Recently, our veterinarian needed a new car, so we boarded our animals with him for six days thinking this might help with the downpayment. Then we piled into our min-van (purchased used because we are not veterinarians), and headed west. We thought our boys might enjoy a little first hand education about our country, and also to visit some relatives who might deserve such punishment.
With no dawgs or cat in tow, we had extra room, so we invited a nephew to go with us. This would allow “Quit touching me…” to expand to quadraphonic proportions. Thank goodness for maps and road signs. Without them, you might cross over boundaries, and never notice the dotted lines that separate one state from another. They must be very faint, as I was never actually able to see them on the ground at all. All in all, we touched into eight states, but rarely would you have known it if it weren’t for maps and signs.
In Alabama, the space museum gave us a lot to talk about on the rest of the trip. Four young boys made sure for the duration of the journey, all mealtime discussions included toilet issues in outer space. Imaginative boys can be creative with their food sometimes, which helps with visualizations.
Northern Mississippi is peaceful, or it seemed so at night. The boys were asleep, so in all fairness, Northern Mississippi shouldn’t be on the test when we get back home. We will show it to them on a map.
The next day, we crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas just so we could say we’d been there. Seeing a welcome sign, one of the boys asked:
There was little to see of interest at the point of crossing, so we soon turned around, and drove to Memphis. We hung around Beale Street for awhile, and visited some local curiosities. We had lunch where an old man played guitar. He only played one tune which was variations of a single chord, but he knew a lot of different lyrics to sing to it. I was pleased for the boys to see a professional do this, as they’ve often been critical of me when I do it. Some day, when time allows, I plan to learn a second chord just for the diversity of it. But that day, I enjoyed feeling the groove of what must be equivalent to the Doxology to blues pickers.
We left One-Note-Willie, and drove into Northwest Tennessee to become a three day plague upon Brenda’s aunt, uncle and a few cousins. They never let on that it was a plague, but treated us royally. They acted as if they were glad to see us, which is more than some of you would do. Besides pleasant room and board, they took us all around to make sure we were entertained.
Brenda’s uncle drove, and pointed out all the local landmarks. He told us the names of the people who lived in every house we passed, and in fairly good detail, everything those folks have been up to. And we found out about when and how those neighbor’s ancestors had come into the county, and how some of ’em might have been born on the wrong side of the sheets. It was as exciting as you would imagine. Then he asked us, showing a great deal of enthusiasm:
“I know y’all have never seen our jail. It’s new. It wasn’t here the last time you were up. Wouldn’t you like to see the new jailhouse? It’s just up the road, and won’t be any trouble at all!”
I need to tell you that we were on our way to a cafe for lunch, and had been on our way for some time. I could hear stomachs rumbling, and I was beginning to be hungry myself. For the sake of efficiency, I offered we might catch it on the way back, but I don’t think he heard me. So, within minutes, we pulled into the parking lot of the police station, and all piled out to go look at the jail. It was not a huge facility-nothing like the Federal Prison in Atlanta. But this was a small town. When a man and his son-in-law take turns being mayor for over two decades, there is reason to think the population is restricted when it comes to size.
At the time, the jail was vacant, but from descriptions Brenda’s uncle had given us of some of that municipality’s inhabitants, I’d have expected the place to be packed. But no one was in residence, which was not due to any oversight of law enforcement, as both of them had been sharp-eyed, an watchful for any wrong-doers. The police took little notice of me, though perhaps the should’ve. But after all, I was travelling in the company of the mayor, and the former mayor.
Our tour continued. Reelfoot Lake is shallow and swamp-like. It is said to have been formed when earthquakes caused waters of the Mississippi to back up into a low lying area. The Cyprus trees were interesting, and bald eagles nested in the area. We saw one. I think it was watching us as much as the other way around. The ducks that lived by and on the lake seemed friendly enough, and spoke to us saying:
Which translated means: “Breadcrumbs or corn would be nice right now, but don’t try to pet us.”
We gave the landscape all the attention our hunger would allow. There was a cold breeze blowing, so thankfully we finally went inside the restaurant. Lunch turned out to be fish even though the menu said: “Fillet Cat”. I was not in the mood for fur-balls, but the fish was delicious. I thought of our calico back home. Though there were times I could’ve killed her, not once did I ever consider her on the plate.
I’m sure in the natural food chain, man and other animals have become cat food, but I prefer to not turn the tables, so to speak. Yet it is amazing to discover the diversity of menus around the world. What people will eat and drink in some places would surprise some of you, and what man will drink surprises the rest of the animal kingdom. Most animals won’t fool with brandies unless we teach them how.
