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Selma

By the time you read this, I’ll be back from round two of our adventures in our new-to-us motorhome.

I’ve cranked out five blog posts in the course of a day, all the while wrapping up details for a presentation and making sure I have materials for a book festival at the end of the adventures. I like to leave our townhome clean for when I return, a place of peace after our travels. So, laundry was done, sheets were washed, vacuumed and dusted, cleaned out the refrigerator, and tried to wait as late in the day as possible to pack, so as not to freak out our Labrador, Luna.

All the while, I’ve been wanting to get to this last post in reflecting our initial set of travels.

Selma. Selma. Selma.

All-day long thoughts of this experience have been haunting me, making sure I got to this point in my reflections.

Hell, Selma has been haunting me ever since we visited in mid-February.

We pulled into town around 3:30 pm, crossing over the infamous Edmund Pettus Bridge, and making our way to the Selma Interpretive Center. We were greeted by site manager Kenneth L. Williams, who when learning we were from Toledo, announced proudly that he was originally from Cleveland. I was curious as to what brought him down to Alabama, and he graciously shared that his momma had a house and some property in the area, and when she passed, he moved down to the area and loves it.

This short interaction was huge, given what we were about to witness. How times have changed, I thought, that a Black man from Cleveland would love living in Alabama.

Kenneth explained that although the bookstore was open, the exhibit area was not, due to Covid. However, the Lowndes Interpretative Center, 25 minutes away was open, but we had better hurry, he said, because it closed at 4:30.

After a quick stop at the historic St. James Hotel, a brief exchange with a local heading into the property, (“Come back to Selma! You could spend three days here!”) we ventured to Lowndes.

Even though I researched the facility, I’ve learned of poll taxes, literacy tests, the historic march, Bloody Sunday, and Turnaround Tuesday, I was not prepared for the emotional impact of reading the firsthand accounts of the march, of the beatings, of the hate.

I read about Tent City, a settlement on Black-owned property as a result of sharecroppers being kicked off their land because of their roles in voter registration demonstrations and activity. My heart hurt as I read the accounts of senseless violence that occurred there.

The thirty minutes we had was a drop in the bucket to what I would have liked to have spent there. As my husband offered to the volunteer at the front desk, “She likes to read everything.” I guess it’s the nonfiction writer in me. I’ll never know when I’ll have the chance to go back again.

We closed down the place. I felt like I needed more.

So, Brad discovered Prairie Creek Campground, one of many that fall under the Army Corps of Engineers. The campground was just 15 minutes away, between Lowndes and Selma. We decided we both wanted to go back to Selma the next morning.

The campground was the best experience we’d had so far on the trip. Large sites, peaceful surroundings, with woods and water, campfires, families making S’mores, reminiscent of yesteryear with the kids.

Although we didn’t have three days to spend in Selma, we had the morning. We crossed back over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and visited official and makeshift tributes to those instrumental in the Civil Rights movement and March. We poked our heads into the St. James Hotel. We ventured past the sad public housing projects and took pictures of grand historic homes. Our last stop was the Live Oak cemetery, with its beautiful, yet eerie live oaks throughout.

We left Selma feeling sad, yet hopeful.

Everyone should go to Selma. I’m not sure I could spend three days there.

One was enough to remind me of how far we’ve come, but how far we have to go.

 

Psych out

There isn’t anything much more intimidating than the prospect of playing golf with a sports psychologist.

I know that the opposite should hold true, but not for me, at least at the very start. Brad and I had the opportunity to play with Jon Stabler, co-founder of Golf Psych in Boerne (that’s Bernie for those of us from parts elsewhere) Texas. Brad took Jon’s course last year and played with Jon at the beautiful Resort Course at Tapatio Springs.

Brad wanted to reunite with Jon and play a round at the course he enjoyed so much before.

The night before our outing, our motorhome shook and shimmied to the significant wind gusts blowing through the area overnight. I suppose it didn’t help that we were camping at the Top of the Hill campground, prime real estate for wind.

