Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fish Tales and Adulthood

I'm visiting the Texas State Aquarium alone today. I go where I want, when I want. And as often as I want. Well, not really.

I'm dodging two classes of high school kids on a field trip. And one group of junior-high school girls and boys. The tweener girls all dress alike, gather in gaggles and giggle. The tweener boys walk into walls.

The high school kids blend naturally as coeds, and they carry school papers with lots of blanks for them to fill in, so they crowd around signs, tanks ad docents eager for answers to pencil in.

I hang on their periphery, enjoying them enjoying themselves. Until I come to the seahorse exhibit. And then I merge with them. I become a teen again.

We (me and three high school girls) seek out ghost shrimp and seashorse in an interactive exhibit that has a plastic bubble inside the tank. One at a time, we can crawl under the tank and stick our head up inside that bubble to become one with the seahorse community.

The girls go first. One at a time. We giggle and chat as they scramble down onto the floor and then pop up inside that bubble. And we take pictures. And giggle some more. Now it's my turn.

I get down on the floor and scoot, not scramble under the tank and, and slowly rise, not pop, until my head is partway inside the bubble and a distorted watery world unfolds along with a faint odor of chewing gum.

My legs cramp and I'm bent in such a way I can't breathe too well. Enough.

I lower myself slowly to the floor, then use a granny handle to lug myself back up outside the tank. Where I discover I'm alone again. They left me.

Memories of teenage angst assault my psyche. And they make me smile, because now I'm all grown up. And I no longer need to adapt, to change in ways that make me melt into the crowd.

So I'm happy to be alone again. To go where I want, and when I want as just me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A New Favorite Place To Dine

I love Thai food.

We've driven past the Bangkok Star Restaurant on Padre Island, Texas, many times and each time I yearn to turn in. But Allen prefers steak, hamburgs and french fries, so we don't swing in for Thai, Chinese or even Italian very often.

But today I'm alone, and it's lunchtime, and I want Thai. So I pull in. Park. And go inside.

It's small inside. So I feel huge. Vast. Immense.

There's a petite outer room with a wisp of a bar and cash register and a small inner room with a few tables. A tiny woman, perhaps from Thailand, asks me to follow her into that inner room. I do, and I feel like Madame Maxime (for my non-Harry Potter fans, Mme Maxime is a half-giantess).

My tiny Thai seats me at a little table for two, against the wall. I place my purse on top of the table next to my plate and I'm cramped. The waitress hands me a menu and as I begin to study it, a man, a very big man, who resembles  John Goodman/Fred Flintstone, walks over to me and stands right next to my elbow.

How can I pretend he's not there? He's huge! He much be over 6 feet tall and his belly's so big, it flops over his belt. He's wearing a navy blue shirt (tucked in) and tan shorts and sneakers. His short, curly blond hair is scraggly, as is his day-old beard. What does he want?

I look up (and up) and he says, "Let me move your purse to give you more room." I half go to grab my bag because the great dichotomy between him and her screams at me. But I let it go. And he moves it across the table, to the chair on the other side.

And thus begins a perfect meal.

He's my waiter. Who knew? And he's a genuine delight. He pulls up a chair to explain the restaurant offerings and reminisces about the Pad Thai he enjoyed in California. He's serious about tending to my lunch. I tell him my favorite Thai food and he searches the menu until he finds the right fare.

I order, and soon, I'm enjoying  veggies and tofu dressed in a full-bodied peanut sauce over steamed rice.

My waiter leaves me alone to dine. And I feel not so large anymore.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

An Adventure in Flight

We're on our bikes in the parking lot of the Malaquite Visitors' Center on Padre Island National Seashore.

I see about eight cars and 5,000 seagulls. Well, maybe not 5,000, but so many they form a massive ground colony and they all face south, into the wind.

Allen skirts this cacophony of screams, squeals and squawks; I pedal toward it; it's like a tracking beam drawing me in. I'm 10 feet away. Five feet. Three feet. Then, silence. And in milliseconds, WOOSH. The gulls take flight.

And then they do a startling thing.

Instead of flying away, heading out to sea, where it's safe from me, this wave of gulls transforms into a cyclone, swirling around me, rising barely a foot above my head (well, maybe six). Quietly, they swirl round and round, like a protective escort as I pedal away. But they don't let me go. They stay right with me, swirling, swirling, creating an airborne whirlpool.

I want to fly with them.

Then I look down. Splat. And I see another. Splat. Bird bombs. I duck. And they soon tired of this game and fly away, back to their Tarmac roost, to face south again. And I pedal back home.

