Travels with Red Dirt Girl, Chapter 2

Travels with Red Dirt Girl, Chapter 2

Summer Vacation

Early in the young life of Tracy Lou, her family did not take many summer vacations away from Medicine Lodge except for a few trips to visit relatives living in Kansas.  During the summer, Tracy Lou’s dad picked up part-time jobs to supplement his meager teacher salary.  One summer, her dad painted houses, and both her mom and dad taught swimming lessons at the public swimming pool situated on top of a tall embankment inside the town’s city park.

Tracy Lou learned to swim as an infant and by about the time she entered kindergarten, she could swim the width of the pool.  Her parents taught her all of the strokes including the crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and sidestroke.  She mastered how to flip over on the end of each turn for smooth and quicker transitions back and forth across the pool. She could dog paddle for thirty minutes or more without touching the bottom of the pool.

Tracy Lou loved to jump off the diving boards, even the high dive, when she was quite young.  Her dad called her “a little fish”. She learned to do a front flip but she could never master more than a back dive in reverse. Back then, children were allowed to swim at the city pool without adult supervision so kids rode their bikes to the pool and spent the entire afternoon swimming, diving and playing water games with their friends.  The pool manager would make all the kids get out of the water for 30 minutes to ensure everyone took time to eat a snack, frozen zero bars were Tracy Lou’s favorite, rest and go to the bathroom.  These breaks also allowed the children to apply more sunscreen but they rarely did.

Tracy Lou’s mother loved to swim so in the summer evenings, her Mom would drive down to the pool in her station wagon to take a dip and Tracy Lou loved to tag along and swim laps beside her mother.  Tracy Lou learned that the only sport her mom participated in while in high school was swimming.  Her school, Topeka High, had its own in-door pool, which blew Tracy Lou’s imagination.  “That school must have been rich to have an in-door swimming pool”, said Tracy Lou.  The only in-door swimming pool that Tracy Lou had ever swam in was one in Alva, Oklahoma, located at a college the family visited occasionally.  Tracy Lou thought it was odd that her mom did not play other sports as a kid because Tracy Lou loved games of all kinds and dreamed of playing them all, especially basketball.

RDG1

 

Summer Road Trip to Quinault, Washington

Tracy Lou’s maternal grandparents owned a lake house on the Quinault Indian Reservation in the Olympic National Park in the state of Washington. The family took a few road trips out and back in the summers in the 1960’s. Dad worked as a ranger for the National Park Service for a couple of these summers.

On one trip, the family left Medicine Lodge in June for the week long National Lampoon’s Vacation-like, family road trip from western Kansas to the rain forest of Quinault, Washington in 1969. On this particular trip, Tracy Lou was only eight. The plan was to put all four kids in the back of the old green station wagon and drive nearly 2,000 miles; stopping when her Dad found a good camping spot or a place of interest to her educator father and social conscious mother. “Good places”, as defined by the parents, were state parks, historical sites, and nature preserves.  Never a KOA campground or hotel for this family.  Her parents rented a U-Haul trailer to connect to the back of the family wagon and then crammed both the wagon and the trailer with kids, sleeping bags, cookware, food, tents, coolers, blankets, and all the other necessary supplies for a two-week road trip to and from Washington State.

The family typically got back home just in time for the start of school.  Her Dad borrowed heavily from the local scout troop for the necessary camping supplies.  The boys were so involved in that club that there was a huge and ferocious hand painted wolverine on the cement wall of their basement for the troop meetings.

One day, at the half waypoint of the trip, Dad, Mom and Mike traded turns driving over five hundred miles to brake at a campsite adjoining the Snake River. The entire family escaped the stuffy car to stretch their tired and aching joints.

Before the kids could venture off, they normally helped set up the campsite.  At that time, most tents, consisted of thick canvas with wooden poles and spikes, and were assembled by pounding the stakes into the ground to support the poles and then the canvas. This took the entire family pitching in to get the multiple tents upright because the ground was rocky and hard or muddy and wet.