I tossed and turned, my thoughts floating back to a camping trip years before with our kids and my sister-in-law, Gail, in Northern Minnesota, outside of Duluth. I remember holding on to the kids and Brad as we were all piled in the same bed of our pull trailer, hoping and praying we’d all be fine.

All was well the next morning, the winds calmed down, and after taking a hike at a nearby park with Luna, Brad and I headed to Tapatio Springs. After settling up in the pro shop, we headed to the range, grabbing a few clubs to warm up with. Soon after Jon showed up, offering a huge smile and a warm, strong handshake. I suggested that the student and instructor should ride together, and I would hang in my own cart, which they agreed made sense.

The first hole was a par 5 dogleg left (as opposed to dogleg right as I thought). I hit a decent drive, nice second shot, then needed a wedge for my approach shot. I repeat, I needed a wedge for my approach shot. I looked in my bag, then over at Brad’s thinking maybe I’d accidentally put my wedge in his bag after warming up. No wedge in sight. After a quick inventory of my clubs, I realized I’d left three clubs at the range…a first for me.

There’s nothing like the drive of shame from the first green back to the range, making my way strategically past the group behind us so as to avoid disturbing them or getting hit. I checked in with the golf pro by the shop to see if anyone had turned them in, no such luck. Drove to the range and discovered the clubs exactly where I left them.

I sped back to the guys, who were already midway into the second hole, a par 4 with the approach shot over water. I decided I’d just skip that hole. Feeling a little unnerved and embarrassed, I took a deep breath at the next tee, a short par 3, and struck a beautiful shot, which was tracking toward the hole.  An easy birdie putt later, I felt back in my groove.

Hole #12

We had a great time, both Brad and I played well, perhaps as a result of the calming influence of the golf mentor. At the end of the round, Jon gave me a hug and said I “had game” and that it was really fun to play golf with me. I felt the same about the experience and was proud of myself for not letting the mistake at the start of the round affect the rest of the afternoon.

Our Texas time came to an end and made our way the next morning to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where my niece Liz and her husband, Nick live. We had a wonderful evening enjoying their homemade chicken pesto pasta, always a family favorite. Temperatures dipped overnight, and I was grateful for my winter hat for our walk with Liz the next morning.

As we said goodbye, Liz gifted us with frozen salmon and halibut from their adventures up in Alaska last fall. Yum!

One of the many upsides to traveling by coach is the chance to see family along the way. Soon we’d have a quick stop in Atlanta to visit our daughter before heading home.

But, before then, Selma happened.

 

 

This post is brought to you by the letter S

The Sonoran Desert. Saguaro. Shit. South Mountain. Sixteenth at Phoenix Open. Super Bowl.

This post is brought to you by the letter S.

Did you know that the Saguaro cactus is only native to the Sonoran Desert? As often as I’ve had the privilege to visit this area of the Southwest, I had no idea how limited their range was, much less that these huge, unique plants can live up to 150-200 years old.

As Brad and I hiked in the Casa Grande Mountains on the 2.7-mile East Butte Trail, I wondered about the travelers the cacti had witnessed over time. From Native Americans all the way up to the modern-day mountain bikers, the stories they could tell.

Luna was in her element, weaving her way on the trail, sniffing, enjoying the quiet trail. Until she met up with another cactus…the jumping cholla. The sharp, long needles latched onto her back leg. Shit! Brad was wise to grab Luna’s collapsible canvas water bowl to detach the barbed spines from poor unsuspecting Luna. After removing what we thought were all the spurs, we kept on. Only later that night did we find more needles embedded in her fur coat. Tough bird, she didn’t really even flinch as we pulled them out.

Do not try this at home! Ouch!

After the peaceful morning hike, we packed up and headed up to our visit with our friends, Tom and Margo. They live in Chandler, near South Mountain. We parked Bessie on their street and enjoyed the comfort of their home for several days. We hiked along the base of South Mountain the next day. Fortunately for Luna, she had no further interactions with the jumping cholla cactus. Luna is used to being off-leash and was so amazing as we wound along the narrow mountain trail. I’d put her back on the leash whenever coming across other hikers, and make her sit, pulling her off to the side of the trail. She made more friends than we did on those hikes!

