Freedom Beat Across America: In Search of America's Heartbeat

Dottie’s thoughts about war

(In August of 2011, four American women set out to search for the heartbeat of the country.  Dottie wanted to search for history, from the Civil War to today.  Melissa wanted to meet with the young and old who serve in the military, and speak to their families about what it’s like to be a part of something so big, yet so personal.  Genie wanted to test the difference between the wars of her sons and grandchildren and those of her own generation.  And Skylar, being eleven, wanted to see the America she’d never seen before.)

Again, this is not exactly a guest blog.  This is Dottie finally finding out where she stashed the journal she kept on our trip across the country.  We enjoyed revisiting our trip and thought you might also:

Aug 12, 2011  Clarksville, Tennessee

Arrived about 1 pm.  We will be here two days, three nights.  On Aug 14 we will interview several wives of deployed soldiers about the life of the military wife – those that are left behind to keep the home fires burning, their stress of child-rearing problems, of having to take care of everything and what their men are like when they come home after a mission.

Aug 13, 2011  Clarksville (in the am)

The second day in Clarksville, and Genie and Renee are trying to line up some military wives to interview.  They are finding it is not an easy task.  The CO [commanding officer] is not giving an order to anyone, but there is a strong suggestion that it wouldn’t be a good idea.

Renee being persuasive

What we offered was the option of complete anonymity.  That way we wouldn’t jeopardize their’s or their spouse’s security.  One of the things I find interesting in our quest is that speaking to anyone that is remotely associated with the media is approached with extreme caution.  This is because of the media’s lack of integrity and negative reporting.  I watched a news program the other day after the recent helicopter being shot down [August 6th, Afghanistan] and resulting in the death of thirty people [30 American troops, 8 Afghan soldiers].  In their news coverage, they revealed the families’ home town, their names, and virtually any information that would be needed should someone or an organization want retaliation.

The other side is, I find it hard to accept that what is asked of the men and women who often make the ultimate sacrifice, that their families must also make sacrifices.  They too are asked to deal with the kind of stress often associated with a person going through a divorce, at each deployment.  The spouse who remains at home must step into the role of a single parent.  They take care of the household and everything that goes with it.  Then when the deployed spouse comes home, it is difficult for the “visiting” spouse to pick up where they left off.  In the case of men coming home, the decision-making and discipline of the household is expected to revert back to him, causing conflicts within the family.  The very things we fight for as a nation are split asunder.  Freedom of speech.  The right to pursue a happy life with those we choose to love, and raise a family and preserve the sanctity of home.

It all comes down to family, doesn't it?


More from Dottie’s Journal

More from Dottie — remembering the adventures of the four broads as they drove across the southern U.S. in the summer of 2011:

August 7th, 2011

We arrived in Boswell, Oklahoma to meet up with Don “Pappy” Papin.  He is State Captain for the Patriot Guard [Riders](OK).  He was a wealth of information.  (unlike the publicity-shunning members in Oklahoma City)

On Monday we met up with three others in the Guard.  They are “Chief”, “Judge”, and “Leatherneck”.  (even here we met with the reluctance of the Patriot Guard Riders to have any light shine on them rather than on the veterans they seek to honor. So I am not giving the real names that Dottie recorded in her journal.   However:

(Three of the four were veterans themselves)  Pappy was an Air Force Airman 1st Class.  “Chief” was a Navy Seaman (of course), and “Leatherneck” was a corporal in the Marines (natch — name’s kinda a giveaway) until he lost a leg and knee in Viet Nam.  Judge was a civilian Patriot (just wanting to do something for the kids coming home).

The Dixie Café in Boswell was host to our breakfast and after explaining that we would not alter what was said, the men agreed to our recorded interview.   Don gave us a DVD with mission footage [that he said] we may use. (in the documentary which is still in production at this time)

August 10th:

Corsicana, Texas

We visited the Pearce Museum at Navarro College campus in Corsicana.  Pearce Civil War Museum is an interactive museum featuring firsthand accounts of the Civil War, through letters, diaries and journals from civilians and soldiers of that time period.

