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20 January, 2017

The Worst Family Vacation Ever

                  This is the story of the wildest, funniest and absolutely, for ME, the worst family vacation ever.  My family loved it.  I hated it.  You will soon see why!

                 Kids DO the dumbest things.  Especially teenagers.   I was one of those once. It got worse as I got older, and then became a mother.

These are my Yellowstone Aventures
                      The problem all started years before I ever became a mother.  At the unintelligent age of 15, I  walked right up to a young black bear at a wayside picnic table area.  Big mistake!

                     There was a crowd watching it from a distance, tossing food to it.  Emboldened by the crowd and with the cockiness of a typical teenager, I had to get closer and try to feed it by hand  - five feet away.   

                    The bear wasn’t having any of that.  Tossing food to it was one thing, but an approaching human meant danger.  

                     Of course the next thing I knew, everybody was scrambling in terror towards their cars, loudly screaming, including me!!  

                     The bear had just charged me!  I think even Dale Earnhart  (famous stock car driver in NC) would have approved of my NASCAR entry through my car window. 
                        Ingrate bear!   That was my last sandwich, too.  I was lucky I didn't get eaten alive.
                        Some boldness episodes leave you totally super stupid. 
                         I just didn’t seem to learn from my mistakes. 

                                       This was one of those times.
                       Years later, when I was a mom of just two of my (three) young sons, my then-hubby (there have been four!) and I decided to go to Yellowstone National Park.  It is breath-taking beautiful there.   Tons of wildlife to see everywhere!

                      On the road through the gorgeous park, there were herds of buffalo grazing close to the cars.   I whispered loudly at my hubby to stop and let me get a great camera shot out the passenger window.  Me and my camera, yeah, always trouble brewing.

                  There was this huge buffalo, head down, grazing, about a foot from the car!  We stopped slowly and hubby eased up next to it so I could get a good photo.   

                  As I was twisting my 35 mm out the window to get a picture of his head, the stupid buffalo grunted, whipped around … and suddenly drove a horn through the passenger door where I was sitting!   It SHOOK the car up and down like paper until the horn came out!           

                            I think I peed myself right then and there.

                My family at the age this episode happened. My youngest son was a twinkle in my eye then.

Old Faithful in modern times.

The good old days. Brad, my oldest,  at Yellowstone.  Old Faithful doesn't spew big like that anymore!

                     Kids screamed, I screamed, hubby yelled.     Buffalo just looked at me with one giant eyeball about three inches from my face!    And moved away slowly huffing in disgust.  Well, that worked well …  we calmed down and MOVED ON.

                  From there it just went downhill for ME at Yellowstone...
                  We found a tent campsite and unloaded the car.  After setting up our tents, I took my youngest son, David, then ten months old, for a walk to explore.    

                 There were wild things everywhere!  A herd of elk was feeding just beyond the road by the campground.  I tried to approach a grazing elk cow on that peaceful grassy knoll, by climbing over a huge fallen tree trunk in my path, to get close so that ten month old DAVID could see.   

                                                 Right ….

                     Quietly I stalked forward, carrying my little David in my arms.  The elk cow raised her head and stared real  hard at me.  I should have read that body language.

                   Then, that female elk became an instant fiend, whipped around and full-on CHARGED us!   

                     Panicked, I threw little David under the huge fallen tree we'd just climbed over, and launched myself towards my own escape back over it!   Only then did I see the elk CALF that had been lying right under that  fallen tree.   I knew right then and there why she had charged me! 

                   I ran, tried to jump over the tree.  Instead I impaled my shin on a branch. OUCH!  I could almost feel her breath on my back!  The pain was hideous but I moved my butt!

                  By then that ornery elk cow, stopped,  was stamping her huge feet, and snorting (laughing) just a few yards away.   Painfully, I quickly recovered my balance, scrambled over the tree as fast as I could, reached under, rescued poor little David, who was crying hard, and fled to safety.  I never tried THAT again! 

                     David is probably still traumatized at the age of 31 by that incident.

               My two boys spent three days having tons of SAFE fun at Yellowstone with their dad.  I nursed a sore, wounded leg, or hobbled around, or sat sitting alone in the car, at all the great sightseeing spots.   In the heat, in the car, feeling left out.    Sulking for my extreme dumbness.

