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It was my second trip to Mt Rushmore, this time with three of my grandsons, ages 16 to about to turn 19. Their excitement was fun to share and I knew it would be a thrill for them as they had told me as we planned our trip. We got there late in the afternoon, catching our first glimpse from the road. They said it felt surreal to see something they had only seen in textbooks.

As we walked up, there were the faces of the four presidents in shade of the afternoon light and we walked through the hall of flags from each of our 50 states, catching Oklahoma’s as it twisted in the breeze.IMG_0469We posed for the obligatory pictures, asking strangers to help us get a shot of us all. This is so much easier now that everyone uses cell phones and knows how to work them. Everyone is helpful and friendly and everyone wants their picture there. There were visitors from all over the United States and we heard various languages spoken, as is the case wherever we travel, reminding us of the universal hope of our country.

After leaving to change clothes for the cooler night, we returned for the evening ceremony. When I had seen it several years ago, veterans were asked to come to the stage and recognized for their service. I noted several veterans seated around us in the amphitheater, including a Vietnam veteran in front of us. That was my era. I looked at the stage and thought to myself that there were quite a few steps to get there, both down and back up. Not all veterans can manage that.

Instead, patriotic music began playing 30 minutes before the ceremony and Ranger Dorothy appeared and walked through the crowd, personally greeting the guests and welcoming them. I’m a big fan of the National Park Rangers and Ranger Dorothy was no exception. They are the protectors of our land, our monuments, our history, our natural resources, and they do so with such humor and strength and wisdom.

When the ceremony began, Ranger Dorothy, a small white-headed ranger, told the story of the Star Spangled Banner and read the original poem. She then disappeared, like the Wizard of Oz, behind a screen to start a video. There were technical problems, but she persevered with the patience of the crowd and we were treated to a video about the four presidents and why they were chosen to be immortalized. In National Park fashion, this was a very strong message about our country and its strength. Here is my quick summary:

George Washington was the Father of Our Country, but his great contribution was noted as refusing to let himself be labeled King, leading the way for a country that was governed by the people and not under one person’s rule.

Thomas Jefferson was chosen for his writing of the Constitution, penning the words “Liberty and Justice for All,” creating a nation for people of all creeds and backgrounds.

Abraham Lincoln was chosen for being the President who kept the nation united in its time of greatest division, choosing to keep us one nation.

Theodore Roosevelt was chosen for his work at busting both Wall Street and corporations to keep things fair for all people and for his work in conservation of our natural resources, creating national parks and monuments.

In my education in the 1950s and 1960s, I recognize that we were given a sanitized version of our history and our presidents. I’ve studied and read for most of my life and recognize that none of these presidents was perfect and not all of their actions, both personal and political, were beyond criticism at all times. Nevertheless, they have stood the test of time for their lasting impact on our country and our vision of ourselves as Americans.

At the end of the film, the visitors stood as the monument was lighted and we sang the National Anthem together on a slightly chilly early summer evening in the Black Hills. Veterans were invited to join Ranger Dorothy to lower the flag.IMG_0273I brought the boys back the next morning to see Mt Rushmore in all its glory with the morning sun shining on the faces. We had the perfect blue sky and got another photo with the guys, as we had begun to call them.IMG_2605We had been through the museum and seen the film showing the construction of the memorial the night before and I know the boys will be studying this story more as we all marveled at the men who built this beautiful monument with all odds against the project, both financial and dangerous risks. It is a true marvel of sculptural achievement and a tribute to not only Gustav Borglum, but to his family, including his son, Lincoln, who finished the project, and to the scores of workers. Not a life was lost making this monument.

A note on history: I was so fascinated the first time I visited that I read everything I could about the project and Borglum and watched every video I could find. I still am in awe of him, despite the fact that he was one of those geniuses that aren’t always the easiest to live with. His workers were dedicated, as were his wife and children, which says a lot. His controversial sides are part of the historical times and his story is worth exploring.

As we left the memorial on that glorious morning, we walked by a man striding in. I have been trying to process this since then, trying to put it in perspective of what I know and understand. He was an ordinary man, middle aged, heavy set, wearing a navy t-shirt that boldly said “Trump 45th President” with a lot of words underneath. He was carrying an oversized flag on a pole and I knew he was on his way to wave it in front of the memorial with a friend to photograph the moment. I had actually seen someone else doing this the day before, although not in an obvious t-shirt. I will say the man was walking with purpose, although the expression on his face was just below belligerent. The flag was also probably heavy, so I will give him that.

The few seconds I saw him jarred me. Later, I wished I’d had the nerve to stop him and, with my three grandsons towering over me, ask him to speak about his views. I didn’t want to be judgmental, but it would be a lesson to understand what he was trying to say in front of those faces who exemplify all that is great about our country. Nobody else was proclaiming anything other than that they were moved to be there – or, at the very least, crossing something off their bucket list. There was a neutral area for people espousing causes to gather inside the monument and I saw a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses speaking to whoever would stop. It’s not like you can’t say what you want to in our national parks and monuments.

I guess it made me think about the term Patriot. I think of my father, my uncles and my husband who served in the military, along with all the other who have served to protect us. I think of all of our politicians, most of who go into service with great intentions. Public service is an honorable profession, although we don’t always honor those who work for the public good. I think of the diplomats and the people who work in the government agencies to protect the people and the land. I think of all who vote.

What I don’t think of is those who simply give lip service to flag waving, which is why I was probably disturbed by the man who passed me. There is nothing wrong with displaying our flag, but wearing it on your lapel or displaying it at your home or business is just a sign. I guess I like action. I like the people who work as volunteers or in paid positions to make life better for those around them. Making the world a better place in your own corner of it is just as important as serving in a more visible position.

You can call yourself a Patriot, just as you can call yourself a member of whatever your chosen religion is, but you aren’t truly one unless you practice its tenets in your daily life.