My dawg, Cosmo Topper, has no taste for distilled spirits, which is the only economic thing about him. Ashley Cooper will, but she doesn’t care for it straight-prefers a mixer. If you spill a drink on the carpet, she’ll go after it. Then, it tastes like “rug”, and for some reason, she’s partial to it.
After lunch, and at the insistance of Brenda’s uncle the mayor (or former mayor, I forget which), who wanted to make sure we didn’t miss anything, we went back outside to look at the lake s’more. It was still right there, and the trees hadn’t moved an inch from where they were before. By then, there were other tourists about. One of them took me for a native, because I was standing there not appearing to be awe-struck by the sheer beauty of everything. He confused my boredom with familiarity due to my somber expression. I’ve practiced that look, and am good at it. It comes in handy if you ever play poker or sell insurance, and I’ve done both.
The stranger walked up to me, and pointing to a bird up in a cyprus tree, asked:
“Excuse me sir, would you call that a swallow?”
I was still sucking bits of catfish out from between my two good teeth, and my mind was still fumbling with a hush-puppy. I looked at the bird, and replied offhandedly:
“Hmmm, two swallows maybe. Certainly no more’n a mouthful, drumsticks, feathers, and all.”
He mumbled something that assured me he thought I was a donkey, and an intelligent donkey at that. He wore thick glasses, and may not have seen me all that clearly. But to be charitable, I’ve often been exactly what he said I was. We soon piled back into his honor’s car, which was one of the best sedans ever built by the Mercury Division of the Ford Motor Company, and Uncle told us so. He had managed to get that particular one through some influence with people who know about that sort of thing.
I knew it had to be one of the roomier four door cars I’d ever been in, because there was about ten of us: four in the front, and six in the back. One of the smaller boys was handed the broken end of a seatbelt, and asked that he hold on to it in case of an emergency. He knew what to do, because we used to have a car with the same setup.
After saying our goodbyes to Brenda’s relatives, the trip continued. Soon we were in Missouri. A sign said it was the “Show Me” state. The boys thought that was funny. One of ’em said:
“Show me something,” so we did.
I knew of a couple of brothers who had a ranch full of exotic animals near Cape Girardeau, because I used to hire them to bring their pig races to various locations for the purpose of entertaining sophisticated folks. It is a site to see. Pigs are easy to train to race. They will come out of the starting gates with all of the enthusiasm of a thoroughbred at the Kentucky Derby as soon as they understand there is an Oreo cookie at the finish line. I always got a kick out ouf watching a few of ’em spin out in the turns, and as soon as the winner got the cookie, they were all ready and eager to go at it again.
The ranch was not typical, as the livestock resembled the disembarkation of Noah’s Ark. The boys seemed to enjoy it, and so did Brenda. While she petted a pot-bellied pig, a baby giraffe tugged lovingly at her blouse. An emu came up behind me and tried to steal my hat. The boys bottle-fed baby goats, and quite a lot of rabbits were all over the place. One of the boys asked why there were so many rabbits, and was told that they help hold down the rat population. I reckon that makes about much sense as a lot of things folks believe, but I didn’t argue; I let it go. We saw Watusi cattle, bison, water buffalo, gazelles, spider monkeys, Z-donks, llamas, and more. They had ducks that looked like geese; geese like ducks, and a chicken that looked like a bobcat.
They had a dwarf herford, and a dwarf horse. Neither was any bigger than my dawg, Topper. They had lambs, warthogs, strange looking deer, porcupines, sheep dawgs, mutt dawgs, dawg dawgs, and a cat. They had a team of camels that pulled a specialty carriage that looked like it had belonged to Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The brothers, Dave and Bob, tried to sell me the camels. I told them I couldn’t think of anything I would need them for, and finally they admitted they faced the same dilema. I left the camels in Missouri.
Inside the main building was a jail cell similar to the one on the set of The Andy Griffith Show in Mayberry. The inmate was a chimpanzee who sat in a recliner, ate fruit, and watched television. The ape turned to see who we were, but was quickly bored, and turned back around to his TV set. I asked the brothers what he was in for, and they told me the chimp was serving time for assault. I forget whether it was Dave or Bob, but one of ’em said:
“He used to follow us around everywhere. We got along fine for a long time, and he was a lot of fun. Then one day, he grow’d up. He got his hat set funny about something one day, and beat the stew out of me. Broke my arm and a few ribs before I could get loose.”
I looked at the chimpanzee, and knew he would be serving a life sentence. As with the camels, they offered to sell me the chimp, and even throw in the jailhouse, but I declined. I thought about the jail I’d visited just a couple of days ago, but held back the urge to bring it up. The likelihood of the chimp being extradited to Tennessee seemed remote.
