Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Travelin' Notes

As nice as home is, sometimes you're obliged to pack up and drive or fly to where other family members reside, and such was the case last week when we used one son's home near Oakland as the jumping-off place to Phoenix, Chicago and finally, Iowa, where we bunked at our oldest daughter Laura's place. If a person is watching and listening, you can learn some interesting things along the way. Here are a few, arranged without regard to importance.

Laura herself has become an impressive person, laying aside, as we must, the religious differences between us. Making it an issue would be too painful for everyone, but, that aside, she has acquired the best skills required for a self-employed single mom. Her schedule would buckle the knees of some people, but she has adapted to get her three young daughters onto the side of getting things done happily, on time and with mutual respect. Good for her. The holiday weekend featured two guys identified as former boyfriends, along with the chance to see her nearby ex-husband on friendly terms.

Chris, the ex-husband just mentioned, has now served the military in both Iraq and Afghanistan, though not in combat roles. Upon return, he works part-time at a job he held about ten years ago. Since then, he has obtained both a BS degree and officer status. His wages have gone from $13 an hour to $8.50. His garage is now a gym designed for strength/fitness classes for the few, the proud, etc.

A friend of our fourth daughter, Marla, is a Romney guy who describes this year's pre-primary presidential race as being like "speed dating", in which everyone gets five minutes or so to impress the GOP faithful, who are not obliged to line up behind anyone as yet. I don't know if that's a good way to pick a nominee, but I can't disagree with the analogy.

Everyone describes flying these days in negative terms. We had a flight cancelled on the return trip, which wasn't fun, but our fellow passengers were generally patient, the babies were somehow pacified, and the people watching was fun. I especially enjoyed the cultural clash of a string of orthodox rabbis passing through the airport in Salt Lake City. Do you think they ever compliment each others' hats? Maybe not.

The extended family now owns cars with nameplates from Japan (more than one company), Sweden and Italy. Then there's our aging but still serviceable Buick. So what if it's closing in on 200,000 miles? Leather seats, baby.

Our son-in-law to be, David is, I'm told, a fairly conservative guy. Maybe that's not strange for a science/physics teacher, but, regardless, he did a good job of biting his lip while I pontificated about some of the things you read about here. I never did as well around Mona's family, I admit.

We had a little tour of what I called "ancient Muscatine", the little city where I was born. It was mostly a matter of showing spots where something, for instance, a movie theater, had been. The same trip generated a list of things I had offered as fatherly advice. Some of them had held up pretty well, while others made me cringe. We stopped at the cemetery where three family members are buried, including Grandpa and Grandma. All three graves are within earshot of the high school football field, built after I graduated.

Marla lives with Laura for now, because Laura has the room. But the daily commute isn't fun, and Marla's considering possibilities closer to her job at the hospital in Cedar Rapids. Her sisters and mother strongly counseled against living among poor people. I felt obliged to remind her that most of her years growing up were when, in fact, we lived in an older, not too elegant neighborhood, and that poor folks could be just as good neighbors as rich ones.

Cedar Rapids, where we live for so many years, has moved past the flood destruction phase to the rebuild stage with some enthusiasm. Still, there are neighborhoods that have simply disappeared. It's sad to see nothing but grass and trees for several blocks where homes, albeit older ones, once stood. I'm not sure where the people went, but the census shows a tiny growth in the city's population in the last ten years in spite of the flood.

Late November in Iowa isn't showtime. The fields are harvested, the trees are bare, and there doesn't seem to be anything in place to slow the wind. The temperature wasn't piercingly cold, but about the only thing that could keep many folks outside voluntarily would be pursuing a particularly delicious game bird or animal. No wonder wrestling, always held indoors, is such a big deal there.


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