Mt Rushmore is a national memorial, open free of charge, with a minimal charge for parking. My visit reminded me of how inspiring our country is and can be. It was a thrill to experience it with young people as they are the hope of our future. It’s just as magnificent as you expect it to be!IMG_0277

Today would be my Mommy’s 97th birthday. I always called her Mommy and never thought a thing about it. We called her mother Mommie Dude and my children called my mother Grandmommy, so that’s the way it always was.

My mother, Betty West Hamilton, was a strong woman, bred from women who didn’t have easy lives but worked hard. I’ve written about her mother, who was widowed at about 27 and left in the middle of the Depression with three children. My mother was 6 at the time, the youngest with two older brothers. They were a close, tight family.

My mother and I didn’t always agree and she aggravated me no end a lot of the time, especially when I knew she was so often right. I fought to be my own person and not like her, to be more like my father. In the end, I became a mix of them both, becoming more my mother’s daughter as I grew up and realized the strength of the women in my family. She taught me so much, from how to make a bed with hospital corners to how to set the table. She taught me to always want to go places, to be ready for anything fun. Her mother taught us both that. “Let’s go do something!” was our motto.

Mommy was a beautiful woman who didn’t seem to age very much. When she went to the hospital for the last time, they were surprised at her age (almost 85). Her blonde hair (well, who knows what color it really was) and her incredibly smooth skin (moisturize, moisturize – the words still ring in my ears) belied her years. This photo was from years before, but one of my favorites. photoIn the end, she was on oxygen and had painful neuropathy in her feet, but never lost her sense of humor or her ability to listen to us tell about everything in our lives. I would say a fault was that she never liked to admit she was wrong, but she even mellowed in that as she grew older.

She almost always wore white. Sometimes there was a pastel or beige, but white was her preference. Our family and friends were amused by it, but it was so her…

Besides her mother, the woman who had the greatest influence on her was her paternal grandmother, Hattie Mills West. Grandmother West, as she called her, also always wore white – at least when my mother knew her. I only have two pictures of her and the first one was taken with her husband, E. Z. West and their son, John, who died at the age of 20. The original is an old tintype. My mother said Hattie had red hair, which she kept short, unlike the style of the day.Hattie & EZ West with John (2)I’ve tried to track down Hattie’s history, but it’s elusive as is the data on many who lived on farms across our country. From what I’ve found, she was born July 29, 1856 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to Benjamin Mills and Dorcas Fox. The records get fuzzy because I find their names spelled different ways, etc. Some of those census people weren’t too careful back then.

Anyway, the next thing I could find was a census listing Hattie at the age of 14 as domestic help in Houston, TX. That 14 year gap is a mystery I keep trying to solve. The next thing I know she is marrying Ephriam Zacharius West, known as E. Z., around 1876.  They soon had my grandfather, Benjamin West in Denton, TX, followed by the birth of another son, George, and another son, John. George died at the age of 8 in Denton, Texas. Eventually, they made their way to Ardmore, Indian Territory, arriving by covered wagon as pioneers citizens of that community in 1895.

Ardmore was growing and a good place for a young couple to build a business and a life. They built a house and had a wagon yard adjacent to it. I had to ask my mother what a wagon yard was, thinking it was where they built wagons or fixed them. She explained that it was more like an early motel where people stayed when they drove their wagons to town. There were rooms with a little stove, a store to buy supplies, and probably stalls for the horses. Between 1893 and 1925, Ardmore had 39 wagon yards. The West Wagon Yard was located near where Central Park is in Ardmore today. I also found that E. Z. and his son, Ben, had other wagon yards, too.

I don’t have many details as I really didn’t ask enough questions until the end of my mother’s life. I know that John Q. West died in 1904 at the age of 20. His tombstone is the marker I use to find the family plot in the Ardmore Rose Hill Cemetery.IMG_3065IMG_3076John lived long enough to join the Woodmen of the World. I guess Ben helped E. Z. with the wagon yards until there was no need for them with the new automobile age. E. Z. died in 1920, the year before my mother was born. IMG_3067Piecing this story together, Ben lived with his mother, working in the wagon yard and then for the phone company as a lineman, as I recall. They had the wagon yard long enough for my mother to have a vague memory of it as she sketched me an picture not too long before she died. Ben met my grandmother, Artie Holt, when she was 18 and he was probably 38. They married and he brought her home.

Not to shorten the story of Ben, but to go on to my great-grandmother, I found that Ben had a small neighborhood grocery before he died. He had Bright’s Disease, which my mother said her doctor told her was probably caused by a childhood disease. Anyway, he died at the age of 50, leaving a young widow with three children and his mother. His is another story to tell.IMG_3072Hattie now is a widow and her husband and sons are gone. She is 71 years old and a respected Ardmore lady. The wagon yard was leased as a lumber yard before being developed in later years. She had her home, which was across the street from what is now Central Park in Ardmore, and she had several other properties. My grandmother and her children lived in a large home and my grandmother left each of the grandchildren their own house.

In the years before my mother died, she started telling me the stories of her grandmother. I’d always known what a great influence she was, but it became more and more clear why. Of course, the grandchildren spent time with her. This photo must have been taken around the time my grandfather died. I hadn’t seen it but recognized my great-grandmother immediately from my mother’s descriptions of her.Scan 2One day, I brought a small tape recorder and turned it on while my mother talked as I asked her to repeat stories she had told me. She didn’t know she was being recorded, not that it would have mattered. She took a piece of paper and sketched as she talked, showing me the inside of my grandmother’s house and sketching her garments.Grandmother West's house in Ardmore_2We went back in time as she described the rooms and the furniture. At one time, Hattie and E.Z. purchased a farm and moved there, although Hattie hated being out in the country. I honestly believe my mother was born out there, but she didn’t admit it. There were barrels around that they used to bring things in from the farm. My grandfather lived at the back of the house and my grandmother had a big armoire in the living room where she kept her opera hats. Yes, there was an opera in Ardmore as artists traveled from town to town. The hats were described as wire frames that Hattie stuffed with chiffon. I know she kept copies of Mary Baker Eddy’s books, although she wasn’t a Christian Scientist.

