ON our first Thanksgiving Day as partners, 2014, Jim was fighting for his life at the Seattle Cancer Center while I rested at my daughter’s house in Portland, OR on my way back to Seattle from a Mayo Clinic Rochester, MN pre-surgery appointment for a back tumor with surgery scheduled for December 31. In 2015, I was recuperating from a 2nd 10 hour surgery in less than a year at the Mayo Clinic with Jim by my side.
It’s Thanksgiving Day and, though neither of us mentions it, we want a traditional turkey dinner. It’s not just the food; it’s the memories of families and friends, cousins and aunties and family time. We drive through the small town of Globe in eastern Arizona and stop at an open grocery store. In a front display, under a heat lamp, there are mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing in take-out containers and a turkey breast!! I add a can of cranberry sauce to the cart. Salivating with anticipation, we search for a camping spot, following directions on the ALLSTAYS app.
We drive through Staffford, AZ passing fluffy, white cotton fields on both sides of the road in the flat countryside. Jim stops by the side of the road and I pick up stray cotton just to feel its softness. It’s sunny and unseasonably warm in the 60’s.
We turn left off the highway towards Gila Box. It’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land managed jointly with Arizona State Parks. A flat road stretches through barren land. There is no campground in sight. Hmmmm. Then the road turns hilly, and narrow.
White-knuckled Jim drives the single lane road around cliffs with a huge drop-off. What am I getting us into? What if the campground is filled? What if there ISN’T a campground. Will we have to drive all the way out? Jim is already tired from driving. We cross several washes with warning signs about flash floods. The scenery is gorgeous—big and primitive.
GILA BOX, RIPARIAN NATIONAL CONSERVATION AREA– Historically, riparian habitats within Arizona constituted only 2% of the state. Within the past 200 years, 95% of this acreage has been destroyed or altered due to clearing, channelization, over-pumping, improper livestock management. But in the Gila Box, cottonwood, willow and Arizona sycamore thrive. Mesquite trees form large woodlands, an increasing rare habitat type in the US.
Finally, we reach the small, 13-site campground. Each spacious site is near the edge of a cliff looking down to the river hidden by deciduous trees. The picnic table has a metal roof over it and a water spigot is close. There are rustic, but clean toilets. The camping charge is $5 per night–$2.50 for us with our senior national park pass. It is a beautiful, clear late afternoon. I sigh with the happiness that comes from knowing a peaceful, beautiful time stretches before us
Jim sets out our folding loveseat for sunset viewing while I transfer our Thanksgiving dinner to plates, gather silverware and napkins, and set the picnic table. After a few minutes pause to give thanks, we dig into our grocery store dinner, laughing with the joyfulness of an enchanted natural setting and better health. It’s filled with the tastes, smells and laughter of Thanksgivings past and the hope for future Thanksgivings. It feels that all is right with the world—our world at least.
It is hard to get Jim to settle and relax and not move to a new spot every day, but he does in Gila Box. We stay three nights. We watch the sun rise each day through the large window at the foot of our bed and feel the warm sun filling the Sprinter. Jim gets up to make tea and coffee and slides the big side door open. I stretch and luxuriate in the feeling of being in a fluffy, warm bed outside in the clean air.
Eventually I get up and make breakfast, always enjoying my changing “kitchen” view of a new location.
There are vague paths that we follow down to the river one day. We both use walking sticks to traverse the large rocks leading down to the river. From there, the ground is a little flatter and scattered with cacti.
But, oh, the rocks, so many colors and shapes. We continue carefully down the hill. We hear the river, but can’t see it, hidden behind large trees. We walk over small, dry washes to the riverbank and sit down on the grassy slope. The river runs quickly down small rapids and smooth stretches below us. Across the river are giant clay coloured cliffs. One looks like a windowless castle. The Gila River is well known for float trips and there are strict rules to the size and type of boats depending on water levels. No rafters pass us this morning. We explore a little more and head back up the hill, my pockets bulging with rocks.
Each night as the sun goes down we enjoy turkey leftovers, sitting in our loveseat watching the magnificent desert colours unveil an hour before sunset. We climb into bed, our solar reading lamps recharged, enjoying the quiet and the peacefulness during our reading hour. Since we are both reading books about the area, sometimes we felt the need to read each other a section that touched us. And we sink into bed, happy, and so much in love.
The days are warm, the nights cool, but we don’t need the heater. The rising sun soon spreads its warmth through the windows. The stars “put on a show for free’ that we watch fromthe big window behind our pillows.
We read, meander, talk, laugh, eat and relax in the peaceful setting. We take short walks and two-hour hikes, two days in a row!! It feels so good to hike again. Granted, I am really slow, but TWO HOURS!! The hikes are important for both of us. Jim’s cancer treatment neuropathy in his feet and my various numb, paralyzed body parts and poor balance makes even walking a challenge.
We won’t soon forget Gila Box and how good a grocery store Thanksgiving dinner tasted on a picnic table in the great outdoors. Another wonderful Thanksgiving memory.
