Archives for category: Places

When I told people I was heading north to Des Moines, Iowa, there was always a moment where you knew they were going to ask “Why?” I’m kind of used to this coming from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but I did have a specific reason. My junior high friend and her husband were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with a weekend of parties and I was happy to be included. A mutual friend, who has lived in New York City for the past 50 years, was joining me so I knew it would be a fun adventure. Actually, almost everything I do these days is an adventure.

On the way north, we stopped in Joplin, MO due to a tire incident and made a stop at the Joplin City Hall. We had been talking about Thomas Hart Benton’s work and I said there is a mural there. If you go to Joplin’s City Hall, you can see his last signed large work, a mural of Joplin around 1900. Benton used to live and work in Joplin, so he knew the area well. As you can see, it’s not his largest work and you should go to the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City to see the murals there.IMG_8604The interesting thing about this mural is the extra display that shows all the drawings, plans, letters, and models that went into making a mural. It’s a very complicated process. Here is a clay model Benton used.IMG_8601The Joplin City Hall is an interesting building to see and it was a nice stop along the way.

I always enjoy driving through Missouri with its rich green trees and hills. July is a great month for the drive if you can stand the heat. I don’t care what you say about dry heat or humidity – 100 degrees is hot! I’ve been in the heat for the last month from Texas to Iowa and it’s all hot! Other than that, it was a beautiful drive and I should thank all the people who invented air conditioning every day of my life!

At a beautiful Iowa information center, we learned our first new history fact about Iowa. Who knew?IMG_3333We sped towards Des Moines so we wouldn’t miss the first party of the weekend and were awed by the beautiful site for the event, the World Food Prize building. This was an old Beaux Arts library that was scheduled for demolition before wise Des Moines benefactors saved it and spent millions renovating it for the headquarters of this organization which gives an annual prize to the individual who has done the most to stop hunger in the world. It’s quite impressive!IMG_3336The inside is stunning. My favorite part was the sculptures of different grains adorning columns in the Rotunda.IMG_3340Every detail of the building was gorgeous.IMG_3355IMG_3341I was getting more impressed with Iowa and the Iowans who planned this city. Here was a view from the second floor towards the Des Moines River that runs through the city. The state capitol is in the background, as is our hotel, peeking out from behind the hotel in front.IMG_3361On Saturday, we were invited to brunch, so we walked across the river, along the river walk and into the incredible Farmer’s Market with over 300 booths along the way to the Des Moines City Government building at the end.IMG_3607IMG_3377IMG_3380IMG_3400After shopping our way down the street, buying food, clothes, Amish woven ware, and other trinkets, we arrived at the historic Kirkwood Hotel with its wonderful Art Deco lobby. Here is the desk.IMG_3605

And the row of phone booths that take you back. I expected Clark Kent to be in one of them.IMG_3389In the afternoon, we drove to the Capitol building, one of two in the country with five domes (the other is in Rhode Island). I had to admire the gumption of these Iowans who built this city in the middle of the country with such great aspirations.DSC_0110I guess they are re-gilding the dome. We visited the monuments on the capitol grounds, including the Soldiers and Sailors Monument honoring Civil War heroes. It was very impressive with large sculptures all around honoring the men and women of Iowa. I’m standing by it for scale – it’s 135′ high.IMG_3603One of the things my friend, Edie, and I both loved about Des Moines was the whimsical art everywhere we looked. It is a clean, vibrant, fun city with lots to do. There were unique shops, restaurants, bars and entertainment everywhere we were downtown. Paul McCartney was playing and there was a Broadway play, both within blocks of us Friday night. People were walking and having a wonderful time.DSC_0138IMG_3618IMG_3409IMG_3637IMG_4632IMG_3632IMG_3723Our hosts captured the spirit of Iowa with a photo stop at the big party Saturday night. In fact, we drove by lush fields of corn from Oklahoma through Iowa. What a rich, abundant country we live in!ScanAfter the party, we spotted an outdoor concert on the river and stopped to watch. Phillip Phillips was playing to the paying crowd and the audience along the bridge.IMG_3595Before leaving Iowa, we had to stop at some of the Bridges of Madison County, just south of Des Moines. We managed to see two of them and they were worth the visit. The first was the Holliwell Bridge, built in 1880, and the longest of the wooden bridges still standing.DSC_0149DSC_0147IMG_3719IMG_3720IMG_3644The second bridge we visited was the much smaller Imes Bridge, built in 1870. It was a cutie and a good comparison with the other one.IMG_3667IMG_4672Part of the fun was seeing all the graffiti left by visitors, which they must paint over periodically, just as they do the wall at Graceland.IMG_3673We left the rolling hills and lush cornfields of Iowa, headed back to Tulsa.DSC_0150I didn’t mention the beautiful fields of wildflowers that waved at us as we drove. I love this old gated road.DSC_0153On the way north, we had seen the sign for Peculiar, Missouri, and felt we had to stop and explore this town on our way home. You can look up the origin of the name, but we had fun using it as we drove into town along Peculiar Way and Peculiar Road. Actually, the town has grown and has a lot of new homes. We saw the high school and stadium where the Peculiar Panthers play. I wanted to hear their cheers.

The old Main Street is almost gone, but the three-legged water tower remains.DSC_0158There were a few buildings left and a hint of civic pride and desire to bring back some of the history.IMG_3680.jpgWe were lucky enough to meet ReGina Edmondson, who has lived in Peculiar since her military father and her mother decided to settle there and raise eleven children. ReGina has lived there since she was three and owns the house, one of the early ones on the main street, where she was raised. She is a writer for the paper and is working to have a museum. She was a delight and a source of information we couldn’t find anywhere else.DSC_0162She steered us around the corner to a Feed Store that is being refurbished for something historic and fun to see.IMG_3682IMG_368420286731_10212203272069629_1670150760645299054_oSuch a fun little piece of America. One can only imagine the jokes they have to put up with.DSC_0165We finished our tour of Peculiar, stopping at the local market to find a magnet, which we didn’t find (they’re missing a marketing opportunity). Edie captured this sign, which kind of summed up our trip. IMG_3717We started out as two old friends who kind of knew each other and discovered a mutual passion for photographing and exploring all the places along the way, catching up on 50 years as we drove. That wasn’t so peculiar, but it was a whole lot of fun!

You can call it a road trip, but I was mostly meandering my way from Tulsa, OK to my sister-in-law’s in Spring Branch, TX. Truly, this is something I inherited from my mother, who loved to take off and drive. Something about getting out of the city into the countryside… Remember when everyone used to take Sunday drives?

The interstate was great for what it is great for – getting there as fast as you can. As far as relaxing, forget it as you dodge the semi-trucks and try to keep the pace of traffic going much faster than the speed limit. Sometime during the past few days, I had a memory of our family driving back and forth to Oklahoma City every weekend with no air conditioning listening to the radio on Sunday nights as we came back from visiting our cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents. When my kids were little, my husband drove a lot for business and got a CB radio. Think Smokey & the Bandit years. His handle was One Tall Tree (he was nicknamed Tree for being 6’4″) and I smiled listening to him use the lingo to talk to the truckers on the highway. Everything is faster now and there are cell phones and the truckers don’t give us a friendly on their air horn as we pass. Sigh.

I stopped in Davis, OK at Bedre Chocolates, the only chocolate factory and shop owned by a Native American tribe, I believe. The Chickasha do it right, selling their fancy sweets to stores like Neiman Marcus.IMG_3062

Down the road, I left I-35 to stop for a fried pie. This trip will begin to seem like it’s all about food, but it’s more about the smells and tastes and memories of a lifetime. Anyway,  I was in the Arbuckle Mountains, the route I used to take to get to my grandmother’s in Ardmore. In my childhood, this part of the drive was curvy roads with trucks zooming around every turn. They’re not exactly the Rockies, but a fall off a mountain is still a fall. Two lanes with no shoulders was a bit of a scare to my little girl view. I found this old postcard with a view from above, although it doesn’t show the S-curves.IMG_3303I had a sense of the old days when I left the interstate. Back to the fried pies. They come in every flavor from meat to fruit to custards and are warm and yummy. IMG_3061IMG_3290I wound through narrow roads, passing old fashioned cabins where hot Oklahomans excepted the brutal heat of summer in the cool waters in these hills (well, mountains). I stopped at the Turner Falls lookout for a glimpse of the people playing in the water below the falls. There was so much more water after the spring rains. It looked like Niagara then. DSC_0001The playground goes above and below the falls in a family favorite place to visit. Delightful!IMG_3286Leaving the falls, I was surprised to see that wind farms have taken over. I’m not sure what my feelings are, but I do think they are mesmerizing to watch, like giant pinwheels. I hope they prove to be a great alternative to the dirtier fuels we use.DSC_0099The Arbuckle roads are carved out of rock and I remember my mother telling us how geologists studied the layers that had been cut through for the roads. When we left these curves, the drive was a straight shot into Ardmore, where the first thing I looked for was the standpipe. It almost makes me cry to still see it, even though it’s surrounded by new business and development. There was a sign saying Happy 108th Birthday on it. You like some things to never change. In the olden days, you could see it from a long way away and it meant we were almost there…DSC_0011Having started later than I planned, I found a motel, checked in and then left to see Ardmore, where I spent many a happy summer day catching horned toads, walking to the ice house, walking downtown with my grandmother, picking pears from the tree in her back yard, swinging on the porch swing, sucking on Kool-Aid squares (made in an ice cube tray, but we called them squares). My aunt and uncle lived in my great-grandmother’s old house, across the street from Central Park with it’s old fashioned band stand. Before they were born, the house was attached to the West Wagon Yard, owned by my great-grandfather and my grandfather. The Wests were early Ardmore settlers and owned property around town.