As we drove up to the front of the building, out front was a retired Air Force fighter plane.  The building, red brick with a porticoed front, reminded me of the front of Monticello (Tom Jefferson’s place, which we actually didn’t get to see this trip, so I have to take her word for it!)  [There was also] a bronze statue of an American Indian making an offering to the Great Spirit, a preview of the Western-themed art exhibit waiting inside.

The foyer was a dome with stained glass discs of Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein, Isaac Newton and the German responsible for rockets.  (We think she meant Wernher von Braun, but don’t hold us to it.)

The building houses the museum and planetarium.  Behind the receptionist’s desk was a wall of glass bricks with frosted scenes depicting an astronomer and the solar system.

We waited for the museum administrator to see if we could have permission to take pictures or video record inside the museum.  We met with the Director, and she explained that it was bad timing since they were installing a new exhibit.  She explained that there could not be any photography or video recording in the museum and in the art gallery.  We were given free admittance (appreciated deeply!) and fell in with a tour group and went along as a curator gave a very informative tour to us and about five others.

After the tour I spoke with [the director] again, and she agreed to provide us with a DVD with film clips from the Civil War footage they have, some stills, copies of letters and information with full permission for use in our documentary.  (Unfortunately, to date we haven’t received any of it and she has never returned our phone calls or emails.  Dottie thinks perhaps she got a “no” from above.  Personally, I’m thinking ‘outa sight, outa mind’.  It happens.  Too bad – we were very excited by her promises, and would have featured the museum prominently in the documentary.)

Dottie’s thoughts in Oklahoma City

Continuing with Dottie’s rediscovered journal of our Freedom Beat trip across America in search of America’s heartbeat (again, any errors in transcription are mine):

August 5, 2011
Today we hoped to make it to Oklahoma City and meet up with Don “Pappy” Papin, Oklahoma Captain of the Patriot Guard.

waiting . . .

Pappy's colors

He was busy with other members of the Guard, meeting a disabled veteran at the airport. Instead, we met up with Ride Captain Pam Tate. Pam came to our hotel and despite her very busy schedule and her having to get up very early the next day, we went out for a late dinner to get to know one another.
The Patriot Guard is careful who they talk to. Their whole mission is to provide service to veterans in any way that is needed. They shy away from any recognition that takes the focus away from those that serve their country and often make the ultimate sacrifice.

August 6, 2011
This morning (Saturday) we went to the YMCA-sponsored welcome center at Will Rogers Airport. We were greeted by Millie, a kind of house-mom.
The USO usually sponsors the airport Welcome Centers. Will Rogers and the Anchorage, Alaska, airports are both too small for the USO to sponsor, so the YMCA sponsors them both. It is set up as a place where the military men and women can relax in between flights and in some cases, when they first get home and can meet their family.
I was saddened to be told by Millie that thieves had broken in two times during the previous week and stole two flat-screen TV’s, one a 50″, and an Xbox with all the games and controller. There was also an amplifier for the guitars that lined up against the wall. I think to do something like that is the lowest of the low.
While sitting in the Welcome Home Center, I looked around at the people in the two large rooms. Mothers and fathers, girlfriends and wives. The center provides a place to visit with their families during flight layovers, or prior to deployment flights. One young soldier was sound asleep, laying on a couch with a blanket pulled over him. A sleep so serene, one without the worry. He was comfortable knowing he could sleep without worrying he would be killed in his sleep. Another young man stretched out with his head in a young woman’s lap. A young wife waiting for her young man to be deployed. Worried if this would be the last time they would see each other.
I got to meet with Zorro, a two-year-old registered rough collie. Zorro’s assistant and agent is Renee Leach. As a certified therapy dog, Zorro works with autistic children, visits with Alzheimers patients. He has been coming into the Welcome Center for several months to visit with the young men and women that often are missing their own loving companions. Zorro has a whole repertoire of tricks as well as being friendly and spending some quiet time with an aching heart. Renee said it is just one way to let the troops know that they are appreciated, and it is so very little to give when compared to what the troops have given. Renee and Zorro work with HALO, Humans Animal Link Oklahoma.