I remember the house because my aunt and uncle lived there when I was little. Here’s a photo of me in the yard.Scan 1

My mother described a woman who ate very sparsely, but made cookies that were heavy that my mother loved. Once she mentioned that people often came by to visit and talk. My mother said her grandmother never changed the way she dressed. Her clothes were the same as she wore in 1856, which made my mother laugh. Underneath was a pantaloon type thing that was basically two legs with a drawstring. There were other layers with several undergarments, which meant a lot of stuff at the waist. She wore a camisole type undergarment and a shirt waist. Most of these must have been made from feed sacks or cheap cloth.

Hattie lived for thirteen years after E. Z. died, so she was there until my mother was grown and had left town. There are gestures my mother made that I know she must have seen her grandmother do. She described how her grandmother took her fingers and fixed her hair and I could see clearly how that little girl watched. I sense that Hattie had a sense of dignity and a common sense that influenced everything about my mother. Hattie died in 1940, five years before I was born.IMG_3066IMG_6294I wonder what I would have thought of this lady in white who influenced my Mommy so much. I can only take what I know and read between the lines to fill in the story.

Today, as I think about my own mother, I realize how much of me came from her, and how much of her strength and personality came from her mother and her grandmother who both had so much influence on her. I hope that some of this has filtered down to my daughters and granddaughters whose lives have been so much easier than their ancestors.

It is a good feeling to know that you have the blood of these women to see you through the hard times as well as the good ones. I wish I had known my great-grandmother, Hattie. I miss my grandmother, Artie (Mommie Dude), who had so much influence on me.

I especially miss my Mommy. She was a good one!

 

My Road Trip playlist came together when I was travelling with my three oldest grandsons and wanted to share some of my favorite music with them. I’ve added a few things since I now use it when I drive the roads alone. I picked songs that keep me awake and remind me of old times along with the songs I love to sing along with. It’s something of a history of me.

There are songs from junior high and high school. How about a little Buddy Holly that I played so much in 7th and 8th grade? Some old rock & roll with Jerry Lee Lewis (music to shock the parents with the loud pounding piano and “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On”)Unknown-2and Fats Domino, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. I had to explain to the kids that DJs were brave to play music from black artists, which my 19 and 20 year olds didn’t get understand at all.Unknown-1We were a dancing generation, so I’ve got some great anthems of my youth. “Do You Love Me?”, “What’d I Say?”, “Good Lovin'”, “Do You Want to Dance?”, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and, of course, “Louie, Louie.” Hopefully other drivers don’t notice the old lady rocking out a little down the road.

High School also brought us the Beach Boys, so I listen to “Surfing’ Safari,” and folk music, which took us to coffee houses and brought in social consciousness. I have some Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio and, probably my favorites, Peter, Paul & Mary. My concert days included all of them except Joan Baez. I went to this concert when I was a senior. imagesFor this list, I don’t have my Barbra Streisand favorites, but there are songs from Diana Ross & the Supremes, Credence Clearwater, and Simon & Garfunkel. It’s a hodgepodge for me to sing and think about.

The years went by, and there are a bunch of songs from The Beatles, who we discovered our freshman year in college when they were on Ed Sullivan and then embraced from then on.UnknownAnd, to round it out, my country vibes are all out there with Willie Nelson, because, well because WILLIE! I’ve got some of his most fun songs to make me smile and sing, “I Didn’t Come Here,” “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time,” “Big Booty,” and “On the Road Again,” because you have to have that one when you’re driving.

Some of these songs take me back to all the fun of dancing for hours with all my friends, some take me to the times when I listened to songs in my dorm room and tried to understand love, friendship and the world around me, some take me to concerts I attended (Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, the Beach Boys, The Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Paul McCartney) and some I just have to hear. I’m not even a bar person, but get a kick out of the drinking songs. I keep thinking of another playlist, but this one is so much fun that I haven’t gotten around to it.

If you see me on the road, don’t laugh. Find your own favorites to sing along with and see if it doesn’t make the trip go a little faster!

 

 

I almost made it without writing this. Here is that day again, the day that reminds me that I lost my son, my only son, my youngest child, seven years ago today. There’s just no ducking it, especially since his family and friends miss him. That’s good – to be remembered so lovingly.

Today I was driving in the country on my way to appointments, trying to put thoughts together, piecing together the memories. I heard his voice on a tape in the car that played randomly on a playlist. I remembered things and bit my lip and didn’t scream at the universe because that’s really not what I do. He was 35 years old, which means he lived his whole life in 35 years. Some of us take longer to get it all done.

This time, I seemed to focus on what he is missing not being here to watch his nephews and niece and his daughter grow up. We are lucky that he left us his daughter. I’m lucky that I got to witness their bond because it was something special.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe was 15 months old when he died, already showing us a personality that rivaled her daddy’s at that age. Here’s how she looked the last day he spent with her.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere is no doubt he didn’t want to leave this cutie behind. My mind did its tricks, whipping between memories and what ifs. Would she be as strong a personality if he had lived? Would she show the kindness that she has for all living things? Did his death make her stronger or bring out the best in her?

Well, crap. Who knows?

And so the day went by as I mixed my regular appointments and conversations with memories that came and went. Grief is unique for each loss. I know I mourn him differently than his sisters, his wife, his daughter, his friends and yet we share a common grief. We can laugh at the same stories and pictures and then have our personal feelings of loss.

This January 10, I focused on what he was missing because I already know how much I am.

I’m grateful for the time we had. It’s better to live with the grief than to imagine a world that never knew him. That would be the tragedy.

 

There are so many articles about uncluttering your home, getting rid of your stuff, simplifying everything. I start on a project like this and realize that I actually live in a scrapbook, a living scrapbook.

When I was a little girl, I always had a bulletin board and kept a scrapbook. Nothing was too insignificant to me if it reminded me of someone special or something that happened that I didn’t want to forget – ever! This is a habit that has never left me and it now adds up to 72 years this week of my life as scattered all around me.

I’m not sure if it bothers me enough or if it bothers me at all, to tell the truth. I’m more amused by it when I should be horrified. Maybe I’m just defending myself so that my daughters will laugh as they dig through when I’m gone – one of these days. Not leaving yet!