Before it turned dark, I headed for Rose Hill Cemetery to visit the relatives. I still don’t believe in burial because, after all, I’ve only been to see them about four times in fifty years. I came through a few years ago and wrote down the location so I didn’t have to wander around like I did before. There they were: my great-grandparents, their son who died young, my grandfather and grandmother, my two uncles and their wives. It seems strange that my mother isn’t there, but she was cremated and wanted to be scattered with my father’s ashes. IMG_3065I drove around town, looking for places I remembered. There was the bank where my uncle worked, first as a teller and then as vice-president before he had to retire early with health problems. It still looks like it did when I was a child, although I didn’t want to spoil my memory of the fancy teller cages with the brass and iron by going inside.IMG_3080The high school my mother and uncles attended is run down and for sale. I hope they repurpose the structure to save the history, but I’m one for historic preservation.IMG_3082The Tivoli theatre still stands, but not for movies. Daube’s Department Store is long gone but was one of our favorite places to go with my grandmother.DSC_0019My great-grandparents’ home was sold years ago and is now an art center, which is nice. I found both the houses my grandmother lived in. One looks much the same, while the other one is dramatically changed. I can still tell it’s the house and its familiarity warms my soul. Here is a photo of my mother in front with the porch swing and steps I remember so well. This was maybe 1940.Scan 63Here’s the front of the house today. Driving to see all sides, I can place every room even with the dramatic changes. The biggest mystery is how the street is so much narrower than I remember (Ha), but, it’s been about 40 years since the changes started.DSC_0017Really, I saw this house a couple of years ago and it looked much rougher. I was taking pictures on the corner and someone told me it was probably a crack house. I was so delighted to see that it was being taken care of again and still standing that I pulled up and rang the doorbell. Here is the amazing story of that conversation.

A man peeked through the blinds and answered the door. I told him that I used to live there – or my mother and grandmother did – and thanked him for taking care of it. I could see behind him that the inside is a work in progress so I didn’t ask to come in, but stood there pouring out the story of the house and it’s occupants back in my childhood. He told me that he and his wife and three children had moved from Central America and found the house with a note saying it was unliveable unless someone fixed it, so they took it on. He asked if the house was 50 years old and I told him that I’m 71 and played here as a baby and my mother grew up here. It has to be around 100 years old. He asked if I have pictures and I thought I did, although the one above is the only one. At least I can tell him the stories. He was very pleased and thanked me and I thanked him. He told me the family’s name, but now I’ve forgotten. I was so delighted that this lovely family was caring for the house. My grandmother was widowed at age 27 with three children during the depression. My mother said the only thing that gave them dignity when they were struggling was owning this house. It’s nice to see that it will help another family as they find their place in our society. A fitting ending no matter what happens next.

The next morning, I went to a cafe that was one of the first drive-ins back in the 1950s. My grandmother wasn’t a very good driver, but she had a big old car and piled my brother, sister and one of our cousins in to go there for hot dogs and a Pepsi (her favorite). I have a vivid memory of the day when a reporter for The Daily Ardmoreite wrote a short piece describing us coming to the drive-in. Such was news in those peaceful days – I have the clipping to prove it. DSC_0013Now it’s a cafe, the kind of place that you know is good by the locals who are there. The biscuits were lighter than I have had in years. The folks were talking with friends and I warmed to the lyrical sound of their voices, the sweet sounds of my childhood. When’s the last time you heard someone say “my land” to show surprise? Or talking about gittin’ to work? IMG_3092I left Ardmore where they fly their flags proudly to head to Texas.DSC_0015DSC_0020I was tiring of the Interstate, looking for the way to the back road I prefer. Going towards Ft. Worth, I saw a Buc-ee’s at the next exit. If you’re not familiar with this Texas-sized stop, try one. Hard to explain, but you’ll find everything you could possibly need on the road – from gas to food to gifts and clothing. It’s a road stop shopping extravaganza.DSC_0041Anyway, as I took the access road, Dale Earnhardt Way, or something like that, I realized that I was smack in the middle of the Texas Motor Speedway. Since nobody was around, I drove through, taking in the huge facility. I can only imagine when the races are actually happening. I had the luxury of being the only driving around, so I took it all in. IMG_3109DSC_0028IMG_3102Moving along, I looked for my exit, only to be caught in freeway traffic and construction. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I circled the city and headed into Texas country. At one point, I turned on my directions on my phone and soon found myself directed out into the hinterlands, off on farm roads. What the heck? It was ok. I was in beautiful country, ranches hidden in the trees.

When you get out away from the interstates, you find wonderful roads with few trucks, not much traffic, and gorgeous views of all that is big ole wide Texas. Here are roads with mailboxes lined up on the posts, indicating that there are more homes down that dirt way. In Texas especially, you make a statement as people enter your property. Sometimes there is a small ranch with an elaborate gate. It’s all fun to see. I wanted to collect them all, but only got a few. Here’s one with the American and Texas flags flying. You see a lot of flags out here.DSC_0054Here are two that are across the road from each other…IMG_3281IMG_3283Those are slightly more elaborate than some, but interesting. Here’s my favorite of all time, located in Johnson City. El Ranch Not So Grande says it all, doesn’t it?IMG_3233Speaking of this place – who knew there were so many goat farms in this area? I saw more goats than cattle for a long stretch.IMG_3234I made my way south on Highway 281, enjoying the green views, watching thunderheads build from the summer heat, hawks flying across the sky. Little towns, cowboy towns, western towns. I didn’t stop except for gas and the Dairy Queen. What is a road trip without a dip cone in the summer? Driving without dripping all over yourself is fun.IMG_3240I arrived at my sister-in-law’s, deep in Texas Hill Country, where she lives on 7 1/2 acres of rugged beauty. Deer jump the fence and come to the house, birds sing, and you can see only the beautiful Live Oaks and cedars everywhere you look. She doesn’t have a horse any more, but the barn is now her art studio. Since I was last there, the area around has grown up. We debated whether it is better to welcome development in a small town or let the town die. There used to be nothing and now there is a Walmart, Home Depot, medical care, and everything else. She doesn’t have to drive so far, so she’s happy. Her view hasn’t changed, so all is good for her. It’s changing though.IMG_3130The area she has lived in since 1977 is the part of Texas where Germans settled to create their own society. The towns reflect that heritage with names like New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Boerne, and so on. In the middle of Mexicans and Indians and cowboys, there are Germans. It’s America, after all.

We went to Boerne for lunch the next day, a hot summer day in Texas. We ate in an old building that has been brought back to life as it started with a cafe, bakery and store. In between, it has served many purposes, even as a garage. Outside, it looks like its early pictures with a new coat of paint. It’s located at Hauptstrasse and Main deep in the heart of Texas. IMG_3158With German names everywhere I looked, I thought this statue must be one of the old German settlers. Nope – Wild Bill Hickok. Of course. Note the gazebo where German music has been played for a century in the background.IMG_3162After a day relaxing in the pool visiting with my sister-in-law and her long time neighbor, also from Oklahoma originally, and a dinner of chicken-fried steak at the local restaurant, it was time to head home the next day. Which way to go?

