Monday, July 29, 2013

A Year on the Road - Part 12 The Big Trees

     We pulled up a very hard hill to a campground. Only after we were set up, and walked to the top of the hill, did we realize it was a major auto racing park. No race was going on, but we enjoyed watching the drivers put their cute little cars through their paces.
     We soon were getting into an area I had wanted to see all my life. Only smaller plots of huge Coastal Redwoods so far, then more and more. The big trees. Where one walks through, quietly, reverently, looking up. Ferns as large as me. I had known all my life they must be fantastic, but I was not prepared for this. Before daylight the next morning, I was in among those unspeakably majestic trees, lying on my back, just looking up, until the sun was well up into the sky. I  never wanted to leave that spot. To try to describe them in words, or capture them in portrait, was impossible. I'll just have to let you go, and see them for yourselves. And, if you have not, put them at the top of your bucket list.

     Moving on into Oregon, The coastal scenery didn't drop off much. But inland, I was a little disappointed, with hundreds of acres of clear cuts. I hate clear cuts. A lot of my forestry friends are mad at me about this. I always fought against clear cuts, tooth and nail. Especially in the National Forests.
     We moved on up into Washington, and followed the Columbia River inland, and were soon setting up camp near Mt. St.Helens. The road up to the volcano was not opened up yet, still too much snow.
     We took the car off and made a loop north, through Seattle, where we ran into the Space needle by accident. Then through Olympic National Park, and Vancouver, British Columbia. In Vancouver, we just lost ourselves in it until coming out the other side. Took half a day. In the middle of the Rain Forest, a hamburger place advertised, “Free if it's not raining.” We paid.

     When we arrived back near Mt. St. Helens, the road was now opened up, just that day, and drove up there with thirty foot snowbanks on each side. We got within three miles of the crater. This was where scientists were watching the mountain when it blew, They had only a scant three minutes to continue to live and enjoy it though, before the concussion reached them. Dead, rotting trees lay for miles, each fallen away from the crater. Moving east along the Columbia River, we saw unbelievably high Multnomah Falls, and I was enjoying Bridal Falls so much, Barbara had to come get me out of there. Seems like I was holding up a wedding, waiting for me to leave. We camped at Walla Walla, just so we could have that address, even if just for a day. Out of Washington, into Idaho, we climbed into the mountains looking back at Coeur D'alene, Idaho, wondering how they they played that cute little island green on the golf course. Later, a man I met at Machu Pichu in Peru, of all places, told me. By boat. Duh!

     Crossing the mountains, now too cold for the motor to overheat, we camped at Missoula, Montana, left the RV there, and headed north. We went as far into Glacier National park as we could before the snow stopped us, then drove around to the other side and stopped for the night in an all-Indian town. Going into Glacier from the east, we got to see a good part of it before stopped by the snow again. Barbara spotted a big wolf, just standing, looking, just right for a good photo. She almost had the camera ready and focused when he loped off.
     Traveling through the Canadian Rockies, We saw a large group of Bighorn Sheep, and worked around until we were up close, picturing away. Traveling on, we were moving through a large area of giant rocks piled on both sides of the road. Turned out, a giant rock slide had completely buried a town. When the dust settled, the single survivor, a baby, in a crib, was setting on top the pile. We came upon the World's Largest Truck, with my head almost coming up to the hubcap.

     Arriving back at our RV, we set out to see a little of  Missoula when a late season snowstorm threatened to snow us in, and we outran it to Livingston, Montana. From there we made a one day dash into Yellowstone, and it was our best of many visits there yet. Half the road was open, and the large wildlife were all still gathered in the micro climate produced by the hot water of the geysers and other hot water attractions. Yellowstone under snow was a great attraction in itself.
     Moving into Wyoming, a very strong tailwind pushed us along quickly for a day, saving lots of gas. But, turning east the next day, the wind was now at our side, and some 16 wheelers were being blown over, and we got into camp early, to prevent a similar fate.
     Moving on to South Dakota, we camped several days in Keystone, to let our mail catch up. As our camp was right behind Mt. Rushmore Memorial, we hiked in and photographed it from the top. Before we left, we had viewed it and photographed it from all angles. We fell in love with the huge, beautifully white Rocky Mountain goats that were plentiful there. I even panned some gold, very little.

