Thursday, May 26, 2016
When offered the opportunity to attend an event in, at or near a fairground, pavilion or other such assembly, my family typically says a hearty “Yes, please” with the immediate clarifying query, “Do they have corn dogs and/or funnel cakes?” Knowing this, I was not surprised when my larger extended family and I visited the Oklahoma State Fair sometime in mid-September, 1978; close enough to my birthday to have possibly been my gift. Like other nomadic groups, my family tends to travel in packs so our party consisted of my parents, brother and sister; an aunt, uncle and cousin and the aunt’s best friend, her husband and two children, who I actually though were related to me until I was told otherwise when I was in high school.
Everything was going along as swimmingly as possible when I had an accessory malfunction and was forced to bend down to tie my shoe. As I was not skilled at squatting, I did a complete bend at the waist as if I was an early adopter of yoga, my buster brown haircut’s signature bangs blocking my peripheral view. In that moment my family made a sharp right into one of the buildings to look at homemade jam, pigs, rocking chairs or whatever else occupies your attention at a State Fair besides the aforementioned corn dogs and funnel cakes.
When I righted myself, I did not immediately see them and before I could make an assessment of the situation and do something other than completely freak out, the “I’m 7 years-old and a bit dramatic to boot” gene took over and I leapt and ran just like OJ did in the airport in those commercials back in the day before he was a murderer or whatever. It never occurred to me to realize if my family hadn’t themselves run as if being chased, then I should have overtaken them. It didn’t occur to me they wouldn’t be standing at our car in the parking lot waiting for me until I arrived at the location and found myself alone; impressed I found the car, but alone nonetheless.
Now out of breath and unsure of my next move, I took the opportunity to pause and reflect. Full disclosure: I was almost paralyzed by fear; I wondered if the Rapture had happened and I had been left behind with the heathen who did not know Jesus, like the Moonies or the Catholics.
Just like every after-school special, I was found by a kind elderly couple from a nearby Winnebago. I say elderly as I remember them seeming grandparent-esque. To be honest, my mother was 33 and I thought she was “pure grown”, so they could’ve simply been in their late 40s. Whatever their age, I was fortunate this couple did not kidnap me. They simply questioned my solo status and took control of the situation, returning me to the entrance of the Fair, leaving me under the care of a friendly carnival worker who suggested I wait with her and let my family find me.
I thought about discussing my “left behind” theory with her, but had quickly assessed her to be a heathen, due almost entirely to the feathers clipped into her lustrous hair. Deciding I did not want to cause a ruckus on my first day on earth without Jesus or my parents, I didn’t broach the subject of religion. Additionally, as I was here, it seemed I had inadvertently joined the ranks of the carnival heathen and needed to get along with my new people. One of my talents has always been the ability to insert myself into any situation quickly and with relatively little fanfare. Ms. Feathers, as I named her, was very kind and allowed me to have a great time greeting people. Well, as great a time as you can have looking toward an eternity in the Lake of Fire. At least I could smell the funnel cakes.
I sat for what I remember to be quite some time (but was probably less than 20 minutes) saying hello and taking tickets from the more fortunate Fair-going families who had not been torn asunder by poor timing, overreactions and bangs. My family finally made it to the front gate as my mother is a proven problem-solver. Hugs abounded, at least from the mothers; back slaps from the fathers. My siblings and cousins were less charitable. Apparently the group veered to the right into one of the buildings in search of ice cream, but before any orders could be placed my absence was noticed, the frozen dairy treats were quickly forgotten and the search began. I should have known the pursuit for sustenance would be our downfall. We are Southern; eating is what we do.
After my rescue the adults wanted to head home, as searching for a missing child is, apparently, psychologically exhausting. The children, including me, still wanted icy refreshment. Skilled at reading her audience and a negotiator at heart, my mother suggested a trip to Baskin-Robbins which was on the way home. Also gifted in looking on the bright side she said, “At least Dusty knows where we parked.”