Another Broad Heard From!

This is not exactly a guest blog.  This is Dottie finally finding out where she stashed the journal she kept on our trip across the country.  We enjoyed revisiting our trip and thought you might also.

Well, hello Dottie! You're lookin' swell, Dottie

(The words are hers.  Any mistakes in transcription are mine)

August 4, 2011
We started out at a Verizon store, replacing my phone that seemed to have vanished. I think the “minutemen” and their quality control were off. [Does that date us? Anybody else remember the “Minutemen” episode of Twilight Zone?] I am willing to bet that it will turn up sometime along the way. [Never did!]

Too many . . . too many

Next we ventured to the Santa Fe National Cemetery. Found out several things. One: after 9/11, it is evident that anything that is related to “National” ownership, i.e. the people, has more constrictions for the sake of security and the privacy of, say family visiting a grave. We hadn’t known that before we could get pictures and film footage, we needed permission. Not knowing this and not seeing any posted restrictions, we proceeded to the gravesites with our cameras and were promptly interrupted by cemetery security. A trip to the Administrator’s office, a bit of explaining and some paperwork, and we were on our way again.

A bit fuzzy. The camera person was weepy.

Next stop, Angel Fire, NM. We wanted to go to the Viet Nam memorial there. The only one in America dedicated solely to Viet Nam, it started as a privately-owned shrine for a lost son. It now belongs to the people of the United States. [Actually, it’s a New Mexico State Park now, but why quibble?] It was a bit of a chore driving-wise to get there, but well worth it. A visit there will bring some tears of remembrance and an education to those grandchildren of the ones that lived it.
Next was Eagle Nest where we visited a quaint restaurant and got to visit a 1920’s brothel. The building was built from stolen railroad ties and even though the beds are gone, some of the original “fixins” are still there, including the original wallpaper. And it is reported to be haunted.
We then pushed on into Raton to spend the night. [After a quick dip into Colorado]  We hope to make it to Oklahoma City tomorrow to meet up with Don Papin, Oklahoma Captain of the Patriot Guard.

An Old Soldier’s Passing

The gale had been raging for days, and the old oak was tired. For a hundred years it’d weathered storms easily, first as a sapling, then as a sturdy tree. But for longer than it could remember, there’d been no rain. The ground was hard pan and dust, with no water to draw up and few nutrients. The oak was impressive in its old age, but it was weak, feeling brittle and a little bitter. There was no longer a sense of renewal in the spring.
Great gusts pushed powerfully against its trunk. The oak resisted as it always had, but unrelenting battle had brought weariness to its soul. A shot of dread pierced the tree as it felt a loosening in the dead earth. The sound of screaming roots was lost in the wind’s howl of triumph. Massive branches cushioned the fall, but the trunk landed at a bad angle. It cracked and then broke, and with a last sigh the old tree settled onto the ground.
The small acorn had been very frightened during the storm. Too frightened to let go like its fellows and be swept into the black void. It had held tight to its twig as the tree crashed to the ground, but the impact was too much. The acorn’s grip was torn from the twig, and it too crashed down, between the branches to the sodden earth below.
The storm went away. From beyond the protecting arms of dying branches, the acorn felt the sun’s rays reach into its hiding place, bringing warmth and comfort. The shattered leaves had already begun to wither, dissolve, and seep their nutrients back into the earth.
Feeling fresh new life, the acorn wiggled its toe-roots luxuriously into the soft mud.
“Thanks, Pop,” it whispered.

Quilts of Valor

This week I discovered the local chapter of Quilts of Valor. They meet in the back of the Quilter’s Coop in Temecula, California, every Friday of the year, unless something like Temecula’s Rod Run makes it difficult.
Norma Enfield and Beverly Packard were making quilts for years and sending them to Camp Pendleton but they felt a little lost because they really never got any feedback. Norma discovered the organization Quilts of Valor  in 2008, and realized at that time there were very few chapters in California. She decided to concentrate on veterans and their families, and started QOVFTemecula. At first they met at Quilters Coop at the old location . Three years ago they followed the store when they moved to Old Town Front Street, at the corner of Third Street. “We are so relieved to not have to carry our sewing machines upstairs every week!”