     Going on east, we were seeing pheasants everywhere, all day long. After setting up camp, we drove back in the car to picture some. We found none. We realized the tall RV gave us a much better view of small game.
     The lady who owned the campground told us a hard blizzard last winter stranded travelers, and some of these strangers lived in her house a while. Her swimming pool was level full of snow. People in Sioux Falls were just a different breed. They were nice. If one held a bit too long when a light turned green, they didn't honk. They just patiently waited until you noticed.

     Up through the eastern part of North Dakota, I guess we missed the pretty part. Moving into Minnesota, we traced the Mississippi river back to its source, a rushing stream from a large lake, near Bemidji. I stood on a single log across that river. We camped at Ely, the jumping off point for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. I had always wanted to canoe that area into Canada, but Barbara was not big on canoes, and we just looked. My friend Neal Nelson, years later, did. They stacked their gear near another group's equipment, to portage the canoe. When he came back for it, his tackle box was gone, along with his fishing dreams. Neal jumped in his canoe and followed the other party through three lakes to retrieve his tackle, and when he finally caught them, the offending party turned out to be a world famous fly maker. The guy felt so bad, he gave Neal some of his flies that sold for thousands of dollars

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Prison, Skeet, and Wing

SPREADING WING - There are over 1100 copies of Spreading Wing out in circulation now. Mostly around Arkansas. Don't miss out! Order yours today!
I  have a few odds and ends for you today. Then I'll get back to my story of our year's travel.

Barbara came down for the closing program for Kairos Prison ministry. The seating for that final program is strictly scripted by the Department of Corrections. The inmates sit on one side of the chapel, all free world visitors on the other side. Two rows of Kairos men form a two line barrier between the two. My six inmates and I were seated on the back row. My men and I had become very close in those four days. When Barbara came in, I thought, in my “Loose cannon”  sort of reasoning, what a nice gesture it would be to show my men that I trusted them with the thing most dear to me in this world, so I took Barbara over to shake hands with all my men. I knew Barbara never had fear of anything of human origin, so I knew she would like that. I also knew that any one of my men would have gladly protected her with their life.  As she was going down the line, meeting each man, a more experienced Kairos man came running over to me, panic in his eyes, saying, “Get her out of there! If the wrong guard sees that, he will kick her out, and maybe none too gently!” She left, but she made sure she had finished meeting all my men first.  Afterwords, as the inmates filed out, almost all my men glanced at Barbara through the two lines of Kairos men, and silently mouthed, “Goodby, Mrs. Gillum.”
     What a great thing it would have been to add to her “Things I have done” list. How many people do you know who have ever publicly been kicked OUT of prison?
My friend Skeet, (short for Skeeter) is so extremely polite in his driving habits, that it sometimes takes him an hour to get through a four way stop. (his words) I suspect he always uses his GPS to get out of a parking lot, and he always strictly follows the parking lot arrows, exactly centered on his little red car or little red truck. I told him yesterday that he follows a very narrow path through life, tightly bordering “A total genius” on the left, even more tightly bordering “Totally crazy” on the right.
     Skeet has not always been so polite. As a boy, he and two of his friends were driving a little too fast, missed a curve, and their car slid through a yard, with the back of the car going under a house. While waiting for the police, one friend checked inside the house to see if anyone was hurt. As the police arrived, he fled the house, screaming, “Get an ambulance! There's a woman dying in here!”  When the paramedics investigated, they found the commode had disappeared  through the floor, and the woman sitting on it had gone crazy, thinking the world was ending. She was physically OK, except for getting two major bruises when she hit the floor.