Another God Sighting

The signs scream "Christian Family Restaurant Open 24 Hours," "Floyds" and "Praise God." One towers over the restaurant in Corpus Christi, Texas, and another covers the length of the roof.

So we go in for lunch. Looking for God. And inside confuses me.

Allen smells old cigarettes and it's dingy. I see no trappings of faith. Big or small. No Bibles, pictures of Jesus, or scripture napkins.

A dour-faced woman waits on us, then argues with the cook, where we can hear, about the amount of bacon Allen has ordered. (Which is a lot, and the cook doesn't understand, I suppose.)

I notice that most of the 15 other customers sport tattoos. No one dresses well -- at all. And some look scary. One man's bears a huge Iron Cross tatoo -- on the front of his neck. Another wears a sleeveless T and a dirty bandanna over long dirty hair. He fidgets. A lot.

This is no church super. But it could double for lunch at homeless shelter.

I ask my waitress about the God thing and where it is. She smirks and says her boss bought the restaurant from someone else and that's all she can tell us because she doesn't know any more.

OK. Simple enough. New owners, and now no God.

We pay our bill and head out the door. That's when I hear something special. Something sincere. I hear a woman's sweet voice say confidently, "Have a blessed day." THERE IT IS! There's God. It might be a small amount of God, but it's God.

So I say back, without turning around, "OH! You, too." And she replies, "OH! Thank you."

Later, I Google the place and find nothing about the history or new owner. A few random diners posted good food reviews. And then I find this little nugget, on a coupon: Floyd's Christian Restaurant uses its revenue to feed the homeless.

So if this is still true, then THERE GOD IS. In a very big way.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Pretty Gets You Places

Our motorhome's bedroom window stays open a little or a lot. There's no closing it.

It's been that way for nearly nine months now. And neither Allen nor his best RV buddie Louie can figure out how to fix it.

They spent a lot of time looking at it. I know this, because I saw them. Both standing there. Looking at it. Trying to figure out how to fix it. They leaned back on their heels, crossed their arms over their chests and shook their heads. I've since figured out this means "What a shame. It can't be done without a whole lot of trouble. And we don't have the right tools."

So now, nine months later, it's urgent we get it fixed. We're in Texas, in the spring. The mosquitoes and flies are coming.

So we head to the nearest Camping World and I ask for help. Well, I try to.

"We have a 2007 Navin J and we need the rear window repaired," I say to the woman behind the counter.
"No we don't," Allen corrects me, and he's smiling. "I told you, it's just the round crank."

"I know honey," I smile back, to placate him. Then say to the woman behind the desk, "The window crank ..."

Again, Allen interrupts. I giggle. "It's not the crank, it's the whole window that has to come out. I know this. I worked on it for hours." He's still grinning.

"OK, honey," I smile, daggers this time. And turn back to the sales desk where now two women have stopped to help me.

"We need ..." then argh! It's him again. Talking. I laugh! They're smiling.  I shake my head.

Allen stomps on every comment I make (but sweetly, smiling and grinning) or tries to finish my sentences, all the while talking to me, not the people behind the counter.

Before our rift gets serious, Mister To The Rescue moseys out from behind the wall to save the day: "Hey, is the rig here in the lot?"

"Yes," Allen and I say, in unison. Of course.

"Let's go take a look."

Out he and Allen go and I stay back at the desk, with the two women. "I need estrogen!" I say, melodramatically.
With the guys out of earshot, one woman says, almost conspiratorially, "Is he always like that?"

"Well, sort of, I guess, but not usually this bad." I come to his defense, a little. I have to. I'm his wife.

And her reply? Egads, that's awful? Shame on him? How could he? Doesn't he know to wait his turn? Doesn't he know that it's rude to interrupt?

Nope. She says, with twinkling eyes, "Well, I'd a slapped him in the face if he JUST WASN'T SO CUTE."

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Meeting With Four of God's Children

Our meeting is brief.

Me and four young college women (Bethany, Lauren, Emily and Stephanie ... I tease that their initials spell BLES. And that I am BLES(sed) by their company. They laugh.)

We intersect in the campground at night at Padre Island National Seashore, as we amble to and from the washroom. I rarely see such young faces here amid this sea of beautiful winkles and luscious gray hair. But it's spring break up North, and these kids, well, really young women, drove south to celebrate, about 1,300 miles, from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, because one of them found this beach on Google.

Google didn't tell them only old people play here (and are in bed by 10.). The hipper, edgy crowd parties up at the county beach (Padre Balli Park beach), or down at South Padre Island, so I tell them, because I figure youth needs youth to refuel, to revive.

