Monthly Archives: June 2012

Happy Birthday to me

While I was on vacation, I drove past a milk farm. It was like many milk farms in South Dakota except for one big difference: this milk farm invited paying “guests” to stay at the farm and help with the milking chores. What brilliant soul came up with this ingenious plan!

I was thinking about it today, as I was swabbing away in my spare bedroom downstairs,otherwise known as “Stefanie’s Room.” I have been painting in there for a few days and it’s been quite a lot of work, considering I painted floor, trim and walls. It occured to me that instead of doing that, I should have had a “painting party” where people would pay a cover charge at the door to come in and paint for all the iced tea they could drink. Oh, well, too late now; I’ve finished. If you happen to come and take a look at it, you will be required to say that you like the color, whether you do or not. I’m not going to change it anytime soon!

It may seem a strange way to spend a birthday, painting a bedroom, but I found it very therapeudic. I actually celebrated my birthday with my children last weekend, so getting something constructive done around the house seemed like a good plan. I had a chance to get a chore done that I hadn’t been looking forward to, and I had a chance to do some thinking; make some decisions.

Most people do New Year’s Resolutions. I, prefering to be different, make my resolutions on my birthday. This year, the theme of my resolutions is less and more.

I plan to spend more time enjoying my children and grandchildren and less time trying to figure out how to run their lives. I worry more about what they are doing than I do enjoying the very wonderful qualities they possess and the very wonderful time I get with them. Even as I think about them, I can’t help but smile–how lucky I am to have them!

I plan to be less attached to television and more willing to write. I love writing, but sometimes, television gets in the way. There’s little of worth or value on the major networks. Who wants to watch another situation comedy which is mostly about cutting other people down, or another cursed “reality show,” which is nothing but an insult to my intelligence. In between those are the commercials, first telling me what I can take for my latest ailment (accompanied by a mile-long list of the completely unacceptable side effects) and then telling me who I can sue because, surprise, surprise, some of these medications are worse than the disease they purport to cure!

I end up watching the old reruns, which as enjoyable as they are, I have seen before. Less television and more time writing. I love to write and I’m in the middle of a book about a South Dakota town, while I am busily begging book agents to ignore the fact that they’ve never heard of me and read the book I already have completed. Believe it or not, this is a fun and enjoyable process; I just need to do more of it and be less annoyed by television!

I want to spend less money on material things and more on charity or in other places it might do some good. I cleaned my refrigerator and was appalled by the number of spoiled things I threw out. I need to be as careful as I can not to waste food in a world where so many are starving and try to distribute more to people who need it. What I buy should be immediately useful and there will be less waste. I don’t feel guilty about having enough of the world’s goods to survive, but I do think I have an obligation to help others if I can.

I have all of the usual more exercise and less eating resolutions. The older I get, the more important it seems to preserve my health. However, one thing that would improve my health would be if the amount of propaganda would reduce. I think George Washington was a true prophet because he predicted that the advent of political parties in the government would cause rifts that would harm the nation. If I have to look at one more political piece of rhetoric from Democrats, Republicans or any other party I may spontaneously combust. So this year, I’m making it my goal to be less attentive to those who are telling me what is wrong and who to blame and be more attentive to what can be done to make our nation healthy, solid and forward-moving.

Perhaps it was the smell of the paint, or the day of solitary introspection, but whatever it was, I’m grateful for the conclusions I have made. I had a good day, a happy day and now, I have all my resolutions set and a newly-painted bedroom besides. I can’t do better than that!

 

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Wrapping it up

Vacation is drawing to a close and as always, I become a bit introspective about the way it has gone. This has been one of our better vacations in many ways. We had one bad day there, when the phone died, but for the majority of the trip it has been informational, interesting and just plain enjoyable.

I have always journaled about my trips around the country and I have really enjoyed this new way of doing so. And although I have enjoyed the trip, it is not my favorite–as a matter of fact, it is not even second. I guess that means my trips have all been pretty high level.

 I’ve always hated to travel, but with the death of my sister several years ago (who listed not getting around to enough places as one of her chief regrets), I decided it was time to put aside my prejudices about traveling and get into the spirit. Since then, I have been to all 50 states except Hawaii and I have no desire to go there.

