A child’s garden of mind travel

I think one reason travel doesn’t interest me is that real travel can never measure up to the trips I took in my imagination to those faraway places. That and the fact that I’m afraid to fly and don’t like crowds. ~J. Michael Orenduff

My great-aunt Margaret used to take me to what were called travelogues. Basically they were what would now be a video about some faraway and maybe exotic place in the world. These were, however, movies made for and shown on “the big screen.” The venue was a building called Hoyt Sherman Place. It was once the palatial home of pioneer and businessman Hoyt Sherman and had, among other niceties, a theater. Parts of it have been open to the public since the late 1800’s. Anyway we went on Wednesday nights to view films about other countries and cities. Aside from the special warmth I felt being out with my aunt, I was fascinated by the travelogues.

I’m sure there was one about Holland. Well, I’d been to Pella Iowa and seen the tulips. And I’d been to Tama  for the Indian pow-wows (before they became commercialized), and The Dells and what sites to me, then, were exotic enough.

Perhaps, as Orenduff says, my imagined travels are better than the actual thing of it. I am not, like him, afraid of flying. I love it. I do not like crowds.


Keep those wheels o’rollin’

I’ve done a lot of traveling. You must know by now my husband and I love road trips. Usually we keep to state highways and little used back roads, but on our latest venture because the destination, not the journey, was the important thing, we took to interstates.  This meant we traveled with trucks…big trucks…semi’s.  We travelled 3700 plus miles through eleven states and saw, I am sure with no exaggeration, hundreds of thousands of trucks.

We saw trucks with logos which made it pretty easy to guess their cargo. UPS, Fed Ex, Staples, HEB, Moving vans, Dollar Store, US Mail trucks, that sort of thing. We saw cattle being hauled and we saw so, so many unlabeled trucks you had NO IDEA what was inside. We saw tractors trailing tractors backward. For those unfamiliar with the terms…The tractor is the front where the engine and the cab with the driver is and where 10 of the 18 wheels are. The trailer is the back, the box or flatbed that holds the cargo and which cannot move on its own.

We saw car carriers, boat carriers, squashed-car carriers, pick-up carriers, Maserati carriers with each vehicle carefully shielded in its own monogrammed cover! We saw tankers, milk tankers, chemical tankers, gas tankers, oil tankers. We saw an unknown but HUGE number of flatbeds loaded with strange, secretive shaped mounds covered with plastic or tarps. Travel with me as I list  some of the stuff I saw on those that held their cargo open to view:  lumber, PVC pipe, steel pipe, rusted pipe, farm tractors, farm equipment, huge road building equipment, tires large and small, one tire so HUGE it had the truck to itself, equipment the function of which I have NO CLUE, manifolds for pipelines, assorted valves, a convoy of wind turbine blades…one to a truck,  another convoy with sections of the towers…one to a truck, over-size loads of house trailers, a double-wide, strangest of all was a SUBWAY CAR…until we realized we were close to an exit that would lead that particular truck to New York or Washington, (some states require escort cars for over loads, some don’t it seems), solar panels, golf cart under carriages, auto chassis, fertilizer, bags of unnamed somethings, small travel trailers, camper shells for pick-ups, the crane part of cranes, rusted cars obviously destined for the junk yard, HUGE spools of cable and wire…rollin’, rollin’, rollin’…

Artful meandering around in paint and poetry

“The instinctive need to transform experience into image is a mysterious phenomenon.”

Thus read a sentence by Roxana Robinson in her book about Georgia O’Keeffe.*

At first reading it struck me that Robinson probably has never experienced that need else she could not have written that sentence. Or perhaps she used mysterious to mean inexplicable. But obviously she has recognized  it in observation else she would not have used the word phenomenon. This is not at all mysterious to me as one who has often felt, but not always indulged the feeling.

I used to do it. As a child I carried a large sketch pad around with me. I distinctly remember a family picnic that included my Great-Grandma Margaret. She wore a dress—which she probably made—with demur stripes in the fabric. She sat on a picnic table bench. I think facing out with her legs towards the park, not under the table. This may be faulty memory, but it doesn’t matter. The thing is I drew a sketch of her that way. I also remember drawing a picture of a red-tailed hawk which were plentiful in Iowa prairies and parks.

