BOOK FOUR HOME ON THE ROAD SEEING PLACES NEVER SEEN BEFORE

April-September 1998: Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming.

Family, Friends, Freedomers: Coast-to-Coast and border-to-border. !

FOREWORD

This book is about our coast-to-coast and border-to-border trip in our 35 ft. Holiday Rambler RV, and our ongoing inner journey to heal our individual inner kids; and our efforts at recovery from the ravages of childhood issues and the patterns that have evolved as a result.
The cast of characters, in all my Travel Series, includes my husband, Van. Our contacts, at home, are: my daughter, Dottie and her husband, Steve, and their daughters: teenage Airica and twenty-something Arianna. Other family members and friends, and their stories, reappear, as we travel to their area.
In this story, other than the family and friends in Colorado, we are traveling across country to places we’ve never seen before, and we are meeting people we’ve never met before, and renewing acquaintance with others.
 
They will appear while we travel east through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, and The Carolinas, before heading north to Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, and west through South Dakota and Wyoming. The purpose of this portion of the trip is to See Places We’ve Never Seen Before, and visit relatives whom I’ve never met before; and reconnect with other friends, family and Freedomers along the way.
The complete version of the Freedomers’ stories has been compiled into Joyanna Visits the Freedomers.
 
 

Chapter 1

LAKES, SIRENS, HOTELS AND OTHER INCOMPLETIONS

Dal’s Tales of Texas

Our trip officially began in Colorado Springs, as we visited with Dal, a former Freedomer (inmates seeking inner freedom), featured in some of my writings, and one of the original five with whom I began the correspondence that became my ministry-by-mail. He has become a friend, and he has been making it on the outside of prison for nearly seventeen years, and takes pride in his success. For instance, he’s held many jobs, but in three years at Furr’s he’s moved through the cooking chain to the second highest salary.
As we chatted, he told stories about living with his grandmother, and having taken her to San Antonio one Christmas for a blast of a good time, rather than her preparing the annual family meal and get-together. More of Dal’s story is featured in Joyanna Visits the Freedomers.
And he mentioned a time spent in Cisco, Texas, as a young man, when the town was wild, and so was he. The stories and visit ended when it was time to return to Freedom, and he walked us back through the darkened streets. And then we again said “Goodbye.”
 
Our visit with Dal was a good start for our eastern trip. For one thing, he mentioned a Wal-Mart Supercenter, not far from him, which was on our way East, so we decided to spend the night there and then shop in the morning, before departing. And he also gave us an idea to visit Cisco, while in Texas.

Wild and Windy

As we began the next phase of our journey, the skies were clear and sunny. We’d settled down for a pleasant trip seeing places we’d never seen before, across southeastern Colorado with its sprawling farms and ranches. But our enjoyment became marred by a strong wind that seemed to come at our side no matter which direction we traveled.
I thought sure we were losing our awning every time the wind zapped up under the aluminum shield and spun the canvas awning inside with a frightening rattle and banging. Van, too, became concerned, certain it had ripped from the hinges, and stopped to check, but everything was intact. Nevertheless, he crept along thereafter at about forty-five miles per hour, which slowed our progress, and frustrated me.
Lunch at Kit Carson
Finally at Kit Carson, Colorado, a neat little town, we stopped by the city Recreation Park, and I fixed lunch. Then onward through Cheyenne County, and across the narrow panhandle of Oklahoma into Texas; always with the wild and noisy wind.

Free Hookup

I’d planned the trip so we could stay at the City Park in Dumas, where we’d spent several days during our previous trip when we’d come from New Mexico. We realized that we were exhausted from the struggle with the unrelenting wind, so slept-in till noon. The electrical hookups at this Free Park gave me time to write my “Thank you” notes to family and friends for their hospitality in Colorado, and I also prepared some material that required the computer. All this took time, and electricity, so we decided to stay another night, and I thanked God for this pleasant interlude.
 Also, I delighted to be where we could maintain a semblance of homelife, by watching my favorite TV entertainment, Campbell’s Champion Figure Skating. We happily awoke the next morning feeling much more rested and ready for the road again.
I love this place, as it makes this lifestyle much more enjoyable, and we left a nice “Thank you” bonus in the provided pipe bank — a sealed pipe with a slot for donations — located by the dump site, which Van used to relieve Freedom’s load.

What a Way to do Business!

Before leaving, I called Dottie and Steve at the handy public phone in this City Park, and we cheered as they reported on the progress of our business. They had us on the speaker phone, and reported that Rascal (the family dog) heard our voices and was going crazy trying to find us. 
While at the phone, I looked in the phone book for the nearest copier so I could complete the packet I had been preparing. We discovered a copy shop within a few blocks, so we stopped and got the copying and mailing all handled.
I knew we were in Texas, by the accent of the pleasant gal who helped us. I could have listened to her talk all day. But it was time to move on. So, we got gas for Freedom right across the street, and were thankful that all our needs were handled within a few blocks of the City Park.

Cooling Off at Borger City Park

We’d hoped the strong winds had diminished, but we were still plagued as we headed south through the Texas Panhandle along the Scenic Route. The overpowering wind seemed to whip from all directions, and feeling hot inside Freedom, we decided not to travel very far, and were happy to stop at Borger City Park, especially after having crawled along one of the inevitable road repair projects that always herald the arrival of each city.
Thankfully, Van hooked us up to their electricity, and turned on the air conditioning for the first time this year. In fact, it hadn’t been on since we’d stayed in southern Texas last November. Now in April, it felt refreshing.
After I fixed dinner, the sun had gone behind the trees, and we walked around the park in the cool evening. What a surprise to discover a free bird sanctuary with a peacock and peahens, and little baby chicks; also two stately black swans and an emu. Besides these, were many species of colorful pheasants; from solid yellow to red breasted; and in a separate bird atrium were myriad birds of varying colors and smaller sizes.

The First Incompletions

I would love to have taken pictures to remember this special scene, but I hadn’t brought my camcorder on the walk, and it got dark. Then in the morning I didn’t go back to take pictures. Instead, I must rely on my memory for these gorgeous feathered creatures. So here’s where our incompletions began.
And further along the route I missed a shot of several horses peering over the fence at the Rim-to-Rim Runners and Bicyclers, whom we followed for at least ten miles. I did get their pictures, and I also filmed the reason for the “Scenic Route”: miles of red rock formations and embankments, and even red river bottom soil along the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. In the meantime, Van geared down for the downward side of the Rim, and then urged Freedom with more gas, for the upward thrust to the top of the next Rim. What a glorious Scenic Route.
Yet, I regretted missing a wonderful scene with several horses splashing through a shallow pond, and another of some red cows drinking from an adobe red pond.
The wind continued, as is probably customary in Texas, and we stopped for lunch at Silverton’s City Park. While I helped Van rewind the awning, a fellow stopped and informed us that there were electrical hookups the other side of the tennis court, if we wanted to stay. How friendly! We thanked him, but said we needed to keep moving along. However, I made note for future reference.

A Surprise in Turkey

Later, we pulled into a seemingly small town, Turkey, and were mystified to see flags all along the main street, which was packed with cars and people. As we looked down the side streets, we could see hundreds of parked cars around the school or perhaps a fairground and building in the distance and on every otherwise vacant spot there were RV’s, motorcycles, and anything else with wheels.
The town definitely had a festive air, and we suspected that a parade had probably halted traffic earlier in the day. As we turned south through the town, and came along the other side of the building we’d spotted earlier, we saw acres of parked cars and RV’s, and thousands of folks walking around, chatting and eating.
“Is it a sports event?”
“Or a political rally?”
“Maybe a rodeo? No, too early in the year.”
Not wanting to stop in the melee of traffic, we kept going. Finally, in desperation for an explanation, I looked in my Texas State Travel Guide and discovered the solution to the mystery: “An annual event on the last Saturday in April, is the Bob Wills Reunion. The musician is recognized with a monument at the west end of Main St. Although the city’s population is small, crowds range 10–15, 000 during festival.”
“Yeah!” We could certainly attest to the validity of that statement. Elsewhere in the guidebook, reference is made to the Bob Wills Museum with memorabilia of the “Texas Playboys” and his career. He is referred to as the “King of Western Swing.” Well, maybe we’ll stop at the museum next trip, when it’s not so crowded. In any event, this constituted both a completion and incompletion. At least the mystery was solved.
Where’s the Train?
Later we took a side trip into the town of Roaring Springs, once the sight of a pure water spring and waterfall frequented by Indians. But we didn’t see any water. The guidebook boasted a historic train station, adding that the building was now a Community Center, and opened only on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
This was Sunday, and after two circles through the small town, the nearest thing we found to a train station didn’t have any railroad tracks in sight. So we continued on, though feeling incomplete. I did, however, take some camcorder shots of the fascinating old buildings in this picturesque town.

Where’s the RV Park?

We’d been traveling a rather remote Scenic Route with very little traffic this Sunday. But we eventually passed under Interstate 20, in pursuit of Trammell Lake Park, a branch of Sweetwater Lake, where we’d planned to stay in the RV Park.

After circling the town of Sweetwater, and finding ourselves completely lost and frustrated, I insisted Van ask at the service station. Somehow we’d gotten turned around, and were facing the opposite direction.

Once reinforced with correct instructions, we proceeded to the lake. However, we came to the Sweetwater Lake turnoff first, so decided to go there instead. The Texas Travel Guide said: “Spacious Municipal Park surrounds meandering 630 acre impoundment.” We circled the lake, passed private residences along its shore, but never found the described park. Then we came back to Bo’s Bait and Grub at the boat launch, and asked about the RV Park.
The fellow said that the RV Park we’d passed was reserved for the weekend, but he was more than willing to let us stay there along the lake for $15.00 with hookup, or $8.00 without hookup. Somehow, the sights, sounds and smells of fish and fishermen didn’t seem quite what we were looking for, so we asked about Trammell Lake. He said, “You wouldn’t like it, and it’s all primitive parking; certainly not as nice as this lake.”
By now we were tired, and the sun was reflecting across Sweetwater Lake so that we couldn’t even see it anyway, and the boats were roaring across the lake, and no doubt the fishermen were getting out their booze for the evening. We decided not to stay.

What Happened?

We moved on to our original destination, Flying J Truck Stop at Tye (five miles west of Abilene) where we’d stopped on our last trip. A double parking space in front of the restaurant, away from the noisy trucks, seemed welcoming, and we went inside for a late pizza at their Country Market. At least this was a completion, and the lake setting would have to wait.
We awoke from a sound sleep to the sound of sirens. I looked out the window, and saw an ambulance arriving. A police car was already in front of the side doorway, and another soon arrived. I kept watching, but they were beyond my viewing range. So I went back to sleep.
The next morning, during a breakfast buffet at their Country Market, I asked our waitress what happened to attract all the activity. She looked surprised, and said, “I don’t know. But you’ve got my curiosity going. I’ll find out.”
I waited patiently during breakfast, but she was too busy, and never found out. It’s not that I’m nosy; it’s simply a matter of human interest. After all, it did wake me up, so I was involved.
In the meantime, as we ate, our waitress complained to another about a shrill noise, which she attributed to the ceiling fan. But the second waitress kept saying “It’s a cricket.” Before we left, she walked out with her hand over a jar, and announced, “See, I said it was a cricket!” Sure enough, she had a cricket in the jar.
A truck driver eating at another table said, “Good thing it wasn’t a cockroach.”
With that mystery solved, I wasn’t willing to give up about the sirens, so I asked the gas pump cashier, and received an equally frustrating negative answer. In this case, time being a factor, I had to accept the incompletion and move on. However, I did receive one answer from another cashier. Showing her a cap, I pointed to the writing, and asked “What does Vertically Challenged mean?”
The young gal answered, “It means the person is short.”
Allright, that’s another mystery solved. I’m gaining on the incompletions.

Where’s Lake Cisco City Park?

At least, I thought I was, until we started searching for Lake Cisco. We’d found the town, where Dal described his wild days, quite easily. And we even located the Mobley Hotel, the first one that Conrad Hilton bought, and later sold, as part of his vast chain of Hilton Hotels. The story goes that he couldn’t get a room there, so he bought the hotel.
It’s a beautiful old hotel with charming grounds, and we hoped to see the two restored rooms of this building that is now the Chamber of Commerce. The Texas State Travel Guide and the sign on the front of the hotel said they would be open between 2:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday. We were there, but no one showed up by 2:30, so we went forth to find Lake Cisco. The Texas State Guide read: “A 445 acre lake in the shape of an irregular cross between scenic hills. Excellent fishing and water sports. City park offers picnicking, miniature golf, primitive camping area.”
Following directions, we turned at the sign, and then drove around the lake, past the makeshift boat launch, and the residences. And there before our eyes, on the fence across the road, appeared the sign: “End of Road.” Where were the lodge, picnic area, and golf course?
On the way back into town, I stopped at the Conoco General Store and asked for picture postcards. They didn’t have any, but I asked about the Lake Cisco City Park and picnic area.
“Oh, that hasn’t been available for years. There’s really nothing out there anymore.”
Oh well, it must not be our destiny to stay at a lake, as yet. Nor was it time to visit the Mobley Hotel, which was still closed when we returned at 3:30.
In the meantime, I had a new quest; quite simple, I thought: a picture postcard of Cisco. I now asked at the Food Mart and the Citgo Cowboy’s Market. No picture postcards.
“Oh well,” I said to the cashier, “I’ll just send The Cisco Press newspaper that I purchased. At least it’ll have a Cisco, Texas postmark.”
“No, it won’t,” she replied. “Our mail is postmarked Ft. Worth.”
“Then I guess it doesn’t matter where I mail it,” I said, weary of the entire project.”
I said to Van, “Maybe someday I can show Dal the camcorder pictures I took.”

Catch a Rising Star

We headed Freedom south, and began warily watching the big, black cloud to the west that we seemed to be following; or it was following us. In any event, within a short time we were deluged with rain.
As we neared the town of Rising Star, I said, “I think we’d better change our plans, for now. Instead of heading east, let’s go straight south to Brady, and stay at the City Park we enjoyed last time.”
“Sounds good to me,” Van replied. Then added, “Look at the people sitting on their front porches in this town. I’ve seen two already.” And then we passed a quaint, little place with the name “The Front Porch Cafe.”
We’d passed several stone buildings and houses, and lots of antique shops, all inside old, dark storefronts. And with the dark cloud and rain, the place had a mystical look. But, of course, by the time I got the camera ready, we’d passed through the town.
“I should have known that a place named Rising Star would be special. But guess I’ll just have to hold it in my memory, like some of the other places I’ve missed.”

Caught in a Downpour

By the time we reached Brownwood, the storm was passing over with a downpour, and we opted to take the direct route to Brady, and bypassed the lake areas. Fortunately, the skies cleared as we continued southwest, but another dark cloud loomed ahead. Finally, we arrived in Brady and pulled under a tree. Within minutes, another downpour drenched everything. Between storms, Van hooked up our electricity, and we settled in for the night.
We fell in love with Richard’s Park in Brady on our first trip, and stayed two days. Again, it served as a refuge as we now sat out the storms. I spent the time catching up my writing, and when the weather cleared, we went for several walks along the Brady Creek that flowed through the park.
The previously dry creek was now brimming full, and several fishermen stood along the banks. I recalled that last time I’d seen a huge blue heron flying along the nearly empty river bed, and I wondered what had happened to it.

Find the Blue Heron

The second day we walked under the thick, large trees in another direction along the creek. I heard a splash, and rushed to the edge in hopes I might spot the blue heron, but discovered several large turtles.
Soon I felt too warm, and handed Van the camcorder while I shed my jacket. Just then it swooped up from under the river’s edge, and I grabbed for my camera, but too late. It was gone.
“Darn! Not another disappointment,” I said aloud. We continued walking along the river, and then returned. “Let me hold the camera,” I said. I figured maybe I’d catch a shot of the blue heron. And then suddenly there it was swooping down the middle of the river. I aimed the camera, but the bird had already landed. I ran along the bank, and caught a clear shot of it standing on a log. And then I got a full shot as it flew away down the river.
“Aha!” I shouted, I finally got my completion of that blue heron. I’m sure the patterns have now changed, and it’s time to move forward. Let’s begin seeing more places we’ve never seen before.”
However, the next morning I asked Van, “Is this Wednesday?” He wasn’t quite sure, and it didn’t seem to matter. We didn’t feel like leaving. The weather was sunny, the birds were singing and the squirrels were frolicking, so we eased our way into the day, and then meandered over the bridge to the City Park tennis courts and played a few rounds.
To my surprise, looking back across the creek, I spotted the blue heron standing at the edge of the water. “Well, look at that,” I said to Van. “He doesn’t seem scared of anything now. And here I am without my camcorder. But it doesn’t matter, because I already got his picture.”

Tennis Anyone?

I became absorbed with our tennis, and the next time I looked, the blue heron was gone. But I felt complete with the experience. And I also felt good about playing tennis; another completion left from our last visit. I’d wanted to take advantage of the free courts, but somehow we hadn’t done it. And I was disappointed, because I’d promised Van that he would be able to play tennis during our travels. This was his third time in a year; not nearly enough. But, at least we were playing.
Actually, all I do is hit the ball back and forth (if I’m lucky) to give him practice. Van is an expert tennis player, and played daily with the local enthusiasts when we lived in Leucadia, California. It was the hardest part of his leaving our former home of sixteen years.

It’s Okay to let go

When we returned to Freedom, I plopped onto the sofa to regroup from the strenuous tennis effort. I began thinking about incompletions, and I realized that trying to hang onto an experience is another form of control. It’s okay to let it go. For instance, a charming couple had stopped by to ask for the address of my Travel Guide for Free and Low Cost Camping.
Van and I were eating dinner, so I stood at the door and chatted awhile. They were fascinating people with twelve years at RVing. I’d apologized for not asking them in, explaining that we’d been eating dinner. It was getting dark and coolish, so they excused themselves and returned to their home. I’d asked if they’d be around the next day, but they said they would be leaving early; and I saw their coach go by, before I got up.
I really wanted to get to know them, and was beating myself up for not having invited them in to visit. But I reminded myself that you simply can’t hold onto relationships in this lifestyle.
It’s another example of the importance of living in the here and now. If you don’t do it now, forget about it. Otherwise, you can be eaten up with regret.
Van was trying to press down a corner of the inside window frame, after using Elmer’s Glue to try and make it stick. Finally he taped it in place. I said, “That’s not very strong glue, you should use a super glue for that project?”
“I know,” he replied.
 I don’t think it really mattered if it worked or not; it was something for him to do.

Where do we Line up?

After lunch I went outside to see where the new arrivals were parked, and stopped beside the fellow washing his rig. “Where do we line up?” I asked.
He laughed, and we began chatting. He’d worked with 3M Company in St. Paul, Minnesota for 38 years. Soon after his wife’s sister died, and also his son, the company offered an early retirement package, and he thought, “What the heck?” In the year since traveling, he and his wife have been to some of the same places we have, and I told him about some others that may be of interest.
Paul’s wife, Barb, had been sitting at a table with several others in their group who are taking an art workshop, and were now doing their homework. She stopped by and chatted a few minutes, then returned to her artwork.
Van passed by and chatted too, then went on his way to take a shower.
Paul had finished washing his rig, and I excused myself to return to my writing.
What’s Important, Anyway?
“What the heck?” I thought. “How important is it to hurry up to get someplace, or to write a book that needs endless editing? What’s really important anyway?”
Later I wandered over to the artists, still laboring over their creations at the picnic table. I asked Paul’s wife, BJ, if they had the names and address of our visitors from the previous night, but she didn’t. She only remembered they lived in Mesa, Arizona, and they’d spent ten summers working at Mesa Verde in Colorado. This summer, they were vacationing. After all, they’d been retired since he was 48, and he’s now 78. What the heck?
In the meantime, we chatted while they continued with their tedious pen and ink drawings.
I said, “I admire anyone who is artistic. My creativity is writing.”
 
BJ said, “I admire anyone who writes. I’ve tried, but haven’t stuck with it. I edited An Alternative Lifestyles: Living and Traveling in an RV Vehicle, and the author published my article about traveling in Alaska.”
“Oh my gosh,” I exclaimed, “That’s my Bible for RVing.”
The conversation took off from there about their friendship with the author, and other RV related subjects.
Where’s Your Tow-vehicle?
I asked about their Alaska trip, and BJ said, “We took a car! I’d never go there without an extra vehicle. In fact, I wouldn’t go anyplace without one.”
Barb chimed in too, “I just don’t see how you travel without a tow vehicle!” They both expounded on the subject of needing to get away from the confinement of their coaches.
The most I could say, “We haven’t missed one.”
BJ exclaimed, “One time while in Montana, we drove over a hundred miles just to attend an Indian celebration, and it wasn’t even open to tourists, but we had a blast!”
I remembered that these three couples spend their winters at Tropic Star, a highly sociable RV park in Pharr, Texas; one we’d decided was not for us, even though it was expansive and teaming with activities.
A Matter of Preference
As the sun faded, and their ink ran out, we parted for the night, and I returned home. I contemplated the various lifestyles available to RVers. Some like to socialize, and some are loners. It’s like any other part of society, and it’s a matter of preference. Neither is right or wrong; diversity is what makes it so much fun, and widely acceptable.
The next day, after another tennis game, we stopped to chat with the husbands (while the wives attended their last workshop). Clyde shared some good ideas for our travels through eastern Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee, and I noted them in my Road Atlas for future reference.
After the artists returned, I viewed their completed, matted and framed works. Of course, all three said “It isn’t finished.”
But I felt complete with this experience, and ready to move on to our next adventure.
 

Chapter 2

ARE WE HAVING FUN, YET?

 
Lake Georgetown Before Dark
Buchanan Lake stretched like smooth glass across the horizon as we zipped by. “Why can’t we stay at a lake like that?” I asked Van.
“Because the State Parks charge an exorbitant entrance fee, plus extra for RV’s,” he replied.
“Ink Lake” is ahead, turn here.” We followed a road alongside another clear lake. “I’m not sure this is the right turnoff,” I mumbled.
“There are hookups over there by the lake,” Van observed.
“Yeah, but there are no signs to indicate it’s a public facility.”
“Okay, we’ll see what this Shady Oak RV park is like. It’s two miles down this road,” Van added as the road began to narrow and wind away from the lake.
“Oh no,” I wailed, “not again. Why do we keep finding these weird places?”
“I don’t know, but I’m turning around,” Van announced decisively, as he pulled into the gated entrance to the Ink Dam.
“Good idea. This is one false alarm we’re avoiding.”
As he slowed down when approaching the hookups on the return, I said, “I’ll go ask.”
I returned with the information: “They are available for $15.00 a night with electrical and water hookups. It’s a beautiful spot isn’t it?” I surveyed the shady hookup sites and the glassy lake. “I’d love to stay here, but maybe we should try elsewhere. I also asked about the State Park, and it’s more expensive than here.”
Van began to ease Freedom toward the highway, and then rolled across the bridge, as I looked longingly at the picturesque spot we’d left behind.
“Well, there’s always Wal-Mart parking lot in Georgetown,” I mumbled. “Otherwise, I think it’ll be too late to make it to the Lake Georgetown location before dark.”
“It’s only 25 miles,” Van said, as he sped ahead.
“The couple from Mesa had confirmed that Cedar Break Park would be a lovely spot, and only cost $9.00 with our Golden Age Card. If we can find it in the dark.”
I was feeling disgruntled that we’d already bypassed the $10.00 RV park by the river in Llano. As we looked back at the Llano River, I could see huge white boulders in the river, and sandy shores. “How pretty,” I’d said, while capturing the scene with my camcorder.
Now, leaving Burnet behind, I felt another sense of loss. “We’ll have to come back 36 miles to see the Air Museum, and then go back again. That’s three times the distance.”
Van continued driving as the sun was setting behind us. By the time we arrived in Georgetown, and turned north on I-35, I could hardly see Wal-Mart, which we’d already passed as we turned onto the on-ramp.
I looked for Farm Road 2338, but never saw it, nor anything about Lake Georgetown. Finally, it was too dark and too far. I said, “Let’s stop and ask for directions.” I laughed to myself, as I recalled a T-shirt I’d seen at the Flying J Truck Stop, listing ten things you would never hear a macho-man say. “Number 3: Ask for directions.” It’s not just a joke about men. They really hate to admit they’re lost, and ask for directions.
But we were way past the designated distance, so Van stopped at a Texaco Truck Stop, and we went inside. “Oh, you want exit 262,” and she pointed back toward the direction we’d just come.
“Would it be okay if we park here, and get a fresh start tomorrow in the daylight, after we rest?”
“Sure,” she said sympathetically, “just park parallel over there.”
Van got us parked, and gladly gave it up for one night. With all the incompletions we’d been going through, I thought it funny that we chose to watch the 48 Hours special about Unsolved Mysteries. I was beginning to wonder about ours when it came to parking along a lake.

Who’s in Control?

And the next morning, when I awoke to find that we were boxed in by at least eight cars being towed. “Probably stolen cars enroute to Mexico,” I mumbled. The drivers had gone inside for breakfast, apparently giving no concern to the fact that we couldn’t get out.
Okay, so I’ll be calm about this, and they’ll be gone by the time Van is up and ready to leave. Wrong!
He leisurely did last minute details, and then warmed up the engine, and eventually several drivers came out and moved forward. I pleaded, “Van, please move now, before someone else blocks us in.”
In the meantime, another car pulled in front of us, so now we couldn’t jockey around to get out. I was getting angry. And while Van was taking his time. Just then a 45 ft. mail truck pulled alongside us, and I absolutely lost it.
“I am not willing to sit here and watch you work your way out of this mess,” I yelled. “You are intentionally taking your time in order to be controlling. I’ve had it!” I screamed as I slammed the door, and stomped behind the mail truck, and into the Subway fast foods restaurant inside.
“Why am I so angry?” I felt as if the trucks (there were now two)represented a solid block that kept me from accomplishing what I must be doing in my life; and that Van’s control was the cause of the blocks. It’s as if the recent years of our lives flashed before my eyes. Van’s past passive-aggressive behavior was a covert bid for control, and I made a decision that I was no longer willing to allow that control to be an excuse for me not to move forward.
On the other hand, I realized that Van could only have that much power, if I gave it to him; or otherwise allowed him to wield the power that I interpreted as blocks.
I knew that I must make the choices to move them, or push through them.
As I sat at a table in the Subway, I thought about the fragmented attempts to upgrade our lives by parking along picturesque places, such as the lakes, rather than Wal-Mart parking lots, Truck Stops, and other freebies. And it really did feel like pushing against an immovable object.

The Impossible Dream

Somewhat calming down, it came to my mind that as I awoke earlier, before spotting the parked cars, I’d been dreaming about moving forward with my ministry in a partnership activity. A dream I’d craved for several decades, but had given up in recent years, as a result of dealing with Van’s trauma from his job layoff, and his inability to produce an income, other than Social Security Retirement, which doesn’t offer a very spectacular lifestyle; unless, of course, parking at Wal-Mart counts.
Once I’d awakened, I felt an inner urging to take some steps toward overcoming the inertia that had me in its grips. Just do it! came to mind.
It’s like a voice inside was saying, “You’re going to Huntsville, Texas. It’s the headquarters for Texas Department of Corrections. Find out who to talk to about getting your books presented to the right people. Be willing, you will be guided. And then it occurred to me to look up the metaphysical churches of my faith in the area, and talk to them about presenting workshops or lectures relating to Money Matters.
“Okay, God,” I said, “I can’t do it, but you can. Show me, and I’ll do it. But first, remove the blocks.”
Change the Pattern
First I saw Van driving Freedom past the window, and to the service station for fueling. Then he came inside and said, “Did you want to order a Subway?”
Actually, I had mentioned it last night, but my usual response to these upsets with Van had been to say, “No!” It’s some sort of reverse punishment, that only deprives me of what I really want.
So this time I changed the pattern and said, “Yes.” In fact, rather than the usual tendency to split a 6″ portion, I ordered a foot long Subway, and had onions put on his half.
All this may seem very ordinary, but to me it was revolutionary. I put the sandwich in our refrigerator to eat for lunch when we reached Cedars Break Park.
Then we retraced our route to Exit 262, drove the three miles to Cedars Park Road, another two miles, across the dam, and into the park. Within minutes we selected a perfect shaded space overlooking a sloping grassy knoll. Beyond that a picturesque lake glistened in the morning sunshine.
We walked around part of the lake, and I gradually thawed from my anger. By lunchtime I hauled out the turkey Subway, chips and a soda. We carried them across the road to a shaded picnic table, and sat in a cool breeze above the lakeshore.

Not What he Seems

As we snacked, a fortyish businessman-type dressed casual, arrived in his sports trailer, pulled by his pickup. At first, as he methodically unhooked and set up his weekend getaway rig, I figured him to be a self-sufficient single person. And when we attempted a conversation relating to his black Daschund dog, his reticence indicated a loner, at that.
Much to our surprise, after he’d left mid-afternoon, he returned later with a wife and two teenage boys. Boy, did we get that one wrong. However, as the weekend progressed, we noticed the same non-communicative, non-participating relationship between him and his family, as he busied himself with fixup projects.

Are we Having Fun, Yet?

That night everyone watched the magnificent fireworks from the airport somewhere beyond the lake. I was torn between the local display or watching Barbara Walters interview Christopher Reeves on 20/20. This man is a never-ending source of inspiration to me, and added to my “What the Heck?” attitude from our stop at Brady City Park. Life is too short to miss the good things that are going on around us.
Saturday, I couldn’t help but observe the neighbors. The younger boy cast his fishing line across the driveway a few times, and older boy remained inside, probably watching TV enhanced by a sophisticated satellite system. And the mom stood around seemingly at a loss for what to do; deprived of her home and normal routine. The episode prompted me to wonder, “Are we having fun, yet.”
Of course, one might wonder the same thing about us, as we sat at the neighboring picnic table enjoying the cool breeze, and watching the speed boats and jet skiers. In addition, we kept entertained by the activities of the airplanes practicing for the air show due later in the day on Saturday.
Around noon I enrolled Van in creating our own version of a barbecue, minus briquettes or other necessities. Instead, I broke up some cedar and oak limbs lying on the ground, threw in some dried leaves, and lit the fire in the barbecue provided by the park. Without waiting for the embers, I tossed on the turkey burgers, and left Van to tend them, while I prepared the bread, opened a can of pork and beans, gathered some chips and root beer and headed out the door.
“Y?”
We enjoyed a delightful meal sitting in the light breeze overlooking the lake. Then I went to toss the paper plates in the garbage dumpster by the road. A woman, apparently the Park Hostess, cruising by in her white car stopped and asked Van, “Why are you sitting there?”
“Oh, it just seemed like a nice spot.”
“Y?” (That’s Texan for “Why?”)
“It was handy.”
“Well, you can’t do that. You have to stay in your own place. People are coming in all the time who want this spot.”
“Oh, okay.” Van leisurely got up, took his glass over to the water faucet and poured a glass of water.
She sat there glaring, obviously upset that he didn’t jump and run when she spoke. Another instance of control versus passive-aggressive.
I was happy she hadn’t come by while we were eating our barbecue. At least we were able to enjoy the better view offered from that spot. There were lots of vacant sites further up the road, and no one had driven by anyway. But later in the day, a mother and two pre-teen daughters set up their tents there; and in the evening the dad joined the group.
In the past, my day would have been ruined by the run-in with the Park Hostess, but this time, though I grumbled, I didn’t let her control attitude interfere with our pleasant day. Not only that, I never got to the computer. In fact, I just shuffled between the picnic table and Freedom doing not much of anything.
Indeed, a definite pattern change had taken place. I could hardly wait to see what God had in store next.

Chapter 3

ANGELS AMONG US

 
The title for this chapter popped into my head when thinking back over the people and events that had been blessings during our trip.
Among the familiar terms for angel, the Dictionary says, “one who aids or supports with money or influence.” And “a person believed to resemble an angel.” I assume that means one who exemplifies angelic qualities, such as love, caring, thoughtfulness, kindness, and such attributes.
Though I don’t usually refer to people as angels in this account, I’m convinced that most of them are angels unaware walking around in human form, because they were always there to give us advice, directions or answers. And sometimes I was able to return the blessings to others in my own way.
I’m not going to write a treatise on angels, but I’m sure we are all angels, serving God’s purpose as needed. And we are all here to learn and teach further lessons on love and loving.
But I’m not going to expound on that subject either. I’ll simply tell the story, and let God speak to you, the reader.
Reflections on Huntsville
Once we’d completed our stay in Huntsville, where we visited Buddie Williams in the Huntsville Prison, it felt like a jumping-off-place. We really didn’t have any plan, other than a loose itinerary of people or places to see in each state. But how to get there, or where to stay was a black hole of unanswered questions.
Yet, like Joseph crossing the River Jordan and stepping into the flooded waters on faith, we moved forward to unseen places. First, we journeyed through the Piney Woods area of Sam Houston National Forest, and crossed the bridge over fog shrouded Lake Livingston, a major fishing area that resembled a seaport. We knew we were approaching The South, when we saw signs offering crawfish.
However, we weren’t ready for The South, yet, so we stopped at Double Lake National Park where we could use our Golden Age Passport. We selected a spot within view of the lake, and settled in for the night with our hookups.
My intention was to write, write, write. I wanted to capture the story of my visit with Buddie, while the memory was still fresh; and I had a mountain of letters that needed answering. So I began writing about my visit with Buddie, one of the first Freedomers, and now a special friend. The visit is featured in Joyanna Visits the Freedomers, along with my other visits with Freedomers.
When we first came into the picturesque town, located in the woods, we were concerned about the narrow, hilly roads, and even parking near the solid brick Walls Unit was a challenge, but we survived, and afterward we visited the Huntsville Prison Museum and the Sam Houston National Park, with it humungous statue of Sam Houston, who was president of Texas, before it joined the union.
I
n fact, Huntsville has much more than just a prison setting, and we enjoyed driving east through the Piney Woods, as mentioned above. And we especially enjoyed Double Lake National Park. By checkout time the next day, I was no place near finished, so we signed up for a second day; and the same was true for the third and fourth days.

An Extended Stay at Double Lake

The first day, Van walked two miles round-trip, in high humidity, to put the fee in the iron pipe slot at the self-service entrance. Having suggested that we could drive back, or pay the Park Host, I wisely chose not to go. Thereafter, Van chose to walk to the nearby Park Host to renew each day’s fee.
That night we were serenaded to sleep by a chorus of frogs vibrating from the lake; everything from high soprano to the low baritone bullfrogs. And we awoke to an oddly melodious cacophony of bird sounds: beginning with the angry scolding of crows, and the ratatat of woodpeckers hammering. But they subsided, and as the day progressed, other birds interjected their songs from various trees throughout the woods.
Despite my writing marathon, I took time each day for our walk on the wooded Nature Trail along the lake, listening to the jungle-like sounds of the birds.
The first morning, as we walked into an open field with the volley ball net, a staff-member, driving his grass-edger, pulled up, stopped and chatted. Soon we were joined by his boss, Dan, and the conversation, as always with RVers, got around to our travels.
As we talked, he named must-see places along our route from Louisiana to North Carolina; and from Mississippi and Tennessee to Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. He and his wife, Barbara, had been to them all. But they hadn’t been to California, Colorado, or Oregon, so we had the opportunity to share some of our knowledge with them as we stood in the shade of the pine and live oak trees.
Dan, an amiable sixtyish RVer, explained that they had been planning to travel through those states this summer, but he was asked by the Cradle of America National Park Service (his boss) to open up this campgrounds, so they postponed their travels. He asked, “How did you hear about this obscure National Park? It isn’t even on the maps.”
Right, and Double Lake isn’t either,” I said, and then answered his question, “It’s listed in American PC, a book about free and low-cost camping and RVing.”
“I haven’t heard of it,” he replied.
“I’ll bring it over this evening,” I offered.
We continued our walk by returning to the cool of the Nature Trail, and happily escaped into the air conditioning in Freedom.
That evening we walked to Dan and Barbara’s Pace Arrow, and sat outside as they again mentioned and described sights and stops along our route. This time, I wrote them all down on the pages of the book, for ready reference when the time came.
As twilight set in, I asked Dan to play the stringed musical instrument he’d been playing when we arrived, and he entertained us with several jaunty numbers from the Hill Country of North Carolina, where they’d lived. Finally, the bugs got to us, and we went home.
Earlier, on our way to Dan’s we’d stopped to visit a fellow setting up his camp (I didn’t get his name). With his Honda Gold Wing 1500 motorcycle, he’d pulled a homemade trailer with a Wal-Mart black Rubbermaid storage box. Behind that he’d attached a miniature pop-op tent (also on a trailer). Quickly assembled, he had a complete tent setup with an elevated queen-sized bed (and storage underneath).
Walking by, after dark, we enjoyed a string of gaily lit Christmas-like lights along the frame of the tent’s awning, which formed a covered patio.
The next morning I walked back and took pictures of his entire setup to send to Michael Martin, the Freedomer whose biker title is Big Mike. I laughed when I noticed the miniature lights were actually tiny red lanterns. The owner, with a kerchief tied around his head, and sweating profusely in the humid weather, gave me another grand tour of his bike, trailer and tent.
“Big Mike will sure be impressed with this setup” I said as I snapped pictures of the ensemble.
The night before, when we’d stopped by, his mother-in-law too was there, and pointed to the air-conditioned RV where she would stay. “We have three spaces rented. Another RV will arrive Friday night. All my family will be here this weekend to celebrate Mothers’ Day. We’re in business together, and the teenage grandkids get tired of hearing us talk business on family gatherings, so I decided to bring them all up here this time. They can have fun, while we talk.”
During the conversation, her son-in-law was installing his air conditioning unit in his tent, through an opening that he had designed, and sitting on a portable plastic structure.
I spoke of our plans to check out Port Arthur, and she said, “There’s a State Park where you can walk out over the swamp and see the birds and snakes and alligators. It’s great!” I made note of her suggestion for future reference.
The morning after we arrived, when we first met Dan, he spoke of a group from a Middle School that would be arriving on Friday. “They’ve earned awards for good grades, so are coming here for the day, as a reward.”
Sure enough, mid-morning on Friday, we heard the happy shouts and laughter of kids, and during our walk along the lake, we could see four paddle boats full of frolicking youngsters, as they approached the end of the swampy end of the lake where we were walking across on the boardwalk. The sun was shining brightly, and the water looked jet black beneath the lily pads and water soaked moss; some was lying along the path where fish lines had gotten tangled in it.
As we approached the 1/2 way point around the mile circumference of the lake — at the picnic grounds and swimming pool — other campers were splashing happily in the roped-off area, next to the boat dock. We stopped for a drink of water, and then continued on to the group area where the young folks were having lunch. We marveled at their good behavior and pleasantness, even as adult chaperones were calling them in from their fun for lunch, as we headed back into the cool woods along the lake.
Later in the afternoon, the woods were silent, and Dan reported that the kids had left. Soon the mother-in-law’s family began to arrive, and her grandkids of varying ages were bicycling and otherwise entertaining themselves. The young Roseanne-type Grandma, hobbled about with her legs taped from a fall on vacation in Tahiti, yet she clearly enjoyed her progeny. She’d mentioned her fun shopping trips with the teenage girls where she wore out the younger of them.

More Writing Project

Van had updated our fee each day, and now the weekend was upon us. By this time I’d finished my chapter, and was busily catching up on neglected correspondence. Once that was completed, I responded to Michael’s latest letter, which had been forwarded, with all our mail, to General Delivery in Huntsville. He had sent his response to Road Sign #1 of my Journey to Inner Freedom course, and was awaiting Road Sign #2. Fortunately, I had them copied while in Colorado, so I packaged it to mail; then prepared an envelope to send my latest chapter for Dottie to edit.
With all the other projects handled, my time was freed to write another query to the Unity Ministerial Director of Senior Education. It had been six months since I wrote, and soon we would be at a crossroads where we would either go to Missouri, or east to North Carolina. I’d hoped for an appointment with him, so this letter became of prime importance.
That night, after watching TV, I began reading my Unity Magazine, and became absorbed with an article written by the editor, Philip White, who was also a friend of mine. It occurred to me that his article exemplified his teachings during a Writing Workshop I’d attended, and decided to write and ask if he’d send some of his lesson materials to Adam and Michael Martin, who were both pursuing writing careers, rather than crime. Any help or support I could pass along seemed worth the effort.
I’d already copied and mailed Michael a packet of writing how-to articles. But Philip White was a master, so I began the letter. As I wrote, I began telling him about my ministry, and the importance of reaching out to inmates, their families, and even criminals not captured, and wannabe criminals.
Although I hadn’t started the letter with the intention of asking him about publishing any of my writing (I’d had so many manuscript rejections by him — and other editors), but now I felt urged to again mention my courses and books, as he is also editor for Unity Publishing. It was a good letter, and again, I felt hopeful, and thought “Maybe this is the right time.”

Mother’s Day in the Woods

Sunday morning, once my letter was finished, I said to Van, “So, what are you going to fix for my breakfast?” I was being facetious; he’d never done anything like that. But he said, “How about granola?”
“Okay,” I answered, astounded at this change of behavior. I looked in the refrigerator and spotted a yogurt that was almost outdated, so announced, “I’ll have this too!” I sat down with my granola and yogurt, which Van had served, and felt like a queen, as I celebrated this Mother’s Day in a most unusual way. After breakfast, I said, “So, what’s for lunch?”
“How about a Dairy Queen?” he responded.
Again, shocked that he even thought of a possibility, I said, “Okay.”
Van and I had decided that we would definitely leave Sunday afternoon, so I knew he had to make good on his promise. But first we had to stop at the Washeteria in Cold Spring and do our laundry. Since RVing, Van has become proficient at assisting with the laundry chores; so we spent the next hour refreshing our clothes, and then we were on the road, seeing more places never been before.
Still in the Piney Woods of Texas, we were surprised to cross a large body of water than resembled the Gulf of Mexico; but the map assured us it was Lake Livingston, shrouded in a blanket of fog. Though we saw signs announcing “Crawfish,” we’d already decided to save that delicacy for Louisiana.

In Pursuit of a Dairy Queen

But we were now in pursuit of a Dairy Queen. None was seen in the lakeside town of Onalaska, nor the town of Livingston, on Highway 59. So we continued onward, turning east onto Highway 105. Though we passed through several small towns, none had a Dairy Queen. It wasn’t until the dubious name of Sour Lake that we found one. By this time, it was so late that we decided to share a hamburger; and I opted for a Buster Bar, a frozen low fat ice cream bar, dipped in chocolate over peanuts and fudge. Ahhh! What a Mothers’ Day celebration.

Mother’s Day Contacts

But the day wasn’t over, yet. At Beaumont we stopped at Wal-Mart for the night, and I called Dottie. Arianna answered, and gave me a report of their Mothers’ Day activities: church, shopping, lunch, and they’d prepared dinner; now they would watch video’s they’d rented for Dottie’s big day.
After all that, she was happy that I’d called, so she could wish me a Happy Mothers’ Day. And I was happy that I could be part of their Mothers’ Day.
I’d put off calling my Mom, because often holidays set off  her schizophrenia, and I felt reticent to upset my day. But, I would have felt guilty, so I called. She wasn’t feeling well, and not in a conversational mood. Then I called my stepmother, Arlene, and she wasn’t home, so I left a message. The Mothers’ Day ended with Van’s brief call to his mom.
While at Wal-Mart, we investigated the availability of an electric barbecue. During my stock up shopping, I’d bought frozen turkey patties, and now, facing the hot, humid summer the outdoor cooking seemed appealing. We also contemplated the option — briquettes and lighter fluid. Before leaving Beaumont, we found the perfect solution with the help of the cashier, and then contemplated the investment. But nearly $50.00 seemed overwhelming, so we purchased an inexpensive microwave rice steamer instead.