A highlight of our visit was taking in the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Brad and I, along with Tom and his friend BJ hung out at the course all day, taking in the storied 16th hole. The PGA touts it as The Peoples Open. I’d call it the Party Open. I couldn’t get over the massive and numerous hospitality tents, multiple stories high. The 16th hole is the place to be, as crowds cheer on birdies and boo at a mere par. Beer cans flew onto the green a day later, as a player made a hole in one. It was fun to see the change in clientele and attire as we left the course later in the afternoon. Young women, dressed in heels and strapless dresses strolled in with their date behind, dressed in polos and khakis, headed to the live entertainment the course hosts nightly.

We enjoyed golf at Moon Valley Country Club with our friend, Mike. He offered at the start of the round that the course was where Annika Sorenstam carded her historic score of 59 twenty years ago…the first woman to do so. I had a blast but my score was not historic.

Sunday afternoon brought the Super Bowl. Refreshing to have it scheduled at 4:30 pm Mountain Time, two hours before we would typically be viewing back at home. Just as kickoff was to happen, so did the unimaginable for football fans. The power went out. Brownout through the whole neighborhood. Brad, with his ability to think quickly on his feet, suggested we power up the generator on the motorhome and watch it from the outside TV. We gathered up chairs and began to transfer beverages and snacks to their driveway. And of course, just as we were settled in, the power went back on.

Monday morning, we fired up the motor home and started our journey back home.

With a few amazing stops along the way.

 

 

Stopping

“Stop,” a little voice screamed from behind me.

I turned around, pulling our lovable Labrador, Luna, with me.

There, was little four-year-old Wyatt huffing toward me, as fast as his little legs could pedal his bike with training wheels. I’d met Wyatt, his little sister, Ava, and his parents just moments before while taking Luna on her evening walk. Luna tugged on the leash as we chatted, and I gave in, knowing she wanted some privacy to do her business.

Wyatt loved Luna and wanted more face time with her, apparently.

“I told you to stop, but you didn’t stop,” he wailed.

I walked back to Wyatt, Luna gave him a big wet one on the face and I said, “I’m sorry, sweetie. I didn’t know you were trying to catch up with us.”

“I was, and I couldn’t,” he said, his voice quivering.

I know the feeling. I felt like I was having problems catching up with myself since taking off on our journey a week before. From driving like crazy people from Toledo to San Antonio in two days, then touching down in San Antonio for two days, dropping into the land of snow (as I now call El Paso), and then on to Phoenix in no time flat, I simply needed to stop.

Our campground, Wild West Ranch, is located in the Sonoran Desert. The ground consists of dust and dirt, evolved from stone and rock. The first night we arrived, under cover of cold, starry skies without a lick of light pollution, we struggled to find the spot we were to camp at. I got out of the motor home and walked cluelessly with my flashlight in hand, trying to avoid flashing neighbors. Using the rudimentary map I had, I found our spot, thinking Nancy Drew would be proud. Luna continued to circle away, trying her best to find any bit of vegetation to relieve herself on. Proud momma moment: this old dog can pee on any natural surface now. Luna…not me. I’m still working on it.

The Wild West Ranch is way south of Phoenix, about 45 minutes from our friends, Tom and Margo, with who we had intentions of getting together as much as possible. It’s surrounded by the Ak-Chin reservation. Ak-Chin translates into the “mouth of the wash.” As we drove up to Phoenix that week, I was amazed at the cotton fields and the irrigation system in place for what I learned to be 15,000 acres of farmland. The United States “gave” the tribe 47,000 acres in 1912. That was reduced to less than half that the following year. But the Native Americans gained water rights to the Colorado River in 1984 and have been successfully farming ever since.

So, in the midst of this dust and dirt, lived Ava, Wyatt, and their parents, in their travel trailer. Dad worked at the Intel chip manufacturing plant way being built in Phoenix. The new plant will support over 3,000 new jobs. I have a feeling that the Wild West Ranch won’t feel so wild the next we come this way.