Skeet and I were once sitting in his big red fishing boat in the middle of Lake Degray. Suddenly, Skeet just up and said, “Let’s go to Wing.” Skeet had never been to Wing, Arkansas, where I grew up. My book, Spreading Wing, was centered around there. I just had to know why Skeet wanted to go to Wing, and why right now. “You’ve been talking so much about Wing, I’ve just got to see it.” So, Skeet fired up his big red boat, and we were soon at his house, with his two little red cars sitting out front, along with his big red pickup. As he started to get into one of his two little red cars, I had decided to use a very special approach to Wing for Skeet’s first trip, so I said, “Take your big red truck.” I knew Skeet’s little red car would never make it over the special approach to Wing I had in mind for Skeet.
     Wing is 100 miles north of Arkadelphia, sitting right in the middle of the Fourche La Fave River Valley, The most beautiful little valley on God’s green earth. If there had been a way to make a living in Fourche Valley, I would never have left it as I did 50 years ago. Anyway, we headed across the Ouachita Mountains from Mt. Ida, through Story, Aly, and on into the big mountains. On the south side of Fourche Mountain, I had him take a hard left up Long Hollow, across Barnhart Creek, on a tiny forest service road, and several miles on west. Skeet had me stop at two different places, and after he had explored a little, he announced he wanted to establish a homestead, right here. I had to disappoint him by telling him, The US Forrest Service just did not allow that any more. Cutting hard right across Scrougeout Mountain, we reached the top. Fourche Valley was spread out below. The rains had been good this year and the valley was very green. We had to stop there and look for a very long time. Fourche Valley is beautiful, any way you enter it.
Dropping off the mountain, Skeet began to notice that every car or truck we met had a smiling face behind the wheel, and they all waved. I had to tell him, “Get used to it. That’s just the way it’s done up here.”
We stopped at brother Harold’s house for a visit. It took Harold a while to figure Skeet out, and likewise, but we soon were heading back south, the normal way. On top of Fourche Mountain on hwy. 27, we stopped for one long, last look Wing. I pointed out to Skeet where the Gillum house used to be, and that stop gave us our best look at the Valley, up and down.

Nowadays, If I ever want to head up to Wing alone, I have to keep it secret from Skeet. He’s fallen completely in love with it, as we all have. If Skeet gets the idea I’m headed for Wing, he’s always in my car with me.                                                 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

On The Road For a Year - Part 11

When I left this story back in May, we were about 75% finished with a year's trip on the road. Barbara had gall bladder surgery In Hollywood, Ca. and we returned to Arkansas by car so she could recoup for a few weeks;  now she is somewhat as good as new, and we head out to finish the trip, though we caught some flak about that from our children.

     After two nice weeks with family, Barbara was pretty much her old self, just with different eating habits. No grease. We made the long trip back leisurely, seeing the sights. At Zion, I was amazed at the very tall cliffs. We saw a tiny figure, two thirds of the way to the top. Binoculars proved it was a climber, carrying his bed along. An overnight trip. In Death Valley, we saw a giant black cloud just rolling across the sands to us. A huge sandstorm. Back in Hollywood, we saw Paramount Studios. The emergency brake on our car just would not release upon leaving, and we had to be towed. Again. A big comedown, after just meeting Goldie Hawn, and seeing the other stars.

     Back home in our RV Park, we were awakened one morning by a young woman, knocking on our door. When I opened up, she said, “I'm Cindy.” She started to sidestep me, and come on in. I cut her off, saying, “I don't know you, Cindy.” She looked puzzled, then walked back to a man who was waiting for her across the street. They talked, he made a phone call, then she walked to the RV next door, knocked, and was let in with a smile. She stayed there about half an hour, then her and her Pimp walked off.

     We headed up the coast. We were on our way to the Hurst Castle, and being early, I stopped at Moonstone Beach. The trail down the cliff was so steep, and it was so windy, Barbara stayed in the car. The beach below was hidden from the parking area. I really got into this moonstone hunting, and stayed a good while. I found lots of pretty rocks, surely at least one was a moonstone. When I finally walked out to where I could see the top of the cliff, Barbara was waving her arms and shouting, but her words just floated off with the wind. Her face told me a lot, though, and I quickly climbed up. She was scared, thought I had just disappeared. I caught it pretty good over that. We may have been a few minutes late for our appointment at Hearst Castle, but we still caught the bus and headed up.

     Hearst Castle was built by William Randolph Hurst, the Newspaper Magnate. He went way over the top on everything. The grounds had many exotic animals roaming about, from all over the world. The swimming pool was lined with gold, and the castle itself was monstrous in size, and contained exotic furniture and paintings from all over the world. William Randolph Hurst was a man who could not be denied. In his travels, if he found something he wanted to put in his castle, the price offer just kept going up until he had his way. A big portion of the bus top blew off on the way back down. It can be windy in California.

     The Remington Mansion was huge. The Remington Arms Company financed it. Mrs. Remington, haunted by the ghosts of all the people killed by their product just kept building on it as long as she lived. Stairways to nowhere, doorways with no opening, On and on. As I was typing “Remington” the first time I wrote this story, one of those ghosts must have came after me, because I just hit a normal key, I thought, and the whole story just disappeared from the screen, never to live again, leaving only the word Remington. I'm not a fast writer, and that was two day's work for me. Believe, me, I am now typing this paragraph very gingerly, not wishing to anger anybody, or any thing.

