles nervously. And Jerry’s family has a place nearby, so his Pasadena friends will hang out – new boys – far out.

“Little surfer, little one, makes my heart come all undone…” competes in my head with the current song on the radio, as I arrive.

The house is a little cottage, crammed with beds covered with Indian print bedspreads and more on the walls. The kitchen has an old O’Keefe and Merritt with years of crusted cooking on the burners. The hard wood floors are pitted in the traffic lanes and the pits filled with fine grain sand. Right out the picture window is the most beautiful sight for a desert girl, the whole horizon filled with the blue, blue Pacific ocean.

“This is so bitchin’. Have you…?”
“Who is cooking dinner? I have some “herbs” to put into the spaghetti sauce.”
“I copped some Red Mountain.”
“Help me carry in my suitcase someone, please…”
“Cool car, is it …?”
“That really is an itsy bitsy teenie weenie bikini– you look …”
“Did you bag my beach towel?”
“Don’t bogart those smokes…”

“Time won’t let me… a wait that looong…” lures me into the sandy room where I’ll be sleeping for the next three nights with my roomie, Marcia. She has dibs on the top bunk and I’m cool with that. I can hear the others making plans just outside our bedroom door.

“So, tomorrow is all set. Carol can take one car and maybe Donna can drive the other.”
“We can fit in two cars, right?
“And we are going where..?”
“Ensenada for lobsters and beer. So jazzed – never been to Mexico before….”
“Big D, can you do the honors in your mom’s cool Chevy?”
“Oh, hm, Mexico…well, sure, yah , right on.”

This night is kind of a blur and I don’t think it’s all down to the spaghetti sauce. Jerry’s friends are kind of geeky, but the night is warm and the music is so good. We listen to the Doors over and over again…”Come on, baby, light my; try to set the night on” I hope to hell mom never finds out about what I am about to do. But there is no way I am going to blow my chance at being a cool one by weaseling out of driving tomorrow.

Back in the car, this time loaded with my friends, and trying to keep up with Carol and everybody in her dad’s big black Buick. She is keeping a steady 90, out in the fast lane and I duck in and out of the lanes trying to spot her.

“Shit oh shit oh shit, crap.”

The red flashing light catches my eye in the rear view mirror. The black and white Highway Patrol car sits right on my bumper and the cop waives me over. I look up to see Carol’s car disappearing around the curve in the freeway.

“Do you know how many lane changes you have made in the last 10 miles, Miss? Let me see you license please.”
“I was only trying to keep up….”
“License AND registration, please…Wait here.”

“We’ll help pay for it, Donna” The girls in the car are being cool and I can tell they are bummed about waiting for the ticket.
“Unuh, it’s no biggie.”
“Well at least let us buy some gas.”
“I”ll have to stop in San Ysidro, but I have my Mom’s gas card – thanks, anyway.”

The cop hands me my ticket with a warning to watch my speed and I hit it hard to try to save the day somewhat. But I am going to have a hard time having fun, I can tell you that. I have to think of some way to pay this ticket without Mom ever finding out.

Scene II
I haunt the mailbox everyday, waiting to intercept the ticket I know is coming before Mom spots it. When I’m not waitressing, I count the days until I can leave this godawful desert and return to college. When the ticket finally arrives, I carefully count out $56, mainly one dollar bills that I have saved from my tips and mail it off. Whew, I have gotten away with the biggest mortal sin of my life with Mom, if you don’t count the make-out sessions with Alden at the Drive-In movie, strictly forbidden, every Saturday in Senior year. I return to the daily grind, but with a lighter feeling and hope for a quick end to this endless summer.

Scene III
The knocker on the door interrupts me as I am watching Art Linkletter’s House Party, dozing off and on after my graveyard shift at Denny’s. As I hop off the couch, the knocking becomes much louder. “Hold your horses,” I shout, expecting one of Kenny’s little friends at the front step. They have been running in and out of the house all day, leaving the door open and letting precious air- conditioned air leak out into the blazing desert day. “Shit, get me outta here.”

