Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bittersweet Holiday

There is something refreshingly innocent about a household with young children. It is good to have baby toys underfoot and singsong voices greeting you in the morning. I am noticing birds nestled in trees and clouds shaped like elephant heads as I need to point them out to a child. My youngest son's daughters are 3 1/2 and 7 months of age and we have had their youthful company for a week now.
The oldest daughter given her few years possesses an immense vocabulary and says things like, "I am unavailable to do that right now," or "that would be positively delightful." Is she secretly reading novels in order to come up with this stuff? She quickly catches onto a domino game and tries to mimic everything her older boy cousins do. These, unfortunately, are not always the more desirable behavior choices. At least this year Adam did not feed his glove to the goats at the Christmas tree farm.

The baby has large liquid eyes that wobble between green and blue and soft dark crescents for eyebrows. Both girls show traces of their mother's Persian birth heritage and will be beauties in their own right. The littlest one honors everyone with immense and frequent smiles and her grandmother took several videos ranging from 32 to 106 seconds demonstrating her incredible ability to make a series of spitty raspberry sounds.

I have been a busy person these last few days. I go out to the garage to get my mother's roasting pan and as I pull it from the box I double over as a hard wave of emotion finds me. I sob a few times, a lonely sound, and then I return to my kitchen. The next morning the ingredients for my dressing lie on the counter for a couple of hours and I know I am stalling, afraid that my combination of spices, sausage, bread, celery and onion will be inferior to my mother's famed concoction. She never wrote the recipe out for us fledgling cooks. I got the "look," the one that said, just taste it - you'll know what it needs. Amazingly, it is good and so was the gravy which was the bigger concern.

My turkey is moist and flavorful and later in conversation with my daughter I tell her, "your grandmother was in my kitchen today." Could be an illusion but there had been a strange calmness playing in my head as I chopped and stirred and my dishes turned out far too well to credit my fluctuating cooking ability.

And the holiday was a good one despite the sad thoughts lapping at our collective consciousness. There was laughter and shared stories, card games and barbecued weenies in a crock pot - love them weenies. We played Candyland and Clue with the younger set and it was indeed Colonel Mustard in the conservatory with the revolver. Jason calls from his Colorado home and he is making dinner for friends: sweet potato and lentil casserole, roasted vegetables, pecan and pumpkin pies. Jason will be joining us in a few weeks and he and my father will walk the snowy hills of the driftless land.

The house sits quiet now and it feels strange not to have a wiggly baby on my lap or her older sister handing me Goodnight Moon to read. I carry my bittersweet wreath down to the wooded area at the bottom of our hill. My memories have been as intense and deeply colored as the bright orange berries on this vine. I hang it on a low branch knowing I will see the wreath from my window. At some point a strong winter wind will take possession of it.

I see my new Christmas tree reaching nine feet towards my cathedral ceiling. It begs for decoration and so I move on.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Black Bean Soup and other disturbing things

I yawn into the screen of my laptop and play around on facebook for a few minutes. It's 8:00 a.m. and that's a late sleep for me, but it's Sunday, so shut up. My son Jim and his Sara plus Arya and baby Olive, are planning their trip to Iowa this week. They will join us for Thanksgiving and aren't we glad.
They had talked about leaving Tuesday and possibly taking a couple of days for the eight hour trip because two of their group are youngsters, age 3 1/2 and the littlest pumpkin seven months, a breastfed infant. Jim has always been an accomplished procrastinator and has shown up hours even days after his intended arrival time. So, this will work for me as I have toilets to sterilize, sheets to wash, recipes to study and groceries to buy. Sonny wants to go to Olive Garden tonight and I must work the evening shift.
My email screen flashes before me and I feel a slight tightening at the back of my neck as I read Sara's message sent 5:14 a.m., Iowa time. They left at 7 o'clock this morning and I hit the ground running.