I mean, what do you do when you look on a shelf and find your own teddy bear from babyhood (music box inside it is broken – wonder what it played?) sitting next to your husband’s teddy bear?  Personally, I smile. Just so you know how bad it is – I also have my Daddy’s teddy bear and my son’s collection of bears.

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When dusting my mantel, I pick up each of these old elephants and feel the smooth wood. Daddy brought these home from the war when he was stationed in Africa. My brother, sister and I played with them, hence the lost tusks and glued on trunks.

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I don’t have anything stored in this old metal box, but I opened it many times during my childhood to see what Daddy kept inside. It’s still mysterious to me and that’s just fine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere’s another music box. My husband bought this one for me in Switzerland. We wanted another one, but this was the one we could afford and its melody reminds me of that trip so many years ago.

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You see what the dangers are as I dig through a lifetime of little things that all bring a special moment or place or a beloved face to mind. There are memories on every shelf, every table, in every drawer. Where do I start to erase them? Which ones do I let go, wondering if they will be lost forever if I don’t have this little memento, this scrap of paper with handwriting so familiar, this memory of a laugh or tear?

Now it’s time to decorate for the holidays and I have way too many decorations, especially Santas. There are some I can let go when I feel like it, but mostly I just like them. Here is a picture of my kitchen window last year. In it I see a tall skinny Santa from my childhood, one that my husband bought me at a gallery in New Orleans, a couple that my kids bought me with their little hard earned coins and bills, one made by a lifelong friend, another given by a friend who died way too young, some from a volunteer project I worked on as a young mother, and others collected from travels or from artists or because I liked them.DSC_0174Imagine a house full of memories like that and you are with me. I’m going to keep trying to shed things that are meaningless, if there is such a thing in my life. I’m going to keep trying because it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. In the meantime, my memories are refreshed all the time and that’s not such a bad thing for an old lady.

Sorting through the 1,000 pictures I took in Oregon because I can’t help myself, I had a hard time picking the best ones to tell the story. I was trying to find ones that were different from my other visits, but there are always the same ones that I can’t ignore. When I take a break from my semi-retirement regular life, spent with my  family and my part-time job, I also take a break from most of the news and all the other headaches of everyday life. That means I’m there to soak up every healing thing I can see, hear, smell, touch or feel to fill my soul with memories that will override the crap we all have to deal with most of the time.