                   When I wasn’t sitting I the car, I was cooking … or TRYING TO COOK over a fire. 
This is a smarmy Magpie, a Western bird.
                     You see, Yellowstone is infested with these highly intelligent, very crafty birds and small ground mammals. They have developed a talent for snatching every single morsel of hot/cold food right off the paper plates of anybody!  

                    One bold Magpie even landed on the side of my hot iron skillet and grabbed a sizzling sausage link right out of it!  Then he flew away, which brought a new horde down on us.  Dang those stinking Pies!

Large voracious crows also stole our food!
                  My kids laughed  even though those ornery thieves were eating THEIR food right in front of them.  Magpies flew down to the picnic table, cockily walked among the plates and helped themselves!     They’d launch into the air with their booty if you tried to smack them.

                 The boys giggled.  They were loving it.   Hubby was useless.  I think he was cheering secretly until he realized he was going to be getting “nada”  to eat.

Hubby number three. He's 16 years younger than me. Can you tell?

                   Well, it wasn’t so funny when ALL our sausages, pancakes, eggs … our whatever,  were either snatched, walked-in or pooped-on.   THEN my kids/hubby were famished and cranky.  This kind of relentless attack continued every time I tried to feed my family there. 

                  Once we ate in the car to just get a bite!  If they weren’t getting into the cooked food, practically taking it right off your fork, then they were in your tent, getting into it!   Yeah, critters.  I wasn't loving them right about then.

Chipmunks ran across our table, snatching food! I think one crapped in my plate!
                   Chipmunks joined the picnic predators at one camp spot.  They unabashedly ran right up into the plates the minute you set one down on a table, (or your lap!).  Darned little pesks!  Nothing tastes good after chipmunk feet have trod all over it.  You never know where those buggers have walked!  Garbage cans, Porto potties, you know.   Uck!! 

Ground squirrels or prairie dogs also stole our food!
                      One morning I woke up and there were two very lardy-butt ground squirrels sitting at the opening of my tent eating, graham crackers they’d pulled out of my back pack!   They didn't move until I threw a shoe at them!

                     It was even dangerous to have open food or coolers where critters could get to them.  The signs posted at the campground, other areas, and rangers warned us "ingenues'" to lock those things in our cars, or hang them up on ropes above bear reach. 

                                  WAIT!   Now I had to worry about BEARS!??

                                       Well, the first night ONE struck. 

                     I was in my tent with little David, about asleep but had to PEE really bad.  Hubby and Brad slept in another tent, next to us.  Why did I drink all that pop?

                  Do you know that feeling?  I debated whether or not I could hold it in or if I had to make a wild dash to the bathrooms nearby. 

                As I was having an argument between my bladder, my fear and my conscience, I heard a strange, terrifying noise ….

                              Huffing…. Snorting… RIGHT OUTSIDE MY TENT!

                    There was A BEAR out there. I could hear it.  I KNEW IT.  

David, my youngest son at about that time.
                       I instantly became STONE - frozen in absolute terror!

                   My breath stopped as I waited to be attacked.  All I could think of was, “I am going to die and it’s going to eat my baby!”  I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared as I was then.   My heart was where my stomach was supposed to be.
                 Nothing happened.  The sound faded away over the next few minutes.  Panicked, I peeked out of the tent zipper opening.  It was blacker than a mother-in-law’s bad temper out there.  There was nothing I could see, hear or smell.  Was it gone?

                                    Finally, the bladder WON. 

                    I escaped as quietly and as fast as I could, and flew to the potty area and back.    All the time, I was thinking of the police report of me being eaten on the way, or poor little David being eaten.   I was a BAD MOTHER.

                  My imagination gave me the worst heartburn ever.  I think I peed so fast it vaporized out of my poor bladder!   I made it back to the tent in record speed, totally panicked that I'd find my "baby" eaten!    Once in the tent, I was hyperventilating, and couldn’t sleep.  I must have checked my baby, David,  a million times. My mind was racing:

                     I WAS SURELY A “BAD MOTHER.  Who leaves a sleeping baby to go pee, when there’s a BEAR in the area?  My husband and older son, Brad, age 5, were sound asleep in the tent next to us.    Why didn’t I think to scream and alarm everybody?" 

