It seems as though it was just May and a nice summer lay ahead. But somehow June slipped in and the days and nights flew off the calendar like so many scattering birds flushed up by a nosey hunting dog!
That adage that time flies faster and faster as we age sure seems all-too-true. Since June is my birthday month, it has always held a special significance for me. A great time of year it has always been. Baseball is finally in full swing, the weather has finally shed its winter/spring chill, and shorts and t-shirts are the normal fashion.
Remember when we were kids, and time dragged on and on, and we couldn’t wait to be older and do the things that older kids and adults got to do? Way back, a long, long time ago, I remember my grandpa’s off-hand remark he said to me one day: “Don’t wish your young days away. You’ll be old before you know it!” Of course, I laughed and didn’t really give his words any more thought during all of those younger days that I often wanted to “hurry along” and not dwell in that moment too long.
As I write now, I realize that I’m even older than Grandpa was when he offered his advice all those years ago. And having just added another year to my existence back on June 11, I would enjoy being able to jump back every now and then to those summers when I was playing Little League and Pony League baseball, and spending all the other hours goofing around with friends and kindling a summer romance that would usually be long over with at the start of school in September.
Now, looking in the rearview mirror back to those long-gone days, I realize that I was really wrong to assume in thinking that the time dragged on and on and on. In reality, they came and went way too quickly! It would seem that I didn’t really appreciate everything at the moment and missed out on some things. I realize all of that now and readily agree with Grandpa’s words. If he were here today, I’d let him know that!
Our summer travels in our trusty Chevy Equinox have netted well over 4,000 miles. But, as I like to say, they’re all wonderful miles! Miles of memories! And it’s not just the miles alone that count for all of this, but rather the people who have ridden along with us down those many miles.
Back in July, we had the pleasure of having our two grandsons—Jack (12) and Matt (10)—out to Casper, Wyoming, as passengers and participants for a three-day journey along part of the original Oregon Trail in a covered wagon.
Going in, we had no idea of just what to expect, but we came away from the experience feeling like it was one of the best things we’d ever done.
And though they are too young to actually admit that it was an adventure of a lifetime, we’re pretty certain that Jack and Matt will carry the memories of the journey with them their whole lives, Grandpa and Grandma notwithstanding.
And this was no amusement park staged make-believe trip. Everything was authentic and custom made—from the covered wagon to the tipis we slept in for two nights out in the middle of nowhere on the High Plains of Wyoming.
This all came about nearly a year ago when my wife started researching outfits that provided these kinds of tours. And that is when she came in contact with Morris Carter and his business, Historic Trails West, out of Casper.
When the date to leave finally arrived (following the boys’ baseball season on July 15) we pointed our loaded up Equinox west for the long drive out, stopping in Fremont, Nebraska, for a quick overnight on the way.
After arriving in Casper the next evening, the boys unwound in the pool at the Ramkota Hotel, followed by a good night’s sleep in a comfortable bed.
Following a wonderful breakfast at the hotel the next morning, we were up and out to meet up with Morris by 8 a.m. to begin our three-day covered wagon trek. Little did we know just how amazing the next few days would be!
Following Morris, who was driving his pickup pulling a 40-foot custom-made trailer that contained three horses, the wagon, various equipment and necessary items for the trip, and a porta-potty, we came upon
famous landmarks like Independence Rock, Devils Gate, and Split Rock. The early travelers and pioneers used these as guides and indicators of being on the right path west.
Several miles later, we finally reached our “setting off” place, a camp run by the Mormons.
The first duty was to get the trailer unloaded, the wagon cover (bonnet) attached, and make ready to “hit the trail.”
Jack and Matt’s first job became obvious when they each were handed a shovel and directed to the portion of the trailer where the horses had
Finally, all was ready and Morris called out to the two-horse team of big white Percherons (Jess and Jordan) to get going. And so we bumped along, crossing the first creek right away and slowly winding our way along a dirt trail westward.
We also had another horse (Tazz) for anyone who wished to ride. Matt started out on Tazz and later switched off to let his brother ride. They both enjoyed riding the trail atop Tazz!