This year, we started our trip by landing in Portland and driving a quick 5 hours to outside of Crater Lake National Park, one of the National Parks I hadn’t seen yet (they are all on my bucket list – even the ones I have seen several times). It had been touch and go as to whether we would go there because of the fires in the state, but it miraculously snowed early in the week, cleaning the skies. We parked at the Crater Lake Lodge, excited to get to the views. And, of course, it started raining on us as we got out of the car. Dang. IMG_4713We raced inside to be greeted by yet another beautiful historic park lodge with fireplaces roaring.IMG_4718By the time we got outside, the rain was stopping (typical Oregon) and we made our way along the rim before driving to the spot where we would meet our trolley tour around the lake. I have to recommend this trip. The West rim was closed for construction (and earlier for the fires), but we were able to see it all through the tour. Our guide, Ranger Annie, is a retired geologist and was full of information, showing us photos and picking out interesting things to show us at all the stops. We learned about the plants, wildlife, lake life, flowers, trees, and geology of the lake. She also showed us the impacts of climate change on the area and gave us insight into what the park services and scientists are doing to learn more about this area. I can’t tell you how much I love National Park Rangers!IMG_4742I told my friend I just wanted a minute with the sky blue so I could see the lake in all its glory. I’d come all this way, after all. I got more than a minute as the sun came and went all through our visit. Oh my – it truly is glorious to see one of the deepest and the cleanest lake in the world sparkling in the sun.DSC_0059Regardless, it was also beautiful to see it with the silver shimmer when the clouds were overhead.DSC_0022We saw the Phantom Ship island, which looks small as does everything until you can get the scale.DSC_0046Leaving the park, we also stopped at Natural Bridge to get my first glimpse of the raging Rogue River that goes all the way to the Pacific. Nothing like a roaring river to wake up your senses.DSC_0064That was just the first full morning of our trip, which gives you an idea of how many treasures we had ahead of us. It was too much to prioritize which ones to visit again or for the first time. We did see a couple of the many, many covered bridges this time. The first one was on our way to Crafter Lake, Lowell Covered Bridge. IMG_4681The second one we saw was towards the end of our trip, Drift Creek Bridge, east of Lincoln City. Don’t ask me why I’ve never seen covered bridges until this year when I saw these two and a couple of the Bridges of Madison County. They are fascinating, lovely pieces of our history.IMG_5214The view from our condo in Depoe Bay is lovely in clear weather or in storms. IMG_4770Since Depoe Bay is the Whale Watching Capital of the World, we looked for whales. Some years, we had to take the whale watching boats out to see them, but the past two years they have been right outside our window. They came as close as just past the rock in the picture, which was pretty close to the seawall on Highway 101. That’s the closest I’ve ever seen them come in. Here’s one right off the rocks.DSC_0104 One of our favorite beaches is Fogarty Creek, where the creek runs into the sea right out of the magical forests along Highway 101.IMG_5194 Our first morning there, we found driftwood tossed around, looking battered from the journey.DSC_0074This other piece is on the walk to the beach from the car and has been there for years. I always enjoy this angle that looks like a creature peeking at us.IMG_5190The sea was pretty calm for the first few days, but there was sea kelp (or sea whips) and sea weed, and feathers floating and rocks shaped like hearts.DSC_0095DSC_0088DSC_0077DSC_0087We also were standing near this man and I recognized his gesture as giving thanks on the beautiful morning.IMG_4787His name is Mark D. Shelton, http://www.markdshelton.com, and he is the Tribal Artist of the Chinook Tribe. It turned out he has relatives in Oklahoma, another small world moment. IMG_4785Our nightly sunset viewing didn’t look too promising, but it turned into something special by the Depoe Bay seawall when we watched the sun set through a rainstorm, a unique view. IMG_4807The next day we wandered up the road to Lincoln City where a Kite Festival was happening! We’ve always missed it in the past, so it was a treat to see all the colorful kites flying.DSC_0208We walked out in time to watch a synchronized kite contest where teams flew their kites in routines to music, a dance in the skies.DSC_0235My friend was born in Oregon, so she is basically coming home. I pretend I’m not a tourist since I’ve been there so much. When the weekend is over and the weekend crowd is gone, we take longer trips down the coast. On a beautiful day, I had the wild idea of taking a hike I had read about, so we drove down the coast to Yachats (don’t pronounce the c). We had driven through but never stopped, which was a mistake. It’s absolutely charming. Wow! I could stay there any time. Here’s a view from one of the parks. Beautiful parks, views, restaurants, and it’s near Cape Perpetua, another wonderful place.IMG_4890I didn’t do all of my hike due to not really knowing if I was on the right place (I was, but couldn’t tell), but the woods were lovely and I looked down across the Pacific Ocean.IMG_4883DSC_0261IMG_4884From Yachats, we wove around Highway 101, past Cape Perpetua with the Devil’s Churn, Thor’s Well, and The Spouting Horn, stopping below Heceta Head Lighthouse for a quick visit with a friend before heading south to Florence for lunch. We had the iconic view of the lighthouse. The last photos I took showed it covered up for restoration.DSC_0283DSC_0281Around the curve was the view of the Oregon Dunes, a dramatic change from the Cape Perpetua cliffs.DSC_0285In Florence, we ate by the docks. I’m a sucker for piles of colorful buoys.DSC_0289The next day we lazed around Depoe Bay, having a lovely lunch at Tidal Raves and watching whales off our porch as they spouted a heart at us. DSC_0326 Later we headed to Newport for crab for dinner and realized the sunset was coming so we crossed the bridge and headed for a view at Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, gleaming in the fading light on its hill. DSC_0337We were watching the sunset through the trees, IMG_4930when I turned and saw the moon coming up over the Yaquina Bay Bridge behind us. Another lovely image of the most familiar of the Conde McCullough bridges along Highway 101 in Oregon. I fell in love with this bridge the first time I crossed it back in 2009.DSC_0348The next day was for driving north, through beautiful farm country, IMG_4941to a mandatory stop at Tillamook dairies for ice cream before heading on to Cannon Beach. It was a beautiful day on this gorgeous beach where the weather can change in a minute! We parked at Tolovana Park where my friend grabbed her book for a beach read while I started the walk to Haystack Rock. IMG_4990It looks close until you realize that the people beside the rock are ant-size. I think it’s about a mile from where I started, but it’s a wonderful walk on a flat, sandy beach. The last time I was here, the tide was out and there were tide pools with urchins and other critters. This time, I couldn’t get so close, but the reflections were incredible.IMG_4958On the way, I witnessed a life and death fight between a crab and a seagull. My heart was with the crab, although that was a little hypocritical since I ate one the night before. I walked right up, trying to give the crab a chance, but the seagull was persistent and won his dinner. The crab waved his claws bravely, fighting all the way.DSC_0369DSC_0371I’m still a long way away in this photo.IMG_4965There were great views of Tillamook Lighthouse to the north. The story of Terrible Tilly is interesting as men fought to build on the rock.DSC_0386Walking back, the skies changed, of course, but the view to the south was gorgeous too.DSC_0402After a lunch at Mo’s on the beach, we drove back, stopping to see a dahlia farm in all its blooming beauty. So many varieties!DSC_0416DSC_0439DSC_0452DSC_0458I was anxious to get back to our condo as I have driven Highway 101 through the fog and forest – not fun with all the curves. We made it back in time to watch the sunset at Fogarty Creek. Lovely.DSC_0477For our last full day on the coast, we drove back to Newport (only 15 minutes away), stopping at Yaquina Head Lighthouse, where we’ve been several times before. It was such a beautiful day and we couldn’t resist.IMG_5051On that day, the whales were spouting like crazy all around us and visitors were pointing all over. I like the birds lined up on the rock to watch the show.DSC_0522In Newport, we went to the docks on the bayfront,DSC_0541and then to see the funny California Sea Lions that stay there. We’re told only the males come, so it’s kind of like a fraternity house with some lounging around and others fighting for a spot.DSC_0556While watching the sea lions, we spotted a first for us. Jellyfish were swimming around the docks. I’ve seen them in aquariums, but never out in nature. These orange ones were quite fascinating as they undulated along. DSC_0567DSC_0582DSC_0585We next toured the Sylvia Beach Hotel with its rooms named for various authors and the Next Chapter Restaurant. It’s right on Nye Beach with beautiful views.IMG_5140There are rooms for J. K. Rowling with a Harry Potter theme, Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Amy Tan, Gertrude Stein, Ken Kesey, William Shakespeare and others, all beautifully decorated. We loved the Dr. Seuss room with this whimsical bed. Such a fun place for lovers of books!IMG_5109On the cliffs at the point by our condo, I watched our last beach sunset with the same mixed feelings I always have when it’s time to leave. I spotted a whale spouting near the buoy in the bay, DSC_0632and saw the harbor seals sleeping on a rock on the other side,DSC_0614before the sun finally set calmly into the sea. Sigh.DSC_0657.JPGAll week the ocean had been very calm, so we were rewarded the next morning when we made a final visit to the cliffs on the point before we left town. I can’t tell you how mesmerized I am by the crashing waves. On past trips, I’ve had to tear myself away from watching them grow,DSC_0720DSC_0661foam,DSC_0729and crash against the rocks.DSC_0701And I spotted a precious feather on the rocks of the cliff.DSC_0113I have so many photos – I can’t resist. This was a nice way to end our visit to the coast.