"But we don't want to be a part of that crowd," the taller one says. Her name is Stephanie. Because, they all explain in various ways, they embrace Christianity, and don't want to drink or party. So they came to this beach, a national seashore with no boardwalk, no hotels, no bars, (but lots of retirees) to enjoy nature and to get a tan. But the sun's not cooperating, so their plan is to pay for one at a local tanning booth tomorrow, before going home.

We laugh and talk. I tell them about my life as a Christian and how much I like to play with other Christians. And what we do to play. And I answer their questions about living in an RV for months, traveling with large dogs. And I tell them how most of us retirees had careers, like teaching, editing, writing, dentistry, bookselling, computer technology. And we talk marriage, God and friendship.

We soon wave goodnight and good-bye, and off they go.

The next day, I head into town to shop. And when I return, I receive such a surprise: A handwritten note from each of them, all on a sheet of notebook paper. With words like "thank you," "grateful," "fortunate," "blessing" and "love." And "Jesu Christ."

I cherish the note. Take a picture of it. Then just stare at it and smile. I am BLES(sed) indeed.

A Walk to Remember

We're walking the dogs on Padre Balli Park beach off the coast of Corpus Christi, Texas, and it's nothing like we've ever seen before.

Oh, we've been here before, on this very beach, and accept the novelty of dodging four-by-fours as they barrel down the sand.

But today, it's different.

It's spring break. And we see kids, lots of kids, big and little, everywhere, They're dotting the beach like seashells and chattering like seagulls. And we see lawn chairs, tents, cabanas, grills, dogs, a horse, more dogs and more tents and lots of trucks.

The beach is a wagon train of cars and truck, a carnival of people, some way out in the ocean, others just two feet away from each other. Dancing, singing, laughing, eating. The crowd is enormous. Vibrant.

And everyone, it seems, wants to pet our dogs, play with our dogs, ask questions about our dogs. They crowd around us, like a celebrity sighting.

Our dogs, of course, love the attention. And I do, too. We play with some kids; chat with some adults. But Allen, our introvert, might hyperventilate, so I suggest we head back to our RV and wait for the evening, when everyone's gone home and the Super Moon promises to bathe the beach in moonlight and we can walk in private. Maybe take a few pictures.

So, right after dusk, we leash up the dogs and head back out to the beach. Where we are shocked to see something we've never seen before: a nighttime crowd at the beach, with campfire and trucks, people everywhere. Dancing, singing. Or just staring at their fires.

Lots of 20-somethings drive in, dressed to impress and I watch as they park, then head up the pier, where there must be a popular bar just out of sight, where I can't see the fun.

I ask one of the guys, "Hey what's up on the pier?"

"Fishing," he says. "They're really biting tonight."

"Wait," I stammer, "There's no bar up there, no nightspot to hang out in?"

Nope. Just fishin'.

Wow. All those 20-somethings, on spring break, taking dates to a fishing pier, to fish.

Again, it's nothing like we've ever seen before.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Some People Can Sure Talk

I'm in a nail salon in Corpus Christi, Texas, getting a pedicure because I'm tired, hot and my feet hurt.

The salon owner waves me over to a chair next to a little woman in her 40s with impeccable taste in clothing, jewelry and hairstyle. I must have sat on her on button, because as soon as I'm down, she starts talking:

1. Her name is Patricia; Patty for short.
2. She's been married three times; is single now, but is looking for No. 4.
3. Buried husband No. 2's mother last week and she REALLY loved Husband No. 2's mother.
4. Loves to wear white. which her grandmother told her to wash in cold water when she uses Clorox.
5. Has lived in Corpus Christi 19 years but hates it because of its diversity.
6. Lived in a Chicago suburb until third grade.
7. Has no pets because she has white carpets.
8. Love the color coral. But not accented with black.
9. Has two pairs of glasses (and she models both), but only one with clip-on shades.
10. Is an "assistant" in a local doctor's office where, if I call, ask for Judy, not Patty, because they know her as Judy. Her full name is Judy Patricia.

And on and on and on.

I keep scooching, thinking if I turned her on, I can turn her off.

And then she asks me a question. An unusual one. Even for the pedicure chair: How's my health and what meds do I take.

What? Curious.

Fine I tell her. I'm great. My brief comment gives her time to refuel, and she's off again, this time about her employer, how wonderful he is,  how she can get me an appointment without waiting.

My eyes glaze over. She rambles, on and on and on. I nod and nod.

A pregnant woman with multiple facial piercings and a colorful tatoo the size of Ohio on her leg sits down next to me. YEA!  A reprieve! I turn to chat.

Patty taps my arm. I turn back  and then she says something that stops me cold. "If you need anything from the doctor's office, just let me know. I can get it for you without you having to pay for a doctor's visit. Just give me your cell phone number."

