Tag Archives: family

The Bright Side of Life

Superior sunsetJuly 13: If one of the goals of parenting is to provide a continuation of the past, then watching Cole watch Monty Python in the bunk bed of a trailer on Lake Superior, I feel like I’ve succeeded. We’re in the same spot that I spent many summers of my life, looking through the same break in the trees out on the sunset. My parents gifted me these pastoral vacations, and now I pass the tradition on.

I also have renewed respect for the difficulties of trailer life that my folks managed. I’m engaged in a never-ending battle against sand in the beds and on the floor. I struggle to conserve our limited water resources and not fill the septic tank — how do you control that?!

Cole has inherited my blissful unawareness. Eager to have no break in the fishing, swimming, kayaking, fireworks, BB gun shooting, etc., he thinks Bud and I are party poopers for needing to go to town for supplies. I well remember that feeling of freedom, of hazardless beach and friendly woods, of days that didn’t begin to end until the sun set at 9:30.

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Traveling the Past

Guyla HarrodDay 34, I think: I’m losing count

The rows of white gravestones ripple like ribbons across the green hammocks. The Lebanon National Cemetery in Kentucky was officially founded in 1867. Two-hundred-and-eighty-three stones have no names, only numbers — unknown soldiers of the Civil War found their final resting place here. In section 1, site 2B, my grandmother Guyla Harrod shares the earth with her husband, Arthur. A few sections away lie Aunt Louise and Uncle Proctor. They were the only other women in my mom’s family, and I finally paid my respects to them yesterday morning.

Mama, as everyone knew my grandmother, was a 20th century American matriarch. As a young woman she sewed bathing suits at a factory; she survived breast cancer; she rolled cigarettes in a little handheld machine; and every Christmas she watched It’s a Wonderful Life. When I was a teenager, once a week I used to bring Kentucky Fried Chicken to her apartment in a retirement home in downtown Beloit, and we’d have dinner together. She grew up in Colonel Sanders territory, and the greasy fast food provided a taste of home. She died several years later. Although she was the grandparent I knew and loved the most, I didn’t make it to her funeral. Two decades later I finally said goodbye.

I brought Mama a box of KFC and some flowers. “Mom’s got allergies!” Cole shrieked as he saw me tearing up as I laid them down — apparently this is what they say on ThOak Parke Suite Life when Zach or Cody cry. I think Mama would like Cole, wild though he can be. He’s definitely got a streak of the frontiersman in him, Daniel Boone if not James Harrod.

I’ve never spent much time in Kentucky, but my family roots here are deep — James Harrod founded Harrodsburg, the first US town west of the Appalachians. We’re some sort of descendant of his. Not too far down these country roads, one of the greatest Americans ever was born. Cole explained who Abraham Lincoln was as we drove by his birthplace and childhood home and stopped at the Lincoln Museum: “He made it so the white people stop treating the black people badly.” Pretty close for a second grader.

I’m traveling through my past. We stopped in Oak Park, Illinois, to visit my old college-friend Yasmina, whom I haven’t seen in a couple decades. Her beauty is completely untouched by the years, and she lives in an amazing brick Prairie-style home with her lawyer husband and two children. The house was designed by Tallmadge and Watson; Bud and I were in envy of its hard-wood and leaded-glass fixtures. Then we climbed back in our van and drove through the night to Beloit, Wisconsin — the city where I grew up.

Yesterday weThe Cabin had lunch with my old childhood friend Mary, who looks ever more willowy and has a vise-like memory of our past. Then it was back on the Wisconsin highways to Waupaca, where my dad and his wife have doubled their “cabin,” and where we’re celebrating her birthday today, and Dad’s upcoming 75th in August. My brothers are here, it’s raining out, and everyone is doing their own thing: Cole watching TV, Paul making a puzzle, Bud looking at wood, John and Judy looking for a missing coat hanger, and me, typing.

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Gulf Love

Paul and ColeDays 8 and 9 (June 26 and 27)

Florida at last. We arrived at the Crestview home of Bud’s Uncle Paul and Aunt Donna Friday night. This is our fifth visit to the sole surviving sibling of his father, and they are always great hosts. Donna makes the best brisket and Cole sat outside with Paul Saturday morning and had a long talk about snakes (they have a lot of them there). It’s one of Bud’s few connections to his Arkansas roots: They spent time reminiscing about the Black Oak general store and relatives lost to alcohol, accidents, or just age. Donna and I went antiquing in Milton while the guys hung out and went for a bike ride — if we can’t relive the past, at least we can buy pieces of it. I was very restrained: Saw lots of cool things but few bargains, spent $12 on gifts. Goods are better but prices are higher than in the junk stores in Florala. The item I most wonder if I should have bought: a foot stool allegedly made in Italy where the base was a kneeling camel carved out of wood topped by a leather cushion. If it had been $15 instead of $50, it would have been mine.

Bud’s friends and family have provided us comfort on our voyage. His cousins Gail and Jack gave us a gift certificate for Olive Garden that was welcome respite at the end of a long, hard day of driving Thursday. How lovely after all the road food to sit and sip some cabernet and eat pasta. Okay, it’s not Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink — but hey, that’s coming. Tonight, Miami!Family

Graffiti in bathroom at BP station outside Tallahassee (where there are daily reports of oil conditions at the beach): “Boycott BP: Not one drop of gas in our tanks until every drop is out of the gulf.” Bud stopped there, not me. It’s taken a vestige of the British empire to inspire a grassroots environmental movement.

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