Granted these drawings were not great, maybe not even good, but they and others were part and parcel of my attempt to exchange experience for memory. Somewhat like a photographer does in snapping the shutter on a camera. I lament the loss of that sketch-book. Heaven only knows if I tossed it or mom did. She saved the oddest things from my childhood I discovered when she showed stuff she had kept. None of my drawings  were in the box.

Somewhere along the road to adulthood I stopped doing that. I did start turning visuals into poems because of  a poetry session in junior high school. The teacher was a Miss Evans. She gave one of my assignments a C and I asked why. “Because you can do better,” was her answer and I loved her for that. Alas none of those poems survive.

But I have since done many paintings and pen and ink drawings. I do now write poetry.   One perfect example of the experience into image…once I  learned the art of Haiku with its subject, action and break…

gymnast walking

a sunlight beam

cutting edges

So I see the “instinctive need to transform experience into image” as a means of controlling one’s environment, a means of self-expression, an outlet for emotion and, at least for some, a gift intended to bring joy, pleasure and perhaps inspiration to the recipient. Beyond that the method and mode belong subjectively to the individual.

*Robinson, Roxana. Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life (Kindle Location 463). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.

Confessions of a beaten child

Throughout the nineteenth century, corporal punishment was a standard form of child discipline in English institutions…for Charlie it was an experience with authority he never forgot or forgave.

One reason why Chaplin’s screen character’s ass-kicking antics in those early films were so immensely popular with early-twentieth-century moviegoers is that they resonated unconsciously with his audiences’ personal experiences with that universal child-rearing practice….Charlie made them laugh until their sides split. Given our current penchant for gentler forms of child discipline, it is not surprising that the Little Tramp’s crude comic antics have lost much of their freshness and charm for twenty-first-century audiences. In fact it would not be surprising if many of today’s parents would strenuously object to their children viewing many of those early one- and two-reelers that first made Chaplin world famous by 1915, because they contain too much of what is known in modern educational parlance as gratuitous violence. ~Weissman, Stephen. Chaplin: A Life.

Although I understand the author’s statements, my personal experience has not made me laugh at Chaplin’s film expressions of punishment.

I was beaten on my behind with a belt more times than I can remember. I cried and hollered and got beaten harder for it. One time humiliation was added to the drama by being asked to drop my underwear…with other people in the room! I recall having the same response Chaplin is quoted as having: “They tried to break my spirit…” he recalled, but “they never succeeded.”

Decades later I came to understand much of the beating had more to do with the belt-wielder’s anger than with anything I had done. Unfortunately that understanding came too late to not affect my raising my own children. No I did not beat them, but my “unbroken spirit” lashed out often in inappropriate ways.

Charlie never forgave or forgot. He used his films as outlets. I have forgiven because I realized one day I cannot live with resentment or anger, but I have not forgotten.

Inexplicable mom mysteries

I don’t know what my mother did all day. She did sleep because I’d catch her at it, head down on her chest, eyes closed, only to fly open, startled when she realized she wasn’t alone. I guess she went to the grocery store. We were never out of food. And I guess she did laundry. There were always clean clothes on the dining room table, heaped there fresh from the dryer, waiting for the owners to come rescue them.
She must have gone to bed at some point…there are six of us kids…but mostly she said her sleeplessness at night was a leftover habit from staying awake to keep the rats from getting at me when I was a baby. I knew this was too short a time to become a habit because grandpa made her live with he and grandma until dad got home from the war. Grandpa’s house didn’t have rats.
I found out later she thought sex was only duty and after once, well, what more was there.
One morning I found mom asleep on the screened in back porch with a pack of dad’s Winstons and a book of matches on the table beside her. It was good for a chuckle, but deep down I felt a pang of sympathy for her. Was she trying to see what my dad got from smoking? Was she hoping to join in..be more likable to him? Had dad left them there himself and gone to bed alone?
Much, much later I found out from mom herself that she had always wanted to learn to fly an airplane. She never voiced that desire while dad was alive because she’d never do anything to compete with him. Why did she see it as competition? Same with bowling. She would have been a better bowler. She never would have matched his flying, him having been a B-26 pilot and instructor. But she would have liked the accomplishment.