When I got to Johnson City, with these unassuming signs indicating the most famous son, I decided I needed to visit the LBJ Ranch. DSC_0097I’d been around during his political years and there is much to be admired about that old tough cowboy. In Johnson City, the National Park Service offers information and tours of his boyhood home and an old settlement. I drove around and then headed 14 miles out of town to the ranch. On the way, I stopped to take this picture. The town lists pop. 150. Hye, TX.IMG_3181The LBJ Ranch is run by the National Parks and the Texas Parks, so it has to be good. I LOVE the parks, by the way. There is much to see and it can be easily driven, so I gave it a quick look, having visited farms before. After passing the first Head Start School and Lutheran Church, I crossed the Pedernales River to the ranch. There was the one room school house LBJ attended and the house where he was born down the road from his grandfather’s place. The most peaceful place was the Johnson Family Cemetery. What a lovely spot to be, under the spreading Live Oaks in a little walled off cemetery. IMG_3186You couldn’t enter, but there were all the headstones. The flowers are for Lady Bird, our lover of wildflowers.DSC_0070Entering the actual working ranch, I thought it looked too perfect with cattle on both sides of the road as I went through the gate.IMG_3192Those wide open spaces, the cattle, the big skies…I could picture LBJ riding this range with ease. It seemed so natural for him. At one point I spotted a mother deer and fawn in the trees by the road. As a city girl, I still get excited about seeing deer, but I understand when people live with them all the time. They multiply, eat the things in the yard, and can be a nuisance. I still like to see them.DSC_0082DSC_0076I passed the show barns where LBJ’s prize cattle were shown. The park ranger had told me I could stop and learn how to rope steer, but I passed on that. It was hot, for one thing. By the house, I got out, gulping water to walk a bit in the searing middle of the day. First was Air Force 1/2, as LBJ called it. They couldn’t land a big plane on the property, so they used this one. It was so small compared to the luxury of Air Force One. I had to stoop to get through the door and I’m only 5’4″ these days. IMG_3199IMG_3200I walked to the house, checking out the very small command center for the Secret Service. The house is a big ranch house, but nothing too imposing really. It fits nicely on the property, overlooking a pond, big Live Oaks all around. There was a house adjacent that may have been for guests with a swimming pool between. I didn’t wait around for the ranger’s tour.IMG_3205Leaving the ranch, which I thoroughly enjoyed seeing, I made the turn to go to Luckenbach. I’ve been there before, but, hey, I was in the neighborhood. The scenery had changed since I was last here. Now it’s wine country and I probably passed 50 wineries in ten miles. There was even a wine shuttle taking people between the tasting rooms. I passed wineries and peach stands along the way. Peaches and grapes in the Texas Hill Country in the summer are the thing. I stopped on the way back to get some peaches because my mother always stopped at fruit stands and I absolutely cannot pass them by. The peaches were Texas huge. I had just purchased peaches in Oklahoma from one of our orchards, so I was in a peach kind of mood. These were yummy.IMG_3232Luckenbach, Texas is a mecca for tourists and music lovers. It consists of the old Post Office and a couple of buildings for restrooms, food, and one selling cowboy hats. There is a stage for musicians to gather. It’s cute and fun and one of those gotta stop places. On the way, I passed this farm with a front patch of dead trees (pic doesn’t show them all). Must be eerie at night.DSC_0095Luckenbach was as I remembered with more parking places for when it’s hopping. There were people on cycles and tourists galore, picking up souvenirs, just as it should be.IMG_3226There is a bar at the back of the old post office and I greeted the sleeping cat, the bar cat that catches the bar mice, as one man noted.IMG_3217IMG_3218I headed back to Johnson City and then north again, stopping to drive through a few of the towns. My final destination was Hico, Texas, a little western town. Hico has a scenic Main Street with a large Mexican restaurant on the corner. I have to note that when you go through these towns, you should look for the local cafe or the local Mexican restaurant if you want a good meal. It’s true everywhere in the country!IMG_3265I toured the Billy the Kid Museum, which has a fun story since who knows if Billy the Kid really lived there,IMG_3254and checked out the old Opera House around the corner.IMG_3258I circled back to the road and found the famed chocolate shop and walked across the street to the Koffee Kup Family Restaurant. It had to be good. IMG_3270When a menu says their specialties are Chicken Fried Steak, Onion Rings and Pies, you just know. Yes, they were all excellent, especially the pie. I chose chocolate meringue (so rich), but they have a bunch of flavors. People were buying whole pies, by the way.IMG_3277The place was the real deal, complete with some of the owner’s aunt’s salt and pepper collection. IMG_3271IMG_3278I was full even though I didn’t finish everything, but it was time to move along, leaving this charming town behind me. Now I needed to see how far I could get…heading north. Was I too tired to drive all the way home? Probably. The question was answered after I hit the Chisholm Trail Parkway, which follows the old cattle trail but doesn’t resemble anything about it, and headed into Ft. Worth. Everything was pretty smooth for a Saturday night until we screeched on our brakes. I was then trapped on the freeway with no exits, construction for three lanes beside me, inching along, for 45 minutes. I played Dice with Friends on my iPad with my sister-in-law to kill the time. We rose higher and higher on the freeway, locked in place. This was the most tiring part of the whole trip. When I finally escaped, I had to find a motel and ended up back in Ardmore in a complete turn around.

The next morning, I slept late and headed home, leaving the Interstate as quickly as I could to cross Oklahoma in a leisurely, if slow, way. It was beautiful with green hills all around. I drove through into Davis in a quick downpour that caused me to pull over because I couldn’t see. Then through Sulphur, next to the beautiful park that used to be Platt National Park when I was young and played in its creeks, where Little Niagara Falls still runs. Heading north, the highway was smooth and empty and delightful. What a refreshing drive with green all around me.

As I pondered the lakes and creeks and rivers, trees and hills and fields, I was back in forests of Blackjack Oak, rugged trees. I passed from the Chickasha Nation to the Seminole and then Sac and Fox Nations, where I passed a casino across from a beautiful park named for Jim Thorpe, out in the middle of nowhere. I had passed through Ada and Prague, where the Czechs settled in Oklahoma and they hold their yearly Kolache Festival in May. I entered Stroud, where three sizable earthquakes had shaken the land from Oklahoma City to Tulsa to Claremore a few days before. Stupid man-made earthquakes are beginning to damage homes and businesses. A tough issue in an oil state. Stroud looked ok – at least the famed Rock Cafe on Route 66 was still standing. I headed home on Route 66, now lost in thought as I absorbed all I had seen. All the little towns I’d passed through, all the people I had seen. There was a tiny tow-headed girl practicing riding a horse in a small pen while her father watched. There were old buildings, some falling down, all with some kind of history. Through the little towns, heading to the big city, I was almost home.

I take drives when I can. It refreshes me and gives me time to think. Going off the highways, back where the people live, helps to bridge some gaps. We are a nation of immigrants and natives, finding our way, different but the same in so many ways. It all makes me think and hope. Thanks for going with me.

 

 

In 1997, three boys entered my life, my first grandsons. Matt, Alex and Zac were all born that year, the same year that we found out that my husband had cancer. He died a week after Matt turned 1 and these three boys are a big portion of the glue that helped mend my shattered heart that year. In my heart, they are Alan’s boys, the ones he got to meet. I love all eight of my grandchildren, no one more than the others, but these boys just happened to be the first and are part of that year of my life.Scan 20Now I have eight grandchildren and my family all lives in Tulsa, but it’s hard to get us together for a vacation with baseball and soccer and school and work. Besides, when we are all together, the kids tend to hang out together and I don’t get to visit with them as much as they visit with each other. As I get older, my realization of time gets more frantic and I feel the urge to go and do before I just can’t. So many adventures out there…

Last winter, I asked the boys if they would like to go on a road trip with me. I’m not sure what their reaction was. Can you imagine? Your 71 year old grandmother asks you to go on a trip with her? Is that even cool? Sitting together with all three of them as they pondered this made me smile. I ran it by them several times, asking them where they would like to go, over the next few months. I kept expecting them to bail on me, but I persevered. It’s hard to duck out when your cousins are going – who wants to be that one? I chose the week after all their college finals were over, while their siblings were still in school, before they had jobs. And I began to plan. I’ve taken many road trips over the past decade, everything from 6,000 mile trips to day excursions around Oklahoma, so I had ideas. I sat with my iPad, mapping out places and times, trying to schedule things I thought they would like, while leaving flexible time to explore. I didn’t want to waste a minute of this precious time with them.

We took off on a Monday after I picked up a rental car, a big SUV. Did I mention how big these guys are now? 6’5″, 6″4″ and 6″ with athletic builds. There was no room in my little hybrid and the rental car was like a toy for them with all the gadgets new cars have. They took to it like the new computer it was, programming maps, music, and figuring it all out. We took off, heading west.

While planning, I was asked if I was going to have them put their phones away. This was a thought, but I decided we would play it by ear. I’m as glued to mine as they are, so I can’t exactly preach. Besides, this wasn’t about me having a bunch of rules. The first things we figured out is that they would each take turns playing their music. During the course of the week, I told them that they owed a lot of their music to my generation, the 50s and 60s rock. I listened to Matt’s country mixed with some rap, Alex’s blend of pop, rap and a little country, and Zac’s rap and harder rock, all loud. At one point, I figured out how to make my own play list and they were treated to some Beatles, Chuck Berry, Motown, Willie Nelson and others. I liked it all.

Being in the front seat, I got to talk to each one of them for awhile. Sometimes, I turned the music down to tell them something. As we drove through western Oklahoma, I told them a little about the Land Rush. When we got close to the Panhandle, I told them stories and pulled up photos from the Dust Bowl. There is nothing like being able to look things up while you travel rather than waiting until you get home to find answers. I would look up the history of towns we drove through and point out things they might miss. They started to look more closely at the old houses we passed, wondering out loud how old they were.DSC_1169After eating in a small town diner, rather than a fast food place like they are used to, we made a quick stop at Gloss (or Glass) Mountains in Oklahoma. DSC_1141I’d wanted to stop here before and we discovered that the rocks that shined in the sun looked like pieces of glass close up and were selenite gypsum. The boys read the signs and seemed genuinely interested to have discovered this new fact about their home state. I was tentatively seeing how they reacted to stopping with no warning, exploring a little along the way.

We crossed through New Mexico and on to Colorado, commenting on the ever changing scenery as we went from the plains to mesas to snow topped mountains in our first day. We stopped in Trinidad, CO for the night, across from a mountain range, next door to a pot shop. I posed them in front of the sign so we could text it to their mothers. All I said was “We’re in Colorado.”IMG_2409I thought it was funny, but it went right over their mother’s heads. I pointed it out to my girls and they sent funny emojis. The boys and I talked about alcohol and drugs while we drove. These three are pretty smart about it and I hope it stays that way. Not saying they’re innocent, but they’re smart.