     The Big Sur coastline was magnificent, and we even walked on Pebble Beach Golf Course. Years later, Corey and son-in-law Mickey paid in advance for a trip for us to Pebble Beach. A week before, Corey hit his drive a mile at a course in Florida, and as always, I felt I should swing as hard as I could to try to stay somewhat close to his. My back went out, bad, maybe my worst. But there was just no way around it. I had to play Pebble Beach. What else could I do? The course of a lifetime, the chance of a lifetime. I left a lot of pain lying about on Pebble Beach, and my scorecard overflowed. But I played it.

      Next stop, San Francisco. As with many cities on this trip, with time not being a limiting factor, we just jumped off into the city and quickly lost ourselves. Actually, one cannot truly get lost if you have no destination, as long as we eventually met back up with our RV. At lunch time, we stopped at Little Orphan Annie's. Turned out, once we were seated, we realized it was really “Little Orphan Andy's,” and we were the only straight people about. I was trying to decide whether to stay or not, and my legs were out in the aisle. The waiter walked up, looked at me, and said, “Are you STAYING?” I stammered out, “Just long enough to eat.”

     Once we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, we stopped, debating about whether to take safe highway 101, inland a ways, or tackle highway 1, in the RV, along the cliffs. An old full time RV'er  told me once on Prince Edward Island, half a world away, that driving an RV on Highway 1 north of San Francisco was the ultimate test for driving an RV in the world. “If you can drive it, you can drive anywhere.” Well, that was too much of a challenge to pass up. After we started up the winding road toward the cliffs, we stopped at a station. I asked the operator, “Have you seen many people driving RV's past this point?” “Well, I have seen a few, but they almost always come back in a few minutes.”

     When we went on up, It got bad quick. I had to sling the car off in the ditch on a hairpin curve to avoid bikers coming down. Once out overlooking the ocean, the road was just a tiny shelf along a high cliff, and if one is brave enough to look ahead, it was the same for many miles. At least, I had the inside, going north. Barbara tells me that drive was beautiful, but I didn't see it. All I ever saw was ten white knuckles over the top of my steering wheel. After 50 miles, I was done in. We went inland to 101 and eventually parked it, driving out to see the good view in the car. I began to realize Barbara was right. The scenery was breathtaking.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Eastern Europe Conclusion

Actually, I just discovered that Barbara and I both stopped taking notes by this point in our trip, so I really can't tell you too much about Austria and Prague. We did really enjoy Veanna, where we got to attend a concert of truly great musicians playing classical music. They all dressed the part, gray wigs and all and were truly spectacular, as was that beautiful city.
     In Prague, I visited their Astronomical Clock. It was huge, thirty or more feet high. On the hour, various assorted figures came out and played around for a time, capped off by a rooster coming out and crowing at the end. The rooster's crow was a little weak, possibly because it was built in 1400, and has been keeping time and performing on the hour every since. The people were so proud of it, wanted to make sure nobody else had one like it, that they blinded the clock maker. Kinda par for the course in the middle ages, I understand. After the rooster crowed, I looked down at the ground, and what should I see but money, folded up, with 500 staring right up at me. It was for 500 crowns, which actually was about 25 dollars. Well, at least it almost paid for supper for four that night.
The rivers were still rising, so we had to detour around a little to get back to Germany. One of my major disappointments was that the tour didn't include Russia, but we got very close. The tour was already established when we joined with family to go, so we didn't have any choice. Since I have more Russian readers that any other country outside the US, I felt guilty about that. But I'll try to put Russia at the top of my list the next time I get over there. Anyway, just let me say that I DO appreciate all you Russian readers, and I apologize for leaving you out.
The plane back was just as crowded and jammed up as it was on the way over, and we're old folks, ya know? Barbara just has a gift for getting things done that needs to be done, so she picked out a nice, kindly faced attendant, called her over, and showed her just how much her feet were still swollen from the trip over, whined awhile, and almost shed a tear or two, and she finally found Barbara and I a front row seat with lots of leg room, and even brought her ice for her feet. Frances Moved up to one of our empty seats, so all four of us wound up with plenty of room. Just goes to show you what a tiny bit of sincere whining can get a person, if you just have the nerve to do it. Barbara just has a gift for getting things done.
We had a great bus driver from Hungary, and a wonderful tour guide. She really took care of us, and she, also, knew how to get things done. Our bus got caught up in traffic once in Veanna on the way to the concert.We were five minutes late. She felt so bad, she bought every one of us a  CD of the concert. Now, hows that for a mother hen taking care of her babies?
Our tour group, forty or so strong, from many different nations, became a very tight group. No problems. We had lots of fun together after we got acquainted, though as I told you in my last post, some were a bit of a bad influence on me. My daddy never allowed his boys to hang out in honkey-tonks, so I guess I'm just getting to that life stage. I was a little shy and retiring as a boy, so I never wanted to go anyway. But now days, I don't worry about hanging out with a rough crowd. Nobody wants to be seen beating up an old man.
Barbara's English as a Second Language Academy at Henderson State University, turned out to be a really enjoyable time for Barbara, even though it was a bit hard on her at first, ten hours or so after we got back. Seems all the speakers were top people in their field from all over the world. Now her assignment is to write a very long paper about it, so she has been on the computer so much, along with the fact that we have been bogged down in computer problems so long, that I have been a little late on my blogs. That's my excuse. Actually, I've just been shirking my duty.
I'm one of those people, very common in my generation, who is just hung out to wither and twist  in the wind between two worlds. When I was a boy, we looked upon old people as being the wisest of the wise. The older they were, the smarter they were. Now, for so many of my generation, whose time to bask in the respect of the younger folks, are missing the boat. We've never really joined the computer and cell phone generation, and if we have a question to ask, we are forced to look for a kid to answer it, who always gives us that "You're just so ignorant" look before answering. We just get no respect. But I'm about to get to where I can function on this new computer.
Now, how's that for a good whine? See, Barbara's not the only one who can do it.