Not bothering to change out of my nightgown or putting on underwear or brushing my teeth my eyes run around the room calculating the best mode of attack. I live in a clutter of litter despite my love of an overly organized environment and this is what I am observing right now. I live with a hoarder. David throws nothing away, the old shoes when he buys a new pair, the barrage of postal paper that gags our mailbox everyday, used deodorant and shaving cream bottles because there might be a few drops left.

Two hours of food shopping finds mostly produce in the trunk of my car for my vegetarian son. I purchase the vegan black bean soup at Panero's and it looks like the contents of a clogged toilet and I won't even go into a discussion of the taste. So there will be veggie enchiladas and brown rice and organic peanut butter and - I forgot to buy humus - in the upcoming week.

In years long past I would wait not so patiently for my children to return from faraway schools and mountain homes, and visits to their father in Omaha. Over icey treacherous highways and slick runways I would will them home safely for the winter holidays. I would lay in my bed that night looking out at the Christmas snows knowing that they were here, protected, all of them for a few short days and nights. This was a peace that came only occasionally and I basked in its warmth. I have loved my husbands, my friends, parents and siblings, but not until the birth of my first child did I experience the terrifying, beautiful skip a heart can make when confronted with a love more powerful than the self.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving Blues

My mother has been crowding my thoughts these days and I know it is the impending holiday that is bringing her presence to light. I have done well these past few months. I have showed up at work clean and pressed ready for the challenge of the Alzheimer's unit. My precious residents and I have baked apple cake and chocolate cookies, talked about cooking on wood-fired stoves and outdoor privies and churned butter and we pray soft incantations before bed time.
My granddaughter and I find cold-weather substitutions for our outdoor play. We check out the library, the mall (shudder,) the book store, and if the late afternoon sun suffices, the park. She has grown so much since you left us. I can hear you saying, look, look how big she is.
I remember your last coherent day with us. Several pillows were piled at the bottom of the bed. They were used to anchor ice bags against your skin when your body temperature fluctuated and you sweated through the sheets. You saw the jumble of pillows and said, there, there she is! Do you see her? It's Cameron, she's hiding under the sheets! My daughter cries at the foot of your bed. Can I bring the baby here? The doctor is soothing and speaks softly, it may not be best for your child. There! my mother says, she just ran past the bed! I am happy for your fantasy.
I need to find your recipe for cranberry salad and I never did like the stuff. Carrie says we must have this and she is right.
I remember last year walking into your house the day before the holiday and smelling your turkey breast cooking. It was a lovely scent - you had coated the bird with rosemary, garlic, sage, and peppery butter. Your gravy was serviceable to the gods and I cannot repeat what you did but I'll try my best. You cooked for years and I never documented the magic that were your recipes. I guess I always thought you would be here, silly me. You and I would talk about the holiday meal, you with your lists and I,with mine.
I miss you. Our talks, our private jokes, our gossip about those closest to us. We had no secrets, you hid nothing from me and I hid just a few things from you because our roles had become reversed. You were a friend and you were my mother. Not all daughters can claim this distinction. Your death was a substantial loss for me.

So, Sonny and I will go to my daughter's house for the meal. I have ordered three pies from a young woman in Guttenberg who seems to know what she is doing. I cannot cook the turkey, dressing, gravy and cranberry salad and the desserts. I just can't, Mom. Even in your darkest, sickest days you were standing in the kitchen, mixing and stirring. We will miss your pecan pie, your pumpkin pie with the walnut-butter-brown sugar filling, your cherry pie criss-crossed with crispy dough for Jimmy. We will gather, your family, and we will toast you and hold close your memory. As long as I am alive you are strong and vibrant in the stories to my grandsons and after my voice has been stilled, you will live a lusty life in the written chronicles I record for my granddaughters.

Friday, November 12, 2010

At Least There Was Cake

It's 5:20 and I'm in a foul mood. I have been invited to a party tonight and I don't like parties. I find it difficult to feel celebratory at a specified time.