This time, their parents allowed the four kids to head on down to the river before the tent raising ritual.  Tracy Lou ran to the river’s edge and put both feet in.  The river was wide and she could see small white caps as the water rumbled along across a few boulders and fallen trees peeking up out of the surface of the water.  The water felt like hot ice on the back of her legs and on the top of her feet but it beckoned the four of them in.  They noted the swift current but from where they stood, on the edge of the tributary, the stream massaged their stiff joints while they swam between each other’s legs, splashed, dived under, and threw some river rock to see who could make them skip the farthest.

They could see Mom and Dad heading down to the river edge so the siblings started to cross over to the other side of the river to a play a little game they liked to call, “running away from Mom and Dad”. Mike held Tracy Lou’s arm as they hopped up and down in the water, moving across the river to the other side.  The bottom of the riverbed, covered in pebbles, hurt Tracy Lou’s feet, so she paddled along holding on to Mike. Tom was treading along beside them when all of a sudden; the strong current in the middle of the river sucked him under and pushed him down the river.

Tracy Lou and her brothers screamed for help from the shore.  Dad sprinted down to the bank following Tom as he bobbed along unable to get out of the river.  Tracy Lou could see his wet head but he was drifting faster, swept downstream. Just ahead of Tom’s head, lay a fallen tree.  Tom smacked into the limb of the tree and went under.  Then he came up again and then back under.   Dad splashed into the water, reached under the limb and pulled Tom out of the water by the back of his trunks, all while struggling to keep his own balance in the strong current.  If not for the tree and Dad’s strong swimming skills, it is not clear how this adventure would end.

Everyone slinked quietly back to the shore to put up the tents and reflect on what nearly happened.  Rivers may look calm on the surface but can have fast under currents and that is dangerous enough alone, but with boulders, logs and other debris, Tom was lucky he was not seriously injured or drowned.  From then on, Tracy Lou knew to avoid crossing fast moving rivers even if she was a little fish.

Often on these camping trips, Ed fried doughnuts outside over a propane burner like the way he learned at Boy Scout camp.  He took an old pot, filled it halfway with oil, and set the pot on the stove on high.  Using biscuits in a tube, Ed would take each biscuit; pull a whole in the center of the dough until it looked like a doughnut. Then, he would place it in the hot oil to fry.  He fried several at a time.  Then, he took an old paper sack, filled it with a little sugar and cinnamon and then placed the fried bread into the bag.  He shook it all about and then brought out the hot doughnuts for us all to enjoy.

RDG2

School’s out for the summer

Growing up in a small town had its advantages to young children, as there was a lot of freedom.  Tracy Lou’s family lived on Main Street and she walked alone the two blocks downtown to the library, to her dad and mom’s work, to the grocery store, to the swimming pool, to the cool waters of the lazy Medicine River, to the vacant lot out back and to her friends’ houses that lived in town.

On her block, there were many families with children but Tracy Lou was the youngest.  The Rhea’s, the Strack’s, the Newsom’s, and the many other families all had at least three children so finding a playmate was rarely an issue. Games included pick-up basketball, touch football, riding bikes, constructing elaborate forts from cast-off materials, and planning kid-directed block events like a carnival, track meet, or theatre production.  The children charged family and community members to attend these events and they even had a banking account for safekeeping the profits.  Tracy Lou’s brother, Ed, was the activity director but all of the kids participated in one way or another.

Life on the block was fun except when it was not.  Since the children had so much freedom to play outdoors and away from their parents’ supervision, accidents did happen from time to time.

One involved Tracy Lou and a gallon of house paint.  It was a hot, summer day and Tracy Lou was about nine years old. She lived just a few houses from the Rhea sisters so they often walked to the library to check out books together or she hung out with them while they did chores or practiced their musical instruments.  Teresa and Jeanne were four and five years older than Tracy Lou.  Teresa was willing to play Barbie’s with Tracy Lou and they often took their dolls outside and built tree houses for them in the bushes. Tracy Lou had the only Ken doll on the block.