As we drove east towards Salem, we drove back to see the Drift Creek Covered Bridge. Looking at the land around it, I took away another memory of a more rural Oregon.IMG_5230So ends my ode to Oregon for this year. When I think of this state, I always know a piece of my heart is there and that’s just fine.DSC_0366DSC_0187

 

One should always sample the local foods while traveling – right? I try never to go to a national chain restaurant, except for a Dairy Queen dip cone, unless there is nothing else around. Little cafes, local people, local foods are part of the experience. In Oregon, I’ve found some favorites that I return to every year while still searching out new places and new tastes! Here are my recommendations!

First, there’s Farmer John’s in McMinnville, a stop we make traveling to the coast from Portland. Farmer John’s has produce and zinnias and hazelnuts if we get there during the harvest,IMG_5237but we stop for the Strawberry Shortcake with a warm biscuit topped with strawberries, ice cream and whipped cream. This isn’t unique to the world certainly, but it’s a much anticipated treat for us.IMG_5242On the Oregon coast, you can find Mo’s in several locations. We like the one at Otter Rock, although I’ve been to the one in Newport (the original) and the one at Cannon Beach. All are great. I go back for the Clam Chowder and the Garlic Cheese Bread.

IMG_4793IMG_4794This year, we visited Mo’s at Otter Rock on a rainy day for the chowder and then also stopped at the one on Cannon Beach, where I had the Shrimp Medley. Lovely and tasty while looking out at that beautiful beach and Haystack Rock! I love the little bay shrimp every which way!IMG_4997While I’m showing you beautiful plates, here’s one I had in Florence this time. I don’t get there every trip, but this is worth the drive. We ate at ICM on the docks, overlooking the boats with a view of the bridge in Old Town Florence, an absolutely charming place.DSC_0291I don’t remember what this was called, but it had fresh cod, Dungeness Crab and bay shrimp. Yum!IMG_4898Speaking of Dungeness Crab, we NEVER leave without a visit to this place on Highway 101, south of the bridge in Newport!IMG_4921IMG_9783It’s a fish market, grocery store, and has fresh steamed crabs and incredible onion rings. We split the crab, which comes with a pile of french fries. We always forget that and order the onion rings extra and have way too much to eat. But, it’s all about the crab and working to get each little bite of deliciousness!IMG_4918Our other favorite place in Newport is in the historic Bayfront area. We go to see the California sea lions who come to entertain us on the docksIMG_5145 and then we go to Gino’s down the street.IMG_5182There’s just something about this place with its blue and white and scads of buoys that is refreshing.IMG_5177On our first visit, we met one of the owners, a family of fishermen. They sell fish there, too, but we go for their famous Popcorn Shrimp. The batter is incredible and the little bay shrimp are piled up. The onion rings and slaw are pretty special, too!IMG_5171We stay in Depoe Bay, right in the middle of the Central Oregon Coast and the Whale Watching Capital of the World. Depoe Bay is also the World’s Smallest Harbor. We have to go to Gracie’s Sea Hag on either Friday or Saturday night to see Michael Dane perform, watch the bartender play the bottles and share the seafood platter. This was the first meal I ever had in Oregon while driving up the coast many years ago. It’s as good as I remember it every time! I think there are two sea platters, but this one is listed under the appetizers.IMG_4809We top that yummy pile off by sharing Marionberry Tart. Since I can’t get Marionberries in Oklahoma, this is an Oregon dish I don’t miss.IMG_4814The other restaurant in Depoe Bay that we never miss is Tidal Raves, right on the Sea Wall and a short walk from where we stay. It’s always listed as one of the best on the coast with a beautiful view of the bay. Reservations are advised.IMG_9820I’ve had so many great dishes there and I recommend the Rockfish and the Bread Pudding. The one thing we always share is the Seahawk Break, which could be a meal in itself. Once again, those bay shrimp!!!IMG_4909No visit to Oregon is complete without trying Tillamook Ice Cream. I fell in love with the story of this Farmer’s Cooperative on my first visit. The cheeses are great, but the ice cream!!!! I scream for ice cream! It is the creamiest ever. You can get it in the stores, but if you can get to Tillamook and visit the dairy, do it! I think it is the best right there where they make it. I know this is one of the main tourist attractions in Oregon, but it’s worth it. They’re building a new Visitor’s Center now, but the temporary one is just fine. It has the ice cream, after all. This time, I had a double dish of Salted Butterscotch and Udderly Chocolate, but you just can’t go wrong with any flavor!!!IMG_4947On my recent trip, we went to Crater Lake and visited the historic Beckie’s Cafe in Prospect, listed on the National Historic Register. IMG_4706A photo on the wall showed the early cafe, where they specialized in Clean Home Cooking! Yikes! Who wants dirty home cooking? The husband’s nickname was Beckie and after he died, everyone started calling his wife Beckie. IMG_4752We had a delicious breakfast there and returned for their famous pies. Since it was in season, we chose the Huckleberry Pie. Of course! The cream pies sounded pretty yummy too! It was as good as it looks!!!IMG_4754In answer to your question, I didn’t gain any weight in Oregon because we walk so much. If we didn’t, we’d be in serious trouble! I leave you drooling for some Oregon tastes, one of the many things I love about visiting this beautiful state!DSC_0180

My maternal grandfather’s parents settled in Indian Territory, near where Ardmore is now located. It’s hard to find many details, but I know they lived on a farm where my mother was born. My maternal grandmother’s parents lived on a farm closer to Durant, where they must have moved from near Bonham, Texas, where my grandmother was born. I keep finding little details to put this story together.

My grandfather’s parents married in 1876, when my great-grandfather, E.Z. (Ephraim Z.) West married Hattie Artie Mills. My grandfather was born in 1876 in Denton County, Texas. E. Z. and Hattie had two more sons who died young, George at age 8 and John at age 20. E. Z. opened one, possibly two or more, wagon yards, including the West Wagon Yard, in Ardmore and built a house on the property of the wagon yard. The house was on the corner of 1st St SW and E St SW, across from Central Park. My grandfather worked with his father in the wagon yard (kind of an early motel for people coming to town by wagon) until the wagon days were waning due to automobiles and then he went to work for the telephone company, which must have been a pretty new industry.

