Tuesday, June 12, 2007

SpringTrip07 - Report 20. Boiling Springs

My brother, two sisters, and I, plus families, have been having reunions every five years coinciding with Mom's numerically meaningful birthdays - 70th, 75th, 80th. Last year we couldn't get one organized for her 85th, but we made up for it this year in grand style.

Mom isn't up to long-distance travel, so we hit on the idea of meeting at Boiling Springs State Park, near Woodward in NW OK. This is the part of the state where Mom was born and grew up. My dad, too. More on that below. It's only about a two hours drive from Edmond where Mom and my two sisters live.
Thursday, June 7, we trekked across OK from the Red Barn in Carthage, MO, mostly on interstates and toll roads. Took this route to save time and because of very strong crosswinds from the south, blowing hard when we left and correctly forecasted to last all day. I’d rather deal with crosswinds on divided four-lanes than on narrow two-lanes.
Somewhere along the way, saw this sign: Cross Winds Ahead. I hate it when wind gets grumpy.

Speaking of signs: Early warnings of upcoming lane closures or changes are very helpful. Illinois wins the award: Right Lane Closed/Eight Miles Ahead. Of course, by the time we got there, I’d forgotten which lane was to be closed (actually, there was another warning at one mile). This was in a rural area, not in the Chicago commute area where such an advance warning might be especially helpful.

Got to Boiling Springs (I won’t abbreviate) and found a campsite by around 5:00 pm. Full-service hook-ups, spacious, too. Will be room for four of my nephews to set up a tent. My brother, Lael, and wife, Katherine, will park their VW camper in the campground, too, and everybody else will stay in four cabins we rented.

The clan arrived Friday pm. – total of 25, almost all of my parents’ descendants and spouses. We kicked the festivities off with a cookout.

Saturday was sightseeing. First to Little Sahara Sand Dunes. We hoped to relive some experiences of 11 years ago when we all went to White Sands - jumping off dunes, rolling down, ... . However, Little Sahara is a playground for off-roaders so that didn't work out. We proceeded to Alabaster Caverns for an enjoyable lunch and cave tour. Pizza in town finished the day.
The three youngest boys, two nephews and a grandson, next picture, hit it off big. Kept busy all weekend fishing, chasing ducks, playing ball, swimming, inventing things to do. Also slept with us in TuziTwo. They had a memorable pillow fight - at least I told them they would remember it when they're my age.
The spring has been unusually rainy this year and everything is much greener than usual. Rivers that usually trickle are running bank-full and over. Flowers are blooming in the pastures. A windy cool front came through Friday night - got us up to close the awning and the tent guys up to tie things down better - so the weather was pleasant, too.

Some family reunion background (some of this I’ve reported before, but for completeness and for faded memories, I’ll repeat it here): Both of my parents came from NW OK. They met when my Dad was hired to teach at Mom's home town of Selman. She was 14 at the time but the spark was lit. Dad was young, too. He had skipped two or three grades along the way, but he was still a college graduate. They dated after he moved to become superintendent at another school and married after Mom's freshman year in college.

Mom’s parents, Gene and Ethyl Bennett, had settled in NW OK, recently Indian Territory, in 1915. Their family grew to five daughters. They built a successful and respected farming and ranching operation – Grandpa was president of the school board when Dad came knocking on the Bennetts' door. From reminiscences of my Aunt Sammie, now deceased:

[When my parents moved to OK:] Old timers in Barber County, Kansas, on large ranches predicted my father would take Ethyl out west and they would starve but our father was a hard worker and my mother a saving type and they did very well.

What a summary! What they faced, what they did, and how they did it. Gives me chills. Here's a blurry picture of a picture of the Bennetts.

I worked for Grandpa the summer after my junior year in HS and it was a formative experience. Did me a world of good. (Son Mike later recalled that I often lamented during their growing-up years that it was too bad they didn’t have the opportunity to spend time at grandpa’s farm. It’s interesting what kids remember. I think I threatened to send them to work on my cousin’s farm if they didn’t turn off the TV and do something else.)

Sunday we had lunch in town. We had invited all the Bennett cousins and families living in OK to join us. Several live near Woodward, but others came from Tulsa and the Oklahoma City area. Had a great time sharing pictures and memories, catching up with families.
Most of the group left Sunday afternoon, but a few of us stayed until Monday morning. I took Mom for a drive and couldn't pass up the opportunity for a picture of her against a backdrop of Oklahoma sagebrush, sunflowers, and sky. We love you, Mom!

We drove all the way home on Monday. Went west through the OK panhandle to Guymon, then SW on US 54 to Tucumcari. In stark contrast to some of our Midwest passages, this is a stretch of nearly 300 miles with only two towns with a stoplight and just a handful of country crossroads to slow down for. Amazing!

Usually, it starts feeling like home when TX cropland gives way to NM mesas and valleys on I-40. This time, coming down US 54 it was the sight of Tucumcari Mountain, named, it is said, for the tragic tale of the Indian brave, Tocom, and Kari, the maiden he loved. Almost home.