                   And then I remembered, "hubby has a handgun!“  

                    All these thoughts raged through my brain.  Somewhere in the night, I fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.  The next morning I awoke with a start, trembling, and stuck my fuzzy head slowly outside the tent. 

                     But I was seized with utter terror when I saw what was on the ground right by my tent door:  BEAR TRACKS!

                       Then I heard the shouts.  Screams. 
                  I looked up in time to see a crowd gathering around the parking lot.  There were a couple cars, both jeeps, with their doors ripped open, tops peeled back and contents strewn everywhere!  

                Yeah, the bear had a bigger target than me and my baby.  He had gone right for the steaks, donuts, butter, hot dogs, and goodies in those vehicles, in coolers, and on the car seats.  
                                 A hungry park bear is a walking CAN opener.

                   Relieved, I woke completely up, and thanked God that it wasn’t ME strewn all over the place, nor David, nor my hubby and son Brad.  

                 We left that park immediately and moved on to another.  I think I slept with one eye open and an empty bladder the next three days. 

                That’s why I own a little Porto potty today.  

                If I have to camp in a tent, I want MY bathroom inside.  Today, I live even better.  In a big motor home where I can take EVERYTHING I value with me.  

               We still camp.  Rather we "full time RV."  I love seeing wildlife now.  From within MY home. 

                  If I ever SEE another bear, I am RUNNING OVER HIS A_ _ WITH MY 20,000 POUND MOTOR HOME!!
You would think at 37 I'd know what I was doing in life.

                       It was a week later we saw on the TV  news that two women in a tent had been killed and partially eaten by A BEAR at the SAME campground at which I encountered that roaming, huffing monster.

                  Yep, it did get worse!  I felt so bad for those women.  Nobody deserves to die like that.      It could have been us.  IT COULD HAVE BEEN ME!!

                   I felt blessed it wasn’t, little David, Brad or my hubby. 

                   I sure have some powerful memories of that Yellowstone Park trip, and one very nasty special scar to remember those times by  … on my SHIN!

23 November, 2016

Charlie's Thanksgiving

                Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday.  Here are the true stories of two unforgettable Thanksgivings in our family.   One, in Scotland is funny, the other, North Carolina, USA, would be funny for adults but not animal lovers This is not for children.  Or those with weak stomachs...
My ancestors were there at the First Thanksgiving!
             My great-great-great (back 10 generations) grandfather, Governor William Bradford, started this holiday, unofficially.  The Mayflower pilgrims decided to have a feast at the end of their second fall in America, and the Indians were invited, too.   Thanks to them, the starving pilgrims had made it through a very hard winter.    Their first Day of Thanks was nothing like the ones we celebrate here in the US.

             They had five deer, according to journals,  and turkeys for sure.   There may have also been lobsters, swans, pheasants and even a seal.    Plus nobody got a “little bit of everything” on their plate like we do today.   Author Cheryl Bowman says,

          “The first Thanksgiving feast would have looked very strange to our modern eyes, consisting mainly of corn and meat … “
         “Common fruits and vegetables included pumpkin, peas, beans, radishes, carrots, onions, lettuce, plums and grapes.  Walnuts, chestnuts and acorns were also plentiful.   Though there was no pumpkin pie, the Pilgrims did make stewed pumpkin.     They had cranberries, but no sugar, so they did not make cranberry sauce.   Sweet potatoes were not common, so those were probably not on the thanksgiving table.”

             What?!!   No pumpkin pie heaped with whipped cream?  Yep, those were very different days way back then in the 1600s.

              When I was married for the first time (of four) my initial Thanksgiving meal totally bombed.   I won’t forget it, ever, but it was funny.

             It was in Scotland, where Thanksgiving was NOT a holiday and folks didn’t have turkeys around.   My husband Tom, a sailor in the US Navy there, had bought a frozen turkey from the Navy Commissary on base.  It was 1966 in Dunoon, Argyll, Scotland. 

           I’d defrosted it and attempted to make my VERY FIRST roasted, perfectly golden, scrumptious Thanksgiving turkey.   In my head, at least, that’s how I imagined it.  It would be just like my mother’s at home.