Teresa taught Tracy Lou card games, jacks, and jump rope tricks.  Tracy Lou was enamored with Teresa and spent all the time she would give Tracy Lou that summer.  On the day of the accident, Teresa and her older sister, Jeanne, had a fight. Jeanne had a temper and she flounced off and went into the house.  Teresa and Tracy Lou continued to play jacks and completely forgot about the angry older sister.  They were playing jacks on the concrete behind their house situated at the base of a series of exterior stairs that led up to a tiny deck before entering the house. On the edge of the small deck, house paint cans piled up on top of one another.

Teresa and Tracy Lou were engrossed in flipping jacks and tossing the hard, red ball back and forth between them. Tracy Lou heard the screen door open above her. She noticed Teresa looking up at the landing above. Teresa yelled something at Jeanne.  There was a loud noise from the deck and Jeanne yelled back. Tracy Lou suddenly felt something cold and wet running over her head and shoulders.  She reached up to her face and first felt and then smelled wet paint all over her hair, over her eyes and in her ears.  She did not know what happened.  Later she learned that Jeanne had accidently kicked a can of paint over the edge of the porch and it opened in mid-air pouring paint on Tracy Lou, head to toe.

Tracy Lou sprinted the three houses home hysterically crying for her mother.  Tracy Lou kicked in the kitchen door with her foot, and her mother ran to her and hugged her tight.  She carried her to the bathroom and lifted Tracy Lou into the bathtub.  She ran warm water and washed much of the paint down the drain and in time, with soap and a lot of rubbing, all of the paint rinsed out of Tracy Lou’s hair and off her skin.

Alley Trouble

Directly behind the houses on Main Street, a dirt alley provided access to trash bins, parking, and to the backyards.  Cars and trucks bumped down it, blowing up dust. People on foot, instead of walking around each block, cut through the alley.

The children living on the block played in the alley a lot.  They peddled their bikes along the tracks in the orange, Kansas, dirt, skipped along it for quick access to each other’s backyards, and often met in the over-grown vacant lot on the other side of the alley to play baseball or football.

Tall, thin, poplar trees lined the path, providing a natural barrier from the alley into the backyards.  There were also a few hedge apple trees with chartreuse orbs of lumpy fruit bending branches low to the ground.  These thorny trees provided the mushy bombs for games of war between platoons of youngsters. Tracy Lou avoided this game as the hedge apples oozed a white, slimy liquid causing her skin to turn red and burn wherever it touched.

Normally, the kids did not throw the hedge apples at each other but flung them at makeshift targets like the back of an old garage or a trunk of a tree.  One time, one of Tracy Lou’s brothers broke out a glass window with a second-rate throw.  Mike rang the neighbor’s doorbell, and confessed to Mr. Newsom his error.  He asked Mike to walk down to the hardware store, get the clerk to cut him a piece of glass to fit the window, and then return it to the Mr. Newsom for repair. To pay for the glass, my brother did a few chores for him.  Back then, people fixed problems without a lot of fuss.

There was a nursing home for elderly people located at the end of the alley.  The children sometimes met up with the old folks slowly shuffling the alley to one destination or another.  To Tracy Lou, they seemed so tired and sad.  She always tried to greet each one with her best smile but most of the time; they did not even look her way. When she described how the old people acted, her mom told her to leave those poor people alone and she said, “They are living out their last days, the best they can.”  Mom was not so generous, Tracy Lou noted, when she caught one of the old men, stealing ripe tomatoes from her garden.

One Sunday, four neighborhood kids stumbled upon an old man laying quietly in the middle of the alley. He was motionless and as the kids got nearer, they saw that his eyes were open but not blinking.  Quickly, they ran to the nearest house and asked for help for the man. The ambulance came with sirens blaring, which got Tracy Lou’s attention.  She ventured down to the back of the yard, near where the ambulance parked, but her Dad told her firmly to go back inside the house.  Later, Tracy Lou overheard her parents saying he died.  At dinner, Dad led a prayer for the old man’s soul.  Mom was worried if the kids that found the man would sleep at all that night.

Of course, all the kids knew the exact spot of the old man’s demise so they cautioned each other to not step near it, sort of along the same rule in the old silly rhyme they sang together:

Step on a crack,
You’ll break your mother’s back;
Step on a line
You’ll break your father’s spine.