And, she adds: "I'm just saying, a gift certificate for another pedicure goes a long way."

EGADS. I'm stunned. What is she thinking? I could not possibly ... heavens NO! Why, I would NEVER! I CAN'T.

I only have 500 minutes a month on my phone.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Story of Ruth

I'm doing laundry at Bob Hall Pier in Corpus Christi, Texas, when the Blue Bonnet woman walks in.

I kid you not.

This woman looks just like the lady on the Blue Bonnet label, only a little older, a little rounder. Her close-cropped blond hair tends to exaggerate her blue eyes, which really sparkle.

I apologize for monopolizing the washers and she just shrugs and says she's not put out. She has plenty of time, so she stays and talks.

And totally amazes and confounds me.

My Blue Bonnet woman, Ruth, lives on a 230,000-acre family farm in Nebraska, where she and her husband grow winter wheat, just winter wheat, under a government subsidy program. Her two daughters are grown and gone and don't want the farm. So it's just her and her husband on the 230,000, watching the wheat grow as they try to decide what to do with its future. In her spare time, she creates things.

She paints (oils, water colors, acrylics) and carves things like plates, bowls and little animals out of wood or stone and turkey whistles out of turkey bones (the wing bone, just before the tippy end). And if you buy a turkey whistle from her, she'll scrimshaw a landscape of your state, right on the bone.

She makes jewelry out of stones, sticks and other natural items and create furniture out of willow reeds and weaves pots out of pine needles.

She wants to teach me to weave a pot. I say "sure!" and wonder if she's a figment of my imagination or a real person.

I finish my laundry and we wave goodbye.

As I walk away, I have an urge to run back and pinch her, just to see if she's real.

Friday, March 11, 2011

It's Not How Old You Are ...

I'm walking the beach and a fairly old cocker spaniel starts barking, yelling HI HI HI HI. She gets the attention of her buddies, a young Basenji and an old Schnauzer, who don't bark, but join in the run to greet me.

Problem is, there's a very old woman holding all three dog on very short leashes. And she's sitting in a very old and wobbly lawn chair. On an uneven beach. These are little dogs, but their efforts to greet me topple the old lady over onto her knees, in the sand. It' a scary scene.

This woman is not young.

She's at least 70, and as I watch her crawl around in the sand, trying to stand up, I see her dogs tangling her legs with their leashes. I run over to help. She waves me off. "I can make it," she says, causally, as if she's done this a hundred times.

I watch this elderly woman unwind herself from her dog leashes while on her way to standing up. She makes it. No problem. Then she points to the surf. "Oh, here comes Mom."


I look and yep, I see an even older woman doddering up the beach. She's mastered her unsteady gait to the point she dodges waves, sand piles and seaweed successfully while holding treasures in her hand.

"How old is Mom?" I ask. (Am I rude?)


Giant Steps

Linda and I sit and chat at our concrete picnic table here on Padre Island (just outside Corpus Christi, Texas) about, well, just things.

The guys -- my husband and hers -- circle about our motorhome. Like they are chained to each other, talking to each other, not us. About their RVs  (they own similar models). They point at this door, that window; they get on their bellies and look up at the vehicle's belly.

They bob here and there in constant chatter.

Suddenly, they woosh  past us, within inches of us and Stomp Stomp.  The guys, in two giant speedy steps, clear nearly four feet to light atop the picnic table. Now they talk about the things on top of the motorhome.

They do this without so much as a deep refreshing breath.  They step, one foot after the other, and STOMP STOMP! They land atop the picnic table.

Linda and I gasp. DID YOU SEE THAT? I couldn't do that. THEY JUST STEPPED UP! Hard to believe. LIKE IT WAS NOTHING! I couldn't do that without holding on to something. I CAN"T IMAGINE CLIMBING UP THAT FAAAST! They got up there with no effort. NO WAY COULD I DO THAT.

The guys focus so intently on their project they miss our gasps. They miss our surprise.

And they miss my plan to STOMP STOMP up there, too.

I start a ways back and take a running stomp stomp. AND I MAKE IT! A little wobbly. But HA HA! SUCCESS!

Now what?

There's no reason for me to be up here. It's kinda boring because I'm not talking RVs. And, frankly, I feel stupid standing on top of a concrete picnic table. So, I get down (with Linda's help) and we shrug at the uselessness of my effort.

Then, as usual, my moment up there becomes an  epiphany.

I realize they guys scaled the table effortlessly because it was just a play in their game. They're still playing, and scoring loads of fun.

My effort WAS the game.