             The day would have gone pretty well if the propane in the stove had not run out during the roasting process.   I kept checking the turkey frequently over hours and it was still not “done.”   After six long hours, feeling very little heat in the oven in our tiny mobile home (or caravan) I gave up and pulled my poor bird out, sighing in frustration.   

             I set the pathetic half-cooked turkey on the tiny fold-out table in the living room while my husband, Tom, checked out the oven.  (We had about a foot of counter space and that was totally occupied with salad makings.)

             As he was busy poking around, head in the oven, I got distracted with making a salad.  Our Alsatian dog, Brutus (“Pain in the Ass” as I referred to Tom’s dog) was skulking inside our home that day.   He had been sleeping on the living room floor, snoring as dogs do.   But the scent of a nice, partially-cooked turkey woke him right up!    

This is an Alsatian, a lot like a German Shepherd
              His eyes popped open and he sat up, licking his chops.   The pan of turkey was just a foot above his head, right within reach.

                                 My big mistake….

                  When I made a dash into the loo (bathroom), Brutus launched himself, STRUCK fast as a rattlesnake!   He locked his smarmy jaws on MY turkey and swiped it right off the table!

                    Tearing into my precious FIRST turkey, he ripped it in half!   Aluminum foil flew everywhere!  Tom heard the ruckus, banged his head hard, trying to pull it out of the oven to see what was going on.   By the time I rushed out of the potty and looked into the living room, it was too late…  Ole Brutus, seeing my shocked, angry face, and Tom, getting to his feet, grabbed his huge chunk of turkey and bolted right out the open door!   

             The other half of my poor turkey, all dog-mauled and slobbered on, lay ruined on the unclean floor.  Thanksgiving ruined!

            Well, that was my very first Thanksgiving as a wife and it totally bombed, thanks to Tom's unruly mutt.   We ended up cleaning up the mess, snatching the stolen half of the turkey carcass from Brutus, and going into town to a restaurant for our meal.   It was NOT turkey and dressing…  Not in Scotland!

            Our Thanksgiving today, in 2011 would be a traditional gut-busting feast.    Our groaning table would be festive with a giant golden-roasted turkey, with sumptuous mushroom and chestnut bread dressing.  A big bowl of golden yams, creamy mashed potatoes and tasty gravy, green beans mixed with mushroom soup and fried onions would also reign on our table.  

My dear parents in North Carolina.  They are both gone now.
          There would be other dishes, yummy cold salads, tart crimson cranberry sauce, and pies, LOTS of pies.   I always fix a mincemeat pie just for my husband William, these days for our Thanksgiving dinner, plus pumpkin.   Whatever we had to eat would be as close to what my Mom would have made at home many years ago.  A true feast!  She was a fabulous, traditional Southern cook.

            My parents were thrifty people, as I recall, growing up.  They bought food and household supplies in bulk and they always were on sale.   Two freezers and a gigantic walk-in pantry bulged with food in our home.   We had so much food stockpiled we could have fed the WHOLE US Army! 

         Thus, it was not surprising that my parents decided on buying a LIVE turkey for Thanksgiving in 1954.  They finalized this plan one fateful visit to the Farmers' Market in Asheville, a few days before Thanksgiving.  The turkeys there on display for sale were monstrously huge.   I could not believe they were getting a LIVE bird.  No, not frozen for my Mom that year.  Fresh!

          At fifty cents a head, the turkeys were a bargain neither of my parents could resist.     Dad picked the biggest turkey of the flock and paid for it.  So, “Charlie” the turkey became ours.   My Dad loaded the trussed bird into the back of our station wagon, where I sat.

       I remember crouching among the bags and lugs of fall produce in our 49’ Chevy station wagon that day.   I was staring at the biggest, ugliest bird I had ever seen in my life.  This turkey was white, with a blue, totally naked head.   It had beady red eyes and a rose-tinged wattle hanging down grotesquely, bobbing under its beak.   Its feathers were snowy, and soft except where poop had smeared on its backside.   Well, hey, it was trussed up.  That wasn’t its fault!

       That live turkey was a wonder.   I just sat staring at it all the way home.    Me and the turkey, both in the back of the station wagon, just staring at each other.  A-mazing…

Charlie looked just like this handsome fellow!
         I don't know why I didn't protest at the start, the very real, eventual demise of this bird.   I guess I was just too stunned, realizing that at last, even if only for a few days, I might actually have a “pet!” 