Only 8 lessons, not the usual 10… I learned from dad…In no particular order except for #1…

1. Be Honest. NEVER LIE. It’s a family thing. All 6 of us know it to a fault.

2. Always have a bandaid in your pocket or purse. We all know this one, too.

3. Always have phone money. Of course this was long before mobile phones or cell phones. I imagine today he would advise to keep my cell charged.

4. Take care of your appearance. No chipped fingernail polish. No unkempt nails or hair. Piercing never came up but boy, would he be upset with some of today’s “looks.”

5. Inadvertently he let his ego show me his acceptance of the status quo. I asked him once about mom working. I remember his answer as if it was yesterday, “Oh, she can work, but then she won’t be MY wife.” Strangely it was okay for me to work. Maybe not so strange. Once I started working [at 14] it took some financial burden off of him because I started buying my own clothes and stuff.

6. If you’re going to be using cabs in unfamiliar cities  get a map ahead of time and study to and from routes. That way cab drivers can’t scam you by taking longer routes. I didn’t dare ask him if he said this from personal experience, but it stood me in good stead one time as I was returning home late at night from an out of state trip, tired, frustrated by delays, overbooked planes, having to be at work in the morning, and angry my dad was dead and mom just accused my son of doing drugs…yeah at 10 years old…in her bathroom yet!Anyway, the taxi driver started a very circuitous route which quickly became fast and short when I asked him why he didn’t take the GW Parkway.

7. Take the road less traveled. But be aware and cautious. He was teaching me to drive. We were out away from traffic. I started down a road wondering aloud something like where does this go? His answer was he didn’t know, but I had my foot in the right place. It was on the brake.

8. Fun need not be expensive. Some of my best memories are of  drives out to the airport, parking at the boundary fence and watching the planes take off and land.


We chased fire trucks once, but I didn’t like that. He had some reason for that one, but I don’t remember what it was. We also went out to Resthaven Cemetery, I suppose for dad to check in with his relatives, but we always stopped by the pond to watch the swans. They were still there until two years ago. Water Works Park [actually a reservoir for the city] was another favorite-out-doors-run-around-picnic spot.


Hot times in the old towns of yesteryear chapter 2

(Chapter 1 was posted June 29, 2016)

Chapter 2: Looking for dad and finding Northern Lights

Previously in Hot Times…

On the way to see Sister Sue in Missouri, Pam and Gene were hijacked by the discovery of family history in Council Grove, KS.

We told my sister and then husband how we had ended up in Council Grove Kansas and had found some information about Gene’s dad, but nothing terribly useful to a genealogical search.

Sue had lined up stuff for us to do but that got scrapped in the excitement of an adventure called “let’s go to the capital and see what we can find in vital records.”

Topeka being only a one hour drive from Kansas City, gave us time to catch up with each other’s doings without becoming a boring “are we there yet,” trip.

Without boring you with our search through census records and up and down stairs to various records offices, I will say we found enough to know we would someday continue the search because now we had names and dates to look up. And we did end up with a copy of Gene’s dad’s birth certificate.

By the time we left Topeka it was dark enough to make the passing landscape unintelligible…Until…A SHOUT from Sue to stop the car jerked us all to attention. We looked. Red filled the sky as far as we could see. We got out of the car, necks craned upward. We gawked…speechless. Northern lights in Kansas? Yes, that is possible, but we didn’t know the why or how of it then. We just watched the curtains rise and fall, open and close, rise and fall, open and close until the show was over.

I think there was a lot of oohing and awing on the way home.

I wrote this poem about it.

Kansas by Candlelight (Northern)                                           ©PCL 1985

Picture this:

Thousands of paint buckets

full of indescribable scarlet hue

sitting heavenly-high,theatre-seat-tidy.

From beyond where man can be

an angel dressed in joy dances through unseen clouds

and dominoes those lidless buckets by perfect pirouette.

One by one, across the ink washed sky they spill,

each container saluting its contents earthward.

But heavenly paint is not the ordinary sort

Of course cohesion is apparent,

yet this is not the magma spread of gooey, earthy stuff.

SRO in awe as we witness

a slow motion silky dance

unfold curtains of sanguine gossamer veils.

Having flung this panoramic splendor across our view

the angel tiptoes now as if to leave stage right.

But! The bucket emptied are never empty.

The thought remains a rich reward

visible to earth-dimmed hearts.


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