I’ve seen photos of my grandfather, Ben, mostly at play with other young people or with his lodge. He looks playful and fun and at ease with everyone. In 1915, at the age of 38, he found my 18 year old grandmother, Artie, married her and brought her home. They soon had three children, two boys and a girl, my mother. My grandmother didn’t speak of my grandfather much, but I always think of her telling me how he would get up and start the fire and then wrap her up in a blanket and bring her downstairs. That may be all I need to know about him.

At some point, my grandfather became ill with Bright’s Disease, a kidney disease that could probably easily be cured today. I don’t know how long this lasted, but I know he purchased a small neighborhood grocery store for my grandmother to run after he was gone. Neighborhood groceries were still around when I was a child and they were small, about one room, and located in neighborhoods. I guess they were the first convenience stories. My grandfather died in 1927, leaving his young widow with three children. My great-grandfather had died in 1920, so my great-grandmother was also a widow with only her daughter-in-law and her three grandchildren left. I have a much earlier photo of her, but this is how my mother knew her.Scan 2At some time, between 1930 and 1940 (according to census records), my grandmother moved her family to the house I always associate with her. My great-grandmother owned property around town and made sure that each of her grandchildren owned a house. My mother told me they had dignity during the Depression because they owned their home, even when the gas was turned off. My mother also spent a lot of time with her grandmother and could describe her, her clothing and everything in her house and yard in detail. My great-grandmother died in 1940 so I never got to meet her.

I’ve written about my grandmother before. Her name was Artie but she was so prissy as a child that her brothers nick-named her Dude. She was Mommie Dude to me. She was the cutest thing, always curious, always ready for adventure. With only about a ninth grade education and great strength, she faced the world that was given her. My mother told me once that she thought she never remarried because she was afraid another man might hurt her children. Here she is at the corner of the house in about 1940.Artie West - June 5, 1942My mother left home after high school and sent money home to help her mother for the rest of her life. Mommy went to business school, returning during World War II to work at Ardmore Air Base, where my grandmother worked packing parachutes. My father was a Squadron Commander, a Lt. Colonel, assigned to Ardmore after he had completed his 50 missions, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. They were a glamorous couple when they married and moved to his home in Oklahoma City, where he was in business with his father, brother and brother-in-law.

I was a tiny baby, born at the end of 1945. I was in the hospital for several weeks until I reached 5 pounds. My mother had never been around babies, so she wasn’t surprised when Mommie Dude came to help and ended up taking me home with her. That was the beginning of the bond between us as I was her first grandchild. Until I was married, I spent time in Ardmore with my grandmother and my aunt and uncle, who lived in the house my great-grandparents had lived in until they sold it and moved to a new suburb. My memories of that home are vague, but I remember being in it. When I see photos with a glimpse of the house behind me, I realize how old it was.Scan 1By the time I was 2 1/2, my family had moved to Tulsa and lived in a nice house with modern appliances (well, modern for 1948). We were comfortable, my parents each had a car, and my mother had help with my baby brother and later my sister. It was a different life from my grandmother’s, but I didn’t really think too much about it. I realize now how much I learned from my visits with her.

At some point, my grandmother gave up the neighborhood store. By the time I can remember, she rented out rooms in her house and rooms in another, bigger, two story house across the street from her mother-in-law’s old home. The house I knew had a front porch that I could hardly wait to see. Here is my mother in  about 1940 in front of the house.Scan 63I spent hours alone, with my brother and sister, or with my cousin, swinging on that porch swing, playing on those stairs, catching horned toads in the yard. In the back yard was a pear tree where we ate the juicy fruit right off the branches. She even had chickens for a short time. Her garage was another source of amazement, where we could explore the boxes and trunks. My grandmother also had a wringer washer and a clothesline in the back yard. We had a clothesline at home, but the fun of running clothes through that wringer out in the yard never ended for this kid from the big city. We walked down the street to the ice house for chips of ice in the summer, visited a neighborhood store nearby with the nickels my grandmother gave us, or walked downtown to see the big stores or visit my uncle at First National Bank where he was a clerk and later Vice-President until his health made him retire early.

There was a living room, a bedroom behind it, then the kitchen and a sleeping porch. There was a door with a screen door in the kitchen that led to the hall and the bathroom at the end. I remember one bulb which made the hallway a little dark and scary when I had to walk down there alone. The other side of the hall had rooms, also with screen doors. I can’t remember if there were three or four rooms. These were the rooms that my grandmother rented to older men. I finally got curious enough to ask my mother who the men were way too many years later. She told me they were pensioners. I asked what that meant and she said they were veterans, living on a government pension. There was a porch on the side of the house where they could sit outside. Their rooms were tiny with a bed, chest of drawers and a table, as I remember. I think this is the side porch behind my mother.Scan 58

There was another room at the front of the house that you entered either through the living room or from the hall. My grandmother rented this to a lady for a few years and then reclaimed it for another bedroom. I think it may have been my mother’s room when she lived there. Because of all these people in the house, we weren’t allowed to use more than a few inches of water when we took a bath. At night, my grandmother kept a chamber pot, actually an enamel bowl, under her bed for us to use rather than walking down the hall. I never got used to that.

In the kitchen, my grandmother had the phone on the wall that was used by everyone in the house. It was a party line and I loved to quietly pick it up and listen to the local ladies’ conversations. For all I know, they knew I was listening, but they continued talking anyway. At some point, my grandmother got a black phone like we had at home, which wasn’t nearly as interesting. On the window sill, she had various items, including this little pitcher, which once held syrup, and this small enamel coffee pot. They have been on my kitchen window sill or window shelves as a sweet reminder of those days. I also have my great-grandmother’s coffee grinder.IMG_4267I don’t remember what else my grandmother cooked in that kitchen, but I know she made Kool-Aid and poured it into ice trays before we arrived. We called them squares and we could take a couple of the frozen treats in a bowl to suck on while we pushed ourselves as high as we could on the porch swing. I spent my days listening to her old 78 records or looking through her cedar chest where she kept a fur stole and a tissue wrapped piece of her hair. I don’t know how she got a fur stole and why people kept their hair when it was cut, but it was endlessly fascinating to me. Her cedar chest is in my bedroom. I can’t remember if the fur stole is still in there or not, down at the bottom.

