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Excerpts of Nebraska Travel Diary
State 28 - NEBRASKA 21 AUG 99 - 03 SEP 99

 

Rust-covered evil

Crossing the Nebraska state line we stop at a rest area to use the bathrooms and freshen up. It's evening, the sun is dipping and night darkens the edge of the horizon. As I get out of the car and walk toward the Women's Room on the far corner of the building, I suddenly get the eebie-jeebies and a chill creeps up my spine.The place seems spooky, but I can't pinpoint a reason why. I try to brush off the feeling, but as I approach the bathroom the sense of evil escalates. As I grab the door handle a woman comes out of the doorway and instantly terrifies me. She is a fright. Her hair is the color of rust, styled like General Custer's weird pageboy. The rusty locks cling to her head in a solid mass of burnt orange grease, separating in large, rusty clumps about her neck. But it's her eyes that scare me so. They, too, are rust-colored, small and hard like lobster eyes. Sometimes rust can be a pretty shade, but this rust is not. It's ancient, crusty rust. The woman's eyes are full of death. Truly, I feel I'm in the presence of an inveterate killer. Her eyes say, "I want to kill you. Now!" They pierce my soul and stop the blood from moving through my veins. This eye contact takes place in a nanosecond, but the impact will stay with me forever. She passes by. I shake off the evil experience, and enter the restroom. Ugh! What is this? Why, it's a witches den! Straight out of Macbeth. The room is dark gray, thick with swarming flies, buzzing like a chorus of chain saws. The floor is a carpet of crawling insects. Spiders, ants, and other unidentifiable crawlers crowd the small floor. My imagination tells me "Rusty" did this. I'm convinced she's a sorceress. Yet, I continue with my appointed task. But in the stall, I leave the door open so as not to be locked in such a confined space with these ubiquitous, nosy insects. Quickly I finish and make a mad dash into the fresh air, only to run into Rusty again, watching me as she stands idly by the phone booth with a man, either her husband, boyfriend, or brother. Possibly her brother because he, too is all rust-colored, and also a killer. They both bore a penetrating gaze at me as I walk by. Their eyes say, "I want to kill you." This is not my imagination.

Uh-uh. Honey, don't

This morning we arise early to get to the weekly Farmer's Market for the best pickings. Lots of colorful umbrellas, produce and crafts catch my eye, but I'm particularly taken in by a sweet-talking beekeeper vending her golden honey. She really intrigues me for two reasons: 1) ever since I saw the movie "Ulee's Gold" with Peter Fonda as a beekeeper, I've been intrigued with beekeepers; 2) this woman looks more like a corporate vice-president than a beekeeper; I really like her and want to support her homegrown enterprise. Plus, I'm curious about the honeycomb she has on display. I've never had fresh honey in the comb like that and want to try it. "Should we get some?"I ask Ken. He frowns. "Honeycombs are troublesome," he warns, "getting the honey out of the comb is a pain in the neck." The beekeeper intervenes and explains that we don't have to remove the honey from the comb, but can safely eat the whole thing -- comb and all -- as the comb is just wax that the bees make. "It's all natural." She volunteers. I overrule Ken's input an buy the honeycomb. Farther along the Farmer's Market I try some fantastic homemade root beer. How can I explain it's unique flavor? It's less carbonated than root beer in a bottle, much smoother and far more mellow. Love it. Want to buy a quart to take home but the line is too long. Next, I arrive at a card table with home-baked pastries on it. It's kind of sad, this unadorned card table. All the other vendors have festive umbrellas, tablecloths and beautiful displays, but this woman simply has an undisguised card table with one-serving dishes of apple cobbler, cheese Danish, apple pies and other goodies -- all for a dollar. The young lady selling these baked goods is in a wheelchair and has some tubes coming out of her nose. As I walk buy to inspect her wares, I catch her just finishing one of her cream puffs. Her cheeks are puffed full of cream, and white frosting clings to her lips. "Oops. Excuse me," she says with an embarrassed giggle. "I want to make sure everything is as good as I say it is." I ask her if she made all these items and she affirms that she made everything last night and early this morning. Tell her I'll come back later with my husband. Whoosh . . . I'm sucked back into the crowd as I search for Ken. When we find each other, we excitedly exchange stories of what we've found here at the open air market. Yap, yap, yap. We're both ready to go home, but then I recall this woman in the wheelchair and tell Ken we must go back as I had promised. When I arrive again at her table, with Ken in tow, the woman exclaims, "Wow! You did come back with your husband. You really meant it!" Ken starts poking around to see what treat he wants, and the girl continues gushing enthusiastically, "I thought you just said that to get rid of me. I really didn't think you'd come back." We purchase an apple dumpling, pay her and are about to leave, when she yells after me, "Thanks for coming back!" It made me sad that she gets so few customers, and my little purchase meant so much to her. She had told me earlier that every Friday night she bakes in a frenzy for this Farmer's Market. Yet, it appears that very few customers visit her little card table because it lacks decorations or any kind of charm. (Packaging is everything.) At home we try the honeycomb. The honey is delectable. Really tasty. But I can do without the wax. Tried tossing a gob of it in my mouth to chew like gum, but it breaks up too easily into a mess of wax-crumbs. Disenchanted with the novelty, the honeycomb now sits on the counter, completely ignored.

