Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Expanded Preview of Spreading Wing

Barbara and I are about to head to Eastern Europe, to look at a part of the world we have not yet seen. I will be away from my computer until the middle of June. I will resume my "On the Road for a Year" series of posts. In the meantime, I am posting an expanded preview of my book, Spreading Wing, which contains 35 or so excerpts from throughout the book, to give you a better idea of what it's all about. Remember, you can get this book on amazon.com and Amazon Europe, book form or Kindle.
     Thanks for reading, and I will be back in June!

Spreading Wing by Pat Gillum Buy on amazon.com -  True Stories

Thirty five excerpts from throughout Spreading Wing. Read this for a good representative idea of what Spreading Wing is all about!

The first Gillum house at Wing, after they arrived in 1898, was built atop the first ridge as the Ouachita Mountains arise from the north side of the Fourche La Fave River Valley. Two miles of flat, fertile bottom land stretches out below, cut by the meanderings of Stowe creek, the primary watering source of the livestock. It is surrounded by hundreds, or thousands, of acres of hardwood forests and fertile fields. Many more fields appeared as more and more crops were planted, but much reverted back to timberland, again, as the overworked soil played out and row crops diminished and virtually disappeared. The river, two miles away, flows lazily along the base of the south mountains, Fourche mountain arising steeply from the river bank. The south mountains curve into a dip, not unlike the cleavage of a modest, beautiful woman, to allow Barnhart creek to rush from the south mountains to meet the river. This is the sight I awoke to every morning, for the first seventeen years of my life, out my bedroom window. One might think it would become routine. But it never did. My Dad arrived at that hill, a young boy of five. He was destined to live out his life, on and around that hill. From the look in his eyes as he gazed out over that valley, I don't think it ever became routine to him, either. Dad moved four more times in his life, but he was always within short hollering distance of that hill.
Dad was once engaged, but his future wife died. Dad had built a house in the meadow for her. Grandma, Hallie, and all loved her. When Dad and Mom, Cornelia Irene Lazenby, later married, they did not live in the house in the meadow at first, but on the hill with Grandma and Hallie, Dad's unmarried sister, a Peabody College trained teacher. There was no electricity in the meadow house. Even though Mom was very hard working, kind, gentle, and loving, Grandma, and even Hallie, on occasion, were harsh in judging her. Her life was miserable. Sarah Turner said, “The first woman, who died, is put up on a pedestal. No wrong can she ever do.” I think that was at work here. After three children - Harry, Harold, and Jonnie, Mom wanted out of that house. They moved to the house in the meadow, with no electricity. Jan was born there. Then they moved to a third house, the “other house.” (The Marion Turner house.) It was bought by Dad along with twenty seven acres after it was repossessed. It was larger than the meadow house, and the family was growing. Barbara was born there. After Hallie and Grandma died in 1941, the move back up on the hill closed out the moving triangle, all within “hollering” distance of each other.
Now that you have somewhat of an idea what Mom faced, moving in with all those dominant Gillums, I have a very fitting little story that I love. After Dad and Mom married, a picture of Dad's dead sweetheart continued to hang on the wall. After a time, a picture of Searce Pickens, Mom's old sweetheart, showed up on the wall also. Stirring up the situation somewhat was the fact that Searce Pickens was now working for Dad. After a time, both pictures came down. Mom had beaten the Gillums at their own game. A very rare occurrence.
I can find no other source that gives anything other than the highest praise to Hallie. She was obviously a wonderful influence in the lives of all her students, and was dearly loved by all others who speak of her. But my brother Harry related to me why life became so unbearable for my mother in that house. He was there, in that house, and he was old enough to see. And hear.
JR Turner was sweet on Ruby, Mom's younger sister. The romance dragged on. Grandpa Lazenby was not big on long romances without a wedding ring. His oldest daughter had gotten into trouble like that. He asked, “When are you getting married?” JR would reply, “I need to save just a little more money.” This went on and on. He probably did need more money, this was at least close to the time of The Great Depression. But JR also had a wanderlust. He could not settle down to one place easily, and I suspect responsibility for a wife at that time sat heavily on his shoulders. The California sisters sent money, and Ruby was headed for California. She entered into a romance with Homer Greear. Marriage was looming. But before that happened, she went back to Wing for a visit. The old romance started to heat up. Grandpa Lazenby met JR At the front door one night, to again discuss his intentions. JR still was not quite ready to settle down. Grandpa called Homer Greear and warned him. Homer jumped in his car, drove straight through to Wing, scooped up Ruby, fled to California, and married her.
JR continued his wandering ways. He would be here, then gone. Be here, then gone. For many years. I always loved talking to him. He would show me gold and other treasures, found in Mexico “a thousand miles off the blacktop.” Such stories fueled that wanderlust desire in me. But when my time came, and I had to make my decision after college to “scoop Barbara Sue up and marry her,” or see the world, I saw at least three other guys looming on the horizon who wanted to marry her, also. I wanted her more. We raised a great family, Corey and Kinley. They produced wonderful grandchildren for us, Caylie, Christian, Jordan, Jackson, Carson,and Jett, who was, sadly, stillborn. We retired. I was pleased to discover Barbara loved to roam the world every bit as much as I do. So, after our early retirement, we found ourselves spreading wing and seeing the world. Barbara has seen all fifty states, and we have seen every continent except Asia and Antarctica. By the way, you don't happen to know anybody who would like to lease our house for a year, do you? It's on the market. We have done this before, and if it happens again, we'll be outta here!
For many years, when JR saw a member of my family, he always asks about Ruby. At one hundred, he still did. He looks great. He gets around well. But his short term memory recycles very fast. When we have to tell him, again, that Ruby has been dead many decades, he begins the mourning process all over again. But it does not last long.
The last time I talked to JR, His memories were essentially gone. He made no mention of Ruby. He had, at last, been released from his lifelong agony of loving, and losing, Ruby. JR passed away in 2012 at the age of one hundred two.
When I went to town as a small boy, I always did all I could do to avoid people. I would normally cross the street to avoid meeting someone on the sidewalk. Once, however, I saw a crowd, very large, gathered around a store window. I just had to see what they were looking at. When I finally worked my way up to the front of the group, I saw a box with fuzzy, squiggly lines moving around on it. Every now and then I could see a figure of a person on it! Some of the other people called it a television. My world was changing, and fast.