The alley seemed a place ripe for trouble.  One time, a neighbor offered to keep his Shetland pony in the vacant lot for a couple of days so that the pony could eat the grass and no one would need to mow the lot.  While grazing, one of the kids went up behind the pony to try to pet him, and was kicked in the jaw so hard he walked around with his teeth wired together for weeks and could only drink liquid through a straw that fitted perfectly between two of his incisors.

Another time, her brother Tom, played with matches in the alley, and inadvertently caught the entire vacant lot on fire.  The volunteer firefighters came to put it out while Tom cowered under his bed afraid to come out.  Tom thought he had burned down the entire town but only a large patch of grass turned black.  Of course, this story was retold many times in Medicine Lodge homes about the danger of children playing with matches.

RDG3

 

1979

1979

1979.  That is the year I graduated from Holton High School with a class of a little more than 80 students, the same year as the release of the Sony Walkman.  Mobility — the idea that you could take music with us – was HUGE. The music channel, MTV, launched just a few years later — who remembers listening to the release of Video Killed the Radio Star? It was so cool.

We were all about the music as a class. We listened to My Sharona by The Knack, and Hot Stuff by Donna Summers. Songs by the Bee Gees, Blondie and the Village People’s enduring YMCA were hits in 1979.  We loved country music tunes like Eddie Rabbit’s hit,  Every Which Way but Loose and some of us were into hard rock by Led Zeppelin, Judas Priest and AC/DC. We snuck into the local club, the Jolly Troll, to listen to local bands close up and personal. Many of us turned 18 so we were legal to drink beer in Kansas at the time.  Our favorite was Coors.  The music sounded better with a cold can of Coors in my hand.

We sang, danced and acted in school iconic musical productions of West Side Story and South Pacific.  We played music in our cars, many decked out with an 8-track, cruising around the square.  At lunch, jammed into the old gym for some free time, John Denver sang Rocky Mountain High from a delapidated jukebox.

We whistled along to KISS FM radio from Topeka while swimming at the city pool on lazy summer days.  Some of the last lazy days for most of us as we launched into adulthood.  We Are the Champions, by Queen, was released in 1977, and the pep band blasted that catchy anthem repeatedly during warmups and timeouts at boys basketball games.

Our class had a diverse set of interests outside of music and many of us played dual roles.  We marched in the band, sang in the choir and competed in sports.  We held leadership positions both at school, in our churches and other affiliations preparing us for our futures in science, engineering, business, logistics and a wide variety of fields.  We were multi-taskers.  We almost all worked outside of school either paid or unpaid helping on the family farm, checking groceries or filling up gas tanks.  No job seemed too small to us.

Next week, we celebrate our 40th reunion together as a graduating class.  I am unable to attend this year but from the social media chatter, it looks like there will be good attendance over Memorial Day with our class featured on a float in the local parade as well as a dinner and an after party.   Mostly, we just spend time catching up and sharing stories. We often laugh about embarrassing tales from those days that we would not share with anyone else except our high school friends.  Likely, because our current friends cannot relate or do not really care as much as our high school friends about our stories from back then.  Who would you talk to about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat after making it to the State Basketball Championship back in 1979? Alternatively, that time, some classmates snuck into the city pool and skinny-dipped?  Some of these stories certainly change and get better over time.  Hell, who can remember at our age?

We are on the cusp of 60, trying to hold off the inevitable aging process so that we can stay active, travel and enjoy life after so many years working 9 to 5 or dusk to dawn.  I like to see ourselves now after all these years as joyful people who are at peace with who we are and why we are.  Our foundation was first built in our childhood when the importance of purpose, interconnectivity, selflessness, and service were first taught and demonstrated to us by our families, our teachers and our community.  In retrospect, our lives speak for themselves well after we are gone.

So, this is what 40 years since graduating high school looks like for each of us. Who knew? So, raise your Coors cans high and celebrate, because my classmates from 1979, we are all champions of our own little neck of the woods.

Below is a card I found tucked inside the jacket holding my high school diploma. My main takeaway from this rather stuffy pronouncement, 40 years into the future is, yes, Principal Versch you are correct: ere life has flown.