Sea Rim State Park

After making copies at Kinko’s, and more supplies at Sam’s Club, we drove south to Port Arthur, and then along a narrow, paved road through swamp land to another isolated park, Sea Rim State Park, along the Gulf of Mexico.
We’d planned to take a ferry that would cross into Louisiana, but a sign announced: “Road closed 24 miles ahead,” which came before the ferry. We were confused, so I asked the Park Receptionist, and she clarified, “During the hurricane nine years ago, the road was washed out, and it’s still not repaired.”
“Okay, I have another question. We were told about a park where you can walk into the swamp and see alligators.”
“This is the one,” she said, much to our relief.
“Next question: how much is the fee here?”
As usual, the combined entrance fee and overnight charge were more than we felt ready to pay, so we decided to pay $4.00 for Day Use and have lunch. I’d planned to barbecue hamburgers, and to my surprise, when looking at the grill, I discovered that someone had left behind their Sunbeam gas barbecue. However, the briquettes had burned to ashes, and we didn’t buy any, so I heated some hot dogs in the Microwave.

First Glimpse of the Gulf of Mexico

Before eating outside, we walked up the steps, and there was the Gulf of Mexico stretching before us. I felt like I was greeting an old friend, as the waves rolled ashore, and I breathed in the sea air.
Joanie headed toward the gulf, took off her shoes, skipped across the white sand, and began wading in the warm water. It felt good walking on warm sand, and suddenly there were fish — all size fish — jumping into the air. Such a phenomenon! Happy Joanie was in her glory. And then suddenly, something painful struck my toe.
I looked into the brown, murky water, and saw something scurry into the deep: a turtle, or what? I walked closer to shore, where I could see my feet, but the broken shells were uncomfortable. So I soon wandered back into the sandy bottom. Suddenly I felt a sharp pain on the side of my foot, and I knew, without doubt, a crab pincher had struck. At shore I could see blood oozing from my foot. “Phooey,” Joanie grumbled. “That mean ole crab pinched me. I’m getting out of here.”
That was the end of my wade in the gulf.
Where are you, Ally?
After lunch, we followed the Nature Trail along the boardwalk into the swamp. “We may see alligators, My Love. Are you excited?” I asked, knowing full well that Little Ralph was indeed excited. He nodded.
As Joanie and Little Ralph strode along the boards, she sang, “Where are you, ally?”
Birds twittered in the swampy black water, and a large white crane-like bird flapped from one place to another midst the cattails and reeds. And then I shouted, “There it is,” and aimed my camcorder, but the head bobbed under water, and I was too late to capture it. But, as we continued, we soon spotted a small one sleeping, and I aimed and started recording. As we began the return part of the loop, a nice size ‘gator peered from the murky water with only his eyes and partial head showing. I stopped to take his picture and talk, but Little Ralph moved hastily onward.
“Are you scared,” Joanie taunted.
“No, but when in the area of danger, I don’t see any reason to tempt fate.”
“Well, they can’t jump up on the boardwalk,” she jeered.
When we reached the camping area, a fellow walking his dog said, “See any ‘gators?”
“Three,” I replied. “Do they get very big?” I asked.
“Yeah. The big ones can snap up a dog.”
Little Ralph said, “See!”

Goodbye Texas; Hello Louisiana

We returned to Freedom, and soon retraced our trip to Port Arthur. From there we took Highway 87 to Orange, and stayed overnight at Flying J Truck Stop. This was the end of our sojourn in Texas.
But the next day we crossed the border into Louisiana, and we knew we were in The South when we stopped at the brick Tourist Information Center with white columns. The receptionists were helpful and answered my questions: “Yes, you can park at the casinos, if the RV is self-contained. Yes, there are RV parks in New Orleans where  you can catch a bus to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, and there are tour busses from the park.” We sat down on a bench under a columned shelter with my stack of material, and began reading my new supply of maps, brochures and books.

A Long Rest Stop?

Not long after heading east on I-10, we couldn’t stand the bumpy, congested highway, so Van decided to exit onto a lesser traveled I-90 highway, which paralleled the freeway. And as he looked across to the freeway, he said, “Either there’s a long Rest Stop over there or there’s been an accident.”
The west bound lane stopped, like a giant parking lot, so Van turned on the CB and heard reports that there had been a wreck. Surely an angel had guided him to turn off and avoid the resultant congestion. Though it was going in the opposite direction, we felt blessed.

Missed The Frog Capitol of the World

However, in the confusion, we zipped right through Rayne, the Frog Capitol of the World, and its murals and painted walls. And we also made a wrong turn in Lafayette, the original Capitol of Texas, where we’d planned to stay at Wal-Mart. So we bumped another twenty-five miles to one in New Iberia. We were hot and tired, and glad to settle down for the night.
We’d been watching a TV series on TBN called A.D., based on the Acts of the Apostles with the journeys of Paul and Barnabas, Peter and Luke as they carried on the Christian church, after the death of Jesus. So we were happy to get good reception for the third installment.

It Pays to Ask

The next morning I left my still pictures for 1 hour developing, and began a search for insect repellent and liquid body soap. The products in Wal-Mart were okay, but chemical laden, so I asked the helpful clerk if there was a health food store nearby, and she said, “There’s one a few doors from here. Another lesson learned: It pays to ask.

Small Steps

They didn’t have them at that GNC store, but he gave us directions to a health food store nearby. In the meantime, we passed a Family Dollar store, and I couldn’t resist the temptation to pass the remaining time, before my pictures were ready.
Much to my delight, I found a long handled spatula, which I bought as a first step toward our barbecue project. Would it be an electric one, or some briquettes?
As we walked across the parking lot to Freedom, with our pictures in hand, including the set of the motorcycle-camper for Michael, I said to Van, “You know, this makes me feel happy; being able to send these pictures to Michael, and knowing he’ll receive joy in seeing them, and also knowing that I was thinking about him. That’s love. And buying the corn-buttering set for Dottie for $1.00, and imagining her delight, because I know she’ll be pleased. It’s how I show love. And spending $1.00 for the spatula I bought makes me happy. It’s a step toward our ultimate purchase of the electric barbecue. I realize that we needed to take smaller steps, before making that much investment at this time. But it makes me happy to take this small step in that direction.”
As we stepped into our home, I said, “To me, these purchases are what life’s all about: thinking about someone you love, and doing something that I know will make them happy. And feeling guided to take a step toward an ultimate goal, such as the spatula.”
Van nodded, and then we began our next series of travels, beginning with touring the local area. First, the health food store, where I found natural products with the help of a friendly southern gal.

The Tabasco Plant on Avery Island

Then we went to the Tabasco plant at Avery Island. For only 50 cents, we enjoyed an informative movie, and then watched the packaging of the bottles, and went to their Country Store to see all their products — lots more than the traditional red, or green, Tabasco, including a red hot variety, and even spicy crackers.
The highlight of this tour was a group of three bus loads of middle schoolers — 150 kids — with fifty added to each of three tours. The adults in our group looked panicky, but to our surprise, the teens were well behaved, and a delight to watch as they tasted the hot sauces.
While in line to watch the bottling, I overheard one tourist (probably another angel) telling another about the Rip Van Winkle Gardens being superior to the local Jungle Gardens.

Rip Van Winkle Gardens

Our next stop became one of my favorite places: lunch overlooking a lake on the beautiful grounds of a mansion once owned by an actor, Joseph Jefferson.
The gracious lifestyle of The South was evidenced by the restaurant with full view of the lake through the plate glass windows.
Our waiter, Kimball, also represented the expected Southern hospitality, as he answered our questions about the menu: “What’s the difference between crawdad etouffe or fried crawfish tails? What’s boudin?”
I ordered the 1/2 and 1/2 with a generous serving of each crawdad tails entree — one in a delicate spicy sauce, and the other deep fried, yet not greasy or heavy — which I shared with Van’s order: basically four pork and rice meatballs with a spicy sauce for dipping. And the French bread was the epitome of light and delicate, yet tasty.
As we ordered sweet potato and pecan pie, we continued to ply Kimball with questions about the area: the lake empties into a river that empties into the Gulf of Mexico, which is about thirty miles away.
Such a polite gentleman — the waiter, who resembles the twins in Gone With the Wind, though shorter — responded to my questions about his life, “I’m going to college, studying to be a cartoonist.” When asked about his plans, he said, I hope to go to California or New York or maybe Florida.” Coincidentally, Kimball is actually a twin.
Savoring the perfection of blending sweet potatoes and pecans, without being too sweet, I ordered tea, and lingered in this setting, while we chatted more with Kimball.

A Wrong Turn is Right

But all too soon, it was time to move on. We drove a few miles north to St. Martinville, site of the Longfellow-Evangeline Commemorative Area, which we’d planned to see, but a wrong turn took us on the road to Fausse State Park.
We knew we’d found the levee road, because the embankment kept us from seeing beyond. However, the guidebook said it’s the Atchafalaya Basin that covers over a thousand acres with swamp country. Several miles of the narrow, rough road followed a waterway of muddy water, which we learned is a lake that flows into a river that drains into the gulf. That explains the rapid current flowing past our site, once we’d settled in and hooked up.
Our Golden Age Pass reduced the fee to only $6.00. We stayed two nights while I updated my writing in the comfort of our air conditioning to offset the hot humid weather. The local news kept us informed with the information that we were in the middle of an environmental disaster: 300,000 acres of fires in Mexico. Even in the swamps of Louisiana, there’s no escaping the disasters.
The receptionist had said there may not be TV reception, so I quickly released my expectations of seeing the final installment of A.D. Yet, much to our surprise, we did get TV; but not TBN. However, God must have had a Plan for this chapter, because we were guided to watch True Stories of Touched by an Angel, which added inspiration to my “Angel” chapter.
The next morning, we chatted with a neighbor, who was vacationing from nearby, and asked questions about the area, and receiving answers. For instance, he assured us we had, indeed, made a wrong turn, and gave us directions to the Longfellow-Evangeline Commemorative Area. He also explained about the Atchafalya Basin, and where to get the best tour. Although we stayed two days, we decided to pass on the swamp tours.
Despite the intense humidity (worsened by the Mexican fires), we scrounged (from the fire left by the previous campers across from us) some briquettes and a small log still burning, took them to our barbecue pit, and gathered some twigs and leaves to create a fire for our turkey burgers.
I triumphantly presented Van with the new spatula, and he tended them, while I completed the meal preparations. Then we ate inside in the air conditioned comfort of our own home. Hey, this is really living! And some day, we may have our electric barbecue. But then, if we’d had it now, we would have missed out on all the fun of making do with what we had. Yet, that’s a state of consciousness that I can do without.

Our Opportunity to Become Angels

Our opportunity to be angels came the morning of our departure. I noticed Van talking with a young couple, and he reported that they would like our site for their friends (arriving later), once we left; but no hurry. They’d explained, “With all the reservations filled, this was the last of ten sites available without reservations. If we are at the gate, when you check out, we get the site.”
Van agreed to let them know when we left. In the meantime, they left to get a camper. We completed our morning activities, and took a walk along the swampy lake, and finally prepared to leave. As we walked, I noticed a gas barbecue grill, like the electric one we’d considered buying, sitting on a table. Must be an angel sitting there, I thought, and she’s giving me a message, “Buy the electric barbecue.” Yes!
By the time we’d both completed our showers (Van used the public facility), and morning preparations, the pleasant young couple returned with the second camper, after rushing back to their home in New Iberia. We worked with them to assure their getting the spot, even telling another prospect that it was already taken. As we sat at the dump site, they rushed to the entrance gate and secured the site, then came back and thanked us again for our part in making it possible.
Earlier, because we were getting so involved in assuring their getting the site, Van had said, “How codependent do you think we’re being about this?”
I thought a minute, then said, “I realize there is a fine line between codependency and being thoughtful, kind and considerate. Codependency is getting involved when not asked, and being compulsive, controlling and otherwise obnoxious. Love is doing the right thing, and we did.”
While Van dumped, I walked with the gal toward the lake’s edge, where she explained that they could use the dock, provided at each campsite along the water, for their boat, which would be brought by their friends later in the day. We chatted awhile, and I mentioned that we would be going to Cyprus Casino, near Charenton, to park for the night.
She said, “My husband is from that area. And the casino is fun. You must eat a fish dinner there. They are inexpensive and delicious.” I thanked her for the information, and she again thanked us for helping to get their friend’s site. Van was ready, so we moved on.
“Lake Fausse State Park isn’t even listed in the Louisiana Guidebook, and neither is the Longfellow-Evangeline Commemorative Area” I announced to Van; while plotting our next stage of the journey.
Olivier: a Working Plantation
Another angel had given us the tour of the restored Olivier Plantation. This early 1800’s raised Creole Cottage, though rustic by today’s standards, reflects the wealth of a working plantation.
As seniors, our entrance fee had been wavered. Van cringed as the low hanging live oak trees scraped the top of Freedom, while driving through the stately grounds typical of the gracious living during that era. Moss draped trees —  cypress and live oaks — formed a protective cover over the hot, humid grounds; and green fields stretched in all directions.
We’d declined the tour, feeling we must hurry on our way. But seeing the white three-story structure with its green shutters and red window frames, we decided to walk through without a guide. Fortunately, we were the only ones there, so Suzanne Louvier, dressed in her period costume, walked with us, giving information and answering questions with enthusiasm for the history, as if it were her own family.
With her French pronunciation, and wealth of information, we learned that Acadian, like Creole, refers to the people. Charles DuClozel Olivier, having come to this country from France, considered himself a Creole, an aristocrat. Whereas, the Acadians, expelled from Nova Scotia as a political maneuver, became known as Cajuns. They were the poor, working class, though free; not to be confused with the slaves, imported from Africa.
Petite Suzanne’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the history, plus stories of her own grandmother’s French customs, absorbed our interest for an hour. In retrospect, she certainly qualifies as a French angel of gentility and wisdom.
    Suzanne had explained that this commemorative park, though named after the poet and his heroine, actually has nothing to do with them. The live oak tree and statue in back part of the town square in St. Martinville are the actual locale. However, we were tired, and the streets were narrow with no parking for Freedom, so, we drove past the front, but missed seeing the actual historical sights. We felt satisfied with our experience.
 
 
Chapter 4
A BRIDGE TOO FAR
 
No Signs
One of the first violent movies, A Bridge Too Far, in my opinion went too far with graphic violence and death. Ordinarily, I avoid such movies, but we didn’t realize what we were getting into. So this term has come to symbolize a situation that has gone too far, and beyond reasonable intensity.
The wrong turns in Louisiana, as mentioned before, finally went a bridge too far, when we attempted to find our way to the Cypress Casino on the Chitimacha Indian Reservation.
We’d left St. Martinville and returned through New Iberia, and now headed south on Highway 182 paralleling the I-90 Expressway, which by-passes the small towns along Black Bayou, and the other numberous bodies of water in this swampy area. At times, we crossed or otherwise came into view of the Intracoastal Waterway.
I told Van, afterward, when returning past the junction where we turned at a sign that said Charenton, and crossed the little drawbridge, “That’s where we went a bridge too far.” The sign at the highway was the last one, so when we crossed the bridge, and the road ended, we didn’t know whether to turn right or left.
“I hate this about Louisiana,” I complained, “they don’t have signs. If you don’t already know where you’re going, it’s a matter of guessing.” And if you make the wrong one, you have to find a place, along the narrow roads, to turn around. With Freedom, that’s no easy task. So, after many miles of sugar cane fields, we found a pull off, and began the process, but Van felt we should continue onward. We came to a side road that went over another bridge, and there seemed to be a community on the other side of the bayou, but there were no signs.
“Certainly there would be a sign to indicate the casino, wouldn’t you think,” I asked Van.
“Well, we already know the towns aren’t identified, so I don’t know.”
We continued onward along the bayou, and I announced in futility, “Let’s forget the casino. Just keep going and find a Wal-Mart.” Of course we were so lost that the possibility of finding one seemed quite remote. But finally, arrived in Baldwin, a small town that wasn’t even on the Louisiana state map we’d received at the Tourist Information Center. Fortunately, we cross-referenced with our Road Atlas, but if it wasn’t on there, we had to wing it.
I’d already learned from my Wal-Mart list that none existed in this town, and we were tired. Though Van, typical of the joke about men, which is reality, usually avoids asking for directions, I persuaded him to stop at a service station. Armed with explicit directions, and that it was close, we pursued the casino.
With roads and towns wondering along the bayous, often you go in circles, so as we came to a small town, without a sign, we assumed it was the elusive Charenton. Now, as we came to a fork in the road, we saw another little bridge, and wondered if that was the one we’d seen from the side road we’d passed earlier.
However, according to Van’ directions, we turned right on a narrow road through a neighborhood and some pastures and sugar cane fields. Finally, the casino, with a huge parking lot appeared.
Simple Things Mean a Lot
We moved on to the Cypress Casino and, as suggested, enjoyed the delicious, inexpensive seafood dinner.
A security guard angel had okayed our overnight parking on the casino lot, where we planned the next phase of our trip. We’d been learning that our plans often don’t go the way I’d thought; but always our Divine Tour Guide, the Ultimate Angel, guides us to something better. That’s how we found places that otherwise might elude us; and it’s also how we avoided places that weren’t advisable for our agenda. At least not for this time; maybe another time, when we have the money. But, for now, “Simple Things Mean a Lot,” as the song says; and appreciating what we can do. 
Going in Circles
The next morning, when we left, we decided to cross the bridge and circle back to the highway, and also solve the mystery of Charenton. We continued through the town, but never saw a sign indicating the name of the town. And, of course, there were no signs to say where we were heading. We soon learned that we’d been going in circles, and were back in Baldwin — north of the casino we’d just left.
But Van felt certain this road would take us back to the highway. In fact, at one point we could see the cars on it in the distance. The question was “How do we get to it?” He zoomed past an unnamed side road that came up too suddenly; so we kept going along more fields and farms.
I said, “You know what? I think we’re on that road with the Chitimacha Trail sign.” Soon we reached the junction, and sure enough, there was the bridge, to the right, that we’d crossed when we saw the Charenton sign. We should have turned left. We really went a bridge too far!”
We both laughed while returning through Baldwin, and resuming our southern trek through the towns.
Little Ralph Sees the Air Museum
North of Patterson the highway merged with I-90. This involved a left turn onto the busy expressway; but there were no lights, so you take your life into your hands trying to dash Freedom between oncoming traffic. First the two northbound lanes; then not enough room to stop between that and the southbound lanes, so hold your breath, pray, and go for it. Sounds like a philosophy of life.
The map indicated that the two highways merged from this point, but soon we saw another 182 sign, but without enough time to exit, so we continued.
Our plans had been to stop at the Air Museum of Louisiana State, so Little Ralph could see the planes and history of this place that had once made race planes. But we wanted to eat first, at the picnic area listed on the map. Of Course, we didn’t see any signs for the picnic area, but suddenly we passed the air museum sign.
Watching very carefully, we spotted the little sign to Patterson — across the oncoming traffic, with no stop lights. Taking our lives in our hands, Van dashed quickly across during a break. No street signs. Nothing. Just a narrow road winding through a tree-lined suburbs. Even pine trees mingled with cypress and living oaks.
“Where are we? Where are we going?” After several miles we finally reached a highway heading north, so waited for an opportunity to swing Freedom through the two lanes. Now we still didn’t know where we were, but we figured this would take us back to the air museum.
“Let’s ask if we can sit in their parking lot and have our lunch,” I suggested, “I’m really hungry.”
Van turned into the narrow road leading to the small parking lot by the air museum. “Where should I park?”
“How about that gravel road?” We looked over the fence to the airport in the distance, and noticed four bedraggled planes in front of us.
“Is that the display?” I said. “I’ll go inside and ask questions.
I opened the door into 90 degree heat and humidity, and said, “Thank God for air conditioning.” I learned that the entrance fee was only $2.00, we could park where we were, and eat our lunch.
“Why don’t you go ahead inside, after lunch?”
“No, I don’t want to.”
“Van, I’m sure Little Ralph will enjoy it. Go ahead.”
We are together 24 hours a day, and I felt it would be good for Van to do something by himself for a change. He’d become so dependent on me, and this would be a good time to change the pattern. In the meantime, I wrote a letter to Jerry Pitre, a freedomer. It felt good doing my own thing, while he did his.
Soon he returned, and I asked, “Did Little Ralph enjoy it?”
“Yeah, it was okay,” he replied. I realized that Little Ralph still wasn’t used to having something done for him, but as he described the experience, I could tell he enjoyed it.
One More Time
Moving along on Highway 182 through the towns, I’d put my camcorder battery on to charge, when we came into Franklin. One by one we passed stately, columned mansions; at least six or more. I groaned in despair that I didn’t have my camcorder. Finally, I said, “How about turning around, so I can record these?”
Right! Find a place along these narrow roads lined with live oak trees that form a canapé, and the bayou on one side with a railroad on the other. By the time I’d spot one, Van was already past, as he attempted to appease the parade of cars behind. At last, he turned around, and I reloaded the battery into the camcorder. Thank God, and Sony, for camcorders. There’s just no other way to capture the elegance and expanse of these southern mansions and yards.
Now, the problem is getting turned around in the right direction. A left turn eventually took us by the hospital, and as we rounded the block, we spotted a sign guiding us to another mansion, which I filmed. “That ‘bridge too far’ turned out good,” I said, as we made our third trip through town,” and I captured the moment on film; this time heading south.
àáâãæåä
At Morgan City, we again merged with I-90. This time, we had one sign to assist us with directions. Fortunately, there was only one way to go — forward onto an onramp. However, at the top, one sign said, “Local traffic only,” with an arrow pointing to the main highway. Another sign read “I-90” and it pointed to a narrow downward road.
“I should have known what we were getting into,” I said, when the map shows the double line turning into a single red one.”
But we weren’t through town yet. Suddenly we faced one of those bridges that goes straight up into the air. And then we could see an expanse of water with shipyards, ships, barges, and other water activity. According to the map, the Intracoastal Waterway, which we often follow on this route, emptied into the Atchafalya Bay. The hubbub of activity and commerce is a culture shock, after the quiet byways we’d been traveling.
The Real Deep South
Once across the bridge, we followed the waterway, with more shipyards and businesses. I filmed my first towering paddlewheeler as it loomed before us, obviously docked for repairs. I began to get excited as I said, “This is the real deep south. It’s happening.”
Van kept driving, as we were now on the narrow red line, and discovered the reason: swamp on both sides. I grabbed my camcorder and filmed the green mass that covered the water, and the trees, and the birds. All of a sudden I shouted, “Oh my God, it’s a huge alligator stretched across a patch of land,” and my camcorder captured another exciting moment.
Unfortunately, it also caught another one: me yelling at Van for pulling off the narrow edge to let the cars by. “Nice move, but let’s not risk our own lives to save them a few minutes time. I’m sure they’re used to following a line along this narrow road,” I shouted. “Just stay on the road, and let me enjoy this experience, without fearing that we’ll fall into the swamp!”
Within a short time, the road forked, and most of the cars went the other way. We stayed on the road less traveled that bumped along for many miles between swamps, sugar cane fields, pastures, trees, and bayous.
We were amazed at the homes an the other side of bayou, and the community that extended for miles, though no town was listed. Sometimes, when there was enough solid ground, there would be churches and bigger homes, but no towns. And the rural scenes were as advertised, including the occasional fisherman along the Black Bayou, which often came right up to the edge of the road.
After awhile, I got tired of the bumps, and even the scenery, as I announced, “I’m swamped. Let’s find the Wal-Mart in Houma for tonight, and then go on to New Orleans.”
óôóôó
Easier said than done. We’d already gotten lost in most of the larger cities, because there are no signs. Houma was no exception, but this time I said, “Please pull off the road, when and if you can find a large enough place. Let’s look at the map, and get clarity on where we’re going and how to get there.”
Studying the map, we were thankful we’d stopped. Highway 24, is on both sides of a bayou. And West Park St. going north, where Bud’s, a Wal-Mart facility, was listed. Highway 90 crossed it a few miles away, so we were heading in the right direction. At least there was a highway sign at the intersection, so we moved ahead.
The noise and congestion were frightening, added to the fact we were in a bad part of town, and we really didn’t know what we were doing. But, we made our turn onto the northbound 24, along the narrow streets through a poorer part of town. However, after a few miles, we came to a commercial area, and passed a vacated building that looked suspiciously like a Wal-Mart facility, but all signs had been removed. Van pulled into a service station, “I’m going to get gas.”
“Please ask about that building, and find out where the Supercenter is located.” I was feeling uncomfortable in this town, for some reason, and wasn’t sure that staying on a Wal-Mart lot was safe, or advisable. We were less than an hour from New Orleans, and I’d heard wild tales about it, so decided that it might be advisable to pay for a night at an RV park. I studied the map for the quickest way to New Orleans, in case we needed a quick getaway.
He returned and reported, “Yep, that’s a defunct Bud’s. It was a damaged goods outlet for Wal-Mart. We’re only a few blocks from the Supercenter.”
Good news! But not that easy. First he had to get out of the service station, and return to the busy highway, which was going in the opposite direction. As he maneuvered to get a better approach, cars were driving in front of us to get to the service station, and the ones on the highway were zipping by at a fast clip, intent on getting to the highway to New Orleans, which was a few miles ahead.
Finally, as the cars stopped a few blocks away for a stop light, Van stepped on the gas, and we cringed as we heard the unmistakable sound of metal. No, not an accident! Thank God, it was only the bottom scraping, as Van geared up over the driveway. By this time, cars were moving from the stop light, several blocks away.
“Move out of here, My Love. Don’t worry about the scraping.” As the cars approached, somehow he got out of the crosswise position that blocked the entire two lanes. He even missed the car coming at us from the side road, where he was turning onto. And we were safely heading toward our destination.
Exhausted from the trip and the heat, we pulled onto Wal-Mart’s parking lot. I fixed the leftovers from the casino dinner, and then we ate while watching the sunset through the haze — still visible from the Mexico fires.
After dinner, we went inside to cool off, and do some shopping. I still had the electric barbecue on my mind. However, the clerk would not have made it into my Angels chapter, as she snarled that they were out. I found one on display, but it wasn’t complete, so I looked for the clerk, in hopes of finding the rest of it in the box.
“It’s probably thrown out,” she snapped. I explained that part of it was missing, so she looked in the display model, and finding nothing, said matter-of-factly, “It’s probably been stolen.”
Obviously Not!
Obviously not the time to buy my electric barbecue, so we returned to Freedom, hoping for some rest. We watched TV awhile in order to unwind, before sleep, but after dark, the activities began: groups of young people all over the lot; some playing music. Obviously not the time to sleep, either; at least not for me.
As usual, Van went to sleep immediately, and soon the activity increased. Around ten o’clock I could see and hear a group playing basketball, and some others, congregated nearby, yelling four-letter words.
As I attempted to calm myself, pray, and meditate, I interjected with, “We should have gone to the RV park. This is another bridge too far.”
Around two o’ clock, the noise and activity subsided, and I finally went to sleep.
.!<:
When I awoke, it was morning, and I was ready to find a safe place for the rest of our sightseeing. But first we had to get out of Houma, and nothing would do, we had to make a wrong turn, which took us out a country road that seemed to go nowhere; but finally took us to I-90, and eventually to I-10 and New Orleans. Believe it or not, both freeways went through miles of swamp on both sides of the highway, at various times; but I didn’t see any more alligators; only myriad birds of all sizes and colors, and a green covering over much of the swamp. This landscape continued almost to New Orleans, and then larger waterways took precedent, such as lakes, bayous, lagoons and rivers, including, of course, The Mississippi.
New Orleans: The Paddle and Wheel Tour
Thanks to the advise of one of our angels, Dan (Park Host at Double Lake), we reserved a site at Jude’s RV park, which presented a tantalizing flyer that we’d obtained at the Louisiana Tourist Information Center.
When we first pulled into their narrow, graveled driveway, in 90+ heat, and looked at the tiny facility (43 sites), my expectations were thwarted. But the greeter (Marla) was pleasant and helpful (fully qualified as an angel), giving us info about the Gray Line Tours, city buses (in front of the place); and reassuring about the security guard (at night) and fence around the park. She also said she’d lived in New Orleans all her life, and it wasn’t any worse than any large city: “Just use sensible precautions,” she suggested.
Having felt apprehensive about the fast-paced traffic and congestion, and lack of parking for RV’s, we decided that the best precaution, for us, was to take the “Paddle and Wheel Tour, which combined the Super City Tour and Steamboat Natchez Cruise (on a paddlewheeler).
This time, we stopped, before going a bridge too far. And we soon discovered the wisdom of choice, and were so thankful the guidance that we’d followed. The Gray Line shuttle picked us up at the entrance to the RV park, after calling the park owner on her CB to say she was delayed due to an accident (not hers). Once she picked us up, she negotiated the commute traffic, and deposited us at their main terminal along the Mighty Mississippi, where the awesome Natchez riverboat docked, awaiting its first cruise of the day (ours would come later, for the lunch buffet). We noticed that the limited parking, not only had no RV spaces, but barely had enough room for the busses.
The City Tour bus driver (Irv) pulled out from the terminal, and drove along the outskirts of the French Quarter, pointing out several famous restaurants, the St. Louis Catholic Church, Jackson Square, with a statue of Andrew Jackson on his horse, and we could even see some of the wrought-iron balconies. And we also noticed the extremely narrow, congested streets; not designed for RV’s. Thank you, God.
We learned more than we ever thought we wanted to know from Irv, our licensed Tour Guide seasoned with many years, who made his city come alive with history and humor.
We toured the City of the Dead, an above-ground cemetery with concrete graves. Talk about a bridge too far, the stories Irv told about grave swapping and stealing, was also more than most of us wanted to hear. But I must admit, it’s interesting.
Personally, I preferred St. Charles Street, with it’s clickety-clack open-air streetcars, and named The Avenue of Millionaires, because of it’s wealthy homes and churches demonstrating impressive architecture. Tulane and Loyola Universities are also on this street. One old catholic church was going to be bought and torn down for condos and a parking lot, so Loyola bought it. What a blessing to save this ornate building.
The nations’ fifth largest City Park (1500 acres), began with 100 acres donated by philanthropist John McDonogh, and offers everything from tennis courts, lakes, ducks, and a museum. And it’s the scene where sword duels were fought. Voodoo also was practiced in the area. And of course, we passed the route of the famed Mardi Gras, with beads hanging from the trees and electric wires. From what I’ve heard of the free-for-all, I’d prefer watching the extravaganza on video, thank you very much.
We drove along the magnificent Lake Pontchartrains, and functional drainage ditches, heard about the problems caused by the city’s susceptibility to flooding. The main problem is that it’s lower than the Mississippi River, so a levee protects it. But the over-abundance of rain, and nowhere for the water to drain causes the floods.
And then, of course, there was the historical fire caused by a curtain blowing into a flame lamp, that burned over 800 homes and buildings, including the St. Louis church. But another philanthropist donated money to rebuild this impressive church; and we later took a free tour inside.
But first we toured the downtown business district, with one building that’s 51 stories. Then we returned to the terminal, walked over to the Natchez Paddle Wheel, and boarded.
I’d been excited about the City Tour, but Joanie was thrilled with the River Boat, which looked like a paddlewheel steamboat should look. Her first interest was the southern buffet, and she wasn’t disappointed: jambalaya with pork and sausage, deep-fried chicken, rice and beans and spicy sausage, salad and bread pudding were the fare, and it was delicious. Of course, the atmosphere inside the long dining room with the jazz band playing, while looking out the window at the sights and sounds of The Mississippi, added a magical excitement.
We passed a US Navy floating dock and boat repair ship that was large enough for a ship to enter the aft open area for repairs, while in any harbor of their choice.
Four or five large vessels went by on their way up the river, and several extra-large barges (50 yards) made their way through the waters, assisted by special barge tugboats.
While I sat in the air conditioned dining room, listening to the music, Little Ralph scurried up the stairs to the third deck, and then down below to the steam room. I was so happy to see him so thoroughly enjoying himself.
Far too soon, we began the return trip, and soon we were passing the dock, and then the Aquarium of the Americas and the River Walk. Another turnaround, and we were back at our dock. We delayed our departure, until most of the people had disembarked, but then our tour was over. It became one of those so-called silver box memories that highlighted our trip.
The French Quarter
But the day wasn’t over. We still had three hours before our shuttle bus took us home. So, despite the intense humid heat, we walked the several blocks into the French Quarter. But the heat was getting to me, so we sought sanctuary in the Cathedral of St.Louis. A cute little ole lady explained the history of the church, including the fire and restitution, and all the lovely paintings and murals. The stained glass windows were open, and the air conditioning wasn’t doing much good, but we felt refreshed; until we again went outside.
We wandered up to Bourbon Street, and I filmed the overhanging ornate wrought-iron balconies and the narrow streets, and the sounds of several jazz groups playing outside. The heat had definitely gone a bridge too far, so we followed some jazz music into a bar and sat down. I needed a cool non-alcoholic refreshment, but the sign said, “No credit cards,” and Van had neglected to bring extra cash, so we left the air conditioning and wandered back into the heat.
The Mimes
Since we’d already had lunch, there was no point going into one of the better restaurants for refreshment, so we wandered back to the docks, along The Mississippi, and sat in the shade watching the many sights and sounds of this fascinating river. A pleasant breeze eased the heat, and we survived, until our shuttle bus arrived, as the mimes stood motionless for long periods of time, awaiting coins to be tossed into their containers.
Mimes are a common sight in The French Quarter and along the River Walk. At a street corner, one mime, dressed like a policeman, remained perfectly still. I was startled when he suddenly shifted positions, and then remained still again.
The Busman’s Holiday
As we returned through the city to leave off several people at hotels, and then back along I-10, we chatted with the driver. He said, “When I park this bus tonight, I’ll be starting my three-week vacation.” The busman’s holiday was becoming more alive, as he described his plans to travel in his 28 ft. “Honey” RV to Branson, Mo., Nashville, and Illinois to visit his son. But his conversation became distracted the last few miles, as he noticed an unusual noise, and began searching for the cause. When he stopped and set the brake to let us out, the noise stopped. However, when he tried to start the bus again, it wouldn’t budge.
As we wandered toward Freedom, he was still sitting there, and I said to Van, “Talk about a matter of consciousness. I wonder what patterns created this?”
Later, when we were walking back to the phone, he was still parked there in the bus. I said, “I suppose it would be A Bridge Too Far, if we went back to see if we could be of help.”
“Right. He has his cell phone, and the mechanics at the terminal will be out to help.”
A Man of Excesses
We returned home, and turned on the TV. AMC on Cable was continuing its tribute to Frank Sinatra with “Sinatra: A Man and His Music.” We’d watched the previous one the night before, and his music seemed such an appropriate part of our New Orleans adventure.
Here was a man who had lived his life to excess. He’d done it all, and some of it wasn’t too socially acceptable; yet everyone was now idolizing him, and even saying that he was the best singer, and other superlatives of adulation. I wondered, “Is this going a bridge too far?”
I could remember when this man was down and out, and then made his turnaround in  From Here to Eternity. Yes, he’d given us an example of the great American Success Story, and the stories were being told of his generosity with money and friendship. Yet, he had hurt and harmed many people too, because he had suffered from his inner demons in his personal life. And then he met Barbara “In the September of his years,” and he seemed to turn his life around.
All-in-all, he seemed to exemplify his song, “My Way.” He sure did it his way. And in my younger years, that was my theme song. I began to examine my life to see if I was really doing it “My Way,” or was I doing it “Van’s Way.”
My Way!
Making the decision to spend the money for the RV park and Gray Line tours was definitely “My Way,” and I enjoyed every minute of it. In fact, the more we upscaled, the better I liked it.
Our second day’s tour, the southern mansions of the River Plantations, upscaled our consciousness. I once had a poster of Oak Alley Plantation, with it’s 24 identical trees on each side of the driveway leading to the columned mansion. It read: “I’ve been rich, I’ve been poor; rich is better.” Yes, I like their lifestyle. From the upstairs balcony we could see the Mississippi rolling by on the other side of the protective levee. And all around were live oak trees, cypress and magnolias in bloom in massive numbers across the sprawling green lawns.
And the second mansion, Nottoway, with 64 rooms and 53,000 square feet, with many live oaks, cypress and magnolias over on the lawns that grace this 7,000 acre sugar cane plantation. A much closer view of The River is viewed from their upper veranda, because of its shifting course, before the higher levee was built.
In their restaurant (not attached to the mansion), we indulged in another southern meal, topped by bread pudding saturated in rum sauce; lots of rum, and very little sauce. Yum!
The lesson here seems to be that God exists, even in the extremes; whether the excesses of Frank Sinatra’s wild world, or the so-called sinful French Quarter of New Orleans, or the elegance of the River Plantations.
I’m convinced there’s nothing wrong with an abundant life. In fact, the Bible says, “I have come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” So what is a bridge too far?”
As I pondered this question, I recognized that I had needed the quiet years to write my books and travel. And, in some ways, such as modern conveniences, our lifestyle in Freedom surpasses the limitations of the Old South. For instance, the heat and bugs were a problem for them, and they had to use mosquito netting over their beds at night; and slave boys had to pull the rope to wave the shoo fly over their dinner tables. On the other hand, our air conditioning and screens solved those problems. And refrigeration, microwave and indoor bathrooms and water are wealth beyond imagination to them.
I felt a stronger sense of appreciation for our vagabond lifestyle, and that we were able to afford these luxurious tours, even on our monthly Social Security retirement check.
Yet, as we returned from the all day River Plantation tour, I made up my mind that I would take steps to get my books out there, and create more money coming in. I truly enjoy the taste of the abundant life, and yearned for more.
And I had laughed when our tour guide for this day had told us, “I love this job, but we need busses that don’t break down. Last week, on this same tour, the air conditioning blew up, and we were all stranded out there, until another bus, and a tow truck were sent to relieve our predicament.” He explained that we were on the smaller shuttle, because the larger tour bus had faltered twice, and he wasn’t sure if we’d make it back. 
A Funny Story
But his funniest story went like this: When stopped at City Park, the body count revealed one person missing. He asked, “Is anyone aware of anyone missing?”
No one responded, so he went into the snack shop and made an announcement for everyone to return to the Gray Line tour. No one returned.
Because they are on a tight schedule, he finally backed the bus out, and was attempting to leave, after waiting fifteen minutes. Just then a little old lady in her eighties hobbled up and banged on the door.
He stopped, and let her in, and she joined her husband, who was still on the bus. The tour guide said to him, “Sir, I asked, at least five times, if anyone knew who was missing. You never spoke up.”
“I know, I know.” he replied.
His wife began beating on him with her purse, and the tour guide demanded, “Stop, or I’ll call the police on my cell phone.”   
So she settled down. When they got to the terminal, she got off ahead of her husband, and then everyone else filed off. Her husband came out last, and was about to leave, when the tour guide closed the door. He asked, “Sir, I asked five times if anyone knew who was missing. Why didn’t you say anything?”
He replied, “Because, yesterday we were on the Plantation Tour, and she wouldn’t leave, so we missed the bus, and it cost us $110.00 for the two hour ride back to New Orleans in a taxi. I told her, ‘If you do this again, I’ll leave you behind.’ So, I  had no intentions of waiting for her.”
The driver let him off, and the wife began beating on him again with her purse.
Well, it takes all kinds, and you know what? I think God loves us all.  
 