For the moment though, Luna was licking Wyatt and Ava, giggles erupting from their sweet little faces, and I was stopped.

Blissfully stopped.

 

Bessie, Joanie and Frederick

We pulled into the San Antonio KOA and there she was.

Bessie. That’s what we’ve named our new-to-us motorhome. Not the most original of names for a vehicle, but it seems to fit.

Standing outside our soon-to-be new home were the soon-to-be previous owners, Joanie and Frederick. Joanie was petite, blond, and had a wonderful positive aura about her. Frederick, taller, sported a ball cap, where a long white ponytail flowed out of. His eyes twinkled behind his glasses, a quiet smile from underneath his mustache.

Welcome, they both said in unison and ushered us into the motorhome.

As soon as I made my way up the three steps into the coach and onto the threshold, I felt like this was home. I felt like I belonged here, all the while emotions of having been here before swept over me.

This was to be the third motorhome we traveled in. The first, an all-gold Cortez, brought people out on their porches throughout New England back in 1992. This isn’t the Cortez we drove in, but you get the idea.

I was pregnant with our daughter, Kyle, and little baby Claire spent most of the long travel days snapped into her car seat watching the world go by. My favorite story from that adventure almost was the worst story. Back then, mapping consisted of an Atlas, with dog-eared pages and oily finger stains. A thick campground book served as our guide to sites. Driving along the coast of Maine to our overnight destination, as we passed through a small town, Brad suggested we stop for dinner. I grumbled that I thought we should just keep going. Claire was getting fussy, and I was tired, dealing with a huge sinus headache. I just wanted to be there, wherever there was. The road went from a four-lane highway to two lanes, to something just above a gravel drive. The nearest thing to any dinner was looking like the few cans of beans we had in the cupboard.

We pulled up to the campground welcome stand, not much more than a little hut that kids would huddle in waiting for the school bus. The owner welcomed us and offered a site right along the bay. Claire began screaming on cue, and Brad asked if there was anywhere nearby to grab something to eat. The owner directed us just up the roadway, where she said we’d be in for a treat. It was close enough to walk, so we scooped up Claire and her highchair and hoofed our way to the dinner surprise.

There was a little weathered shack with a deck, right on the water. I set up the highchair and cuddled Claire, trying to settle her. Brad went inside and came out with a huge grin on his face and a spindly lobster, pinchers banded with rubber.

Lobster was the treat. I can still taste the buttery, soft meat from the fresh-caught crustacean. I’ve not had better lobster since.

The owners took us under their wing and showed us their lobster traps on the deck, explaining to these Midwesterners how they worked.

Our second motorhome we purchased after losing our daughter Claire. I was emotional as we met with the owner of the small dealership. This purchase stemmed from our vision of moving forward literally and figuratively after her death. It was a huge investment, both monetarily and with our family. The owner, an older gentleman, pulled me aside and asked if I was okay. He calmed me by offering that what we were doing was “honoring your daughter as well as your other two children. Think of all the amazing adventures you’ll have, the sights you’ll see, together.” He said that we were wise to do it now, for too often he had customers wait until they were older and found it difficult to get around.

Boy, did we get around…to 47 states in the unit.

(Our daughter Kyle filling in our travel map. Note to self: Buy a new one.)

And the adventures? From a hot air balloon ride in Albuquerque to a seaplane ride in Coeur d’Alene to hiking in Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, and an unforgettable kayak trip trying to beat a storm on Jenny Lake in the Tetons, we did it all.

So, here I was, once again, stepping foot inside our next adventure-transport vehicle. It couldn’t have felt more right, from Joanie and Frederick’s welcome to their generous gifting of many household goods, cleaners, and supplies. We learned in our time together that “Bessie” had served her purpose for Joanie and Frederick, and now it was time to move on.  We’re grateful they have entrusted us to take good care of her.

So now Bessie has a new purpose. Serving us safely as we attempt to continue to explore, learn, golf, and meet people along the way in our travels.

I think she’s up for it. I know I am.