Arrived home in a light rain about 7:30 pm. Final statistics: 5800 miles, 46 days, 6 kids, 5 grandkids, and much more -- priceless!
Rob and Susie

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

SpringTrip07 - Report 19. MI to MO

Tuesday, June 5.

Got an early start from Grand Rapids. Skirted around the Chicago metro area, happening by this impressive county courthouse in Rensselaer, IN, then plunged southward through IL via I-57, thereby avoiding St. Louis. Although there are some diagonal roads that would get us from MI to NW OK, we're making more of an ell-pattern: south then west.

Covered about 450 miles and spent the night at a KOA in Benton, IL. Had a problem for a while in that we weren't getting electricity into TuziTwo from the campground's power source. Finally discovered that in pulling heavy-duty power cord from the storage compartment I had inadvertently turned a key in a control box that cut us off. Live and learn. The key doesn't have an obvious on/off label and of course I hadn't read the manual, or even looked it up.

Not long after we got set up a van pulling a camping trailer parked in a spot just across the road in front of us. People started piling out. They kept moving and I never got a good count, but it appeared that it was two men with 9 or 10 kids ranging from toddlers to teenagers. They set up a tent in addition to their trailer. Later, though, as they ate dinner I saw that it was a man and a women with 8 plus kids. I'd mistaken one of the older boys as a second adult. Later I told Susie about this group, but too late for her to see the show. In the morning, though, just as we started to pull out, kids started coming from everywhere: trailer, van, tent - looked like a stirred-up ant hill, or circus clowns coming out of a car. It was Dad and the kids, fixing and having breakfast. Susie said, Don't go. I gotta see this. We still couldn't get an accurate count with all the coming and going - statistics means never having to say you're certain. The youngest was strapped in a booster seat that wasn't fastened to the picnic table bench and he kept falling sideways on the bench like Arte Johnson on the tricycle in Laugh-In. Dad would right him and breakfast continued. Mom never showed up. I said maybe this is her quiet time. So, we left, soon after 7 am.

As we drove south from Benton I discovered where all of Illinois's hills are - they've fallen to the bottom, like potatoes sinking in soup.

Goal today, Wednesday, was to drive across southern Missouri via Route 60. Three years ago we started west from Virginia Beach, the eastern terminus of Route 60 (historic sign shown here), once known as the coast to coast highway. I'd gotten interested in route 60 for a variety of reasons including that it runs through my home town of Tonkawa, OK, and I remember in the 50s that my dad was involved in a Route 60 Association - trying to repeat the Route 66 magic. Here's the series of reports on that Route 60 journey:

In 04, because of a side trip for repairs, we skipped the MO portion. I'd heard, also, at the time, that it was a pretty tortuous drive through the Ozarks for a motorhome, but now with more power, thought we'd give it a go.

After crossing the Mississippi one more time, next picture, this time on I-57, we soon picked up hwy. 60. Made a Wal-Mart stop in Sikeston, MO, and headed west.

Turns out the much of MO's 60 is new, four-laned. They're turning it into a parkway. Our Magellan GPS, even though I updated its memory just before we left, wasn't up to date. It kept showing our position as off the road, wandering somewhere through the mountains and not on what it thought was route 60. Occasionally, we'd see a parallel road labeled as Old 60. We took Business 60 loops through a couple of towns, apparently the old road bed. But, in contrast to what we saw in other states in '04, we didn't see preserved, still active businesses, such as motels or diners, or buildings from 50 years ago or so. The buildings we saw from that era were abandoned derelicts. If only I'd launched a Route 60 Heritage Association three years ago, things might have been different. Oh, sure.

Around lunchtime I made one serious mistake. Took an exit advertising a family restaurant. It wasn't where the sign said it should have been and we found ourselves heading away from 60 on a county road with nowhere to turn around.

After 3-4 miles we came to a fairly wide intersection and I decided we could "make a legal U-turn," as Magellan is forever instructing me. Well, we couldn't, not without backing and working back and forth. Not a good situation to put the PT in, but I nursed it carefully and we finally made it - luckily no traffic during our tortured turn-around. Also, no damage to PT, Tuzi, or hitch. As I was U-turning, I could see myself stuck in the intersection, having to disconnect the PT while traffic lined up, drivers either fuming or laughing at us.

We ended up eating left-over sandwiches from Kaci's open house in the parking lot of an abandoned grocery store. I guess that should have been my featured Route 60 photo. I had been sure we would find an Ozark restaurant specializing in catfish or barbecue. Oh, well. Later in the afternoon, at a Dairy Queen break, I got us into a tight parking lot but managed to get out by cutting across a strip of lawn to an adjoining business's parking lot. Not my most pleasant day behind the wheel.

For the record, the middle 50 miles of our Missouri Ozarks Route 60 transit was two-lane hills and curves, but no problem to negotiate. Even there you can see that they're starting to clear land for a four-lane parkway.