 
 
 
 
Corrected
Chapter 5
“COME SEE ME”
 
My Newfound Kinfolk
The six-page letter from Carlie, my newfound “kinfolk” had read, “Come see me — if you can. I will welcome you with open arms.” Now there was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
With my family abandonment issues, my inner child longed to hear those words of love and acceptance. Yet, I feared they were too good to be true. An underlying, “when she gets to know me, she might not accept me,” silently surfaced from the depths of my being.
After reading her involvement with the Catholic church, I cringed as I wrote Carlie about my metaphysical approach.  What if this is unacceptable? I’d had so many reproaches and rejections from so-called Christians that I’d built a barrier of protection.
But her letter of reassurance said, “I’ll have no problem with that.” So, as we completed our New Orleans and Louisiana experience, we prepared to travel the hour’s drive into Mississippi, to visit kinfolk.
We’d been exchanging Christmas greetings for several years, but I really didn’t know Carlie, and Mississippi seemed so remote from southern California. Yet, I recalled the laughing, loving eyes of the lady in the picture she’d sent me several years before in a Christmas card. I could easily see the family resemblance to my mom — her aunt; our mom’s are half-sisters, as they had the same father, whom I call Bushwack. He married my grandmother, whom I call Daw, after their mother died, and she raised his four children, along with their five.
Carlie had written that she enjoyed my Christmas Newsletters, so I kept her on my mailing list. And then the long, welcoming letter of introduction and invitation in response to my newsletter about our plans to travel east.
In my heart, I knew that my previous pattern changes to remove the rejection complex had been completed, and I rejoiced that I felt no apprehension. In fact, I now looked forward in excitement and anticipation to a new beginning as I would be meeting Carlie and her family; all kinfolk.
We crossed the southern point of Lake Poncetrain, traveled through more swamp, along bayous, as we passed from Louisiana to Mississippi. And much to our surprise, we were again in tall pine trees mixed with other foliage; though still very hot and humid.
Within a few blocks of the Gulf of Mexico, we arrived at Casino Magic, where we’d planned to stay for the night. Spread over several acres, including a hotel, RV park, and bustling parking lot with shuttles, the casino beckoned us to seek refuge inside. This one was lighter and more open than most, with large chandeliers and an open stairway and balcony leading to the  buffet.
Of course, we immediately got in line and awaited our first southern catfish. Usually, I don’t like spicy food, but we were not disappointed with this delicately seasoned, succulent, Cajun style fish. I even tasted stewed okra and tomatoes; however the slimy texture takes getting used to. I’d made up my mind to eat the Southern cooking, despite my preconceived ideas, but all the food was delicious, and it was certainly no hardship; especially the pecan pie and ice cream.
Joanie and Little Ralph were in heaven, and after lunch, wandered around the cool casino, a replica of a Mississippi paddlewheel river boat. We’d been told that gambling is only legal on an Indian reservation, or water, like the old time river boats. Therefore, all the gambling areas were over the water, and if we looked behind a curtain, we could see the water below. So, of course, we had to investigate; sure enough the gambling area was floating on water, and the buffet and other areas were on land.
We had planned to park on the casino lot for the night, but when I talked with Carlie, she was so excited, she drove the few miles to meet us;  and insisted we follow her home.
I rode with her, so we could continue visiting, and Van drove Freedom. She said, “I hope your motor home will fit on my driveway. It would be so much handier, and we could see each other more often.”
How I loved my cousin’s warmth and acceptance. I’d had a feeling we’d really click, ever since seeing her picture several years before, and sure enough we were like two peas in a pod. And it’s a good thing we’d already eaten, because neither of us could have stopped talking long enough to get through a meal.
I’d already shared pictures of my family, and she had hers ready to show me. Such a strong family resemblance! I could hardly wait to meet them, as Carlie introduced each one in the pictures.
About sunset, she drove us along the Gulf all the way to Gulfport, and we marveled at the columned homes. “One of those belongs to Cokie Roberts, the news commentator,” Carlie announced, “and as we drove, she pointed, “There’s the compound where her father, the former senator, Hale Boggs,” lived; and the family still spends their vacations there. We quickly glimpsed a large southern home, midst lots of trees and shrubbery.
But, of course, the main attraction was the vast expanse of water gently washing against the shore, and the bright lights of Gulfport ahead. How I loved the charm and beauty of this southern evening with my new found cousin.
After we returned, Van went to bed, and she and I shared stories about the family in Oregon. It’s an amazing phenomenon, but as Carlie sat in her rocking chair throughout the evening, she took on the appearance of Grandmother Daw (my name for my mother’s mom; also known as Velena Mary or Queenie, depending on who’s speaking). But in thinking about it now, I realize that she was not a blood relative to Carlie, because Carlie’s mom, Leone, was one of the three children by our grandfather’s first wife, who had died. Then he married Velena Mary, and together they had six more; so they raised the nine children in the tough years prior to The Depression. Yet, I clearly saw Grandmother Daw sitting in the rocking chair.
Of course, talking about all our family, we were immersed in their energies, and it felt like I belonged. I felt safe with Carlie, and shared my feelings and experiences that usually aren’t discussed — about Mom Freeland’s erratic alcoholic behavior and my mother, Valena’s journey in and out of sanity, and even about Gail and Christina’s mental illness; truly a catharsis to talk about these intense matters.
A Remarkable Person
And Carlie described her life, which was equally stressful in many ways, especially when her husband, Ed, was run over by a train, and became a basket case for years, as the pieces were all put back together. But he survived, and returned to his job and lifestyle for many years. Then her mother developed Alzheimer’s, and when her beloved Daddy died, Carlie took her mother into their home and cared for her four years, until she died. And within a few years, her husband died. All this time, Carlie worked full time. Yet, she managed to divide her time between her mother, husband, sons, and grandchildren. Truly a remarkable person and one I’m proud to call kinfolk.
Po Boy and Potato Salad
One day Carlie sat down with a pan of boiled potatoes and hard cooked eggs, and peeled them; and then made a delicious potato salad and a Po Boy sandwich. “It’s the bread,” she said, “as she piled on thinly sliced turkey, ham and cheese.”It comes from New Orleans, and somehow, even over that short distance, it changes. See how it’s flattened?”
Of course, I couldn’t tell the difference as she shoved it into the oven for a quick crisping. Then she added sliced tomatoes afterward. It was slightly crunchy and delicious. That night she prepared potato salad and broiled chicken. I couldn’t stop eating, it tasted so good. And she’d even baked a chocolate cake, which she’d frozen.
“I Wanted to be a Catholic”
“From the time I was sent to a boarding school, I wanted to be a catholic,” Carlie said, “But my mom and daddy said, ‘No way.’ But my brother, Johnny asked, and they said, ‘If that’s what you want, Son.’ So he became a catholic.
I said, “Talk about a double standard.”
“My daddy said, ‘What if you became a catholic, and then wanted to marry someone who wasn’t; you would have wasted all that time.’ So I made up my mind that I would marry a catholic boy. And if I went on a date, I’d asked; and if he wasn’t catholic, I wouldn’t go out with him again.
“Finally, I met Eddie, and he was a catholic and a wonderful guy too, so I fell in love and married him.”
I should have suspected that anyone with that much determination and strong will was an Aries. And sure enough, she’s Aries, sign of the ram.
Another Southern Buffet
One day Carlie drove us along the gulf, to Gulfport, and treated us to another southern buffet at the Grand Casino. This time, in addition to the usual fare, we tasted seafood gumbo. It’s made by mixing oil and flour into a paste, and then gradually adding liquid and stock, until it’s the right consistency; and then the other ingredients are added. I again indulged in catfish.
Their desserts were enhanced with a praline sauce: caramel and pecans, which I added to the sweet potato pie for an outrageously delicious dessert. Van added some to his bananas foster, which already has a rum sauce.
Most of the time, Van busied himself with his projects, but joined us for tours and meals. After one of our trips to a casino buffet, where he was heading for his third helping, Carlie looked at his thin body, and asked, “Does he always eat that much?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Isn’t he lucky to have that kind of metabolism?”
We both groaned from our overstuffed bodies, after the buffet.
Biloxi: Las Vegas of the Gulf Coast
From there we drove past Biloxi, and across the bridge to Ocean Springs, where we toured through the picturesque gulf resort town nestled in the trees. 
On the way back, we drove past two casinos: The Imperial Palace, and Boomtown, each distinctively designed. And we noticed another, very large casino, being built along the gulf side. “They are trying to create another Las Vegas,” Carlie explained.
“How in the world do they support them all?” I asked.
“A lot of people come in from Florida, and then there are the service men from the naval training base and Fort Keesler, and the Seabee training center.”
“Yeah, and all the seniors who are spending their kids inheritance, right?”
“That’s right,” she agreed.
I added, “It’s really frightening the numbers of people who are spending their time and money at casinos; and of course, it creates more addictions, and more chaos. I wonder where it’s all leading.”
We discussed this problem a few minutes, and decided there wasn’t anything we could do about it, so continued enjoying our drive along the seashore, and viewing the wealthy homes on the inland side.
Hurricane Camille
We laughed at the USS Hurricane Camille, boat parked on the inland side of the highway. “That came ashore during Hurricane Camille, which did so much damage. And they just left it there,” Carlie explained. Then she pointed to some driveways that went no place. “There used to be lovely apartments in there, but they were destroyed by Camille, and around 500 people died there.”
“Did they find bodies along the shoreline?” I asked.
“Oh, not only that, they found them for several miles inland, after the water receded.”
“So, you’re saying the water comes in, and then rushes out again?”
“Yes, the winds cause a tidal wave and water surges inland for several miles. So between the wind and the water, nothing survives.”
I said, “I recently saw a TV movie where several people tied themselves to trees during a hurricane.”
“That’s what happened here. One lady who lived in the apartments was a strong swimmer, and she survived, but her husband didn’t make it.”
“People talk about Camille as if it happened recently; how long has it been?”
“Well, in many ways we are still recovering from it; but it’s been over thirty-five years.” As we passed by a huge, dilapidated complex, she said, “That was once called the White House, and it was a lovely place, but Camille nearly destroyed it. One wealthy man bought it, and planned to restore it, but learned that the project would be too costly, so he abandoned the idea. It’s just sat there all these years.”
Jayne Mansfield worked there
Later Carlie pointed to another abandoned building, and said, “That’s where Jayne Mansfield was performing at the time when she was driving home from work and was in the accident that decapitated her. It was an awful thing.”
“Yes, I remember when it happened, and I saw a biography about her not too long ago. She was married to Mickey Hargitay, a muscle builder. And they said the children were asleep on the back seat of the car, and survived. Seeing all these places makes those tragedies so much more real.”
Family Gatherings: Gulf of Mexico to California
How I love family gatherings, and this time it was my expanded family. In the afternoon, Felicia arrived to visit her grandmother, Carlie. She’d driven from Shreveport, Louisiana, to spend Memorial Weekend with her dad, Steve, (Carlie’s youngest son) in New Orleans. But she wouldn’t miss the hour drive to spend time with her cherished Gammy, and I was delighted to meet my bubbly, pretty twenty-four-year-old second cousin.
Although her December wedding had been over a year ago, she’d brought her wedding album, and wanted Gammy to select her favorites, so copies could be made. We studied the array of professional photos and marveled at the well planned results, as the radiant, dark-haired bride smiled happily at her handsome red-haired groom. Of course, all her attendants looked elegant in their forest green satin with black overlace gowns.
She and her husband, David, had met at a culinary school in Shreveport, but she was an assistant dental hygienist, and he was back in school to become an architect. She’d arranged her wedding from Waco, Texas, and her mother carried out the instructions. Amazingly, it went off without a hitch.
I’d received a letter from my stepmother, Arlene, postmarked in January, so I decided to call her in California. It felt good to hear her familiar voice from so far away, and share with her our travels; also to learn that my brother, Gary, would be back from Australia within the week.
I’d also made the family connection with Dottie, and I knew that the entire Colorado family, including the dog, Rascal, was spending the Memorial weekend in Wyoming with Jason’s parents. Steve had taken an RV from the dealership, and by now they were all having a blast in the Black Hills with Joan and Frank. Van reminded me that Rascal would be frolicking through the woods with his chocolate brown Labrador buddie, Sylvester, who wears a red scarf around his neck.
When I first heard about their outing, I’d felt a twinge of regret being separated from my family, but I looked forwarded to meeting the rest of my newfound family. When Steve and his wife, Cindy, and their son, Little Stevie (at eleven years old, he’d outgrown the title) and their adopted family member, Patsy (who was also their neighbor) arrived, the family interplay and fun began.
It was a constant barrage of jokes, kidding, and laughter. I felt right at home, and participated in the fun, as we all piled into their Ford van and Steve drove us along the coast to Gulfport for another buffet dinner at a real down-home-cooking restaurant. I decided I hadn’t been missing out on anything when we had our first taste of collard greens and stuffed crab shell, with very little crab. But the deep fried shrimp and the peach cobbler with ice cream topped off the meal.
Capture the Moment
I’d asked a waitress to capture the moment with my camera, and later at Carlie’s, Van took a camcorder of the gathering. And then they all left, but a warm glow for this silver box memory remained.
I chuckle, as I recall the kitchen conversation with Steve about his grandfather, John, who was Carlie’s daddy: a heavyset, robust, salesman with a terrific laugh and sense of humor; and that’s how I remembered him from our one-time visit. And Carlie’s mom, Leone, was more serious and straight-laced, with some of the disruptive family characteristics, but she’d seemed the most together of the gals in our family. Yet, she eventually developed Alzheimer’s, which was terribly difficult for her husband, John, and especially for her daughter, Carlie.
“She Wouldn’t be Interested”
One day I got up in the cool of the morning and unearthed my photo albums and books I’d written, with the intention of sharing them with Carlie. We’d already looked at some of the pictures, but I still had my stack of books piled on the floor. I knew I was projecting that she wouldn’t be interested; or if she was, she would soon lose interest. But I finally took a chance and began to quickly show them to her, before she could become disinterested.
As she was browsing through the first book, I began handing her other versions and editions. I quickly summarized another, and then another; not allowing her time to get into any one of them. By the time I’d finished, I’d even become confused, and had decided they were all a mess; not done right, and I should stop wasting my time writing. 
I lost interest in the entire project, and dubbed it hopeless, concluding that I could never get them right, and why bother. As confirmation, I’d received a rejection from Fulcrum Publishing, in the forwarded mail. Yes, my writing might someday be acceptable, but I could see that the booklets needed to be compiled into one larger book with the pictures, like I’d done in the first place, before I started revising. I concluded the session feeling confused and hopeless.
However, Carlie hadn’t said anything about them, one way or the other. I hadn’t given her time, for fear of rejection, although she had read through several lengthy poems, inside the covers, written by someone else.
Confirmation of my Worst Fears
As I write these words, the thought flashes through my mind, “Why is it that I only feel comfortable with Dottie reading them?” Is it because she constantly confirms my inner feelings with her edits, proving that they really aren’t okay?
In the meantime, I hadn’t heard from either of the Unity people, and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable about having attempted to receive acceptance from them. I wondered whether I should continue to pursue this direction — or any direction, for that matter — about my ministry and writing.
Adding fuel to the fire of my downward self-confidence, I hadn’t heard from Michael or Adam Martin with my last mail. And my next major visit would be with Michael in northwestern Tennessee.
I assumed that not receiving a letter from him was simply a matter of timing, and I would receive one with the next forwarding, wherever that might be.
The Golden Years
While updating my chapter one morning, Carlie came out and invited me inside to visit, before she left for a doctor’s appointment. I could see that she was upset, as she said, “I talked with my son, Eddie, the other day, and he had agreed to drive the sixty-miles from New Orleans to visit me on Monday. Now, I find out that he thought he’d told me, ‘I’ll get back with you,’ but I thought he made a definite commitment.
“Instead, he accompanied his wife, Yvonne to a neighborhood party.” Nearly in tears, Carlie said, “Their family all got together on Sunday at their house. You could have met them all. But Yvonne only wants her own family together. She’s never included me at their get-togethers.” She paused, then added, “But Eddie said he might come over today around noon, after my appointment. Maybe he’ll go to lunch with us.”
I shared her disappointment, because I was looking forward to meeting Eddie, but added, “Well, it’s just the way it is, so all we can do is accept it.”
And then Carlie began telling me the stories of hurt and disappointment through the years, as a result of Yvonne’s attitude, and concluded, “We’d always been such a close family. It just tore us up. My husband, Ed, could never understand her behavior.”
“Sounds like she’s very insecure, and has become a controlling woman to compensate.”
“Well, she’s finding out what it’s like, now; her son, Eddie, married a woman who treats her the same way.”
As she revealed a few more stories, I laughed, “Sounds like the old adage, ‘What goes around comes around.”
Carlie laughed, but as she stood up to leave, she said, “Now I’m dizzy. It’s this kind of upset that causes me stress.”
“Where is the Key?”
We walked back outside, as she got into her car and left. I returned to my writing, and Van returned to the house for his shower. Within a few minutes, he came back. “Did Carlie give you a key?”
“No. Why, is the door locked?”
“Yes.”
“Now you see how upset and preoccupied she was. She’d specifically said for us to go into the house, while she was gone,” I said, as I updated him, briefly, on the latest family interaction.
Rites of Passage         
I thought about the disappointments and hurts in my own life, due to family relationships. Though I love being with my family, they too are involved with their own lives, and I really don’t feel that I fit in for any long term basis. A momentary sadness came over me, and I could relate to Carlie’s pain. At the same time, I recalled that she’d talked about her friends going through the same experience. It’s another of those “Rites of Passage,” realities that we all have to deal with.
As we anticipated moving on, I felt thankful for our wheels; that we could be independent for this time in our lives. A time would come when we must make the decision as to where we would live; but not now.
I’d felt envious of Carlie’s close-knit family, but now I felt sad that it wasn’t as it seemed. And I understood that our visit had been as important to her as it was to me; not only as family members, but as we coped with the changes in our “golden years.”
I’d listened to her life unfold, as she shared about her close relationship with her daddy; and coped with the aloofness of her mother, who had been raised in the same home as my mother, and their sister, Betty, who had been housebound most of her life; and the brothers, who had been alcoholic or emotionally distant. There was definitely a common thread in these stories.
And then there were the good years with her husband, and the years of tribulation, after his accident when he was run over by a train. But, he’d recovered, and life continued, as their boys married and had children.
Now, the grandchildren were grown, and moving on with their lives. And after her husband’s death, Carlie, too, had built a life with her friends: meetings, lunches, and church activities. And there had been her precious silver-gold Australian silky dog, Bossie, who had grown old and had to be put to sleep. Now, she was completely alone, and graciously living out her life in service to her church and community, with love and support to her family, including a cousin, who came to visit from a distance, and was shown a wealth of friendship and hospitality.
We’d planned to leave on Wednesday, after the belated Mother’s Day cards arrived from Dottie, along with one forwarded from Gail. It felt good hearing from my girls, and noting that Gail is doing so well now, since her move to Oregon. She’d survived the trauma of her breakup with Chuck, and her life is moving on.
Update on Felicia
Carlie had asked us to stay longer, so we agreed to stay another week. In the meantime, she reported that Felicia had returned to her husband in Shreveport, only to hear him announce that he’d met someone else, and wanted a divorce. As I thought about the lovely wedding pictures, and her apparent happiness, I silently sent my love, prayers and support to another family member suffering from the instability of non-commitment.
Her dad, Steve had gone to support Felicia, leaving his wife, Cindy, short-handed with the care of their son when she worked. So Carlie offered to go to the New Orleans area to spend time with him, while also taking care of an elderly friend.
This gave us the opportunity to extend our stay, without the risk of going a bridge too far and wearing out our welcome. But, fortunately, Carlie insisted she loved having us with her; and we felt the same way about being with her.
Acceptance Makes the Difference
I spent the day updating my Travel Newsletter and rereading my book, The Freedomers Say “Yes” to Inner Freedom. I said to Van, “This is good. I really need to get it on the market.” Carlie’s loving acceptance of me had been another giant step of healing, and I knew the time was coming for me to again reach out with my ministry and writing.
During the night, we had a thunder and lightning show with some rain. I felt fearful that a hurricane was upon us, but the storm soon passed, and it was muggier than ever. Between the humidity and barometric changes, I didn’t get to sleep, until 3:00 a.m. But I also felt an inner excitement, as if something wonderful were about to happen.
“Something Wonderful”
The next morning I called Dottie, as we talked, she said, “We’ll be in Greensboro, North Carolina, July 15-20 for a big business meeting. If you’re in the area, you guys should go too.”
“Wow! We’ll be there,” I shouted. Now the trip ahead had new excitement: I’d be seeing my daughter. Truly “something wonderful” was happening.
And More Good News
But that wasn’t all. Later in the day, a friend and Unity Minister, Dan Mueller, returned my call. I’d written to tell him we would be visiting him in Wisconsin, and he’d sent a short note saying, “We need to talk.”
Now, he said, “I’m retiring in November, and moving to Rio Rancho, New Mexico (near Albuquerque). I’m looking to see what I’ll be doing.”
As we talked, Dan indicated an interest in our working together with the ministry in some way. We both agreed to leave it to God’s guidance, and that we’d talk further when we arrived in Wisconsin.
I was elated. I’d met Dan when he was minister at Unity in Carlsbad, and he’d given me ample support and opportunity to teach and work with the ministry. I almost cried with joy at the prospect of again working together. “Maybe the time is finally ready,” I said to Van. “You and Dan get along so well too.” I remembered visiting him and his wife (they have since divorce), twice when they lived in Prescott, Arizona.
He introduced us to Laughlin, Nv. when he, Van and I drove there one day. They gambled (only three casinos there at that time), and I enjoyed the scenery (still love it). He and Van also have much in common with their interest in stock investments.  
Dan said, I’ve invested in a parcel of land, and also a house, where I’ll live in Rio Rancho,” and added, “The people there are so friendly. I made more friends in two months than ten years in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.”
Between these two phone calls, I was so excited. At last, the possibility of a plan for the rest of my life. Now, I could continue enjoying our travels knowing that we have alternatives.
Lost in the Process
Our mail forwarding arrived, including a reply from my second letter to Bob Barth about my prison ministry being presented to the ministerial students. He seemed to think I was asking about having my books published, and had passed my material along to someone else, and it apparently got lost in the process. In any event, that door was still closed; and after talking with Dan, I decided it may be best at this time. At least I now had an open door to consider.
“I Wanted to Spend Time With You”
  I was busily reading when Carlie arrived. “I came home early. I wanted to spend time with you.” We spent the day looking at her family pictures, poetry and a story she’d written, and I encouraged her to get back with her writing. It felt so good being with her loving energies, as we chatted and shared. She’d brought some special crab stuffing and some Creole cream cheese, which she fixed for dinner, adding, “I looked for some beignet (like square donuts), but couldn’t find any.”
This revelation created a quest on Van’s part, to find beignet, but he never did. They will be one of those things left to experience on our next trip to the Gulf Coast.
Our Last Day With Carlie
Sunday, we spent our last day together. After Carlie’s buckwheat pancakes, she took us on a tour of the surrounding area, west along the Gulf Coast to the resort town of Bay Saint Louis, with its picturesque frame buildings along the coast; and then we continued on to the exclusive community of Diamond Head, and toured by some of the ritzy homes, before returning home. That evening I went along to her catholic church in Pass Christian. When we returned, it was too hot outside, so she broiled our turkey burgers in the oven, in the comfort of her air-conditioned home.
When we went to bed on our last night with Carlie, I said a prayer of thanksgiving and love for our kinfolk, who welcomed us with open arms, a twinkle in her eyes, and a warm smile.
The next morning, she said, “Come see me, “I’ll be waiting with open arms.”
We promised to return, but after hurricane season, and during cooler weather.
And, as we drove from her driveway, and east along the gulf, and past the familiar scenes, we felt so full of her love and hospitality.
  

Chapter 6

“I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD EVER SEE…” 
 
Other People go to Florida
Joanie exclaimed when we crossed the state line from Alabama into Florida. “I never thought I would ever see Florida,” she confided to Van. It’s one of those places that other people go.” She fell into rapturous silence, as we sped by the endless miles of pines and other greenery on our way to Pensacola. She’d expected white sand and blue ocean, but this terrain was much like the last three states we’d traveled. Yet, it’s Florida.
“As long as we’re so close,” she’d said in Mississippi, “let’s just go over the border this time; and we can do Florida another time.” And now we were actually here.
“I just can’t believe all these pine trees,” Joanie muttered.” All the way from southeastern Texas, through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama; and now northern Florida. It definitely doesn’t fit my pictures.”
Van continued driving and enjoying the scenery, as the air conditioner from the motor struggled to offset the 95 degree humid heat.
Joanie rode along in anticipation of Florida’s blessings, but I felt uncomfortable, as an awareness began surfacing. It’s about not having what other people have. I could feel a deep pain, as the blocked energy associated with the pattern of this reality (to me) continued to reveal itself — part of the releasing and healing process.
I knew it reverted to my early childhood, and had been inadvertently instilled by the inability of my natural parents to handle the responsibilities of parenthood, as they dealt with the terrors of raising a family during the Great Depression.
Another Childhood Pattern
As the buried memories unfolded, I can see that the pattern is not “I don’t deserve,” as some people experience from their childhood messages. No, mine is an acquiescence to my selfish, needy father; a result of overindulgence from his mother, and abandonment by his father. Therefore, rather than protecting and providing for his tiny daughter, he expected her (and his wives) to take care of him and provide for his needs; a pattern that continued all his life.
From this evolved my underlying feeling of guilt, with the message, “It’s not okay for me to have.” I can hardly write these words, because of their intensity. The negative energies of the pattern, endeavoring to retain its control is attempting to dissuade me from writing by causing extreme discomfort: it’s too hot, get up and open a window or turn on the air conditioning. I’m thirsty, get a drink. And my head is throbbing; but as I persist, the pain will subside on all levels, and I will be forever free of the pattern’s control.
As I’m writing, I’m understanding that this pattern manifests in subtle ways that build codependent behavior: not only “take care of your mommy,” but “take care of your daddy.” Their needs are more important than yours, and your needs are secondary. So the message is “It’s not okay for me to have.” And if I do attempt to fulfill them, I feel guilty.
Another built-in message from my era: the woman is subsidiary, and must put her husband first with the largest piece of meat, the last morsel on the table, and whatever is necessary to assure his well-being. Any attempt to thwart this program meets with unconscious feelings of guilt that have been instilled since the beginning of time. Thus, in order to change this programming, we are not only overcoming our own lifetime experience, but the status quo.
Rebel Vs Passive-Aggressive
Yet, from the beginning, I have been a rebel, and something within me fought this injustice, even as I carried out the mandate: husband first.
Perhaps that’s why I attracted a husband who has been programmed to make sure the woman’s needs are fulfilled. And I actually have gotten angry, because I ask him, “What do you want to do?” He replies, “I don’t care, what do you want to do?” That’s actually a passive-aggressive characteristic.
Sometimes I wish he’d make a suggestion or decision. But I’ve finally decided to enjoy the blessing, and make the choices. So, I ask his input, then I plan our trips; and again ask his approval. Usually we are in agreement, which creates a harmonious relationship in this regard.
Our Florida experience, as all our travels, was up to me; and I turned it over to God, our Tour Guide. Usually, as I’ve said before, the results are even better than I’d anticipated.
Heating up at Gulf Island National Seashore
Cousin Carlie had suggested Pensacola, so we gravitated in that direction. But the intense heat forced us to seek shelter at Shepard State Park, in southeastern Mississippi, with the intention of hooking up to electricity for air conditioning.
The ranger explained, “We’ll soon have electric and water, but it’s not ready, yet.” He suggested we push on through Mobile, Alabama, and within two hours we would be at the Gulf Island National Seashore. He gave us a local detailed map, and directions. But we took time out to eat, and stopped at the Tourist Information Center, which was closed.
By the time we reached Pensacola, it was dusk, and we had just enough light to make our way across the two lengthy bridges that spanned from the mainland to Gulf Breeze, on the peninsula, and to the barrier island, similar to South Padre Island in Texas.
Now it was getting dark, and during the seven mile drive to the park, we could barely discern the gulf on one side, and the bay on the other. The entrance booth was closed, but a note said to continue to the campsites. However, we came to a fork-in-the road, and stopped. Within minutes, as God would have it, a ranger’s car emerged from the darkness, and asked if he could help.
We meandered around the loops lined with RV’s or tents, looking for a space with hookups. In the meantime, Freedom heated up, and we stopped at the dumpsite (only available spot) to cool off. While it cooled, I heated. The sweat began to drip, and my head began to throb as my body swelled. “We’ve got to find electricity,” I grumbled. “I can’t stand this heat!”
Van checked Freedom. “It hasn’t dropped, yet,” he announced.
“Why are we creating this problem with Freedom?” I shouted. “One or both of us must have something going on.” Of course, I always assume it’s Van, because I’m not always aware of my own stuff. And by this time, between the heat, the dark, the confusion, and not knowing where to stay, I was not reasonable.
Van silently withstood my angry onslaught, while I flopped on the couch and continued complaining for the next half-hour. At last it cooled, and we returned to the first loop. Van got out with a flashlight and surveyed the few empty spaces.
When he returned, he reported, “None have electrical hookups. Do you want to go someplace else?”
We were both tired, and it was a long way back to town. I felt we had no choice at this late hour. “Okay God,” I said, “I give up. Help us through the night.” But my head still throbbed from the pressure of the heat, and I couldn’t even think, so I said to Van, “You pick one out, and get us in it this time. I know you can do it.”
He objected, but I refused to participate, so he selected a space and drove in. We opened the windows and doors, and thanked God for a slight breeze. Though pitch dark, it was still early, and the neighbors camping in the next space chatted quietly around their lantern, and their flashlights lit their way as they came and went. But we went to bed, exhausted from the long trip and the heat.
And Cooling Off, Too
Fitfully, with my head pressures dulling my thinking, I talked the situation over with God. “The people next door seem to be having a good time, despite the heat and humidity, and others seem to be doing fine. It’s time for these head pressures to stop. I’ve lived with them all my life, and I’m tired of it. Please take them away now.”
I awoke to sunshine and a refreshing breeze, as a black and orange bird chirped on the tree branch beside Freedom. I got up and looked outside. To my amazement, we were in a semi-tropical setting, yet with a forest of high, thick pine trees and live oaks (one beside our coach), and I could hear the ocean nearby. Otherwise, silence prevailed in this tropical paradise.
“Thank you, God,” I humbly prayed. “As usual, despite my upsets, you’ve brought us to a perfect spot.”
Within a few minutes, Van got up, and said, “Do you want to leave now?”
“Oh no,” Joanie replied. “Let’s go out on the beach, before it gets too hot.”
My legs were still scarred from the sand fleas in Mississippi, so I fortified myself with citronella lotion, shoes, socks, and hat, as we approached the sand and water. “This time I’m not going to wade,” Joanie announced, as she remembered the crab that pinched her foot in the Texas gulf water.
We followed a wooden nature trail through the white sand dunes, and read the little signs explaining the ecosystem. And then we were over the dunes and overlooking the beach and water; a tranquil scene of white sand and rolling waves, with a few fishing boats further out. Nearby, venturing from the safety of its nest in the dunes, a great blue heron sauntered toward the beach. I aimed my camcorder and captured the moment.
The Blue Heron and the Blue Angels
As we walked along the beach, we noticed a young man sitting under a beach umbrella fishing in the surf. The heron had stopped a short distance away. He caught a fish, as the heron stood patiently waiting, but then threw the fish back into the water.
We said, “Howdy,” as we passed, then I couldn’t resist asking, “What was wrong with the fish?”
“It was a catfish; they’re too strong and don’t taste good from the ocean.”
I nodded toward the bird, “Did you know you have a buddy over there?”
“Oh yes,” he replied, “he’s waiting for me to catch a fish small enough for him.”
“What’s wrong with giving him the catfish?”
“Too spiny.”
We chatted awhile, then we strolled further along the beach, savoring the sights and sounds that we would soon be leaving, and wouldn’t see again for a long time. Campers from the other loops were scattered along the beach; and north, across the bay, we could see a cluster of buildings, towers, and hangars.
Studying the situation, Van said, “I think that’s the Pensacola Naval Air Training Station.”
“I’ve heard of that. Imagine, here we are in Florida, looking at that place I never expected to see.”
Soon we turned back, passed the fisherman and heron, and wandered further along the shore in the opposite direction with sand and sea stretching far into the distance. A gentle breezed kept us comfortable, but soon it would get hot, so we returned to the observation deck at the dunes.
“I’d like to sit here awhile,” I said, and sat down on the bench. Within a few minutes, the fisherman caught a little fish, and the heron ventured closer in anticipation, as the man removed the fish. My hands were sandy, so I asked Van to capture the scene with the camcorder. Just as the fish was thrown, the great blue heron took flight and caught it mid-air. This ungamely, otherwise slow bird, moved from the sand in an amazing burst of speed, then flew up the beach into the surf, where he washed his fish, and then devoured it. Within a short time, he returned to his former location and again waited for the next catch.
Not ready or willing to leave this drama, we lingered longer. And then a mighty roar of planes took our attention to the sky, as a massive synchronization of manmade flight swooped eastward, made a loop, and then right above our heads, over the water, turned on their side to display the blue planes, and whooshed away in the distance.
“It’s the Blue Angels,” Joanie shouted in excitement, while Little Ralph stood in awe throughout the demonstration.
Van replied, “Right, that’s their base over there.”
In the meantime, a single plane turned loops and barrel rolls above the runway, which was beyond the trees and across the bay. Then again, the Blue Angel formation of four planes returned in a flash, and were gone.
This panorama continued in the distance, and I grabbed my camcorder, hoping they’d come close again. And they did, but they were so fast, I could hardly capture the moment. At least the sound recorded. But we were too excited to care, as they zoomed overhead, and slightly forward: a perfect viewing position.
“This is better than going to an airshow,” I said. “No crowds, no traffic, and a perfect view.” For at least forty-five minutes, they held our attention.
Between appearances, we watched, as another drama was playing out on the beach, which diverted our interest. The fisherman had caught another fish, as the heron prepared for flight, but instead he threw it back into the water (apparently it was a catfish) and you could feel the letdown.
Then we again became preoccupied with the Blue Angels, as the single plane joined the four to fly in synchronization. What a spectacular display of speed and precision.
The silence, after their final departure, was almost as deafening as their fly-by roar. But soon the airshow was over, and we returned our attention to the beachfront drama. However, the cast of characters had shifted. Apparently, the first great blue heron had lost patience, and returned to his nest, sending a smaller one in its place. Now, it too waited patiently for the day’s catch.
Abundant Blessings
But the heat had intensified, and we couldn’t stay to watch the final scenario. Instead, we returned to Freedom, a bake-oven, though only 9:30 a.m.
Since we still hadn’t registered, I set out in search of the park host, and learned that we probably had a notice on our windshield telling us to register with the ranger. Sure enough, there it was; and the deadline was 8:00 — 9:00 a.m. Since it was already an inferno at 9:30, we decided to keep going, once we’d paid for the night.
However, we first stopped at a picnic area for breakfast. Fortunately, in Freedom, we could see above the dunes to the water, and a pleasant seabreeze kept us comfortable. Truly, God was guiding and protecting us.
The blessings of the morning reminded me that God’s will for us is always good, as the Bible says, “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” In response to my prayer to God, He reminded me that I must again, give myself permission to experience and enjoy the abundant blessings that life offers, remembering that I have as much right to them as anyone else. Thank you, God.
To complete our brief experience of Florida, and part of the Gulf Island National Seashore, we toured Fort Pickens, a remnant of the Civil War, also used during WWII. But we stayed in Freedom during this intense heat.
I told Little Ralph, “We’ll take longer when we return during the cooler months; besides, we’ve already toured Ft. Stevens in Oregon, and this is similar.”
Van, nor Little Ralph, had any desire to tour anything in this heat. However, before leaving Florida, we did stop at the Gulf Island National Seashore Information Center in Gulf Breeze to learn of other national parks.
Perdido Pass Restaurant
Just over the state line in Alabama, we stopped at the Tourist Information Center for Perdido Keys, another barrier islands, to ask about a good moderate-priced seafood restaurant.
We were told about Perdido Pass Restaurant.
I knew that going to this special restaurant, at this time, rather than a fast food eatery, or even a family coffee shop, was an important step in changing the old pattern. It’s not that I haven’t eaten in high-priced restaurants; it’s that our present lifestyle has succumbed to the “not have” consciousness, as I’ve codependently chosen to follow Van’s criteria for living, rather than my own. Now, in an effort to upgrade my consciousness to rebuild my standards, we sat on the second floor of a spacious dining room overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. It felt good, even though I cringed at the “moderate-priced” meal. On the other hand, Van didn’t flinch, as he suggested I have the combination plate, and he settled for the bowl of crab bisque. Furthermore, I supported his choice, shared mine with him, and ate with joyful abandon, without nary a twinge of guilt.   In fact, this meal fulfilled my expectations of a Combination Seafood Platter, and proved to be the best I’d ever eaten, as I happily reported my enthusiasm to our excellent waiter, AJ, who chatted between customers, and said he’d visited Portland and Seattle
The Bay Breeze RV Park
Concerned about the possibility of no vacancy at our selected State Park, Van asked AJ if he knew of a good RV park, and to our surprise, he said he lives in one, The Bay Breeze, along Mobile Bay’s South Shore, and he gave us the directions to his secluded hideaway fifteen-miles further along the keys. With the reassurance of knowing someone reputable who lived there, and the confirmation of available space, I felt secure as we drove into the driveway, and met Jerry, the owner. His leisurely manner and friendly southern accent made us feel welcome; and when he quoted the price at $21.00, I didn’t hesitate to stay here, especially seeing the rural charm amongst the live oak and pine trees, with the Back Bay water visible in the background.
“Be sure and walk out on the pier for the sunset,” Jerry said, as we went inside to savor the cool air conditioning, even though it had cooled considerably outside. After his confirmation of biting flies and chiggers, I thought about staying inside, but I knew that I’d be denying myself the freedom to enjoy our surroundings, so I again rubbed on the citronella lotion and put on long pants and socks.
We enjoyed the cooler breeze, as we walked out to the pier over the water. The sun was already beginning to set, and the golden orange colors splashed across the western skies over the larger bay in the distance, while I surveyed the smaller Back Bay.
Two men sitting on the bench stopped their chatting, and included us in the conversation by asking questions about our travels, and adding comments and suggestions. They also filled us in on the local history and surroundings, making us feel right at home, while watching the orange sunball fade into the waters.
The more talkative fellow had kept the two dogs from annoying us, but as we all felt more comfortable, the large dog approached, and I began stroking his dark hair. “He looks like a friendly version of a rottwheiler, I said.
He confirmed, “He’s part black Labrador.” As we talked and I petted, he added, “He’s AJ’s dog. The other one, which is part Healer and Dingo and Australian Shepherd, is mine.” He chuckled, as he added, “My parents gave him to me for Christmas, because they thought I’d be lonely.”
It’s Called a Jubilee
He didn’t seem like a lonely man, as he talked about his busy schedule fishing, crabbing, and traveling. He told us about a phenomenon that AJ had also mentioned. It’s called a Jubilee, when the water gets too hot and the sealife can’t get enough oxygen, and they all flop or crawl up on the beach over varying distances from ten yards to a mile. He added, “Everyone grabs pails and bags to scoop them up. Then we have to clean them, and cook or freeze them; or give them away.”
I found it difficult to grasp the magnitude of this event, as I said, “It must get awfully smelly when they all die.”
He nodded, and during the conversation he mentioned the good wind-surfing in the bay, and I told him about Hood River, where my granddaughter lives.
“AJ went there to wind-surf this spring,” he said.
No Place is Safe!
Later in the evening, a retired couple joined us, and the men got into one discussion, while the lady and I chatted about the heat, and our travels.
“Don’t think it’s going to be cool in the Smoky Mountains,” she warned. “It’s one of the hottest places we’ve been.”
I groaned, “Oh no, we thought it would be a good place to avoid the summer heat.”
She added, “We’ve also been hearing that because of the heat, the Gulf Coast is expecting the worst hurricanes in history.”
“Oh my gosh,” I exclaimed. “It seems like no place is safe. I left California to get away from earthquakes, but everyplace else seems to have weather extremes. I just saw on the news where South Dakota had a tornado, without any warning, and over 1/2 the townspeople were injured. I saw pictures on the news, and the buildings looked like matchsticks.”
I began to wonder if we should return to Colorado, find a comfortable place, and settle down. Yet, I still wanted to complete this circuit of our travels to see places we’d never seen, and never expected to see. So the next day we reluctantly left this little haven, and moved on. I said a silent prayer to bless everyone here from any upcoming violent weather.
I Hadn’t Intended Seeing More of Mobile
Mobile was a place I hadn’t intended seeing, and we selected highway 98, which outskirts the city to the north. From the high arched bridge over Mobile Bay, we could see back bays, lagoons and marshland to the north; the bay and city to the south, and trees to the west.
Suddenly we came to a major intersection, with no indication of 98, though it went through on the map. I recalled that a clerk in Wal-Mart had told me to take I-65, but Van missed the turn, and kept going. Within minutes we were exactly where I didn’t want to go. Upon my insistence, Van stopped at a service station for directions, and decided to fill the gas tank. Though I kept praying, I was petrified with terror, as my mind flashed all the horror stories I’d heard of people taking wrong turns off the freeways into unsafe neighborhoods. And here we were. I certainly never wanted see this situation.
My fears were fulfilled, as a black man stopped below the window and began explaining the directions he’d given Van, which would take us further through the black section. Finally, between my confusion — and his — he offered to get into his car and guide us. Somehow that didn’t seem wise, so I thanked him, and said we’d be okay, and he wandered into the store, apparently the local hangout.
Later, Van said it had three large open coolers filled with ice and beer that were being eagerly grabbed by the hot thirsty customers. He also reported that our tour guide gave him  revised directions, based on the fact the streets were narrow and windy, which our motor home would have problems negotiating. Thank God! Fortunately, they confirmed my idea: go back the way we’d come, only take 49 to I-65. We were still in the same area, but the streets were wider and more traveled.
More of God’s Angels
Thank You, God! We finally turned onto I-65, and soon reconnected with Highway 98 through timberland and green stretches all the way to Hattiesburg.
Here we easily found Office Depot and got my newsletter copies, a vital part of my ministry-by-mail. The helpful clerk had recently moved from Charleston, North Carolina, and we chatted about the area we would eventually be visiting. It’s interesting how energies attract the person needed for the information or directions needed.
Even the black man at the service station was being used as God’s angel to guide us out of our dilemma, and a potentially dangerous environment, which exists in all large cities; and even in smaller towns and rural areas.
Later, as we parked along a tree shaded location on the Wal-Mart parking lot in Hattiesburg, I was concerned about keeping cool and comfortable. But once the sun went down, I found myself fantasizing about the boogie man coming out of the woods and doing fearful deeds, or maybe a wind storm blowing the trees across us. So I tried to direct Van to a more open spot.
He balked, “What’s wrong with this place?”
I tried to explain, but he looked belligerent, and I could see that I was being paranoid. When I went to bed, I said, “God, this has got to stop. My fears are getting out of control. Please stop them, right now!” I fell asleep saying my prayers.
The next morning, the shade of the trees was a blessing, as the birds chirped, and the wind gently swayed the branches. I again thanked God for His protection and guidance, as I said my morning prayers.
The Hand of Fate
My thoughts went forward to Natchez, and I looked through my guidebooks for more information. As I read about the antebellum estates along the Mississippi, I began getting excited, and I thought, “I never thought I’d ever see Natchez.”
It’s amazing how the hand of fate can change life within an instant, or an event. Little did I know when I wrote the above paragraph that the possibilities of seeing Natchez were far less than I’d anticipated. And the decision to stay at the Natchez State Park, rather than Wal-Mart’s parking lot, could have been life threatening. Or was it life saving?
We’d selected the park in order to hookup to electricity for our air conditioner, but the weather had cooled due to several storms that had passed through within a few hours earlier. Nevertheless, Van microwaved some popcorn, and we were watching TV when the Severe Thunderstorm Warning flashed below the screen; and then within a few minutes the station went off the air. But we figured that applied to Alexandria, Louisiana, where the program originated — about fifty miles west, across the Mississippi River. So we changed channels, and continued watching.
Soon we noticed raindrops on the roof, and welcomed the refreshing sound, after a month without rain. Then we could see sheet lightning in the distance, and heard the thunder claps. Suddenly the lightning and thunder were all around us. The rain increased, and the wind began. Within minutes the wind intensified, and the TV went off.
We looked outside, and it was pitch black, except for the skies lighting up from the storm; and we could see the wind whipping through the trees.
Having recently watched pictures on TV from the storms wreaking havoc in other southern states, I’d rejoiced that we’d missed them; but now we were in the middle of a ferocious storm, and there was nothing I could do; no place to hide. All we could do was wait and pray.
Fascinated, Van looked out the window, “We’re in the storm,” he said.
“I know,” I replied, “but how bad is it going to get?” Just then something crashed on the roof, and again on the side.
Terrified, I headed for the bathroom. If we blew over, like the RV’s we saw in the South Dakota tornado, I figured it would be the safest place, and I mentally said “Thank you,” to Harley-Davidson for putting a roll-bar in this model.
“We’re facing into the wind,” Van said, “so we’re not being tossed as much.”
“I’m sure grateful for that,” I shouted over the noise of thunder and wind.
I knew that God had been giving me lessons on overcoming fear, and this had to be the granddaddy of opportunities. You can only go so far with fear, and then there’s nothing left, but to surrender to God and trust Him. Either you’ll survive, or you won’t. I let go and said, “Okay, God. It’s up to You, as it always has been.” I left the bathroom and began affirming the Prayer for Protection over and over, and started hunting for my earplugs and eyepads to close out the flashing light and roaring thunder.
As Van kept peering out the windows, the ferocity of the storm seemed to subside, and soon we heard a knock on the door. It was the Ranger checking to see if everyone survived.
When it’s Over it’s Over
I felt reassured, but asked Van, “Are we in the eye of the storm? Is there more to come?”
“These storms don’t have an eye. When it’s over, it’s over. But it’s very calm, quiet and peaceful.”
“Were you in a hurricane at sea?”
“Yes.”
“Was it scary?”
“No, not really. We just head into the opposite direction and get out of it. Like if it’s coming from the west, we head west and north to get through as fast as possible. I’ve never been in a storm quite like this.”
“The one in Laughlin seemed this bad, but there were no trees.” Even though my head throbbed and my heart pounded from the intensity of the storm, I felt strangely peaceful. Like, when you’ve faced the worst thing that can happen, it can’t get any worse. I felt as if “The thing I fear has come upon me.”
Face Your Fear
I thought about the TV movie we’d been watching on Beyond Belief, before the power outage. A gal was terrified by the image of a ghastly ghost in her mirror. Her psychiatrist told her, “Face your fear.” Wouldn’t you know, her husband got stranded in town during a fierce storm, and she was left alone with the mirror. At first she covered it, but suddenly an intruder came from behind and was going to kill her. Just then the cover fell, and he too saw the ghastly image in the mirror, fell back in terror, and went over the banister.
This story was based on a true story, and the paper reported that the man had killed the woman whose image was in the mirror. It never appeared again.
I don’t know why the image appeared in the mirror, but I think all our fears revert to something in our memories or in our consciousness that attracts them. In this story, the lady had a nervous breakdown and feared another, so her fear was fulfilled.
My fears relate to early childhood, and the terror of having been abandoned, and also having been left alone in a storm. I now feel that there’s no further need to fear them. We’ll just go forward, and trust God to continue protecting us.
We Were Protected
With the storm calming, we finally went to bed, but soon jumped up at the sound of a chain saw. We could see a shadow in the headlights, as a workman attempted to clear a fallen tree. We hadn’t heard the crash, because of the thunder and wind. My greatest fear had been a tree falling on us, and I thanked God that my fear hadn’t been fulfilled. We truly had been protected.
I awakened to voices outside, and saw the neighbor RVers “Surveying the Situation,” as the song from Oliver suggests. Soon we got dressed and joined them.
I felt like the people coming off the spaceship in Close Encounters, as I opened the door and surveyed the damage.
“Oh my God,” I gasped, as I saw a tremendous tree across one lane of the country road below us. That’s what they were sawing last night; and it’s within 40 — 50 ft. of us. If it had come this way, it would have hit Freedom. “Thank you, God.” I grabbed my camcorder and began filming. Then I walked to the other side, and gasped again as I saw two smaller trees that could have fallen on top of us, but had gone the other direction. As I aimed my camera, I heard a strange cracking sound. “Where’s it coming from?” I asked Van. Just then it cracked again, and the top of a bent tree fell to the ground. “Whew! That’s not safe,” I shouted, and backed away.
After chatting with the others, we learned that they were all leaving. The Ranger had said it would be at least 3-5 days before electricity or water could be restored (the well water requires an electric pump).
At first, I wanted to leave too, but Van suggested that we stay; and after hearing the reports from the Ranger, stating that roads would be unsafe and congested, we decided to stay and give the workers time to clear the area. Van had filled the gas tanks, we had water, and the sewage hookup worked, so we could remain self-contained.
One by one, like rats from a sinking ship, the RV’s left. I said, “Well, I was anxious about finding a place to stay; now there’s only one RV left, so that problem is solved. And the storm cooled the temperature, so we don’t need electricity for the air conditioning. Let’s walk down to the lower campground and see how they fared.”
As we walked by his mobile home, the Ranger drove up and stopped. We talked over our options, and he said, “Natchez is out of electricity, and the narrow streets aren’t safe.”
I ventured to ask, “We were thinking about taking The Trace.”
His wife replied, “It’s going to be worse than these roads,” she pointed to the fallen tree across the road. “If you’re going today, stop at the Ranger station by Locust Mountain and check on road conditions.”
Van asked, “Is it okay if we stay right here?”
“Sure, stay as long as you like, but it’ll be several days before water and electricity are back in service.”
“Would it be the same rate we paid last night?”
“Oh no, there’s no charge. In fact, you’ll be reimbursed for last night.”
“That doesn’t seem necessary,” I responded, and another Ranger pulled up, so we headed down the hill to the campground. The Ranger called after us, “The power has been restored in Natchez.”
“Oh, good,” we replied.
The fellow with a motorcycle setup had already left, but others remained, despite the fact it looked like a war zone. We asked one tenter if he’d gotten drenched, and he said, “No, not at all,” but he was leaving anyway.
We’d heard that a tree had blown on top of one RV, and they’d brought in an ambulance and someone to saw away the trees, but they were okay; and we could hear them inside, as we passed. But we stopped in amazement when we viewed their situation. Next to their fifth-wheeler, a huge tree had blown over onto the transformer, and was still leaning against it.
The Ranger drove by, slowed down and said, “Be careful, if you’re going up that road. That’s the top of a tree, and it’s just leaning there. It could fall at any time.” After the previous episode of a tree cracking and falling, I took his warning and quickly walked around.
We Survived our First Tornado
As we approached another area, there was only one vehicle left of the would-be fishermen the night before. And trees were splintered into kindling all around.
“It’s because they’re so dry from not having rain for so long,” I said to Van, as we approached the secondary road and began walking to complete the loop back to the park entrance.
“But I wonder why they’re twisted and cracked so high up,” he countered.”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense to me,” I said, “And it doesn’t make sense where we’re going either. It looks like we’re walking in the wrong direction.”
A young fellow driving a pickup stopped and asked, “Have you seen a big green truck up this way?”
We shook our heads, and he said, “I’m looking for my parents. We’re all needed to help some friends move a tree from their house, and then repair the roof.” He shook his head, then continued, “I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve never seen a storm like this. Natchez is a mess. We had a bad one in February, but this is the worst!” He shook his head and drove on.
Every step we took brought scenes of greater destruction of trees broken off the top, and lying at the side of the road, after someone sawed through to open the roadway. We were on state park property, so there were no homes, but the Ranger said that an old cabin at the turn off was destroyed.
The road curved, and around every curve I expected to see the park road, but we kept going. We knew how to go back t he way we came, but we definitely didn’t know how to get back. A few cars went by, but I was starting to feel isolated and anxious; and the overcast skies didn’t look too stabilized, especially as a slight breeze came up. It’s one thing being in Freedom in a storm, but I didn’t want to be stranded in the woods.
This was turning into a much longer walk than I’d anticipated, and I was getting tired of filming all the broken trees. Besides, I needed to go to the bathroom. Onward we trudged. Finally coming to a fork-in-the-road. Just then three emergency crew vehicles arrived. The bosses were discussing some needed work, so I tried to be helpful, “There’s a tree across the road up ahead.”
“We’re not interested in roadwork, we’re working on electrical service” he grumbled, obviously stressed out from working all night.
Still trying to be helpful, I said, “Oh, well there’s a tree on a transformer up there too.”
“We don’t care about that,” he growled.
I said to Van, “I guess they’re only working on major lines right now.” Now we recognized the park road we’d driven on, and I relaxed trudged uphill, and saw a group from the park walking our way.
We stopped and chatted awhile, and they said they’d been at Wal-Mart, our other option for a place to stay, when the power went off, and they had only dim emergency lighting. With the storm throwing swimming pools and all their outside displays around, they decided to stay inside. And then when they did finally leave, they drove for hours trying to get back to their RV.
I asked, “How did you get back?”
“We followed the ambulance and other vehicle, and they cut through the trees, so we were able to get home.”
Van asked, “Why do you suppose the trees cracked off so high?’
The fellow said, “The tornado travels up higher, and it just broke them off.”
I gasped, “You mean we went through a tornado last night?”
“Yes ma’am, we sure did.”
“Oh my gosh,” I gulped, “we’ve lived through our first tornado.”I never thought I’d ever see one, and now that I had, I’d seen far more than I really wanted to see. And I still hadn’t seen Natchez.   
However, that would be the next day. In the meantime, I spent the rest of the day updating my chapter and feeling lucky that we’d survived the onslaught of the tornado, and that we had electricity, water, refrigeration, and our usual comforts.
Visitors From Switzerland
In the evening, we again walked through the lower campground and marveled at the tree still hanging from the wires, though it had been moved from the transformer, and the folks in the damaged fifth-wheeler still here. Surprisingly, several new arrivals were settled in amongst the debris. We stopped to chat with a couple sitting at the picnic table beside their van.
Once the opening comments about the storm, we detected an unusual accent, and Van asked “Where are you from?”
“Switzerland,” came their reply. And an explanation that they’re on a year’s sabbatical to travel. So far, they’d been to Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Now they’d driven from Victoria, Canada, south along the Pacific Coast through Oregon, Washington and California, north to Las Vegas and southern Utah, and east across Texas and Louisiana, where they crossed into Mississippi at Vicksburg, thus missing the tornado here. Onward to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and north to the Great Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains and Appalachian (where we would be touring later), and ultimately to Washington D.C., before flying back home.
They are both teachers, speaking excellent English. We learned that Switzerland, a small country, is not all Alps, but has lots of lowlands; that only 4 percent of the people still farm, and that it’s still safe to walk around in the cities. But they are having problems with drug users and unemployment affecting the people.
Van asked, “Have you found anyplace else in your travels you would like to live?”
Both replied, “New Zealand,” and added that parts of California appealed to them; and also Montana and Wyoming, which they’d seen on a previous trip to this country. I told them about Leavenworth, Washington, which is called the American Alps, and that our friend, who had been to Switzerland, said they are very similar.
Amazingly they were traveling in a vehicle without heat or air conditioning. They’d bought the van in Victoria, and would be able to resell it back to the same company in Washington DC; a Swiss company specializes in these transactions for travelers.
We gave them some tips about touring New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. I’d noticed that they had been writing letters when we arrived, and asked, “Do you ever feel alone in a strange country?”
“No, not at all,” they replied, “but we will be happy to return to family and familiar surroundings.”
They said they needed to fix their dinner, so we said our good-byes, and returned to the comfort of Freedom.
I thought, “I’ll probably never get to see Switzerland, but I’ve seen Florida, and lots of wonderful sights in this country. And I didn’t have to travel to a foreign country either. And tomorrow we’ll see Natchez, and then begin our travels along The Trace.
Angels From San Diego
Before that experience, however, we were blessed, for a short time, with two angels from the San Diego area, our home port.
They pulled in mid-afternoon and stopped to ask Van a question. He replied and explained that we had no water or electricity, and then he described the storm. About that time, I stepped outside, and we chatted awhile longer.
Soon he turned off the motor, and then invited us inside; with the RV still sitting in the road. Van, however, seemed to have reverted to his non-social behavior, and didn’t accept the hospitality. I noticed their interior looked as if it were still in the showroom; nothing on any counter. But Karen proudly showed me her collection of Beanie Babies behind a beveled glass door, and Jake showed the cupboard where their computer is stored, then hauled out his genealogy files. They decided to stay, and Jake busied himself getting settled in, then returned. We talked for several hours about travels, family, San Diego, and Jake’s genealogy pursuits. I thought about my dad’s research and reporting of our family background.
Jake explained that he knew very little about his dad’s family, and having found cousins in Nebraska that lead him to ancestry information, including photos and burial sites. He proudly showed me the original copy of his grandparents Marriage Certificate.
During the conversation, he spoke of some of his early family members having built rafts to haul their wares to Natchez, and I remembered that Dad had said the Freeland family, from Ohio, had done the same thing. I added, Then they tore the rafts apart and sold the lumber.”
Jake added, “Yes, and they returned along the Natchez Trace, which was originally an Indian path. But eventually it became a worn trail, and finally a road. In fact, they had just traveled along 400 miles of The Trace, and said it’s a wonderful highway with very few cars, and beautiful scenery.
We had been immobilized, after the storm, but with their description of the sights ahead, I could hardly wait to get moving again.
In the meantime, they decided to move to an RV park that had water and electricity, but I was thankful for the visit with home folks; and for the opportunity to share with them some of our experiences that might make their New Orleans travels more enjoyable. They, in turn, had given us some good information for our journey north into Tennessee. And that’s RVing.
“A Limb Speared By My Head”
As we prepared to leave, the fifth-wheeler that had had a tree fall on it rolled by and stopped at the dump site. I could see duck tape over a gash caused by a limb, so rushed over and asked the lady, “How are you guys doing?” Then added, “We were here during the storm, and heard about the tree on your coach.”
She took  me inside to see the damage: a hole in the kitchen cupboard and broken vent covers were the first visible evidence, as she told her story, “I was standing in the dressing room removing my makeup, when a limb speared through this hole,” she pointed to a jagged opening above the commode. “I said to my husband, ‘is that a limb?’ and he said, ‘look behind you.’ I turned around, and jumped away when I almost ran into it. A few inches closer, and it would have killed me. I’m thankful to be alive.”
Roddy, the Ranger, sauntered over, as her husband joined the conversation and recounted his version, looking ashen, as he said, “It was like a spear, and I couldn’t do anything, but watch.”
They both told the terror of being trapped in their coach with the huge tree draped over the sides and door, with rain pouring through the open holes; and their relief when Roddy came by and knocked on their door, asking, “Are you allright?” He’d already called the ambulance and conservation crew, which removed the tree. But his knock and voice had been a soothing reassurance to them, as to us.
 “We came up here Friday afternoon for a long weekend of rest,” the lady had said.
After hearing their story and seeing the damage, we said, “Good luck,” and I added, “Glad you got a good rest this weekend,” as they cruised on down the road to their home in New Orleans.
Our Pleasant Day in Natchez
Roddy gave me a few tips for our trip into Natchez, and driving The Trace. Gradually, the inertia from trauma lifted, and we too eased down the narrow road — with the sawed-off trees strewn along the edge, past the old cabin that had been crushed and splintered by a tree, and into Natchez to the Visitors Information Center.
We enjoyed a pleasant day in Natchez, despite 95-degree heat. After gathering information for the rest of Mississippi, we decided to buy the all day trolley pass for $1.00 each. As much as I hated to leave the air conditioned, brand new building, we walked outside and soon boarded the convenient trolley that comes every fifteen minutes.
The conductor even drove us in front of the post office, and Van jumped off to drop our mail into the deposit box. Then the driver took us by Stanton Hall, an extra benefit, and I knew I wanted to go inside this palatial antebellum mansion. But first, we asked for a good place to eat; then went some place else. We’d been eating ham and turkey sandwiches all week, while marooned, and I wanted something more exciting than a deli.
So, we ate a chicken salad sandwich and broccoli soup instead, and it wasn’t very interesting. Later, after touring  the mansion, we went to the deli for a chess square; very rich and tasty.
But it took all I could muster not to beat myself up for not waiting long enough to have lunch at the mansion. We’d asked a local lady how far to the Stanton Hall, and she said, “One mile. You can’t miss it.”
I knew I needed to eat. The heat, plus not knowing the area had sent Joanie into a quandary, and she needed food to settle her down. After lunch, we retraced our trolley route, and located the mansion, only three blocks away. If we’d followed our helper’s directions, we would never have found it.
Thank goodness for air conditioning, not only during lunch at the cafe, but the welcome update had been added to the 1800’s
“magnificent and princely mansion,” according to a newspaper article in 1858 describing the newly completed “palatial residence,” which is one of the most visited National Historic Landmarks in America. It’s hard to grasp the grandeur of this elegant lifestyle, even from the four columns outside. But once inside, as we walked through the massive front door into the 72 ft. hall, we felt like we were living Gone With the Wind.
However, remembering their fate, and hearing Fredrick Stanton’s misfortune, we felt much more fortunate. He became ill shortly after moving into the home, and was ill for nine months, before dying. However, much to my glee, we learned that his wife lived there thirty-four years with their three younger children. All the work on the home was done by local artisans, but the ornate floor-to-ceiling mirrors were ordered from France, and the marble mantels were sculptured in New York.
I even tortured myself by looking into their Carriage House Restaurant, and almost died when I saw their luncheon special was only $4.95. We’d paid $4.50 each for our sandwiches, no doubt made from canned chicken.
From One Trauma to Another
Van said, “I never thought I’d have to use this,” as he held up his Good Sam Emergency Road Service card. He’d left Freedom and returned to the Good Samaritan (angel) who had stopped and asked, “Do you need help?”
“Yes,” we certainly needed help in a big way. It was getting dusk, and we were completely stopped in the middle of our lane on the two-way road serving The Natchez Trace.
Of the dozen cars that passed this scenic route, Bitsy was one of two who stopped. She’d offered to make the call on her cellular phone, and Van gave her the necessary information. But it didn’t work in this spot, so she said she would drive down the road and try again; then return and give us a report. We waited. There was nothing else we could do.
In the past I would have complained and hassled Van for getting us into the situation, rather than stopping sooner. But the lessons this chapter seem to be about a different way of seeing things. The most important part being to turn it over to God and trust Him to handle it, no matter how traumatic.
So, even before the motor finally stopped along the isolated Natchez Trace, I kept saying, “Thank you, God, it is handled,” and worked my crossword puzzle.
Help From Bitsy
Van set out our flare, and was standing outside when Bitsy, as she introduced herself, stopped. When she returned, she offered us her emergency flares, saying ours weren’t very visible.
While Bitsy was making the call, a man had stopped to report that he’d stopped to help her, and she said to tell us she’d gotten through.
When she returned, she reported that they needed more information, and efficiently told Van what they needed. He obligingly gave her all the personal data and numbers of our accounts, and she left again. This transaction took trust and faith on her part, as well as ours, and I marveled at God in Action to bring us such an efficient, trustworthy angel.
Finally, she returned to reassure us that the tow truck would be coming, and also that a Ranger had to be notified in order for any commercial vehicle to receive permission to be on The Trace.
By the time he arrived with his blue computerized flashing light, it was dark outside. Van, who had been standing outside all this time — an hour or more — greeted him, and I welcomed his protective presence, especially when a loud hoot came from somewhere in the thick woods lining the highway. Braving the bugs flying in all directions, I put on a long-sleeved shirt and socks, and ran out to ask him, “What is that?”
The jovial black man replied, “It’s a hoot owl, Ma’am.” About that time an armadillo scooted across the embankment, and I scooted back inside, leaving Van to continue chatting.
I’d been feeling queasy earlier, due to the heat without air conditioning (our electrical system was messed up from the alternator drawing from the RV batteries, before the last cough); in fact I’d wondered if I was suffering from heat prostration. But as the evening cooled, I revived and fixed sandwiches. Thank God the refrigerator had switched to propane, and kept going.
Before Van could eat his sandwich, the tow truck arrived. Such a welcome sight seeing those flashing lights pull up in front of us. Within minutes, we were attached, and I had to climb into the tow truck. Now I had air conditioning blasting so cold that I scrambled back out and got my long-sleeved shirt. Now, my only problem was the blaring music, but the twenty-something driver turned it down when he and Van crowded into the front seat.
All that elegance in Natchez, and then to find ourselves riding in a tow truck in the middle of the night, with Freedom bumping along behind for about 40 miles to Vicksburg.
Vicksburg Hospitality
As we crept away, he said, “I wasn’t able to get that lug-nut off, so we’ll pull off a mile down the road at the Wayside Park.”
If only we could have made it there in the first place, we wouldn’t have been in such a precarious place. But then, maybe we would have missed Bitsy; but God would have taken care of us, I’m sure of that.
Mark, the driver, stopped, but soon returned, “That’s an unusual lug nut, I can’t get it off, so we’ll have to drive very slowly.”
Actually, I didn’t mind. I was so happy to be on our way, so I asked, “Where are we going?”
“Vicksburg, Ma’am, he politely responded.
“How far is it?”
“About 30 miles.”
“Are you going to take Highway 27?”
“No Ma’am, the Rangers don’t like us on The Trace at all, and they want us off as soon as possible, so I’m going to take a little back road.”
Then he expounded with a tale: “One time during a storm we got a call to come fix a flat for an RV at Rocky Springs. I couldn’t get through to the Ranger there, so I called the one at Natchez, and he gave me permission to go on The Trace.” He stopped, as a car sped by, then continued, “When I arrived, it was still raining, but the Ranger was standing there crooking his finger at me to come here. I knew I was in trouble by the look in his eye.”
Mark winced in memory, as he continued, “The Ranger said to me, “Son, what are you doing on MY TRACE without my permission?” As Mark told the story, I could see the drill sergeant in that classic movie when he looked eyeball-to-eyeball.
But Mark stood his ground, as he explained to us, “He had an attitude, so I had an attitude, as I said, ‘I have permission, sir.”
“Well, you don’t have permission from me to be on My Trace.”
Once Mark told him that he couldn’t get through, and he had permission from another Ranger, this one took out his cellular phone and called. Then he stood right there in the rain, while Mark changed the tire and got out as fast as he could. Now he grumbled, “Imagine ‘his Trace.’ I pay taxes here as much as he does.”
We all laughed, and I said, “He had a classic case of exaggerated self-importance.”
We’d left The Trace, and wound along a narrow two-lane road with Freedom faithfully following along behind. And with a line of cars fretfully trapped behind this middle-of-the-night parade. At another intersection, all but one left, and he finally revved past, as we came to a clear stretch of road.
Our chitchat was interrupted by his CB, which didn’t come in clearly, so he called back on his cellular phone. “Oh, I’m out here on Charlie Brown Road,” he replied. “Yeah, I’ll be there in about ten minutes.”
Tomorrow is Another Day
As we wended the final miles, I thought, “I wanted to go to Vicksburg, but I never thought I’d see it this way.” I remembered the brochures I’d collected at the Visitor’s Information Center, and fantasized the Isle of Capri Casino’s RV parking lot, and their tantalizing southern buffet.
I’d hoped this story would end here, with the good news about charging the battery, and moving on. But it didn’t happen that way. The new battery we’d had replaced about nine months (10,000 miles) earlier was shot. So, in order to learn if it was still in warranty, they asked Van for his invoice, and then called the Truck Stop in Burns, Oregon, where we got that one. With modern-day computers, that should have been done in fifteen minutes; no more than an hour. But, we waited all day long, without anything being accomplished on Freedom’s repair.
From the elegance of Natchez to the humility and discomfort of spending the night in Stevens Service Center. At least the open bays were impressive. With Freedom’s alternator kaput, Van didn’t feel we should risk using the air conditioning, but there was a slight breeze.
The second day I took advantage of the time, with our recharged batteries (from the electrical outlet provided by the service center) that now allowed the air conditioner and computer to work, to update my editing and enter the last part of this chapter — hopefully it’s the end of this experience. Tomorrow is another day — after another free night at the elaborate Stevens Service Center.
I never thought I’d ever see Florida, or Natchez, or spend two nights in the bay of a Service Center, but we’ve done them all. Yet, we have many sights ahead, such as Elvis’s Graceland in Memphis, and a picnic in prison with Michael Martin in Tiptonville. It’s time to move onward.
The Patterns are Changing
We’d started this chapter with my insights into my feelings, “It’s not okay to have,” and I felt quite complete with realizations and changes of the associated patterns.
But since the storm, I’d noticed that Van seemed to be creating his control patterns again, and I said, “I realize that having this alternator go out can be explained as simply one of the hazards of travel, but it’s only been nine months since the last time it was replaced. Taking into consideration that our experiences are projections of our thoughts, do you think Little Ralph is feeling that he needs to regain control?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, “but it’s a definite possibility, and I’ve been looking to see what changes I can make in my thinking to alter that pattern; and recognizing that their are alternatives, and that the environment in which we grew up plays a big part in our present lifestyle. And we can change it.”
“Wow! That’s a big realization. I have a feeling the pattern is changing now,” I said.
In the past, I would have pursued this explanation for further details, but I’ve learned that Van processes his pattern changes differently than I, and he doesn’t put it into words; he just does it. So, I let it go, knowing that he and God were working out the details.
I also understood that this chapter took us places we never thought we’d ever go, not only on our outer journey, but also on our inner journey to inner freedom. Now, we could move forward much freer, and with the assurance of smoother travels: no more storms or vehicle failures. The outer experiences would reflect the inner changes.
As I wrote the above words, the mechanic knocked on the door, “I have the part, and I’m ready to install it,” he said. “You’ll be on the road in an hour.”   