One of the horses (Jess) had developed a sore hoof along the way and was limping badly by this time. Morris knew that a change in the horse teams would be necessasry before tomorrow’s journey continued, and he was in contact with his home base to arrange for a switch during the night ahead.
After nearly eleven miles and experiencing so much wide open space and scenic surroundings, and the afternoon growing late, we reached our first night’s camping site. In a vast and wide open space, we had our first experience of setting up camp.
First, the horses were unhitched and watered and allowed to roam and graze in the vast open spaces. Under the guidance and instruction from Morris and Randy, we all helped to put up the cook tent and help with setting up a couple of long tables and chairs. Next, the two tipis were up in a relatively quickly, ready for our cots and sleeping bags.
Soon, Randy had the charcoal ready for the potatoes and pork chops,
and the dutch oven cherry cobbler cooked slowly over the heat. It was a delicious trail meal that first night out, and afterwards we crawled into our sleeping bags relatively soon.
It’s mid-June already, and life here in northern Illinois keeps rolling right along. It seems as though those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer have definitely arrived, and the constant whirring of our air conditioner is the background “music” as we go about our daily living around the old homestead.
I quietly “celebrated” another birthday a week ago and have been busy attending the grandsons’ baseball games a couple of times each week. As before, I’m doing way more reading than writing, but I keep intending to make amends in that department—soon!
As these summer days settle in around us, I find myself harking back to last summer and those two magnificent trips we took: Alaska cruise in August; driving Route 66 in September. And although I am trying to avoid being that guy—the one who constantly lives in the past—I do have very fond memories of that Alaska trip.
For sure, I wouldn’t mind being on board that magnificent Holland-America ms Noordam once more, plying the Inside Passage to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Glacier Bay. And the long day’s bus ride out of Seward up to Denali National Park on that dreary and rainy day, wouldn’t be so bad right now, either. The splendid views of the magnificence of the entire area rest prominently in my mind’s memory right now.
I find myself flashing back to our wonderful Route 66 Journey of last September (not many weeks after we returned from the Alaska trip) and wishing we were just preparing to do it all over again. I often lose myself recalling all those twists and turns on the “old” stretches of highway, the weather-worn, rusty neon signs and forgotten roadside businesses we encountered all along the way.
I have several Facebook friends and Route 66-themed pages I follow every day, and I love seeing many of the same photos of the same places we experienced. Each one, familiar now, evokes so many wonderful memories.
Perhaps another journey along the Mother Road in the not-too-distant future is possible. After all, there are things we missed or didn’t have enough time to enjoy as thoroughly as we would have preferred. I’m afraid, though, that my traveling “partner” is not hot on that idea, as she feels that once was enough for her! We shall see…
I can’t, however, rest solely on last summer’s delightful road adventures. At this writing, I’m only a month away from another adventure, this time with our two grandsons. On Sunday, July 15, as soon as the boys are finished with the baseball tournament they’ll be wrapping up that day, we’re setting off for the territories once more! This time to Casper, Wyoming, for a three-day trip in a covered wagon on the old Oregon Trail.
I suppose that it’s only fitting that we spend some time this summer experiencing another of the famous roads so full of historic importance in the great land of ours. Lots of miles ahead, but I’d not have it any other way.
I really can’t recall how the topic of being on, or near, the scene of some major
newsworthy event came up the other night at a party we were hosting, but it made for some interesting conversation for a time with a friend over cold drinks. And long after the party had ended, and I was in the midst of my usual cleanup duties, many more thoughts on the topic flitted around in my head.
I’m pretty sure it was my friend who brought the whole thing up with his telling about his being in attendance at a Super Bowl and a Stanley Cup Championship game seven. True, they were important events, but in the large scope of things they really don’t seem as “crucial” as those events in which I found myself involved–purely by accident.
For instance, I couldn’t help but recall being literally “caught up” in the turmoil and fury that was the violence perpetrated by those wonderful, “clean-cut” protestors in downtown Chicago during the 1968 Democrat National Convention.
A high school friend from Ohio had just flown in for a visit, since my family had recently moved to the Chicago area that summer, and we all had enjoyed a wonderful dinner at one of the cool restaurants on Michigan Avenue early that evening.