In 2004 I had noticed a dearth of businesses with Route 60 in their name (as contrasted with Route 66 promoting businesses). Well, our Passport America campground book listed a Highway 60 RV Park in far SW MO, so that was our destination. The deal with being a PA member is that you camp for half price. This place listed at $30 regular, $15 for PA. Well, it was nothing but a pasture with hook-ups. No amenities, no ambiance. Outrageous! Maybe worth $15 period, but no way worth $30. At other PA RV parks we've stayed at I didn't have the feeling that their listed prices were phoney, but here I did. Nice manager, though, so I just said I thought we'd drive a little further. It was only around 4:00 pm so there was ample time for Plan B.

We were not far from the Big Red Barn RV Park near Carthage, MO, where we have stayed before, so that's where we headed for the night. They were sold out in their full-service sites, but we decided we would rough it with only 30 amps and no cable TV. We ordered pizza

delivery, turned on the satellite TV, and had a nice, relaxing evening.

Around 1:00 am, though, I woke up and noticed that we had no AC power. Oh, no, I thought: electrical problems again. Checked the things I know to check and found no problem. The little key was in its proper position, but the little red lights signifying power-in were not on. Outside, we could see that the campground lights were out, so the problem was elsewhere. Within an hour the power was back on and all was well.

Medical Update. Susie's foot, injured two weeks ago, is still giving her quite a bit of pain. She spent a lot of time on her feet in Grand Rapids and we think that may have delayed recovery, but there was no way she wasn't going to be in the middle of all this fun and activity. Memories are made of this!

I'm going to post this now because I'm not sure about internet access once we get to Boiling Springs State Park, near Woodward, OK, where our family reunion is taking place. At last, after all this time with Susie's side of the family, we're finally gathering with mine - I joke :-).
Susie's insert-- Actually, I said that we had done the "Hinkle family thing" we were now heading for the more sane and sedate Easterling (actually, Bennett family--Bonnie's extended family) family. I'll report later if the reunion is sane and sedate. We are very anxious to see the kids--big and little. The good news is that we will be home soon. The bad news is that we will be home soon. We have had a WONDERFUL trip.
Incidentally, I have no idea how Blogger does paragraph breaks. Every time I open a draft to update it, the breaks have changed. Then when I post, not all of the breaks translate to the posting. Also, I've noticed that dashes don't print as dashes - more like heavy dots. Oh, well.


Rob and Susie

Monday, June 04, 2007

SpringTrip07 - Report 18. More Michigan

June 4.

Friday and Saturday we worked getting ready forKaci's open house. Late afternoon downpour Saturday altered plans a bit, but the party went on in fine style. A couple of pix. Tony is testing the chocolate fountain while Susie arranges the goodies.

That's a reflection over Kaci's head, not a crown.

We try to be in Grand Rapids on Sundays because we greatly enjoy the Methodist church that Matt and family go to. Matt leads the musical praise team, which makes his Momma very proud and teary, and we always enjoy and appreciate Pastor Will’s sermons. He’s in a series now on the book of Revelation. The writer’s message, he explained, is that people have a choice: God’s empire or Satan’s empire. Satan’s empire has a front man – the beast. At the time the book was written, the symbolism pointed to Nero, the despot of the time, as Satan’s beast. As Albq friend Jack Nuzum, who teaches a Bible class in HS, often points out, the final outcome forecast in Rev is that God’s empire wins in the end. In the meantime, it’s not necessarily easy; in fact it may be terrible. Every generation since Nero, loosely speaking, has had its own beast to deal with, Hitler being the easiest example. On a personal level, Christians face the same choice of empires to follow in their individual lives.

On a global level, the event of the last couple of years that sticks with me is when a TV crew was kidnapped by Islamic radicals. Convert to Islam or die, they told the hostages. They converted. How do we deal with that beast? I asked Will later. There’s no clear answer, but history tells us there could be much bloodshed, he said. Sobering.

Sunday evening Matt took us to visit his plant – a box manufacturing plant. About six months ago Matt made a gutsy career move: left the company he had been with since he got out of the army and where he had risen to sales manager of the Grand Rapids plant to become plant general manager at another packaging-manufacturer in Grand Rapids, Pratt Industries. The plant was in decline – sales, morale, pride, image. He’s been working hard to turn things around. And making progress: the workers recently made wage concessions to help the business succeed. Setting the tone, Matt and Suzy spent weekend time painting and sprucing up some break rooms and conference rooms. Son Tony is working there this summer – odd jobs, filling in for people on summer vacations. Susie said to him, “I’m so proud of you, Tony.” “You should be prouder of your son,” he said. “He's got a huge job and the respect he gets in the plant is amazing.” It’s not easy, though. There are some “beasts” lurking around that he has to deal with. Something you might want to know: Pratt makes all their boxes, and other corrugated products, from recycled paper. Their PR material says they save 30,000 trees a day! That's your statistic of the day.


Rob and Susie