Chapter 7

DIVINE ORDER; NOT “OUT OF ORDER” 
Surrender and Acceptance
Van returned from the Steven’s Service Center office and reported, “The warranty covered the entire cost of repairing the alternator, including the labor. And the Good Sam insurance covered the $200.00 tow truck cost. It didn’t cost us anything, but two days in their garage.”
“Talk about Divine Order. Thank you, God,” I said. “The only thing better would have been that it had not occurred.” I paused, then added, “You know, Van, I believe we had the experience as part of our learning process, and we’ve both changed patterns as a result; and that’s why the financial part went smoothly.”
Probably,” he replied, then added, “I appreciate the way you responded this time. Thank you.”
“Your welcome,” I said. “It’s because I too have reached a new level of surrender and acceptance, with the resulting peace. I have a feeling things will be different now.”
Before leaving the garage, I asked Wayne, an employee, for a good place to eat breakfast; we deserved a good meal. He told us about the nearby Cracker Barrel, his wife’s favorite. He also said that we must not miss a side trip, going north, to Belzoni, “The Catfish Capital of the World.” And he suggested The Varsity Cafe, as serving good catfish.
Grandpa’s Country Fried Breakfast
The service and food at The Cracker Barrel was excellent. Since food is still my psychological nurturer, I’d ordered “Grandpa’s Country Fried Breakfast,” which included grits, biscuits and gravy, battered chicken fried steak and French fries. I never eat that much grease, but it tasted good. As AJ, at Perdido Pass Restaurant had said, “You’re in the South; eat fried foods.”
I even tasted Van’s pancakes from his choice, “Grandma’s Breakfast Sampler (with ham, bacon, sausage, eggs),” which were outstanding, mostly because they were swathed in butter while cooking.
We learned that the restaurant chain is located throughout the country, and looked forward to trying some of their other meals in the future. Also, the old-time wall decor occupied our interest, and I recalled having used an old hand plunger to agitate the clothes, while washing. And I remembered using an odd device for slicing cabbage to make coleslaw or sauerkraut.
“The Catfish Capitol of the World”
Satisfied with Wayne’s suggestion for breakfast, we later took the side trip to Belzoni, and saw the miles of square catfish ponds he’d described. He had even owned a catfish farm in this area, and suggested we stop at The Varsity Cafe for the best catfish.
Although we were stuffed from breakfast, we’d taken time to tour Vicksburg’s National Park commemorating the last battle of the Civil War — sixteen miles of winding around monuments and gravesites — and watched the video explaining the ordeal, including the siege of the city. We’d also driven through the city, along the Mississippi River to see the riverboat casinos, and north through the Delta. By the time we reached Belzoni, with Wayne’s words, “Say hello to the owners, our friends, Charlene and Billy Joe” ringing in our ears, we pulled into their parking lot.
From the pictures inside, this had once been the thriving “Dairy Treat” walk-up. But the years had taken their toll on the remodeled and expanded 1998 version. However, with Wayne’s promise of the “World’s Best Catfish,” we went inside. The same fifties tables and chairs, no doubt, were still being used, and the place needed a lot of repairs, but the delicious catfish would, no doubt, make up for the decor.
I introduced ourselves to the dark-haired lady in bright yellow pants and T-shirt — not Charlene, who wasn’t there — and said “Wayne sent us.” She wasn’t impressed, but became more cordial.
“We’d like two orders of the “Large Catfish Plate,” I announced.
“We’re out of catfish,” she replied.
“Oh, no, I can’t believe it. We came all the way from Oregon for “The Worlds Best Catfish,” and you’re out?!!”
“We had a big lunch crowd,” she explained.
Another waitress standing nearby said, “I’ll go get some.” And away she went to her car to buy some at the store.
Apprehensive that the store variety might not equal the other, I said to the remaining gal, “Wayne promised this catfish has the right flavor.”
“Oh, it has,” she quickly replied. “They get it at the same place we do; only our truck doesn’t come, until tomorrow.”
While we waited, Van went to the restroom, and immediately returned. “I’ll use the ladies’. The men’s is stopped up.” And he again disappeared.
Out of Order
We’d brought our Trailer Life inside to reserve a space at the Warfield Point Park, so I went to the phone and dialed their 800 number. Nothing happened. I hung up, then listened for the dial tone. There wasn’t one. I picked up the cardboard lying on top of the phone, and read: “Out of Order.”
“Okay, God, what’s going on?” I asked, as I returned to the Yellow Lady and said, “I need to make a reservation for tonight. Could I use your phone for an 800 number?”
“We can’t call out,” she replied.
“Is there one nearby I could use?”
She pointed across the street.
By this time the gal had returned with the catfish, and Van had returned to the table. A fellow had come in from the back parking lot, and asked Van, “Is that your Holiday Rambler outside?”
From there the conversation was about the two he’d owned, including his present one parked at the Chicot RV Park in Lakeview, Arkansas. I explained, “That had been one of my options, but we decided on Warfield Point Park.”
“Oh, it’s closed,” he said, “from the Mississippi flooding last month. Too bad. It’s right above the banks. I’d like to watch the barges from our trailer.”
I laughed. First the catfish, then the toilet and phone; now the RV park. “What’s going on?” I silently asked God.
“Okay, guess we’ll go to Chicot. How do we get there?”
He’d already sat down, so drew a map.
In the meantime, our catfish had arrived, and we gasped at the huge size of the two pieces, plus the hush puppies, fries and deep fried Vidalia onions.
As we ate, our new friend, Billy, gave us his card, and said, “Tell them I sent you.” I read the card: Billy’s Plumbing. We enjoyed chatting with Billy during our delicious catfish meal.
“I’m retired,” he said, “but my wife still works, so we go over there every weekend. Sometimes we even drive over after work, and return the next morning. It’s only an hour’s drive.”
Soon he went on his way, and we were too full to finish our meal, so took it with us.By the time we’d passed Greenville, and headed toward the River to cross over to Arkansas, the sun was setting. I could barely read the sign: Warfield Point Park.
“I don’t see an indication that it’s closed. Let’s check it out.”
Not “Closed”
We drove along the narrow, winding two-mile road, and came to the entrance gate. “It’s open,” I said. “Let’s stay here. I like the idea of watching the barges going up (or down) the Mississippi.”
I said to the receptionist, “We heard you were closed.”
“We were closed for two weeks,” the trim black girl replied with a heavy accent, “and we’re usually closed for two months from the flooding. But it didn’t flood the park this time, so we’re open.”
“How much, with our Golden Age Card?”
“Seven dollars.”
Van handed her our bank debit card, but she exclaimed, “Oh, we aren’t set up for credit cards.”
“Do you take checks,” he asked.
“No, we can’t take them now. So many people are writing bad checks.”
I handed her the money, and said, “You got our last cash.”
She looked confused, then said, “Oh. I’m supposed to take $5.00 cash deposit for the key to the showers and bathrooms. But if you don’t have any cash left, I’ll let it go this time. Then I won’t have to refund anything tomorrow, okay?”
Van said, “Okay, but where can we get cash tomorrow?”
Once all the details were clarified, we continued talking, while Van completed the registration. When I said we were going to Memphis, she gave us directions for a shortcut. “It’ll save you an hour driving time,” she confided.
What a Blessing!
Again, something that didn’t seem to be working out, turned into a blessing.
Once we’d settled into our site overlooking the Mississippi, I said to Van, “This is great, and look there’s a barge now.” We watched it labor up river, against the current; and then another boat zipping with the current in the opposite direction. The fireflies were already blinking lights amongst the trees, and our air conditioning was now working perfectly.
I said to Van, “I wonder what all the “out of” and “out of order” was about today? He kept watching the barge, and I continued, “I think I’ll title my next chapter: Out of Order. No, I don’t want to project anything else going wrong. Yet, it actually turned out okay. Maybe I’ll title it:
Divine Order; not Out of Order
I thought about the events of the day, and then said, “I thought God had sent Billy as another angel coming along and telling us this place was closed, and giving us directions to Chicot, but it didn’t turn out that way.”
“Yeah, it did,” Van said.
“Oh, you mean that if he hadn’t told us about Chicot, we’d have stayed elsewhere, and not known that this was open.”
“Right.”
“Isn’t God amazing? We were served catfish, even though they were out; and we didn’t need to make a phone call, after all. And here we are staying exactly where we wanted to be. And we had just enough money for tonight. When we let go and let God, everything works out in Divine Order.”
Signs of the Mississippi Floods
While I wrote my chapter, Van had been showering. When he returned, we discussed our plans, as I looked out the window, I asked “What are those stairs that go no place?”
He laughed, “The electrical box for the campground is at the top, so when the river floods, it’s safe. They need stairs to reach it.”
“Ingenious,” I muttered. “Necessity is the mother of invention. I definitely think that little excerpt should be in my chapter. And I’ll bet there’ll be more, before the chapter is over.
Later, a tugboat pushing about ten barges at once went by. Joanie grabbed her camcorder, and watched in amazement with Little Ralph as the scene slowly unfolded before our eyes. “I’ve never seen a barge that long,” Joanie exclaimed.
“Me either,” wide-eyed Little Ralph responded.
The next day, we couldn’t tear ourselves away from the tugboats and barges along the Mississippi, so we decided to pay for another night. But first we had to drive into town to Wal-Mart for some cash. I selected a new sleeveless blouse in cool blue and turquoise plaid, which picked up my spirits for dealing with the intense 90+ degree heat.
Van had already filled Freedom’s gas tank, so we hurried back to the sanctuary of our park hideaway — only six other RVers — and the electrical hookup for air conditioning. Later, in the cool of evening, Joanie and Little Ralph took a walk around the park and he climbed to the top of the three-tiered Observation Tower, so she video’d his progress, as he waved from each tier. While he observed the surrounding scenery from his perch, Joanie filmed an old river boat that had grounded during a bygone flood.
When Little Ralph joined her, she said, “I still don’t understand how that river can rise the ten feet over its bank, and then another fifteen feet, or whatever.”
“I know, it’s amazing” he replied.
Mosquitoes and Other Neighbors
“I guess that’s why they have to build levees along so much of it,” she muttered, as she and Little Ralph raced across a gully that was still damp from the last flood. Mosquitoes and other flying, biting insects took their toll, and she complained, “That wasn’t a good idea.”
“I’m going back to get some lotion on my bites,” Little Ralph announced.
“Okay, I’m going to talk with the neighbors sitting at their picnic table.”
I joined the senior couple enjoying the evening sunset and watching the barges wending along the river.
“Isn’t this a perfect setting?” I asked. The conversation ran the usual course relating to travel experiences and family back home. Basil and his wife had been throughout most of the country, including Alaska, several times, and told me about some good places to visit and stay along our journey, including the City Park in Branson, MO. Once home, I wrote them down, as my short-term memory seemed to be fading.
I couldn’t find the listing in our Trailer Life, so the next morning, while Van dumped Freedom (in preparation for our departure), I went back and knocked on their door. Basil invited me inside, and his wife, with curlers in her hair, joined us. As we chatted, I surveyed their spacious coach with the popout side. “We love it,” she said. “I couldn’t get along with anything smaller.”
Finally, with the information written down, Basil drove me to join Van at the dump site, since the heat was too intense at mid-day.
Once we get used to a location, it’s difficult to move on, but we felt ready to venture onward. However, before heading north, I wanted to cross the Mississippi River into Arkansas, and I also needed a completion about Lake Chicot Park, Billy’s camping grounds.
The River Crossing
While filming “the river crossing,” we passed a truck with a “Wide Load” sign, but didn’t see any reason for the sign. However, on the other side, Van said, “Oh, that’s the deal. I wondered why there’s only one vehicle behind us.”
I looked up and noticed a double-wide mobile home heading toward us in the other lane, as Van continued, “I saw the lead truck pull off the road, after crossing the narrow bridge. The driver must have told the other driver to wait for us to cross, and then he stopped oncoming traffic. Otherwise, it takes up both lanes.”
“Wow! That was certainly Divine Order,” I said. “It would have been a long wait for it to cross.” Again I marveled at God’s guidance, as we turned off the highway and drove toward the lake through the Delta area. Soon manicured green lawns and lovely homes shaded by large trees appeared in a row, and we realized they were along the banks of the lake. After two miles, we spotted Lake Chicot Park in a similar setting with many RV’s.
“That’s not bad at all,” I said. “I guess it’s just a matter of choice. I’m glad we stayed along the Mississippi. Joanie and Little Ralph really enjoyed the barges and river activity. This would be great if you’re into boating, fishing and recreational activities.”
The Mississippi Delta
Once satisfied with our view, we turned around and returned across the river, back through Greenville and north through the Delta area along The Great River Road (Highway 1) (Mississippi). Now we were into vast farms: mostly green cotton plants or rice paddies, interspersed with some clusters of trees, and small towns.
We were in pursuit of an ice cream shop, but there was none to be found; only shacky stores offering sodas and cold beer, plus a few sundries.
“I couldn’t live this lifestyle,” I said to Van. “And to think some of these people never get beyond these fields. It’s more like I had imagined The South. Heck, there isn’t even a Wal-Mart within fifty miles, I’ll bet.”
Other than during election years, one seldom hears about the Mississippi Delta, but it’s very real and vital to the politicians.
Where are we?
After several hours, all this changed. We’d planned to stay at Hollywood Casino in Tunica, a gambling town along the Mississippi, but as usual, finding a sign for the turnoff became a challenge. And, as usual, we made the wrong turn, which caused us to drive through a questionable community for about five miles, until we could finally get back to the right road.
I did not feel in Divine Order during this segment of the trip, mainly because I didn’t know where we were, where we were going, or how to get there. So we kept going forward, and eventually came to the Casino Strip, not to be confused with Casino Center, which was in North Tunica; not far away with the towers of Fitzgerald’s and Bally’s casinos visible in the distance.
But we needed to drive further west where we finally found Sam’s Town, Harrah’s, and Hollywood casinos sprawling over many acres, like an oasis in the cotton fields.
Thankfully, we followed the signs to the Hollywood RV Park, only to discover they were filled. No place to hookup to electricity. We’d managed fine, while traveling, as we kept cool up front with the air conditioner that’s run by the engines. But once it stops, it’s like a bake oven inside these walls.
“You can dry camp,” the gal said, and pointed to the casino parking lot.
I gasped, “Van, I can’t spend the night without air conditioning in this heat. It affects my head and my entire body. We’ve got to do something.”
“Okay, we’ll run the generator all night,” he said. “It’ll be fine.” He found a spot and parked Freedom.
The 2-for-1 Buffet
“Oh well, we save $16.00. Let’s go inside and have a buffet dinner, at least,” I grumbled, trying to find some Divine Order in this situation. “It’s a 1-800#, and I knew we should have called for reservations.
I’d selected this casino, for the RV park, and also because of the 2-for-1 buffet coupon I’d saved from brochures I’d collected at the Vicksburg Tourist Center. Now, I wanted to use it, and I needed the meal for nurturing my disappointment. However, once inside, I discovered that between the heat and frustration, I’d forgotten the coupon. It’s one of those deals where you have to sign up for their Players Club to get the discount.
So Van trudged back outside and retrieved it, while I wandered around looking at the Hollywood memorabilia and cooling off; from the heat and my upset.
Other than the deafening noise of the machines, the casino resembled a movie museum. I lapsed into memories as little signs explained each item: the helicopter and jet plane from True Lies, which we’d seen. And a 1/2 sunk tilted miniature replica  “Titanic” from the recent movie, plus the original Lifeboat #1, and autographed pictures of the stars. On and on they went, and soon Van had returned. Now we stood in line to register, and then received a cute key ring with our membership card and discount.
“Oh my gosh,” crablegs, fried shrimp, peel shrimp, fried catfish, scampi, and frog legs were featured on their “Friday night Fish Buffet, and prime rib was also available, along with the usual buffet fare.” Dottie had asked if we’d tried frog legs yet, and here they were. We loaded up, and Joanie soothed her shattered nerves. Little Ralph was quietly devouring his beef too.
Hollywood Along The Mississippi
When I finally came up for air, after desert, I noticed a group at the table next to us; a gal and two guys were discussing business, seemingly related to music. The fellow’s hair styles —  long shag — and clothes — loose black shirts and pants, though neat, looked like musicians. The shorthaired gal, not especially pretty, looked extremely tired, and was obviously the manager.
Later, while we wandered through the casino, following the noise of the music, we stopped near the bandstand, and there were the threesome, along with others, on the stage whomping out a rock ‘n roll-type number. Allright, our Tour Guide seemed to be arranging a few extras to compensate for our oversight at getting hooked up for electricity.
Each part of the casino was designed and decorated to represent various aspects of the movies, as depicted in Las Vegas casinos: Egyptian, Indiana Jones, Outer Space and Titanic. Memorabilia from old favorites were also displayed, like Liz Taylor’s dress from Giant, and many other original costumes and items.
Time passed pleasantly, and we kept cool, while inside. We even watched my favorite game, “Wheel of Fortune” awhile, but elected not to participate. I thought about the park hostess, at Warfield Point Park, describing some of her friends’ dilemma as they deal with the consequences of gambling. Many had lost homes and families and businesses, because of their addictions. Van has an obsessive-compulsive tendency, and I didn’t see any reason to indulge either. I get my fill of slots with his mom when we get together in Laughlin. It’s a matter of choices. I chose to enjoy a seafood buffet this evening.
An Update With Dottie
Another of my indulgences is talking with Dottie, so I called her for a family update.
“Is Brandon getting excited about his ninth birthday tomorrow?”
“Oh, yes, and since he’s here every day <before and after summer camp> I tried to call his mom, so he could talk with her, only to discover that her phone had been changed, and was unlisted.”
I updated her on our trip, and she confirmed that there had been snow in Denver in June: “But only a little, and it didn’t last long,” she said, hasty to offset any negative connotation about Colorado. I complained about the heat, here, and went on to other matters, “Could you edit Evaluation and bring it to me when we meet in Greensboro? I want to get it ready for Michael Martin. He’s moving right along with the Journey to Inner Freedom course. In fact, I entered the Red Sea Road Sign the other day, but I have a lot of work to complete it.”
She agreed, and we said our “Good-byes.” Talking with Dottie is such a joy, and reminds me how much I miss her. Yet, I know that she’s getting on with her life now, and I am too. There may come a time when we settled down near her, but we need to fulfill our desire to travel, for now; and I have people to see along the way too. Also, Dottie knows all about my writing, so I can bounce any ideas off her editorial mind. She’s my contact with family news and our business too, so we always talk a long time, and I feel better afterward.
Harrah’s Not the Same Without Betty
It was only 9:00 o’clock, so we decided to brave the heat — somewhat cooler now — and walk along the walkway to Harrah’s. I said to Van, “You should call your mom from here.”
“I called her the other night.”
“But it would be nice if you called from Harrah’s, since we meet with her at the one in Laughlin.”
“Nope, not tonight.”
Okay, that ended that idea. Van doesn’t relate to the usual niceties of intimacy, like associations with the person and gifts, calls, letters, cards. So, one call a week is a major accomplishment for him; and only begun in the past year, since her health is failing.
Without his mom sharing Harrah’s, there didn’t seem much reason to be here, so we returned to Hollywood Casino, and then to Freedom.
Early Start to Graceland
Although the generator kept the air conditioning going for us, the noise of it shifting was annoying, and for some reason I awoke earlier than usual.
I prayed for Guidance about our day’s plan to visit Elvis’s Graceland in Memphis. I wondered how I would survive the heat during the outdoors’ portion of the tour. The idea came to me for us to get on the road early, and do the tour first thing in the morning. When Van awoke, I asked if we could get started right away.
We pulled past the RV’s hooked up to the electrical, and I still had no insight about our situation. And then it came to me: “If you’d been hooked up, you wouldn’t have awakened early, nor gotten on the road. It’s as simple as that. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s a higher priority for you to tour Graceland in the cooler part of the day, and we fulfill your wants. After all, you did have air conditioning and were comfortable last night, right?”
“Right.”
“Okay, that’s your part. There is some processing that Van’s going through, which will be revealed to you, later.”
“Oh, okay, thank you.” I felt like adding, “Over and out.” But I’m never disconnected from my Higher Guidance, and continued listening, as we worked our way through Memphis to Graceland.
We arrived at the ample parking lot at 7:30, and paid our $2.00. No one else was there, and Van stopped, while trying to figure out where to park. The Security Officer came by and directed Van to pull along the fence. In the meantime, I studied the pamphlet I’d been handed at the gate, and learned that they open at 7:30 and the first tour is at 8:00. I said a silent, “Thank you, God. You are wonderful.”
The Graceland Tour
We followed the maroon awning to the ticket office, and I bought my ticket. Van had chosen not to go, and that too seemed to be part of his process; that it’s okay for him not to go, and for me to enjoy what I’m interested in. I could see the Divine Order at work in every aspect of our lives, and even things that seemed out of order, or not working, actually served a higher purpose for good, because I was attuned to God, while looking for and seeing the good.
I’m so used to Van being with me that I felt uneasy, at first, but once on the shuttle bus that took us to the mansion, I was ecstatic at going solo, though I hadn’t anticipated Graceland with any expectations. I hadn’t been an Elvis fan; in fact, in my day — the fifties — when he was first popular, I felt appropriate self-righteous disapproval of his music and gyrations.
Although our generation was the original rebels, following after our parents (the flappers), with the big bands, jitterbug and more freedom (after World War II), we were still conservative. At least I was, but I’d been raised by my grandparents standards, and I was married (at 18) in 1950 to an older man (26), who consider Elvis way beyond the behavior. I did, however, watch the famous Ed Sullivan TV show, where they didn’t show Elvis’s lower extremities.
Now, I felt ambivalent, as I listened to the Graceland tour guide. We’d each been given headphones and a cassette player and tape with our personal guided tour to play at our own pace. So we listened as the shuttle bus took us out of the Graceland Plaza, across Elvis Presly Boulevard, through the famous gates, and up the tree-lined private driveway surrounded by sloping green lawn to the antebellum mansion with its four columns.
A live tour guide directed us inside the hallway, and from there we were on our own with the tape’s guidance. I’d heard that Graceland’s decor is garish, and it is, but it reflects Elvis’s lavish taste, and somehow, it made him seem more alive in this setting. After all, he’d been born in abject poverty in Tupelo, Mississippi, to parents who knew only poverty, so the house reflected his desire for extravagance and opulence tempered with comfort and personal freedom.
The first room on the right was the living room with large, white, overstuffed furniture and elegant drapes and furnishings. Beyond, the piano took prominence in the music room, and one could almost hear Elvis’s voice ringing throughout the house. Or, as Lisa described her dad’s laughter (on the tape), it permeated the place. She was happy here with her dad, and your could feel the tragedy for her to have lost him and his love. He paid a high price for his fame, and to give the world his music and presence.
But the house reflects the joy and laughter, more than the sadness that inevitably hits everyone touring these premises.
Down the hall, next to the living room, is his dad and mom’s bedroom (not very large at all), which eventually became the last home for his Grandmother Presley. We weren’t allowed upstairs, so returned to the front hall, and viewed the lavish dining room, on the left, with ample room for all his cohorts, which skyrocketed his daily food bill to $400.00. And down the hall, the convenient (but not large) kitchen parallels the dining room, barely allowing room for the three cooks in attendance.
Continuing along the hall, we could see his Jungle Room, but first we turned to the right and went downstairs to the media room and bar (done in blue and yellow)with his lightning logo in the center of one wall. He used another downstairs room for his alone time.
Then back up another set of stairs along the Jungle Room, and outside. There are other rooms, which were used by his cohorts, but they weren’t open for viewing.
All too soon, the inside tour was over. I wish I’d taken longer, to fully experience his energies. Yet, the tour wasn’t over, and much of Elvis was felt in the trophy room, where all his gold records and awards are on display. Also, his costumes and memorabilia adorn cases in these rooms, and some of Lisa’s childhood clothes and furniture. After all, she now owns the home, and all his estate, making her an extremely wealthy lady; and millions more poor in daily from the tours and marketing, plus other enterprises and investments.
In one part of the trophy room, where the costumes are on display, there are miniature TV’s showing excerpts from his performances, and we could see his progress from young and virile to the bloated, sweating image of his last years, when under the influence of too many conflicting prescription drugs. And that’s where the sadness hits; to see the desecration of his body, and his untimely death, at only 39. Yet, Elvis, the person, had died long before, when the demons of fame and fortune took over.
A brief walk across the back lawn took us to the Volleyball room, which now houses more trophies, along with Vernon’s former office, where three secretaries worked daily to keep up with Elvis’s mail and the demands of operating a big business — him.
Again outside, we walked past the stable and horse pasture to the Memorial Garden where Elvis, Vernon and Gladys, and his grandmother are buried midst flowers, fountains, statues and columns. There’s also a tribute to his twin brother, who died at birth, and a bigger-than-life white statue of Jesus, with his arms outstretched. This was one of Elvis’s favorite spots, and mine too. We weren’t allowed to take flash pictures inside, nor video cameras, so I took some outdoor still shots of the Memorial Garden and the horses, now grazing in the front pasture, and the front of the mansion, glancing up to the bathroom where died, as pointed out by a tour guide while we waited for a shuttle to take us back to the Graceland Plaza.
Here I went through his auto museum, and marveled at his purple, and pink, and white Cadillacs; and his black Stutz, pink jeep, golf carts, and myriad “toys,” such as go carts. I watched a video of him and various cars excerpted and compiled from his movies. And in the Bijou theater, I kept cool while viewing another video of his life with excerpts from movies and concerts and TV. All in all, they did an excellent job of memorializing this icon of American music.
I was wondering where to find Van, in order to have a snack, when I heard his cheerful voice behind me. He too had been taking in all the free sights and sounds of the Graceland Plaza, and had also filled my request by filming everything on the camcorder. He agreed, it was time for a snack, so we went into the Chrome Diner, where I filled him in on my tour, and he shared his experiences.
I still hadn’t seen the Sincerely Elvis museum with his personal memorabilia, so while I did, he watched the free movie. Then I went on board his private Convair airplane, the Lisa Marie and viewed his smaller plane, used while the other was being renovated from a Delta Airlines commercial plane to fit his lavish specifications. He called it his flying Graceland, complete with conference table and his personal bed, plus two lavatories with goldleaf basins.
By this time, it was mid-afternoon, and getting extremely hot, so I met Van inside the entrance, and we talked to the Guest Services about directions to Office Depot; a come down from the Graceland Extravaganza, but equally rare, as it’s the only one we’d be near for awhile, and I needed some more copies of my newsletter.
No Divine Order Here
My mood quickly shifted as we zipped past the turnoff to the freeway, and had to turn around and go back. The heat was already getting to me, despite the air conditioning from the engine, and I got upset at the mistake. No Divine Order here, I was convinced, especially since Van said he understood the directions, and could handle it without my help. Then when he got crosswise across the highway, while turning around, I got hysterical over the immanent threat to our lives. But somehow he got us out, without any disaster, other than my sore throat from yelling.
The only value I could see in this disorderly activity, was another opportunity for us both to look at patterns, and consider the possibility of changing them.
We managed to get the copies okay, and then went through another fiasco in the parking lot, while he tried to find an exit that wouldn’t cause Freedom to drag. I felt like I was in the middle of a nightmare, so finally put on my eye-cover for sleeping, a gift that came in handy.
He reassured me I could take them off, as we wended our way through Memphis toward I-40, that would take us across the bridge into Arkansas, to West Memphis, where we planned to fill up at Flying J and shop at Wal-Mart. Also, I’d located an RV park with the assurance of an electrical hookup.
Van too was feeling the effects of the heat, and both our tempers were short, as we attempted to follow the directions to the RV park. When I saw the unsavory area we had to pass through,  I thought we’d gotten into another episode for “out of order,” but we eventually found the park, along a thick tree-lined roadway overlooking the Mississippi River.
This Will Work
“Okay, this will work,” I said, once we’d found our spot, and watched the tugboats and barges drifting by. Then another RV came into the one place that blocked our view. “I give up,” I griped, as I fixed something fast to eat. “What we need is to get to bed. I’ve been awake since 3:00 a.m., and it’s been a big day.”
But first, we turned on the TV to see the weather: “Thunder storms due by midnight.”
“You know what,” I said, “I don’t care. I’m going to bed.” I prayed, and turned it over to God. I awoke the next morning and wondered what had happened to the thunder storm, personally not caring, as long as it wasn’t here. I think I’ve got a new affirmation for Divine Order: “Turn it over to God, do what I need to do, let go and let God do (Divine Order).” I also asked for guidance about our next travels, and the answer came: “Stay put.”
So Van paid up for another night, while I updated my chapter. Quite early, the RV blocking our view moved out, and we had a complete view. Throughout the morning, the wind blew quite hard, but nothing happened. We could see storm clouds to the north, where we would have been traveling, and our air conditioning kept us comfortable.
I’d planned to do our laundry at the free facilities, but decided to wait till morning, and get them done in the cool of the morning, on our way out.
In my meditation I’d been given directions to go north through Arkansas, on I-55, rather than the scenic route through Tennessee. With the prospective storms, it seemed like a wise idea.
As a confirmation of His guidance, the news reported terrible storms north from us, in the exact area we would have been, had we continued on our present course. And that night a glorious light show flashed sheets of lightning further north, across the Mississippi. From a safe distance, I enjoyed watching the extravaganza, and thanked God for His Divine Guidance in giving us a rest stop, while waiting out the storm.
In the cool of the morning, we took a short walk along the Mississippi taking camcorder shots of the river, tugboat and barge that thankfully cruised by, and the field of yellow flowers. Then took advantage of the free laundry facilities, a necessity of life still necessary, even on the road. Shopping and a Flying J fueling completed our preparations for the next part of our travels, northward along I-55 through eastern Arkansas to put us in closer proximity to my visit with Michael Martin on June 20th (a day early), as planned for my pre-birthday celebration.
Proceed Cautiously
As we began our northward trip, I reflected on the recent events. Though I would not have planned our trip to stay at Tom Sawyer’s RV park along the Mississippi, I gave thanks for the respite in our journeys, and the lesson to recognize when “out of order,” actually can mean Divine Order: take time out, listen for guidance, make preparations for the next part of the journey, and as Van says, “proceed cautiously.”
Thank God he was proceeding cautiously along the freeway when the tire blew. I was putting away groceries from our Wal-Mart jaunt, and became disoriented from the simultaneous popping sound and swerving. It felt like we’d hit something, and I could see debris behind us. Van quickly pulled Freedom to the side of the road.
“What happened?” I shouted, after sitting down.
“We have a flat tire,” he replied, then added, “but we have dual tires, so we’re okay.”
I breathed relief, as he got out to examine the damage, while the coach rocked from the impact of the semi’s roaring by. “What is it this time, God?” I asked. “How much further is this Divine Order chapter going on?”
Obviously longer than I thought. Van returned and said, “The more-tire is shredded, but we can make it to the next turnoff on the duals.”
“What’s a more-tire?”
“It’s a third wheel directly behind the duals to keep us steady on the road.”
“Is it another of Freedom’s safety factors?”
“Yes and no. It’s partly a safety factor, but mostly it helps to eliminate the swaying from wind and bumps.” He turned on the engine and slowly began the tedious drive along the shoulder at ten-miles-per-hour.
When we reached the Rest Stop, which miraculously appeared several miles up the road, there was no phone, so he asked a truck driver to use his cell phone. He didn’t have one, but said, “There’s a truck stop about three miles up the road. You can make it on the rim. Our instructions in case of a flat are: keep going on the rim, until you get help.”
In the past, I’ve gone to pieces in these emergencies, but since my meditation during the thunder storm, I simply turn it over to God, and say, “Thank you. It’s done.” The tedious became more tedious during that creeping pace, with the trucks zipping by, but we finally arrived at the truck stop.
Good Sam to the Rescue
Guess what? There was no one to fix the tire. Okay, so Van got to put the Good Sam card to use again. This time he had to make the call himself, and wait for the process to unfold, while the nearest tow truck was located and requested. Fortunately, it only came from twenty-miles ahead, and this time the repair was done on the spot.
My part was to keep cool, so between the generator and the Truck Stop, I completed a crossword puzzle in comparative comfort. At least, my inner thermostat was much cooler too, as the “out of order” was handled with Divine Order.
The interesting part of this process is that the only place I’d found to stay for the night, within a large radius (after studying my maps and guidebooks), was the Knights of the Road RV Park, which was affiliated with the Truck Stop. I’d planned to call ahead, but decided to await God’s guidance. I sure got it, and we got one of the two remaining spaces. Van hooked us up, and turned on the air conditioning, and we went to bed, thankful for the orderly events of the day, despite the flat tire.
Why Challenges?
I realize that “accidents happen,” but I believe they are simply the manifestations of inner thoughts, or consciousness. So I wondered what could be creating these recent occurrences.
The answer came, and I discussed it with Van: “We can take the easy way out, and just say ‘tires get flat,’ or we can examine the inner cause. A pattern can easily be in the making here, and may be already in existence.
“It’s not a make-wrong, but simply a matter of fact. It starts in childhood, and perpetuates throughout life: one needs to create a reason for existence; a purpose. Men usually have their jobs as motivators. In your case, it was your inventive mind that kept you going, and also your computer challenges. But since retirement, you haven’t found anything to utilize your mind. Other than traveling, you have no challenges or interests. No reason for getting up in the morning.
“But with these past tow truck episodes, you’ve handled their challenges, and it’s been quite fascinating for Little Ralph to ride in the tow truck, and otherwise be involved. And that’s okay, but I strongly suggest that you ask God to help you find something that will occupy your mind, and give you an incentive for life.”
He didn’t say anything, so I plodded, “Does this make sense?”
“Yes.” And that was all he said, so I decided not to pursue it any further at this time.
However, the next morning our assignment became: find a new tire for Freedom. The spare had some cracks, and was not conducive for long time endurance.
 