I am blown away as I open the door. A county Sheriff’s deputy, in full uniform including a gun in his holster hanging from his brown belted waist, glares at me,

“Donna Coon? Are you Donna Coon?”
“I have a warrant here for your arrest,” as he hand me a packet of papers.
“What? An arrest? What the …? What for? What do you mean?”
“This is standard procedure, miss, in a case of an unpaid traffic fine. The Judge has issued a warrant for a ticket you received and did not pay in early June.”
“But..but..but… I paid it.”
“I don’t decide that; you will have to talk to the court about that. Me, I just serve the warrants.”
“Do I have to go with you to jail?”
Finally, he lightens up and laughs, “No, just pay the fine plus the penalty and you’ll be a free woman.”

My knees are literally knocking together as I close the door on his stupid grin. Then a new worry pops up. What am I going to tell Mom? Shit, the whole story has to come out now. Plus, when I open the papers the $56 fine has ballooned up to $121 with the penalty. Crappola, where am I gonna get that kind of dough?

I am back in the “66 Chevy, heading for Denny’s where Mom works the day shift, trying desperately to think of a plausible excuse for this bench warrant. Nothing brilliant comes to mind. There she is, just finishing her shift and standing in her orange and pink uniform with Illa Mae, sharing their after-work ciggie in the break room. The place smells like hamburger grease and burnt coffee. Ah, home. Shit, shit, shit, what am I going to say?

“What are you doing here, honey? I’m getting a ride with Illa, remember?”

Not even knowing it was coming, I explode in tears and shout, “I’m under arrest, Mama and I have to pay a bunch of money I don’t have and oh God I drove your car to Mexico and I got a ticket and I paid it in cash and somebody must have taken it instead of crediting me and now I have to maybe go to jail.”

“Oh, honey, slow down, what are you saying…slooowwwlly, please?”

“Mom, I drove your car to Mexico when I went to the beach with the girls. Then, I got a speeding ticket and paid it with my tip money. The Sheriff came to the door today and served me with a warrant for my arrest because somebody in the Court’s office down there must have taken my cash instead of paid the ticket. Now, I have to repay the ticket and pay a penalty. But the worst part is, I did what you said not to and took the car to Mexico. I never wanted you to find out.”

“Donna, when are you going to learn that I know everything? I have known you went to Mexico since I got the gas bill in July and it showed that you filled the car in San Ysidro.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Illa Mae stub out her cigarette and smile her big old wise smile. Overhead, there is a Muzak-distorted song blaring, “ We gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do…..”

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What I Did for Summer Vacation

Have you ever seen an elephant dance? An elephant in a pink tutu? An elephant with eyeliner?

I did. At the St. Louis Zoo. It’s a sight that stays with you forever. This is #7 on my list of the seven wonders of my summer vacation.

After school let out last summer, my family took a trip across the U.S. to meet our relatives scattered around in the South and Midwest. We crisscrossed through 22 states, some more than once, touching Florida for a minute and turning right around.

On the way there, to Florida, which momma hated for various reasons, we took the southern route. Then we drove the northern route- well, really the middle route- on the way back to California. All in all, it took just under three months.

There we were, Dad, Mom, us three kids and our dog, Rusty, with a Coleman stove, an old red Igloo ice chest and a folding cot all packed into our 1955 two-toned blue Chevy Nomad two-door station wagon. The beige and blue interior vinyl got so hot that our bare legs stuck to it all the way across the nation.

Daddy drove for two nights and a day at a time until coffee and cigarettes were not enough to keep him awake. Then we stopped at a motel, always named something that ended in Court or Inn, never Plaza or View. We didn’t ever even see the word, “Hotel”.

We picked our motels for their swimming pools. They all looked pretty much the same, the motels and the pools. The rooms had a tiny bathroom and a kitchenette with a half fridge and a two-burner electric stove. We always got two beds and a roll-away cot. Mamma slept with Daddy on one with the cot pushed up against it for the baby. Sister and I had the other bed, usually next to the swamp cooler in the window.

The swimming pools were cement rectangles with rickety ladders to climb in and out. We kids would swim all day while Daddy slept. Then, after two days and one night, we’d leave again in the twilight when it was cool. Daddy drove all night while we slept in the back, blankets over the stove and ice chest to make up a big ol’ double bed. I liked falling asleep to the sound of Momma and Daddy talking low or singing softly along with the radio.

When we came up short on cash, Daddy, he’s a jack-of- all- trades, he would get us set up in a motel, search the ads in the local paper and find work for a week. That left us to swim and check out whatever little highway town we found ourselves in.