It doesn't help that I married Mr. Socialman who makes eye contact with every person, dog and butterfy we encounter on a walk. He comes from a family of social enthusiasts and though they are good hardworking people they find it necessary to recognize the baptism and first communion of every great niece and nephew. I imagine them to have freezers full of cheesy hashbrown casseroles and jello whipped cream desserts just waiting for the call. I have chosen the wedded state and tonight I must succumb to another's schedule.

In my younger years I often stayed longer than I should at the party trying to please other people. And then one night I pushed the empty beer glass aside and waited for a lull in the conversation. "Going home, " I announced to the table.

" WHAT!" an annoying person with overly teased 80's hair shrieked. "Everybody's gonna think you're a party pooper!" her voice got louder as she scanned the circle of faces looking for approval. I stood up, got my cigarettes and said,"I don't care." That night a new phoenix rose from the ashes, a bird of dazzling plumage, an independently thinking woman. It had been so easy. I should have done this years ago.

Cowboy David once announced to a group , "Dawn had a similar experience. Dawn, why don't you tell us about that?" I felt my head swiviling towards him slowly as if in a dream sequence. My eyes stared without blinking into his deepest parts. I could tell by his face that his soul was feeling a cold wind blowing across it, and he never said that again. I don't need to be talking. Listening requires all the energy I can muster in social settings. I love my Dave, but he needs to understand this strange and separate person that has agreed to stay with him.

I have no ability to maintain a contemporary wardrobe unlike my fashionable daughter and her cousins. I have spent too many years in Catholic schools. My mother tried to jazz up my closet with wild magentas and tangerine oranges but I always settled into my cozy earth colors, trying to blend in with the background. But when I pull on my boots, my lovely boots, I have a sense of confidence in group situations. I love my boots. They make me feel scrappy, a desperado, a mysterious person. They are softly scuffed and when I wear them I feel tall and lanky even though I am just a whisper above five foot. I swagger about like I jumped off a saddle.

There were pulled pork sandwices. I myself never pull pork. There was a casserole that David said was potatoes but I knew to be crab and too many dishes had olives, but there were three kinds of cake, glorious cakes with raspberries and dark chocolate and white sparkley whipped puffs. I was stealing my second and third pieces to take home unaware that my theft was being recorded in several group photos.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ink - Part One

The story of ink in my family has a contradictory history. When I was a young'un only servicemen, convicts and rowdies sported a tattoo. My father's cousin, also his business partner had a bleary blue tattoo of a navy anchor on his forearm. He had an enormous amount of bushy hair that concealed the artwork but I found it fascinating. Other veterans of WWII and Korea brought home similar patterns and my dad's cousin's story was more amazing when I found he had laid on an enemy battlefield for three days with shrapnel in his head, his men leaving him for dead. Thus, the brave and valiant warrior came home marked from his trials.

I walked out of an 8 1/2 year marriage and for some reason my father assumed that my first order of procedure would be to find a new husband.
He instructed me to take my time, look around, get to know different kinds of men. This from the guy who wouldn't let me cross the street until I was five. Seventeen years later we were watching one of Sonny's famous slide shows and a picture of my sister-in-law and I flashed up on the screen. I have my arms outstretched and fingers pointing up as if demonstrating a measured length. Sonny who had a few beers commented to the assembled group, "there's Dawn talking about the one who got away and she doesn't mean a fish." Oh, let the earth open up and I be swallowed.

My first sailor had his astrological sign inked onto his upper arm and he was Sagittarius, the winged hunter, but just the loaded crossbow was imprinted on his skin. Never mind that every horoscope I read on the sign stressed the irresponsibility, the footloose demeanor, the infidelity of that birth class. This clashed with my Taurus bull, so logical and anally retentive. None of those attributes surfaced in the young man but it didn't work out because the only things we had in common were food and sex and I could not take him home to meet my father. My mother when she eventually met him loved the boy on sight, as she did all my boyfriends.