 

Totality

Totality

Over several months, RM planned our five hundred mile road trip to northeast Kansas to view the recent solar eclipse in the so-called totality zone. He plotted and printed maps, researched websites, purchased the necessary protective eye glasses and not-so-necessary commemorative t-shirts, and timed our journey to coincide with the solar eclipse on Monday, August 21st. We stayed with some dear friends on their picturesque farm near Holton, Kansas.

farm

We were one of many visitors to the zone last Monday — stretching across a width of 70 miles from Oregon to South Carolina  — who made it a point to travel to a place where the moon’s shadow will touch the earth.  We were not disappointed in the experience even after dodging traffic, rain clouds and showers to get to our destination.  For us, we ended up on an isolated, dirt road that straddled the Nebraska/Kansas border not too far from Du Bois, NE., surrounded by miles of ripening corn and soybean fields.

While RM was the champion of this excursion, the rest of us in our small party were willing but uninformed, highly supportive accompaniments.  We agreed to stock up the SUV with a picnic lunch and celebratory spirits, keep the phones and iPad charged for tracking and other necessary communication updates from NASA, and drive Ruby (yes, the SUV has a name), over and across this nation’s bread basket back roads to get us in line for the perfect viewing of the total eclipse, weather conditions be damned. While we didn’t fully understand RM’s fixation with getting the perfect spot, we knew it was important to him so we followed our leader’s direction to head up Highway 75 from Holton, over to Sabetha and then north and west to his predetermined, viewing point.

eclipse tracy

Through our safety glasses, we saw early glimpses of the partial eclipse but the clouds were thickening and the viewing was sporadic so under RM’s worried brow, we packed up and moved about 10 miles to an area on the radar that looked clear.  We were not disappointed with the audible as we pulled off the road into a pasture, the sky cleared and we could see the eclipse as it moved from partial to total at 1:04 p.m. central Kansas time. At full eclipse, the sky darkened and a 360 degree sunset magically appeared all around us as we admired Bailey’s beads — pearls of sunlight shining through the valleys and mountains of the moon. We saw the beads around the edges of the moon as it passed over the sun.  We took many pictures but mostly we stood and stared up at the eclipse in awe.

cornfield

I  first noticed the immense quiet and the surrealism of the space with light reflecting oddly over the fields around us, no sounds of animals or man except for us hooting and comparing comments of what each of us saw and felt.  It was truly an  ‘awe’ moment — one that reached, for me, the upper levels of pleasure but also on the boundary of fear or perhaps better described as the feeling of the unknown.  After the experience, I felt rich in time, somehow better connected to nature with a renewed boost of hope for our future.  We are already plotting for the next eclipse in 2024.  Come join us in Texas, in the the totality zone, and experience the awe.

 

Dave

 

 

Why I Played

Why I Played

I fell in love with basketball when I was a very little girl of six or seven, maybe even younger.  I still love it and plan to play a game of HORSE with RM this week-end if the weather cooperates.  If you don’t know what HORSE is, I am sorry because you have missed out.   I have probably played a thousand rounds of HORSE in my lifetime.  Such fond memories of time spent with my dad out on the concrete basketball court shooting hoops. He always had a court poured immediately,  at each house we lived in, before he thought to remodel the bathrooms or applying a fresh coat of paint.

dad's team Newton
Dad – third tallest.
Basketball was a big deal for my dad and for our small Kansas town. The grownups started us early learning to dribble, pass and do layups from either side (left or right).  I played with my brother and their friends which improved my game considerably.  I practiced all the time on our court and started playing on teams as soon as that was an option.  Coach Groves focused on the fundamentals and we practiced those skills over and over again until we mastered them.   We didn’t have select teams back then but Dad would get the keys for the Jr. High gym so we could get in and shoot around during the summer and on school breaks.  He challenged me to make 25 free throws without missing and I eventually developed such an accurate shot that I was asked by coach to shoot most technical foul shots for my hometown team. Older girls from the high school team mentored us early on and we scrimmaged against them when we were in middle school.