For dinner, I learned that this wasn’t like trips I take with my friends where we share meals. These boys eat. A lot. I have new appreciation for their parents’ grocery bills. I also learned that fitting them in beds was going to be interesting. The best bet were suites with two queens and a sleeper sofa. Zac brought his laptop and hooked up video games for Matt and him to play each night and they sprawled across whatever beds we had. I felt a little, just a little, guilty taking up a whole bed for myself. Well, not too guilty – I’m old.

Conversation was interesting. These three guys’ mothers are sisters and they have grown up together, but they couldn’t be more different. They went to the same elementary school and the same high school, where Matt played baseball, Alex played soccer and Zac played football. They have different friends. Matt just finished his sophomore year and Alex finished his freshman year, both at Oklahoma State, where both are business majors. Matt wants to be an entrepreneur and dreams of flipping houses. Alex isn’t sure. They belong to different fraternities. Zac is following his dream of being a filmmaker and finished his freshman year at Tulsa Community College, trying to decide if he will continue on to the University of Tulsa or head on into his chosen profession after next year. Their talk went from Alex and Matt comparing classes or fraternity experiences to all of them sharing videos on their phones to talking about people they all know or remembering things they had done together. It was like those days when I drove carpool and just listened as the kids talked as if I wasn’t really there some of the time – and that’s ok with me. Sometimes, I spoke up and told them about something from my time that was so much like what they were talking about. Not everything changes from one generation to several on down the line. There’s always the realization that I’m 2 1/2 times their age, but I didn’t point that out. Yikes!

Mornings were the hardest because I tend to get up early when I’m traveling and hit the road, eager to not miss anything. Traveling with three college boys gave me plenty of time to get dressed and wake up – an understatement. Trying to pry three big old sleeping giants out of bed was cute. I tried not to bug them too much, but we had to get moving. Day two started with driving by mountains, while they patiently waited while I stopped to take pics. We saw a herd of antelope and some elk by the road and beautiful scenery. I was traveling with giants, as you can see.IMG_2433In Ft. Garland, we ate breakfast at the Old West Cafe and toured Ft. Garland, where Kit Carson was once in command while protecting the settlers from the Indians. Here is where we had a big generation gap. Not only did they not know who Kit Carson was, but they weren’t familiar with the old westerns my generation grew up on. There was a Kit Carson television series, Kit Carson comic books, and the history of the west, no matter how skewered it was by pop culture. The American West was something embedded in our cultural sense. We played cowboys and Indians, we had images of the west in our minds. Oh well. We toured the old fort and the boys played around with the old soldier stuff, getting a feel for it all. IMG_2444I told them several times, probably once too many, that travel is the best way to learn history, geography and geology. Duh!

Our first big stop was Great Sand Dunes National Park, which I had been wanting to visit for years. My only mistake was having them sit through the film in the visitor center. Usually, these are excellent and informative, but this one was too long and repetitive. They were good sports about it and we got to the river with little expectation. Being kids at heart, they crossed the water, which was freezing cold and running fast. DSC_1236They came back to help me across, which was good since my sandals weren’t all the way on and I would have washed away. They decided to at least climb to the top of the lowest dune and I decided to stay behind and watch. I could have made it, but I could see rain coming from behind the mountains behind us and I didn’t think I could retreat as quickly as they could. Dang. I should have remembered how hard it is to follow them since my husband was 6’4″ and I learned a quick step and a half to keep up with him when I was younger. Now, think how big these guys are as you spot them on the dunes with ant sized people on the higher dunes beyond.DSC_1245They stayed there quite awhile as I could only envision what they were talking about. I know they laughed about filming Star Wars in that environment. We left with the rain moving in and moved westward, climbing higher on mountain roads where snow was falling and spring thaws brought running water down rocks and in the creeks running beside the roads. Beautiful change in scenery as we drove to Durango for the night. After dinner, the guys found the hot tub and that became their nightly routine, while I showered and relaxed. Once again, one can only imagine the hilarious discussions these three had in their hot tub sessions. Did I mention that they are all funny and know how to crack each other up?

Another morning to get them up as we drove to Mesa Verde National Park. The visitor center had been redesigned since I saw it about 8 years ago and it was spectacular. I took over the wheel since I felt very responsible for my three kiddos on the curvy roads. Not that I love driving like that, but I can do it and it is nerve wracking as you wind upwards, looking down into canyons. The archeological museum was as interesting as I remembered and they got their first look at the incredible cliff dwellings. We didn’t get to climb down due to rock slides, but we drove to see the canyons and dwellings. The boys were starting to get more interested, I think. The canyons are beautiful and the experience is fascinating. DSC_1318We took a 3/4 mile hike to get one view and I fell victim to the altitude since I hadn’t had enough water, but was able to follow them reasonably well. Those long legs! Once again, weather started moving in, so we cut our drive a little short to get off the mountain before the rain and snow.

The landscape changed from mountains and mesas to more flat land as we stopped at Four Corners. I told them it was one of those things that you have to do because you are there, and I read them the history of the monument. It is kind of fun to stand in four states.IMG_2518Once again, we left as the rain began to fall and headed for Monument Valley, listening to heavy rock, my stuff and rap as we covered the desert. I had the foresight to book a room for the night, thank goodness. We had a cabin that overlooked Monument Valley and we could see the stars at night. I couldn’t imagine anything prettier.

Monument Valley was a place they had no knowledge of – at least they didn’t think they did. I love the place, so I was hoping this would be the highlight of the trip. As we approached, the weather changed again and the clouds dropped down to cover the tops of the buttes. Hmmm. Where was our starry night? As I ran into the hotel to check in, freezing rain pelted me. By the time we reached the cabin, it had changed to snow and it was getting heavier. Wow. This was unexpected, but one of those unique experiences that you learn to appreciate. At dinner, we watched the snowflakes get bigger and bigger. By the time, we settled in for the night, the snow was covering the ground. This was the view from our cabin before it got to the heaviest point. IMG_2523I was lucky to get the cabin, the last of two rooms, which had a queen bed and bunk beds. We had also brought a blow up bed. The room was tight with a small bath for the four of us, but it would have been perfect for a family with two kids. There was no tv (horrors), but they had phones & laptop. The hilarity of sleeping that night…none of them fit in their beds.IMG_2539Morning was spectacular, as I had planned (hoped), and we had a tour scheduled at 9 with a Navajo guide. We had to get up, although they cut it close. None of us looked too fancy. IMG_2556I had been to Monument Valley twice before, driving it in my car. This time, the roads were muddy and rough, so I was glad for the guide and jeep/truck. This time was the best and I will never go there again without the guide, who drove us into restricted areas and shared Navajo history, stories and songs. Our companions on the trip were a woman from Manhattan and her parents from Columbia. The kids were learning how many people from foreign countries tour the US. Our guide said 70% of the visitors to Monument Valley are from foreign countries and we heard French, German, Japanese and other languages spoken.

The scale of Monument Valley is what I wanted them to see. I’m a firm believer in getting into nature, finding places that are bigger than you are, to put your life in perspective and to restore your soul. I can find God in lots of places, but in nature, I agree with John Muir as to the beauty of natural cathedrals. I love this picture of the boys, huge men, in perspective. DSC_1396Or this one, taken by the guide, showing them near a huge arch. They are the dots under the tree branch. He and I climbed up another spot where he showed me this shot. IMG_2570At this stop, he had them lie back to look up and see the image of an eagle’s head above them. Then he told a coyote story and sang a Navajo traveling song. As we left, he showed us the image of the Mohawk in the rock – can you spot it? The braid is on the right. IMG_2580This tour changed the trip in exactly the way I had hoped. They got it. After we left, we drove to Goulding’s Trading Post across the highway so I could show Zac all the movies that had been made in the valley. They started to recognize it. I love this picture of the three of them with a model of the valley, locating all the places we had been. IMG_2602From there we drove to Albuquerque for the night, where they headed for their hot tub night while I kicked back. Whew. I knew the trip was a success. The next morning we took a detour and spent a few hours in Santa Fe for lunch, tour of Loretto Chapel and walking around before we hit the road, traveling the freeway along old Route 66 to home. Oh, it snowed on us as we got to Santa Fe then cleared for a beautiful day as we ate lunch. We hadn’t expected so much snow in mid-May.IMG_2619A much anticipated stop on Route 66 was the Cadillac Ranch, west of Amarillo. I had brought a can of spray paint and we hit the iconic spot with a rainbow beside us. I wish I could say I planned that, but who plans snow and rainbows?IMG_2624The boys had fun painting whatever on the cars, IMG_2627before we headed to the Big Texan in Amarillo for a perfect last dinner. They consumed 18 oz steaks each with only a tad left on Alex’s plate. Big boys with big appetites. One more hot tub visit, sleeping late, and a final stop at the VW Slugbug Ranch, east of Amarillo, for our final stop. Perfect! IMG_2667At home, they were out of the car and back to their friends and lives. As they should be.