We said our goodbyes to Bob and Dave, and headed to Illinois. There are a number of historical markers in that state. One of them indicated the very spot designated for a debate between Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. We found the place, but as you’d expect our luck to be, the debate was already over by the time we got there. So, we cut across western Kentucky, and headed down to Nashville.
If you’ve never been to the Opryland Hotel, you should go. We had dinner there. There were more choices of places to eat than you’ll find in most shopping centers, and you feel like you are in a museum. It took awhile to figure out where we’d parked the mini-van, but once we found it, we headed towards home.
After over 1,300 miles of fast food, motels, extended family, exotic animals, historic sites, and enough outlet malls to put lace on the tapestry of our excursion, we were all getting tired. Folks like to take a vacation now ‘n then to get some rest, but I was beginning to look forward to going back to work.
Nearing Atlanta, we met up with my sister and her husband so they could have their son back. It had been good to have him with us, but I think he was ready to take a break from our constant day and night companionship. We parted ways, feeling my nephew would enjoy not having to look at us for at least a bit. After goodbyes, we went straight, by way of a few wrong turns, to the nearest restaurant. We all knew we’d be hungry and exhausted by the time we got home, so this made sense. There was a waiting list, and I used my last remaining nerve to get our name on it.
By the time we were seated, my oldest son, David (who normally eats six meals a day), would’ve eaten the tablecloth, if there had been one. Evidently all the linen had been eaten by previous patrons, so they were down to paper placemats and napkins. Finally, our wait-person was talked into bringing beverages to the table so that our youngest son woud have something to spill.
By the time our entrees arrived, we’d eaten an entire basket of crackers, and had started on the salt and pepper. A casual glance became a double-take when I realized that just a few tables away from us, sat my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew, Brian. Brian looked up, and waved. The next thing you know, Mason, Nathan and David were all at their table. We all acted so glad to see each other as if it had been such a long time. In the background, a jukebox was playing: “Not Alone Anymore” by Roy Orbison, and it was true.
Anticipations for vacations always prove to have variables, and so it is with being anxious to get home. Life would be boring without surprises, I suppose. I can’t know for sure, because I’ve seldom known a day without surprises. With the aid of a bail-bondsman, we retrieved our pets from the veterinary kennel, along with a prescription for Ashley Cooper’s arthritis. It turned out to just be aspirin, but I think Ashley Cooper felt better knowing it came from her own doctor, though she never said a word.
We got home. We opened the sliding glass doors, and a bird flew in. Penny Lane, in all of her calico grandeur, killed it for us in the dining room just to let us know she was glad for us all to be back together. We held services for the bird, and Nathan’s Guinea pig, Rusty-Michelle who died all on her own without waiting for help from the cat.
Death didn’t stop there. The next day, we found that our washer, dryer, and lawnmower had stopped breathing. The washer and dryer were revived for the usual price of miracles, but the lawnmower and the Guinea pig had to be replaced. We named the new cavy: “Guinea-The-Pooh”, but left the mower nameless. The new grass-cutter had a bag attachment to make it easier to clean up after the dawgs. At least that is what the boys use it for.
Things began to settle back to normalcy, which is an illusion–the only thing normal is change, that much is certain. David got his driver’s license, and our insurance agent got a raise. Nathan lost his eye glasses the same week the place we’d bought them went out of business. But we were able to find another optometrist who could replace them, and at only twice what the original pair cost us. At the same time, I got my eyes examined, and found out I’m no longer a child. My hearing has also gone downhill due most likely to a history of over indulgence in rock ‘n roll. But the cat’s hearing is fine, and can hear a can of tuna being opened from two blocks away.
I visited a friend who has a deaf cat. I asked about the hearing test to verify such a condition since a cat can’t tell you when it hears the little “beeps” in the headphones at the doctor’s office. It seems the testing device is a brown paper bag. He showed me how it works. He took a deep breath, and inflated the bag. The cat was in the kitchen facing the other way. He walked up behind her, and popped it within inches of her head, and the cat did not move.
“See? She’s quite stone-deaf,” he said in a matter-of-fact way that made me feel a little stupid.
Back home the routine is about what I’d expect it to be. Ashley Cooper is in heat again, and Cosmo Topper has rededicated his life to the laws of God. If she has to go out, we bring him in; if she needs to come in, we let him out. Then he shivers, shakes, whines, howls, and paws at the door. But we must be relentless and determined, as we don’t need any more puppies right now. Only one can be allowed to sit in the den at a time, and managing it is kind’a like playing musical dawgs, only without the music.
Did we have an adventure? Sure we did. We laughed, sang songs, and dealt with a few wrong turns along the way. If you set sail to adventure with all things being smooth and predictable, after awhile, it won’t seem like any fun at all. We ran no risk of that happening.