At about ten years old, I was all into Indians. I decided to make myself an Indian costume. I had a belt around me, with a flap hanging down in front and back. That's all. Not another stitch. I threw in a feather in my hair for effect. I had a tomahawk. Once, the girls were all on the porch, so I decided to show off my costume. I ran the length of the porch, jumped off real high, and gave a war whoop. It changed into a scream when I realized my costume had a flaw. Both flaps flew up. It seemed like I was in the air forever, then when I hit the ground, I could not get gone quickly enough. The girls were rolling with laughter, and I still have to endure that story at every family reunion.

When I was five or so, I picked up a big piece of metal at the shop, and a big blacksnake ran out from under it toward me. I screamed loudly, and I saw Dad running across the pasture to me. I was so amazed to see Dad running, I forgot about the snake. I had never seen Dad run before. And never did again.
Snippy was a short haired, black, chunky feist. He was a dandy squirrel dog without a hunter. Harold, my older brother, his hunting partner, had gone off to college. Snippy spent his days, lying in the warm sun, dreaming of days gone by. On cold winter nights, he would jump up through the open crib door into the barn, work his way into the hayloft, and burrow in for the night. One very cold winter morning, with the temperature hovering near the single digits, I approached the barn. Then I saw him. Snippy lay, curled up in the snow, frozen solid. Above him was a closed, and latched, crib door.
I awoke with a start. The moon was up, and an ominous wind blew through the tree branches. An owl hooted in the distance. Although it seemed I had been asleep a long time, the moon told me it was not yet midnight. My major concern, however, was Tooter. I had never run onto anything in the woods that frightened Tooter. But here he was, whining, crying softly, pressing against me, staring into the darkness. A faint rustling in the leaves came from the direction of his attention. I picked up the .22, releasing the safety. The rustling, about a hundred yards out, slowly circled us. With Tooter following every move with his nose, whining, we strained to see through the darkness. The circling continued, at intervals, throughout the long night. Tooter and I pressed closer and closer together....
Early one warm summer night we headed for the corn patch. No sooner had we reached it than Tooter was on a hot trail. Mike and I ran down a corn middle. We could hear Tooter running toward us, knocking down corn stalks as he ran. A silent, furry shadow flashed in front of me, barely visible in the dim moonlight. Close behind came Tooter. Reason and common sense left me, and I joined the chase, momentarily not noticing that I was doing as much damage to the corn as the coons were, tearing and scattering stalks as I ran. Suddenly, the game changed. The big coon turned to fight. Tooter, having better control of his senses than anyone else at the moment, jumped aside. I don't think I really made a decision to do what I did next, for I like to think my decision making process is a little better than this display. And I knew about coons. A coon like this can be a bundle of screaming and biting fury. They often whip a dog, and can kill them if they get on them in the water. I dived at the coon. I like to think I reconsidered in mid air, but I don't really think I did. I sat on the coon, on my knees. I held the ringed tail tightly in both hands, while the masked face peered out from behind me. The coon was strangely quiet, giving me a moment to consider my situation. I asked myself, “How do I get off?”
Years later, a month or so after Dad's death, I drove to the farm. When the farm came into sight, I guess I was surprised to see that it looked just the way it always had. I realized I had really begun to buy into the idea that the farm would totally go to hell if Dad was not there to watch over it. The land was exactly the same, the house had not changed, the cows were all grazing contentedly – nothing, nothing at all, had changed. Dad was gone, but everything there was the same as it had always been. I just sat there and looked for a long time. And I cried.
Toward the end of my student teaching, I drove down to the Delta Dip, the local hamburger hotspot one night. And my life changed forever. Little did I know, as I drove to the Delta dip that night, that the love of my life awaited me there. And I had forgotten to bring my great white stallion.
I had this problem. In high school, I never dated much. Not totally my idea, but it just never really happened. I was totally insecure and silent around any girl I liked. So, I headed out to college, determined to start a new dating life with a clean slate. Well, I did get to where I could carry on a sensible conversation with a girl, and dated quite a bit, as long as I didn't really like her. If I did, I just froze up. If I REALLY wanted to date a girl, and after finally getting up the nerve, I would call her up and say something really good like, “Hey, you wouldn't want to go out with me, would you?” and then, if she hesitated, even for a moment, I would throw in the clincher. “That's OK. I don't blame you. I wouldn't either if I were you. Bye.”
I was nearly out of transportation, having problems with my old Chevy. The fuel pump shut down on me on University Avenue in Little Rock one day, and a cop showed up and helped me get it towed back to a station. Fortunately, my brother Harold, who I had bought the car from for several cows, had saved an old fuel pump in the trunk. Said it would work in a tight. Well, I was in a tight. I had it put on, and Harold was right. It did work in a tight. Long enough for me to get back to the spot where the first one quit, and it quit too.
Frank Broyles, the Arkansas Razorbacks head football coach, flung a major insult at me that year, though we had never met. After a particularly bad razorback practice, he was so mad he told the press, “We looked like St. Paul out there today.” Well, I was the only coach St. Paul had, and as I looked around to see if maybe he was insulting someone else, I didn't see anyone but me.
Such is the family I married into, in 1966. Though I was never a Dunnahoe, they all soon made me feel like one. At family reunions, I immediately had the uncanny ability to sit down in the very middle of that large gathering, and fall asleep instantly. This had the effect of Barbara constantly being asked, "Don't you feel just a little nervous, when he's driving?" When questioned about that ability, my reply was always the same. "I just feel so comfortable, so at ease around the Dunnahoes, that it just happens." And the strangest thing of all is, It is the total truth.
We were shooting a wedding in Little Rock. Our Hasselblad went down on us while finishing up the pre-wedding shots. That sort of trouble just never happened with that type camera, the most reliable of its day. That was the model taken to the moon, the one they knew they could count on. We had gotten a little too sure of it, and didn't take a really good backup. We never made that mistake again on any job we couldn't re-shoot. I ran to our bag for the backup camera, a 35MM I used for wildlife photos, covered with camo tape. I ripped the tape off, then discovered a small device needed to hook up the flash was missing. I told Barb, again with panic in my voice, “Get in place for the coming down the aisle shot. I'll go buy a part.” I drove madly to Camera Mart. Fortunately, It was open on Saturday morning. Fortunately again, they had it. When I got back to the wedding, the bride was about to start down the aisle. I walked briskly past her to Barbara, who was standing in position, smiling confidently with an unusable camera. I slipped her the part, she hooked it up, and got a great shot. Again, nobody ever knew.
I pushed with reckless abandon against that gate with every pound of my considerable weight, and every ounce of my inconsequential muscle, sweat running off me and fear running through me. My mind was a blur. This could just not be happening to me! This sort of thing does not happen any more, not since the 1800's! But then, I had not been in this remote corner of the world before. No telling how many angry Quechua Indians outside pushed back, screaming at me, trying to force their way in---
I arrived home with different feelings. Something unexplainable. We were headed out for a short vacation with Barbara's sister's family, upon my arrival home. As we toured around, I began to put my finger on it. I was feeling like I was a true chick magnet! I felt like every pretty woman we were around had eyes only for me. I even felt sorry for the young, muscular, handsome men they were with, because I knew their women was thinking only of me. This was a total and complete, one hundred eighty degree change in my thinking. Barbara was so lucky to have me, and I was sure all the other women around were green with envy. How could I ever go back to Arkadelphia, and work on my rental properties in shorts, as I did before? I knew the young women would just never leave me alone, and let me work