These last two days have been less eventful than the rest of the trip, but we did get up to Lake Tahoe, where we took a ski gondola to the top of the mountain (those who know about my fear of heights will appreciate that I did it) so that we could get a breathtaking view of Lake Tahoe below us. I strongly recommend that. We have spent our last two nights on the road at a casino in Reno, even though we are not much for gambling. We wandered around last night, watching the games being played but not being enough of gamesters ourselves to play.

Today, we took the trip out to Donner Pass to learn about the ill-fated Donner Party who could have better been called the Murphy’s Law party because everything that could go wrong with those poor people on their trip, did. They are a tribute to human endurance and I admire their courage and fortitude. I have no judgements on the extreme measures they took to keep alive–indeed, no one, including me, who was not in their place, can ever know what we would do. After that sobering trip, we went into the mountains to visit Virginia City (hello Cartwrights?) to learn about the silver strike and the Comstock Lode. We found little history, but in fact an ancient mining town greatly resemblilng the town of Deadwood in my own state of South Dakota. I regret to say that interesting as the sight of the tourist town was, I wouldn’t recommend it to history lovers. The other thing I found out is that apparently, the Cartwrights never lived near Virginia City! How devastating!

We head home tomorrow, happy to return to our family, but with a lot of new sights and sounds to take in. All in all, I’d have to say my favorite parts were the visit I had with my cousin Bryan and Ruth, his wife, the visit to Alcatraz, the visit to Manzanar and Lone Pine and the informational site at Donner Pass.

I leave this trip with one final thought and that’s for the people who, like me, depend on public transport and hotel living to go on trips: it might be a good idea to throw your cell phones in your pockets, because there’s a lot out there you’re missing when you’re messing with your phones and a lot of your conversations are not meant for my ears, but I can’t escape them!

South Dakota, prepare yourself, because here I come!

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Manzanar is a sobering reminder

Manzanar, according to my information, is a charming Spanish word meaning “apple orchard.” It was the name of a small east-central California town which flourished at the beginning of the 20th century. Before Manzanar, the land was used by Paiute Indians, who were forcibly removed to make way for agricultural settlement. The town is gone completely today, but it is not a place remembered for its apple orchards.

In December of 1941, the Japanese Empire declared war forcefully  on the United States by their air strike on the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was, as President Franklin Roosevelt soon declared, a “day that would live in infamy.” Unfortunately, that was not the only one, as many Americans of Japanese ancestry living on the west coast soon found out. Nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans were relocated from the West Coast of the United States to “relocation settlements” set up by the American military. And approximately ten thousand of those Japanese Americans, guilty only of their ancestry, were uprooted from their homes, given bare minimum of time to dispose of their worldly possessions and taken to a hostile piece of the California desert known as Manzanar.

Two thirds of these people were natural-born citizens of the United States of America. Many of the rest who were not citizens, were not citizens because they had been forbidden that citizenship because they were “not white.”

Insisting that the move was voluntary and these camps were in no way concentration camps, public officials tried to settle the jittery nerves of a nation under attack. They did not, however, give enough consideration to the jittery nerves they inspired in the relocated Japanese-Americans at Manzaner and other camps. The internees were told repeatedly that they were being relocated for their own protection. But, as one internee put it later, “it was soon apparent that the military guards were standing facing us with their weapons, not facing away from us for our protection.”

Incredibly, the Japanese Americans managed to re-establish their lives under the worst of conditions. Fenced in by miles of wire and living in barracks ill-designed for protection from the weather or privacy of any kind, they set up schools, social events such as dances, movies, etc. and sporting events. Many of the internees were visited in the camps by their military sons, boys serving in the United States army and fighting in segregated units in the European theatre, proving their loyalty again and again to a nation who time and circumstances had caused to regard them with distrust.

Not much remains of Manzanar today, but a few poignant reminders of the high cost of war. An auditorium houses a museum dedicated to the story of these Americans–who were proud to point out that not one of their number was ever charged with espionage. A guard tower, one of six that once surrounded the camp, stands alone today, a mute reminder of a scene of shame played out in the harsh deserts of America.

During the administration of President Ronald Reagan, restitution and an apology were issued to the remaining survivors of the internment camps. For many, the apology was the far more important part of the recognition. Perhaps Reagan said it best when he said that the authorities were responding in what they thought was the best way they could, but, “it was a mistake.” I agree, and I also believe it is important that Manzanar serve as a reminder to us all what panic can do to a free people.

 

 

 

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Yosemite Sam I ain’t

The time had to arrive in this trip where I would have to get in contact with my naturalist side. This never goes well and it didn’t go well this time either. And it actually started off on rather a high note.