Another fellow named Jerome did a homemade job on himself while sitting through a boring civics class. He got the first four letters of his name carved into his forearm with a pocket knife and ball point pen. When I asked why he didn't finish he said, "the class ended." A third fellow was raised in an affluent south berg neighborhood, first born and devilishly handsome and riding the biggest baddest Harley this town has ever seen. Evidently when he and his cohorts broke into a neighborhood deli to borrow some cigarettes and steaks the local jurisdiction decided they would not forgive and forget as his doting mother always did and he got eighteen months in lock-up. Feeling the victim he had BORN LOSER in thick block letters engraved across his bicep. I never saw the original tattoo and by the time I met him he had decided he had some worth and had a huge turquoise peacock emblazoned over the words. Each letter was incorporated into one of the eyes on the tail feathers.

To my credit, barely, my children did not meet these clowns. Mea culpa.

I got past my bad boy stage and started dating men who read newspapers and voted. It had been an interesting stretch of my life and I felt something had been burned out of me.

At the age of 16 my son Jason got my attention by saying he was thinking of getting a tattoo. Oh, I was ready for this one and I reminded him that until he was 18 I owned him, mind, body and soul. It's a simple statement and does not leave room for discussion. I had become my German father. Two years later I was frying pork chops and the boy came up behind me. "Remember when you said I had to wait until I was 18 to get a tattoo?"he started. My parent's mind began drawing into its vortex all argumentative points regarding the subject. "Well, I got one," he ended. It's one of those parental moments that you remember always, the look of the room, the way the sunset came through the window, my youngest son looking up from the kitchen table. I sighed, "do you know how many hours I spent when you were a baby rubbing lotion onto your skin?" He countered "thanks, Mom! The tattoo guy said I had great skin!" Gr-r-r. He had slashes of varying lengths crisscrossing his bicep. But what does it mean, I asked. He didn't know, some kind of east Indian symbol. He's going to be walking down the streets of New York and some Indian will read his arm and accost him thinking Jason has insulted the guy's mother. And tattooing like so many other self-absorbed hobbies is addictive and years later Jason had Japanese koi stencilled across his back, gently turning towards each other. And his last was around his bony ankle, "that one hurt," he says and that proves a point. Don't get inked on a bony area, find a pad of fat which leads up to my tattoo.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

And the Subject Was Ashes

Sonny has the unnerving ability of bringing up tricky and sticky subject matter at the wrong time. I can remember a tuna casserole supper as a child when he started explaining how whale blubber is extracted from the carcass. Once during a Village Inn breakfast of runny eggs he graphically described a pig tumor dissection he had seen on the Discovery channel the night before. And then there was the time I was eating a ham sandwich in my parents' living room while he excitedly related to my grandsons the new scat collection at the museum and what was embedded in each of the specimens. So it was no surprise as I bit into my stringy turkey at the St. Rose fall festival that he wanted to talk about corpses and cremation.

I don't eat much meat anymore. And I can point to several reasons for this. I have a dyed-in-the-wool 37-year-old vegan son, a chef in a Boulder vegetarian restaurant who tsks-tsks me about the amount of paper products I use. I'd like to see him care for toddlers without paper towels. My youngest son is swerving in that same meatless direction now that his life is becoming more settled. He had strong inclinations towards the philosophy as a younger man but then med school and all that hell would not allow him the time and concentration needed to maintain the diet. But he is making vegan noises again and ordering portabello sandwiches so I am curious what his visit at Thanksgiving will bring.

In Jim's first year of medical school he was required to take the make'em or break'em class of human anatomy. At this particular university there was an interesting miniature museum of sorts housed in the anatomy lab and when we first visited he wanted us to see it. It included all kinds of human abnormalities swimming in formaldehyde behind the glass doors. We would need to walk past the cadavers lying open and dissected on the trannies. I glanced furtively at the strange bodies, their innards exposed and blooming. My six-month-old grandson whimpered in his carriage - he knew something was amiss in this place, not natural. I was glad to leave this room behind, the strong chemical smell like covered-up death. But it had been interesting and the flesh of those slabs of former humanity resembled, well, turkey.