Afterwards, as we began a leisurely stroll along the avenue, things erupted all around us. Suddenly, the police were swarming and moving people from the area. It didn’t take long to realize that they were pretty serious about their efforts! I recall being sort of trapped near one of the famous lions in front of the Art Institute when I was instructed to get moving, which I gladly did. Staring down the barrel of a riot gun is a bit unsettling.
About the same time, another hord of the “clean cuts” decided to battle back and began one of its signature clashes with the Chicago police. My friend and I somehow avoided the confrontation and hurried back across the avenue to find my parents and sister, which wasn’t easy since that area seemed just as wild and manic as the one we’d just vacated.
Fortunately, we managed to hook up with them and make our way the few blocks to the lot where the car was parked. Without further hesitation, we got out of the boiling city as quickly as possible.
Yep, that was the evening that has become infamous over the years—for both cops and the protestors—and one that will always evoke not-so-pleasant feelings whenever I see a picture of those Art Institute lions!
I had just turned eighteen that summer, and I my idealism was still rather lofty. I had plans to take it all with me when I started at Kent State in a few weeks. And, of course, it was at Kent that I would once again witness turmoil and violence during the next few years up close and personal all too often. And my earlier idealism would take off in a much different direction during that time. I’ll write of that period in the next few posts.
I’ve been away, but I’m back now, all finished at the cottage on the lake in Michigan.
Yep, I’ve managed to “power through” all of the business at hand over the past several weeks and am settling in once again here at home in northern Illinois.
One week ago, our pontoon was hauled out of the water by some friends who are purchasing her and trailored a couple hundred miles back to a lake here in the western part of Illinois—not too far from our home, by the way. The old girl will be missed, but knowing she’s going to a good place, with good folks to enjoy her, eases the oft-muddled mind of this writer!
We spent the next day finishing up closing out the cottage and filling both of our cars with final loads. There are so many memories we gathered in that place “up there” that it was very hard to pinpoint which one stood out as the greatest or favorite over the several summers we called the place home.
Yes, we have decided to get out of the summer cottage/lake rental game and to pursue other endeavors. An Alaska cruise next August awaits, as does a trip to New Orleans and Florida in late February. And being right here at home more frequently is mighty appealing, too!
this morning, when I finally decided that I’d been away from this blog (and other writing tasks) far too long, I took a deep breath and relished the feeling once more of plopping myself into my comfy desk chair, in front of my MacBook, and knocking the cobwebs off of Scrivener and gleefully letting the fingers do their thing, wandering over the keys to make the words to send along to any reader who’s still along with me. (Now that’s a sentence!)
So a chapter of my life closes and I’m eagerly anticipating what the next one will be about. I’ll look back—from time to time—and recall so many of those wonderful moments and memories made “up there,” and I’ll probably be hit with a touch of melancholy, but I will have moved along into that next chapter that is beginning right now.
For the last two summers right about this same time, we have done something special with our two grandsons, kind of a last-of-summer vacation thing.
Last year it was a day trip over to Dearborn, Michigan, to visit the Henry Ford Museum and adjoining Greenfield Village. The four of us enjoyed every minute of that day, and we still often mention that we’d like to return and see all the other things that we didn’t have time to get to. And I’m sure that we will do so sometime down the road.
This year, since we’re both home from the cottage for a few days, we thought it would be neat to take the three-hour drive over to Dyersville, Iowa, home of the Field of Dreams–the farm where the movie was filmed in 1988.
What would make this trip all the more special is that we had taken the boys’ dad—our son—there back in the early 90s when he wasn’t much older than they are now. Playing catch on that magical field with my son all those years ago was, indeed, special, and to do the same with my grandsons seemed like a pretty good thing to do!
As always, we had kept an eye on the weather forecast because it would be rather pointless to set off all that way if rain was imminent. But fortune smiled on us and the day dawned overcast, promising to be in the high 80s by afternoon. Leaving by 7:30 would allow us to reach the place out in the Iowa cornfields by late morning, before the heat became too stifling.