My cousin Bryan should seriously consider writing a travel book some day. He made a number of suggestions while we were at his house as to what we should see and every one of his ideas has proved a good one. Just because they all have to do with nature…and getting out and walking…a lot…that shouldn’t be his fault, right?

We got up on Sunday morning in an interesting little town called Merced, California. It is, in my opinion, a place of high sophistication and culture. This means, of course, that they had an Applebees and a Barnes and Noble and that I got to go to both of them. I was to look back on that place with a great deal of fondness!

Leaving there, however, meant we were on the trail of Yosemite Sam and his ilk as we made our way into the southern entrance of Yosemite National Park. I try to be a good sport about national parks, but the truth is, they are loaded with…well…with nature things and I just don’t get into that.

We did have a really good stop at the Sequoia site. These giant trees, so huge around, are really fascinating. They are fire resistant, but they can be killed by too many people tromping all over their roots. This was enlightening as well as interesting. We rode in a tram all around the park, however, stopping to look at these massive beauties along the way. That was most agreeable with me. I got a sunburn in San Franscico, so I decided to start religiously using my umbrella to block the sun. That meant sitting in the very last seat of the very last car and that was a rough ride. My back and arms were bruised by the time we said goodbye to the sequoias, but at least I didn’t have to hike and I didn’t have a sunburn!

Traveling into the park, we took another of Bryan’s suggestions by stopping at Glacier Point. This was a side trip that we don’t normally take, but we were pretty glad we took this one. It was a majestic, outstanding view, but we did have to hike a little ways. It was a very long way looking down to the base of those mountains into Yosemite Valley. Roy took a picture of the swimming pool at the camp where we were staying that night, from the very long way up.

We did stop at one water fall on our way to Camp Curry, our home for the night. Then, we made our way into the camp, where there were private tents, tents that they set up on permanent frames and cabins.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am not a camper. We don’t own a private tent and I was not about to stay in a framed up tent of theirs, especially at the price they charged. The only thing left was the even more expensive cabins. We took one of those.

After standing for about 30 minutes in the registration line, we were able to get up to the desk. In the meantime, we had read about 20 warnings about the bears in the area. While we were registering, they had us read some materials which began, “Please be bear aware. Our bears are very smart.” All I could think of was Yogi….smarter than the average bear. Apparently, bears at this campground had the same agenda as Yogi–they were out to steal pick-a-nick baskets!

By the time they were done warning us about what not to leave in the cars and what not to leave on the floor of the cabin, we were a little too bear aware. I no longer wanted to walk up the path to the cabin!

After an inelegant, but serviceable supper, Roy decided we needed to catch one of the public busses in the park (yes, they’re just like the big cities out there) and find one of the waterfalls nearby. Suffice it to say that between the bear warnings and the hike, there was some danger of Roy or I not surviving (mostly because we were each tempted to kill each other). But more on that when I write my column for the paper this weekend!

Two hours and a million years later, we staggered back to our cabin…our high-priced cabin, whose only amenities appeared to be that it had hard sides (so the bears might not get in) and indoor plumbing! No television, no Internet and lights so dim it was difficult to see, let alone read. We flopped onto the beds, which were easily bought at the estate sale of Fred and Wilma Flintstone!

A hard night on hard beds and with one, tiny fan and we were ready to go. To quote the disappointed fiance of the “Parent Trap” twins, “Let me out of this stinking fresh air!”

 

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So there you are, Grandpa!

I never knew my Grandfather Wells, he died before I was born. I did, however, have years to get to know my Grandfather Wehunt and that was one phenomenal man.

I don’t know what his early life was like; he never talked about it with us. I do know that from the time I was old enough to remember, this gentle, genial man from the Ozarks was the world’s best grandfather. He would swoop in, and we would all just love to be with him, whatever he was doing.

It wasn’t until I was eight or so, that someone said, “He’s your step-grandfather, isn’t he?” I didn’t know what that meant, I didn’t realize that he was my grandmother’s second husband. I just thought a step-grandfather was someone extra special.

He was a part of my life until his death in 1985, just shortly after my grandmother had died and after my oldest daughter was born. He was such a sucker for children; and I was looking forward to my children getting to know this most wonderful of grandfathers, but he was dead, suddenly, at the age of 68.