And that brings me to the countdown – the 6th wonder – when we stopped in Oklahoma City. We stayed for a week while Daddy got a job as a plumber’s helper. We played in the red dirt all day, then swam at the local plunge until the red stains on our knees and hands faded. Our clothes stayed stained red for the rest of the trip – no matter how many laundromats we visited in Kentucky or Kansas, Alabama or Arkansas. The wonder is that red dirt. That dirt is like tattoo ink, like the indelible mark upon your soul (us Catholics learned about that mark in Catechism). That dirt made us look like locals for the whole week.

When we stayed at the motels, depending on the thickness of Daddy’s wallet and the strength of Momma’s hankering, we sometimes ate supper in roadside diners named for their owners like Tiny’s or Margie’s or Leroy’s. But mostly every day we ate Cheerios for breakfast and baloney sandwiches on white bread spread thick with mayonnaise for lunch. Momma bought the little jars so they wouldn’t spoil before we could use them up. Mom was scared of food poisoning but said the baloney could probably last on the shelf for years. She stored the mayonnaise closest to the ice in the Igloo. The label always peeled off in one day from the wet but we knew what it was from the shape of the jar. We never used Kraft’s Sandwich Spread. Always Best Foods, or Hellman’s the farther East we went.

One of the little grocery stores we went in to buy stuff to fill our Igloo was in the South, a little town just outside of Macon, Georgia, I can’t recall its name. Anyway, while Momma shopped and Daddy swapped lies with the men standing around, Lolly and I spotted the drinking fountain – well – drinking fountains. There were signs hanging from each of the two, one said White and the other said Colored. I walked right up to the colored one and turned it on. I was sure it would look like the Dancing Waters from the L.A. County Fair, all the colors of the rainbow in beautiful arches that danced to music while you watched. Instead, just plain ol’ water came out, so I bowed my head to take a drink. Before I knew it, one of those good ol’ boys snatched me up and set me down by my Daddy, telling him that I wasn’t to drink from the Negro fountain. My Momma put everything she was gonna’ buy right down and we left in a huff, not getting one single thing that we needed. Lolly tried to explain it to me, but I’m not sure I understand to this day what that was all about.

There were little miracles that happened all along the way and I am going to call them all, the whole bunch of them, my 5th wonder. First was the seedless watermelon we found in Missouri. It only had only 7 black seeds in the whole melon, a miracle, so we saved them to plant when we got home. Unfortunately, they got lost somewhere in a flurry of backseat housecleaning after an ant invasion near Topeka, Kansas. We threw out Daddy’s false teeth, too, by mistake, but we found them folded up in the cot the next night. We had prayed hard to St. Anthony, so I think that was a miracle, too. But the biggest miracle was how we barely escaped the tornado.

I had heard Momma and Daddy talking, well, arguing, really about whether to stay the night at the Blue Swallow Motel in Witchita, Kansas. We had already been there for our usual two days, but I heard Daddy say that the town was “dry”, and he wanted a “taste”. I guess he was thirsty but I don’t know why that made my momma so mad. Anyway, we packed up and headed out just as the sky was turning really dark, darker than night usually started there. And it smelled kinda swampy, more like Louisiana. We were just snuggling in on our blanket bed when Daddy turned on the radio and started swearing. The man on the radio kept tellin’ us to take cover because a fast moving tornado was coming to town. Well, Daddy just stepped on it and we stayed right ahead of that thing until we lost it somewhere in the Rockies.

But before that, in the South, between visits to our relatives, we stopped at so many confederate army graveyards that Momma said the next time we went into one they would all stand up from their graves and salute us. The best one of those cemeteries was up on top of Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. We had seen the signs for hundreds of miles and could hardly wait to see three states from the look-out point. They also had a Fairy Land with elves and gnomes that looked better ‘n Disneyland. But when we got there, Daddy decided the price of admissions was too high. Somethin’ like $15 per car, five times a drive-in theatre.