And so, with the wheelie cooler chock full of bottles of water and snacks, we hit the road and enjoyed the countryside, with the flatness of home giving way to the rolling terrain of northwest Illinois, our journey taking us over US-20 past Rockford, Freeport, Stockton, Galena, and over the Mississippi River at Dubuque, Iowa. Dyersville and the Field of Dreams is just a short drive onward from there, and we had no trouble locating the charming place once more, even after so many years.
Jackson and Matthew spent most of the trip there watching the movie on a laptop. For Jackson it was the first time he’d seen it, and we all agreed that it was a good thing he had so the site would mean more to him.
If you build it, he will come…
Of course, I’ve seen the movie countless times over the years, and never fail to get caught up in the story and its homage to baseball and the role it plays in so many lives, generation after generation. I would think that even non-baseball fans would find something intriguing in the tale that starred Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones.
The movie was based on the book Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. Interestingly, I read this book for the first time this summer, and knowing we were going to be visiting the movie site, I wanted to compare the original story with the film’s treatment of it.
To say that it had many diversions and changes would be a vast understatement. Although I usually prefer the original work, in this case I tend to lean toward the Hollywood version—grudgingly, of course! Not sure about some of the “additional” characters the author included in the original, and I think the story worked fine without most of them. But that’s merely my opinion, mind you.
Go the distance…
The hour or so we were there, playing catch, batting with other kids and adults there for perhaps the same reasons, was just enough and well timed. After a brief snack break on a picnic table under some beautiful tall pines near the old farmhouse, the heat had begun to rise, the boys were sweaty and dusty, and Carolyn and I were hot and ready to get back into the air-conditioned comfort of the Equinox.
A quick visit to the gift shack to check things out, and then we were ready to pull out of the place and begin our trip back home to Illinois. And, of course, it was about that time when we were all ready for some lunch. Our plan was to stop for a nice sit-down meal (no drive-thru, fast-food adventures this trip!) and enjoy the cool atmosphere and some good food somewhere around Galena.
As it turned out, we continued through the Galena area and on to the small town of Stockton about an hour away. To our delight, right there on our route in the small town was an attractive log building named JJ & Freddie’s. The service was friendly and attentive, the food was good,
the draft beer I enjoyed was quite refreshing, and the air conditioning was superb! Each of us was fully contented at this point.
Re-fueled and refreshed now, we were back on the road to home and I even managed a nice nap as Carolyn got us home in good shape around 4:30. The hot afternoon couldn’t diminish the wonderful morning’s fun and smiles we’d all shared on our little trek over to the magical Field of Dreams.
It was summer 1964. The railroad had just transferred my dad from Huntington, Indiana, to Ashland, Ohio, and we were in the process of moving. At first I had been enthusiastic about it all, but then as summer rolled around, and my Pony League baseball season with it, I wasn’t so thrilled about the move at all.
As things developed, we had a pretty good team, and I was patrolling center field, making catches that, in distant recollection now, still amaze me! And I actually was hitting the ball more consistently. And it wasn’t only me. Every other player on that team had somehow metamorphosed into steady players and excellent teammates.
It’s pretty much a cliché now to say that we “came together” that summer, but I know of no other way to put it, nor can I think of another group, club, team, or organization I’ve ever been a part of and say the same thing about it. We came together, indeed!
Even practices out at an old rural school several times a week were something to which we looked forward to with the eagerness of the typical fourteen year olds that we were. Often, my good friend and I would pedal our bikes the three or four miles out to the school and meet up with the others. Along the way, we’d have serious discussions about when I was going to have to leave for Ohio and what it would do to our friendship.
As much as I wanted to put those kinds of thoughts out of my head and focus on baseball, there was always something there to remind me about how things were soon going to change in my life. I never wanted to admit that I would be a long way from the friends I’d known most of my life, so I usually tried not to take any of it too seriously.
On the last day of school that year, several parents had a graduation party for us, kind of an “end-of-junior high-getting-ready-for-high school” gathering. During the party, it seems that all anyone wanted to talk about when I was around was how I felt about having to move. I put on a fake persona, one where I shrugged it off and joked about it all, but, truth be told, I was really torn up inside.