A new pattern!

Norma keeps a record of each quilt given away in a scrapbook binder. There are presently around thirty veterans on the waiting list to receive a quilt of their own. Living WWII vets get moved to the head of the line. To get a vet on the waiting list, pick up a form at the Quilters Coop or from any of the lady volunteers and fill it out with full name of the vet, branch of service, last job title/rank, deployment (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, or here at home), whether wounded, dates of service, and who to notify when quilt is ready for pick-up. This local chapter requires a photo of the service person in uniform, which goes with the picture of the quilt in the chapter’s scrapbook, but this information is private and will not be shared with others. Some of the info will be put on the label on the back of the quilt.

Anyone is welcome to drop by, and if you can’t or don’t sew, you can iron pieces, sort fabric and help in many other ways. On a side shelf there is a box of squares with a blank white center on which anyone can write a message to the veterans, from a simple “Thank You” to a long tribute. A tribute can name a particular veteran, or be to all service members. You can sign your tribute or leave it as coming from all Americans. These squares are incorporated into a specific finished quilt.
Beverly Packard comes from Fallbrook every Friday. Others drive in from such places as Hemet, Murrieta, Corona and Nuevo.  In 2011, the group made 139 baby, child and teenager quilts, and 151 adult quilts. All the women bring their own sewing machines. Norma takes the fabrics that are donated, sorts them out and assigns projects. They make blocks and see if there are colors missing or needed, and then they go shopping. What a convenience sewing in the back of a nice large quilt shop! The group keeps multiple three-ring binders containing patterns that they’ve developed. They are always looking for more.
Some of the women put together squares (or blocks) in the store on Fridays. Kathleen started as a presser and is now learning to sew. Beverly Packard mostly does bindings on the finished quilts “because I’m fast and the others tend to get stressed out on them”. Some people pick up “star kits” and take them home to work on in their own spare time. Beverly told me she kept making “stars”, figuring she’d piled up enough to keep busy, and then the next Friday she’d come in and find them all gone. She couldn’t figure out where they were disappearing to, until she realized women were coming in during the week and taking “stars” home to work on and bring back finished.

Norma says that their biggest bottleneck is the actual quilting – the sewing of the three layers together, top, batting, and backing. Some of the baby, and children quilts can be done on a regular sewing machine, but the larger adult quilts need a quilting machine, which is quite large and can take up a whole car space in a garage.  “If we could find more machine quilters, we could pass out more quilts!” So not only can they use help with piecing blocks and tops, but desperately need more machine quilters to quilt the three layers together. The group provides everything the quilter needs to quilt the quilt. They provide their own thread and skills to machine-quilt each adult quilt.
Baby, children and teenager quilts are turned over to the project coordinator of Project Linus in San Diego who makes sure that this local chapter’s quilts go to the children of veterans who are staying at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego.
Most of the ladies have their own reasons for participating in this group. Norma says that she is too old to join the military, but she can make them quilts! “There is just tremendous personal rewards in making a Veteran feel like his time in the service really meant something. This is our way of showing them that we care and want to give them some handmade love to wrap themselves up in. Every single thank-you note is kept in the group’s notebooks.”