So when turkey is spooned onto my plate, these memories come back and when I cook a Thanksgiving turkey I feel like a first year med student slivering off sections of grey-beige tissue and the smell of the cooked meat is unpleasant.

I avoid meats that remind me of tissue and feel like tissue in my mouth, beef, pork and poultry. But I continue to enjoy the processed meat - sausage, braunshweiger, baloney, and did I say sausage? I would be better off with the lean cuts but when it comes to food I don't need to make sense.

My father may appear conservative for all the usual purposes but underneath beats the heart of a true rebel and he also has disdain for any society tradition that has no productive purpose. And one of these would be the practice of using perfectly good land to bury boxes full of preserved bodies. He and my mother wanted cremation. They wanted their ashes combined and then thrown to the wind over a beautiful portion of the driftless land, the Mines of Spain. These are old lead mines south of town, at one time dominated by five different European powers, Spain being the most prominent.

But now he's suggesting he only wants half of those mixed ashes to fly freely with the wind and the other half to be buried in the Protestant cemetery in an urn. His thoughts have turned now that my mother is gone and he wants a place where we can visit and meditate. I could plant geraniums and I like that. Heck with the 'using up the good land' theory.

Wild pictures race through my head. I see myself standing at my kitchen counter with my largest mixing bowl and wooden spoon. There are two small boxes postmarked University of Iowa Medical School. Do I really need to stir? My overly animated mind tells me, yes, I should probably stir. And then what? Do I put the bowl and spoon in the dishwasher? Some of my parents' dust is still attached and will go down the sink and that doesn't feel right. Do I bury the dishes near a peaceful steam? I really like my metal mixing bowl. My father's sister and I had talked about this and she asked, "Does all of this bother you?" I was about to answer to the contrary, brave daughter that I am, but then sanity and honesty swept into my psyche and I answered, well, yes.
This same subject came to task when my son Jason was visiting and he used my lap top to peruse the laws on cremation. Cowboy Dave was in the background sputtering about the illegality of the situation but c'mon . . . At my age you get to argue the fine point on laws that make no sense and in this case no harm is being done. The environment is gaining when ashes are added to the mix as they are loaded with nutrients. We humans dwell too much inside our craniums forgetting that in the scheme of things we are just another animal body. Anyway, Jason only found one reference to the illegality of scattering ashes - the area could not be a proposed shopping center site. Chuckle, chuckle. God forbid we do anything to take the shine off the favorite American past time, buying useless stuff.

And now Sonny is talking about a third resting spot for the ashes. I give him the scalding look I gave my teenager years ago when he suggested an unlikely time to return home from a party. It was a bit rusty but the power was still there and that was enough, no more discussion, done deal.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Just We Women

I had lunch with Leona and Irene and Sandy, Irene's daughter.
I liked listening to their conversation, the familiar cadence of my aunts' voices, so much like my mother's.
I brought her name up frequently in the conversation. I was hungry for information.

My mother was the second youngest of nine children. Leona said she was shy as a child. If company came to the door Marie would hide. My grandmother joked that she actually had only eight children. Marie made herself scarce when strange faces were around. I'm thinking, I know that feeling. A solitary person myself all my life, other people drain me. Leona says that when my mother and Sonny met he liked her immediately. Well, what able-bodied fellow would not. Jet black thick curly hair, teasing black eyes, an hour glass figure. As her son David told his father when viewing a picture of my mother in her twenties, "I can see why you made so many trips to Cascade."

Leona and Irene talked about how witty and sarcastic her nature had been. Lord, she had a caustic perspective on the world. No one and nothing was safe from her pick-it-apart critiquing. I have seen my mother walk into the kitchens of restaurants and tell the chef how the meal should have been prepared. My mother and I were not always polite to each other during my teen-aged years. I was that moody adolescant, a crappy daughter. I preferred my father, he seemed more sophisticated and cosmopolitan, a reader of history and non-fiction. My mother was moored in romance paperbacks and ladies' magazines. At a city-sponsored event for parents and honor students in my senior year of high school the subject of reading came up at the table. I worried what she might say. She said I used my "college vocabulary" to out talk her in arguments. Whatever her opinion may be I would take the exact opposite stance. Not until I was in my advanced 30's did I realize her tremendous worth in my life.