        I would make it MY pet, even if it was going to die and be eaten.   Such was the mind of a 9 year-old.

          They installed "my" turkey in our deep, huge basement bathtub (slave quarters in our antebellum old home) with a bowl of water, on a bed of newspapers.   Still fettered, the turkey assumed a somewhat ruffled stance and just glared at me.  His ruby eyes blinked a challenge.    Yeah, poop on his feathers and all, he was a regal sight in my childish mind.

             I named my turkey "Charlie.”   Rapidly “Charlie” began to grow on me.  After just a few hours, I knew he was MINE.   At first that blue-headed fiend hissed at any approach of my hand.  A few blows from his sharp beak discouraged my initial attempts at petting him.  Finally, hunger wore him down.  I won.

           I raided our bread box, the freezers where more frozen bread was stored, sneaked all the popcorn I could find, and my father's precious hoard of fishing worms in the spare fridge in the basement.  (Good thing it wasn’t fishing season.  He would have lit my tail on fire!   Fishing was my father’s only escape from my mom’s nagging.)  I stuffed "Charlie" with everything he wanted to eat that I could pilfer.

            “Charlie” and I developed a special relationship in the days before Thanksgiving.  Things were coming to a head.   He would look at me with his soulful, wise, red eyes.   He would turn his head gracefully and peck gently at food I procured for him.   I knew the day was approaching when “Charlie” would be a pet no longer.   Hey, I didn’t even LIKE eating turkey!

           The fateful day arrived that “Charlie” was to die.  It was the day before Thanksgiving.  My parents made preparations.    I fumed.  Reality hit home.

          My father had sharpened his axe.   He had pounded some long nails into the tall pine out back of our garage.  “Charlie” was to be hung from these nails and whacked in the neck.   I had heard him tell Mom that she should begin several trips to the huge cellar garbage can with boiling hot water.    That was to facilitate stripping poor dead “Charlie” of his feathers.  I shuddered at the vision.

Mom and I a few years later.
             My Mom was an Alabama girl.  She had wrung many a chicken's neck.  She would expertly scald the feathers of my pet, and pluck him for dinner. 

           Mom had Dad convinced she was a professional “killer!”  Of course, this was something she’d never admit to her cultured friends.  After all she was a LADY.  A lady who kept certain talents a BIG secret.

           My “Charlie” would be a “piece of cake” for her to pluck, she boasted.

          Dad heroically announced that HE would do the “dirty deed,” out back.   He would chop off "Charlie's" head, gut “the turkey” and carry the carcass into the basement.    UGH!!!    Mother would be in charge of scalding and he'd help her pick the feathers off.   They'd roast “Charlie” for Thanksgiving tomorrow after his poor body had chilled in the fridge overnight.   

              It was unimaginable to me.  I began to get really upset!

             It was too much for my young heart.  I stroked “Charlie's” soft white feathers and looked him right in the eye.  Those beautiful red eyes, framed by that bumpy, blue, naked head – he was MY “Charlie.”  I could bear it no longer.    Hot tears began to flow.  A deluge of them.

                  With a trembling chin, I followed Dad out back of the garage as he carried “Charlie,” who was flapping his wings, hanging by his feet from Dad’s grip.   My heart thumped wildly and I began to sob loudly.   Dad ordered me to leave.    I refused.   I had tried pleading, begging.   No avail.   So, he got down to business.  He hung “Charlie's” feet up on the nails on the tree and got the axe ready to swing.

                    I SCREAMED!  Shrieked with anguish!   The language that spewed out of my nine-year old mouth would have MELTED a sailor’s buttons!    I called my dear Dad every bad word I had ever heard ANY grownup speak in anger.   Mid-swing, Dad took his eyes off the turkey and for a split second glanced over at me.   

                   He MISSED his perfect strike!  The axe nicked the side of “Charlie’s” neck!   In terror and pain, he launched himself right off those nails on the tree!

                 His feet may have been tied, but “Charlie” still had WINGS.   He flapped his wings, bounced with his feet, and swiftly evaded my Dad’s wild lunge at him.   Spewing blood out of his neck, that poor turkey began bounce-flying through the woods behind our house.  My Dad, still clutching his axe, chased him, running until he was out of breath.