What were the lessons of this road trip?

  1. Maybe they will remember that they spent 6 days with their Mimi, visiting 6 states and seeing new things every day. I hope so. I hope they realize that they are never too old to have adventures and to have them as long as they are able. You never know how many years you have.
  2. I hope they learned to explore, look up information on places they might just drive by otherwise, and take the time to stop.
  3. I hope they learned to take a deep breath and restore their souls in nature. I also hope they respect our natural resources and vow to protect them.
  4. I hope they got a new look at our beautiful country and want to see more.
  5. I hope they want to return to these places with their own families and I hope they want to find more places of their own. I told them the only thing you can give your children is memories, so make them good ones. A friend told me that bit of wisdom.
  6. I hope they know that I am proud of them and love them very much.

I can’t wait to plan the trip for the next group of grandkids. I’m already working on it!

I traveled to Louisville, KY to visit the Filson Historical Society where I had learned some of my family’s papers were stored. One of the items that had been donated was a scrapbook assembled by a cousin of mine, probably 2nd or 3rd cousin or 2nd cousin once removed, however that goes. The scrapbook was full of clippings glued to the pages, overlapping, and dated from 1908 to around 1945. I found all kinds of treasures which I was allowed to photograph. I went through a lot of materials quickly that day and hope to go back to spend more time someday. If not, I learned a lot of interesting things about my Kentucky family.

My father, grandfather, great-grandfather, grandmother and others were all born in Uniontown, Kentucky, a small Ohio River town that flourished during the 19th century and into the 20th until the mighty Ohio River overflowed its banks and into town one too many times. Most of my family was gone by the major disaster of the 1937 flood, but so many good things happened to them before that one caused so much damage to the family home.

A little family history is that my grandfather was one of 12 children, 9 of whom survived infancy and toddlerhood. One of his sisters married a local man, Virgil Givens, but she died soon after the birth of one of their children. Several years later, he remarried – to one of my grandfather’s other sisters. Basically, he married his sister-in-law, and I think the family was very happy about it. In the Uniontown cemetery, you find the graves of the three of them all together, which I think is a sweet story.

In the scrapbook were several clippings about this second marriage, describing the wedding and several bridal showers. I had never thought much about the history of bridal showers although I had several when I got married, as did my daughters and daughter-in-law. When I looked it up, I found that bridal showers date back to around 1890 in this country, beginning in the urban areas and spreading to the rural areas by the 1930s. Since the showers I’m talking about took place in Uniontown in 1908, I think that makes this little town a definitely sophisticated place for its time. I know my relatives traveled to nearby Morganfield, Evanston, Il and Louisville, so they had been to the city!

Here is one clipping from the Morganfield paper, although there is a typo on the date where it says 1808 instead of 1908. The first thing that struck me was the similarity of these events then and now, although we don’t have society pages to post the details like we did in 1908 and back in 1966, when I got married. Note the space given to the list of names of the guests.

IMG_8680I thought the description of the decorations for this Halloween shower were right up to Pinterest standards today as they used jack o’lanterns filled with flowers placed over the doorways. More details show that the guests were served punch before lunch, assisted by young girls, including the soon to be stepdaughter/niece of the bride. IMG_8684We may not dress in blue satin and silk these days and we don’t really have parlors anymore, but the rest of the details are so very familiar to those of us who have been to many bridal showers in our lifetimes.

In these clippings published after the wedding, we get the description of the ceremony along with other shower details. My grandfather gave his sister away at the wedding, so I can picture that ceremony. In details of the other showers, the guests brought recipes, each of which was tried at the shower. At my kitchen/recipe shower, we didn’t get to try the dishes, so I thought this was a nice touch. The gifts were brought into the room in a child’s wagon, something I have done myself. Brick cream and cake were served. Yum. That doesn’t change at all. Ever.

IMG_8683You will notice that six-handed euchre was played at two of the showers. I had to look this up, although I knew it was a card game. Euchre was very popular at this time and was the game that introduced jokers to the deck. I can’t give you many details other than it involves taking tricks, so maybe it’s close to Bridge. I guess the practice of playing cards at bridal showers has gone by the wayside, although I think it sounded like a fun thing to do.

I don’t know if I have a point to this story other than to show that there are some things that change a little, but stay enough the same in order to give us a sense on continuity and community. I don’t know if bridal showers will go by the wayside by the time my great-grandchildren are getting married, but, so far, this little tradition seems to have endured for over 100 years without changing too much. I don’t think they’re the most most important event in a bride’s life, but they do give those who love the couple a chance to share their happiness and present them with something to start their new life.

I bet there is a similar experience in many cultures, but this one is sweet enough to continue in its simplest forms. I will say that I doubt either of my grandmothers had bridal showers since they came from poor families. Anyway, it was nice to find this common experience that tied me and my Oklahoma family to our long ago Kentucky family in ways that haven’t changed all that much in a world where so many things have disappeared or changed so quickly in my lifetime.

It was fun to open a book and find a family thread that made me smile, a precious family link.

Reading about my great-grandmother living in the late 1800s until she died in 1937, I suddenly stopped at the sentence, “Mom had her fussy spells and enjoyed them.” That is followed by, “Dad never seemed to mind.” I’ve read that paragraph so many times over the years and never stopped before. Her spells?

My visit to the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky, last week was successful as I was able to go through family papers in their collections. These now belong to the society, so, even as a family member, I went through the protocol as a researcher in order to leaf through files of old bills my great-grandfather saved from his days as the wharf master at Uniontown, Kentucky. He was also a grain dealer and the local Aetna insurance agent, the oldest in the company when he tried to retire. They didn’t let him! Anyway, I also went through a scrapbook of pasted clippings of family events beginning in 1908. On my great-grandmother’s 85th birthday, the Uniontown paper featured this article…DSC_0004 - Version 2Ella or Nellie Hamilton came to Kentucky from Louisiana (the clipping has that wrong, as she was born in Louisiana and moved to Hickman later) and moved to the town of Uniontown at the age of 19. I’m not sure what brought her there, but I know her father had died years earlier and her mother may have had relatives nearby. At the age of 21, she married my grandfather who was 34 at the time. I think it was fairly common for the men to marry younger women as I’ve seen this with others on my family tree. I’m assuming he was fairly settled by then. They were the first couple married at St. John Episcopal Church in Uniontown. I found a clipping that said he was confirmed as a member along with four of his sons years later and I know he served in leadership roles in the church after that.

My great-grandparents had 12 children. It’s no surprise that Uniontown grew quickly back then as my other great-grandparents in that town also had 12 children. The Hamiltons and Spaldings did our best to populate this little river town. Twelve children. The oldest Hamilton child died as a baby after an accident when a nurse let her fall. Two others also died young. This is the earliest picture I have of my great-grandmother, shown with her family.imageShe is holding her youngest baby while one of her daughters holds her youngest. This young mother would soon die and the son-in-law pictured behind the mother and baby would later marry one of the other girls who would raise the children. Hard to keep them all apart in my own family’s saga. My grandfather is the little boy in the grass in the middle, shown with one of the family dogs.

Here are some other pictures of her, both with my father, her grandson. The first was 1912…IMG_8886And this one must be about 1915…IMG_8887And here she is on her 50th wedding anniversary in 1922. IMG_8884What were those spells, those fussy spells? I mean, why would she have reason to act anything other than her sweet loving self with 8 children running around a huge house…IMG_3731…even though she had cooks and others to help with laundry and managing the gardens and the cleaning. I mean, really. Her mother also lived with them, so there was some help with the sewing and teaching the children manners and getting them to school. Life was easier in that she didn’t have to drive them to school since they could pretty much walk anyplace in town and everyone knew them so they were safe in that way.

Their life was easier than many others and yet there was still a lot to do. They traveled by buggy or wagon or riverboat to visit friends and relatives in nearby towns and cities. That can’t have been too easy, bouncing along those country roads for 30 miles or more. It was an idyllic life in a small Kentucky river town where they were a successful, respected family. My great-grandmother was active in women’s clubs, the Red Cross, and entertained her friends and family regularly. There were grand parties with guests from other towns at even larger homes in town and burgoos and picnics in the country. There were lots of things going on, it seems.

The Ohio River flooded once or twice a year where you had to take a raft to the store or the kids had to walk to school on stilts and then there was the awful flood in 1884 when the river raged up into their home. If you’ve ever cleaned up after a flood, you know what a nasty business that is with mud and water all through your home and belongings. They moved their furniture up a floor until the water went down, but, still…

After my great-grandfather died, Nellie stayed in the big house, inviting a family with five children to move in with her, rent free, to help them out. Her children, now grown and moved away, protested, but she was happy to share the space and the husband, a miner, helped with the yard. She insisted on staying in the house during the great flood of 1937 until the priest made her leave by the upper floor. She returned against everyone’s wishes to the damp house where she was surrounded by memories. She contracted pneumonia and died soon after.

I have so many questions about my family, more all the time it seems as I uncover new branches and stories. My visits to Kentucky have let me walk in their steps and envision their lives in another time.

