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Excerpts of Kansas Travel Diary
State 29 - KANSAS 03 SEP 99 - 17 SEP 99

 

Big fat apology

Every morning while sipping a steamy cup of tea, I glimpse out the window and spy a woman outdoors power-walking. I grimace. There she is again. Every morning that woman ruins my tea, spiking it with guilt. Her dedication to fitness brings to mind a shameful recollection of the person I used to be, the one who got up and walked two miles before breakfast. That dedicated Priscilla is no more. (Good riddance.) The funny thing is that way back on the first leg of our journey.a stranger predicted this of me. Back at the RV Park in Minnesota, our 8th week out on the road, Ken and I met a really nice couple who were finishing their 2-year tour of the US. The woman said to me, "Oh, I see you out walking every morning. How far do you walk?" I replied with a hefty dose of pride, "Two miles." She nodded. "Mmm. You know, when we first started on this trip a year and a half ago I told myself I'd walk two miles every morning, just as I had done at home. And at first I adhered to my routine. No matter where we were, I'd get out and walk. Even if I had to walk in the breakdown lane of the Interstate, I'd walk. But by the second or third month, nothing could get me out walking. Wait and see, you'll do the same." I listened politely, but went back to my trailer condemning her. "Yeah. Maybe you did." I said contemptuously. "But I won't." And yet she was right. And today I realize I owe her a big fat apology. Nothing gets me out the door in the morning. Nothing. Well-groomed walking trails. No. Birds singing. No. Beautiful day. No. Nothing gets me to out the door. Why is it that good habits break so easily; but bad habits are unbreakable?

Call home

I call mum today and she answers the phone rather breathlessly. "Oh, hi honey," she says, way too cheerily, almost with a giggle in her voice. "I just got in the door. Guess where I was?" (Don't know.) "I was out to lunch at a great Chinese restaurant with a huge buffet and a special price for senior citizens. All you can eat for $4.95! You should have seen it. They had everything. Oh! And the desserts!" (Desserts? At a Chinese restaurant? What . . . a chocolate covered fortune cookies?) "Oh my! No. They had eclairs, pies, cookies, cream puffs. anything you want." Mum sounds so happy. So excited. It warms me deeply to hear her so enthused over a simple lunch out. "So guess who took me to lunch?" She continues. (Don't know.) "Come on, guess." (Really, I can't guess.) "Aunt Polly and the girls! (the "girls," Aunt Polly's daughters, are in their 50's and 60s). And they each brought me a gift, too. Aunt Polly gave me a crossword book. Janice gave me some ginger snaps. Theresa gave me some slippers. And when I grabbed my purse, Paula told me to leave it. I won't be needing it." Mum sounds as excited as a child returning from a birthday party of 20 kids. I close my eyes and picture the scene. Tears well up and trickle down my cheek. I'm so overjoyed that someone remembered mum, and not only paid her a visit, but paid her an honor. Yes, the gifts were not expensive. The lunch was not expensive. But to bring the gifts -- gifts that are uniquely mum -- that's what makes me cry. What does it take to honor someone? Really, very little. So little effort is required to make someone feel special. I promise to start doing more stuff like that. Even though I'm on the road, I can at least send packages back home. Like the package of peanut brittle I sent mum from "Grandma's Kitchen" in Virginia City. What effort did that take? Nil! But sitting at home in her lonely room, that package must have meant a lot to her. Too often the mailbox and telephone are her only company. So I promise here and now to send more gifts. To treat more people to dinner, lunch, or to a cocktail. To bake more cookies and pies for people. To honor every person in my life -- uhm . . .well, every person I've known for 10 years or more -- I have to set some limits otherwise the goal will be unattainable.