Newly found by both God and family, I triumphantly escorted everyone through the maze-like parking lot, not unlike a chubby, pre-pubescent Pocahontas, with less woodland creatures but about the same amount of suede fringe. It was Oklahoma, y’all, cut me some slack.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
We often hear stories about Lewis and Clark and how successfully they maneuvered the vast unknown of the US. However successful they were, there are tales of the incompatibility of their personalities and I am reminded of a time in my past when I traversed this country to visit our neighbor to the north, Canada.
I graduated college in May, 1993, and was to set out on the course of my new career when I realized I had neglected to actually obtain employment. Having no idea what to do with myself, I moved home and panicked. I decided I needed to travel and my best friend John Allen’s parents had a lovely resort in Nestor Falls, Ontario and I had been invited to join them for a week or two. My parents and I looked at our finances and to the bus station we went.
Have you ridden a bus from McComb, Mississippi, to Duluth, Minnesota? No? Well I have. It took more than 24 hours of non-stop driving and I use the term loosely. We stopped for about three minutes in every podunk town on the route through Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. I don’t know if our driver was lost or drunk but we weaved our way northward spending hours-long stops in both Memphis and Chicago.
Do you know what people do in the bathrooms of the Chicago bus station? Well I don’t because I refused to enter due to the overwhelming stench of “stock show” greeting me before I crossed the threshold. I took refuge with the kindly snack bar manager who let me spend time in the employee breakroom because, in her words, “You don’t look like you belong here, honey”. I concurred and enjoyed my respite from “the bus people”.
I made it to Duluth, the rendezvous point as John’s brother Lee lived there and it is very, very clean and very, very close to the border. Upon my arrival, we ate, watched a Joan Rivers standup special, slept and headed to Allen’s Crow Lake Lodge on the shores of Kakagi Lake. Kakagi is the word for crow in a language I failed to establish. We headed to the land of ketchup-flavored potato chips armed only with a driver’s license as it was all you needed back in the gentle, innocent days of the 1990s, well before anyone wanted a piece of Britney and she was simply a former Mouseketeer whose family lived about 15 miles away from mine, just across the border into Louisiana.
Upon arrival I was greeted warmly by the family and coolly by the weather. August in Canada is simply delicious weather; 70 degree days and 50 degree nights which required a lovely fire. I was not sweating in the summertime and I was loving life even though I was voluntarily swimming which required a level of public nudity I felt inappropriate. I tried water skiing but was unable to surface on the skis, even when they tried to start me from the end of the pier. My body is not built for water sports, such as canoeing, which I try to avoid.
It was decided by those who decide such things that we were to fish and I was to participate, just like in my youth in the Texas and Mississippi. At least this time there would be no sweating but the setting, ominously, was canoe-related and I’m not referring to the cologne from the 90s. The day began with John and his father in one canoe. I and the 12 year-old cabin boy Stephen were in the other. Yes, the Allen’s are a two-canoe family. It’s fancy up in Canada, y’all.
At the time of the event, I was 6’ and approximately 275 pounds give or take a Frito Pie; Stephen was 5’5” at best and 110 pounds at most. Due to the differences in our masses, the canoe was riding low in the rear and barely skimming the surface of the lake in the front. I don’t know the nautical term for popping a wheelie but were doing so, I can assure you.
Anyone familiar with canoe etiquette knows you must paddle on opposite sides of the craft in order to keep your forward momentum on a reasonably straight trajectory. John and his Dad were making great time. Young Stephen and I, on the other hand, were taking a more meandering route. For every deep stroke I made, Stephen’s paddle did little to counter so we made continual, lovely loop-the-loops in the water as if we were a graceful, but boring Ice Capader.
It was bad enough we fell further and further behind, but all the circling had caused me nausea, coupled with an irrational fear of a snake swimming in my back pocket (as the water was mere centimeters from the top edge of the vessel). The only thing keeping us from being forever lost in the mists of Kakagi Lake was the repeated stops by the Allen men due to their constant laughter at our performance.
Even in adrift on Canadian waterways, I’m funny.