Reminds me of my grandmother's machine

Philomina has been coming for three months and works on a 1951 Centennial Singer model. She came to the US as a teenager from Portugal and when she graduated from high school, she was all set to become an airline stewardess so she could see the world. The problem was, in those days airlines had strict criteria for their “girls”. For one thing, you had to be 5-foot two inches, and Nina was only 5-foot, one and a half inches! So instead, she joined the US Marines and saw the world that way (after foot-blistering boot camp at Perris Island).
Kathy Turley was an Air Force service member for almost fifteen years. She is a Vietnam era veteran, but women didn’t go to Vietnam when she was in. Like the others, she has stories to tell. For instance: right away she was taught to march in formation, and then right after that, she was expected to attend a class on how to “walk like a lady”! However, her group got called up for duty at the last minute. “So,” she says, “I never did learn how to walk like a lady!”
Teresa Ontiveros is not a veteran, at least not a veteran of formal service. Instead, she walked for two days and three nights to enter the United States from Mexico. She learned English and learned to drive so she could hold down a job. In Mexico, she was a teacher, but when she entered the US, she could only be certified as having a high school education. So she went to the University of California to become a certified teacher. She is now a citizen and visibly proud to be an American. “I’m free,” she said. “I have a wonderful life and I don’t have to be afraid anymore. Making these quilts is my way to give back to the guys who make this country what it is.”
The group gladly accepts donations of good quality cotton fabric, red, white, tan, cream and blues. Any bright, colorful, children’s novelty cotton fabric is also appreciated. All monetary donations are tax deductible as this is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.
So come in to the Quilter’s Coop at 28677 Old Town Front Street on Fridays from ten A.M. until around two in the afternoon. Ask questions, check out their work, help out, donate, pick up a form to put your veteran on the list, or just stop by and say “Hi!”

Ready for the Dragon Year

So 2012 will be the Year of the Dragon. Sounds fearsome, but after reading about it, I’ve decided that I’m definitely looking forward to it. The general idea seems to be that after a Year of the Rabbit, which is associated with caution and a disinclination to take chances, a Year of the Dragon is characterized by excitement, unpredictability, exhilaration and intensity. I don’t know about intensity, but personally I’m ready for some exhilaration.

That's pretty exhilarating!

According to sources like, Dragon years are lucky for starting a new business because money will be easier to come by, whether it’s earned, borrowed or received as a gift. I’ve done enough borrowing, and all my friends are as poor as I am, so I guess I’m stuck with earning it. The experts caution not to go overboard, since the Year will come to an end and you’ll need to deal with any extravagant projects. I don’t remember having an extravagant project ever in my life, but after the last few years, I’m willing to take a few chances.

Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays, and it’s celebration extends all across East and Southeast Asia, as well as anywhere else the Chinese have stuck down roots. In China it’s known as “Spring Festival” because it marks the end of the winter season, similar to our Mardi Gras carnival. It starts on the first day of the first month of the Chinese calendar, which means it’s not always on the same day according to Western calendars. This year Chinese New Year falls on January 23rd. It’s not an official holiday in the West, but considering that the U.S. Postal Service has issued Chinese New Year themed stamps in the past, I think we have a right to pay attention.

And you need to pay attention, because there are rules traditions:

The house and everything in it should be cleaned, to ensure a fresh start. It’s considered bad luck to clean on the first day of the New Year, so you must get it done ahead of time. In addition, people typically wear new clothes from head to toe to symbolize a new beginning. Wearing new clothes also symbolizes having more than enough things to use and wear in the new year, not so much to impress others as to persuade ourselves. Positive thinking, Chinese style.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve, supper is a family feast. Then the next morning children greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year, and they receive money in red paper envelopes. Now, doesn’t that beat a drunken brawl and a hangover?

Red packets to buy and fill

On the second day, traditionally, married daughters go to visit their birth parents. Since in Eastern history daughters who were married joined their husband’s family, they didn’t have as much opportunity to see Mom and Pop. It’s different now, but it’s still a nice idea to make a point of a visit.

And you must be kind to all dogs and feed them, because traditionally the second day is the birthday of all dogs.

The third day is translated as “red mouth” and is generally considered a bad day to socialize or visit with relatives or friends. So take a break from all the good cheer and do something at home alone.

On the fifth day people shoot off firecrackers to get the ancestors’ attention, to ask for their favor and good fortune. This is also the birthday of the Chinese god of wealth, so businesses traditionally re-open on the next day (the sixth day).

The seventh day is called the common man’s birthday and is the day when everyone is suddenly one year older. Since I already became one year older last November, I think I’ll skip this one.

Everyone starts back to work by the eighth day. It’s a custom for store owners to host a lunch with their employees to thank them for the work they have done for the whole year. Not as good as a raise, but a lot better than the cranky crabbing that usually goes on around the end of January.