Anyway, I wound up riding in “wild child's” car. I went to sleep in the back seat, and woke up to the sound of our windshield breaking, "wild child" screaming, and screeching tires. When I opened my eyes, we were lodged under a sixteen wheeler, crossways, right in front of the back tires, and being dragged down the road at seventy MPH.


The dressing room, in the middle of the building, looked like the best place. Just as I started in, the wind really picked up. "Aw, man, my awning is blowing away." Then a house trailer, or what was left of it, mostly the frame, came through the front picture window. The back windows of the building were sucked in, the suspended ceiling around me was sucked down to the floor, and the two swinging doors behind me slammed with a loud bang. I went in the dressing room, lay the camera on the floor, and covered it with my body. My thought processes ran something like, "We've got to have something left to make a living with when this is all over." I heard the most awful groaning sound I have ever heard, as my front brick wall, three bricks thick, moved forward a few inches at the top.
The lights were on, cameras ready to roll, and Fredrica Whitfield was sitting there in our living room, smiling, her notebook in hand. Now, me, I'm not always a good spontaneous speaker. Never, I would guess, with a national audience. I could not think of a single intelligent thing to say, the best being a few "uhs" and maybe "duh." I just knew I was about to become a major fool, on national TV.
We checked in at the Villa Backpacker's Motel, billed as the nicest one in New Zealand. Hundreds of young people. Once again, no other old people. Many of the European women walked around with almost nothing on. So, I had to apply what one of my pastor's had told me years ago. “If you look at immodest women, you risk going blind. So, if you must look, cover one eye. Only risk one.”
We were in Ireland. We went to the poor house the next day. Now, don't be alarmed. Not to live, but for a visit. Dad had strongly instilled in all us Gillums a fear of the "pore' house," but I had never seen one. It looked like a prison, was established in the mid 1800's when people were starving in droves from the Great Potato Famine. It was designed to be so bad, that only starving people would go there. Hard work, no family contact, a bowl of thin soup daily. A lady at a B&B we stayed at told us about her father. He broke his leg, badly, but he refused to go to a doctor, fearing the poor house would be his next stop. He lived out his life with his leg broken instead.
As we walked through the red light district, prostitutes displayed themselves like merchandise in little windows. Barbara mentioned, "Did you see how pretty that last one was?" Naturally, I had to walk back for a second look. She smiled, started opening the door to welcome me in, and I quickly fled back to Barbara.
When he got to Iraq, he assumed his Arabic identity. Those same buddies arrested him one night, and he smiled and said, "It's me, guys." They wouldn't believe him, and he had to show them his US Air Force pants, on under his robe, before they would let him go.
Currently, he said, he makes regular trips to the eastern US near Washington, D.C. The CIA was never mentioned, but we understood..
The next morning, he walked us out to our car. He had a small lecture for Barbara. "You travel far too lightly about the world. People will entrap you. You should never have let me in your car yesterday." "We had you outnumbered." Barbara replied. He laughed. "I wasn't worried." He waved Barbara's camera away. No pictures, no address, no e-mail address. "But I will e-mail you." We're still waiting.
When we got to Pisa, we decided it didn't look so big. Surely we could just drive around and locate a big, leaning tower. But no, we finally had to board a bus to get there. Barbara has a problem with straight and crooked, something we worked hard with tripods and cropping to keep secret while we were in the photography business. She snapped her first photo of the leaning tower, and in the photo it was standing straight up! She quickly deleted it, knowing I would make a lot of mileage out of that jewel.
We caught our train back toward our house and our car, smooth as silk. We're world travelers now, and we know how to act the part. When it got to the border, it stopped. An announcement that we couldn't understand was made, and people were starting to get off. There was no train change on the way in, so we sat tight. After a few minutes, we began to realize we were the only people left. That's a bad sign, and just as that was sinking in, the train started back toward Monaco.
When we got there, we ran back to the ticket agent, who spoke a little English. "You should have changed trains at the border." "Any more trains out today?" "One is leaving right now. You might catch it if you run. That's the last one."
We ran. I quickly outdistanced Barbara. I was nearly there now. The train started to move. I was even with the engineer, and I waved frantically. The train slowed, and a door opened. Barbara was just now coming into sight, a long way back, huffing and puffing. I put one foot on the train, and kept one on the ground, and held my position. If they shut that door now, they would have to squeeze me in it. Once we got on, we found a British couple, who were going past our village, and stuck with them like glue. So much for being big world travelers.
As we realized we must be nearing our village, Barbara asked, "Now, what is the name of our village?" I didn't have a clue. It was beginning to get dark now. We moved close to the door, and strained to see something familiar. As the train slowed for a village, Barbara screamed, "There's our car!" She bolted for the door, ahead of me, and started pushing it open as soon as the train stopped. But she was on the wrong side, and she was about to step out onto a live track! Those trains run silently, are very fast, and are about a foot apart. Stepping out on the wrong side could mean instant, silent death. Several people tackled her, and pulled her back. We were sure glad to see our cute little red car. We almost hugged and kissed it.
Children screamed and ran when they saw us. We were the only white faces on the street and in the church. Mothers apologized as their children screamed and ran, saying, "My children have never seen a white person before.”
Barbara was determined to win over a particularly frightened little girl. The little girl screamed at the sight of Barbara, burying her face in her mother's shoulder. Barbara approached her, smiling, and finally the little girl accepted that without crying. Finally, Barbara was allowed to touch her hand. After awhile, Barbara was allowed to walk two fingers up her arm, softly saying, "Here's a little man, walking up your arm!" Finally, a sweet little smile appeared on her face, and she stretched her arms out to Barbara. The surrounding crowd laughed. When we got inside the all concrete church, (can't be burned) and they all started singing, "What a mighty God we serve," We knew we would be all right.
We drove up to the entrance. Yeen Lan told us to remove all jewelry, carry no camera. People had died for taking pictures inside Kibera.
She told the soldiers at the entrance what we were doing, when we should be out. We walked in. There were no toilets in sight. Flying toilets were the thing. Use a plastic bag, throw it up on the roof. Or out on the walkway.
A single, small, plastic water pipe led to the interior, where water was sold by the gallon. The store consisted of a couple of butchered goats hanging, and a couple of sacks containing beans and lentils, by the handful.
At intervals there were towering mountains of garbage, roamed by dogs and rats. We saw people high from sniffing glue. It was one way to escape one's surroundings, at least for a little while.