I look at these women, their well worn-faces, their stories of hard work and obligation. My grandmother took in laundry from the town's well-to-do class and the creases needed to be ironed straight and perfectly. My mother remembers bringing in the frozen white shirts in the winter, their hands raw and red. All the girls hated the hours at the ironing board. Irene had calloused ridges on her palms from gripping the heavy irons. It was years before they went away. They talk about present day duties, using home-grown strawberries in their jam and whose fields yielded the best fruit. Days of cutting vegetables and quarts of preserved green beans on the pantry shelves. Hills planted in potatoes and dozens of harvests through the years, some good and some scanty. I am glad to be in their company. It is the first time since my mother's death that I feel safe. They are kind and introspective women. They talk of their neighborhoods, whose baby is sick, who will have hip surgery, what needs to be done. Bake sales for the nursing home, fund raisers for the library, they are the silent and necessary people in the community.

I think my mother purposely looked for a city boy when it was time to marry. She was quick to move to an urban setting and take an apartment a few blocks from the tavern where she would meet my father. She worked a job at the packing plant slicing bacon on the line. She had enough of farm life, the dependence on soil and weather for survival, the inconsistency and irregularity of a life based on the whims of nature. After scouring hundreds of jars every season, she vowed never to put up a jar of preserved food and she kept that promise to herself. The next day my aunt Leona drops off a box of Ball instant fruit pectin at my house. They're trying to convert me.

In the years of my childhood we spent most of our holidays and summer vacations with my father's family. They had had an easier time during the Depression years, continuing to work in the family paint and wallpaper business on Main Street and living in a mansion-like house on the hill. My grandfather kept his car and put it up on wooden blocks in the garage. He knew he would be able to afford gasoline again when the economy improved. My father's sisters were artists and muscians, college educated and riding around town with the local boys and playing nightly euchre games at the family home, brown beer bottles on every flat surface. A stark contrast to my maternal grandma's situation, Elizabeth never having enough money, enough food, enough coal and wood to warm the house. I assumed that my father wanted to spend time with his more frivolous, party-loving sisters and brothers instead of that serious, hard-working family in Cascade. It was the 60's, the season of the alpha male, husbands got their way. I was wrong, it was my mother who chose to keep her family at a distance. I'm not sure why. Perhaps she did not like people in general, her children understand this, all of us, but one, are loners. I will continue to study this.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wanderlust Has Found My Son

Wanderlust has found my son Jason and he has given notice at the vegetarian restaurant in Boulder where he is employed as executive chef. He has always scoffed at the label executive as well as his name printed at the bottom of the menu. A noble yet humble man, this one.
He will be leaving in January and this trip should take a year. He and friends will visit southeast Asia, India, and then back to Central America. This will be his third international journey although he has camped and travelled numerous places in America including Alaska. They will stay in hostels, most of them researched online ahead of time and they will take only what can be carried on their backs. They will camp when the natural setting is appealing and will buy and prepare food only when it is cheaper than eating out which surprisingly is not frequent. Jason's employer owns five restaurants and a young waiter working in the Latin America cafe will join him for six months of the trip. Kate, Jason's associate manager and friend, is also going and will hopefully be able to make the entire trip. Plans are flexible and changeable when one travels in this fashion. Jason and Kate have given two and a half months notice to their employer and if necessary, will postpone their departure so as not to leave the boss in a predicament, they being important to the running of the restaurant. A fair and generous guy, this one, too.