On the eleventh and twelfth days, friends and family are invited to dinner. And on the thirteenth day, people will eat vegetarian food because they believe it will clean out their stomach after consuming too much food over the last two weeks.

I think I need that one on January 2nd, to clean up after the last two months.

Happy Lanterns

The fifteenth and last day of celebration is known as the Lantern Festival. Families walk the street carrying lighted lanterns, and lighted candles are placed outside houses to guide wayward spirits home.

So in addition to starting fresh, clean and positive, and welcoming wayward spirits home, the Chinese New Year tradition is to reconcile, forget all grudges and sincerely wish peace and happiness for everyone. After two months (actually more like three) of rabid consumerism and stress, I think I’ll seriously consider making the Chinese New Year my favorite holiday.

Will they be forgotten?

We have always had days when we remember an event. Days of infamy, days of joy.  Some days when we remember a person who was of immense importance to the development of this country. Even days that honor whole parts of our society (mothers, laborers, etc.)  When I grew up (doncha hate it when geezers start out that way?) there were lots of highways named for presidents and mayors and such like.  Then we started getting rock bands (yeah, my home town now has “The O-Jays Boulevard”) and movie stars (Lillian Gish and David Canary, well, that’s cool, but isn’t that more bragging than remembering?).

I remember how pleasing it was when we started seeing highways named for, say,  the young motorcycle cop who was hurrying to work to help after an earthquake on a very dark morning and drove right off the broken end of a 100-foot overpass before anyone had time to get out there and block it off.   For the firefighter who lost his life trying to save a stranger’s elegant home.   For the boy who rushed back into a burning home to rescue his sister’s doll.

When I had to write a paper in school, having a road named for a president helped me remember the name of the road and the president , but it really didn’t help me remember the person.  Especially if there were many roads, towns, buildings named for the same person.  It was just a name to me, someone historical who hardly mattered to my life. But when I go past a sign for a road that honors a hero, someone previously known perhaps only to his family, I remember, I ponder, I send a thought of gratitude and regret for someone I’ll never know. Here’s one to ponder from CBSLOCAL in Dallas/Ft.Worth :

“The names of fallen soldiers are typically etched in stone. Sgt. Jay M. Hoskins’ name has been printed on metal.
Drive 10 miles north of Paris, [Texas] and you’re sure to see it. The sign bearing his name marks a stretch of US 271 from Loop 286 north to the Oklahoma border. It’s now known as the Sgt. Jay M. Hoskins Memorial Highway.”

Visit this link and read more about this remarkable man. And if you’re in the neighborhood, drive under the sign and remember who he was. Seems to me there are enough roads in this country to remember a lot of the ones who should be remembered, not because of the prestige it brings to that town, but because people who give so much should never be forgotten.  Do you have a road named for a local hero?   (Not necessarily one from the last twenty years?)   Please share with me.

My Thanksgiving this year

My grandmother told me stories of the Depression, when she was a young widow with two small children. One day she’d stretched things as far as she could and was looking at a few slices of bread and some flour to make water-gravy, and that was what her babies would have for breakfast in the morning. So she got down on her knees and prayed to God, because she had no other recourse. There was no money left and nowhere to turn. The next afternoon as she sat in her empty kitchen, she spotted her cousin coming up the walk. He’d walked fifty miles into town from the family farm, carrying a ham and a sack of vegetables.
We often spoke of the sheer terror of that night, the hopelessness and despair. And how, while we’d had recessions and stagflations and the like since then, she didn’t think we’d ever have another Depression, for the simple reason that people have recourse. Yeah, it means we run up debt, which was poison back in the thirties, but with those instant pre-approved mini-loans called credit cards, it also means that many people can keep paying rent, utility bills, and can feed and clothe their children long past the time of “no recourse”. We can hang on a lot longer to that hope that we can all get through it somehow.
Years ago I read a book about a young wife whose husband’s job moved them to the Soviet Union. I’m ashamed that I cannot remember either the title or the author, but one scene forever remained in my mind. Her small daughter needed galoshes, so she went to the only department store in Moscow, GUM, and stood in line to explain what she wanted. The man behind the counter wrote down the size she needed (all galoshes came in one color) on a slip of paper and pointed her to the correct line to stand in, to find out if there were any galoshes that week. When she got to the counter, the clerk glanced at the slip of paper, went back into the massive stacks and shelves and came back with a pair of galoshes. In halting Russian, the young wife convinced the woman that the size was closer to her husband’s than her child’s. Back into the stacks, and finally the woman came up with a pair that were at least in the ballpark. But the wife was not allowed to take them with her. She was given yet another slip of paper to stand in yet another line, where another clerk wrote up a sales slip and she paid for the galoshes with stacks of rubles. Then she was permitted to stand in a fourth line with her stamped sales slip to claim the galoshes.
Eight hours after entering the store, the young wife exited the front doors and “sat on the curb and cried for Macy’s and my Mastercard”.