A sweet little girl, in rags, ran out into our path, a sweet smile on her beautiful face. "Hello," she called out to us. "How are you?" Her smile broke our hearts. Barbara and I both just wanted to take her hand, and take her home with us, away from this place.

Many large animals could be seen scattered throughout the plain. After we had gotten a good close up look at a lot of animals, and were miles from camp, a major storm blew up just before dark. Wesley got out rain gear for us all in that open jeep, but it did little good in this storm. The plain was flooded, and we got stuck, again and again, each time finally managing to get out. After dark, I kept my face covered to try to keep out some of the rain. I once looked out, just as a big lion jumped out from in front of the jeep, and stared at us hard. I covered my face back up. I really did not want to know what was waiting outside our jeep.

When we got to the border, things were just as congested as before. Barbara picked the visa line she wanted, because it was manned by a guy who seemed relatively friendly, and occasionally smiled. When we got up to his desk, Barbara poured it on. Smiling, laughing, telling all about us being missionaries, and on and on. She passed the visa over to him. He was totally won over, and stamped our old visa, not valid now, and smiling, said, "You have a great day." We thanked him, and got gone quickly. Barbara just has a gift for having her way with any man. But fortunately, she only uses it when I am at her side. At least, I think so - - -hmmmmm - -? (Just kidding, really.)
We came to Nairobi just after the President agreed to sign a power sharing agreement with the opposition. Thus the fighting tapered off. While we were preparing to leave, the opposition seemed to be beginning to think he didn't really mean it. Thoughts of more fighting returned. Perhaps we chose a wise time to come, and perhaps we are choosing an even wiser time to go home. Africa has a way of getting into one's heart, making one always want to return. Most likely, we will never see our wonderful kids again. Then again, maybe we will. Either way, they will be in our hearts forever.
As we flew out, we knew we would never see Europe again. We don't backtrack. There's far too much of this world left to see. When we got home, we found we were right on budget, thanks to so many creative stays, and eating out of so many grocery stores and peanut butter jars.
These wonderful people must be the most honest, trusting, truly civilized people in the world.
Goodbye, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. You have been good and kind to us in every possible way, except, maybe, at the cash register.
Not all my memorable experiences at Wargo were life threatening. Once Sport and I were asleep in our tent with only a very small hole in our almost-zipped-up doorway. The thing about small holes, though, is - it sorta negates being enclosed in a tent in the first place. In the middle of the night, Sport roused me from my dreams with an elbow to the ribs. "Pat," he said, " We are not alone." I switched on my light. The prettiest, most bushy tailed skunk I had ever seen was sitting on Sport's sleeping bag! We quietly enlarged that hole, and slid outside in our whitey-tighties, and waited, shivering. Fifteen minutes later, the skunk strolled out and off, never having left his calling card.
If you slide a fourteen foot flat bottom boat into the gentle waves of the river at daybreak, maybe a family of beaver will be swimming around, slapping their tails. Maybe an otter will be floating on his back, his food on his chest. You may see a pair of wood ducks take flight through the mist rising off the river. Perhaps a big cottonmouth will swim by, floating like a long balloon on top of the water. You might, hopefully, hear a big bullfrog roar, like his namesake, in the distance. Possibly, a doe and a newborn fawn will come down for a drink.
Paddle along quietly for awhile, then just drift. And look. And listen. Then, you will know why I love the river.
I returned home after that first trip, washed all my fine gravel out well, and lay them out in the greenhouse to dry. Son Corey happened to walk by that drying gravel that afternoon, and said, "What 's this piece of glass doing in here?" He started to pitch it out in the yard. Before he could throw it out, I grabbed his hand. A beautiful, yellow, one carat diamond. I had reached my goal, the rest was just gravy.
One day, hopefully in the far distant future, Barbara and I may one day find ourselves spreading wing, yet realizing: The air beneath our wing is no longer sufficient to carry us to distant lands, or finding out that my back can no longer carry "half of what we own" about the world. Yet our grand adventure will continue, as long as we have each other.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

On the Road for a Year - Part Ten

SPREADING WING -  Eight days before we fly out. I will arrive at Tegel at 12:00 noon Monday, May 27 Lufthansa flight # 3373. For my Berlin readers, if you meet me at the airport, hold up a sign saying "Forever a Hillbilly" so I can recognize you, I will give you a card enabling you to get a free Kindle edition of my book, Spreading Wing. I will be wearing my usual brown hat. This trip, we have family members along who do not like to travel as Barbara and I normally do, on our own, so this is a group tour, so we will just be going where our tour leaders tell us to, most of the time.
I hope to meet some of you there!

