Cowboy Motel: Getting Your Kicks on Route 66

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In September I went on a grand adventure with my best friend. I’d always wanted to travel across the country by car and see what this great land has to offer, so we set off. Destination: California’s Napa Valley and the Wine Train. The best way to get there, of course, is due West along the various roadways that make up the famed Route 66.

As a history buff I know the stories about the great migration west of America’s early days, the escape to the land of plenty during the Depression, the flight of the Great Dust Bowl era, and the lure of Hollywood that continues to draw a steady stream of aspiring actors and actresses looking for their close-up.

There are a number of ways you can see the USA. Our Interstate highway system is a marvel of engineering and efficiency. With air travel, you can hop from city to city and see what’s unique in any given community.

Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.
 Charles Kuralt
 Like Charles Kuralt, I wanted to see the great in-between. One of those places was Boone, Colorado and the home of  “Cousin Eddie” of  National Lampoon’s Vacation fame. And, no, we didn’t set out in search of it, we just lucked upon it by chance. That’s also how we came upon the Cowboy Poetry competition in Elko, Nevada. In Carson City we found Admiral Halsey’s saddle.
Admiral Halsey's saddle
What’s a trip out West without stopping in for a gunfight in Dodge City? Wyatt is there, waiting for his Kodak moment.
Wyatt Earp
And, there are dinosaur bones to be seen on the winding backroad of Indian country in Utah, Nevada, and Colorado.
Utah
The iconic motel and eatery signs that Route 66 was known for in it’s golden days are few and far between but there are pockets where you can still imagine you’re on the road to Hollywood or the California surf, your dreams tucked into your pockets. I’m glad I took the opportunity to see what’s left while it’s still there. They say a picture is worth a thousand words but pictures can’t translate the experience of seeing it up close and personal, of plotting a course each day, and marveling at the unexpected around the next corner.
My advice, see this great country and its people. You’ll be glad you did.
Thunderbird motel

Country Roads, take me home

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When my grandson was little, probably about three, he was on an errand with his other grandmother. They were stopped in traffic and a truck was in the lane next to them. “That truck’s been to the country,” the apple of our eye said. Other grandmother looked out the side window to see it was covered in red clay from the underbelly to almost the level of the windows.

To him, red clay meant the country. It still does. The last few days of July, I had quite an adventure in the country. It involved a lot of red clay.

I had gone to the country to take care of a little business and piddle with some honey-dos I’d been putting off for a while. My early departure from home didn’t happen. I got bogged down with last minute issues involving my current book. So, by the time I crossed Horse Creek bridge and turned onto County Road 41, it was late. I was anxious to get in and settle before nightfall, to crank down the air conditioner so the place would cool enough for sleep.

Usually I go the long way around. It’s paved for all but about a hundred yards from my front porch and, I have a white car. But, as I said, it was late. I wanted to be there already. After weeks of rain the car needed a good wash anyway, I reasoned.

Fifty yards in, I knew I was in trouble. The car slowed of its own volition as the tires became so caked in red mud they couldn’t get traction. As I tried to maneuver to the middle of the road, hence higher ground, the mud had different ideas. I was on a trajectory toward the ditch and the woods beyond. Flooring the gas pedal and turning the wheel to correct for my slide did no good. I came to a stop, tried to reverse. The result was a slide even closer to the ditch. There would be no rocking back and forth to break free.

What to do? Fortunately, I had noticed a vehicle at the lone house just after the turn onto County Road 41. The people who own the house don’t live there, they just visit back and forth from Louisiana to do a little gardening, and, I expect, enjoy the quiet of country life. They would be my salvation, I decided.

I turned on the blinkers and turned off the ignition, my car balancing on the very edge of the road and nosing the dense vegetation. When I opened the door to get out I realized my second problem. I was wearing flip flops. Now, that’s not an uncommon thing for me to do ten months out of the year. But as I surveyed the red clay beneath my open door, I knew they would become part of the roadbed if I stepped out in them.

flip flops

Well, I’m a country girl and I confess that when I’m home and inside, I’m usually barefooted. So, I slipped off my flip flops and stepped ankle deep into the mud. I was wearing what a dear friend used to call high water britches, known as pedal pushers in my youth, and today called cropped pants.