THEM!

I remember a Saturday afternoon television program called, "Creature Double Feature,"which aired 1950s grade-B fright flicks appealing to juvenile horror/creature film devotees. Today I recall a particular film called "THEM!"about radioactive ants that take over a town, or something like that. I don't actually recall the story or the human characters in it, but I do recall --THEM! -- Big, black ants that were very clever and quite unstoppable. That's what terrorized me most: nothing could stop them. Well, they're h- e- r- e. I get up this morning to find Ken furiously swatting ants. We attribute these visitors to my Aloe Vera plant, which now has families of ants homesteading all over it. The Aloe Vera plant goes outdoors, and we continue to swat ants for about 15 minutes. Game over. No more ants. Next morning. Ants again. "Do you think it's the honey?" I ask hesitatingly because I don't want to be reminded about the bad decision I made. Lucky for me, Ken says, "No. These are just remnant ants from the plant yesterday." (Oh good, I'm blameless.) We team up again and swat the last infantry of ants and forget about them. Next morning. Oh boy! Ants galore! This time in the honeycomb, partying like John Belushi in "Animal House." We move the honey outdoors and start swatting again. (Oh, why didn't I buy bug spray at the grocery store yesterday?) Ken goes outside to see where the ants are coming in. "Oh yeah. There's a parade of them climbing up the trailer into the kitchen window," he reports. I don't know what made me think of this but I grabbed some vinegar and poured it on the incoming ants. This is fascinating, and, no kidding, the ants that had been climbing in the window actually do an about-face and march back out as soon as I put vinegar on the windowsill. Fun! I'm really having a ball with this. Wow. Who knew? Vinegar! Now I'm as triumphant as President Truman at the end of WWII. I've got my secret weapon. I've got my A-bomb. Of course, I'm not satisfied that I'm simply making "them" retreat. Now, I'm going after them, Bruce Willis style. I take my bottle of vinegar outdoors and wash the trailer in a mixture of vinegar and water. No more ants. Not a single siting all day. Ken can't believe vinegar will finish the problem, says that this is only a temporary solution and cautions that we should go to the store and buy RAID. But I'm resistant to aerosol chemicals. I beg to wait another day and see what happens. Ken says, "Well, I'm not killing another ant. If any show up, I'm calling you." I agree to kill all future ants (should any arrive.)

Scouts

I wake this morning from a wonderful dream, a ballet dream, oh, so happy. Such a nice dance. Suddenly a voice-over enters the dream, "Oh, Priscilla, there's an ant here for you to kill." Groggily I get out of bed and kill the intruders with a Rambo viciousness that belies my Baby-Doll pajamas. "It's okay. Just a remnant," I say using Ken's term, hoping he'll buy it. "Actually, it's a scout." Ken corrects me. "They're sending a few scouts in to see if the coast is clear." Oh they are, are they? Well, I'm going to show them the coast is definitely NOT clear. I soak a rag with vinegar and leave it on the windowsill all day as a Peacekeeper, kinda like our ICBMs over at the Air Force Base in Cheyenne.

State Fair

At the Nebraska State Fair today I see two other people carrying parasols.That's three people, counting myself, carrying a parasol today. Apparently the idea is catching on. But the best part is that one of these people is a man: a young, tall, dark and handsome, American Indian with long, jet black hair,wearing black jeans, a black shirt, carrying a big black umbrella overhead, and I might add, cutting a fine figure. He looks quite distinguished as he walks in long, confident strides, boldly carrying his black parasol, daring anyone to make fun of him. So there! I'll never be shy about opening my parasol.