And that’s where that summer’s magical baseball season helped. Why we–a ragtag group of basically mediocre ball players–turned into a championship team, is still beyond my wildest sense of reasoning. But we did, winning the championship with stellar pitching, timely hitting, and game-saving defense along the way.
Meanwhile, my parents and my sisters had made the move to our new home in Ohio in early August, but I still had a few weeks left of the season. I was invited to spend those days at my good friend’s house so I could finish out. Plus, I had been selected to be the starting center fielder for the All-Star Game, and I couldn’t miss out on that honor.
Somewhere in my “vault” of treasured memories and other pieces of my past is a faded newspaper article about our team winning the championship that summer. There’s an accompanying team photo with our smiling faces as we hold our trophies proudly and throw out endless wisecracks. We’re all sweaty, dirty, and very happy!
What I recall most clearly, though, was that the day after the photo appeared in the paper, I was on a train traveling to my new home in a strange and unfamiliar place and wondering what lay ahead, and the magic of that team of mine tucked away forever.
We all vowed to stay in touch and get together whenever the opportunity presented itself. For a time we did. But we all grew out of being fourteen year olds and our lives found their own varied paths. Eventually, I adjusted to my new surroundings and made some very good friends there. Yet, fifty-two years later, I still remember that magic summer!
Doctor appointment, grandsons’ ballgames, yard work, and friends’ 50th wedding anniversary party necessitated our vacating the cottage last Wednesday. Within the last two weeks, we’ve logged many a mile traveling to the NASCAR race, and then the following day motoring on to Fairborn, Ohio, to attend Carolyn’s uncle’s funeral services. He was almost 93 and had lived a good life and everyone celebrated that fact.
After the meal that followed at the church, we made the four-hour drive back to the cottage in Michigan and quickly made ready for the drive home to Illinois the next day.
And now, all of the duties, etc., completed, it’s time to reverse the process and gather up the clean laundry, pack the suitcase and my MacBook, a cooler with “stuff” we bought at the store, and get it all in the back of my Equinox for the trip back to the lake sometime tomorrow. I say “sometime” because I’m expecting a visit from a technician for Frontier Communications (our Internet service provider) to check out why our Internet has been dropping out way too frequently lately. I would like to be here when he/she arrives, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for an early arrival. But, it will be what it will be…
But wait, there’s more!
Once back at the cottage, we wont be there for long. It will be a quick turnaround, just long enough to unload and spend the night before taking off for Ohio for the weekend. My mom’s high school 70th reunion luncheon is Saturday afternoon in Cambridge Springs, Pennsylvania, and a few weeks ago she strongly hinted that she’d love to attend but had no way to get there.
It didn’t take me long to see where she was going with this, and I figured I couldn’t let the opportunity pass to get her there! With nothing definite on our calendar for this coming weekend, I told her we’d enjoy driving her up there (about three hours or so) from Port Clinton. Obviously, there aren’t that many classmates remaining, but a couple of her best friends are, and she deserves to be there with them.
Anyway, I always enjoy going back there—my birthplace—so it will be a nice occasion. We’ll get her to the gathering and go explore the area as I remember all of my summer visits there as a kid. We’ll go out to the old farm that was my grandparents, and the place that inspired my short story “Pinewood Farm.”
A few hours will pass, and it will be time to pick Mom up and drive on back to Ohio, spend the night, and zip on back to Michigan on Sunday. We’ll be tired and ready to plop on the porch or the pier for a couple of days and realize all of the miles we’ve accumulated. At the same time, I’ll smile and know just how good each of those miles was.
Every year about this time, I like to dig out and re-read my favorite stories with holiday themes. I never tire of going back to them, and they, more than anything else, provide the impetus to move me into the spirit of the seasons. Today’s post will mention a few of my favorites.
Of course, anyone who knows me would say that all things Dickens is at the top of my list. A Christmas Carol and its theme of human kindness and redemption is what makes it a true classic, and one I look forward to reading in the days leading up to the big day.