Despite our whines and wails, he tried to turn the car around on the mountain road, but couldn’t on the narrow road. So he went on up further to look for a turn-out. Right beyond the toll-gate we came to another confederate graveyard. We piled out and walked to the far edge of the graveyard and up a hill. There below us we saw the look-out point everyone had paid so much to enter. We could see the Fairy Land and everything. They were just stupid little Plaster of Paris statues sitting in trees and on the ground. But best of all, we could look through Daddy’s binoculars and see not 3 but 7 state lines, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. The last two were the birth states of my momma’s dead momma and her long-lost daddy, so we stared at those places the longest. That free look-out is my 4th wonder.

Graveyards weren’t the only thing our station wagon seemed to drive itself to. Alongside the road, we saw giant teepees and wigwams galore, totem poles, a house built from beer bottles. And huge foods: the giant orange where we bought burgers and curly fries, a humongous acorn that sat in a playground, an ear of corn store where they sold ears of corn and other corny things. There were many types of gigantic containers: coke bottles, coffee pots, barrels and tea cups. But the best of the roadside attractions, and my vote for Wonder #3 were all the Burma Shave signs. Such smart ideas. And they way they rhyme…

Along with spotting Burma Shave signs, another game we played was the license game. We tried to collect as many states as we could, never counting the ones that were from the state we were driving through. I was the winner of that one – I collected 40 different state license plates, the farthest was from Maine. Lolly won the other game we played the most – finding letters of the alphabet in the roadside signs. For some reason she always found the tough ones, X’s and Z’s, when I was sleeping.

Having a California license plate meant that everybody stared at us when they passed us. After a while, Daddy told us to drop our jaws and look stupid at them as they drove by lookin’. Daddy would slow down, put his Dodger cap on backwards, push out his false teeth to make himself as bucktoothed as a Sunday Funny, and grin at them as they passed. For some reason, this made us laugh like fools every time. Even Momma who is not easy to make laugh, laughed until she had to pull a Kleenex out of her pocketbook to wipe her eyes. People back there probably think Californians are a bunch of retards now.

Now, you may be asking did we see any of the sights that people always are talking about, like the Alamo and the Grand Canyon? Well, yes, we did, but they didn’t make my list. The Alamo looked so little, compared to Disneyland, and the Canyon was too hot to stay. But Carlsbad Caverns, it was a favorite, everything the signs said it would be. It was so dark and cool down there, with stalactites and stalagmites named things like Witch’s Finger and Devil’s Den. I loved it –never wanted to leave- and so I name it #2.

In fact, I liked all the dark, cool places we went. Another one of my favorites, an honorable mention, I guess, was the Snake House that we saw next to a Texaco gas station somewhere in Mississippi. The owner had carved a room into the rocks and filled it with glass cages of snakes, rattlers, water moccasins and one big python. Florescent lights burned like the sun in each little cage. The snakes lolled on the stacked up rocks. It was so dark on the narrow walkway that we kept bumpin’ into each other.

Now, my momma hates snakes and tried to stay outside, but it was so hot out there and we took so long that she finally came inside. The owner’s little girl was in there with us telling us this and that. Then her long ponytail brushed the top of my momma’s hand. Momma thought it was a loose snake out to bite her and started yelling at the top of her lungs. We all ran out screaming, even the owner’s little girl. Daddy tried to get our money back, but the owner just told us to take a hike. We didn’t go to any dark, cool places after that.

I bet you are wondering what could beat all of these things as the #1 wonder of my world? Well, I’ll tell you. Better than swimming in the Great Salt Lake, better than sitting in the stands watching the Detroit Tigers beat the Kansas City A’s, better than watching lightning strike a tree during our family picnic in Indianapolis, Indiana, better than all the rides in Elitch’s Gardens in Denver, Colorado, better than all of these things is my very own home and my very own bed right here in my very own town – La Quinta, California.

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Personality Plus

Went to the Personality-in-a-Box store today to ask if they had anything in the Breezy line of personalities. The salesperson, clearly a Persuasive type tried to show me a couple of other shades but I was pretty set on my selection. So she went in the back where their inventory of personality boxes were stacked, and came back with a Breezy in size six.

Now, see, they have a rule in that particular store that doesn’t allow you to try on the personalities before you buy them – something about personality disorder viruses and using socks – I don’t know – so I had to pay for it and take it home. I was a little worried because I had done this before and found out that the personalities I had bought just didn’t fit me.

So, imagine my surprise when I opened the box, tried on the Breezy and it fit like a glove. How do you think it looks?

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