Chapter 8

IMPRISONMENT OR FREEDOM? A MATTER OF CHOICE
A Mystical Setting
The serenity of the postcard scene engulfed me, when I looked out the window at 5:11 a.m at Reelfoot Lake State Park. The water, smooth as glass reflected the grayish shades of a sunless sky framed by three cypress trees with their trunks emerged in the shallow water.
A mystical setting in the hush of no human energies, only a pair of ducks floating on the ripples from a silently passing fishing skiff, and a topknotted red cardinal flits in the branches of a dozen trees on the left of the neighboring coach, still obstructing a major block of my view. Yet, I can see the hues of the sky change to a pinkish peachy golden, as the sunrise begins to take shape, and then reflect across the water. A wind gently stirs the tops of the swaying trees, and a great blue heron glides by.
I change my position to the other end of the couch, and I can see the water rippling between the grove of vine-wrapped trees with their trunks buried in the lagoon, as the skiff is being maneuvered with a paddle, so as not to alert the fish of their presence.
I’ve got to capture this moment in writing, and move to my computer. From this position I can see a blazing fireball is slowly rising between the trees in the distance to the east, and then bursts into flame as the breaks the horizon and now reflects across the sky and lake.
People are beginning to intrude upon the scene, as they take their morning walk to avoid the inevitable heat that will soon penetrate our very souls. But for now they are enjoying the sights and sounds of this tranquil morning.
A Panoramic Sunset
As the blank page appeared on my computer, my thoughts returned to yesterday, and I frowned in recollection of the tumultuous, torturing events and feelings that had fractured my morning tranquillity. The scene had been the same, but with an unobstructed view of this portion of the vast 1800 acre lake, which came into existence in 1811 as the result of an earthquake that opened up the earth and filled it with water.
The night before, we had been able to watch a panoramic sunset, as the gold and orange flames blazoned across the sky and reflected into the water, before setting behind the trees on the far shore.
A Better Door Than Window
But all that changed when a neighbor decided to move his oversized coach into the space in front of us. One that Van had opted not to take, because of the difficult access, but this driver inched his way between the trees. His wife, directing him, held her hands to her face in dread, as he nearly scraped the tree. And I stared in bewilderment and disappointment, as my view slowly became blocked.
And then, as if that wasn’t enough, their friends pulled their coach into the next space, leaving a small portion of my lake view. But the most annoying part was the energies of the loud talking, gruff individual, as he rammed his vehicle into the space designed for a smaller one.
But far more upsetting, was the reality that we could have been in either space, however, Van’s passive-aggressive mode insisted that it wouldn’t work, and I acquiesced by settling for this space. The first night and morning were heavenly. In fact, I said, “This is my favorite place we’ve been so far.”
I don’t know what causes his belligerent moods, but the results are often devastating to me, and this time I couldn’t contain my anger. I’d tried to let it be okay; after all, I knew someone would choose this prime spots with the full lake view. And I could still see a smaller portion between the two coaches and between the trees in the lagoon. But that wasn’t the point.
Something I Really  Wanted
For some reason, the incident brought up feelings for my inner child like when my natural parents disappeared and I went to live with my paternal grandparents. Again, I felt the deep sense of loss from having had something I wanted, and then having it taken away, and the pain was excruciating. I tried to convince myself that it was okay, but it wasn’t.
By the time Van got up, the dam burst, and I erupted all over him in a fit of intense anger. “Look, that driver easily drove into that first space; the one you said wouldn’t work. He’s hooked up, and has the view we should have been enjoying for the next four days. Now I get to look at the side of a solid wall.”
The anger came in waves, partly at myself for being in this situation, but mostly at him. He can be so wonderful, in so many ways, but when his withholding, don’t give them what they want, pattern sets in, I feel paralyzed. And, of course, that’s exactly the result intended by his unconscious need for control to offset his own feelings of powerlessness.
Over the years, Van has changed this pattern, but it’s still part of his subconscious need to boost his ego. It usually happens in a situation when I’m doing something that doesn’t include him (by his own choices), such as this time when I’m planning to visit Michael in prison.
Because I know that every relationship is based on the consciousness of both people involved, I realize that I must change the pattern within me that allows this situation to continue. So yelling at him isn’t the answer, although it helps to vent my feelings, rather than stuff them, as I’d started doing. I’ve endured body aches and pains my entire life from stuffing feelings; and even this time an intense headache began to run its course, but stopped when I verbalized my anger and the tears began flowing.
Yet, through it all, Van was silent. Finally, hours later, he said, “I’m sorry. I’ll try not to make the mistake again.”
I realize these episodes are terribly hard on his delicate self-esteem too, but I can no longer take the brunt of his lifetime control patterns. Either we both change and build a mutually compatible marriage, or we’d better recognize that we don’t have the basis for a sound relationship.
Subliminal Control
As I’m writing, I realize that Van’s passive-aggressive behavior flared up, after I told him about an opportunity to become involved with a spiritual community in North Carolina, and suggested that we consider that as an option. And that we’d see how we felt about it, after visiting the place. But rather than objecting, he unconsciously reverted to the passive-aggressive actions, such as not parking in the space that I’d selected, even though he insisted I pick one.
It’s a classic example of subliminal control, and he doesn’t even realize that he does it, because the unconscious pattern has become part of his lifestyle. It’s much more complex, including the basic, “I’m willing to be wrong, to prove that I’m right.” Such as not getting a job or interest of his own in order to confirm that he “can’t do anything right.” This pattern reverts to his dad saying, “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it.”
Most of his life, Van became perfectionistic in his attempt to “do it right.” But since his downsize layoff, he hasn’t made the effort, presumably because he’s now assumed, “I can’t do anything right, so why try.” Fortunately, he’s gradually healing from the effects of this syndrome.
What concerns me is that his pattern and my projection perpetuate my reticence in moving forward with my writing and my ministry. As I write, we are within a few weeks of visiting the spiritual community, and this issue must be resolved.
The title of this chapter came to me in regard to visiting Michael in prison, but I can see it has much deeper issues that hopefully will be resolved by it’s conclusion. I will take you through the process as I’m living it.
The Red Sea: Dead End
While at the lake, I busied myself with entering into the computer Road Sign #5 (chapter) for my Journey to Inner Freedom course, titled Red Sea: Dead End. This course deals with the Exodus from Egypt, representing bondage, to The Promised Land, symbolizing freedom. I felt especially motivated, as Michael is taking the course and I need to keep ahead of his progress, while compiling and revising the format into booklets.
The subject, of course, is Moses and the Israelites, having escaped captivity, now facing an apparent Dead End, the Red Sea. I’m emphasizing the symbology of our own Journey to Inner Freedom, as given in the Bible. And the lesson here is changing our focus from the habits, patterns, addictions and limitations that appear as obstacles along the way, symbolized by the Red Sea. Instead focusing on the Presence of God.
Moses gave us the solution for passing through these seemingly impenetrable blocks when he said, “Fear not, stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today.” I find this guidance to be an ongoing answer in my life, and it certainly applied with the obstacle at the lake. The bottom line being, “Let go and Let God.” But mostly taking attention from the apparent problem and focusing on God, which I did by concentrating on my course entry.
However, I took time to explain to Van the words written above, and I expressed my belief that his passive-aggressive behavior flared up because of my conversation about the possibility of becoming involved in the spiritual community. As usual, he didn’t consciously know, but admitted the explanation was a possibility.
The Obstruction Removed
All I know is that within an hour the RV blocking our view moved to another location, thus again opening the panorama of the lake. I sat and drank in the full scope of beauty around the three trees in the foreground, as a pontoon boat (handy in this shallow lake) cruised by, birds flitted in the trees, and two playful squirrels frolicked, where the RV had been. “Thank you, God,” I said, “for removing this obstruction.” Without doubt, the conversation with Van, on some level, had shifted and we could both now see more clearly. The energies inside Freedom had even lightened.
Soon after I returned to my computer, I could see another vehicle pulling into the spot, and noticed that it was small enough that our view was not affected at all. I could now watch the full panorama of sunsets over the lake, and I did, feeling the Presence of God deep within my soul and in the beauty of nature and the glorious sunset. Thank you, God.
Van now seemed his wonderful self, as he relaxed or busied himself with his daily activities. And he willingly moved my manuscript (on the computer) from one program format to another. Something momentous (within and without) had occurred in this beauteous setting, and I knew that it wasn’t simply a matter of one RV being replaced by another. The block had first been removed on an inner level, as I changed my focus and allowed the activity of God to clear the way.
That night a thunder storm had been working across southern Missouri and about midnight the skies flashed sheet lightning and the thunder rumbled all around us, as the rain from the summer storm cleared the air. We’d had our own Red Sea crossing, and would be ready to move ahead, after visiting Michael.
For me, the visit had also loomed as an obstacle; only because of the necessity to fulfill all the prison rules and regulations. I’d attempted one phone call to clarify some concerns, such as the cellophane around the cigar I’d bought Michael (at his request)wasn’t sealed, and I feared they might not let him have it. And I needed to know exactly what I could bring for our outdoor picnic. Michael had said everything must be sealed, so I’d bought lunchmeat, cheese and condiments; now I needed to know about crackers, bread, etc. But I’d called too late, and dreaded the walk to the office in the 90+ heat, and the conversation with the prison official, now I must push through this obstacle too.
Absorbed with my writing, I skipped a day and waited until the cool of Friday morning to call. “Call back after 1:30” I was told. Ugh! Now I had to return in the heat of the day.
In the meantime, Van helped me wordscan some material for Road Sign #5, and then prepare my booklet format for three Road Signs, and he moved one of them. I rejoiced over the accomplishments during our four days, and finally tore myself away to brave the heat and trudge to the office to make my phone call. At least the receptionist let me call from inside her air conditioned office.
Getting Ready for a Picnic
This time I made contact with Miss King, who listed paper plates, napkins, plastic knives, forks and spoons, cookies, lettuce, tomatoes — and more — all in factory sealed packages, as acceptable. But no glass containers. I’d already spent my limit on the lunchmeat, chips and cigar, but I needed the other items; so planned to get an early start to go to the post office (to get the letter from Dottie) and Piggly Wiggly, an old-time supermarket.
However, I wasn’t through my Red Sea, yet. The news had said another storm, coming in from Oklahoma, would be moving fast into this area, but they didn’t mention “Severe Thunder Storms,” so   about 11:00 p.m., when the lightning and thunder broke loose, followed by heavy rain and intense winds, I grabbed my earplugs and eye covers, and started praying my way through it. The coach shaked, rattled and rolled, but we survived, yet another storm, and I managed to get back to sleep.
Getting up earlier was the hard part, but we got unhooked, dumped, and on our way in the downpour, which had started up again. Our mail from Dottie was collected midst heavy rain, and then we dashed into Piggly Wiggly. By this time I’d decided to go ahead and get the items, because Joanie had her heart set on a full-fledged picnic.
“Wouldn’t a Visit With Michael be Enough?
But my Inner Guidance had said, “Wouldn’t a visit with Michael be enough?”
“Yes,” I replied, but it would be even better with a picnic.” The only problem I’d worried about was the insufferable heat and humidity — predicted at high 90’s for the day. Instead, we had thunder, lightning and rain. But I felt relieved at the prospects of cooler weather.
Once we arrived at the prison, I covered my head with my jacket, grabbed the three plastic bags of groceries, and dashed into the Visitation Entrance, while Van followed along behind; not to visit Michael, but to make sure I got inside okay.
Passing others who were coming back out to the parking lot with their bags of stuff, I suspected the possibility the picnic had been canceled due to rain. Sure enough, we were being told “It’s not safe outside in this lightning storm, and the tables so near the fence, where it could strike. So take everything back out to your car.”
Joanie hopefully asked, “If it stops later, can we still have our picnic?”
“No. Once the visit starts inside, you must stay there.”
A guard gave me a body search for weapons, and I mentioned my Pepcid. “Guess I don’t need it.”
“Well, if you think you’ll need it, you can leave it here in an envelope.”
I thought about the snack machines, and said, “Okay, maybe I’d better.”
Van had collected all the bags, and waited until I was escorted through the automatic door into the visiting room. I was curious, because I’d been told that Michael already had a visitor.
Once inside the second automatic doors, I looked around the room. After all, I’d never seen him, other than an outdated picture, so I looked for Big Mike, thinking, “he shouldn’t be too hard to locate. And then I heard my name being called, and headed in that direction as he headed my way, and gave me a big bear hug. I was relieved, because I’m not sure I would have recognized the once bushy dark-haired man in the picture he’d sent, as he now had wavy salt-and-pepper hair pulled back in a tight braid.
Then he took me over to a table and introduced me to a pleasant blond lady, “This is Jackie.” He sat down and began explaining, “You know, I’d wanted you two to meet, but Jackie was due here the first two weeks of June. Then she got sick the first weekend, and had car problems the second weekend, so here we are all together. Of course, I’d planned a great picnic where we could all get acquainted.”
Michael looked outside at the downpour, and said, “She brought lobster and crab legs and two cigars,” and then recited even more goodies. I thought, “Guess it didn’t matter about the I cigar I brought, after all.
The day went quickly, and all too soon, our visit was over, and we hugged and said “Goodbye.”
Family Business
Van had been told that he must leave the premises, for security reasons, due to Freedom being a possible escape vehicle, so he’d left, but now awaited me in the parking lot. The rain had stopped, and I climbed on board.
We followed along the lengthy picturesque lake, as I told Van about our visit. He listened attentively, but his mind was on the scenic countryside, as we headed north toward Kentucky.
I too fell silent and began thinking about the years that I’d been corresponding with Big Mike, and his older brother, Adam. It had started in 1983, when I wrote to their dad, Donnie, in Leavenworth Prison, at the request of another inmate.
And several years later, Donnie asked me to write to his teenage son, Adam, when he was arrested for robbery and placed in another prison. But the youngster was committed to being a criminal “just like Dad,” and returned to crime, after his release.
When Donnie was released, in 1987, he enlisted Adam as his partner-in-crime, and they traipsed from Oklahoma to Arizona doing money-order scams on banks. And then a sharp bank teller became suspicious and called the police on them. A chase ensued, and Adam was arrested; but Donnie ran from the van into a field and was shot by an officer, as his handcuffed son helplessly
watched.
Donnie never regained consciousness and died in the hospital. I’ve corresponded and visited Adam for over ten years; and he is still serving time in an Arizona prison for his part. Now in his early thirties, he hopes for parole soon, and has made a conscious choice to give up his life of crime, saying, “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in here, and I don’t want to end up like Dad.”
Michael, though still in his twenties, made the same choice. My job is to support their choices on their Journey to Inner and Outer Freedom. Teaching them to overcome their obsessive-compulsive addictions, patterns and lifestyle is my commitment, with the influence of my books, courses and letters. My visits too, are intended to support and let them know that I “give a damn,” as their dad once said.
Yes, I do “give a damn” about what happens to these boys, now turned men, and about all people who are imprisoned by bars, or by other obsessive-compulsive lifestyles. This is my choice; and my mission.
Fortunately, traveling across the country in Freedom, enjoying the scenic places, such as Reelfoot Lake State Park, affords me the opportunity to pursue this commitment. And despite the hassles with Van, we are both fulfilling our own Journey to Inner and Outer Freedom.
 

Chapter 9

BREAKAWAY OR BRAKE-AWAY?
 Happy Birthday!
This title evolved from Van’s tendency to approach life cautiously, in accordance with his engineer’s mind-set, and one I’ve assumed by association.
When we arrived in Paducah, Kentucky, it was my birthday, and I wanted to connect with Dottie. But she wasn’t home. Since it was Fathers’ Day, I figured they were celebrating with Steve, and I felt a tinge of abandonment not being part of their day.
I always say, “I like to celebrate for a month before, and a month after,” which I’d been doing from Rip Van Winkle’s Garden in New Iberia, on the Natchez riverboat in New Orleans, and along the Gulf Coast with Carlie, and in prison with Michael Martin; though I was disappointed we didn’t get to have our picnic. Nevertheless, I certainly wasn’t deprived.
We’d used a phone in the Ruby Tuesday restaurant, and as I looked at the tantalizing menu and selected chicken stir-fry, I said, “Oh well, let’s eat my birthday dinner here.” But I remembered that I had all the ingredients at home for a shrimp stir-fry, including rice already cooked. Motivated by the menu, I began fixing the shrimp stir-fry. It was good, but I felt disappointed and let-down, like I’d sold myself out.
Throw Caution to the Wind
The next morning, during my meditation, my Inner Voice said, “Breakaway” or was it “Brake-away?” I asked for clarification, and the response said, “Use this time to ‘throw caution to the wind,’ and extend yourselves further than usual. In other words, away with the brake, and break away from the routine. Live it up!”
This sounded good to me, because I’d been much more daredevil, before meeting Van, and had adjusted my life to his. But Joanie still missed her flexible, spontaneous lifestyle. Yet, with the passing of years, it was harder to break those patterns. Now was a good time to breakaway, and be more flexible.
The next day we slept-in, and then went to lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s, for a completion. We even ordered the Triple Fajita Plate (shrimp, beef and chicken), which I usually avoid because of the onions and peppers, but after the Cajun cooking, I figured, “Why not?” Van had already made the choice too. We were off to a good start. The meal was tasty — mostly meat, and only a few green peppers.
Metropolis: Superman’s City
We decided to take a short drive across the Ohio River to Illinois, and along I-24 into the seemingly endless countryside.  I enjoyed the green trees and fields, but after awhile it got tiresome, so we took a road that promised “Big Bay.” However, as often the case in the country, there were no more signs, and we didn’t find the bay; just more green, green, green. Finally, we came to another road that eventually brought us full circle to Metropolis, “Superman’s City,” that boasts a Giant Statue of Superman. And it is huge. But it’s the main claim to fame of this small town, which features the tourist shop windows with posters of Superman. Also, cut-out figures of the cloaked wonder offer opportunity to have your picture taken with your head in his body. But we didn’t stop, just drove on through town.
Metropolis, along the Ohio River, does feature another attraction, a Mississippi Riverboat. But it was on the river, and nowhere in sight, so we walked along the gangplank toward the permanent structure that houses the buffet and a bar. Talk about expansion, the river had flooded over the lower parking lot, and only the tops of parking signs were visible. Suddenly the magnificent riverboat came round the bend and toward the dock.
The inside offered a Hawaiian theme with authentic singers, but all the slots and gambling are on board the riverboat, in accordance with the law that allows gambling “on the water.” Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to take the next free cruise.
Let’s Sit in the Crow’s Nest
As we parked downtown, we noticed the high wall along the river, which my Tour Guidebook explained, “When they know the river is going to flood, they put heavy gates in the openings, and the wall serves as flood control.”
“What a great idea,” I said to Van, asking “I wonder why other flood areas don’t do this?”
“Because they aren’t willing to invest the money,” he replied.
“Well, it costs a lot more for flood damage,” I responded, as we entered the Whalers Catch Restaurant, with its distinctive seafaring motif. “We’d like to sit in the Crow’s Nest,” I requested.
But when we got upstairs, and the hostess escorted us outside to their featured viewpoint, I balked, “The view is outstanding, but I can’t handle this 90+ heat and humidity. Can we please sit inside?”
I would love to have expanded my capabilities to tolerate the heat, but it’s pushing a “bridge too far” at this stage of my life, so we enjoyed the same view from inside the air conditioned section: the mural-painted seawall with the Ohio River flowing on its way to join with the Mighty Mississippi within a few miles. And the food was delicious too, as I savored my clam strips.
I’d let Joanie select her choice, which too often is deep-fried or otherwise not conducive to fitness. Yet, after much research and observation, I’ve come to understand that food is a matter of preference, often based on beliefs, and it can be a control factor.
DQ and Nobel City Park
To confirm my contention about food being a matter of choices, we stopped at Dairy Queen for a topper to the meal. After three meals in one day, we were stuffed, but Joanie and Little Ralph can always manage a DQ, so chose a small one, which we munched while driving on a tour through the city’s Nobel Park, which was established in 1926, and offers everything from tennis courts to a lake and bandstand, plus a ballpark and swimming pool, which was packed in the 80 degree heat of the summer evening. We were happy to find comfort in our air conditioned RV.
We Were There all the Time
As Van drove us east along I-24, I said, “Let’s stop at the Welcome Center, I want to get some brochures and maps.” I’d had on my mind to tour Whitehaven, a restored antebellum mansion, and didn’t realize until we were leaving that we’d been parked at the side entrance. It was also the Welcome Center; so I quickly grabbed my camcorder and got some shots of the columned front as we drove by.
This was one of several times when I discovered that we were already where I thought I wanted to go. Since I’m developing my course, Journey to Inner Freedom, based on the Exodus from Egypt to The Promised Land, the lesson here seemed to be that there is no place to go to get there; we are already in The Promised Land. It’s simply a matter of recognition and acceptance.
And our adventure for today enhanced the lesson. While at Reelfoot Lake State Park in Tennessee, Nettie, the Park Hostess, had told me about a restaurant, The Iron Kettle, in Grand Rivers, where we simply must eat, and that’s at the entrance to Lands Between the Lakes, where there are incredible RV parks and facilities.
Pattie’s Pork Chops
In the meantime, I read about a fabulous place, Pattie’s, where they featured pork chops. So we decided to eat pork chops as Patties, and then check out the other one afterward.
Patties 1880 Restaurant is a “must see” with its ornate decor of artificial flowers, vines, leaves and branches; quilts, doilies, dolls and dresses; pictures and knick knacks. But most of all the delicious country food and excellent service by servers in their old-fashioned dresses. Pork chops are selected by size: 1 inch, or 2. I selected 1, and Van ordered the daily smoked pork chop special — 1-and-1/2 inches. Spinach salad and baked potato completed my meal. We also shared a piece of chocolate pecan pie.
There is so much to see, both inside and outside at Pattie’s, including a waterwheel and a mini-zoo, but we couldn’t stand the heat, and felt sorry for the hot animals, so walked a block to the Iron Kettle. Of course, we were so stuffed that the country buffet served from an old-fashioned stove full of hot entrees didn’t appeal to us at the time. But we agreed it would be a good place to visit on a cooler trip.
Land Between the Lakes
Later, we toured the Land Between the Lakes area, and drove into a state RV park that was nearly full, despite its 184 sites. This is a popular resort along the Kentucky Lake, and another series of parks are on Barkley Lake; both fed by the Tennessee River, and part of the Tennessee Valley Authority project. The Trace, as this highway is called, goes through the middle ground and it’s difficult to see the lake. However, on the return, we crossed the Kentucky Lake Dam and could see a large expanse of water and the popular beach where the locals flock to cool off.
The Outback
That evening we went to The Outback, an Australian oriented chain of restaurants that we’d seen across the country — even in Colorado — but hadn’t tried. The challenge was to select something light, so I ordered a baked sweet potato, which was unusually delicious, and a Caesar’s Salad, which was unusually spicy. I also ordered coconut shrimp for appetizers.
But first we stopped by the movies and discovered that we arrived just in time for the 10:00 p.m. feature, 6 Days and 7 Nights, with Harrison Ford and Ann Heche. We didn’t eat any popcorn, thank goodness. One can take “brake-away only so far. But the adventure spoof added a definite dimension to our theme, and we enjoyed the entertainment.
Food, Mail and Museums
For a change of pace, the next day’s lunch was Mexican, and very good too. Then we returned to the Whitehaven mansion for a free tour, and later went downtown to the world famous American Quilters’ Museum for a short time.
Now that we were used to eating three meals a day, we soon became hungry, so walked in the evening heat to a nearby Waffle Hut; quite a letdown from our accustomed fare. The food was okay, but when the cleaning crew arrived at this 24-hour restaurant (about 7:30) and started sweeping, mopping and waxing with the chemical smells wafting our way, I was ready to leave. “It’s a matter of poor management,” I said to Van as we wended our way back to the motel.
We entertained ourselves with TV and my newly arrived magazines, which we had collected with our mail that we’d had forwarded to the Paducah PO.
Our last lunch turned out to be another unique Paducah experience: The Flamingo Cafe featured fresh home-baked bread with a variety of fillings (stuffed lengthwise inside the loaf). I had Turkey and Colby, which was absolutely delicious, but far more than Van or I could eat in one meal, so we took our leftovers home, along with an outrageous Brownie topped with chocolate chips, chocolate bark and pecans.
Breakaway Steps
Our “brake-away” had been lots of fun and expensive, but it was time to move on. However, we’d discovered that Freedom’s steps wouldn’t work, so our next assignment was to find an RV service center. I’d seen a sign advertising one thirty-miles back from where we’d come, along the Purchase Parkway. But we discovered they were busy, and the other two along the way were also unavailable.
This seemed like a good time to rethink our plans and purpose, especially since the intense heat had caused our last two repairs — the blown tire and the alternator; and probably the steps not working too.
We considered our options: Camping World at Bowling Green –nearly two hours east– seemed the best, so we stayed at Kenlake State Park, overlooking the lake, not far  south from Grand Rivers, where we’d had lunch. Van called to find out when we could get service, and learned that it would be five days later. Now we really needed to reconsider our options.
Would we still head east for our rendezvous with Dottie and Steve in Greensboro, North Carolina, as well as visiting the others we hoped to see in our travels? Or should we head north to the Holiday Rambler headquarters and get the steps repaired, as well as the windshield, which was already on our agenda? Or should we return to Colorado and find a cooler area to spend the summer?
Not For Me!
The next morning, while still pondering these issues, though having turned them over to God for answers, I took time to read the packet of information sent by Bo Lozoff’s Human Kindness Foundation. I knew it was a commune with discipline and service as part of their basis, but having to fill out an application form and sending a picture in order to visit seemed more controlled than I felt willing to commit for a visit.
Yes, I had considered the possibility of joining forces with them, but a visit would be the first step. Now, without a doubt in my mind, I knew this group wasn’t for me.
I felt a physical reaction to this realization, as the door was definitely closed for a previous option, and I allowed myself time to grieve the loss.
While in this process, neighbors from a fifth-wheeler walked down the hill, and in the same moment, I was given a flashback to their efforts to park in a spot that was too small. But they eventually crammed themselves in, and the man attempted to hookup to the electrical. However, it was too far for his extension to reach, and eventually they moved across the way to a more compatible space. I was delighted, because their coach would have blocked our entire view of the expansive lake. Later, a smaller camper pulled in with extra extension cords, and everything fit perfectly for them without interrupting our view. It was a win-win for everyone, including the couple who moved to another location that still afforded them a view.
In the same moment that I was given the flashback, an entire analogy lesson went through my mind: For us to attempt to fit into the spiritual lifestyle of the Human Kindness House would be like attempting to force the fifth-wheeler into the wrong space. I realized that it’s not a matter of right or wrong for anyone; but simply what works.
With this visit at the furthest outpost of our itinerary eliminated, I began wondering just how much further east we should go. Again the option to head north seemed appealing, despite the thunder storms. After all, they will eventually stop, as they did here for awhile, and the cooler weather beckoned.
Breakaway Plans
Perhaps another lesson here is that we can breakaway from our preconceived itinerary, and be flexible about our Journey.
 In the meantime, we seemed at a dead end, trapped inside Freedom by mid-nineties heat and humidity and steps that didn’t work for easy departure and access. The weather news reported terrible storms and flooding to the west in Missouri, and north, including Indiana, where we’d planned to travel. A hurricane was brewing south, which could threaten the Gulf Coast, and the only route open was east — the direction we were headed. But the heat would continue to be with us.
Putting on the Brakes
I’d hoped to visit Chris Estep in prison at Central City, but when I called, The officer in charge of Visitations said that Chris had been away, though due back that day. He added that my name wasn’t on his Visiting List. In order to visit, I would need to write to a Deputy Warden a week in advance and request permission, unless Chris put my name on the List, once he returned. I decided to write him again, but hoped he’d received my previous letter and would add my name to his Visitor’s List upon his return.
In an effort to determine where to get the steps fixed, Van had called Camping World in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and learned that it would be nearly a week before we could get an appointment, but the suggested D and D repairs.
Finally, we made the decision to move forward to Bowling Green and stayed at the Beech Road RV Park with 400 spaces, part of a once bustling Amusement Park that succumbed to the publics’ allure of the Opryland Amusement Park in Nashville, about an hour’s drive south. Now it too, is defunct, and a Discount Mall is being built.
Van called D and D on Monday and made an appointment for Tuesday. The weather news reported a thunder storm would hit that night, and I found myself immobilized with panic. But nothing to do, but go through, so I went to bed. The thunder, lightning, wind and rain pummeled Freedom, and I briefly awoke, then put in my earplugs and eyeshades, and returned to sleep.
The next morning I took time for a meditation, and again asked for Guidance; also for an explanation and understanding: Why have we been going through all these storms, and the repairs for Freedom ever since we left the Gulf Coast?
This time my Inner Voice unfolded, not only directions, but an explanation, which I’ll share.
While still at Carlie’s, when she went to New Orleans, I began entering my Journey to Inner Freedom Road Sign #5 into the computer. his Inner Journey is symbolized by the Exodus of Moses and the Israelites from bondage in Egypt to freedom in The Promised Land.
I’d begun writing the course, over ten years earlier, but set it aside, because I didn’t care to endure the hardships of experiencing the process along the way. When first writing the course, I’d learned that this inner journey is cyclic and spherical on different levels. I’d already been through it several times, and didn’t look forward to further discomfort. But, on the other hand, I wanted to complete the course so others could benefit from the material. Also, I didn’t want to stay stuck at the Dead End, so I resumed writing.In retrospect, with my Inner Guidance help, I could see that our trip had been without mishap prior to then, and our recent setbacks had taken place since.
With this in mind, there was no doubt we had reached the Dead End of the Red Sea, and the only way out was through. The words from my course reminded me that symbolically the Red Sea represents Collective Consciousness, sometimes called Race Consciousness, referring to the masses. It’s all the reasons why we can’t move forward, or why it doesn’t work, and we find lots of agreement for our own limitations, such as doubt and fear, symbolized by Pharaoh (representing our ego) and his army (representing our thoughts).
This is called stuck between a rock and a hard place. It seems as if there’s no place to go, and we panic, exactly like I’d been doing. We all reach this place in our inner journey; even the Israelites complained that they would have been better off in the familiar environment of bondage.
But none of these options take us to our desired destination — freedom. So, what next?
Stand Firm and See
Moses was told, “Stand firm and see the salvation which the Lord will work for you this day.” And that is our answer too.
Have faith, keep our focus on God, and stay in the Present Moment, without attempting to deal with all the future issues or solving those problems now. It’s too overwhelming, and it isn’t necessary. God will take care of them one at a time. It’s a divine promise.
The storm had solved one problem, at least; the temperature dropped into the mid-eighties, bringing welcome relief with a cloud cover and wind remaining behind for the day, while we pursued the steps repair.
I used the waiting time to update my chapter, and Van reported: “It’s not the PC Board; it’s the motor.”
“Is that good news?”
“No, it’s bad news. The motor has to be replaced, and it’s better to buy a new step package, which includes motor, PC Board and steps. It’ll cost $314.00 at Camping World, and Dick will install it for $100.00, the same price they charge; but he can do it today.”
“So you’re saying we’ll go get the steps and come back here?”
“Right.”
Back across town to Camping World, which is next to the RV park we had just left.
I suggested that Van call Steve for further input, while I updated my chapter.
Dottie’s Red Sea
Soon he returned, “Dottie wants to talk with you, so she’ll call back in about ten minutes. And Steve will get back with me, after talking with the mechanic.”
I welcomed the air conditioned comfort, while talking with Dottie. After unloading our Red Sea experiences, she agreed with the information, and added, “I’ve just finished editing Road Sign 4: The Plagues, and we’re now there too. We’re trying to get ready for our trip to Greensboro, which means we’ve spent over $600.00 getting the car ready for the trip.”
Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. There are storms and floods all the way from there to Greensboro, and it’s over 3200 miles. Are you sure you want to take the chances, and also put that much mileage on Golden (the name we gave the Volvo)?”
“Well, if we’re going through the Inner Journey, it doesn’t matter whether we’re here or there, and we’re really committed to this trip.”
“I guess you’re right. It’s called Life. And the same applies to us. After all this is our home, as well as our transportation, and we can either attempt to avoid the pitfalls of life, or we can go for it. So might as well continue with our plans, and meet you there.”
Dottie updated me on Airica’s progress with getting her Driving Permit and the driving lessons now taking place between mother and daughter — with Golden’s patient endurance.
Dottie said, “Actually, Airica is doing much better than Arianna and Christina, whom I also taught to drive. And she’s not giving me a bad time, either. And, of course, I’m doing much better too.”
I enjoyed the family news, and also the opportunity to exchange some information about the editing. But long before our conversation was completed, another customer stood waiting to use the phone; one of the hazards of life on the road. I had to admit, though, he was more patient than most, and I finally got off the phone.
Wrong Size Screw Holes
When I joined Van, he’d already purchased the steps, and arranged for the additional 10 percent discount being offered. This brought the cost to under $200.00, and I didn’t feel quite as bad about the unexpected expense.
Back across town to D and D repairs, where Dick attempted to install the steps, but ran up against problems, so took longer than expected.
Van laughed, because Steve had suggested that the mechanic where he works offered to tell Van how to make the change himself. “No, thanks,” he said. “I’d much rather pay the mechanic than hassle with it by myself.”
“Hooray for you,” I shouted. “Maybe that’s part of your Red Sea obstacles that needed to be faced: willingness to spend the money necessary for getting the job done right.”
An hour job turned into three, because the screw holes on the newer model steps didn’t fit into the old ones, so Dick had to modify them; yet he only charged the original estimate of $100.00.
However, we still weren’t across this particular Red Sea, because they didn’t work quite right. They would be okay, but an important function — opening or closing when the key is first turned, without the engine, didn’t work.
Dick said, “It could be a low battery, so when you get up the road, if it’s not right, call the step manufacturer and if they say to get a new set of steps, I’ll make it right for you.”
Push on Through
This was generous on Dick’s part, but it definitely didn’t fit into our plans to move on East. Instead, I decided to make one more attempt to see Chris Estep in a prison about an hour away.
I again called the prison, and this time asked for the Deputy Warden, whose name I’d been given when I called before. Her secretary answered, and I managed to give her the necessary information and ask the right questions in order to get the needed answers: Chris is back. His Visiting List is full, and someone would have to be removed in order for my name to be added; and that can only be done every six-months.
I felt like I was indeed at the Red Sea of impossible obstacles, and considered giving up the quest, but I got clear on my intentions that I wanted to see Chris. Finally, Carla added, “As clergy, you can visit on the regular visiting day, even if your name is not on the List.” Then, as an afterthought, she added, “Because this is the Fourth of July weekend, Friday is a visiting day.”
“Allright, then is there any reason I would not be able to see him, if I make the trip to get there?”
“Oh, let me look up something here in the computer.” She scanned his file, then said, “Okay, he’s not on the Security List, and he’s in a dormitory, so he can have visitors.”
With all this information, Van and I made the decision to backtrack to Central City, so I could see Chris.
As we retraced the first 27-miles to Russelville, and then headed north to Lake Malone State Park, I thought about the twenty-plus years I’d known Chris. While in prison the first time (that I knew of), he’d been opinionated and surly, but never offensive. Simply another victim of his childhood patterns.
He had responded to the questions in my course, “Saying “Yes” to Inner Freedom, in his own unique way, and I’d published them, along with his story, in The Freedomers’ Say “Yes” to Inner Freedom, adding a touch of spice.
He eventually paroled, married, and headed to southern California on a motorcycle to visit a friend. But their bike and belongings were stolen, and they got a job in North County, near us, living outdoors in the woods, along a creek near the Industrial Park where they worked.
I was delighted when he called, and gladly met him for lunch, and let him pay the bill, at his request. A favorite memory is Chris playing his guitar and singing at our home on New Years Eve.
Sadly, their lifestyle ended when they had moved to a State Park, and confided to a neighbor about breaking his parole to make this trip. The fellow got angry at Chris and reported his parole violation to the Park Ranger. Immediately Chris was taken into custody and returned to Kentucky, where he’d been paroled.
As customary for a previous offender, he was accused of another crime and returned to prison. He and his wife, who was a raging alcoholic, divorced. Chris and I continued corresponding throughout all this time, but his letters had dwindled as the years passed and he became absorbed in an eastern religious philosophy, which mellowed him from an activist to a passifist, and given to periods of silence, he seemed less inclined to correspond.
Yet, I felt a friendship with Chris, and looked forward to our visit.
Turkey Burgers and Chiggers
At Lake Malone State Park, we perched on a high hill above the lake, and could barely see it glistening through the thick trees. I felt like we were in a tree house, as the thick green leaves on the branches (from the trees below) surrounded us. The peace and quiet offered an opportunity to take a day off from the computer and relax.
A fire was still smoldering in the firepit, so I tossed on two turkey burgers, and we ate at the picnic table, enjoying the first day cool enough for comfort. Squirrels frolicked on the ground and up the trees, while a bluejay and cardinal flitted through the branches. Later, when we were inside Freedom, they both danced across the picnic table, along the ground, and on the posts looking for crumbs. The most of my activities for the day were to grab the camcorder and film their actions. Van too enjoyed the restful day.
However, at sunset we rallied ourselves and walked across the green lawn (so prevalent in Kentucky), past the playground and outdoor basketball court, and along the road that lead down the hill to the lake. Trees and a steep embankment made it somewhat inaccessible at this point, but several fishermen and some teenagers were enjoying its recreational options.
Darkness was setting in, so we scrambled through the woods and up the hill to Freedom. Then wandered over to check the laundry (rather antiquated, but available) and phone (by the open door to the men’s room, where a father and son were showering). I decided to postpone using both facilities, until the next day.
Walking past a senior couple, who had welcomed us when we arrived, I stopped to talk awhile. They were local, from nearby Rosedale, and I asked about the various routes from here. As we chatted, we mentioned having walked across the lawn and through the woods to the lake.
“Oh, you want to be careful of deer ticks and chiggers,” she warned. They are bad this year.” My skin began to crawl and itch, as I imagined myself infested. How I dread invading insects, bugs and anything that bites or stings.
“We have to spray ourselves in order to mow the lawn,” she added, and continued with her dissertation of their offenses. “You want to be sure and wash yourself with soap and water, and shake out your clothes.”
I couldn’t stand it. Van had already excused himself, as he was being attacked by other flying insects in the night air, and I felt the need to shower and wash my hair, although I’d already done it that morning.
“That’s the end of my walks, unless on the road,” I announced to Van.
Change my Focus
I awoke early the next morning to the abrasive sound of men’s voices at the next site. They were awaiting more of their group, including wives and kids, and were discussing if they had enough room for all their boats. “Oh, no,” I thought, “their goes our peace and quiet.”
I began to fret, but decided to focus on my meditation instead. I said, “God, I know I can master this lesson of taking my anxiety from the seeming outer disturbances, including insects, people and storms, and focusing on you.” Getting deeper into meditation, after closing the window, the voices dimmed, and soon were gone. “Thank you, God.”
“Maybe they’re moving to a larger site,” I thought. But when I got up, I noticed they had left a pup-tent on the space. Yet, they weren’t there at the moment, so I went to the computer and busied myself with my writing.
All was peace and quiet in my tree-house-like setting, until late evening when they returned and set up camp on the hillside below, causing no disturbance. But around midnight, two more carloads arrived as kids and adults happily traipsed back and forth through the night, with flashlights and lanterns reflecting through my windows. But this time the banging car doors and other sounds didn’t upset me. Instead, I used my time to edit a manuscript, and eventually, when all was quiet I went to sleep.
“Thank you, God, I’ve made it across the Red Sea,” I said, as I began my morning meditation and prepared for my visit with Chris Estep.
 