Thanks for your time, your attention, and your sympathy!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Post Number 235 - Slovakia and Hungary

June 1 - We ate a good, large breakfast. Other meals were not a part of the package, and Barbara and I always made the most of the situation, almost always eating enough breakfast to last most of the day. We had a little free time, so we walked to a downtown market. We shopped awhile, or rather Barbara did. I don't shop. It was raining hard when we needed to head back, and of course we left our raincoats at the hotel, and didn't even have cover for the camera. We managed to scrape together a few euros and enough Polish money to get a girl with a glorified golf cart to drive us back.
We loaded on the bus and headed to Schlinder's factory, of "Schlinder's List." He will always be one of my  heroes, for saving so many Jewish people. But the building was tall yet narrow, thickly packed with tour groups, I could not understand the guide well. It grew more and more tightly packed.  About half way through, a woman came running up to our guide, panic in her eyes, screaming, "How  do you get out of here?" I wanted to follow her. I didn't get much out of that visit, but that in no way diminished the greatness of Mr. Schindler.
Today is a three country day. Breakfast in Poland, Slovakia for lunch, Hungary for Dinner.
Slovakia takes the prize for church attendance, anywhere in the world that we've seen. It's Sunday morning, and every church we saw, and there were many, were packed full, with many standing out front. The grave yards, usually near by, were totally covered with flowers. I guess they win that prize, too. The country was never independent until 1993, very poor until three years ago. Now they are learning quickly how to work the tourism, and there is a lot. Killings and Kidnappings got rid of ex communist officials, and now they build Volvo busses, Samsonite luggage, and Kia cars.
As we near Hungary, we're seeing more and more Gypsies. Hungary has the largest synagogue in Eastern Europe. They have their very own language, and if you're not Hungarian, for the most part, you don't speak it.  The first Tarzan, Johnny Weismuller, as well as Zsa Zsa Gabor and Tony Curtis, are all from this country. It's also home to Rubic's cube. My oldest grandson, Christian, who happens to have one of the best minds in the Gillum family in some time, is a Rubic's cube fanatic, and masters each one in seconds. The ex KGB building is grey, of course. Portraits of the Buddapest residents tortured and killed in that building decorate the front.
A very young Frenchman once came to Buddapest  to visit, fell in love, and decided to stay a little longer. He had great skill, and landed the job building one of their beautiful bridges, along with a building or two, then eventually went back to Paris and built a  very famous tower. Yes, that's right. The Eiffel Tower. Our guide in Buddapest was the best speaker/teacher I've ever listened to. Anywhere. His name was Poprocsi/Arpad. They always put the last name first in Buddapest. He spoke with just the right mixture of humor, interesting facts, and voice tone. He had it all. Though it was a cold, rainy day, I was not the only person who said, "I could listen to him all day." The Danube River flows right through the city, and we took a dinner cruise on it that night. It was rising, and the next day it was flooding. The worst in many years.
Peste is the south  side of the river on which the common people live; On the north slide you find Budda, (no connection,) where the beautiful people live. You know, the kind of people who's body language tells you, "I'm not interested in you at all. Don't talk to me - leave me alone." I did.
We ate at a Gypsie restaurant one night. The food was good. The Musicians were great. The dancers were spectacular. All the dancing and music was very high energy. Now I'm not a drinker. Never been drunk in my life. But somehow, amid all that fun, with the Aussies in our group, who had quickly became good friends of mine, becoming loud and active quickly, and Betty, setting next to me, got very wild, even though she was eighty something, just set the "perfect storm" stage, not to mention the gypsie dancers. I found myself drinking a glass of wine (some say it was two; Barbara says three.) Barbara said I sang way too loud, was too active, and clapped my hands way too much and too loud. I have dim memories of dancing with one of those beautiful Gypsie women. Or maybe it was just that she came over and sang to me, and I wanted to dance with her. I'm just not sure. Oh, well. I just turned 69. If not now, then when? At least, I now know if I ever became a drunk, I would be a happy one. Buddapest is now my favorite city in Eastern Europe.
Hungarians are of Mongolian descent, coming from Asia in 896 AD, after pretty well conquering everybody there. But once in Europe, things were different. Their king at the time, King Stephen, was a smart man. He began to realize; all the other godless mongols around them were being killed off quickly. Largely, I guess because they were godless. He told his people they must become Catholic, most of them did, and survived. Later, his people killed King Stephen for his efforts. Time to move on to Prague and Austria.