We went to a Camel Farm next. We saw four day old camels, fed them, etc. They had a rare species of wild cats. Once, one of these paired cats just could not get along with his mate. The mate was moved far to the other side of the farm, out of sight. Some way, they must have been able to communicate, though. When one of the cats suddenly died, the mate went into depression and quickly died also.
The Yuma Rodeo was a good show, complete with the best of the cowboys, very bad bulls, precision skydivers, and little kids riding bucking sheep. The skydivers were the most amazing. They all jumped out very high up, ten or so. They gave off smoke from their shoes, so we could follow them. Each knew exactly when to pull the cord, so that they came gliding in, the first one landing exactly in the center of an X in the center of the arena, and just had time to get his chute out of the way before the second landed perfectly, and so on. None failed to land standing up, and none messed up. It was totally unbelievable.
Again, there was no room for us at the park. They set us up, right on the edge of the swimming pool, again with a long electrical cord.

Crossing into California, Gas jumped up 12 cents a gallon, and we needed a fill up in both vehicles. Wouldn't you just know it?
Behind San Diego, the desert is at sea level. It rises 10,000 feet very quickly. I started noticing barrels of water on regular pull offs, and I knew we were in trouble. We had to stop, cool the motor off, and add more water, several times before we reached the top. That had never been a problem before. I knew we had a lot more Rocky Mountain crossings ahead, and I shelled out several bucks to get a raised, topographical map, so I would know what was ahead. I could then pull the car off and drive it up separately on those long pulls. Turned out, all the other high Rocky Mountain crossings were cold, and we didn't need it. San Diego was a neat place, especially the Zoo. They had four pandas, which were rare at zoos, and Barbara was in love with them. There was a long line by their cage, and the pandas were treated like royalty. Everyone had to be really quiet, enforced by four security guards. She went through that line four times. San Diego also had a very large naval presence, along with ships, and that was interesting.

We found our friends Patty and Dwight's house at Temecula, and we parked our rig right out front. They just never fully understood why we slept in our RV instead of coming in their house, But it was our home, now. And, Barbara builds a great bed. It sometimes gets so tall, before she gets it right, that she has to have a step stool to get in it.
They showed us around Southern California royally for a couple of days, The J. Paul Getty Museum, and lots of other wonders. The Cafe we ate in specialized in being crass and rude. A large sign, right up front, said, “Eat and get out.” The waitresses had a really big chaw of bubblegum, and, between bubbles, greeted us with, “Yeah, whatta' ya' want?”
I drove our 53 foot road train right through LA. After that, I knew no big city driving could scare me again. Later, Europe was a totally different story.

We parked just north of LA near Hollywood, in Van Nuys. Barbara was not doing well. Her abdomen hurt. It got worse. She said she felt like she was full of gas, so I tried pushing on her belly to help get it out. Not the smartest thing I've ever done. She got even worse. Finally, I walked across the park to a pay phone and called the police, asked where the nearest hospital was. He said he didn't know. It depended on where I was.. I had not the foggiest, and I had to go back and ask Barbara. I didn't even know the name of the park. Kinda illustrates yet once again, just who the brains of this outfit is. Even when she's impaired. After waiting half the night (literally) in the emergency room, the diagnosis was gall bladder problems, and it had to come out. Right now. And it's infected. I sure hated to see Barbara being wheeled down the hall, waving and looking back at me, all the way to the OR. The surgery went well, but her infected condition required several days in the hospital. The Kids were ready to load up and head west, but I told them it was too far, and there was nothing they could do for her here. Being away from family in a crisis is just part of being a traveler, and we both accepted that. When I went to check Barbara out of the hospital, I knew our insurance was handling it. But they said they preferred to get $1000 down in cases like this, being travelers and all. Okay, that sounded reasonable. A long way and weeks down the line, they sent us another copy of the bill. The $1000 had just disappeared. We had befriended the hospital's Patient Advocate lady, who was also an RV'er, and we called her. She said she would take care of it. A few days later we got a check for that $1000. When insurance is involved, never pay up front. Let it go through the insurance process. Early payment always gets confused, and the confusion is always in favor of the hospital.

After she recouped for a few days in our RV, she wanted out of it. So we took a few smaller trips, seeing the area. That old strategy of seeing a large city on Sunday just didn't pan out in LA. The traffic was as bad at daylight Sunday morning as any other time.
After ten days, she felt like she could travel, so we headed for Arkansas in the car to let her regain her strength before continuing on with our travels. In moving the RV to storage, that thing about the back end sticking out far right on a left turn finally got me. I left a long deep scratch in someone's car. I never talked to the owner, but the Park Director and our Insurance fixed it while we were in Arkansas.
I made the long drive home as easy on Barbara as possible, but it was still hard on her. Corey, the rising “Next man of the clan,” took us aside. “OK, now, you've had your trip. It's time to end it, now.” We thought otherwise. Barbara and I decided long ago, as long as one of us was capable of wiping both our bottoms, we are in charge of our life. Of course, if we live long enough, the time will come when we both are very appreciative that we have caring children


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

On the Road for a Year - Part Nine

SPREADING WING - In addition to Amazon, Spreading Wing may be purchased at - Covenant Books in Arkadelphia,  Scooters in Sheridan, Julie's Frames and Gifts in Malvern, Gifts and More in Danville, Two Rivers Grocery in Wing (Where you may also get your book stamped with the official "Bought at Wing, Arkansas" stamp.)  Hastings Books at Russellville, Thomerson Drug in Gurdon, and Prescott Flowers and Gifts.
Barbara and I will be heading for Berlin late next week to take a look at a part of the world we have not seen yet. If any of you Berlin readers will meet me at the airport, I will give you a card good for a free Kindle edition of  SPREADING WING. See my next post, put up this weekend, for details.
Not only that, but I will give you extra free Kindle cards to give your friends.