I took my purse that contained my phone and locked the door, hazard lights flashing. My reasoning for taking the purse was that maybe I wouldn’t look so threatening if I arrived on a stranger’s doorsteps, barefooted, my feet caked in red mud, and pounded on their door. Who knows how my mind came to that conclusion. I guess I wasn’t thinking too rationally at that point.

The red clay sucked to my feet like a slug on the bowl of my water fountain. I kicked and scrubbed my feet against the grass of the neighbor’s yard to little avail. I found a twig and was able to pry a little of it from between my toes. In the end there was nothing for it except to walk across their front porch, muddy feet and all.

So, there I stood, knocking on their door, my nice designer handbag on my shoulder (yes, I confess, that is my weakness, lovely handbags), my high water britches, and my bare feet covered in mud up to my ankles.

Although I woke the lady of the house from her afternoon nap, she was very kind. She let me use her cell phone to call my brother. My cell phone doesn’t work up there. (No, Verizon, I can’t hear you now.) And, bless her heart, she never batted an eye at my attire.

Just as I got my sister-in-law on the phone, I heard a vehicle turn onto the dirt road and come to a stop, obviously blocked by either my car or the good sense not to attempt to go around it.

I hobbled back to road as quick as my bare feet and the red clay would permit to find none other than the county commissioner surveying the situation. I was informed that the road had just been graded and a new culvert put in to correct the issues the neighbor was having with access to his driveway. The commissioner tried to hook my car to the cattle catcher on the front of his truck with a chain he had but the hook wouldn’t fit. The rope he had in the bed of the truck was old and didn’t hold up to the weight of my car and the unrelenting grip of Marengo County red clay.

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The neighbor came to help on his four-wheeler and about that time my brother and nephew arrived. My brother got behind the wheel, red clay caked boots and all, and the others pushed until we broke free. We pretty much hydroplaned until we reached my front porch for fear of settling once again into the roadbed.

My brother was quick to tease me as we waited for my nephew to follow behind us and pick him up. I’d lived away from the country too long, he said, I didn’t know how to drive on the dirt roads anymore. After a bit we started wondering where my nephew was. Finally, he pulled into the driveway. The county commissioner had gotten stuck in the same spot and they had had to pull him out of the mud with the Jeep.

Lessons learned. Follow your better judgment, and when you don’t, be sure no one has a camera to record the results. More importantly, don’t let anyone tease you that you don’t know what you’re doing. It may be true but all of us have lapses once in a while and we should be allowed to let them, like sleeping dogs, lie.

Apricots in Bloom

Spring and new beginnings, how they lift us up and make anything seem possible. Yet here we are in the doldrums of a wet, hot summer. It’s hard to be inspired when the humidity exceeds the temperature.

I’ve been writing most of my adult life. The simple act gives me pleasure and the exercise helps me figure out who I am and come to terms with life’s circumstances, good and bad.

The past few years have been difficult. People I care deeply for have been lost or suffered terribly. This week marks the closing of a chapter in my life. The home where I lived with my dear husband, where we raised our children, sold. It is a bittersweet occasion. I am no longer weighted down by the responsibility of a house too big for one person. Yet, as I sift through the contents, keep this, give up that, I feel a deep loss.

It’s the old photographs that do the healing. They contain our history, tell our story. Though is it faded with age, there is a snapshot of my husband against the backdrop of masses of apricot trees blooming at the peak of their flowering. We were in Pakistan, having traveled from Karachi all the way to the Kyber Pass. It had been an arduous trip, minimal facilities, terrible roads, even a river crossing by fishing boat. As we came around a sharp turn in the road, there they were, the trees loaded with flowers, more abundant than the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. in the spring.

“Well,” my husband said, “was it worth it?”

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It was all worth it. I’ve had a very good life and I know in my heart there is still more to come. The good and the bad. So I’m setting forth with gratitude in my heart and hope in the future. It is time to dedicate myself to my writing. It has been relegated to the back burner for a long time. As my dear, departed, friend Eugene Walter would say, “Life intervened.”

I hope you will join me on my pursuit of something that once again feels fresh and exciting to me. I’ve written a number of books, most of them in boxes deep in the back of the closet. A precious few are available to readers. I write historical fiction (Road’s End), short stories (www.rebeccabarrett.com), post apocalyptic fiction (The Blessing of Hannahunder the pen name Campbell O’Neal), children’s stories, and now I’m writing romantic mysteries.