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Glimpse at Auschwitz

We arrived at Auschwitz, the Nazi Death Camp on Polish soil. I took good notes of our tour, hard as that was, re-wrote most of it, ready to place it on my blog. Before posting, I decided to Google it, see if I was bringing anything new to the table. As you might have guessed, I was not. Pretty well everything I had written was right there, easily available to the world, as it has been for a long time. I had second thoughts. Why put myself, and my readers, through all this again?
     I will just give you a few of my impressions, then move on down the road. I'm sick at my stomach from my morning's  reading on Google, as it is.
     Our guide through the camp was a very nice young woman. She told us all the horrible details, didn't leave much out. I wondered, how could she stand to do that, all day every day? She never once smiled all the way through. I had about decided her job had rendered her incapable of smiling or being happy, and I could see how that could happen. Might have done the same thing to me.
     After the tour was finished, and we were outside that gate, I walked up to her, told her what a good job she did, and guess what. A broad, beautiful smile spread across her face. I began to realize, she had just blocked her life inside that camp off from the rest of her life. I guess that would be necessary, for a nice person like her to be able to do that job day after day, year in and year out. Someone has to do it. It needs to be told. The proof needs to be seen. And it's all right there.
     Right behind the Gas Chamber stood a very old, yet very nice house. It was blocked off from the hoards of tourists. It was obviously currently lived in, well kept up. I asked about that house. Seems it was taken over by the Nazis when the camp was constructed. It was used as the home of the camp commandant during the time the camp was in operation. After the war, it was reclaimed by the owners, and  the family currently lives  there. I didn't understand how they could do  that, right here in the middle of such horror. But, I guess the family home is the family home, wherever it now happens to be located. The small town there, once out of sight of that camp, could have been any small town, anywhere in the world. Business as usual. Some strong, tough people now live in that small town.
     There is one Polish man whose story must be told,  before I move on. Witold Pilecki was the only person ever to volunteer to be sent to Auschwitz during that horrible time. He survived there 945 days, managing to get out evidence of the genocide going on, through the Polish resistance organization. The message was sent out to the British in 1940. It was dismissed by the Allies as being exaggerated. Other messages were sent, but he was not  taken seriously. Even after he managed to escape in 1943, his personal testimony was not believed.  Eventually, the word came from so many who had somehow escaped that it could not be ignored. There was much discussion and disagreement about what was possible, and what should have been done. Bombing the camp would kill all the prisoners, and for some reason, bombing the railroad bringing prisoners in from many different locations in Eastern Europe was not considered doable. That discussion and argument continues to this day.
     Goodbye, Auschwitz. I've done my duty as a free man on my 69th birthday. I visited that horrible monument to what a few men, with unlimited power, are fully capable of doing to mankind. I won't be back, and I hope and pray that some day I can stop thinking and dreaming about that place. But I doubt it.