Progresso, Mexico was a border town nearby. Thousands of snowbirds, (northern people who go south for the winter) gather up down there, and many of them go to Progresso to buy their prescriptions. It is said, if you could spell it, you could buy it at Progresso. Cheap. But Viagra was holding firm at ten bucks a pill. Cheap to keep a person alive, expensive to make a person happy. Now, don't get the wrong idea. I needed no viagra then. That was 14 years ago.
Our first border crossing was to Progresso We also went across to Matamoros, a little farther inland. A bus ride was required, and we armed ourselves with the word “poynte,” the word for bridge in Spanish, and headed out. We didn't get a good feel at Matamoros, few Americans. We looked awhile, then found a bus with the key word “Poynte” on it, and came back.

Our plan was to work along the Mexican border this winter, into California, then north, hopefully after it warms up a little. A belt on our RV broke near Mission, and we spent a couple of days living beside an RV repair place, waiting for the replacement to come in.
We moved on west. Remember our ants? The ones we picked up in Little Rock? Well, they were doing well, and multiplying like crazy. As we moved farther west, they all just disappeared one day. All of them. I guess they couldn't handle the dryer air.
As we came into El Paso, we saw this sign. “100 miles from water, six feet from Hell.” I felt their Chamber of Commerce dude was slipping a little. We took a van tour over into Jaurez, Mexico. American factories were just lined up at the trough, gobbling up all that cheap labor. Whoever dreamed up “Free Trade?” 60 cents per hour, free lunch, free babysitting, free ride in aboard an aging school bus. And we supplied them, too. Where to you think our old buses go? Ordinary houses were mixed in among the drug lord mansions, and the police traveled in coveys. Now keep in mind, this was when Mexican travel was “safe.”

A major dust storm blew up while we were exploring the Carlsbad Caverns. A film of dust just blew right through our old windows, and some RV's blew over on the road. Our noses bled. We weren't used to this dry air.
Nogales, Mexico was not a pleasant visit. We got to noticing there were no other Americans there, and a gang of young toughs started following us around, Looking at, Pointing to, and talking about, Barbara. Goodbye, Nogales. That border crossing sure looked good.

After a stay at Tombstone, Arizona, we went to Saguaro National Park. Some of the cacti were 50 feet tall. A story was being told that a disagreeable cowboy once got very mad, pulled both his six shooters, and shot at the base of one of those giant cacti until it fell over, killing him. Now, I didn't actually see that. This is not a fiction book. In the visitor's center, they showed fantastic scenes on a curtain covering a full wall. When the show was over, those curtains rolled back, showing out windows covering that whole wall, Saguaro National Park at its best. That was a breathtaking moment.
The RV park at Tuscon was full, with a major Rock and Gem Show in process in town. They put us just outside the fence, and ran us an electrical cord. Anything to avoid missing out on a few bucks.

Our RV was pointing out toward a really nice golf course, but only part of it showed through the brush. I was sitting in our RV, watching a golf tournament, somewhere in Arizona. The TV was at the top of the windshield. At one point in time, the action on the TV screen exactly matched what I was seeing on the golf course, out the windshield just below the TV. How's that for a coincidence?
We woke up the next morning with giant balloons right in front of our RV. I guess the wind was unfavorable, because they never took off. We put in an interesting day at the Rock and Gem Show, amazing things from all over the world.

We moved to Phoenix, and soon saw a line of people standing at a stadium gate. We got in line, too. Who are we to be different? Finally, Barbara asked someone, “What are we standing in line for?” Seems it was a Renaissance Festival. Knights of old were jousting, and they took it serious. An ambulance stood ready to haul them off, and some actually did get a trip to the hospital. After a camel ride for Barbara, watching a unicyclist on a high wire, and after watching a guy who could put a handful of noodles in his mouth and blow them out his nose (travel can be so educational!) We watched renaissance dancing awhile, and we went on down the road.

Yuma Prison WAS educational. I put on a prison uniform to get my picture taken. An elementary boy edged over to me, leaving his school group, and said, “What are you in for?” After I told him I was in for beating up a whole gang of little boys, he ran back to his teacher. A small cell, made for six, had a small jar for a commode, and it was emptied once per day. I think Yuma Prison was actually the hellhole it is portrayed to be in the old westerns.

Friday, May 10, 2013

On the Road for a Year - Part Eight


We moved on up past the lake and reached Cypress Gardens. It was very beautiful, and had been there a long time. Since then, I hear it has closed. That's a big loss to the flower lovers of the world. Disney world was nearby, But Barbara and I have seen it before with the grand kids and all. Corey already had reservations to take his family there when 9/11 hit, and they went anyway. The planes were nearly empty, there was no waiting at the rides, and the Disney characters just mobbed a child when they could find one.

We moved on up to Gulf Shores, Alabama. We have spent a lot of time there in the summer. Corey, when he was a portrait photographer at Little Rock, advertised all year to his customers that he would be there on a certain week or two, and available to take portraits on those beautiful white beaches. He got all the takers he could handle, and he got Barbara and I to got to go down with them. We photographed during the sweet light near sunset, and at sunup, and played the rest of the day. A fun time. I was the human movable light stand, Barbara the poser. He eventually stretched his time out to a month, with a stay also at Destin, Florida, and stayed busy 
photographing. If you are good, they will come. And Corey was a very good photographer. And he got that way quickly, with a family to support. It only took him two or three years to move from asking us what an F stop was to speaking at photography conventions. He liked his customers to think he grew up in photography, honing his skill since childhood. But he got serious about “honing” when the bills started rolling in. Then he got driven, and has been a very self driven, hard worker ever since. 

We stopped at our favorite spot for ribs and big, red shrimp, and ordered a large batch. After we had eaten half of it, the manager came by, started looking at our shrimp, said they were bad, took them back, and started cooking us a new batch. Barbara and I just looked at each other. What about those we just ate?