My dad paid for me to go to basketball camps during the summer where I developed my skills even further and also made new friends and learned from other girls. These camps were held on university campuses.  It was a blast but I don’t know if I have ever been as tired as I was after a week of basketball practice all day long for a week. And the blisters on my feet proved it.

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But what I now appreciate from the years I spent playing point guard is what it taught me for life.    I played and learned to:

  • be physically active and fit
  • develop life skills like leadership and resiliency
  • have fun and provide for emotional well-being
  • be with my friends (boys and girls)
  • be on a team

Playing basketball helps young girls learn basic coordination and team-building skills with an added bonus of making new friends along the way. My father and I have passed the love of the game onto my family as we are in the middle of March Madness with our beloved University of Kansas Jayhawks on the road to the Elite 8.

So if you have a young girl in your life, pump up a basketball, find a basketball court, and play a game of HORSE with her.  It may change her life, like it did mine. Thanks, Dad.

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Combining love of basketball with love of travel
RULES of HORSE

H-O-R-S-E is a game played by two people on a basketball court. The idea of the game involves matching baskets. The player who makes shots that the opponent does not duplicate, wins the game. Example: The second person shooting must duplicate the first person’s shot, if it is made. If the second shooter misses, he/she receives the letter “H”. If the first person’s shot is missed, the second shooter may attempt any shot. If his/her shot is made, the opponent is obligated to duplicate it. Each time a shooter misses a shot that he/she attempted to duplicate, a letter is “awarded”. The game continues until one person accumulates 5 letters or H-O-R-S-E. The Rules 1. The person who will shoot first will be determined by coin flip or basket shot. 2. Shots can be attempted from anywhere on the court. No dunking or stuffs. 3. Shots may be “slop” shots or “called” shots. “Called” shots must be made as the call indicates or counts as a miss. “Called” shots must be called before the shot. “Called” shots are as follows: a. Bank – off backboard and into basket, may touch rim. b. Bank Swish – off backboard and into basket without touching rim. c. Straight In – must go into basket without touching backboard or rim. d. Swish – directly into basket without touching backboard or rim. e. Opposite Hand – if shooter is right handed the shot is attempted with left hand and vice versa. f. Jump Shot – both feet off court when ball is released. g. Set Shot – both feet in contact with court when ball is released. h. Hook Shot – ball is released in arch over the body. 4. Trick shots involving spins and ball movement prior to release are not allowed. 5. No shot may be attempted twice in a row from the same spot to give the opponent 2 consecutive letters. 6. All games will be self-officiated on the honor system. 7. Match – best 2 out of 3 games.

Summer

Summer

The first of June and a long, hot summer ahead but today, I am grateful for the signs and sounds of our pre-summer solstice. The back door is open and a baby bird is peeping for her breakfast of juicy worm porridge. Where are her delinquent mother and father? Our cat is slinking around as the sounds of the birds always pick up her pace. A momma bluejay is onto her plans and swoops down to flatten the attacker’s ears as the villain quickly seeks shelter under our dusty trailer. I opt for iced coffee this morning and the glass sweats in the morning air. Now it is cool but I predict by lunch the a/c will kick on if not before. The back of my aging legs are stiff from the prior day of weeding and thinning of a backyard oasis of herbs, perennials and ground cover. The yellow cannas are sprouting up everywhere along with purple salvia and the pea gravel walkway is littered with weeds. But after an hour’s worth of weeding, it is passable again. I have been thinking of replacing the pebbles with a tiled walkway to keep the weeds at bay. Maybe I should tile the whole backyard as sore as my lower back feels this morning. But then I would miss discovering the roly polys and the baby lizards hiding in the undisturbed garden beds all around the backyard. The Japanese maple is bright red, almost pink, in the sunshine and has grown taller than the roofline of the workshop out back. We nurse it through the arid summer with both water from the rain barrel and city supplies. It is our indulgence as every other planting must make it through with far less care. We lost two red tip photinias last year to the drought and passing of old Father Time. They served us well for nearly twenty years only to be replaced with hardier and less thirsty varieties this time around. My tummy is rumbling for breakfast and a hot shower is calling my name to start the day. My to-do list this day is all mine so I plan to seize it. My morning love note to life was first on the list. Check.