Monday, July 1, 2013

On to Poland

SPREADING WING - Our free Kindle download last week went well. We gave away 682 books!

All right. This is my first attempt to place a post on this particular computer, and I was just beginning to get adapted to the other one. No telling what may happen.
Barbara and I were still having trouble with jet lag, at this point, and we have very sore backs and legs from being jammed in there so tightly on that plane so long. But Barbara's sister, Frances, seems to be adapting quickly. Or, maybe she's just not whining about it like we are. Go figure.
Poland is changing quickly. Before 1990, and the collapse of communism, there was a 12 year wait for a phone in Poland, and one car for every ten families. Many of these Russian cars were made of cardboard. But, we still saw several of these still on the road, 25 years old. Tough cardboard. Truck drivers are not allowed to be on the road on Saturday and Sunday, and we saw lots of them just hanging around at truck stops.
From 1946 to 1991, few tourists made it into Poland, and very few Poles made it out. Up until four years ago, the borders were still closed, and using a bribe to get through the borders seemed to be a way of life. One could expect long delays at the border. And, the roads were still bad. But the borders have opened up, the new road built through by the European Union is comparable to our interstates, and the roads are filled with tourists and tour buses. But the maidens of the night were still to be seen standing along the roadsides occasionally. Someone asked, "Why don't they just hold up a sign?" The answer seemed to be, her mode of dress was her sign.
 The Poles just now seem to be beginning to adapt to tourists, and  realizing how much money they bring in,  But many were still sorta lemon-faced when dealing with us. Being squeezed in between Germany and Russia has traditionally been a tight spot for Poland, lots of nice flat land that makes excellent battlefields. Crews of men mowed the right of way with hand operated weed eaters, and others bagged up the hay.
     Poland is now 94% Roman Catholic, and the best way for a young poor boy to improve his lot in life is to become a priest, we were told. One in thirteen Roman Catholic Priests live in Poland. Personally, though, becoming a priest requires a specific sacrifice I could just never find my way clear to making. But that's just me.
We reached Warsaw. Most of Warsaw was closed, it was Corpus Christi Day, one of their three big ones. Warsaw is the largest Polish city, three million. Chicago is the second largest, 1.8 million.
Ironically, the Stock Exchange used to be the communist party building. They have one palm tree, right in the middle of town, made of plastic.Warsaw University has 65,000 students, and they go free.
Warsaw suffered a great deal under the Nazis. Much more than I learned about in my history classes in the 50's and 60's. I suppose a lot of that is because while it was under Communism, we learned very little about Poland.
During WWII,  Poland was the first of many conquered. There were two uprisings against the Germans during that time. In the first, 200,000 died. When the Jewish began to realize what their fate was to be, many preferred to die fighting. In the latter part of the war, with the Russians on the way, the Nazis punished the Poles by drilling holes in 85% of their beautiful large buildings and blew them up, while the Russians, arriving outside Warsaw, watched the destruction. Many Poles still complain bitterly that the Russians, two million of them, just stayed outside town and watched that destruction, instead of coming in and stopping it. Now, most of those beautiful buildings have been rebuilt, just like they were before, though there was very little money for the Poles for this from the Russians or the Marshall Plan after the war.
After walking and looking, mostly, for a couple of hours, our family group found a small grocery store open, and went in to buy meat for sandwiches. While looking over the meat packages, Barbara pointed out to the lady in charge that some of the meat was out of date, and the lady finally found some that was not for us. She was nice about it, but it seems a man in the back room heard all that, and got extremely mad. He came out and started shouting at us, waving his arms for us to leave. Now, for some reason, he was either getting dressed as a clown, or undressed; anyway, he was half dressed. Of course, we could not understand a thing he said, but we got the drift. I turned, looked at him, then looked down at his half-costume, and flashed him a thumbs up. But, it was with my half thumb, the one I got cut off 47 years ago. Then I placed the other thumb up beside it to show I was only giving him a half-thumbs up, which was all I could do because of his half-dressed condition. He stopped screaming, looked at me awhile, then just died laughing. That old half thumb comes in handy sometimes.
Poland became the first non-communist country in Eastern Europe in 1989.
Time to load back on  the Globus tour bus, and the entire group on our bus sang happy birthday to me, sixty nine years old today. Then the bus turned toward Auschwitz, and everyone's mood changed considerably.