Jason's trip to South America a year and a half ago caused me some trepidation. Jason had done the backpack-across-Europe thing after college but somehow the knowledge that he was visiting a continent of politically unstable countries who any day of the week would suddenly announce that all Americans had to leave their borders NOW was unsettling. I pictured Jason hog-tied with a dirty bandanna stuffed in his mouth thrown in the back of a jeep driven by desperadoes holding machine guns and smoking Cuban cigars. Or he would be chased from the jungle by a giant anaconda hissing angrily as he gained on my terrified son. There was the thought that maybe he would survive all these prementioned calamities and come back safely to his own people but months later while shaving he would notice a small worm crawling across the inside of his eyeball. I actually saw this on a parasite show on a science channel.
This is what mothers do when their children leave the country. There are enough frightening occurrences from the moment the child rises, steps into the slippery shower, chews undercooked bacon, and drives the freeway to the job. But send him to a foreign country and the possibilities multiply by the thousands.
And when he travelled to South America, one of those things did occur. A little over a day after his departure from New York I came home to a message on the machine. Jason in his usual slow spoken manner said something like," He-e-e-e-e-ey, guys, it's Jason. Uh, I have something I needed to ask you but I guess I will need to talk to you later. Okay, uh-h-h-h, by-y-y-y-ye." Just a hair and a half rose up on the back of my neck. He sounded calm. But I semi-joked to David, did you hear any guard dogs barking in the background. Next day on the phone he tells me in an even voice that on his arrival in Lima he traveled to the hostel, deposited some of his stuff in the room and then asked the proprietor for a map. He went out into the city and crossed a bridge unknowingly entering one of the worst neighborhoods that slimy side of Peru had to offer. Before reaching the end of the bridge he felt two arms encircling his neck and when he instinctively reached up he realized the arms were the size of tree trunks and to fight back may bring an even worse result. He was left unconscious on the street - his money belt and new camera gone. When he awoke the two policemen he found could not understand this gringo's gesturing and Jason had not begun the Spanish lessons that would start next week. He was unhurt, a sore neck, yes, and he did not blame the forgetful proprietor who had neglected to mention this area on the map. "I should have known," he said.

My mind was leaping towards hysteria, silly emotional human, and I had to command my brain not to race towards those useless feelings and instead listen to the instructions he was giving me. I grabbed a legal pad and numbered each item trying to question anything that I didn't understand and having him repeat and then I would repeat. The cell phone would have been an expensive item to bring south so it was back in the car at the airport. I wouldn't be able to reach him by phone should I need help. He gave me an 800 number for further assistance. Reluctantly, I hung up the phone, aching for my son.

I was going to set up an account at the embassy in Lima and wire $500 cash, thanks to the generosity of David. I took my legal pad covered with underlined phrases and I drove to the transfer office . The young woman at the desk said she had done this many times but she hesitated and studied the forms, obviously not understanding. I decided to try the 800 number just to make certain we were not making mistakes with these complicated instructions. The robot voice on the line identified the office and then said, "If you are calling about an American citizen traveling abroad and this is an emergency situation, please press 1." Not an emergency, a damn sad and scary situation, but not an emergency. "If you are calling about an American citizen traveling abroad and that person is missing or has been kidnapped, please press 2." If I had been calling with that hellish situation, I'd be damn well pressing 1. What the hell was an emergency then? Death? How could it be? That traveling citizen is dead and nothing can be done so you better not be pressing 1. My stomach felt sick as I realized the tremendous scope this situation was developing into. So much evil out there past the Iowa cornfields.

Jason went on to have a remarkable adventure and to meet many interesting people. He took surfing lessons, tracked through jungles, sat at the tops of mountains, climbed ancient Inca ruins and stood breathless at the bottom of great waterfalls. I admire his courage to continue the trip. Others would have returned home but his strength of character is not to be reckoned with.

I tell this story not as a reflection on Jason's judgment. He is one of the most intelligent people I know, continuing his education like my father, reading, traveling, meeting all kinds of people. It is to say, be careful, children, all children. Go forth, your lives are not here with your parents. Your life is out there. Go find it, live it. Just, be careful.

"It liberates the vandal to travel - you never saw a bigoted, opinionated, stubborn, narrow-minded, self-conceited, almighty mean man in your life but he had stuck in one place since he was born."
Mark Twain, 1868