He was visiting family when he died, so he was buried in California, and not in Washington with my grandmother. And while we knew where her grave was, I was unable to attend his funeral, nor was any of my immediate family and so, the place where he was buried was unclear to us. It made me sad to think about it, in a way it felt like I had been disconnected from him.

On this trip, one of the things I researched was the possibility that he might be buried somewhere along the route we were taking. Sure enough, his death notice said he was buried in a small town outside of Lodi and I determined I would go to see it, see if I could find my grandpa again.

We found the cemetery without much difficulty. Out in the country, it did not resemble many of the cemeteries I have seen, Where most of the grave-grounds in South Dakota are green and grass-covered, the intense heat of California made grass impractical. Graves were cement or gravel or just dirt-covered and a small sign outside the gate warned, “Beware of rattlesnakes.” I like to think the taken aback feeling that gave me would have tickled my grandfather’s sense of humor. I could almost hear his southern drawl cackling in my ears as I started cautiously down the center of that small cemetery, searching the headstones.

I veered to the right and Roy veered to the left, but Roy finally discovered his headstone, right down the center of the yard. There it was, “Jess Wehunt” written on a beautiful gray stone, surrounded by the members of his family who had joined him there.

I stood by his grave, which had been decorated with some flowers by some good soul and looked out over the vineyards surrounding the cemetery, to the mountains beyond them. And I felt suddenly, that my connection with him wasn’t missing after all. I had found him again, revived all his spirit and all his warmth and vitality, which he had shared with me over the years.

My husband and I sat there for a little while, sharing our thoughts and memories of him as we studied the small graveyard. Then, it was time to go, to continue on our journey. Instead of feeling sad, I was smiling as I headed down the road. I had all those years of this phenomenal man and now, in a sort of closure, I know where his earthy remains are commemorated and remembered. There you are, Grandpa, I have rediscovered you, and I am content!

 

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Sacramento in my memories…

I’ve been to so many state capitals over the past few years, I thought there couldn’t be anything special about them anymore. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when I arrived in Sacramento. My cousin Bryan and his lovely wife Ruth put us up and they did so graciously, considering we got there hours late.

After spending too long talking the first night, we slept in on Friday morning and then took Bryan and Ruth out to breakfast. It was enjoyable to catch up with a relative that I have had so little time with since we grew  up and we grew up on two adjacent farms in Brown County, South Dakota. That was a long time ago and we both agree it’s hard to remember those days clearly. It was still fun to visit about them.

Roy and I took off for downtown Sacramento about mid-morning. On Ruth’s  (the California native) recommendation, we tried out Old Sutter’s fort. This fascinating recreation of the original Sutter’s Fort outlined the life of Swiss immigrant John Sutter in his quest for a meaningful purpose to his life. As you walked from display to display, motion-sensitive audio tapes gave a meaningful and interesting talk about the fort, detailing among other things the fact that it was from this fort that rescue parties were attempted to bring the Donner party out of their winter trap in the mountains.

Sutter attempted to set up a sawmill quite some distance to the north of this fort and upon the discovery of gold at that sawmill, he lost all of his workers and eventually, his thriving business of the fort was dissolved.

After Sutter’s Fort, we went to the California Museum, also in downtown Sacramento. This was an excellent museum with a bewildering amount of information. Two of the displays we found the most interesting were the Japanese relocation in World War II and the Tuskegee Airman exhibits.

We also visited the State Capital building downtown. Although we did not go inside, it was a beautiful sight, and just what you would expect: a white building gleaming in the sun with palm trees against its walls and lining the paths. The perfect setting!

After these views, we left downtown Sacramento and went north to Coloma, where Sutter built his famous sawmill. Although we missed the museum, we were able to see the recreated sawmill next to the creek of gold and a recreated cabin in which John Marshall stayed and where he was living when he discovered the gold. An audio at the cabin was very interesting in its descriptions of the people.

Having been very late for supper on Thursday night, we were determined to be at Bryan and Ruth’s early on Friday night. We arrived in time for a delicious supper served by Ruth and at which we had the chance to meet her sister, who was in town.

I went shopping with Ruth and her sister to get myself some books, as I am now without my Kindle (wonder who is to blame for that.) We had another wonderful visit with Bryan and Ruth that evening. I know Bryan’s a little nervous, now, since he knows I can find his house! Seriously, it was with reluctance that we ate another fabulous meal that Ruth fixed and left them this morning, with a renewed reminder of how important family is.