We survived it, and headed on up toward Arkansas. Passing Vicksburg, Mississippi, we looked hard as we passed the golf course. Brother-in-law Bill Arrington could normally be seen, any day, during the daylight hours, out there, just slicing and hooking away. He must have been sick that day

When we arrived at Arkadelphia, we camped at the KOA campground. Other campers thought we were strange, camping at our home town. But Rhower BF Goodrich execs were still living in our house. We hung around a week or so, and it was the coldest weather we experienced on our trip.
After our gifts were exchanged and goodbyes were said, we headed for Texas.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is on the Gulf Coast. They have a really fun, ten mile loop along the coast, just chock full of wildlife, some we don't have in Arkansas, like the javelina. They are a very distant relative of the common barnyard hog, lean, mean, and tough, with long sharp tusks. Before I got well acquainted with them, I got a really close photo of a large one, glaring at me, hair on his neck standing straight up. What I didn't know was, they will attack anything and anybody, and the hair standing up was his last warning before he charged over and cut a fellow's legs all up. I get a shiver every time I look at that photo. Well, Aransas had lots of different kinds of wildlife, but the king of them all is the whooping crane. At one time, there were only 16 of them in the world. They are coming back a little now. Most of them winter at Aransas. I had been there many times, but had never gotten a really close look at one, much less a good picture. This trip, I meant to change all that.

Barbara and I were talking to a pro photographer of some sort, who had a really big, really long lens. We got the word that a pair of whoopers had been spotted, and we headed out at a fast walk. We walked past a deep patch of grass, and heard a very close, hissing sound. Barbara wondered what that was. I was afraid to tell her that was a big, bull gator, telling us to get out of his space. After a mile or so, we could see the whoopers. But they were still just a white dot in my undersized lens. We're pore' folk, you know? I never could afford one of those really big lens, which really had no practical application in our type of portrait photography. The other guy set up his tripod and camera with his big lens, and got several good shots. Then he told me to put my camera on his lens. I jumped at that, and got a few really good shots of the whoopers. They were so big, they made ducks beside them look like mosquitoes. Barbara later saw a pair of pink spoonbills, so we were both happy

After a stop at Rockport, where we found the cheapest gas of the whole trip, and saw lots of birds, we headed on down to Brownsville.
Brownsville is a neat place, a good place to be in the winter. It's pretty well as far south as most of Florida, but it often has a stiff wind coming off the Mexican coastline. That warm, moist air blows right up through Arkansas, and cold air coming in from the west meeting up with it cause a lot of tornadoes along the I30 corridor, one of which I got a close up and personal look at.
At Boca Chika Beach, which runs right into Mexico a couple of miles south, a ship was stranded a mile out. It was foreign, and they had no papers, couldn't come ashore. The owners were bankrupt, so they couldn't sail home. They were running out of food, and local people were taking some out to them. A drawback for the eternal traveler, like us, was, we seldom saw the end game play out for situations like we run into. We never knew what happened to them.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Decoration Day

I'm going to interrupt my current story today to tell you about current events. Hope you don't mind.

I went to Decoration Day yesterday at Rover and spent the day with brother Harold's family. My daughter Kinley, who is also very faithful to that day, brought her family up from Little Rock. It was a good day, though I didn't see as many other people as I usually do while there, mostly because we didn't finish eating Lou's great lunch until after two o'clock. Hard to leave Lou's table while there's still food there, knowing full well someone else will eat it all up before I get back.
When I was a child, Decoration Day was a major holiday for everyone. We spent the whole day there, us kids playing all over the cemetery, we at a potluck dinner there, sometimes had a singing there that afternoon. Mom would always find a way (she never drove) to get down there a few days earlier, to make sure the Gillum and Lazenby graves were always weed free and in good form before the big day.

Though the purpose of that celebration was to honor those who have passed on, I think it had a lot to do with those of us still around. Even though most of us knew we were going to be in a better place when we pass on, the idea that we will just be totally gone from this earth, and soon maybe never thought of again, is just a hard concept to take, at least it is for me. Knowing full well that those who remain will be celebrating your life, at least once a year, makes it seem a little easier, somehow. This line of thought led me when I started writing my stories. If I could write stories that would be interesting enough, funny enough, about how we and our ancestors lived, loved, played, and laughed, maybe a small part of me, and my families, would be around for a long time.
I always encourage others to start writing their own family stories, now, before the old folks are gone, along with many of those stories. Mine would be much better if I had been smart enough to start years ago, especially since I'm the youngest of my generation. Stories tend to make our ancestors seem like flesh and blood people, not just a name on a genealogy sheet, or a face in a pic. That alone is pretty thin. All this was rolling around in my head when I started Spreading Wing. Then it all snowballed on me, and before I knew it, I had a book.

I know the tradition of Decoration Day is an unheard of concept with most people, but it's still a big thing where I come from. The graveyards of Fourche Valley, and Yell County, still blossom brightly every spring. As for me, I hope they always do. I'll just feel better about things, somehow. My mother used to spend all her money buying things for us. She would say, “Well, I'll buy this for you now, then when you're grown up, and get lots of money, then you can buy for me.” Sadly, Mom died at 68, the same age I am now. I was still pore as a church mouse, and I never got to buy her much of anything. But I can still give her a flowers every Decoration Day, and I can think about her regularly and write stories about her. Maybe that will help a little.

From what I've seen, I think Denmark wins the prize for the best kept graveyards. Many had shrubs planted all the way around the graves, not a blade of a weed was to be found, and tools and wheel barrows were left out for people to come by and work as they could. Much of Northern Europe was that way. Maybe I can tell you how Eastern Europe handles those things in June, when Barbara and I get back from there. I'll let you know.