This grandmother with her “fussy spells” makes me smile. I bet she had her spells when she needed a few minutes to herself, a few minutes of quiet to rest and recharge. I’m guess this because I can remember needing those times myself. Of course, her story was written by one of her daughters who never had children of her own and, at the age of 55, was looking back at her childhood. I wonder if she and her brothers and sisters snickered at Mom’s spells and stayed out of her way during those times. I’m picturing Mom in her room, quietly taking a nap or reading a book or looking out the window at all those kids at play. Enjoying her well deserved spell in a well lived life.

 

In my old age, as I drove along, I thought it was a pretty good thing to be able to take a trip by myself. I’d been to a funeral for a sweet friend the day before, enforcing the knowledge that I would be going to more of them each year until my own. It was good to be on the road, very good.

I’d been planning a trip to Oklahoma City for the extraordinary exhibit, “Matisse in his time,” the only place it would appear in the US. I was up early and left earlier than I’d planned and found myself the first one there, which was rather strange for a world class show. I wasn’t that early and was soon joined by a man who had flown in from Houston that morning for the show and was as surprised as I was. He had worked for NASA and then for a graphic arts company and was retired to play, which meant a spur of the moment trip that had him getting up at 3:00 am to fly here. Anyway, such was the draw of Matisse. I love that this opened the exhibit!IMG_8399

Anyway, being first in line meant that I was first in the galleries since I didn’t stop to get the headsets. I understand those, but love to experience art for myself. I know enough to appreciate and can read the excellent information posted around the galleries. In the first gallery, I was met by a young security guard and greeted him with a smile. I worked at a museum and appreciate them. This cutie asked me if I’d like to hear something fun and I said sure and he showed me some tidbits about some of the paintings from Matisse’s early works. He ended it with, “I just learned this five minutes ago.” I’d watched the staff being prepped before the doors opened. He was so pumped for the crowd.

I had the galleries to myself for awhile while the people in line behind me did who knows what as they got their tickets downstairs so I absorbed what I could in the quiet before the kids from a boys and girls club, all in matching bright blue t-shirts, who had been waiting with me burst into the galleries. I mean, really, what can be more fun than to watch kids seeing great art for maybe the first time in their lives. They disappeared and came back as they flitted between galleries ahead of and behind me. As I stood before a nude study, I realized that two little boys, one African American and one white, had come up beside me. To their credit, there were no giggles although they were a little wide eyed.

I had many favorites, including this one from 1922, “Interior in Nice, the Siesta.” I related to the colors, the subject, the whole vibe. That’s how art works.IMG_8400It wasn’t a large painting at all. When I saw this Picasso, I felt a big smile. Oh you, Picasso, you! “Rocking Chair” was one of my favorites I kept returning to. Maybe I saw my future!IMG_8415I won’t spoil the show for you, but it was pretty spectacular for art lovers. To think he spent his last years cutting designs and creating fanciful treats for us to enjoy all these years later. Thank you, Matisse!IMG_8425I went downstairs to see the permanent Chihuly exhibition and the rest of the museum, going back through the Matisse show before I finally left. Chihuly brightens my day and brings joy to my heart. Having tried glass blowing, I can only say it takes not only creative talent but an enormous amount of strength to master the manipulation of the hot, heavy glass. His work always makes me go Wow!IMG_8406Since I was by myself, I thought I would do some things I’d been wanting to do. Next was the Oklahoma City National Memorial, just blocks away. Did I mention I was born in Oklahoma City and lived there until my family moved to Tulsa when I was 2 1/2, back in 1948. I spent much of my life traveling back to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and even spent work time here later on. It is a part of me.

When the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, it rocked this state to the core. All of us knew someone who was close to the site or affected by it. My husband and I had driven over a few days afterward and stood by the fence in shock at the horror and the extent of the damage. I could see broken windows for blocks, even in the old Central High blocks from the site, where my father had graduated. My family’s company had started a few blocks away. It was a local, state and national tragedy. I still have a box of magazines and newspapers from those days when the media printed it on covers and in large headlines. We never will forget it. I have driven by the memorial since then, but had never gone in. I’m not sure I was ready.

The memorial is one of the most beautiful and powerful tributes I think I’ve ever seen. As I walked by the last of the walls I had seen with dust and smoke still rising back in 1995, I was calmed by the serenity and magnitude of the famous gates and reflecting pond with the chairs for each victim so meaningly placed. At night, I think I would be overcome with the beauty with the chairs lighted from underneath. IMG_8437

I was also so inspired by the Survivor Tree, the lone tree that had been scorched by the blast and survived to shade us all as we look over the scene. You can see it on the hill beyond. It’s a miracle of nature and life. And, you can’t help but feel your heart tighten as you see the small chairs of the children who died so horribly that day. Like Kennedy’s assassination years before, this was another turning point in our country’s tragic history as we faced more violence and hatred. After a last glance at the reflecting pond, I went into the museum, something I had been dreading.IMG_8439A couple of years ago, I toured the JFK Memorial in Dallas and I felt the same way about this one. I lived through it and it is so painful to walk through each detail again. Both are wonderful walks through our history with details that take you right into the moment if you were here at that time. For those who are younger, these are important ways to understand and learn what happened, bringing it to life. In the OKC memorial, you walk into an exhibit that shows what a normal day it was and then you wait to enter a room that is a copy of the ordinary meeting room where the Water Resources Board was meeting that fateful meeting. They had recorded the meeting and you sit in a closed room listening to a woman start the meeting, giving instructions, greeting the visitors, knowing that you are going to hear an actual recording of the bomb exploding. I was lulled into listening to her as she routinely did her job and then jolted by the sounds of bomb, screams, hysteria and confusion. You then enter the rest of the story. I didn’t spend too much time there as the photos and sounds were so very familiar to me. I stood in the memorial room, looking at the portraits of the victims, hearing their names as they were called as each person’s picture was lit. Powerful stuff to see the miniature memorials of stuffed animals, tokens of memory placed by families. Powerful. I was ready to race back into the 100 degree heat and rest in the memorial outside, standing in the shade of the huge tree that showed us we can make it, even through such atrocities.

Leaving there, I wove back to the north of downtown, passing beautiful historic homes and buildings I had driven by most of my life until I reached the neighborhood my grandparents first lived in when they moved to OKC way back when my father was young. Their block is being restored, except for their house which is in terrible condition. I hope the artists and builders buy it soon before it has to be torn down. I was so taken with the loving care with which they are rebuilding the neighborhood. This is where my grandparents raised their four children. Their youngest son is shown behind them on the porch in this fuzzy photo. He was to die at 19 in World War II.Scan 54Here they are, relaxing in that wonderful home, much smaller than I remember it when we gathered for dinners and holidays. My grandad had his workshop in the garage in back and the big kids got to eat at the big table in the room behind the kitchen at the back of the house. The smaller children ate at the kid’s table in the kitchen. The beds were so tall that we could crawl under them easily and had endless games of hide ‘n seek.  We played on that porch and walked that street for hours.July 1949Driving around the corner, I saw the movie theatre we used to walk to, now an antiques mall…DSC_0135…and parked across the street for a fried chicken lunch. It seemed like the right thing to do and the right area to be in.IMG_8447After drinking as much liquid and eating fried chicken and fried okra, I headed further north with the goal of visiting my grandparents’ grave, very far north in a city that sprawls forever. Driving past the more affluent areas where my grandparents and cousins lived later, I finally arrived at the cemetery. I have to tell you that my family isn’t much for visiting graves and I hadn’t been here since my grandmother died in 1977. My parents were both cremated, which I agree with, so here we are. I’ve visited all my grandparents’ graves now along with my great-grandparents, so I’m up to date. There are mixed feelings about graves for me. They are interesting, but I’m obviously not out there all the time. I don’t know if we are losing some history, but I’m about dust to dust too. I’m being cremated myself.

Anyway, I easily found my destination with help from the map I got from the nice lady at the front of the cemetery. What a job – waiting for visitors like me. My grandparents had purchased lots for everyone but ended up being the only ones here, joined on the headstone as they were for 55+ years in life, not counting the years they knew each other growing up. I hadn’t brought flowers, which would have fried in the 115 degree heat index day, so I took a wipe and cleaned the bird poop off the headstone, had a conversation with them and took pictures before I left. Sweet moment. As I took a quick drive further into the cemetery, I saw a monument in the middle of the road ahead. Hmmm. Guess who?IMG_8458Wiley Post, the great aviator from Oklahoma who died in the Alaskan plane crash with his friend, Will Rogers.