This Thanksgiving I gave thanks that while my children and grandchildren are not wealthy, they are healthy and wise. I can’t give thanks for being so far away from them, but I gave thanks for a somewhat new computer, the Internet and Facebook, and for a cell phone that sends marvelous pictures and text messages that start “Hi, Grandma!”. I gave thanks for an American life that my grandmother and her cousin could not have dreamed of.
I gave thanks for the young military people who lay their lives on the line to protect that American life.
And as I shop in a fearful economy for Christmas gifts to send, food to cook and warm clothes to wear, I give thanks for Macy’s and my Mastercard.

Meeting a Lady

I first met the Mississippi at spelling bees in grade school. To belt out the rolling, hissing tune of “Em – EYE – essess – EYE – essess – EYE – peepee – EYE was always an adventure. Then came Cole Porter songs and plays and a western movie or two, although my father spoiled them by telling me that the Missouri usually stood in for the Mississippi since she had too many modern boats in the way. I can’t say I had a driving need to see her (she’s always a she, isn’t she?) but something in the back of my developing mind knew we were destined to say hello.

great view, thanks

On my first cross-country flight, I told everyone, yes, I was excited to be going Out West. But I knew it was my chance, at last, to see a great river from what had to be the best angle ever – straight down. I hadn’t realized just how high those jumbo jets had to go. Until we reached the dry air of the Rockies, I saw nothing but the top sides of winter clouds. I shouldered my disappointment – after all, I was still young, single and adventurous. There was time.

Many years later, I clutched the wheel of my pickup, staring with anticipation, aiming to hit the river at St. Louis, just below the Arch. I was trapped in a long line of traffic bunching to get on the bridge while big-bodied semis snuffled along ahead of me, creating walls I couldn’t see around. I saw my chance on a long rise. The semi of the moment spent a few bouncing seconds shifting into climbing gear and I shot around him, whipped back over and prepared to see a great river. Instead I saw a line of stopped-dead traffic below me, bottlenecking into one lane. The semi had picked up speed coming over the rise, but he managed to stop an inch from my backside. I kept my eyes on the car in front, not even wanting to know what that boy was saying in my rearview mirror. With shaking hands, I steered onto a bridge lane and sped along with everyone else, shying from the massive I-beams whipping past my window and trying to make sure I didn’t take the wrong road on the other side and wind up in some dicey dock area too close to nightfall – well, you get the idea. I still hadn’t really seen anything. A glimpse of water, some signs carrying the legendary name, and a lot of wishful thinking. I was no longer young, but I was single again, so I tucked it into what we now call a bucket list. I was going to see the lady of legend one day, come hell or – well, high water.

It finally happened on our trip for the documentary. It finally happened, appropriately, during Freedom Beat Across America. My companions were, by that time, thinking only of going home, but when I saw the welcoming place by the river, I ignored their puzzled looks and pulled in. I left them to suit themselves and walked straight through the visitor center to the balcony on the other side. And beheld my lady, flowing serene and wide between low emerald banks, under not one but two magnificent bridges, carrying commerce on her breast. I stood for a long time just saying hello. Nice to meet you. Finally.

Post Navigation