 

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Technology day-for better or worse

I sometimes wonder how we survived and traveled in the days before instantaneous communication and how we entertained ourselves at all. I had a chance to ponder this on our first day on the road after San Franscico.

After renting a car, we headed out of the city over the Golden Gate Bridge. I have to admit, I’d have been a little disappointed to leave there any other way. It was cool to drive on the bridge and  take pictures of its bronze suspension system at the same time.

We traveled north out of the bay area because we wanted to see the redwoods of Miur Woods. While I’m not much of a naturalist, I have to admit that these trees, not always so huge around, were definitely taller than anything I’d ever seen. You have to have some respect for the fortitude of trees that can withstand anything nature throws at them and which have been doing that since before the United States was formed.

From the Miur Woods we went further north to Point Reyes, which is about as far out on the coastline of California as you can go without a boat. It was on the way up to Point Reyes that our first indication came that our technology could fail us. The cell phone, which had seemed to be enough charged for the day in San Francisco, gave us a warning beep that the battery was low. Not a problem, we could just get the car charger out and plug it in…except the car charger was in our car….back home. We turned it off, hoping to conserve power and continued on our way.

Point Reyes was beautiful. Again, I’m not a naturalist, but this area of coastline was beautiful. We traveled along through historic ranches (simply the people who are actually living and working cattle out there) and made out way out to the lighthouse at the point.

We stopped along the way to try and spot sea lions and the wind off the ocean was stronger than a South Dakota blizzard…indeed, there was sand blowing in finger drifts across the road, much like snow. While it wasn’t as a cold a wind as a blizzard, it sent a chill through us and we sprinted back to the car for jackets.

We finally reached the fartherest that we could drive and got out to the sight and sound of the ocean waves pounding the shore far below the cliff we were on. The wind was so strong and so constant up there that trees were growing sideways instead of straight up. The tops of the trees appeared to be pointing out to the ocean instead of up to the sky! There was some more climbing “up” to get to the tip of the cliff. Indeed, it seemed we climbed a long way in a cold gale.

When we reached the outpost viewing platform, we could see the ocean before us and the lighthouse below us–300 steps down. That, of course, meant you would also have 300 steps back up. Given the fact that this is considered one of the windiest spots in the country (regular winds at 40 mph and gusts of up to 100) about the time we got there, they were closing the steps because the wind was so strong they were afraid of people literally being blown off of them or down them! I was not sorry, but I think Roy was disappointed.

We came back and then took another car route out to see some more sea lions. This is where the second technology blunder came: Roy went walking out with the camera and I decided to stay at the car and perhaps read the last chapter of the book I had been following on my Kindle. Guess what? No Kindle. I tore that car apart, went through every bag and suitcase and finally had to come to the realization that I had actually left my Kindle in San Francisco.

I immediately tried to call the motel and, either there was no power or no signal on the telephone. Roy came back with great pictures and stories of the sea lions, but we were a little dampened by the possible loss of my reading books…on my Kindle!

Back on the main road, we were miraculously able to get the telephone to work. We called the motel and those wonderful people had already found the Kindle and were making arrangements to ship it back to me.

Feeling a little better, we headed on down the road towards Sacramento, where we were supposed to spend the evening and night with my cousin. We had a late start, and were hurrying along on what we thought was the shortest route when we came across the mother of all traffic jams. There we sat, locked in traffic that refused to move (and we were in the middle of the countryside) and we knew that my cousin and his wife were expecting us for dinner. Nothing to do but call them.

The third technology issue: the phone, which had eased our minds about the Kindle had apparently given its all, because it wouldn’t even turn on! So there we sat, buried in traffic, with the clock telling us we were now officially late, and no way to let them know that we were not just inconsiderate slobs!

We finally broke out of the traffic jam, but it forced us to go miles out of our way. We were actually considerng the possibility of stopping and offering some gas station employee five dollars to borrow their phone, when we reached a town with a decent-sized fast food selection.

And that’s where technology saved us. I found a restaurant with free wireless and was able to get my computer up (and it was none too well charged) and contact people through e-mail.

We finally made it – very late – to my cousin’s house, with many apologies for our tardiness. They were understanding, But technology has become incredibly important to the traveler of the modern world. We charged our cell phone and our computer and we made sure we had all the proper cords for our GPS. Traveling is most definitely not the Wells-Fargo stagecoach anymore! Now if only I had my Kindle so I could read in the car….

 

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