 Chapter 10

I DON’T WANT TO GO THROUGH THE WILDERNESS

The Mirrored Maze

Riding along the country roads in the early morning, on our way to visit Chris in the Central City prison, I thought about the manuscript I’d been editing in preparation for revising The Wilderness, Road Sign #6, for my Journey to Inner Freedom course. It’s taken me twenty years to get this far with the course, because I dread going through the various stages, as I’m writing. Yet, it inevitably happens, as mentioned in the Road Sign #5, The Red Sea: Dead End.
The Wilderness is even worse, because it’s a mirrored maze through the corridors of our memories, facing the buried emotional unresolved issues. And each time one cycles through the inner journey, on the various levels, it’s much like a vortex, eventually taking you through the center and into the awareness of Oneness with God. So, it’s worth the relatively short period of discomfort to be free of the underlying endless pain caused by these festering piles of accumulated energy.
With this in mind, we arrived at the prison. I really hadn’t anticipated any problem, because I’d called first and gotten the necessary information from Carla, the deputy warden’s secretary. I was surprised to discover a front gate, but we stopped for clearance. I wasn’t concerned, because Carla had given me the Ordinance and policy number allowing clergy to visit inmates without having their name on the Visiting List.
The first obstacle of this wilderness nightmare came when I asked the guard, “Is it okay for my husband to remain in the motor home during my visit?”
“No.”
Then Van asked, “Can I wait, until I’m sure she makes it inside?”
“No. I’ve already called, she’s cleared.” Then he added, “Leave her off at the parking lot and she can walk along the sidewalk to the Visiting Room.” He pointed to the building.
I was used to having my home/vehicle nearby, and felt uncomfortable about Van leaving. But it’s policy, and I’d already detected that there’s no flexibility. Yet, I was certain everything would go smoothly, as I went through the sign-in procedure.
Undergarment or Brassiere?
I’d been subjected to a body-search at the last prison, so that didn’t disturb me. But as the female frisked my body, she said, “You’re not wearing a brassiere. We have a policy that females must wear undergarments.”
“But this is my undergarment,” I said, referring to my tank top under my blouse. I don’t wear bra’s.”
“It’s policy. You can’t visit today.”
I protested, “They sent my husband away, am I supposed to stay here for five hours?”
She replied, “No, you can’t stay in here; you’ll have to wait outside,” and she pointed to the guard’s shed. As she turned to talk to the male officer, I wandered to a chair and sat down. My emotions got the best of me, and I burst into tears. I thought about the distance we’d come, my pushing through obstacles to get here, and then to be refused for such a senseless reason.
Apparently alerted to my distress, the female officer came over and said, “I’ve phoned for the Visiting Room officer.”
“I’m an old lady,” I wept, hoping to play on her youth and sympathy, “what difference does it make if I’m wearing a bra?”
“It’s policy,” she replied.
When the second officer arrived, he looked at my credentials and announced, “Your minister’s license has expired this month. I could pass that, but the policy about your undergarment is in violation.”
Upset that this could have been avoided, if only they had let Van stay, until I’d been approved, I cried even more. Soon a supervisor appeared and heard their story.
He seemed to have more understanding, so I said, “I’m wearing an undergarment,” and started to unfasten my top button. Both males turned their heads away, and I asked “Does your policy say ‘undergarment’ or ‘brassiere’?”
Everyone studied their policy booklet, then he replied, “You’re right, it says ‘undergarment.”
Lighter Energies
Finally Chris arrived, and I remembered that his reddish hair and bearded face reminded me of my half-brother, Tom, and I felt a kinship. But actually, I probably knew Chris better than Tom, because I seldom see him; and I’ve corresponded with Chris for over twenty years. He’d been in his early twenties when we first corresponded, and now he’s almost forty.
But he looked good, and his energies were light, a result of his ongoing inner search for himself and God. We’d been sharing this inner journey through letters, so it was easy to take up where we had left off.  After our opening greetings, and my telling him about my ordeal, we were soon lost in conversation.
Chris’s Wilderness Story
He told me his wilderness adventures when he learned that he was about to be killed in the minimum prison where he had been transferred. Deciding he had nothing to lose, he escaped into the forests of the tall mountains. Desperate, he stumbled through the darkness, thankful for the heavy rains that threw off the scent for the dogs. Exhausted, after three days in that wilderness, with his leg bleeding and infected from cuts, he fell asleep. He awoke to a gun barrel staring him in the face, and was sent to a prison hospital.
I asked, “Chris, are you telling me that you’ve been away from here over a year, and only returned nine days ago?”
“Yes,” he replied, “and I’m sorry I haven’t kept in touch with you. I promise that I will let you know when I move, from now on.”
“Thank you, I really appreciate that. I would have been devastated, if I’d arrived here and learned you were transferred. It was bad enough trying to push through the obstacles to see you. But the main point is that God brought me here at the right time, and we’re having this visit.”
We discussed many aspects of the inner journey, and Chris admitted he knows that his ongoing experience of Oneness with God is simply a matter of his choice. “I just can’t bring myself to completely let go control. I still want to hold on.”
I said, “Chris, you’re not alone. The hardest part of this Journey is surrender, and it can happen at any place along the route.” I paused, then added, “Maybe that’s really the Dead End at the Red Sea. It’s the place of surrender; turning it over to God.”
Surrender Isn’t Giving Up
I shared about our recent experiences, and added, “Looking back, the only way I made it through most of those traumas, such as the horrific thunder storm in Natchez State Park, the tire blowing and other RV episodes, is that I finally had to admit I couldn’t do anything about it, so I gave it all up to God. I surrendered.”
Chris listened intently, nodded his head, and said, “I know. I’ve got to do it. I’ve just got to let go. But it’s so difficult.”
I smiled, “I know you can do it. And you will.”
When we took a break for me to get us sodas and snacks, I laughed when I noticed that the sun had become obliterated by heavy clouds. “Thank you, God, that’s really good.”
 I’d been thinking about our conversation, and when I returned, I said, “Chris, you need to know that when you surrender, you really aren’t giving anything up, you’re gaining everything. It’s The Promised Land.”
He knew exactly what I was talking about, and nodded his head. Then I added, “But it’s not necessarily that easy. You see, there’s all that buried inner child, plus our addictions, habits, patterns and other limitations that keep us locked into bondage to materiality, sensuality and other demands of the ego. They are what cause us to take so long to make the choice to surrender.”
I paused and looked outside, “Oh my gosh, it’s raining. You know, that’s symbolic of the cleansing and purification process that we undergo in The Wilderness.”
After the intensity of our conversation, we lightened up and  updated on our families. Chris’s comments about his father’s having been an alcoholic and the repercussions, caused me to say, “Chris, I know you’ve made tremendous progress on your Inner Journey, but I think there are patterns that will trip you up when you get released, unless you face and change them.”
He looked thoughtful and said, “You’re right. I think there are some patterns that still run me.”
With his willingness to admit this, I felt he would be ready to recognize and identify them, so I said, “If you want, I’ll send you some of my writings that might be helpful in changing them.”
Knowing Chris, I understood that it was not easy for him to reach this place, but it was a major step of surrender, and he said, “Yes, I would read them, but please don’t make it a hardship on yourself financially.”
I appreciated his concern, and said, “No Chris, I won’t. With our presently limited finances, I can’t. But I’ll let God guide me, and it’ll be right.”
An Instant or a Lifetime
By this time, four hours had elapsed, and our visit seemed complete. It had stopped raining, and it was near time for Van to return, so we said our good-byes, hugged, and parted with a warm glow.
As I retrieved my shirt and passed the female officer, I knew these policy games really didn’t matter. They had all been part of my wilderness process, and the visit with Chris was the important result. I knew we’d passed through this phase of The Wilderness, and were both in a different level, as a result of our visit.
I’d hoped I was through The Wilderness, but suspected this was only the beginning. Yet, I know the process can happen instantaneously, or a lifetime.
One Step at a Time
For instance, our steps on our motor home weren’t working right, and Van had called the manufacturer. He was advised to return to the repair shop in Bowling Green, and have Dick make the adjustments. In the meantime, the consultant at Quick Step would call and explain the proper procedure to him.
However, the July 4th weekend was upon us, so I asked Van to call Dick for an appointment. Van balked. He hates to make phone calls, and thought he’d done his part by calling Quick Step.
I insisted, “You need to give Dick our schedule, and we need to know his.” I knew Van was in his own wilderness process over these steps, and it was time for him to push through his discomfort with phone calls.
When he returned, he announced, “Dick has two big jobs that he has to finish before Sunday, so he can’t take us, until Monday morning.”
“Sounds like we have some extra time. Where should we spend it?”
“I don’t know.”
“Could you please take an active part in making some of the plans for this trip; like now, for instance.” I was getting provoked with his passive-aggressive behavior, which had recently returned. Part of our wilderness process, no doubt.
“I don’t care. What do you want to do?” Another passive-aggressive technic: turn it back to the other person to make the decisions, thus avoiding any commitment or responsibility.
“Okay, if you won’t make a decision, let’s return to Bowling Green. We can stay free at the repair shop or Wal-Mart. Or we can pay $15.00 for a hookup where we stayed at Beech Bend RV Park. I want to do a lot of writing, and I want to keep cool; so we’ll need the electricity and air-conditioning. Do you want to use the generator or pay for a hookup?”
“Either way is okay.”
I gritted my teeth, as I wondered “What does it take for him to make a decision?” Oh well, no use trying to change him; I’ll just live with it, and continue making them myself. But always, I listen to God’s Guidance, so I guess it doesn’t matter if He gives the directions to me, or Van.”
When Van met me, after I left Christ, I recounted my traumatic ordeal, and concluded, “I need to eat. I’ll fix something, where can we stop?”
“While you visited Chris, I waited at Wal-Mart; it seems to be a good spot. Let’s wait there.”
Wow! A decision! Hey, I’m willing to support that.
Freeways, Parkways and Thoroughfares 
Now, as we headed back to Bowling Green, I figured, “No use pushing it, so I said, “I’m ready for freeways, parkways and thoroughfares. And I’m also leaning toward “Good Sam rated RV Parks,” when available. So let’s pay for the Beech Bend RV Park.
“Okay.”
I don’t know how a small town like Central City can be so difficult to leave, but we went around in circles for at least half-an-hour. The highway I thought we should take went south. We turned around and went back to another highway, which took us back into Central City. Somehow, we found a sign that indicated the parkway, and eventually got on it. I breathed a sigh of relief, and settled down for the ride, enjoying the restful lush green thickets along the road.
“I like these parkways,” I announced, as we breezed along with very little traffic, even on this first day of the three-day-weekend, and added, “It’s worth the price.”
This parkway too, seemed part of our wilderness process, because Van had been avoiding toll roads for some reason; whether he objected to paying the toll, or because it was something new. Now he too, seemed to enjoy the convenience.
After about fifteen-miles, we came to a toll booth, which threw us into a quandary, because we didn’t know how it worked. The sign said, “Exact change,” and Van said, “I don’t have any.” So I scurried to our laundry quarters, depleted by the prison vending machines, and handed 60-cents to the waiting cashier.
“Well, now we’ve mastered this new phenomenon,” I said, as we sped on down the toll road. “Apparently they charge by the kind of vehicle and number of axles.” After another distance, the next toll booth appeared, but we were thinking about exiting, so asked, “Do we still have to pay, even if we’re exiting?”
“Yes.” This time it was 75-cents, but it’s the last toll booth, so we decided to stay on the parkway, because it soon ended at the freeway, and we planned to exit there to go to Wendy’s for a snack.
Now for Some Fun
With my prison visit behind us, and the toll parkway mastered, we felt good, and the hamburgers hit the spot. I looked across the road and noticed the Greenwood Mall, where we had recently stayed at Wal-Mart.
“Let’s stay there again tonight,” I suggested. “We’ll save $15.00, and we can go to the movies tomorrow for our July 4th celebration. We still want to see The Truman Show.”
“Okay.”
The next morning, I reminded Van that Dottie had said Steve wanted to talk to him, which meant another phone call. He reluctantly went to the Wal-Mart phone, but when he returned, he seemed elated. Obviously the connection with Steve had been an essential part of Little Ralph’s healing. He reported that being a holiday, they weren’t busy, and Steve wanted to visit about their trip and the steps repair and a job possibility for Van, which he wasn’t excited about, and bottom-lined, “The dealership needs someone to deliver RV’s, and Steve thinks I’d be good for the job.” Then he smiled, It’s not ready right away, so we can continue our trip.”
We couldn’t have selected a better movie for Independence Day. The movie, about a person whose entire life appeared as a continuous TV serial, addressed the issues of control and freedom. It reminded me of something I wrote for Road Sign #6, about my contention that Van’s life seemed to be lived from inside a glass jar; the old-fashioned kind with a glass lid, rubber sealer and metal clamp. That’s because even his laughter seemed controlled and muted; here, but not really here.
He’s made progress in unsealing his captivity. When I mentioned the analogy then, and now about the movie, he understood exactly what I meant.
Yes, we were both going through our wilderness experience, and this time seemed to be our inner kids completing the transition from childhood to adulthood.
At least they enjoyed the low-key fireworks that night, as neighboring kids lit off their supply at Beech Bend RV Park. I’ve never been fond of fireworks, and this was just enough for me to feel that I’d participated in the holiday, yet not be fearful of an unintended fire.
Nature added her part to the celebration with a mild lightning show and rain (to make the fireworks safer); no wind and no thunder.
In keeping with a festive mode, I’d fixed chili dogs with potato chips and Root Beer for lunch, and Sunday I prepared potato salad, corn-on-the-cob and BBQ chicken breast sandwiches, with Breyer’s low-fat ice cream for dessert. Little Ralph had seemed more animated than ever throughout the weekend, and thanked me numerous times for the good meal. I gave thanks for him moving through his wilderness.
Somehow I knew that the completion of the electrical adjustment for the steps would take us through The Wilderness, and we’d be ready to move on.

Chapter 11

“I’M READY FOR FREEWAYS AND THOROUGHFARES ”
 Out of the Wilderness
I rejoiced when we headed north from Bowling Green, Kentucky, on I-65, and then turned south onto the Cumberland Parkway Toll Road. I knew we had left The Wilderness and entered The Promised Land. We were now on our way to North Carolina.
Somehow, The Steps Process had brought Van to a new level. He was out of his glass jar, and ready to live the fullness of life. And, as a by-product, I too reaped the benefits.
Again, zipping along a tollway lined with myriad sizes, shapes and shades of green — from trees and bushes to fields, pastures and lawns — I thought about the words I’d been writing in my Journey to Inner Freedom course. The last stages of The Wilderness, according to the Bible, are indicated by Moses sending scouts, Joshua and Caleb, to survey The Promised Land and bring back a report — a Sneak Preview — before the entire company of Israelites crossed the River Jordan.
Looking at the scenes along the Cumberland Parkway, I realized that our trip from visiting Chris, in Central City, back to Bowling Green was our Sneak Preview. In the original story, the scouts reported seeing “giants,” and we had already mastered our “giants” — the toll booths. Now we knew that every so many miles we’d stop to pay a pre-announced amount. The Kentucky road map even listed the rates and distances, including the “Thru” total. In our case, the full “Thru” rate totaled $3.00, and “worth every cent” I announced. “I am a confirmed toll user, at least when wanting to quickly move from point A to point B, or even to point C.
A Lakefront Site
Along the eighty-six miles, I studied the maps, and concluded that the Corps of Engineer (COE) parks, where we get a 50 percent Golden Age card discount, offered the best prospects.
When we emerged at Somerset, we immediately turned right, onto State Highway 80, and drove the five-miles to Fishing Creek Park. The steep down-grade to the lake indicated that we were at a higher level. “Might as well get used to mountains,” I told Van, “we’ve got a lot of them ahead of us. We’re on the edge of the Daniel Boone National Forest, and we’ll soon be in The Great Smoky Mountains.”
At Lake Cumberland, we delighted to discover three choice spaces right along the lake. After our Reelfoot Lake experience, I hastily selected the closest one, where another RV couldn’t block our view, and I thought, “Maybe that’s an advantage of these Dead Ends and Detours; we can learn from them, and not make the same mistake.”
I emerged from Freedom, on our new steps, and drank in the full view of the tranquillity and beauty of this branch of the 50,000+-acre man-made lake and said, “Thank you, God. We have arrived.”
The sun had lowered behind the trees and though humid, the weather was comfortable, so I stood at the rail of our COE-made site — a secured pile of rocks topped with gravel — and allowed myself to be in the Present Moment and feel the peace of this setting. And also to give thanks for having survived the inner and outer perils of the Journey thus far.
We had both pushed through our inner blocks of limitation, and were definitely at a new level. I couldn’t quite grasp what had happened, but I’m glad we didn’t turn back at the Red Sea or linger in The Wilderness.
Van busied himself hooking up to electricity and joined me along the rail to also drink in the scene. Lately his energies had changed and seemed to radiate a new sense of peace. It felt good sharing this quiet time of reverie overlooking the boaters on the lake and listening to the waves lap against the shore a few feet below.
 
In the quietude, I began thinking of his recent changes; little indescribable things that previously had been control issues. For instance, he’d let go of the withholding pattern: “Don’t give them what they want.” Not that he had consciously or intentionally held back from giving me whatever I wanted; but a deeply buried unconscious pattern. Heaven forbid, Van’s conscious-self tended toward codependency, but it’s actually his normal his thoughtful, kind, generous and considerate behavior.
Yet, the underlying resistance, resentment and rebellion that had formulated his passive-aggressive behavior, created a subtle undertone of uncooperation. His seemingly quiet, pleasant demeanor gave the outer impression of his being a perfect husband. But the unseen, actually abusive silent war had uncomfortable for me to live with, and I felt the effects of the battles. I often said, “If I had bruises or scratches, others would understand, but the pain from these battles is invisible and hard to explain.”
Even now it’s difficult to put into words, but as I write, I can feel the healing effects of describing the silent war. And it’s a relief to know that it’s over; at least this round is over, and I’m enjoying the respite.
While driving to the lake, along the parkway, I’d asked Van if he had asked God to get him out of The Wilderness, and he said, “Yes.” But when I asked if he knew what the issues were that kept him in The Maze, he said, “No.”
I thought to myself, “I do,” but I didn’t discuss it, I was just thankful that the pattern had been removed. Aloud I said, “You know, I think this time you’ve been cycling through The Wilderness on the inner child level, and Little Ralph has let go something. He’s moved through the childhood developmental stage where he was stuck, and he’s moving on to The Promised Land.” Van nodded his head, and continued watching the activity on the lake.
 When I served dinner at the picnic table by the lake, he again sincerely complimented my homemade potato salad and thanked me for making it. This was different. Let’s see if I can explain. I think the glass jar is the best analogy. Before this change, whatever he said or did seemed to be constrained and come from inside the glass jar. Now it was gone; he was really here. As I said before, it’s like he was living the Truman Show, and nothing was real for him. Now it is. And he doesn’t even know what happened, but everything is wonderfully different: born anew, as the Bible says.
I’d hoped to get out of the COE Park without any setbacks, but this is where God took us through another test, in the form of a thunder storm. Lots of lightning and heavy rains, but no winds, thank goodness. We’re trapped at the bottom of a long, steep hill, along the lake, and there’s only one way out. As the heavy downpour caused the water to gush down the hillside and all around Freedom, I reminded myself that the Corps of Engineers built the rock foundation we’re sitting on, so we probably won’t fall into the lake. And we’re out of reach of big trees, so guess I won’t worry.
I made it through the first onslaught just fine, other than being concerned about the many tenters at the campgrounds surrounding the 50,000 acre lake. Likewise, I held some anxiety for the cabin cruiser that chose the middle of the storm to head across the lake midst rolling swells and lashing winds. With such foolish timing, no wonder there have been 236 deaths at this lake. I wonder how many were from thunder storms. No, don’t think about that; just know that God is protecting us.
Between the second and third storm, we played cards, which was a definite pattern change. I am improving. During the third hit, I’d already gone to bed, so put on my eye shades and earplugs and went to sleep.
I felt I’d passed that test quite well, and definitely was ready to move on.
But I was quite clear that we would be moving on along I-75, a major north-south freeway that took we entered at London, Ky.
We were soon into the western edge of the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, and appreciated the convenience of the freeway, though packed with truckers and tourists.
Cove Lake State Park in the mountains at Caryville reminded us that Tennessee provides excellent overnight facilities. Van skillfully backed into a site under the shade trees with a perfect view of the cove and the ducks waddling around. Despite the terrible storm at Lake Malone, it now seemed that each stop offered a perfect setting.
A gentle rain during the night refreshed the area, and I busied myself completing revision of The Wilderness. How good it felt to move onto the inner freeways and thoroughfares, as well as the outer.
We celebrated with a full-fledged country breakfast at Cracker Barrel, and then returned to the freeway. With only thirty-nine miles to Knoxville, we expected to zip right along, but suddenly we were brought to a crawl with five-miles of freeway traffic, thanks to highway construction.
“Wait Until you get to Jerrico”
Van turned on the CB, and Little Ralph gleefully listened to the northbound truckers alert the southbound, and sometimes gloat over our fate, until the southbounders said, “Wait until you get to Jerrico; you’ll have over an hour’s delay.”
I decided to jump right into revision of my next Road Sign, Crossing the River Jordan. Believe me, now that I’d had another Sneak Preview, I felt ready to continue with The Promised Land lifestyle. Inching along the freeway, I shuffled through my previous versions, and concluded the mess looked hopeless. But eventually it began to clarify, and I knew that the secret to crossing the River Jordan was surrendering the personal ego; until that was done, we would remain forever wandering through The Wilderness Maze.
But once we surrender and then — in  faith — step into the still flooded River, the waters stop, and we cross on dry ground, as the Bible relates the story. But we must take that step of faith, even in the appearance of another Dead End; this time symbolizing the Personal Unconscious. At least, we don’t have to deal with everyone else’s negative thoughts; only our own. And once we surrender, and then start the forward movement, even though they still appear to be an obstacle, God stops the flow by bringing the seemingly endless inner chatter (of the subconscious mind) to a stop.
I was getting excited about recalling this information that I’d written years ago, and could hardly wait to get it compiled into the computer. But we finally got past the delay, and quickly by-passed Knoxville and began the eastern junket along I-40. We’d traveled this freeway at it’s beginning from I-15 to Laughlin.
Dollywood and Gatlinburg
Now we were only one state away from the Atlantic Ocean. Exciting. But even more excitement came with our turn-off onto the highway to Pigeon Forge — the home of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood — and Gatlinburg — in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains; an area of “must-see” according to RVers along the way. And now, here we were.
I knew this adventure was part of The Promised Land, and we would never have gotten here, had we not done the necessary inner preparation and overcoming of inner issues that allowed our inner kids to grow-up. For instance, the Responsibility Factor had been met and handled when I called ahead and made reservations at Creekside RV Park. After studying the options, we’d decided to change patterns from staying on the outskirts and jump right into the center of the action in Pigeon Forge. The best feature being a trolley that would pick us up at our doorstep, take us into town, and from there transfer to Dollywood.
Further indication of our changes: Van had broken a pattern of indecisiveness and selected this RV Park. It turned out to be perfect for us: small, safe, clean and quiet; away from town, and yet on the 25-cent air-conditioned Trolley Line.
We’d also discussed our options between attending Dollywood, expensive shows, eating at the dinner-shows or restaurants, and saving our money for Greensboro, North Carolina, when we would be meeting with Dottie and Steve. The Trolley ride to Dollywood and back, taking camcorder shots along the way, and another Trolley Ride through town and back sufficed for our Pigeon Forge adventure. However, we were impressed by the offerings of “clean family entertainment at the Comedy Clubs and other shows. I made myself a promise to someday return with money to attend the shows, comedies and restaurants — all providing tempting adds in the many tourist guidebooks.
Christus Gardens
At the Trolley Center office, the helpful clerk suggested that we could stop at the Visitor’s Center in Gatlinburg, take a trolley from there into town and back; and save ourselves the hassle of unlimited congestion. This plan worked great, allowing time to disembark, tour the Christus Gardens, which also had been suggested as “must-see.” This memorial, built by a grateful man who survived a near-death experience, features an inspiring diorama of the life of Jesus, and pictures of the parables, plus an incredible bust of Jesus that follows you anyplace you walk in the room. Such a welcome relief from the hectic pace of life.
I couldn’t help marveling at the prevalent opulence as hundreds-of-thousands pour into this newest Entertainment Mecca. It reminded me of a TV show I’d recently watched, focusing on Affluencia, a term applied to the over-consumption of just about everything by another doomsday group.
I can agree with them to some extent, but balance is the key word here. If some people had their way, we’d still be in the Dark Ages. Unfortunately, there are still survivors of the Great Depression, who would like to keep us in that poverty-level state of consciousness. I agree that credit-cards have allowed people to live beyond their means, and we too got caught in that false-idol consciousness. Yet, as I say, a balance must be maintained.
Important Phone Calls
A phone call to Dottie and Steve brought some good news that indicates they too have arrived at The Promised Land consciousness. Rather than drive round-trip to Greensboro, NC, in a limited amount of time, they decided to fly; a wise decision, under the circumstances.
Further confirmation of my consciousness change came when I called to arrange visits: first with Ernest Plemmons, who is now living in Burnsville, NC, and Al Vaillancourt, my #1 con, still incarcerated, after more than forty years.
Ernest, who still functions as the Inner Freedom Ministry Prayer Director, acknowledged me for my positive contribution in his life, after I thanked him for his support. Arrangements were made for our visit on Sunday, and we both looked forward to sharing our love and acceptance.
I also forced myself to call the prison and make sure I would be able to visit Al. After the terrible ordeal with the policies at Central City prison, I dreaded another prison visit. But this time the officer was friendly, and even gave suggestions that would make the visit easier, such as being able to visit mid-week, if not able to make it on Saturday, since I’ve come from out of state.
As Within, So Without
“As without, so within,” assured me that I too have made inner changes that are bringing more desirable results. All this is, no doubt, a change from The Wilderness to The Promised Land.
An important part of the final stages of this transition took place in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Two so-called coincidental meetings assisted with my process of letting go fear and anxiety; in this instance about the weather conditions and continuing our Journey.
Two phases of the Journey were of most concern: getting over the Great Smoky Mountains without dangerous repercussions from the thunder storms, and moving on through North Carolina, as planned. And beyond that to our proposed trek to Indianapolis to have our windshield repaired at the Holiday Rambler company without mishap from the floods that had been rampaging through those states. And my biggest concern had been the Weather News in Michigan and Wisconsin, where we planned to visit our friend, Dan Mueller; the terrible winds, rain and storms had caused me to seriously reconsider.
Yet God seems to be supporting us along the way. For instance, I chatted with a senior-couple while awaiting one of our trolley’s, and they said Michigan and Wisconsin will be through their storms by August, when we travel through that area, and it would be a beautiful trip. I felt relieved to know that the storms are seasonal, and weather would be improved.
I could feel myself about ready to step into the River Jordan, in this case drive over the mountains. But looking at the threatening clouds around Gatlinburg, I still considered our option of returning to I-40. As chance would have it, while eating at Jose’ No Way Mexican restaurant, and chatting with the local waitress, Tina, I asked about the weather’s affect on our mountain crossing.
She said, just a minute, I’ll look outside; then returned and reported, “The clouds are actually over I-40, you’ll be fine through the Park.” Later in the meal,  she announced, “It’s raining lightly, but nothing to worry about.”
I knew God had brought these angels to us, as part of the process for making the plunge into the “flooded River,” and I said a little “Thank You” prayer.
Van had asked Tina the best way out of town, and she described a steep, windy ascent; but when I told her we were parked at the Visitor’s Center, she said, “Oh, no problem, there’s a by-pass” (around the congested Gatlinburg), and she told us how to get on it.
We finished our delicious meal, walked back along the River Walk to the trolley stop, and marveled that the rain had stopped. I shot some local scenes while waiting, such as the chair-lift going over our heads and up the steep mountain, and the elevating going up the scenic tower in the foreground of a picturesque hotel along another mountainside. I said to Van, “This really is a perfect vacation spot. I wouldn’t mind returning and enjoying more of the activities.” He nodded just as the trolley came along.
We had “stepped out in faith,” despite the appearances of a threatening storm, and the way opened before us. Creeping over the high Smoky Mountains and seeing the full range of the views, whenever we could glimpse through the trees, I knew this day was a gift from God.
Zipping Along
Freedom zipped along at about 15 MPH, and Van faithfully pulled over to let the multitudes pass at every pull out. Thankfully, over these steep, winding, narrow roads the speed limit is only 35 MPH, so everyone could slow down and enjoy the tranquil wooded settings, streams, mountain peaks and valley views. After an interminable time, I asked, “Have we gone five miles, yet?”
Van laughed, “How about three miles?”
I could see this “crossing” wasn’t going any faster than the Israelites crossing the River Jordan, so I settled down, giving thanks for the respite from storms, and enjoyed the scenery. At one point, I read the “Great Smoky Mountains Guidebook,” and learned that it’s “the #1 most visited national park, with over 10 million visitors in 1997.” I couldn’t believe it surpassed Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, but assumed it’s because of easier accessibility and greater population. Yet, that’s an incredible record for this low-key tourist attraction.
This is my Covenant
Finally, safely over the mountains, we eased through the long, one-street tourist town, Cherokee, on the Indian Reservation, and ended our day’s travels at Harrah’s Casino parking lot.
During my morning meditation, I decided to heal a long-standing digestive condition. I knew I couldn’t heal it myself, so I asked God to remove it here and now, and let the negative energies disappear into the smoke. The long healing process involved forgetting and releasing memories of past painful experiences, and I surrendered it all to God.
Words from the Bible formulated in my mind, and I later looked them up:
“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel  after those days, says the Lord:I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach every one his fellow,or every one his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord,’
For all shall know me, from the least of them to the greatest, For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,  and I will remember their sins no more.” 
In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:10-13).
In other words “let go and let God,” and “Forgetting what lies behind, press on to the goal of the prize of the high calling of God, in Christ Jesus” (Phil.3:13).
This seemed like a good place to end this chapter, though we would continue traveling the freeways and thoroughfares; and we could also choose the side roads, when they were necessary to reach a destination along the way, such as visiting Ernest Plemmons in the mountains.