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The other piece of furniture I have from that house is my great-grandmother’s desk, which I have had since I was 12. I need to think about passing that along to one of my granddaughters, if either is interested.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs you can tell, I am more than sentimental about my family. The older I get, the more fascinating their stories are to me because they explain so much about who my parents were and who I became because of my ancestors. I like the links to my ancestors and I like having them around me.

My last vivid memory of my grandmother’s house was soon after I was married and my husband and I stopped by. It was early 1967. We probably didn’t visit much after that, being busy having our own kids and getting our first home and building our life in Tulsa. At some point, my grandmother sold the house and moved to a smaller house a couple of blocks away until she was crippled by Rheumatoid Arthritis, almost overnight, and spent the rest of her life in nursing homes, dying in 1981 in Tulsa. At least my children got to meet her, although they didn’t get the joy of being around her when she was at her best.

With no relatives in Ardmore, I hadn’t returned for years until 2014, when a friend of mine and I made an impulse trip to that area. I started driving around town, finding the cemetery and then the houses my grandmother lived in. I found many familiar places and the memories flooded my mind. My grandmother’s house was looking ragged, but was still standing. When I was taking a photo, someone walked up to me on the street and said it was probably a crack house. The neighborhood had definitely changed, but it had been decades since I had been here. My friend and I ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant downtown before we left. The restaurant was in an old store downtown and the food was good, the people very nice. I didn’t think anything else about it.

Last month, I was driving to Texas and had a glitch in my plans, so I ended up with an unexpected stay in Ardmore. The drive down is different with the Interstate highway. When I was young, we drove through small town after small town until we hit the Arbuckle Mountains with the winding roads and steep drop-offs. Large trucks met us as we drove around the curves cut through the rocks. Here’s an old postcard I found showing part of the road. I have to laugh now since I’ve driven through the Alps and the Rockies, but it was scary to a little girl in the back seat looking down the slopes. IMG_4269Once we got through the Arbuckles, we kept our eyes open for the standpipe, signaling that we were in Ardmore. I can’t tell you how it delights me to see it to this day, even though the highway is located a few blocks away.DSC_0011My summer stop this year left me with an evening of daylight, so I drove to the cemetery and then looked for the houses once again. To my delight, my grandmother’s house looked like someone new had moved in and was taking care of it. The whole neighborhood was starting to look a little better. They closed in the front porch years ago, but I can look at the house from each side and see how it used to look. DSC_0016I have no idea what possessed a 71 year old woman, me, traveling alone to suddenly stop and ring the doorbell. I was greeted by a man who wasn’t unfriendly, but was surprised to see me. I started pouring out the story of my family and the house to him and he took interest. He had to leave and I wasn’t going to intrude, but he asked questions about the house and I told him I would send him some more information. He told me his family had moved to Ardmore from Central American and found the house taped up. I think they were able to get it if they agreed to fix it up.

About a week after I got home, I wrote the family (whose name I didn’t catch, but I knew the address) and sent them a rough drawing (I can’t draw) of the inside of the house as I remembered it and a little history and the few pictures I could find. I thanked them again for taking care of the house that had meant so much to me.

This week, I received a letter from the 21 year old son of the family. First of all, how many 21 year old boys would write to a stranger, an old stranger at that? I was immediately touched. He told me the story of his family’s move to America in 2015 from El Salvador, where it had become too unsafe and too economically insecure to stay. I can’t imagine what it took to make that decision. His family consists of his father, mother, and three sons, ages 25, 21, and 19.

The oldest son is a computer programmer and has taken some courses in Oklahoma City since moving here. The middle son, the one who wrote me, had a year of college in El Salvador, studying electrical engineering. He is trying to get into college here and is studying to get his ACT scores high enough to get a full scholarship. He has set a goal for himself and is sure he can reach it. The youngest son just graduated from high school as the Valedictorian (after being here only two years). The mother happens to work in the Mexican restaurant where my friend and I had eaten and makes the tortillas and cleans the tables. The father works as a handyman, learning new skills which are helping him with the house remodel. All the boys have jobs in either restaurants or other places around town. Here’s the family.family - Version 2

In a year when I have questioned what is happening to our country, when I have wondered how I can make a difference or help or educate myself or do something, this is a pretty strong reminder of what America is all about. My relatives on my mother’s side made their way from Europe and worked their way across the south farming until they ended up in Indian Territory before it was Oklahoma. When the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and all the other hard times of the 1930s and then the War in the 1940s came to test this young widow and her children further, they found a safe haven in their home in Ardmore, where they took care of each other with love and hard work through those years until the children all grew up into productive adults with very nice lives.

Decades passed and that house still stood strong with who knows what families moving in and out. When the house was about at the end of its use, this lovely family arrived in America with new hopes and dreams. They reached out to me with warm hearts and open arms, inviting me to come see the house and meet them in person. The photos they sent show me the work they have done on the house and how delightful it is. Although I can see where walls have been knocked out through the years (such as from the kitchen to the sleeping porch), I could recognize certain things. The kitchen sink is right where it always was and those may be the original cabinets. I knew that spot in my heart immediately.

As my new friend wrote, “We are working little jobs right now because we just haven’t had the opportunity to do something bigger, but we’re making our lives change little by little and one day we’ll be in a better position.” Isn’t that what America offers all of us – the chance to work and make our lives better?

I now have an email, so I wrote back immediately. My new young friend sent me photos of the family, their cat, and the inside of the house. I reciprocated with some of my own family. The photos show a home much like any of ours, including one of a birthday party of his brother where the Santa placemats on the table are similar to some I have and the cake looks like one we would have in our family. We aren’t different at all when you look at it.

Of course, I’m going to find a time to visit again when all of our schedules allow us to be together. A line jumped out at me from the return email I received.

“Is nice to know that there are still nice people in this world!”

Isn’t it?

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.