But there are others as well, if not as well-known. For instance, O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” has always been a good Christmas story with it’s ironic twist of Jim and Della each giving up something that was truly precious to each in order to purchase a gift for the other. I’ve always liked O. Henry’s characters and the hardships of which they try to cope, and this short story is a rather excellent example of unselfish love and what true giving is all about.
Another O. Henry favorite is “The Cop and the Anthem,” although not specifically a Christmas tale. It is, however, set in the heart of New York City, with the chill and unforgiving winds of winter arriving. A homeless soul named Soapy prepares for his annual winter trip to the Island—Riker’s Island—where he can be taken care of at the expense of the taxpayer—warm meals, warm beds, and a roof over his head. Of course, every attempt to get arrested results in just the opposite, frustrating Soapy immensely. Finally, hearing the beautiful strains of a church choir singing inside the church, Soapy thinks of his mother and has an epiphany and decides to turn his life around before it’s too late. Before he can do anything more, though, he is collared by a policeman for loitering and dragged off for sentencing! Love those O. Henry trademark twists!
I remember reading Lincoln Steffens’s “A Miserable Merry Christmas,” in fifth or sixth grade as a pre-Christmas assignment. The little tale runs the gamut of the young boy’s emotions from complete despondency, when he discovers an empty stocking and no pony—the only present he wanted—on Christmas morning, to total rapture when the delivery person shows up—hours late—riding the aforementioned pony. For whatever reason, I somehow was able to relate to the boy, although I never received a pony for Christmas.
There are others, of course, and I look forward to enjoying them late at night, after the writing is finished and the rush of the day is over. There will be a fire in the fireplace to add a festive holiday flavor to the occasions. The winds and swirling rain, sleet, or snow will be up to no good on the outside, while I’m comfortably ensconced within our cozy living room.
Anyone who knows me or has read any of my posts here, understands that one of my most favorite things each morning is that first mug of good hot coffee. My day doesn’t really come alive until I can enjoy that first sip of the stuff—almost too hot to actually drink—with a splash of half-and-half, and then, and only then, the day is permitted to begin and all things are possible.
And over the course of the years, our coffee mug collection at home has grown to the point of being ridiculous, almost to the point of qualifying for some Discovery Channel series, I’m thinking. We’ve almost run out of space in our kitchen cabinets that are reserved for the things. Be that as it may, I have two or three favorites I go to regularly, and, conversely, there are those I never use.
My criteria for my favorites consists of the following: size, shape, design or logo or other witty saying on the mug, and memories it conjures up. For example, one of my “regulars” is from the
Hockey Hall of Fame, a place we visited in Toronto last summer about this time. Another one I enjoy came from the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield. It’s a perfect size and fits my hand ideally each morning (the mug, not the museum!)
A few that I don’t care for are usually those my wife has “collected” from various places she or I have visited. For instance, there’s a squatty, round thing that would barely hold enough coffee to sustain a gnat, but it has some design from Cherokee, North Carolina, that she liked, so it takes up space in the cabinet.
For obvious reasons, we don’t have the same number of mugs at our summer cottage. My two
favorites were the wonderful mug from Ron-Jon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach, Florida. It’s a perfect size and has the typical Ron-Jon art work with the shark telling everyone: “I Don’t Do Mornings!”
My other “cottage” mug was the perfect mug, in that it was solid, had the name of the restaurant from whence it was “borrowed” years ago, and made me smile every time I thought of the person who did the “borrowing” and the laughs we always shared.
I write about that mug now in the past tense because while I was washing the dishes one morning last week, it slipped from my hand and met its end in the porcelain kitchen sink. I briefly gave some thought to trying to put it back together, but that would have been a fruitless venture, so it found its way into the trash instead.
I don’t think I’ll ever have another exactly like that one. The restaurant is out of business and our dear friend passed away in late March. I really don’t need some coffee mug to help me remember all of the good times with our friend, but it was a constant, silly symbol of friendship through the years that couldn’t be broken—unlike the mug itself.
I’m sure our collection of mugs will continue to grow, and there will be those I’ll love, and those that will sit and take up space in the cabinet. Either way, they will be little reminders of the good times we share together traveling and seeing new places….CortlandWriter