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Trouble in Dixie is my contribution to the Familiar Legacy series of romantic mysteries. Together with several other fiction writers (Carolyn Haines, Claire Matturro, Susan Tanner, Laura Benedict, to name a few) we are up to all kinds of high jinx featuring Trouble, the black cat detective. Take a trip to Savannah, Georgia with Trouble as he adeptly deals with old money and fresh murder in pursuit of an art thief, a missing insurance adjustor, and love in the air.

The Familiar; or a cat by any other name

When you hear the word cat, what comes to mind? Is it the Cheshire Cat of Alice in Wonderland, the Jellicle cats of T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, on which the Broadway musical Cats is based, or perhaps that zany Cat in the Hat of Dr. Seuss fame? For many it is the classic black cat that is the witch’s familiar. Whether you relate to Garfield or Mau, the cat has been intertwined with mankind for more than four thousand years, and possibly much longer.

We are first introduced to the witch’s familiar, Graymalkin, in McBeth. Shakespeare was not a fan of cats though he used them often in his plays. His feelings ranged from the mild quote by Shylock in The Tempest, “A harmless, necessary cat,” to Lysander saying in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Hang off, thou cat,” referring to a particularly murderous game practiced by the Dutch in Scotland which involved a hanging cat.

Shakespeare’s sentiments regarding cats were possibly influenced by a knowledge of Pope Gregory IX’s denouncement of black cats as Satanic in his 1233 Papal Bull, Vox in Rama. This was issued in an attempt to destroy a heresy known as Luciferians or Satan worshipers. The Pope’s views led to the slaughter of thousands of cats that some argue, in turn, culminated in the Black Plague because of the explosion in the rat population. Which brings us to the how and why of the domestication of cats.

Science tells us that the cat (felis catus)is part of the genus felis that is a group of seven species of small cats that are found worldwide. Several characteristics of wildcats such as their size, social nature, and high intelligence, may have predisposed them for domestication. How this domestication came about is up for debate but the prevailing theory by historians is that cats were tolerated by people because of the benefit garnered from their hunting vermin found around towns and villages. A strikingly different perspective than that of modern society:

Cats know how to obtain food without labor, shelter without confinement, and love without penalties. (Walter Lionel George, author).

Living in close proximity with people created a symbiotic relationship between cats and humans. It also insured the survival of the food supply of grains necessary for human consumption.

Ancient Egypt is generally credited as the site of cat domestication:

Thou art the Great Cat, the avenger of the gods, and the judge of words, and the president of the sovereign chiefs and the governor of the holy circle; thou art indeed the Great Cat. (Inscribed on the Royal Tombs at Thebes.)

Historians know this history of the cat because the Egyptians depicted the domesticated cat in drawings in their palaces and their tombs. These images show the progression of the cat from domesticated animal and revered pet to the status of deity. One of the most famous monuments of Egypt is the Sphinx that is a combination of the pharaoh’s head on the body of a lion. Egyptian gods and goddesses named for cats include Mau (Ra in cat form), Tefnut, Mafdet, Bastet, and Sekmet. The penalty for killing a cat four thousand years ago in Egypt was death.

There is a caveat to Egypt’s claim as the origination of domesticated cats. Publications by archaeologists and paleontologists from the University of Washington and Chinese Academy of Sciences show evidence of domestic cats in Quanhucun, China 5,300 years ago. During the Song Dynasty cats with yellow and white fur were valued as pets simply for their appearance rather than as mousers.

The evidence of a domesticated cat buried with its owner was found on Cyprus in 2004. This site is dated at approximately 9,500 years old, pushing back the timeline on the domestication of cats. The theory is that domestication began in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East and traveled from there to Cyprus and Egypt.

Regardless of the original arena for the domestication of cats, the Egyptians, through their exaltation and veneration of the lowly house cat, win the honor in my view.

Thus far we have painted the cat with a checkered past. How did he go from divine deity to Satanic scourge? Well, that’s a tale for another day. What we do know is that his return to western mankind’s good graces is noted in literature by such writers as Joanna Baillie. Her poem, The Kitten, appeared in Sir Walter Scott’s English Minstrelsy in 1810. Perhaps the debunking of their Satanic reputation began with such tales as Puss in Boots in 1697 or the inclusion by some Renaissance painters of cats in religious scenes. Whatever the cause, I  and my fellow writers are here to continue the tales of the Great Cat, avenger of the Gods, and judge of the words.