New Old Friends

There are seven of us, sitting on the beach, well after dark, huddled against the wind behind upturned picnic tables, enjoying a campfire.

We're laughing a lot. Someone asks if anyone knows the lyrics to the song the Cowardly Lion sings in "The Wizard of Oz." He growls a few lines:

"But I could show my prowess,

Be a lion not a mouse, ..."

Another cuts him off with, "Hey, whatever happened to Kumbaya."

We continue to laugh. Belly laugh. Unencumbered laughs. No twittering or chuckles or respectful tittering.
We laugh with the confidence of old friends, like we've known each other for years. Even though our friendships began just hours ago.

We already know we have a lot in common: We're all living in RVs at the seashore in southeastern Texas. We're in our 50s and 60s. And all of us possess the desires and the means to wait out the winter away from the northern snows.

We share stories from the road (places we've seen, places we hope to see) and pass around a bag of potato chips.
Then the guy who sang the lion song mentions something most profound. He says when he and his wife plowed through their vacation photos recently, they found a million pictures of rocks and a zillion pictures of trees. But no pictures of friends. Like us. People you meet along the way. Who laugh with you. Who enjoy a campfire at the beach.

So, he says, he wished he'd brought his camera.

Me, too.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Just How Clean Is Clean

My new friend Linda and I laugh and giggle at our blue jeans. They are clean. Wink wink. We acquiesce that clean is relative.

"I tell my friends I wear these three days before washing," Linda leans toward me and grins, then winks. I tell her "I can get a good two weeks out of mine!"

"Oh, but ..." she says. I'm missing the point. Clean takes on a new meaning here at the sandy, wet beach, where we're boondocking for a few months. Boondocking means access to laundry facilities is as limited as our access to power and fresh running water.

So, clean means nothing smells, nothing shows and nothing stands up by itself. Even if it takes more than two weeks to do so.

Our girlfriends back home might translate our new meaning of clean into "filth." They'd be offended by our clean. They comprehend the old meaning of clean only. It's the one accompanied by a washer and dryer downstairs and fresh water on command; hot water as desired.

Linda and I chuckle and nod conspiratorially and become fast friends. In our clean/dirty jeans. In this private club of understanding. We share the new meaning of clean. We are of the same school, buddies, partners. We're not offended by our clean. AND we protect our friends at home from knowing about it.

So why, then, when I dress to go shopping with her this morning do I feel compelled to pull on a old-meaning clean pair of jeans?

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Siren In The Sand

A friend tells me the beach is filled with seaweed and I scrunch my nose.


When the beaches on Texas' Padre Island fill with seaweed, they look like salads, and smell like fisheries.

But we have to go for a walk. So we leash up the dogs and head out, only to discover Her.

She's a massive seductress with beautiful brown hair. A mermaid waiting for her wave to return to the sea. She's about 7-feet long and suns hersef with one arm cocked behind her, one knee resting over the other. She's sensual. She's a tease.

Someone saw the noxious seaweed littering the sand and turned it into beauty.

Someone made lemonade.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sometimes Old Is Suspect

I feel like Mrs.O'Leary and her cow.

I'm making breakfast. Frying bacon in a skillet I bought at the thrift store.

The skillet dates back to the '50s (Allen says the '80s) and excessive scrubbing successfully removed most all the grunge I found hidden around the screws, the handle and the grooves inside the frying surface. It works perfectly well. I enjoy humming along to its buzz/hum. Hummmmm. Hummmmm. Sometimes I hum in harmony.

OK. Bacon done. Pancakes cooking. Four done and four in the pan. When BANG. And I mean BANG!!!!

Allen feels his side of the motor home shake, rock 'n roll. The skillet stops buzz/humming.

OH MY GOODNESS! I've shorted out Otto (our motorhome's name) with my ancient electric skillet.
And then I hear other campers scrambling about. "Did you lose power?" I hear one say to the other. "Yes. You, too?"

Oh my goodness. My skillet is that cow. And it zapped the entire campground.

Whom should I tell?

We finish breakfast and I ponder our plight. Lawsuits, skyrocketing insurance coverage, our adventure coming to an end. We plug in our generator to test our wiring to see what damage I've done.

Nothing. We're fine. I hear other campers' generators running and they're fine, too.

So I stroll outside and casually ask our neighbor, "Hey, buddy. Any idea what happened to the power?"

"You bet," he says. "See that dangling power line?" He's pointing to a pole about half a block away. "It just up and sparked and snapped. I saw the whole thing."

Not me. IT WASN'T ME! No way my skillet could take down a mighty power line. NO WAY!

I'm off the hook. But what about my skillet? It's in the trash. Just in case ...