The Victorians were right

Today we attend Mass in the Gothic chapel at Boys Town in Omaha, the famous home for boys established by Father Flanagan back in 1917. The Boys Town campus is just beautiful, especially the Bible Garden, where we dally this morning before services begin. But the churchbells ring a warning that mass is about to start. We leave the garden and enter a small, but magnificent chapel with lots of dark wood, stained glass, and Stations of the Cross intricately carved in pewter. Quietly we take our seat. Soon a woman and her young daughter sit in the pew in front of us. The daughter, about 11 years old, is a delicate, graceful girl. Every move she makes is careful, gentle, fragile. Suddenly this little angel violently wrenches forward as she releases a loud, painful cough. It's the kind of cough that hurts the ears of bystanders as they imagine the suffering of its victim. But the cacophony coming from this thin wisp of a girl, is extra-painful to hear. All through the service she continues to cough up phlegm, and each time her poor body convulses from the violent, stentorious release. But she is a well-mannered young lady, and coughs into her hand so as not to spread her germs. I watch her coughing into her hand and silently make a mental note that when the church service comes to "sharing the signs of peace" to turn around and occupy myself shaking hands with the people in back of me, thus avoid shaking her hand and catching her germs. (True to my name, I can be quite prissy.) All through the service I dread the "signs of peace" segment. Now it comes. Nervously, I put my plan into action, turn around and shake the hands of the people behind me. Take a long time doing it, too. When I feel enough time has passed, I return to face the front and there is the little girl, her slender hand outstretched toward me. Her young blue eyes staring expectantly at me. "Peace be with you," she says sweetly. Caught in the act of rude self-preservation, I reluctantly take her hand. "Peace be with you, too." (God forgive me for being so cruelly overprotective of my health.) However, I'm beginning to think that after we make it fashionable to carry parasols, we should reintroduce gloves to the fashion world. The Victorians were right: Keep you head and hands covered.

Fuzzball in the laundry

In the campground laundry room this morning a woman with wild eyes comes rushing in, "Do you have two nickels?" She breathlessly demands, while secretively clutching something in the cup of her hands, held tightly to her breast so no one can see. Startled. I answer honestly, "No I don't have two nickels." She looks at me doubtfully, since I happen to be in a coin-operated laundry room. (What I should have said, was, "No, I don't have two nickels, but I have some quarters." But she took me by such a surprise, that I answered the question literally. I had no nickels.) She stares at me for a moment in disbelief. Then says, rather conspiratorially, "Wanna see what I've got." I'm not sure I want to be let in on her secret. But before I can reply, she opens her hands. "It's a baby cottontail!" She cries out. There, trembling in the cradle of her hands is a baby bunny about the size of a croquet ball. Small, shivering, terrified. "How did you manage to capture him?" I ask (as I recall, rabbits are pretty fast.) "Oh. I pulled him out of my dog's mouth," she grins. She then folds her hands back up to her chest and leaves the laundry room as quickly as she came in. I never found out why she wanted two nickels, what she planned to do with the baby bunny, and whether or not the two had anything to do with each other.

Ruby

Today at the National Homestead Monument we arrive an hour before closing but the Park Rangers are kind and let us finish our tour even though it goes well into overtime. One of the Rangers tells us we can also stay after-hours and do the 2-1/2 mile walking trail through the prairie. Seems there's a staff meeting tonight so they won't be locking the parking gate as they usually do. We're thrilled because this is the most beautiful time to see the prairie grasses and wildflowers. The butterscotch color of the late-afternoon sun make the sunflowers dazzle like golden starbursts -- and there are hundreds of them. The sounds, the scents and the shadows are just right this time of day, too. As usual, I move ahead of Ken while he stops to take photos. Now I'm way, way ahead of him and it's getting dark. Where is that man? I mutter. This is the part I hate. I walk ahead and before I know it, I'm too far ahead, and perhaps a bit lost in this tall grass. So I sit on a log and decide to wait till he comes by. Sit. Sit. Sit. Since I'm no longer a moving prey, the bugs realize that dinner is served. Hundreds of gnats gather and feast upon my skin. Gotta keep moving. I start walking again. Great! Now there's a fork in the road. Which way should I go, Scarecrow? A trail marker on the left looks promising, so I turn left and run into a jogger. I recognize her as one of the Park Rangers at the desk earlier. She stops me. "Is that your red truck in the parking lot?" (This is not the Park Ranger who said we could leave our truck there, so now I fear she'll tell me we're locked in.) I admit the truck is mine. "Oh!" She says, Then you must be the postcard people! I've been following you guys a long time" Whaddya know? This is the first time we actually run into a subscriber.

****
It's our last day here and as I pack up the trailer I realize that the ants never came back. So there's a lesson here: Forget about poisonous RAID solutions. Vinegar is the answer. And it doesn't even kill 'em. Just keeps them away. It's the great Peacekeeper.

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