Turning towards home, I took back roads until I reached the interstate, because it it almost impossible to get around OKC and all its sprawl without using them at some point. I turned onto the turnpike and was quickly bored with passing and watching big trucks and hurried traffic and took the first exit onto Route 66 to head to Tulsa.DSC_0017I hadn’t been on this stretch in a few years, so it was a new adventure. There are places with stories like this.DSC_0018And then you turn a corner and then modern times hit you as you meet the new Iowa tribe.DSC_0019In the eastern side of Oklahoma, we have brown dirt, regular dirt. About halfway between Tulsa and OKC, you begin to see the red dirt, clay colored dirt. Growing up, we would play in this bright stuff, staining our summer clothes. I guess my mother knew how to get it out because I’m picturing white shorts and tennis shoes with globs of red mud on them. Anyway, that memory came back as I saw this scene with cows and ducks cooling off in the red muddy waters.DSC_0021Across the road, there was a farm with green plants pushing up through the red earth.DSC_0022I kept turning around and going back to see these things. On the last pass by this field, where I had stopped to take pictures, I had to stop at this sign, conditioned by my mother who never saw a road-side stand she didn’t love. IMG_8464I mean, you have to stop, don’t you? Especially when you can meet Mr. Wilson himself.IMG_8463I know he thinks I’m the most ignorant city girl he’s ever seen as I asked him questions about how hard it is to grow crops in that red soil. Of course, he smiled his missing tooth smile and told me it’s no problem if you have water. Of course. And I purchased potatoes and peaches and tomatoes from him, even though I asked and he told me that these weren’t his crops as his aren’t ripe yet. Duh. Of course they aren’t. I know when Oklahoma crops come in. But I wanted to keep his stand going, chickens running around with its cute painted things and all sorts of quirky items on the ground.

Heading down Route 66, coming into Stroud, I turned around when I saw this in a back yard, visible along the road. It was great with the laundry flapping on the line and the aliens playing in the yard flanked by skulls. Isn’t this why you take Route 66?DSC_0032DSC_0053Following along, I approached Depew and took the truck route through the mostly deserted town. It had its own charm as I drove the main street, thinking of the people who came from all over the country to travel this road.DSC_0056IMG_8466Leaving Depew, I crossed the old railroad tracks leading east.DSC_0059Now I was passing through other towns that had jumped on the Route 66 bandwagon and restored their main streets with antique shops and restaurants and museums for those who are hitting the off roads again. Occasionally, I saw one of these signs and jumped off the current Route 66 onto the old one.DSC_0034Driving for just a stretch, I would imagine how it must have been with new fangled cars heading across the country on great adventures – without the air conditioning I was enjoying so much! Whew! These old stretches have wildflowers still alive before our stretch of summer heat wilts them all.DSC_0049At a house on the old road, I saw this basketball goal where someone had made Old Hwy 66 into a private court.DSC_0043Here’s the old sign you see in the background.DSC_0044Turning back from this little touch of the old Mother Road…DSC_0037I kept going, stopping and turning around for things like this that caught my eye as I made my way home.DSC_0060And this. I saw the sign from the road and then turned onto the next street with another one of those Old Hwy 66 signs.DSC_0063It was deserted, but must have been a lot of fun at one time.IMG_8473IMG_8472That was my day on the road alone, not rushing anywhere and stopping to see whatever. Adventures and people I wasn’t expecting made me arrive home hot and happy. I should do this every week, this getting in the car and going somewhere. There’s so much to see out there in ordinary places and I’m old enough to enjoy it and young enough to do it. Thanks for coming with me…

The first wildflowers I noticed along the highway were Indian Paintbrush, which started small12986938_10208256409264599_7286732991570888144_nand then grew taller and fuller until they blanketed hills along the way.DSC_0009As the weeks have gone by, other wildflowers have appeared. There are patches or whole fields of one color and then there are the mixed fields. Driving along, you spot the colors sometimes paired with native grasses as you whiz by.DSC_0102This week, I stopped on a beautiful bright breezy day because the flowers are so different up close. First there were large vistas of purples that appeared over the last week. DSC_0019Look how pretty these flowers are up close. Nothing like you would think from the road.DSC_0023Then there were white flowers, some standing tall above the other plants, waving in the wind.DSC_0065Up close, they are little bouquets.DSC_0033Or these other small flowers for a doll size bouquet.DSC_0060The yellows are in bloom, swaying in the background.DSC_0087These are probably something that irritates those with allergies, but they are so pretty.DSC_0092And smaller yellow babies are bright along the ground.DSC_0101More tiny flowers for the doll tea party…DSC_0074Or flowers as bright as the sun that day.DSC_0095A random flower to accent the field.DSC_0100And more fields of orangey red blazed beside the road.DSC_0070And more and more orangeDSC_0069Indian paintbrush…DSC_0006mixed with Indian Blanket, Oklahoma’s state wildflower.DSC_0045As I was getting in my car on one of the gravel or dirt roads where I pulled off to wade in the flowers, a pickup stopped and a scruffy resident smiled a somewhat toothless grin and asked if I was stuck. I laughed and said I had stopped to see the wildflowers. He laughed back, waved and drove away. I can’t imagine that people who live in the middle of all this color don’t love it as much as I do, but maybe some take it for granted.

If you don’t stop to smell the flowers, you miss so much. If I hadn’t stopped, I’d have missed this fellow fan of the flowers. And that would have been my great loss that day.DSC_0043

Anyone who travels a certain route begins to recognize certain things along the way, things that mark where you are in your drive, how far you have to go. It’s kind of a subtle thing where you suddenly notice something and are kind of amazed that you’ve missed it before and then it becomes something you look for. And you add to your collection of travel markers the more you drive that way.

For me, it’s been driving Highway 51 between Tulsa and Stillwater for the past couple of years. People are amazed that I prefer the old road to the turnpike – and the turnpike is fine – but I really like this old road, the same one I drove when I was in college with massive road improvements in the last 50 years, thank goodness. It was longer and more dangerous back then, more curves and curves and curves. Now it’s pretty much a straight shot from here to there and back again.

I call it my zen drive where I think and watch and look for new things along the way. Since I travel with my camera, I’ll stop and take a picture of something I want to remember (because that’s what I do). Here’s kind of a travelogue of the trip. There are some things I love that I can’t get photos of because there’s no place to stop or I haven’t stopped yet. But, you’ll get the picture.

When I leave Tulsa, I drive through beautiful historic neighborhoods before crossing the Arkansas River heading west. I’m now crossing over the railroad yards and into an industrial area. When I return, I get a wonderful view through oil refineries with trains running through and the skyline of Tulsa in the backdrop. It makes me realize how our city grew from its early days.DSC_0043Here’s the view when I pull up the hill into Chandler Park and look back.IMG_9932I’m mixing pictures coming and going, so there are views from east and west. Bear with me.

Then, I turn onto Avery Road, which winds around under Chandler Park with the Arkansas River to the north of me. This is one of the most nostalgic pieces of the trip to me, although it’s curvy and narrow. No pictures of the drive because there are few places to stop, but you have views of the river in the winter and lush greenery in the summer. There are bluffs to admire as you drive under them and colors of fall and spring to enjoy. This is entering Avery Drive from the west side as I come home. There are more hairpin turns to come.DSC_0037As soon as I turn off of Avery Drive, I see one of my favorite landmarks, a memory of all the years I’ve driven this road. It’s the Monarch Cement…what is it? Pretty cool anyway. In the summer, it’s covered in greenery.DSC_0001Coming from the west, you see it in full frontal, although I still can’t figure out all the words on it. Monarch Cement Co.  ???? Dept. From the west, I can see it from miles away.DSC_0023On the straight road past that, there is usually a train either parked or passing. Who doesn’t love seeing trains? I even love all the tags left by rogue artists decorating the train cars.DSC_0036DSC_0041Next, around the corner, is the little town of Lotsee. I’ve looked it up and it’s named after the owner’s daughter. The whole place is hardly more than a few lots long along the highway as you pass the Lotsee city limit signs on each side in about 15 seconds at 65 mph. From the west, you spot the big cow sign.DSC_0035I’ve actually stopped in to buy pecans and they have lots of varieties in the fall. It’s a 2,000 acre cattle and pecan ranch with horseback riding added called the Flying G Ranch. I don’t think Lotsee was there, but I met her husband, the only two official inhabitants of Lotsee, OK. They are Oklahoma State University people, so we had that in common.

Over the hills, past the Keystone dam, headed for Mannford, you cross over a small part of Lake Keystone and a quick view of the lake. That’s fun as you watch the weather on the water with either peaceful calm or windy whitecaps. Heading into Mannford, I’ve started looking over for this funny sign that I noticed when I stopped there once.DSC_0003Awesome!