Chapter 12

SOMETHING SPECIAL: A REST STOP
 “The Roads Wind Up, You Wind Down”
While selecting some brochures on North Carolina, at the Welcome Center/Rest Stop, I’d laughed at one that said, “The Roads Wind Up, You Wind Down.” After our hair-raising  descent, straight down a 14 percent grade,  over 2,000 ft. from the Blue Ridge Parkway ,  I said to Van, “It’s more like, ‘Our Roads Wind Down, You Wind Up.’ I don’t think I’ll ever go into the mountains again.”
Sitting at the Rest Stop, and looking back at the Smoky Mountains we had just left, we paused to reflect on our visit with Ernest Plemmons and his mom, Edith, indeed a respite in our travels to “wind down” at Ernest’s mountain home.
After our travels through the Great Smoky Mountains, we had allowed plenty of time to find our way to Burnsville, north of Asheville, and had arrived on Saturday, a day ahead of schedule.
But the roads were wider and easier to travel, through the valley, without the intense trauma of creeping along the mountainside. Driving through the peaceful hills gave me time to recall my relationship with Ernest.
Past History
Like many of the Freedomers, we’d first met when I responded to their letters in Seekers, a monthly publication of Diane Pike (widow of Bishop Pike, who died in the Holy Land) and Arlene Lorrance’s Love Project. God had said to me, “Answer these letters,” and like Moses, I’d said, “Not me, Lord. I’m not qualified. I want to present prosperity workshops; that’s why I’m writing my Pot O’ Gold Prosperous Living Course.”
Nevertheless, I responded to their letters, starting with Al Vaillancourt, who dubbed himself my #1 con, and whom I would soon be visiting on this Journey throughout North Carolina.
Ernest Plemmons, also, had been one of the first, and remained faithful, as our Prayer Ministry Director, for over twenty years. When he was in prison, I would send him the names of family members and Freedomers who needed prayers, and he has continued praying for them to this day.
Long after the others had stopped writing, or otherwise disappeared, his longhand scrawled letters poured out words of love, support and encouragement. And most of all, appreciation for my efforts in ministering to him and the others.
Pot O’ Gold
I’d been guided to send him a copy of my gleaming gold-covered prosperity book that contained almost everything I’d ever learned; from the Ten Commandments and Prosperity’s Ten Commandments to My Life Plan (a goal-planning technic) and Financial Disbursement Form (a Spending Plan).
I’d based the book on Unity’s teachings of the Twelve Powers, similar to chakras, that are energy centers throughout our body; but modified and expanded. The subjects included: Faith, Will, Understanding, Imagination, Zeal, Power, Love, Wisdom, Order, Renunciation and Life. Each became a chapter in my book.
Charles Fillmore, Unity School of Christianity’s co-founder, had been divinely guided to assign a disciple to each center, and also colors. So I searched every paper company, until I located the right colors for each chapter. Thus on its side, the 300+ pages (8 1/2 by 11) looked like a rainbow. And it glistened when the Freedomers (in their dark, depressing cells) opened the package with its golden cover embossed with a golden pot o’ gold.
Rainbow Connection
They began writing letters and poetry about the contents, and some sent artwork or cartoons. So I created a monthly publication, the Rainbow Connection, and co-ordinated with the twelve subjects, which I sent to the Freedomers. One page titled: “Prayer Ministry,” included a sketch of Ernest by Freedomer, Bob Carver, taken from a picture Ernest had sent me. The page featured a letter from Ernest and any poems, articles, or pictures (from others) that were appropriate for the month’s subject.
At the highest point of my ministry career, I was sending over 300 monthly publications and writing new courses, including Journey to Inner Freedom, based on the exodus of the Israelites to the Promised Land. I also personally answered each letter.
During this time, my elderly adopted mother (over 100), in a convalescent hospital deteriorated into a deplorable condition. My schizophrenic natural mother (80+), who hadn’t written and refused to see anyone (but her husband) for over twenty years, came to live with us, after he was hospitalized with terminal cancer. Because of the change, her condition worsened, and I had to place her in another convalescent hospital. My youngest daughter, Gail, (who lived with us off-and-on), became mentally ill, and unable to raise her teenage daughters, who also lived with us part-time.
Stress-out
My husband had had his business in our home, but, after his business went defunct, he became jobless for seven months , and we had no income. I finally demanded that he get a job, and he did, but went into a period of depression. Now the bulwark and strength of my life could not be depended on, and that was the last straw.
I could no longer maintain my momentum, and I stressed-out. Now, after four years of my ministry, I was forced to gradually stop my publications, letter-writing and courses. My efforts were limited only to corresponding with the few who continued to write (and still do), while my focus became on getting well. This process took nearly ten years of therapy, Twelve Step programs (for inner child healing and codependency), and re-evaluating my priorities.
Bottom-Out
Then, about the time I’d recovered, Van became traumatized when he lost his job as the result of a company downsize. He had become revitalized after getting involved with a multi-level-marketing program with my daughter and her husband. But they moved to Colorado, and over the next few years the business not only didn’t prosper, but we got into debt, and finally filed bankruptcy. Van’s condition had worsened, and he wasn’t able to look for another job, or take care of our financial accounting. This was our bottom, and I’d even gone to Colorado for two months to re-evaluate the situation.
On the Road
And then my stepmother gave me a money-gift that made it possible, with another money-gift from Van’s mother, to buy our motor home.
We went on the road and I began writing about our inner and outer Journey. Gradually we both completed our inner healing, and here we were ready to visit Ernest.
In the meantime, he had gotten out of prison, and continued writing. Then I didn’t hear from him for awhile. And when I did, he was back in prison. Being a man of few words, he didn’t say what had happened, and I didn’t ask. We just kept corresponding, though not often, because we agreed that we could stay in contact through the ethers, via prayers and meditation. And I had resumed my ministry, on a limited basis, even publishing another publication, which I named Inner Freedom Support Connection. Rainbows and pots o’ gold had become passe’ during the nineties, and inner freedom seemed more appropriate, especially with so many young people committing crimes and being sent to prison.
Joyanna’s Misconception
Now, we were in Burnsville to visit Ernest. Because the map indicated the town being in the Appalachian Mountains, I anticipated a small town with an old store and service station, probably combined, and a few broken down buildings with men sitting on the porch in their rocking chairs; and lots of tall trees, causing a dark and foreboding atmosphere. Adding to my preconceived ideas, in the one picture Ernest had sent years ago, he had a long beard and wore a hat, so I’d pictured him as a typical mountain-man. And, of course, his mom would be short and old-fashioned with her hair back in a bun, probably wearing a long dress and apron. Talk about judgments and projections.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when we breezed along the pleasant highway into the outskirts of town with a modern BP service station, church, roller rink and motel. Further along, we passed the Avondale Mill warehouse and out-buildings, which manufactures clothes; and then a modern shopping center, and  soon two more appeared along the highway. Then we passed a Chevrolet agency and Chrysler dealership. Hardee’s, MacDonalds, Burger King and Western Sizzler competed for fast-foods.
From the highway, we could see the main part of town on a side road, which we’d by-passed for several miles. But we didn’t spot the Mobile Home Park where Ernest lived, so took a left turn, and returned through the main street; a pleasant community of older shops and businesses with an attractive town-square.
We still hadn’t found the mobile home park, so returned to the ample parking lot in the furthest shopping center overlooking the hills and valley. I fixed something to eat, then walked to Burger King and asked about the mobile home park. I also got directions to an RV park several miles away.
We returned all the way back to the BP station, and made the turn into a pleasant, neat mobile park with attractive coaches and yards. Driving down a little hill, we came to the end, along a tree-lined river, and found Ernest’s coach. But, of course, he wasn’t home, because he’d said he would be working, and we weren’t expected, until Sunday.
So, we parked in the open area between his coach and the road, and walked back to a lady standing outside her coach. She gave us directions to the owner’s home, where we were going to ask permission to park.
We were walking up the hill, when a pickup headed toward us. I knew it was Ernest, because his body was moving from side-to-side in excited recognition. Otherwise, I would never have recognized this slightly balding, clean-shaven person wearing a T-shirt, which didn’t fit my preconceived ideas. And the woman in the truck, obviously his mother, was youthful (even at 75) with short, curled hair, and a bubbly expression behind her attractive glasses. When she got out (after we met at the bottom of the hill), I could see she was wearing shorts, a cute T-shirt and tennis shoes. So much for judgments and pre-conceived ideas.
“C’mon in”
I reached up to give Ernest a hug, and he bent his six-foot, four-inches thin body down and gently embraced me, and then shook hands with Van. His mother, Edith, also gave us a big hug. We were with family, no doubt about that.
“C’mon in,” she waved, as she trotted up the steps to the coach.
I walked into a neat, clean home, as Edith said, “Ernest has only lived here five months — since February — and he still needs some pictures; but we gave him a housewarming, and he got most everything he needs. His brothers and sisters gave him most of the furniture.”
The matching overstuffed sofa and chair, and the glass-topped coffee table looked like they belonged here, and the oak media shelves had appropriate knick knacks, along with the TV and stereo. Even though hand-downs, Ernest’s home reflected his energies. But when I saw the rainbow-striped comforter on his bed, I knew his selection had been influenced by the logo of our ministry, and it truly individualized his room: masculine, yet bright and happy.
Van and Ernest busied themselves getting Freedom parked on the thick grass by the river. Edith had explained that the park owner had already okayed our parking there, but Ernest had neglected to mention it to me on the phone.
I’d said, “I’ll bet you’re like Van, you don’t like to talk on the phone.” He smiled in recognition that I understood, and nodded his head.
Edith had started talking after our first “Hello,” and continued throughout our two-day visit, except when I was talking. We were, indeed, kindred spirits. No wonder Ernest had taken such a liking to me. Who else would enjoy my multi-paged letters?
He managed to get a word in, as he grinned and said, “You always wrote everything about your trips. I felt like I’d been right there with you. You have such a gift for writing.” He spoke slowly with a slight drawl, but less than my preconceived idea. I said, “You know, Ernest, I recently reread several of my long letters, and I was embarrassed at my ramblings.” 
We Touched Each Other’s Lives
“Oh no,” he hastily reassured me, “I always enjoyed your letters. You touched so many lives, Joann” (he still used my given name; before I’d changed to a composite one — incorporated my three-selves that I’d learned about: conscious, named Joann; subconscious, named Joy; and superconscious named Joanna = Joyanna. My inner child’s name, Joanie, came later, but it’s also incorporated in my composite name).
“Ernest, you’ve always been such a support and made me feel good. I really appreciate that.”
“Well, you’ve sure been a blessing to me, and everyone you touch.” There was never a word spoken by Ernest, that wasn’t praise and appreciation.
While Edith talked with Van, who is a good listener from years of listening to me, Ernest and I had an opportunity to chat. I shared about some of my recent Journey to Inner Freedom writings, and my own inner journeys.
He listened, but he also responded and added his own comments. I’d always suspected that Ernest was extremely wise, and our conversations, unhindered by the need to write or talk on the phone, proved I was right. He not only has inner wisdom, but is knowledgeable from his insights into the TV news and programs. And he had brought home a newspaper from their shopping.
Throughout our visit, Ernest had asked about my family members, and also our extended family, the name I gave the Freedomers who had been part of the Rainbow Connection. I updated him on their present activities, and we both marveled that many were suffering from manic-depression.
Ernest confided, “I was depressed too, in prison, but I’m on medication now. It helps keep me mellow, but causes me to shake.” I’d also wondered about his unusual body posture, and his mother later explained that it resulted from his nervous breakdown while in prison.
I could understand that a gentle, passive person, such as Ernest, would be traumatized by the harshness and cruelty in prison. I said, “Ernest, I don’t know how you survived.”
“You helped a lot,” Joann.” He constantly reminded me of the impact my “reaching out and touching” had had on his life. And I began to get it; I really had made a difference, not only to Ernest, but others too. His reassurance gave me a feeling of accomplishment and I felt a sense of peace for having fulfilled my goals. It’s really okay to relax and enjoy the view along the journey now.
I could feel the bond between Ernest and I building even stronger, as we talked about subjects of mutual interest, and supported each other’s Journey’s.
Edith had gone home in the morning, after staying all night at Ernest’s, giving us more time to visit.
“I Had to get out of the Fast Lane”
As I said earlier, he is a man of few words, but when he speaks, it’s worth listening. He summarized his previous criminal lifestyle and present changes, by saying, “I had to get out of the fast-lane, Joyanna. I’m taking it much slower now. I used to think I needed a lot of clothes and material things, but I’ve got all I need right here; and I have a good job and my family that supports me.”
I replied, “I agree, Ernest. We had to make changes in our priority too, after Van’s job layoff. We’ve downsized our lifestyle too. And we’re happy traveling in Freedom.”
He smiled, “I’m glad you and Van are doing good now.”
Southern Hospitality
In keeping with the Southern tradition of hospitality, Ernest insisted on taking us to breakfast, and he treated as we selected from MacDonald’s breakfast menu. Joanie wanted an Egg McMuffin, but I ordered an apple bran muffin instead. So after I’d eaten it, when Ernest asked if I wanted anything else, Joanie said, “Yes,” and happily chomped on her egg, ham, cheese treat on a bun.
Van quietly ate, and sometimes participated in the conversation, as we discussed the world’s problems, and finally concluded there wasn’t much we could do about them, but continue to pray.
As we talked, I encouraged Ernest to resume attending his AA meetings, “You need that support, Ernest. It’s important.”
“Okay, I’ll do that. There’s a meeting at the church.”
We’d been talking about his desire to meet the right gal, “When God brings her into my life,” he said.
“Maybe she’ll be at the meetings,” I suggested. “Or you might even want to attend church. That’s a good place to meet the right person.”
He nodded, and I didn’t push the matter.
When we first arrived, Edith had said they wanted to take us to dinner Sunday night, and she described the scrumptious feast awaiting at the Western Sizzler.
I’m used to being the one who gives, and it felt uncomfortable having them spend their money on us, when I knew it was not easy to come by, but when I had an opportunity to ask Ernest, I questioned, “Are you sure about taking us out to dinner?”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. And I understood that this was their way of saying “Thank you for coming,” and they were looking forward to the meal as much as we were.
The buffet lived up to our expectations with selections of ham, turkey, fried chicken, and a complete salad bar and desserts. Edith and I happily chatted, and the boys quietly enjoyed their meals.
Faithful Mother
Since writing had been difficult for Ernest, he didn’t share much about his daily life in prison, nor seldom mentioned his mother’s visits. But now, she talked about the monthly treks to wherever he was in prison, including the first time when he was in South Carolina. Her husband, Jim, had dutifully driven her, in most instances, and they made a vacation by taking more time to enjoy their trip.
Edith was truly the hearty pioneer woman, having raised seven children, and enduring the pain of having had one in prison, and another who had drowned. She had been raised on a farm in a large family (five boys and five girls), and was expected to do her part, including milking the cows. In her childhood, if a kid didn’t do as told, or was sassy, they got a whipping with a stick or belt, and no one dared threaten to “call the police,” as today’s kids do.
Many of her stories recounted the times she visited Ernest, and often she spoke of God’s presence and protection in her life. And always her stories reflected the spirit of this remarkable woman.
On one occasion she had taken a bus, along with another son, who was twelve at the time. When they arrived in the pouring rain, the cafe at the bus stop was closed, so the bus driver pulled up close to a phone, and called the owner, asking him to come open the cafe and fix Edith and her son some breakfast, which he did.
Later, when visiting hours began, the cafe owner drove them to the prison, and insisted Edith call him when they were ready to return.
There were some visits that didn’t go as well. For instance, when the officer refused to let her visit Ernest, after he had been  shot by a police officer. She raised such a fuss, and never backed down, even when threatened with being put in jail, that they told her, “You’ll have to get permission from the sheriff.”
She stomped into his office, though told he wasn’t there, and demanded a written pass from him, “No one’s keeping me from seeing my son,” she bellowed, and she got it. This woman had no fear, and she got what she wanted, especially when it had to do with her son. I’m sure if I tried the same approach, I’d end up in jail. As I always say, “It’s a matter of consciousness.”
The funniest story, however, came when she traveled to see Ernest in the hospital, after his nervous breakdown. A guard refused to let her in. She insisted on speaking to the doctor, and he decided it would be good for Ernest, so okayed the visit.
When she went outside, after the visit, the original officer was standing out there with some others. Without planning what she would do, but wanting to get even for the pain he’d caused, she walked over to him and said loudly, “I’ll bet your mother gave you lots of cheese when you were growing up.”
Taken off guard, he replied, “Yes, I guess I did eat cheese, why?”
Edith replied, “Because you turned out to be such a rat!” Then turned and walked away.
All the other officers were howling with laughter, and he was totally humiliated, which, of course, was exactly what she intended.
As we now laughed when she told the story during dinner, we agreed that he probably was dubbed, “Cheeseman,” or something equally distasteful that would never let him forget.
She added, “The next time I visited, a lady officer told me, ‘I heard what you said, and I laughed myself silly.'”
Edith told many more stories about her admirable life, but these two capture the essence of a remarkable woman, the mother of Ernest, who stood by her son.
And today they enjoy the benefits of their close mother-son relationship. Edith said, “I spend more time with Ernest now, because the other kids had me with them all these years, and he didn’t. Now we’re making up for those years.”
Ernest said, “Mother supported me, and I want to spend as much time with her as I can. I love her.”
When talking about the chapter I would write about our visit, I said to Ernest,  “It will have to be something special.”
A Gift of Love
Van and I left Burnsville filled full with their love and hospitality,  and my heart filled with love, in remembrance of the two days in the mountains with Ernest and Edith, and the surprise  gift they had given us. Their generosity brings tears to my eyes, now, as I write about it:
As we had stood outside to say “Goodbye,” Edith came over, handed me some folded money, and said, “Ernest and me wanted to give you something, but we didn’t know what to get. So we thought you could use this money however you want; maybe for gas to get you a few miles down the road.
At the same time, Ernest handed Van some folded money. I was flabbergasted, yet, this was my time to be a gracious receiver, though neither of us could say anything but, “Thank you.” And I added, “You’ve already given us so much.”
No doubt their generous gesture was a way of showing thanks and appreciation for my years of supporting Ernest, and for coming to visit them. And yet, I’m the one who received the blessing all those years from Ernest, and now Van and I had been blessed by their love and hospitality, as they welcomed us into their home and lives.
As I think about their gift, I feel a warmth deep in my soul, for the money is a completion and symbolizes a return for my years of ministering without recompense, other than the joy of giving, and knowing the possibility that something I have given or done may have made a difference in their lives.
On the other hand, money is an essential ingredient, even in a ministry, and the fact is that my Inner Freedom Ministry bank account was so low that I’d thought I would have to close it, because I didn’t have enough money in the account to continue paying the monthly interest. And I’d been praying for a sign to know that the ministry would continue to maintain the bank account.
The money-gift felt like an omen that the “Years of the locust were over,” and we would again prosper.
We Rest and Regroup
Later in the day, while sitting at the Rest Stop, Van and I went through our Spending Plan and concluded that we had lived within our income, at least in our daily living. However, the repairs to Freedom had exceeded our expectations, and we would now have to make monthly payments on our credit card to offset the unexpected expenses. Nevertheless, we felt good about our monthly Spending Plan, and knew that God would provide for the rest of the trip, in expected and unexpected ways, as He did through Ernest and Edith. Thank you, God.
We also decided to stay on purpose with our plan to go toward Greensboro, for our meeting with Dottie and Steve, rather than try to see Al Vaillancourt and make our way to the Atlantic Ocean on a tight time schedule. This too felt good in our decision-making.
After studying our travel guidebooks, we concluded that Tanglewood Park would be a good respite for several days, until driving the forty-miles to Greensboro.
We rejoiced when we drove into a quiet, expansive, flat, tree-shaded area where we could rest and regroup, and I could update my writing. Like the Israelites resting for three days, after crossing the River Jordan, we too spent three days under a canopy of trees to rest and regroup, before meeting Dottie and Steve in Greensboro for a business and social whirl in the Big City; something we’d avoided, since our New Orleans tour.
During my morning meditation the next day, I was guided to put my 1/2 of the gift into my ministerial account. I rejoiced at the idea, for now I could send copies of my writings to Ernest, and also others, without paying out of our personal money.
I shared my idea with Van, stating that he could use his, as he felt guided; and if it’s for gas, that would be appropriate. He said he would use his 1/2 of the gift for that purpose. And we both felt good about our decisions about this special gift.
Now, looking back at the Smoky’s, I readily agreed that we would follow the words of Moses, who spoke to the people of Israel, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain, turn and take your journey” (Deut.1:6-7). But first he reviewed aloud for his people all they had been through in their travels, and he promised, “The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you” (Deut.7:22).
So they too reached a place of reviewing and anticipating, and God promised to be with them, to fight their battles one-at-a-time, for it would be too overwhelming to deal with them all at once. When the Ark of the Covenant was built, it was a final period of preparation, evaluation and clarity, before entering into the new level of consciousness (The Promised Land).
Bottom-line, after three Books covering this process, Moses said, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might,” a commandment later given by Jesus, as the “Greatest Commandment.”

Chapter 13

RESTORING THE YEARS THE LOCUST HAVE DESTROYED 
You Can Park Right Here
Freedom didn’t fit under the entrance to the covered airport parking lot, and the long-term lots were full. 
“How are we going to pick up Dottie and Steve?” I asked, feeling panic at the thought of them arriving in Greensboro, North Carolina, and no one at the gate.
“I don’t know,” Van replied. “Let’s swing around again, and see what we can figure out.”
As we again surveyed the long-term parking lot, I prayed, “Thank you, God, for taking care of this situation so we can meet Dottie and Steve at the plane.” Then we slowly passed the next entrance, and a lady came out of the driveway waving her arms. “Stop,” I said to Van, “I think she’s trying to get our attention.”
Van opened the window, and she said, “I saw you looking at the long-term lot, but it’s full, which is unusual. You can park right here along the curb, and she motioned to an off-set area. I’ll notify the security that you’ll be here several hours.”
I silently said, “Thank you, God,” as we walked to the gate and waited. Soon, they arrived, and I was right there with open arms, while Van captured the moment with the camcorder.

The Successful Entrepreneurs

Dottie looked radiant with a deep tan, and new short haircut, and a new dress that showed off her slim figure. Steve too looked the part of the successful entrepreneur, as they arrived for the convention of their networking business.
Once the baggage was retrieved and loaded on board Freedom, Van drove them to the Koury Convention Center.
The plan was for us to register them into the Motel 6, the only place they could get a room, after their late decision to both come to the convention. Steve had thought he would have to work, and Dottie had planned to stay with us in Freedom. She soon discovered that every room in town was filled with the 15,000 participants. But it worked out good, because she arranged for us to park at the motel and stay in Freedom. Then we would rest awhile, and return later to pick them up.
However, we barely got back in time, because it took so long finding the place due to Greensboro’s many interstates and intersections.
They were so excited from the events that we stopped at Denny’s for a late night snack, while they unwound. As we talked, we recalled our past involvement, as a team, in a multi-level- marketing (MLM) business. I’ve written volumes on the ill-fated disaster, and its affect on all of us, so this will be only a bottom-line — in the first three-months, they had already received their first $300.00 check, and the business was successful. We’d all learned many lessons resulting from that futile effort, and patterns were being changed.
Keeping a Balance
The second day of the convention, we took them for an early morning meeting, and picked them up in time for dinner. In the meantime, I printed out (on the computer) two Road Signs that I had completed for Dottie to edit. She’d brought me one that she had done. So I felt good that I was keeping focused on my writing. In the past, I had gotten so far off-purpose when I got involved in the MLM.
Now, I was keeping balanced between writing, enjoying my family, and supporting their business. Van had signed up as a Distributor when in Colorado, but hadn’t done anything to further his own income, other than our using the products.
Dottie had thoughtfully explained to me that they wanted to spend time with their friends and upline, Paul and Teresa, but Friday night we would be together for dinner. I had saved my birthday money for this get-together, so we didn’t have to worry about overspending.
Fran’s Front Porch
I wanted them to experience southern cooking, and we finally decided to drive about twenty miles into the country to Fran’s Front Porch, which they found advertised in the phone book. After several calls to them for directions, we finally pulled Freedom into their ample parking lot along side a neat, white farm house with people milling about the front yard.
Inside, we were directed to a kitchen, where the food was served buffet style. Such delicious country cooking: chicken pie, ham, BBQ beef, beans, corn, potatoes and gravy, biscuits and cornbread, and desserts that caused Dottie to throw caution to the wind from her usual low-fat regime.
We felt as if we’d returned to our country family, as Steve got involved in a conversation with the owners daughter, whose sister lives near them in Colorado. These were good ole down-home-folks, and we loved it, with a promise to return next year during the convention.
I knew the country charm was working, because Dottie,  who never eats desserts, ate a piece of red velvet cake and tastes of Steve’s lemon chess pie and German chocolate cake. I savored tasty moist coconut cake (everything was homemade), and Van delighted in country cobbler.
Wending home along country roads in the dark, got us home late, but we were up early the next morning for the convention, and this time Van and I also attended, thanks to a gift of the tickets from Dottie and Steve.
A Spectacular: Market America Style
This was their “Spectacular,” with fireworks, loud music and a canon blast. And, of course, a presentation by the founder, and another by his wife, and others in the program, plus testimonials: an inspiring day. And, of course, the highlight being the recognition of the big money-earners, starting with everyone who had received their $300.00 a week checks: almost the entire room stood up, except guests and newcomers. I’m not sure which is most impressive, that group, or the smaller one of people earning over a million dollars. All it takes is making an effort with the business; and we hadn’t done it, as yet.
We hadn’t expected dinner with our family, but the plans were changed, so we enjoyed delightful, low-priced, and delicious southern cooked seafood at Mayflower Restaurant, not far from our motel. Later we drove them to the Holiday Inn Four Seasons to visit with their friends a few hours. We sauntered through the hotel, and finally sat in the reception area listening to a live group playing mellow music. Then returned to Freedom, until they arrived.
I must admit, although staying at Motel 6 worked fine this time, I really do enjoy the ambiance and energies of a fine hotel.
A Wagon full of Shoes
The last day of the convention covered a multitude of information, presentations and testimonials. I was impressed with a teenager, who gave a presentation of the teen-line makeup. She hauled out an over-sized wagon full of shoes, and said, “This is what I bought with my earnings. I wanted shoes to match every outfit, plus high heels, flats, and tennies.” She received a standing ovation, and immediately became the star of the show.
The next day, when Dottie called her daughter, Airica, who was visiting Grammalene in California, I told her about the teenager’s presentation, and said, “Airica, you could earn a lot of money doing what you’re good at. Think about it.” I knew she would be equally impressive, if she chose to do it.
She said, “You really want me to do this, right?”
“Well, I’m not pushing you into anything, but you could really make money at it.” I replied.
Hillbilly Hideaway
The convention ended Sunday on a high, and most everyone went home, but Dottie and Steve stayed until Monday afternoon, so Sunday we all went on another ride into the country; this time north for about thirty miles to Hillbilly Hideaway, for another country cooking meal, located in a real log cabin, and featuring family style, where the small serving bowls of food are set on the table, and everyone gets all you want; refills are available upon request: ham, fried chicken, biscuits, cornbread, green beans, pinto beans, corn, coleslaw and cabbage, with peach cobbler for dessert filled us again. And we enjoyed the scenery along the way.
A Southern Quick-fix
Monday went too fast, as we got ready to leave. But took time for one more country meal, this time at Cracker Barrel, which is a franchised southern cooking restaurant; and one is available in Colorado, if they want a quick-fix southern experience, without traveling all the way to North Carolina.
We’d agreed to avoid the airport parking hassle, so exchanged our hugs and good-byes on board Freedom, and then watched them go inside. Reluctantly, we pulled from the curb, and headed on the road again.
As we drove east, past the Coliseum and Convention Center turnoff, I began thinking about the last few days. Besides the camaraderie and fun with our family, there had been an underlying disruption-factor.
Back in His Jar
I had happily reported to Dottie and Steve that Van had emerged from his glass jar and was fully participating in life. But, as the four of us zipped around with the active pace, even though Van chauffeured and cooperated, he gradually reverted to his dissociating behavior; he was there, but not there.
The worst part came during the two days we attended the convention activities. He sat on the other side of Steve, so they could talk about the various functions, and I sat on the other side of Dottie, for the same reason, and still allowing them to sit next to each other.
I could see Van listening intently to the speakers, and he obviously understood the complex, yet simple binary feature of the network marketing plan. This meant that each sponsor could only build two downlines, and must focus on supporting and building those two lines.
Outta-there
On the other hand, Steve could only stand so much business input, and he was outta-there, thus leaving Van next to an empty chair most of the time.
For some reason, Steve’s absence triggered my codependency syndrome, and I reverted to focusing on what, in my opinion, he was doing wrong, as a sponsor and business manager; allowing his addictions and inner child to dictate his activities: smoking, snacks, and socializing.
I realize that everyone gets (from these events) whatever appeals to their interests, and there’s something for everyone. For Steve it’s the social aspect; after all, as a salesman, he’s  people-oriented. Van, on the other hand, being non-social, retreats within himself, and uses his survival technics. For instance, dissociation: the ability for the mind to leave the body, and go elsewhere. Most everyone who suffered mental, emotional or physical abuse, as a child, has used this survival technic. It worked, at the time, but makes life difficult, as an adult, for anyone to experience intimacy, involvement or active participation. And it’s totally unsatisfactory in personal relationships.
Dissociation by one partner causes the other to either become unfaithful, in an effort to fulfill the void; or withdraw and shutdown, and as a result, become more non-social; which is my approach.
Which is the Real me?
As I told Dottie, “I don’t know if I’m really that way, or if I’ve simply taken it on, after so many years living with Van. I question myself, ‘Which is the real me?'”
I explained, “As you know, I used to be very outgoing and social, but through the years I’ve become non-social and introverted. I can see that writing creates that atmosphere, and it could well be my own choices. Yet, I’m not sure which came first. Would I still be as sociable, if not codependently taking on Van’s persona? And why doesn’t it work the other way, that he had become more social through the years?”
Where are You?
In any event, Van’s behavior at the convention had become so abhorrent that I finally blew my stack, after the second day when Steve had asked him “What do you think of the convention?” And Van had said, “I think it was well done,” which is one of his stock appropriate replies to avoid further discussion.
Since Van understood the marketing plan, and Steve had chosen to leave, I had hoped Van would discuss it more fully, but he didn’t. Apparently, despite two-full-days of activity and input, he’d said all he intended saying. Not only that, but he looked terrible; like a shriveled-up prune, or maybe an empty shell. He simply wasn’t there. I couldn’t believe that he had reverted so completely.
During my blow-up, I said, “It isn’t a matter of whether or not you like it, or even if you plan to become involved in the business. It’s that you aren’t there; you aren’t participated; you aren’t communicating.”
He knew exactly what I was talking about, but he’d gone so far away that he couldn’t easily bring himself back; although my lambasting did get his attention, especially when I concluded by saying, “What worries me is that your energies are so powerful that they influence my life too. And I’m not sure if I’ll be able to continue in this relationship, if I have any hope of moving forward with my life. In fact, it’s as if you are happy keeping me captive in Freedom, and all to yourself.”
He looked surprised, not at what I’d said, but that I knew the truth, and had put it into words; and he admitted that I was right. It’s much like the movie about the man who was enamored with a beautiful, young woman and imprisoned her in  his basement, so he could have her all to himself. It’s not a normal situation.
This revelation is pretty intense, and I’ve had to give it a lot of thought and prayer. So far, I’d concluded that the relationship was working okay for now, while traveling and writing. And I’d have to wait and see what would happen in the future.
As we silently traveled through new territory, toward Raleigh, and on to Fayetteville, I thought about where I’d left off with my Journey to Inner Freedom. I’d been revising Crossing the River Jordan. The Rest Stop aspect had seemed to be while visiting Ernest Plemmons, and then stopping at Tanglewood RV Park, while writing the chapter about our visit.
I hadn’t written anything more about the Journey to Inner Freedom, but I knew that the “Battles of the Promised Land” were still ahead, and I’d been avoiding that portion of the course. Yet, it doesn’t matter, whether I’m writing them, or not, if they are in progress. And the truth is that Van and I both were experiencing them.
They are the deep, hidden things that finally surface for review and release. And they become more intense, the closer we get to the “Final Battles,” which I call The Last Roots, as I before we finally attain our freedom. It’s when we are so close to the other side, such as digging through a wall, and not knowing there’s only a quarter-inch left, until we’re out the other side.
The Big One, Elizabeth?
One battle in the course is titled, “The Big One, Elizabeth,” and I’d begun to wonder if we were going through this major upheaval.
I’d been saying all along that Little Ralph is cycling through his inner freedom process this time, yet it affects Van and I both, on all levels. And I knew that I too must take responsibility for my part. After all, I have remained in the relationship, and I know full well that unless I make the inner changes, I would only attract more of the same.
And I also know that when I have made the changes, I won’t need to look elsewhere, Van will have reached his inner freedom, and we will be equally compatible.
In discussing this chapter with him, I explained the significance of the title, “You see, it’s because the locust represent the patterns, addictions, and other issues that have kept us from enjoying the fullness of life that could be available. And they are the battles that must be fought to now experience that fullness of life, symbolized by The Promised Land.”
I continued, “I decided to use this title, after mentioning it in the last chapter, when I thought you had come out of the glass jar. And, in my mind, I envisioned you getting excited about the networking business, and becoming involved. As a result, we would prosper. And, that’s how I felt all those “lost years,” destroyed by the locust, would be restored. But, of course, that didn’t happen.”
He replied, “No, I guess not.”
I added, “but maybe the chapter isn’t completed.”
In the meantime, I wrote a newsletter about my reactions to the convention, the products and the company.
I hadn’t been interested, nor did I intend becoming involved, after “the years the locust had taken” during our involvement in the MLM company. But, several aspects of the presentations impressed me, and I was more receptive to a small participation.
“Not Failure, But an Experience”
The founder of the company, referring to his past involvement in an MLM business, said, “I don’t consider it a failure, but an experience.” He then explained how he had learned from those companies, and used that information to build the framework for this company, so that his people would be able to financially profit.
I thought about that, and realized that quitting, because of a past negative or unpleasant experience is not the answer. It’s like someone else said, “The difference between success and failure is trying one more time.” And actor George Clooney was quoted as saying, I’ve only failed, if I don’t try.”
Rather than seeing the years as destroyed, I could see them as opportunities and experience — a foundation —  to build our future on. And that is how the “years the locust have taken,” can be restored.
Networking Explained
The second impressive information from the convention was the explanation of the difference between MLM and networking, it’s the binary — two downlines that build to infinity. The percentage structure of MLM is set up, so that ultimately you must put out more money than you receive.
Oh, yes, there are the superstars of MLM, but they make their money by getting into the business and riding the crest-of-the-wave, and then leaving, going to another, and repeating. They know how, and they can do it.
Network marketing, on the other hand, is structured so that as your organization has sales, you are able to receive commission on them — to infinity — so it pays to help your downline build its business. It’s actually a pyramid effect, only products are exchanged, and everyone prospers.
Dottie and Steve’s longtime friend, who is their sponsor had been earning over $10,000.00 a-month for nearly two years.
He had told Steve about the business then, but Steve declined. Now, he wails, “I could have been doing that too.” But, bottom-line, he and Dottie hadn’t completed their inner journey; they hadn’t made the necessary changes. Now they have, and it’s working. At the time of the convention, they had already received their first $300.00 weekly check, and could now anticipate more, as their business builds.
In addition, because of the binary structure, they would be putting new Distributors under us, and the process would continue. You don’t have to push it. The business almost builds itself, as others put people under you. Actually, it’s a matter of consciousness, and changing patterns.
So, despite Van’s non-social personality, as we both continued making inner changes, the prosperity can become fulfilled. The years the locust have eaten will be restored.
 

Chapter 14

HOW IT ALL BEGAN
 My #1 Con: Al Vaillancourt
“I’m not going to minister to prisoners,” I said to God, over 20 years ago, when I read Al Vaillancourt’s letter (requesting pen-pals) in Seekers magazine, an inspirational publication by Diane Pike (widow of Bishop Pike) and Arleen Lorrance.
Like Moses, I protested, “But I’m going to present prosperity seminars. I’m already writing a book, Pot O’ Gold Prosperous Living, based on my course.” The command repeated, and I again objected, “I’m not qualified for a prison ministry, send someone else.”
But, when God speaks, I listen, I hear, I understand, I follow. So I responded to Al’s letter, and we’ve been corresponding ever since. That was the beginning of my Ministry-by-Mail to Freedomers, the name I dubbed those seeking inner freedom. And Al, my #1 con, as he calls himself, taught me a deeper sense of appreciation of life: the joy in the sight of rainbows — not visible from most cells — and the smell of stew cooking; a taken-for-granted occurrence on the outside of prison walls and fences.
Al’s precious letters were so inspiring that I wanted to share them with others. By this time, I’d written to several more prisoners whose names appeared in the magazine: Buddie Williams, Dal Culvahouse, Ernest Plemmons and Chris Estep — all visited on this trip. So I included several in the newsletters I’d begun sending to them; and also to my family and friends, who now receive my newsletters as updates on our travels.
I admire Al, for he is a self-taught individual, not only in academics, but spiritually too. He has truly attained inner freedom, despite being incarcerated from the age of 18. He’s now 56, and has spent his lifetime in prison.
As he once told me the story: while hitchhiking from New York to California, he was traveling through North Carolina. A man gave him a ride, and started sexually molesting him. Al was so horrified and repulsed that he killed the man. North Carolina’s “show no mercy” policy found him guilty, and he is still serving time — thirty-eight-years.
He’s been moved to several different prisons throughout the years, and sometimes I lost track of him. But, determined to keep contact, I would call or write the warden and ask where to reach him.
The last time he stopped writing, I hadn’t heard from him in over a year, and learned that he was still in McCain Correctional Hospital, near Fayetteville, where I visited him on our trip.
“Fairly Accessible Dirt Roads”
Because I couldn’t find McCain on the Road Atlas, I’d circled Fayetteville, and we stayed at the Lazy Acres RV Park. The Trailer Life said, “Fairly accessible dirt roads,” but cow trail, would better describe the sandy bull-dozed road into the park. But once inside, it was shady and pleasant.
The owner described his battle with the neighbor who refused to allow the road to be improved, and promised that he would be going to court, and a paved road would greet our next visit.
McCain, Not Fayetteville
I’d called in advance to make an appointment for my visit, and allowed two hours to find the prison. However, I took out Al’s letter to recheck the visiting instructions, and almost fainted when I looked at the envelope, and then remembered his mailing address is McCain, not Fayetteville.
The park manager rescued us with a local map and directions to the prison — “about 45-minutes away,” he said. Now we’re talking “country,” and a long way to get there, but we arrived exactly on time, which was important, as I’d only been given one-hour for this special out-of-state visit.
The Hospital Unit, Not Here
The entrance to every prison is different, and this one had a 25-ft. tower where I had to yell up to the guard in order to enter. However, fifteen-minutes were wasted with the guard trying to find Al Vaillancourt’s name on the computer, and yelling back asking me how to spell his name; then spelling it numerous times to someone on the phone.
In the meantime, I stood below the tower in the blazing sun staring at the barbed-wire- topped double-fence. Finally, the guard announce that I needed to go up the road 1/4-mile to the hospital facility.
When I arrived at the guard station, in a cubicle, not a tower, he said, “My first question is: ‘Will you trade your motor home for mine?'”
“Will my visit be denied, if I say ‘No’?” I asked.
Where to Park the RV
He laughed, then said, “The problem is where to park the RV.” I looked around the crowded parking lot on the hillside, and waited for his instructions.
He made a phone call, then said, “I need to talk with the driver.”
I motioned Van, and the guard said, “You’ll need to drive down the road to Highway 211, and come back to a road where you can park.” Van nodded and left. At least he was nearby, in case I needed to return to Freedom. I still felt the effects from my visit with Chris Estep, and being refused the visit “due to the undergarment policy.”
I’m Very Proud of You
We spent much of our time discussing the world conditions, and especially the signs-of-the-end prophecies that seem to be coming true with weather, political and other conditions.
Our visit went smoothly, and when I parted from Al, we embraced, and I said, “I love you.” Then I added, “Al, I’m very proud of you.”
And this old-timer-convict’s eyes softened near-to-tears, as he said “Thank you” and grasped my hand in a memorable imprint. And then he went back through the door to the only world he had known for nearly forty years, and I left to find Van and continue to enjoy the freedom, as we got on the road again, heading to places we’d never been before.
Though we were outside, and Al was inside, we both experienced the inner freedom of oneness with God.
Completion and Fulfillment
Though Al was my #1 con, he was the last Freedomer that I visited on this trip, and seeing him gave me such a sense of completion and fulfillment, as I reviewed the twenty-years I’d been corresponding with him, and now, we had the opportunity to meet, hug, and communicate in person. This meeting, for me, constituted the end of an era.
An Ending and a New Beginning
And after leaving Al, we made our way to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where I waded in the Atlantic Ocean, thus completing another cycle in our lives. We had lived at the Pacific Ocean, and had returned to San Diego for Christmas, since beginning our travels, and strolled along the shore. At nearby Oceanside Harbor we had stayed overnight and walked around the harbor and along the ocean during the holidays.
And in fact, we had viewed the ships crossing the bar at the mouth of the Columbia River, as it flowed into the Pacific Ocean in northwestern Oregon. And we had eaten a delicious clam dinner overlooking the Esplanade at Seaside, while visiting family and friends in my home state.
In Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida we had driven along the Gulf of Mexico, and I had waded in the warm waters, until a crab pinched my foot.
Soon we would be at The Great Lakes, which would complete our circuit of the four great bodies of water around the United States.
 