                   The neighbor’s Boxer dog saw the action, burst from his yard and joined in the pursuit.   Dad fell down, too winded to chase “Charlie” any further.   The boxer whipped past Dad and kept on going, rapidly gaining on my dying bird.   I gave in to hot angry tears, turned away and stomped back toward my house.   

                        It was OVER.   I could not stand to see the final desperate minutes of “Charlie’s” life.

                     Mom came out of the basement, wiping her wet hands on her apron, asking where the turkey was.  I was crying so hard I could not have said a word. 

                     Pretty soon Dad came up, carrying a disgustingly mauled, dog-chewed, bloody, totally dead “Charlie." 

                   That nasty Boxer trotted close on his heels.  The aggressive boxer had brought my bird down and enjoyed chewing and shaking him until he expired.   It was a ghastly, horrible way for my beloved pet to die.   I was speechless with agony.   

                  Never again could I look at a big dog the same way.

                 Not wanting to waste the turkey, my frugal parents carried the carcass down into the basement and immediately plunged him into the boiling water Mom had prepared. 

                  Wow!  It wasn’t two seconds until they BOTH came flying back out of there - with green-tinged faces! 

                  In their wake from the basement outside steps, billowed out the most horrendous STENCH I’ve ever smelled.   

                   It reeked so bad, they gave up after a few minutes of angry exchange between them.  Apparently, that dead, chewed-on turkey was really stinking up the place after they put it in hot water!   Mom ran to the bathroom, to vomit, and Dad had to bend over and gulp fresh air, eyes bugging out.   I ran to my room crying in anger and grief, but smiling inside.    
                             Even dead, "Charlie" had his revenge!

                  “Charlie” ended up in the garbage can outside by the garage, wrapped in burlap (plastic bags were rare in those days).   Dad would not let me touch "Charlie", the body smelled so awful.  They were afraid I'd end up stinking like the carcass.  For the rest of the evening Dad hauled buckets of gross, stinking, bloody water out of the basement until Mom’s turkey feather-stripping container was empty. 

                  Even grosser and Dad suffered doing that nasty job.   I was glad.

                Mom showered and sulked upstairs, for the rest of the evening.   She knew they had planned to wait until AFTER Thanksgiving to buy up lots of on-sale frozen turkeys, and there wasn’t a spare frozen one in their freezers.  

                Now we had NO turkey at all to eat for Thanksgiving Dinner.  The local stores were closed already that late Wednesday afternoon. 

               So, after all her hard work, making ahead her dressing,  three pies, several salads, casserole of beans, cranberry sauce, and all else, there would be NO golden roasted turkey to adorn our table.  (All that was left for Thanksgiving Day had been roasting her turkey and fixing the yams and white potatoes, and gravy.)    

I grew up in these beautiful North Carolina mountains.

                    She did what ANY hardworking American housewife would have done:  she pitched a FIT and demanded that Dad take us out to eat on Thanksgiving Day!   

                    Well, it would have all worked out just fine if there had been any restaurants OPEN!     In the 1950s, in my town, family restaurants closed on holidays, not like today.

My Dad back in that day.
          After we got all "dolled up"  the next morning on Thanksgiving Day, dressed in our finery, and loaded into our baby blue 1954 Buick Road Master, we drove into Asheville, N.C.   Restaurant after restaurant that we passed was closed. 

        We drove all over town.   Mom began fuming.   Dad was grumpy, and I was starving, hunkered down in the back seat, watching steam coming out of Mom’s ears.   I kept my big mouth shut for once.

                 Two hours later, we finally ate, but it was very disappointing.   A Chinese restaurant happened to be open (and not a nice one either.)    We all choked down greasy, second-class oriental food, and went home very unhappy and cranky.    Mom went to her room and didn’t speak to Dad for DAYS.   

                   I stayed out of range of both of their BAD  tempers.    I thought of “Charlie,” of what could have been – a real PET.

                  Dad disappeared the day after Thanksgiving.   He came home late, with a TRUNK LOAD of frozen turkeys, hams, trout, salmon, AND beef roasts!   He was not taking any chances on Christmas dinner.

                  Me?  I still HATE eating turkey.  And I still mourn my “Charlie.”