Leaving Mannford, you head into areas where your cell phone service can go in and out as you drive through hills with breaks for views across the way. As you cross Cottonwood Creek, you can see an area that links to Keystone and is sometimes dry and sometimes swampy with rainfall. Somewhere along the way, you see this row of mailboxes for inhabitants you can’t see from the road.DSC_0032I also met these guys last week around that area. A couple of weeks before, some of them had escaped somewhere and I found myself passing three black cows as they ambled along the shoulder of the road.DSC_0027Then I cross the Cimarron River, which has the most beautiful view of bluffs, shadowed in the morning and glowing in afternoon light. I look both ways as I cross over. Cimarron reminds of the land run and the book and movie Cimarron and Oklahoma in general.  Miles past this, the road rises and I can look to the south when I’m heading east and see where the river turns into the countryside.DSC_0017One of the great surprises of the drive came this winter when I noticed a herd by the side of the road and turned back to check it out. Sure enough, it was a herd of bison near the crossroads where you can turn towards Oilton. Now I check for it all the time, coming or going. Once I pulled over to watch them and a highway patrolman stopped to see if everything was ok. That was a nice feeling because he was thoughtfully checking on me and I told him I was just watching the bison. He may have thought that was a bit much, but I always find them interesting.DSC_0014This stretch of highway I drive is only about 65 miles and I see all kinds of animals. There are lots of cows, horses, sheep, goats, and even a llama. As I head towards Yale, OK, home of the great athlete Jim Thorpe, 

This building as you come to Yale from the east is intriguing. The basketball goal with the old building is a story of some kind out here along the road.IMG_0051Coming into Yale, I always enjoy this place, whatever the weather. Peacefully falling down in its own time.IMG_6427I slow down as I come into Yale because I know there is a watchful policeman there and I’ve been to their traffic court once (enough). Going slow, I noticed this patriotic painting.DSC_0030Leaving Yale, I cross Salt Creek and am always happy to see the herd of donkeys in a field. There have been adorable babies, but I haven’t caught a picture yet. How many animal herds have I mentioned in this relatively short drive? Not to mention chickens. DSC_0029Past the Salt Creek Arena, I drive through woods where I once saw a deer step out in the early morning until I reach the intersection where my Sky Barn is seen best as you drive from west to east. I did a whole post on it.DSC_0253Past that are the archaeologically interesting Twin Mounds, where remnants of Civil War camps have been found. You only catch a glimpse of both of them coming from west to east. I learned about them when I stopped at the best little museum and antique shop ever, which is a couple of miles off of Highway 51 near Stillwater. I’ll have to write a whole post on this treasure of Oklahoma regional history.IMG_9145Next is one of the goat farms I pass. DSC_0045A new landmark for me is this field that I’ve passed so many times. Recently, I was driving on a clear day and the sky became hazy, smoky for no apparent reason. As I approached this place, the field had been burned in the few hours since I drove by in the morning. I’m hoping it was a controlled burn but it didn’t do much damage. Here is it is right after the burning.DSC_0005Within three days, I could barely tell it had burned for all the green. Amazing. About three weeks later, this same spot looks like this. Gotta love nature.DSC_0010When I pulled off to take this picture, I spotted a Scissortail Flycatcher, Oklahoma’s state bird, on the fence.DSC_0013I now look for this house as I pass. I saw it once and couldn’t find it again for awhile. Now I know the landmarks to look for so I can nod as I pass. In the country, you don’t have to worry about taking down old houses and barns. Charming really.DSC_0004

On the final stretch into Stillwater, I pass a farm with several pumpjacks on Clay Road (my son’s name was Clay). I always look for this one to read the sign and smile. This week, the Indian Paintbrush is in bloom. Gorgeous.

DSC_0003Sometime, I’ll do a post on the different pumpjacks, but this time I’ll just show you more Indian Paintbrush.DSC_0009DSC_0006Next is the road to historic Ingalls, location of one of the great western gunfights. I wrote a post about that awhile back.

And so my drive goes, never knowing who I will meet along the way…DSC_0044…driving into Stillwater where I pass this new exciting Transformer by the road…IMG_7820and see these familiar structures ahead. IMG_9942My final destination is Oklahoma State University with its beautiful campus, but this is the story of the road I take. I travel with beautiful sunrises…IMG_5136 IMG_0087 IMG_0092and sunsets…DSC_0001This trip reminds me to slow down and see all that is around me and notice something new every time. I travel from the city to the country to college town and back again. I drive through the Creek and Pawnee nations. I go from oil refineries and railroads to granaries and see the history of our state unfold before me. There are hills, woods, plains, fields and crops, farms, ranches, small towns, lakes and rivers, all changing with the season and the weather, different on cloudy days or different times of day when the slant of the light accents different objects and views. The skies are wide open and everything is there to remind me I’m alive and so glad to be here!

On my weekly travels from Tulsa to Stillwater and back, I have certain landmarks I always use to mark my way. There’s something comforting about seeing a familiar place in every season, always there to show me how far I’ve gone. Much more fun than mile markers, don’t you think?

One of my favorites I’ve named The Sky Barn. I can barely spot the roof coming from Tulsa on Highway 51 and have to look back to see it even a little from that direction. It’s at the crossroads of Highway 51 and Highway 18 (also known as Twin Mounds Road at this spot, but that’s another story). When I return from Stillwater, I can see it peeking over the hill as I pull up to the 4-way Stop.DSC_0253See why I call it The Sky Barn? There’s just something about it that intrigues me.DSC_0254Months go by and I always look over at it with a feeling of affection.

A few weeks ago, I decided to explore it more closely.DSC_0006The closer you get, the more you can see why the sky shows through. I ventured onto the property and towards the barn. Nobody came out of the nearby house to ask what I was doing, so I drove in and turned around. Here’s the first side view.DSC_0008Now it’s looking like a piece of folk art. When I got past it and turned around, I got the close up front view, complete with the cool cars rusting in front of it.DSC_0009DSC_0010What can you say? I love it! Next, I drove to the road behind the property…DSC_0011…to get the back view.DSC_0016Now you know my Sky Barn, so full of character. In the city, it would be urban blight. In the country, it’s part of the landscape that fuels my imagination and feeds my heart.

Lucky me! I got a break from my regular life at a time when it was much appreciated and went south to Florida with friends for a few days. For something different, we left the beauty of St. Petersburg and traveled north to Crystal Springs on the Gulf Coast.

Amazingly, it was predicted to hit a low of 30 degrees the morning we wanted to dive with the manatees in the only place you can do so by law, when they head from the colder Gulf waters into the springs with a constant temperature of around 70 degrees. We almost chickened out, discouraged by reports of visitors only lasting a few minutes before leaving with chattering teeth. At 70 years old, you think you’ve learned to be smart enough to know when it’s not going to work out. We considered a kayak to see them from the surface, but that was a 45 minute paddle, which sounded worse. My friend and I are nothing but game when it comes to a fun experience, so we prepped ourselves by worrying about the cold all night, packing up all kinds of non-Florida like things to keep warm.

It was 30 degrees when we walked to the boat at 7:15 am. I’ll be really honest – I was more worried about squeezing into a wet suit than the cold. Not pretty. I wasn’t shivering and I somehow got into the wet suit as several of us helped each other. Our boat was enclosed which helped.
IMG_9664Their slogan was promising a lot of fun ahead.IMG_9665It was the middle of the week, cold, and we lucked out with the last boat, so there were only 6 of us, my friend and me, two older ladies (maybe our age, but who knows) who are sisters-in-law, and a couple in their 50s celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. He didn’t end up going in but a few minutes at the end because of heart issues. This was on his wife’s bucket list and he was making sure she got to check it off. Captain Ed has been doing this for 27 years, being a guide for 6. We had an extra photographer and another helper, who stayed on the boat and later served us coffee, hot chocolate or Manatee Mocha (a mix of the two). It was looking good.

We watched a video of rules for approaching manatees before we left and Captain Ed gave us more pointers on how to use the snorkel equipment as our boat approached the location. Everyone had their own dive shoes but us, so the worst cold I felt was taking my shoes and socks off on the boat. The water felt warm, there was no wind, and I climbed down the ladder to be met by a curious manatee.

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This was a great start. I’ve been on whale watching trips in Alaska and Oregon and swam with stingrays in the Cayman Islands, but this was different. For one thing, manatees are so cute. When the first one you ever see swims over and rubs against you as you tickle its back, you fall in love instantly. They’re called sea cows, but a cow could rush you. There is absolutely nothing to fear with a manatee. Nothing! They eat plants and their only teeth are at the back of their mouth. We didn’t want to disturb them, not for fear of them frightening us but because we didn’t want to bother this endangered species whose greatest enemy is man. One had great slashes along his body from the blades of boats, even though their skin is tough.

Manatees can be as large as 13 feet long and 1300 pounds, but those were mostly sleeping. Ducking under water in my snorkel and mask, I quickly came face to face with some smaller ones. Oh, those faces.

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We had seen manatees mating, thrashing around near us, as we approached our site. As the captain said, they’re trying to keep from becoming extinct. We also were so thrilled to see a baby nursing at its mother’s side below us.

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In the springs we visited, there were homes around and the waterway was only 8 feet deep at the deepest. Most of the time, I could stand up if I wanted to stop my floating. We were there almost two hours, petting the cuties we met, watching them roll over in delight with our tickles.

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There were some areas we couldn’t enter, full of large manatees resting.DSC_0081

I can’t exaggerate how very peaceful these funny creatures are.

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When you have a chance to spend time with creatures who are so innocent and passive, you have to compare them to every other person or animal you’ve encountered in your life. I don’t know what their purpose is in our ecological system, but maybe it’s to remind us that it’s sometimes enough to get along with everyone, accepting them without qualm. These aren’t stupid beasts as they are compared to the very intelligent dolphin in many ways. They are gentle in the best kind of way. I felt so special to be in their presence.

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At the end of the trip, I knew I’d had a unique experience. Captain Ed said you’re never going to get as much love as we did that cold January morning in the warm Florida spring water. In the end, we never were cold and had almost missed the adventure of a lifetime over nothing. A friend looked at this picture of me and said my expression was different, the glow of the morning showing in my smile. I know the magic of the manatees had rubbed off on me. I’m very lucky!

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