In May of 1997, my brother Harry, who had cancer, called and asked me if I was coming to
Decoration Day that Sunday. I said, "No, I've got a job to do that day.” Our building was still closed down from the tornado that almost wiped out downtown Arkadelphia on March 1, 1997. We were taking work anywhere and any time we could find it. He replied, “You've got something else more important to do, do you?” Ten days later, Harry was IN that cemetery. I haven't missed a Decoration Day at Rover since, although hitting a deer on the way there and wrecking our car delayed us a week or two once. I always put a flower on each Gillum and Lazenby grave, and take a moment to think about each person. I am training my sensitive daughter Kinley to take over after me, and she is training her son Jordan, also very sensitive, to take over after her. That way, the old Gillums and Lazenbys will not be forgotten, for a very, very long time. The current Wing Gillums, led by Harold's wife Lou, play the lead role on Decoration Day for the entire family. Those who cannot be there send money to them, and they buy the flowers, and Lou puts them out on Decoration Day.

There is one man buried in the cemetery at Rover who, though he was not a Gillum or a Lazenby at all, has always commanded so much respect in me that his story must be told. R. L. Whitten. He was a friend of Elbert Lazenby, Uncle Euriel's son. He almost became a member of the family. When the war came along, Elbert was soon in action, as a radio man on a bomber. His plane was shot down, and Elbert became one of many casualties of war.

R. L. remained a part of the Lazenby family. Elbert's sister, Delphia, had severe physical limitations. They were permanent, and her life expectations were very dim. As we all would be, she seemed to me to be deeply embittered about her lot in life.

R. L. started dating Delphia. They soon married, and R. L., a nice looking man, a preacher and a teacher, made Delphia his princess. He put her up on a pedestal, waited on her hand and foot all her life, and to my observations as a boy, was endlessly patient, and very tolerant of her mood swings. And he single handedly elevated her life to a level far above anyone's reasonable expectations.

As a boy, I was around them a lot. This was at a time when cousins still kept close contact with cousins. I never knew what was in his heart, only what I saw, as a boy. He was my greatest example of the supreme servant nature, and I always reserve a little extra time, thinking about R. L. Whitten, on Decoration Day. Along with an extra flower.

Thanks for your time, and your attention.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

On the Road for a Year - Part 7

SPREADING WING - My book is available on amazon.com and Amazon Europe. Book, 16.95 or Kindle, 6.99. Order a signed and personalized copy from me, 20.00 including postage. Signed editions may be bought at Covenant Book Store in Arkadelphia.

Our next stop was one of our inexpensive-type stops. My nephew Stan and Missy Arrington's driveway. Stan had always been an outdoor, woodsy type guy. He was now a forester, and a dutch oven cooking expert. They had a fenced back yard, except at the back, which was bordering a bayou. They had a big, pretty white rabbit that had the run of the place. One day, Missy was at the kitchen window, and a large gator came up out of the Bayou and gobbled the pretty white rabbit up. They have two children, Mandy and Thomas. Mandy was always all about horses, growing up, and she is now about to get a masters degree in horse knowledge. I'm just not sure what that degree would be called. When we woke up the next morning, at daylight, Thomas, a small boy then, walked by our RV and disappeared from our vision. When we came out of it, later, he was just sitting up in top of a tall tree, just looking. Thomas went on to achieve, in college, membership in that group of nearly naked, painted young men that you might see at Mississippi State football games. He now seems to have matured, however, because he's about to travel to the Philippines and spend a good bit of time traveling up remote rivers, seeking unreached people for Christ. I would say he's being promoted, how about you? Missy is a big wig at Mississippi State.

We toured Savanna, with its Forest Gump bench, where he sat with his box of chocolates on Chippewa Square.
Our next stop was at Mark Twain State Park, well out into the Okefenokee Swamp. The swamp was formed when the Swanee River spread out over a wide area, 50 miles across. It is a wild area that man was unable to successfully cross until well up into the 1900's. I had been here before, on one of my Pork and Beans Trips. Barbara had not. I wanted to give Barbara a real taste of the swamp, but before heading out in a small boat, I gave her the Gator lecture. I told her it was wintertime here, the gators were cold, and would not try to come in our boat. But, we may be very close to many. If you come close to one, and jump up and run, you will swamp the boat, then we'll be right down in amongst' um'. Stay still. A ranger told of getting a report of a boat being swamped, people in the water. When they got there, they were still hanging onto the boat, surrounded by 40 gators. Just looking. I called up several foxes to a photo session with my predator call. Then it was time to head to Florida.

We went down the west coast, and saw so many different birds and other animals at reserves along the way, I wouldn't even try to tell you about all of them. Sea Cows stood out. Very large swimming mammals, about the size of a walrus, but they had a habit of swimming just under the surface, and many got cut up by outboards.
We left our RV at Miami, then drove on down to the south most point of the USA at Key West. The sunset was one of a kind, and everyone turned out for a big party at sunset. We spent the night in a B&B, then back to Miami.
We toured the Everglades. A foreign guy was taking a little trail ahead of us, and he ran back, pointing, saying, “chicken! chicken!” It turned out to be one of those big footed little birds, that walks around on lily pads. I didn't know the name of it either, so I really don't know what the purpose of that little story was. Certainly not educational.
Barbara and a large gator were looking at each other. Barbara asked a ranger what was keeping him from just coming and getting her. He said, “He's sizing you up. If he decides he's bigger than you, he will.” Well, they were a pretty good match, and she didn't give him time to make his decision. She broke for the car. Barbara just has something that makes big animals make a run at her, tame or wild. I have heard that a Gator can outrun a horse for 20 feet, and I never believed those slow-seeming animals could really do that, until I saw one make a run for a bird once. They can come up on their toes and just fly for a short distance.
We had seen both of Florida's coasts before, so we decided to head back up the middle. We drove through endless acres of Sugar Cane to Lake Okeechobee. We camped very near the lake on the south end. It is Florida's largest lake, though shallow. I have heard of fishermen out in the middle of the lake, seeing almost no land, swamping the boat, then going into a panic, until they realize they can stand up.
That south end must sorta be like an elementary school for small gators, since they abound, and will crawl right up to the RV at night. One woman wanted to show Barbara how a gator would go right for her fishing lure. It did, she jerked it hard, and the lure flew back and slapped Barbara smack in the face. Barbara got away from that woman.