Chapter 15

FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA
I’m Actually Wading in the Atlantic Ocean
“I can’t believe I’m actually wading in the Atlantic Ocean,” I shouted to Van, walking along the shore in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The warm water splashed around my legs, and a slight breeze eased the 90-degree heat, as I rejoiced that we had fulfilled our goal: traveling in Freedom from sea to shining sea.
But now, walking from the Myrtle Beach State Park, where we had stayed for one night, and splashing through the waves, I knew I must enjoy the Present Moment.
“You Must go to Myrtle Beach”
I’d never heard of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, until someone along the way said, “You must go there.” We’d driven through the coastal resort city in amazement at the swarming bumper-to-bumper crowds, reminding us of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Miniature golf parks beckoned on nearly every block, with huge replicas of ships, dinosaurs, volcanoes, and other attractions. Dinner theaters were advertised for fifty-miles along the highway, featuring the Gatlin Brothers, Living Legends (direct from Las Vegas), and Willie Nelson, who was in town for the weekend.
But, committed to staying within our budget, we chose the State Park, and were delighted to find ourselves in a thick woods that paralleled the beach. I felt sorry for the many tenters camped in the unbearable heat. But they seemed to be having a good time, especially when they could walk to the nearby ocean for a refreshing romp in the waves, providing they used sunscreen to protect from the searing heat.
In retrospect, it would have been nice to have spent more time there, but even the State Park was expensive — $20.00 a night — and we planned to head north to cooler weather.
Joanie wanted to wade all day, but over-exposure to the sun didn’t seem wise, even with sunscreen, so we boarded Freedom and headed north.
Turn-around
“Do you realize that Myrtle Beach is a turn-around for us?” I asked Van. He was concentrating on negotiating the unending traffic, along the coast, so I continued. “We are now heading back, even though we will be going north for awhile, our ultimate destination is now Colorado.”
He looked disappointed, as he asked, “Aren’t we going to Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin?”
“Oh, yes, but it’s actually part of the return trip.” We’ve completed this part of our travels. But don’t worry, we’ll have lots more to see.”
devastation in The South
As we by-passed Wilmington, North Carolina, and began our westward jaunt along I-40, I noticed the dried-up corn stalks in the fields, and thought about the thousands of acres that had died during this El Nino heat-wave. And the cotton plants we’d seen, as seedlings in Texas and across The South, no doubt looked like the drooping ones we now passed. Only the tobacco plants stood a chance of surviving, yet they were stunted, and already were turning yellow.
“This devastation is changing thousands of lives,” I said to Van. Many farmers will never recover from their losses. And, of course, with the corn crops gone, there’s not enough feed for the cattle. The news says the beef is being sold at a tremendous loss, because they haven’t been fattened by the corn, and they aren’t getting enough grasses and grains.”
Van frowned, and I added, “The worst part is the number of people who have died in this heat. Now President Clinton has released money for the poor people to buy air-conditioning, fans and pay their electrical bills so they can keep cool.”
“We’ve kept quite comfortable in Freedom,” Van observed.
“Yes, but we’ve had to use much more gas to keep the generator going night and day for the air conditioning. Or we’ve had to pay to hook-up more than usual. So it’s affected us too; and when the air conditioning is off, it really affects me. I couldn’t stand it for very long, I know that. But, like you say, thank God for keeping us cool.”
An Early Autumn
I again noticed the trees already turning brown, though another week, until August, and as I thought about the predicted La Nina, I said, “It looks like an early autumn. I wonder how this is going to affect the weather the rest of the year. If it brings on inclement weather, we may have to adjust our travel plans. Maybe that’s why we felt guided to head West, rather than continue along the coast and spend more time there.”
“That could be,” Van concluded, in his usual concise comment.
Retracing our Travels
As we drove West along I-40, through Raleigh and Durham, I realized that it’s the only part of the trip where we would retrace our travels. And I’d hesitated to return through Greensboro, now that Dottie and Steve were gone. But I recalled the good times we’d had with them, and decided to prolong the memories by stopping at Shoney’s for an inexpensive, but good steak dinner, as recommended by fellow RVers along the way.
Up, Up, and Up
After our late lunch, we left I-40 and by-passed Winston- Salem, connecting with I-77, which quickly took us north into the Appalachian Mountains. Within minutes we began climbing, and Freedom slowed to a crawl, as faster traffic zipped past.
Up, up, and up we climbed. The view, though incredible, soon became hampered by the onset of clouds, followed by heavy rain. Mercifully, the temperature dropped over ten degrees, and Van turned off the air conditioning. Soon we were in a valley in the heart of the mountains, and the rain had become a light mist, giving an ethereal appearance to the hills and valleys. I kept busy filming the changing panorama: green pastures with grazing cattle, farm homes, communities, churches and lots of trees.
A Sound Sleep in the Virginia Mountains
At the crossroads of I-77 and I-81, now in Virginia,  we stopped at Flying J Truck Stop for refueling and to spend the night in comfortably cool surroundings, for the first time in several months. We could barely see the mountains around us, because of the low-lying clouds, and we loved it. Despite the noisy trucks, we slept soundly in this mountain atmosphere.
I could hardly wake up the next morning, probably from the intense barometric and altitude change, but we wanted to move onward. For a fleeting moment, the night before, while studying the maps and brochures we’d gotten at the Virginia Welcome Center, we had considered driving north along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway to the Shenandoah Valley. We’d been told about the awesome beauty of the mountain highway, but the slow trek over the Great Smokys had been hard on Freedom, and I knew that we’d see plenty of mountains ahead, so we made the decision to continue along the Interstate.
Turning our Back on the East Coast
Turning our backs on the Eastern Coast, I remarked, “Do you realize that if we had gone to Shenandoah, we’d only be about a hundred miles from Washington, D.C.? It’s not too late, do you have any interest in going there?”
“Not at all,” Van responded, then volunteered, “I’ve been there, and I have no desire to go again.”
“I’ve heard that the memorials and capital are worth seeing, but the rest of the area is really bad.” Then, recalling the evening news, I added, “Well, we can always say that we were within several-hundred-miles when a gunman shot several people in the nation’s capital. And now that I think about it, I’d as soon avoid that kind of trauma. Let’s move on.”
As we slowly chugged up the next series of hills, I was so glad we had opted for the four-lane highway, and traffic could easily pass.
I Love the Freeways
“We simply aren’t equipped for mountain travel,” I said to Van. “The freeways are right for us, and the mountain scenery is basically the same. Our objective, now, is to get through them as expediently as possible.”
This meant that we would gladly pay the $6.00 toll through West Virginia’s mountains, and continue our torturous slow pace. At least it gave us time to enjoy the view, though sometimes obscured by low-hanging clouds.
A Travel Plaza along the tollway gave a respite, while I prepared lunch; and then we labored onward, eventually passing the intersection where I-64 joined from the Shenandoah Valley area. “Thank God we didn’t attempt that route this trip,” I said, and noticed that no trucks were coming from there. “Enough is enough.”
We by-passed most of Charleston, West Virginia, on the Interstate that wound through the mountains and across the snaking Kanawha River four times. From our glimpses, we could see a lovely town sprawled along the valley — on both sides of the river, and the state capital building’s golden dome glistened in the cloud-filtered sun. “It looks like a nice mountain city,” I observed.
We’d considered pushing on to a National Park in northern Kentucky, but the weekend can be crowded, so we decided to stop at the Wal-Mart for the night, in Huntington, near the southwestern corner of West Virginia.
The Kentucky Appalachians
We’d liked the energies in southern Kentucky, and now felt a welcoming response when driving through the “Kentucky Appalachians” in the northeastern area of the state.
Sunday afternoon, when we arrived at Twin Knobs Park in the Daniel Boone National Forest, we hesitated as we passed a sign that read, “Campground Full.”
“That’s just because they haven’t removed the sign,” I confidently said, and laughed as we passed an employee heading toward the sign.
Divine Order and Divine Timing
I knew God was continuing to guide us, especially while we registered, and the man returned with the sign. I silently said, “Thank you, God, for Divine Order and Divine Timing.”
Still in the mountains, but at a lower altitude, we rejoiced at the cooler weather, for the first time in several months, as we settled into our site, surrounded by trees, and apart from other campers.
As we walked through the peaceful trees along a trail that lead to the lake’s edge, we noticed that the 270 sites were situated so everyone had lots of space and privacy, and some had boat hookups that lead along a trail, up a hill to their campgrounds.
Settle Down for Awhile
“Let’s stay here a few days,” I said. “I really need the time to catch up on my writing, and this is such a quiet, pleasant location.”
We savored the windows and doors open, and no air conditioning, and it felt good to settle down for awhile. Van built an evening fire, and as we stood outside, a deer wandered through the nearby woods. He didn’t even leave, as I rushed inside, grabbed my camcorder, and filmed his walk through the trees.
In our quietude, we’d been watching a large green caterpillar inch it’s way across the dirt and up a small hill. But he’d slipped back down, rolled over, and struggled around a stick; finally working his way back to the hill. This time he creeped up a stump, but became blocked by a dried leaf. Laboriously he inched around the obstacle, and into a kind of cave.
“He’s okay now,” Van said in relief from watching the arduous ordeal, “he’ll eat some moss and settle down for the night.”
“He reminds me of some people’s efforts in life: self-imposed obstacles, and then feeling triumphant at their accomplishments. When all along he could have taken a much shorter, easier route, or he could have made his way to that patch of grass.”
“Well, he seemed to have a preconceived destination in mind,” Van added in defense of the caterpillar.
I laughed, “You just thought he’d settled for the night. Now he’s working his way up and over that protruding tree trunk.”
We quietly watched, as he patiently climbed onward and upward. I’d lost track of it during the deer interlude, but when I looked again, he was inching up the tree, and soon disappeared into the bountiful foliage.
A Myriad Other Choices
“There must be a lesson here,” I said. “It reminds me of our Journey to Inner Freedom. I wonder how much is self-imposed obstacles, and what is actually necessary to reach the desired destination? For instance, we could have taken another route without the mountains; or we could have stayed in Colorado; or we could have made a myriad other choices.”
Van didn’t see the caterpillar as foolish, but wise in fulfilling his goal.
I continued “Well, it’s like our choices. We can go directly to Elkhart (near Indianapolis) and get the repairs on Freedom at the Holiday Rambler headquarters, or we can enjoy the trip along the way. Personally, I’m thinking I’d like to visit “My Old Kentucky Home State Park,” where the composer, Stephen Foster, was inspired to write the words and music that’s now the official state song. They even present a musical based on his life and music. And I’d like to see more of the country between Lexington and Louisville. I haven’t even seen the horse country, yet.”
“Sounds good to me,” Van concluded.
But we enjoyed our stay at Twin Knobs State Park, especially the cooler weather and low humidity, that I decided to finish wordscanning my course, taking our time to enjoy each day, in the process.
In Quest of Four New Batteries
Finally, with the assignment completed, we continued toward My Old Kentucky Home State Park, but took several days while in quest of four new batteries for the coach. Because they aren’t a popular size, Wal-Marts had low stock, and we drove to three (staying overnight along the way) in order to find the four, which Van installed.
It seemed, although I’d completed the entries of the Journey to Inner Freedom into the computer, we were still going through our own Final Battles of The Promised Land, which are a normal, but undesirable part of the process.
I could see that the battery quest was part of Little Ralph’s growing up process in learning to take responsibility, and he handled it quite well, despite traveling from store-to- store.
Make the Demand on Life
Another part of our Inner Journey dealt with giving ourselves permission to live at The Promised Land level of “having it all.”
With this in mind, I’d selected and purchased two new pairs of pants at Wal-Mart, and informed Van, “It’s time to include a new clothes in our monthly Spending Plan. I’m sure you realize that when we’re at the level of consciousness to make the demand on life, the universe provides accordingly.”
“Okay,” he replied.
The Last Roots
But it’s not that simple. In the past, when recognizing the limiting patterns that constitute the Final Battles of The Promised Land, we’d come up against the Last Roots, which like dandelion roots, break off, leaving the tap root buried far beneath the soil. And the pattern remains intact.
There are many offshoots of the “Big One, Elizabeth,” as I call the tap root, or root cause, upon which all the others are based. Once that one is recognized and uprooted, with the chemical of Love, we are free. And every time we’ve cycled through this Inner Journey, we come closer to freedom. But it’s uncomfortable going through the process.
This time, we came up against “it” again; Van’s withholding, holding out, “don’t give them what they want” syndrome. It’s a control issue that evolved from a survival mechanism, and is not a conscious, intentional begrudging another their good, but comes from a subconscious reaction, probably of the inner child. The truth is that Van’s adult-self is thoughtful, kind and generous; and would not deny anyone whatever they desired.
Yet, when we come up against this pattern, for further healing and releasing, it activates my victim pattern; having been at the other end of this behavior from my early childhood. Through the years I’d recognized that my victim pattern resulted from an immature, needy dad, whose inner child tried to fulfill his needs by taking from his kids.
This is not an unusual symptom, and accounts for the irresponsibility we see in today’s society — from the President refusing to accept responsibility for his actions, to the young parents who are killing their newly borns, or others who are not capable of properly parenting. It’s multi-generational, and begins with each person taking steps to change these deeply entrenched patterns that I call the deep hidden things.
The Stephen Foster Musical
So, when I firmly fulfilled my intentions of seeing the Stephen Foster musical, it was more than a whim. Even the universe got involved by raining. But we went anyway, and thoroughly enjoyed a delightful evening; starting with the bus picking us up at the park and transporting us to-and-from the outdoor amphitheater. Lovely Stephen Foster music, such as “Oh Susannah, Beautiful Dreamer, Swanee River, My Old Kentucky Home, and I Dream of Jeannie,” and elegant southern costumes, plus an interesting story entertained us for two hours. And the rain stopped too, shortly after the program began.
My Old Kentucky Home
Determined to enjoy the full tourist scene, we visited the solid brick, three-story “home” that inspired the song, which is now the state song. The house had belonged to Judge Rowan, Stephen’s cousin, and in later years was sold, by an heir, to Kentucky state, with the stipulation it be made a shrine to Stephen Foster; a thoroughly enjoyable place to visit, and relive the recreation of those bygone days. We completed the memories of that era with our last southern buffet at the Stephen Foster restaurant.
Kentucky Bourbon at Jim Beam Distillery
We then drove into the country to learn more about Kentucky bourbon at the Jim Beam distillery, as the sweet smell of fermenting grains filled the air. It seems that the special flavor of bourbon was discovered accidentally by using charred barrels for aging whiskey. Now, of course, it’s done intentionally. An eighteen-minute video served as the main tour guide, but we also visited a barrel-making museum on the grounds, and the home of the founder, Jacob Beam.
Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln
Oh, but that was just the beginning of our touristing. We drove further south, through a heavy downpour, to the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. An impressive memorial, similar to the one in Washington D.C., encases the original log cabin where he was born. An incredible experience to actually see that famous, meager birthplace preserved for posterity within a magnificent shrine. And the Sink Spring that provided water for our famous president, still dripped water inside the cave. A log fence around the historical site added authenticity to the memorable scene.
The Kentucky Railway Museum
Our last day in The South, we visited the Kentucky Railway Museum, for Little Ralph’s benefit. We watched model trains and climbed on board the excursion train; but didn’t go for a train ride.
Instead, we headed north, through Louisville, across the Ohio River into Indiana, and all the way to Indianapolis, sadly leaving behind The South, where we had spent four delightful months.
From Battlefields to The Final Battles
But, we didn’t leave The Final Battles behind; they went right along with us, and their pain surfaced when I called my step-brother, Terry, to arrange a visit.
The last time I’d seen Terry was at my dad’s funeral, two years before, when he’d extended his one week visit to support his mom, Arlene, with taking care of Dad. Now, on the phone, Terry told me that he and his brother, Tom, had been told that Dad’s vital signs were failing, and he’d only last a few more days, so Terry extended his stay to two-weeks. I wondered why I hadn’t been told this information, considering I had been there during that time period. And the victim feelings began to surface.
Then Terry told me that his roommate, Forest, had throat cancer, and he wasn’t sure when we’d be able to get together. I said that we would stay in town, until we could see him. The feelings intensified, for they brought back memories of trying to visit my mother, during my first marriage, when traveling to California from Oregon. She was always too sick, or otherwise unable to see me. That rejection hurt my inner child, and reminded her that Mom had refused to talk to me the last time I called her, while on our trip. I had made an effort to express my feelings, which is an important step of healing, and had received a letter from her the same day I called Terry, apologizing for not have accepted my phone call. That apology had meant a lot, and relieved some of the pain.
I didn’t blame Terry for my feelings, after all, he was simply telling me the truth of his situation. But the conversation served as an opportunity for me to recognize and win this Final Battle with the chemical of Love on that deeply buried tap root.
I Felt Welcome
Terry and I arranged to meet for lunch the next day, and I delighted that Forest joined us, so we could finally meet, after all these years. In addition, Terry paid for our lunch, a gesture that somehow healed my victimization tape. I felt welcome and accepted, rather than being an imposition.
A Healthful Gift
I’d hesitated to mention the product we use and sell, but I knew it was supposed to neutralize the free radicals that cause cancer, so I’d ventured telling him, and then gave a bottle to Forest, with instructions to call Dottie or Steve, if they felt it helped, and wanted to order more; or if they had any questions. They seemed delighted to try the product, and I felt good about being given the opportunity to help, because I’d felt so bad that Dad hadn’t consistently taken the other product; and I’d know that it had kept people with cancer alive for another ten years.
Part of my victim pain came from our family not being receptive to the products we’d offered, even when we’d given them as a gift. Now, if only this product would heal Forest’s cancer, I’d be so happy; just to know something I’d done had helped. I guess that’s an important part of who I am; that I want to be able to make a difference in people’s lives, to help relieve some of their pain.
Replacing the Cracked Windshield
Our Final Battles were still raging, however, after we left Indianapolis and drove north to Elkhart. A major part of this trip had revolved around our intention of getting the cracked windshield replaced at the Holiday Rambler factory.
I’d mentioned to Van that he should call and talk with them, in case an appointment was needed, but he hates making phone calls, so he didn’t. Now, stopping for a Dairy Queen, within a local phone call, I asked him to phone and see where we should park nearby, and when we could get the work done. I also asked him the address. While looking for the information, He announced that the factory was in another town, not Elkhart.
“Then why are we heading for Elkhart?”
“I dunno,” he mumbled and went to find a phone, but returned to announce “They don’t have a phone.”
The Final Battles were mounting, and I was tired, so I said, “Okay, there are no Wal-Marts between here and there, and there’s only one RV park, so we’d better go there for tonight.
When we arrived at the RV park, and asked about directions, the receptionist said, “Do you have an appointment?”
I said, “No, because my husband didn’t choose to arrange for one.”
The clerk looked concerned and frowned, as he said, “Oh, it sometimes takes two months for an appointment.”
I went into a major upset, and later unleashed on Van, “You’ve known for four months that we were planning to get this work done here. It just seems to me that you could have called, or had Steve call, and get the necessary information. Otherwise, why would we bother coming to Elkhart?”
He shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know,” he said, just like a child being scolded.
“It’s time for you to start taking responsibility for these things,” I complained. “I’m just too upset to talk about it any further. Why don’t you call Steve and see what he recommends?” And I went to bed.
I repeated my prayer, “I give thanks that God has a perfect plan for good, according to His will, His way, His time, and His inspiration. I let go and let God.” Then I let go of the entire windshield situation.
Van had left, but soon returned and announced, “Steve has gone home, so I didn’t get to talk with him.”
“Did you call him at home?”
“No.”
The next morning he was up bright and early, and out the door to the phone.
In the meantime, I’d been praying for guidance, trying to release the entire episode, and asking “Jehovah to fight the battle.”
“How does ‘Jehovah fight the battles’?” I asked.
“As many ways as sand in the sea,” came the reply.” It’s different for Van than you; and for each person, according to their situation. As Jesus said, ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,… yet Solomon in all his glory is not clothed as one of these…. Will he not much more clothe you?”
“Therefore, be not anxious saying ‘What shall we eat, or what shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
“Why do you see the speck that is your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye: You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
“Okay, I guess I get the message: my focus must remain on pulling up my own roots, and let you and Van take care of his roots.
I got up and went to my computer to update, plus make some changes with my course, as I had been guided.
Soon Van returned looking triumphant, but I followed my guidance to mind my own business, and kept typing. He busied himself with some paperwork, and ate breakfast, then looking radiant, he said, “When you have time, I’ll give you a report on my calls.”
This entire scenario was a brand new pattern. Surely Jehovah had been busy, and I could hardly wait to finish my sentence, and listen.
When I stopped, he began, “Holiday Rambler only does Warranty work, but they recommended Holiday World. We passed them coming in, along Highway 19. I called there, and they are checking to see if they have the glass in stock. I’m to call back in an hour. She said that Quality Glass will install the windows.”
“Okay, sounds good,” I said, and returned to my computer.
A Man Reborn
He continued to busy himself for an hour, then left. When he returned, I looked up, and he gave his report, “They will have the glass from their warehouse Friday. I called Quality Glass, and they will install the windshield first thing Friday.”
“Will you have the glass ‘first thing Friday’?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think it would be a good idea to call and clarify that timing? And you might want to call Steve, just to report your progress and get feedback.”
“Okay. Good idea.” I’m seeing before me a man reborn. He’s excited, confident, clear-headed, in-charge; not resentful resistant or rebellious at my suggestion. Instead he’s out the door.
I’m sitting at my computer thinking, “Jehovah sure knows what He’s doing, and how to do it, which confirms my constant affirmation of Jesus’s prayer, “I, of myself, can do nothing; it’s not I, but the Father within who doeth the works.”
Soon he’s back with a complete report: “I’m to pick up the glass at noon on Friday, and take it to Quality Glass. They’ll install it at 1:00 p.m. It’ll take the rest of the day. Do you think I’d better pay to stay here until Friday?”
“Sounds like a good idea; but maybe we’d better stay until Saturday, since you said it would take that day, we’ll need someplace to stay that night. Then we can get on our way Saturday. But, we may not want to travel to the Great Lake on the weekend, so we can decide later.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll go pay through Friday night. Also, I talked to Steve, and he said to call Dottie now, as she’s leaving in an hour.”
I shut down the computer, and walked with him to the phone at the laundry room. Then he went on to the office, and returned while I was talking with Dottie. As soon as I finished, he got back on the phone completing his appointment transactions.
“I Want to go to Oregon”
In the meantime, to my surprise I’m involved in a conversation with the fellow who was installing a new ceiling in the laundry room. “I tried to be quiet,” he’d said, and before I knew it, he’d told me his life history, and asking advice. A good-looking man, obviously down on his luck, who had once been a pastor, but now working for the RV park to pay his rent, while paying off his trailer.
“I want to go to Oregon,” he said, “but I’ve lost my truck, as a result of the mess I’m in.” He told a sordid story of his wife into cocaine and prostitution, and his going down the tube with her, while trying to take care of his young son and keep his own head above water.
Since he had been a pastor, and had also been on the streets, and probably was on drugs or alcohol, I attempted to speak to his listening, but focused on the need to change patterns, and to make good choices, as he already knew.
It had been so long since anyone asked me for advice, that I was astounded, but I felt God had arranged the meeting, and therefore was guiding me with the right words. The interesting part is that the man spoke the words himself. I simply reminded him of what he already knew, and added my own twist.
When I left, he asked, “Do you have any pamphlets or flyers I could read? I’m always open to a new viewpoint.”
“I’ll see what God guides me to pass along to you,” I replied as I joined Van and walked back to Freedom.
That night, I asked God what booklets to give to him, and immediately the answer came to give him a booklet that I have in ample supply, The Freedomers Say “Yes” to Inner Freedom, which focuses on the Freedomers responses and sharings about my course, based on the subjects of faith, beliefs and trust.
As I thought about the booklet, I wondered if it were time to begin marketing. The answer indicated that it would be within the next six-months, and I would know, without doubt. There would be no need to make it happen, but rather let it happen. And it would happen as easily and effortlessly as the fellow in the laundry room, when I had least expected it.
“Be Not Anxious”
I again thought about the Bible quote from the Sermon on the Mount, about the lilies, that concluded, “Be not anxious.”
It seemed this stop in Elkhart was about more than repairing our cracked windshields to see more clearly, but about repairing our inner vision too, that we could see with unclouded understanding God’s purpose and plan for our lives. As the song says, “To see thee more clearly.”
The morning for the windshield repair dawned bright and clear. I attended to some ministry letters, and then we walked to the office to mail them, stopping at the Laundry Room where Mark was still repairing the walls and ceiling. I handed him the booklet, and he said, “Last night I took authority over my life.”
I said, “You look different: your eyes are clear and your energies have changed.”
He said, “Well, I’ve had enough, and I’ve taken authority.”
I handed him the booklet, and he looked it over, then said, “I’ll read it.”
Then he noticed the address, and I said, “If you want any other books, they’re listed in the back, and you can write to me. This one is free, but my husband is now retired, so you’ll need to pay for any more.” I felt good making that honest communication.
“I’ll read it, and get back with you, before you leave.” His working partner returned, and we parted.
Have a Hot Dog
When we arrived at the Holiday World dealership to pick up our windshields, the aroma of hot dogs got Joanie’s attention, so while Van took care of business, I prepared and ate a hot dog. For some reason, it seemed nurturing and important for me to be out of the picture, as this vital process unfolded: Van taking responsibility for the windshield.
I’d thought about fixing his hot dog, but right now it seemed part of his growing-up process to take responsibility for fixing his own; though he didn’t get to eat it, until we reached Quality Glass and waited for the repairmen to finish their lunch.
I’m Taking Authority
Again, I took myself out of the picture and went to the waiting room, while Van attended to the windshield repair. When I returned to Freedom, the new window was installed, and the clearness of vision was astounding.
One of the men said, “There was a big crack in the windshield, but we can get it fixed by Wednesday.”
I guess someone needed to verbalize the worst fear, but I wasn’t allowing room for any further problems, as I firmly said, “I know you’re kidding.” Like Mark, I’d had enough and was taking authority. The cracked windshield syndrome was over!
A New Direction of Clarity
 As Van drove from the driveway and down the highway, it seemed like the windshield symbolized the new direction of clarity in our lives.
We’d decided to drive a few miles south to see the Holiday Rambler factory and the Amish settlement.
I’d jokingly said, “I want to see Mecca,” referring to my expectations of a giant factory complex, and when one came into view at the appropriate mileage, we drove into the parking lot. But it wasn’t the right factory. A few minutes later, as we viewed the small Holiday Rambler complex, I said, “This must not be the right place, either.” But it was, so I took a camcorder shot, and we went on our way; somewhat disappointed by our expectations.
Van soothed, “You know that Monaco manufactures there coaches, don’t you? This is Holiday Rambler’s headquarters, and it’s a very attractive complex; but it’s only their offices and Warranty repair services, so you won’t see many coaches here.”
“Oh! Well, okay, let’s find the Amish settlement.”
Amish Acres
A few miles down the road, past Nappanee, we came upon the Amish Acres. A large, round red barn seemed prominent, with a large park lot and some other buildings. While we parked, several bicyclers, obvious Amish young men, with their long beards, pedaled along the highway toward town.
“This must be the place,” I said, and felt like the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as we walked into the entrance. I couldn’t even think of any questions to ask the receptionist, because I was confused. First of all, I didn’t think Amish people indulged in financial enterprise, such as this place offered: two musicals in the barn, a barn-like restaurant, soda shoppe, meat and cheese store, and more; all in log buildings.
But I did remember that we had been told, in our travels, to be sure and eat at an Amish restaurant, so we did: a home-cooking family-style dinner featuring bean soup, sweet-and-sour coleslaw, pickles, hearth bread, applebutter, potatoes, gravy, dressing, vegetable, and selection of two meets (from turkey, beef, ham, or broasted chicken) and dessert )from a variety of pies or shoo-fly-pie) and drinks (from tea, coffee, milk, lemon-aide). Needless to say, we were stuffed, and felt good about the quality of food in our bodies.
However, I was disappointed to learn that the food was not cooked by Amish people, although they prepared the desserts; and this day they had not made the vanilla date pudding, much to Van’s disappointment. But we were happy to finally taste shoo-fly-pie: predominantly molasses, brown sugar and eggs; and very rich, though tasty.
After strolling through the area, watching the ducks and geese, and viewing the cowbarn and farm house from a distance — we elected not to pay for the tours — we returned to the entrance. This time I had some questions: “Do the Amish people own this enterprise?”
No, it’s owned by a businessman, who bought the farm and developed the tourist attraction.”
“Do the Amish people financially benefit?”
“No, other than being paid for their services or products.”
“Do their beliefs oppose working in the local businesses?”
“No, they even work in some of the factories.”
“Is it allright to take their pictures?”
“No, they feel it’s an image, which is against a commandment.”
As we walked toward Freedom, I said, “I’m disappointed. I feel they’re being exploited. In fact, it seems like a reenactment of Jim Carey’s The Truman Story. Yet the books I glanced through said some settlements do have roadside stands. It’s a confusing religion to me.”
We drove away from the Amish Acres, and passed several horse-drawn carriages; some going very rapidly toward the various Amish farms along the highway. Of course, no mechanical implements were in view, but each neatly tended farm had a carriage in the front yard. I also noticed that the energies were very mellow, and from my brief readings, I wondered if these Amish people, indeed, were living in The Promised Land, having never left the basic concepts of God, hearth and family.
Watching the local drivers having to slow down behind the carriages, and then race past, I wondered whose lifestyles were the more enviable.
We waved, when passing several carriages on a back road, and the quaintly dressed riders waved back amicably. I wished I’d had time to visit with some of these folks; I’m sure I would have learned more about Living in The Promised Land.
Walk of Faith
But, I had my own Journey, and again, we were at a crossroads: to shortcut along the southern part of Lake Michigan to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to visit our friend and minister, Dan Mueller. Or to follow the suggestions of Dan, at Double Lake in Texas, who had said we mustn’t miss the trip northward, along the Michigan shore, and then south.
I had thought perhaps to offset the expense of the new windshield, we should shorten the trip, but it felt like we would be selling ourselves out, and overlooking the vital lessons we had been learning about Living in The Promised Land and having it all, so we decided to continue our Walk on Faith and journey North.
The Four Bodies of Water
Again, we were filled with anticipation of new adventures and beauty, as we began the next stage of our Journey; and the fulfillment of my goal to see the four bodies of water. We’d begun at the Pacific Ocean, where I had swum and waded often, and on this trip I’d waded in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, so the excitement of wading in one of the Great Lakes awaited.
Our first glimpse of Lake Michigan, the first of the Great Lakes on our travels, was at South Haven, close enough to Chicago that it appeared on the I-75 south signboard; but we drove straight ahead, until we saw the lake, which looked every bit like the ocean or gulf. We stopped for an ice cream cone, but I didn’t wade here, because I knew we would be paralleling the lake, and I assumed we would have ample opportunities.
Where’s the Great Lake?
However, much to our disappointment, we did not have many views from the highway, even though we selected I-31, which is the closest. But trees, hills, or distance kept us from the anticipated scenery.
We went out of our way, into several State Parks, expecting a lakeside site, but to no avail. In fact, at Van Buren State Park we walked the ten minutes through a parking lot, and along a trail to the beach. Hooray! I waded in Lake Michigan, completing our visit to the four large bodies of water, in the four directions of North America.
Van reminded me that this is a fresh water lake, and that it had no tides; but it does have waves, which vary according to the wind. And, of course, there were no seashells, but many agatized rocks of varying sizes and colors, so it was difficult to realize we were at a lake, not an ocean, or the gulf; especially when we could see ocean-going barges and boats in the distance, heading to the Port of Chicago.
But this was not our only memorable view of the lake; DH Day National Park, near the Sleeping Bear National Dunes provided a less expensive site (no hookups; no lake view). We walked a short distance to a picturesque scene: Manitou Islands across the same water as Lake Michigan, only designated Goodharbor Bay, apparently the shipping lane, as several barges and tugboats chugged by. We watched as we walked along the sandy shore to Glen Haven, a deserted historic town (consisting of a few boarded-up buildings, including a hotel erected in 1827).
The Sleeping Bear Dunes
The next day we traveled the Scenic Route of the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and from there we could see a vast panorama of Lake Michigan, the dunes, and turquoise Glen Lake to the east. The overcast day added a few sprinkles and strong winds, as we trudged up hill on the boardwalk, often covered with swirling sand. But the view from the overlooks was worth the trek. And we marveled at the young folks walking straight up the side of the coarse sands from the lake shore 450 ft. below.
Van laughed at a sign that warned hikers they would have to pay for any vehicles or other expenses, if they needed to be rescued. No thanks; I’ll pass on that adventure.
Somewhere in Time
But we definitely enjoyed our unobstructed view from Mackinaw Mill Creek Campground in Mackinaw City. Here we could see Mackinac Island, only accessible by ferry, and no motorized vehicles allowed on the island; and the bridge across to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. All this with Lake Huron, the second of our Great Lakes, stretching before us, and lapping along the shore; only a few feet away with the seagulls flying, squatting or strutting.
We definitely felt we’d reached our Promised Land on this trip, and found it difficult to move on; but we had other places to go and people to see.
He’s Going to Blow
From the Mackinaw Bridge we traveled west along breathtaking scenes of Lake Michigan, plus the forests burgeoning with pines, spruce and other evergreens; but most visually thrilling were the aspen, maples, and other trees beginning to turn shades of golden, orange and red.
The only blight on this phase of our trip was the timing. I managed to get hooked-up to electricity and get good reception of President Clinton’s “apology” speech; and I watched everything on the subject in an effort to glean as much information as possible. Mostly because his behavior exemplified what I’d been writing in my Journey to Inner Freedom about the personal ego-will, and its use of addictions and patterns to control our lives.
I could see in the president’s eyes and demeanor the same energies I’d seen in others’ whose ego had been threatened, and felt cornered. The information given by one of the psychologists about his control and power issues also confirmed my observations.
“He’s going to blow,” I said to Van, and when I saw the evening news’s report of his ordering the attack on the terrorists’ training camps, I knew it had happened.
No matter how righteous his actions, they were instigated by his need to regain power and control. And once the action was taken, his energies shifted; like an alcoholic, after a binge; or any addict succumbing to their addiction. It must not be forgotten that President Clinton is a victim of sexual addiction, and I’ve seen the devious nature of this addiction, while attending Twelve Step Meetings. Believe me, it’s scary; especially when the safety and well-being of our nation, and the world, is dependent on his decisions.
From Sea to Shining Sea
I stood in the Exhibit Hall at Mt. Rushmore watching Rosemary Clooney on a small screen video singing the words “From Sea to Shining Sea” at the 1991 Golden Dedication Ceremonies of this National Shrine to Democracy, and I knew this chapter, and this book was complete. And as I listened to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was in office during my youth, speaking on another video, during the first dedication ceremony, I knew this country was founded on sound principles, and that, somehow, we would prevail over the transitional times of this present time.
I understood that President Clinton, as leader of this country, and a role-model for the baby-boomer generation, if not the entire nation, would process through his addictions and trials, into personal recovery; and the quantum leap would begin; eventually, we would all move to a higher level of inner freedom.
A Lighter President; A Weighted Minister
That night, parked at a Flying J Truck Stop in Rapid City, South Dakota, we watched a wiser, lighter President Clinton on TV referring to his recent events. He spoke of becoming more proficient at making apologies, and he obviously had gotten the message and learned that lesson, at least.
On a more personal note, we had visited our minister-friend, Dan Mueller, while in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and were saddened to see this once vital man devastated from the weight of ministering to a congregation torn apart by strife and contention. He was retiring from the ministry, because he could no longer maintain his spiritual equilibrium, nor would those causing the dissension see their errors.
Yet, in the overall picture, we know that God has a perfect plan for good for Rev. Dan, and for the church, and their new minister. And I am reminded that sometimes God allows seemingly negative situations to transpire for the ultimate good results. For instance, Dan has said that, after he rests and gains a renewed positive perspective on life, he will consider the possibility of our working together to present seminars relating to Money Matters, and this would include Van, too, who is an authority on financial consulting. In fact, originally, he had inspired Dan to invest in the Stock Market; and his investments have made it possible for him to retire. Now, Dan is interested in shifting his focus to becoming a Money Minister.
God knows, there is certainly a need for spiritual leadership in healing the financial chaos in the world. So, perhaps the ultimate good for all concerned will evolve on a grander scale from this apparent negative situation.
A “Godforsaken Place”
As I’m writing, I’m thinking of another opportunity, in our travels, to see an ultimate good evolve from an apparent negative situation.
In the middle of nowhere, Wall, South Dakota, at the western edge of The Badlands, In 1931, Ted Hustead, a young pharmacist bought the only drug store in the small town, and moved his wife and young son, Billy to this “Godforsaken place,” as some of his friends suggested. Despite the highway in front of their business, most cars passed right by, and the family struggled to survive.
After several years, his wife, Dorothy, came up with an idea: offer a free glass of ice water to the thirsty travelers on this desert-like highway. The story of the results is history in this multi-million-dollar wide-spot-in-the-road business that has become an international tourist attraction, with mileage signs in Alaska, and one even traveling to The Great Wall of China with The Husteads, as seen in pictures in their museum.
The idea worked from that first day, when people stopped; and some even bought ice cream cones, although one asked to have the water jug filled for camping. Yet, Ted and Dorothy Hustead proved that not even Wall, South Dakota, is “God forsaken” as they turned an apparently negative situation into a multi-million dollar bonanza, using several proven successful methods: offer a free service that is needed and useful, and advertise. The “Wall Drug” signs, copied from the old-time entertaining format initiated by Burma-Shave, can be seen for hundreds of miles in any direction. Several shout their greeting from the middle of ponds, bringing a laugh along the boring prairies.
My Roots in Deadwood?
I’d never thought of my roots being in Deadwood, South Dakota; not even when Dad Freeland talked about his childhood and youth there, and having worked at the train depot when Calamity Jane came in and rode the train free, because no one dared confront her, in fear of her foul mouth and violent behavior. It seemed so remote from anything to do with me; after all, I was born in Oregon, and lived there my entire life. But when we neared Deadwood, and took a side-trip to Bear Butte, the Indian Ceremonial grounds, now a State Park, major pieces of the puzzle of my life fell into place.
I had never been particularly interested in the Indian beliefs and traditions, although I’d grown up on an Indian reservation. The Indians too, had seemed remote from my life; a people and culture distant and unrelated to me. Partly because of their detachment, but mostly because it had never been presented to me. Yet, I remember, as a child, attending the Indian dances at the long-house, a wooden building with dirt floors, intense smoke from the huge fire in the middle, and the noise of chanting and dancing. But, Mom Freeland said I wasn’t too interested; in fact, she told of me saying to one of the Indians, sitting under a blanket, “Move over, me’s cold too.”
I loved the colorful beads and feathers of their costumes, and one wall in our home at Kah-nee-ta had a display of Indian memorabilia, including a ceremonial necklace that had belonged to Chief Joseph, and one that had belonged to his wife: beautiful beaded pieces that came to mind when walking through the displays at the State Park’s Visitors Center, and seeing one very similar that had belonged to Chief Red Cloud, of the Sioux tribe.
Bear Butte: A Sacred Mountain
Bear Butte was not on our itinerary, but while watching TV, on the prairies, we could only get reception of PBS, which showed an hour-long documentary on Bear Butte, and featured a park ranger, an Indian Medicine Man, and another Indian from the council, plus the program host, who was interviewing them. As they talked about the problems relating to the mountain, showed videos of trees with colorful strips of cloth, which are part of their prayer rituals, hanging from them. The speakers complained that some tourists were disrespectful, while people were doing their sacred commemorations.
A large segment of the program showed videos of the 800-acre fire that burned most of the forested section of the mountain, but said it was a blessing, as it burned the observation deck, and caused the close of the trail near the Ceremonial Grounds. They also observed that the top of the mountain, the most spiritual area, did not burn. The park ranger, Chuck, showed a picture, and told of a story relating to a healing miracle he had witnessed.
As they spoke, I remembered that the Rev. Patty, the Assistant Minister at Mile High Church in Denver, often spoke of her interest in the Lakota Indians, and of participating in sacred ceremonies on a mountain. I realized it was Bear Butte, but I still didn’t feel this had anything to do with me. Yet, as we neared the area, I said to Van, “I feel a strong inner urge to go to Bear Butte.”
On the way, we drove through Sturgis, South Dakota, scene of the notorious Annual Bikers Rally, held earlier this month, August, definitely a contrast to the sacred Bear Butte; and we stopped to take pictures of the Bikers Museum for Freedomer, Michael Martin. Then we passed another historical site, Fort Meade, where General Custer had been stationed, before he was killed at the Battle of Big Horn by Sitting Bull’s tribe.
We rounded a curve, and then Bear Butte came into view. I couldn’t believe my eyes; it looked much like the mountains surrounding Kah-nee-ta Hot Springs, with scorched pine trees, instead of junipers. I felt at home here, and the nearer we got to the mountain, the more I could feel the intensity of the sacred energies. It all seemed so familiar, as we drove into the State Park and to the Visitors Center, though the place looked deserted.
However, I went inside and after the ranger greeted me, I began telling him about the TV program I’d seen, a repeat, according to Chuck, who was the same ranger. I shared about growing up on an Indian Reservation, and about Dad Freeland having grown up in Deadwood, and about Rev. Patty coming to this mountain. He listened with interest as I spoke about my ministry, and he even gave me a Spiritual Visitor Pass, rather than charging the $2.00 admission, which we paid anyway to support the program.
Van joined me, and we took time to look at the artifacts and memorabilia, all familiar from my having lived on a similar Indian Reservation. We concluded the inside visit by watching a video about the history of Bear Butte, and the legend of the Sleeping Bear that seems outlined along the top. By this time, my memories and associations with Kah-nee-ta were fully revived, and I felt more aligned with that part of my life.
At one point, another visitor was talking with Chuck, and I overheard her saying something about Oregon, so I mentioned the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, and she was familiar with it, so we told Chuck more about the place. He teaches history, and welcomes any Native American history.
The Trail to the Ceremonial Grounds
Chuck encouraged us to walk up the trail to the Ceremonial Grounds, but time was passing, and we still planned to go to Deadwood. However, I felt the urging to walk up the trail to the upper parking lot, and we passed several trees with the colored cloth flying in the breeze, as we’d seen on the TV show. And the view of the surrounding mountains and valley were spectacular: the Black Hills with their forests in the distance, and a small lake with the State Park Campground below, and rolling green hills in between. And along the path, colorful flowers and drying yucca plants.
By the time we reached the upper parking lot, the 90+ heat seemed too intense to hike to the top, but I still felt the need to climb further, so we wound around the path through a shaded area, passing more trees with colorful cloth prayer symbols; and below, in a clearing, we could see the tents of people who had come to participate in their Ceremonial Rituals. But we didn’t hike up to the Ceremonial Grounds. I’d offered my prayers along the way, and Van too, prayed for changing a long-standing pattern that had again surfaced.
We passed a lady returning from her all-night ritual at the top of the mountain, and later talked with her in the shade at the upper parking lot. She told of placing 405 prayer offerings, as part of her ritual, and having a symbolic dream. And she admitted it was scary being alone up there with animals around, yet she felt safe and protected; and definitely exhilarated from her spiritual triumph of completing the hike and spending the night.
I Feel so Close to Dad Freeland
I enjoyed her story, but felt complete and revitalized with our part in this sacred place. Now, it was time to return to Freedom, and drive on to Deadwood.
We returned to the forest area of the Black Hills, along a four-lane highway, 7-miles south from I-90, and suddenly around a turn, there was Deadwood, in a narrow valley surrounded by trees, with a large, but inactive gold mine on one side of the hills.
We parked Freedom in the free parking lot, and boarded a trolley that took us through town and around the loop back into town. This helped to get oriented with this gambling town, locate the casinos, and tourist attractions, and the alight by the same depot where Dad Freeland had worked and seen Calamity Jane in his youth.
I looked at the buildings and wondered which one Dad had been sleeping in when the bullet went through the window, as he slept, and lodged above his bed. Of course, I didn’t have a clue, and many of them were built since that time. I tried to figure out what years he lived here, and felt angry with myself for not paying more attention, and not remembering what he had told me.
However, between the depot memorabilia and pictures, and the Adams Museum, on the street behind it, I began to put together some of the pieces; assuming he lived here between the 1870’s and 1890, when the train came to town. All those years of history he lived here, and I didn’t know more than those several stories he had shared. I felt disgusted with myself, for not knowing more of his history. So I had to look at pictures, and a video, of other people’s history to get a feeling for Dad’s life in Deadwood. How I longed to talk with him again, and to ask questions, and hear his stories.
All I know is that his dad, an Indian Agent, was bushwhacked for attempting to tell authorities about the white men who were rustling Indian cattle and horses. Was it here in Deadwood? I wanted to take time to go to the library and look up more of the family history, but I was already so overwhelmed with information and emotions, I didn’t feel I could handle more. But I definitely planned to return.
In the meantime, we wandered along the streets, walking inside the antique display in old-time saloon, Deadwood Dick’s, and also Kevin Costner’s modern casino, Midnight Blue.
But the highlight was Saloon #10, where Wild Bill Hickock had been shot playing poker. The chair he sat in, at the time, now hung high on the wall for display, and we came in at the end of the reenactment of the shooting, but still got to see another Wild Bill impersonator walking around the saloon, a dark, dingy, old, noisy place with sawdust on the floor, and antiques and memorabilia hanging from the ceiling and walls; a museum in its own rights.
We wandered through the restored Bullock Hotel and Franklin Hotel, felt transported to those historical times. However, the main street was closed off for a free concert that night featuring Chubby Checkers, which definitely created a contrast of eras. And our primerib dinner at the modern Depot Mother Lode casino and restaurant, with all its conveniences, reminded me that I prefer now to then.
Yet, as I looked beyond the defining features of buildings, sights and sounds, at the hills with patches of adobe and fascinating rock formations, and later, when driving west from Deadwood, I could sense why Dad Freeland loved Kah-nee-ta with its red adobe hillside and many rock formations; it reminded him of his boyhood home in Deadwood; and I too felt akin to his roots; and mine too.
Yes, I could now understand why this dignified, sedate doctor loved his black cowboy attire, boots and hat, which I always referred to as his Hop-along-Cassidy image.
As I’m writing, I recall his elderly mother, Anna, who obviously had lived here during those early days of Deadwood, and I remember him telling me the reason he went to medical school to become a doctor was to find a way to restore her hearing. “But, he said, “By the time I discovered nothing could be done, it was too late, so I became a doctor.”
Mom Freeland used to tell a story about Anna, her mother-in-law, with whom she did not get along. Mom said that I as about four or five, at Kah-nee-ta, when I yelled to my death relative, “Where is me baving suit?” She didn’t understand, so I tried again, scratching my body to indicate the itchy wool material, shouting, “Me baving suit, me baving suit. Where the Hell is me baving suit?” Mother said she stayed out of sight so I wouldn’t see her laughing. I assumed she finally rescued me by finding my itchy “baving suit.”
Thinking of this lady, I realize that she was probably widowed right here in Deadwood, and if I’d gone to the cemetery, I would have seen the grave of her husband, my great-grandfather. Now, I know I must return to Deadwood and complete my mission.
But, in the meantime, I feel more whole, as these pieces of the puzzle of me fit into place; even as I write, I can feel the healing process, and I know this book is nearing its conclusion, with our return to Lakewood, Colorado, and Dottie’s birthday celebration.
A Visit With Tom and Joan
However, it seems fitting to include an account of our visit with our newfound friends, Tom and Joan Frink, parents of my granddaughter, Arianna’s significant-other, Jason. They live on 25-acres of paradise in the Black Hills, just across the border, in Wyoming, near the small town, Aladdin.
We had met when they spent Easter at Dottie’s several years ago. In fact, they were there when Freedom was delivered, and they were the first people to visit our new home.
Now, on our return to Colorado, we visited them in their new modular home, and helped carry a few things from their old home, a few yards away. But, the bulk of the moving had already been done, with the help of Jason and Earl (my granddaughter, Christina’s former husband, and Brandon’s dad), who were still here, but returning home the day we arrived.
Somehow, it felt important to be spending this time here with Jason and Earl, representing the fifth generation removed from Dad Freeland and our Deadwood history, so close to our family roots. Even though these fellows are not direct descendants, they are part of our family history. So, over Sunday breakfast in the Aladdin Cafe, I shared some of our family history with them. And I’m sure it didn’t mean any more to them, now, than it did to me, when I was younger and hearing it from my own beloved Dad Freeland. Yet, it felt good to share this story with them.
 Our short time with Tom and Joan added another dimension of healing, as we wandered through the woods, and shared in the joy of their new home, sitting at their table, looking out the front window and seeing the white cows grazing in the field on the hillside across the road. It even felt good carrying some items from the old house to the new one, and feeling that we were contributing something helpful in exchange for their hospitality.
Close Encounters With Devil’s Tower
But soon, it was time to move on to our next momentous adventure, Devil’s Tower. I’m so glad we saw the grandeur of man-made Mt. Rushmore first, so we could now appreciate the magnificence of nature’s creation towering 875 feet into the air, and visible for miles, as we drove toward it. As we drove closer, the solid rock monolith, we could see its sides were not flat, but grooved, with five-sided columns forming its surface.
Having seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in which the monolith was the featured attraction, it had seemed more like a movie set, but now, seeing its full dimensions, it equaled the breathtaking awe of The Grand Canyon. And one would think nothing could equal its grandeur, yet as we approached Devil’s Tower, nature provided a tapestry of beauty: a flaming red adobe wall along a canyon to the right, complimented by the green carpeted fields and accented by groves of pine trees.
To the northwest, three individual mountains dwarfed the tower, yet one could not take their eyes from the star attraction of this impressive scene, while driving closer.
Some people feel they have to climb a mountain, simply because it’s there, and many hike Devils Tower. Trails around it, also offer and option to further take incorporate its magnitude, or you can stay overnight in its energies at the campground. But I felt satisfied to drive around the monolith on the paved road,  and then sit on the conveniently provided benches, for my maximum enjoyment. And the free telescope allowed us to see the myriad cracks and dimensions of the five-sided columns that form its side. However, walking a short distance along the path into the foothills for a closeup view, one felt apprehensive when seeing the monumental piles of rock that have fallen from the monolith. Several women refused to walk any closer, but we meandered a ways further into the forest, and found a viewing station overlooking the scene: fallen-rock-pile, pine and aspen trees, shrubs, flowers, and turkey vultures soaring in the air-currents around the colorful top of the monolith covered with green lichen and white ?.
Of course, tourists speaking every language from French and German to Japanese or Cajun-southern, climbed, walked, meandered, or sat to experience this nature’s phenomenon; each in his or her own way.
We allowed ourselves about an hour, and then felt ready to head further west into the sunset along I-90, as we crossed the plains of Wyoming. The sun’s red rays protruded from behind gigantic dark clouds and reflecting in shades of pink onto other fluffy clouds to the north and east forming a kaleidoscope around us. Because the highway wound through the maze between the mounds that formed this part of the plains, we could only see the bottom of the sunset scene occasionally, as we would come to a crest. In the meantime, it was getting darker, but the towering cloud continued to hover over the mountains, as the sun found openings to radiate its flaming red energies wherever possible.
That’s the Rocky Mountains!
Finally, as we surfaced over the undulating landscape, like riding waves, we reached another crest, and the clouds had shifted enough that I could clearly see the black silhouette of mountain peaks, and I shouted, “Oh my God, that’s The Rocky Mountains!”
 As we continued driving west, behind the mounds, and up again for another view, the black clouds lifted from the mountain peaks, and an orange hue filled in the space, jetting northward in a sideways triangle; and soon a similar design appeared on the southern side of the cloud. In the meantime, the pinkish fluffs remained to the north and east, and the colorful panorama continued, until we finally reached Buffalo, Wyoming, where we stopped to prepare a snack at a roadside park overlooking the city.
We recalled another trip through this town, driving in our Volvo, when we got caught in a blizzard without chains and tried to get a place to stay overnight. Unfortunately, all facilities were filled, due to an earlier overturned truck on I-90, forcing everyone to stop and seek shelter.
A helpful clerk at Econo-Lodge had made reservations for us thirty-miles ahead at Holiday Inn in Sheridan. This meant we had to creep along over icy roads without chains, and I prayed all the way.
The next morning, Mother’s Day, we enjoyed a special buffet brunch, and then continued on West to Oregon.
Now, returning to Colorado, with the glorious Rocky Mountains towering to the west, this trip completed our circuit from Sea to Shining Sea. I had waded in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans; the Gulf of Mexico, and Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes.
 
“I Also Clean Toilets and Sweep Floors”
As I wrote these words at a Rest Stop overlooking The Rockies, I laughed about a recent incident that occurred at a Flying J Truck Stop. Somehow, to me, it illustrated a healthy response of someone Living in The Promised Land. I hadn’t been aware of the preceding scenario, but it came to my attention when I heard a male voice sarcastically ask, “So exactly what do you do around here?”
A soft-spoken woman’s voice responded with a Laundry List of at least a half-dozen duties, concluding “and I also clean toilets and sweep floor.” Never a hint of irritability or sarcasm in her voice, but simply a matter of fact.
Since her response had given him nothing to further an argument, he replied, “In other words, you don’t accept payment?” And he turned on his heels and went inside to pay the cashier.
I laughed at the Oregon license plate on his miniature camper, and thought, “That’s a typical attitude of many Oregonians.” Having grown up there, I understood how far I had traveled on my inner and outer Journey, and since we would be arriving at my daughter, Dottie’s, home in Colorado (our home basis) the next day, it seemed a fitting closure to this chapter, which completes this book.
Now, I wondered what adventures lie before us, but decided they would be told in another book.