Pleated onions

Another prairie state another Farmer's Market. I buy some honey again, but this time in a squeezeable plastic Teddy Bear bottle. No more honeycombs. But I also stop at a table that has something I've never seen before: braided onions. "They're long-life onions" the farmer assures me. "You just hang them in your kitchen and pluck one off as you need it. They last a mite longer than regular onions." I'm sold. Hey, I'd buy them even if they weren't "long-life," just because someone took the time to sit and braid the darned things. (Packaging is everything.) I also pick up some shallots . . . ten for a dollar. What a deal. At home I notice the shallots have long stems. Hmmm. . . can I braid them? After several unrewarding unravelings, I finally get them to hang together in a neat little braid. Yessir, the trailer is starting to look like a bonafide pioneer's home.

Beard and biceps

In the Produce Department at the grocery store today an upper shelf blocks the head and shoulders of a woman in the aisle next to me. She's wearing a lightweight gingham dress. So delicate is the dress, it's almost transparent, but contrasting this feminine fabric is a pair of legs sprouting from its hem. The legs are massive and hairy. Wow, I say to myself what man-legs she has. She should either shave her legs, wear stockings, or wear pants. I move on and forget about her until I see her again. This time a shelf blocks her head and her legs. All I see is her midriff and big, hairy arms with Popeye biceps reaching for the celery. I'm intrigued by this woman. I must see her face. I try to maneuver my shopping cart to get a good look at her face without being too conspicuous. But it can't be done politely, so I forget about her again and continue shopping down aisle after aisle of packaged boredom. At the end of one aisle, I see her at the checkout counter loading her groceries on the conveyor belt. Now I see the profile of her face. She wears a full black beard. It's not a woman at all. It's a man. He looks like Fidel Castro. Why the dress? I know there are cross-dressers and all, but don't they usually try to be more feminine? Really, the sheer fabric of the dress, the delicate style is so incongruous to the masculinity of the man. As I stand there staring, a big black man bumps into me. He looks like Marion Barry, the mayor (former mayor?) of Washington DC. "Excuse me," he says, with the most charming, engaging smile, and walks on ahead. As I reach for the mayonnaise, I feel a tug at my elbow. Marion Barry is back, taking my arm, he pulls me into his confidence, and whispers in my ear, "Hey, is that a man or a woman at the checkout?" I acknowledge it's a man. He looks at her again, shrugs. "Well, better than being a woman, I guess," he adds with a hearty chuckle. We smuggle a laugh together and go our separate ways. I turn the cart to the next aisle and pass a young, blond woman in an "I-Dream-of -Jeannie" outfit, only black, not pink, and no ponytail. At least she's pretty enough to carry the look. That's all I ask. I don't care what people choose to wear, as long as they can carry the look.

The Post Office

Bake some maple cookies for tea today and set some aside to send to mum. Cram a bunch of cookies in a box and head out to the local Post Office. As I drive home I get a tingling feeling that the cookies are on their way to mum, traveling through the wonderful magic of the Post Office. The Post Office is really a great arm of the Federal Government. My job was easy. But now the box of cookies is in the hands of the USPS. How far will those cookies travel? How many layovers in airports? How many hands will pick and pack 'em on and off conveyor belts? I don't know. But I sure do appreciate it. So many people make fun of the Post Office claiming that things get lost in the mail, but in all my life I've never, ever, had anything lost in the mail. And I wonder today if the Post Office is often blamed for the incompetence of others. A readily available scapegoat. I'm also grateful today for my own local Post Office back in Billerica, Massachusetts. When hearing our plans to travel the USA for a year the Postmaster volunteered a solution for our mail. He suggested we have everything forwarded to a Post Office Box and periodically call them to let them know where we are and they'll ship it out. Leo is our assigned mail agent. So every month I call Leo, tell him where we are for the week and he sends our mail "Priority Mail" so that it arrives in 3 days or less. Now this is not a regular service the Post Office provides. They are doing this as special favor. I feel bad that the trip is taking longer and we've been gone almost two years now. Perhaps I'm wearing out Leo's kindness. I hope not. I was telling mum this when she said she'd send Leo some flowers for making it possible for her to keep in touch with me. "He'll probably get a lot of teasing from the guys," mum says. "But once he reads the card, he'll feel better. Is he married?" (Yes.) "Well, then, he can give them to his wife. I'm going to call the florist right after we hang up." Can't wait to hear how that goes over.

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