The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired in value. Theodore Roosevelt
We’re off again shortly heading to Astoria, OR and ever north moving closer to home in Alaska. It’s been a great few days with Andy, Jennifer, AbbyTabby and Daisy the dog.
They live in the Alberta Arts district of Portland and right around the corner of their early 1900’s house is a street filled with small shops, all kinds of food and murals. I so love seeing the young women entrepeneurs and their success ful little shops!
Resale items are always interesting and Portland is no different, Why, I think looking at an halibut tail and a uh um hat rack? How about your ATM. Boring? This one lights up at night.
Jim did a little home improvement with Andy’s help. I like to keep him entertained so Jen and I can go play.
Today we walked to the waffle shop and then I went on to the knit shop, Close Knit for some desperate help to finish the back of Jim’s sweater.
I figured Monday morning would be light but I was wrong, the little door bell tinkled constantly. I waited while she helped two older “Pussy Hat” supporters, gathered some yarn to continue on with my blanket whichis 6 inches long but Jennifer’s is almost done. Inspiration comes in many ways.
Finally my turn and she quickly ripped out (gasp) the offending two rows and then showed me how to shape the armholes to finish the back. She loved the story of the sweater and invited me to attend the Wednesday night knitting group, but alas it’s time to go.
I walked back to the house taking little shots of the Alberta Arts District, so lively, so supportive of all people. Even the pest control for the attic squirrel “Nature First Pest Control only hires vet, retired police and fire fighters.
Close friends since we were 14 years old, Gail and I have shared many adventures, big, small, good and bad over the past decades. It began in the 60’s with 13 page hand- written letters disclosing affairs of the heart and other critical teenage angsts to telephone calls and now email as well as planned and hastily arranged visits depending on family crises and travels. We support each other through good and bad times, laughing or crying together and sometimes doing both. Our mothers are sisters and as such we quote the same poems and stories to each other finishing off each other’s lines with a jubilant laugh. Visiting my mother once, she said, when I got off the phone, “You were talking to Gail.” “How did you know?” I asked. “So much laughing,” she replied.
As cancer widows whose husbands died 9 months apart, we started traveling together again, testing our compatibility with small trips before we tackled a month long trip to Turkey. It was a joyful trip filled with the things we like best, shopping, eating, learning, drinking tea, sharing stories, grief…. and laughing.
When the opportunity rose to take a break along the Grey Panther’s road trip with Jim flying off to see his sister in Alabama and Bethel AK friends in FL for a week, Gail arrived in Austin from Toronto, Ontario, just as Jim flew off. Gail had spent no time in TX and I only attended meetings in Austin, Houston and Dallas. It wasn’t on our A list of travel plans but we are always ready for an adventure. We just weren’t sure how a pair of liberal Canadians would enjoy Texas.
Gail is a great travel researcher and landed us a place to stay in New Bruenfils, between Austin and San Antonio. It was a dated complex on the Guadalupe River but with two bedrooms and bathrooms, a full kitchen and laundry facilities. As we age, we don’t share a ¾ size fold up couch in my parents’ family room as we did for many summers when Gail came for a long visit. Aunt Dorothy, mother of two, worried about inconvenience for such a long stay. My mother, mother of five, said one more wouldn’t matter.
We had not had a fun trip since Turkey. Gail came to my surgery at Mayo to help me while Jim was getting cancer treatment in Seattle. We met again in Traverse City when my son was hospitalized and family and friends gathered.
Now, with no other agenda except fun, we were ready. First order of business was to put the kettle on for tea even before unpacking.
Gail had recently traveled to India, a trip we hoped to do together, but my walking limitations and other modified body parts negated my travel—our trips always include lots of walking. On Saturday morning Gail set off for a vigorous, morning walk on a sunny day without me. She began to see my travel limitations, not for lack of desire, but because of physical status. We went to the Saturday farmers’ market, driving, when we would have walked before. This was my chance to gain experience driving The Grey Panther, much to Jim’s angst. Heh heh.
We wandered New Bruenfil’s main street. We didn’t realize that Texas has a large German influence (since 1850). First stop was an old hardware store with wooden floors and bins up the wall. I needed a bathtub stopper. I usually travel with a generic one but it disappeared. I was led right to it.
A large antique store in an old building invited us in. We split up so we could wander the many aisles and thousands of items displayed. When we met up, Gail said, “There is a small tea cup from Occupied Japan.” I said, “I was just going to mention it to you.” We went back and looked at it in glass display case and I bought it. We don’t know its story but it intrigued both of us. I looked wistfully at the Royal Doulton “Balloon Man” and “Balloon Woman” that I had loved since childhood when we would go to Jones China Shop in the small Canadian town I grew up in. I also bought a still-working-old-heavy waffle iron. In a move, my old waffle iron that I used for many years making wonderful waffles for my children disappeared. I bought a new one but it was light and the waffles not near as good. Can’t wait to try when we get back to Alaska!!
Time for lunch. We walked down the sidewalk to a café with a French menu. It was a delicious meal with bread, salad, salami, cheese and French glace. We chatted with the head cook who makes everything, including the delicious baguette.
Off to a hotel in Austin for the night. We had signed up for a photography workshop on Sunday, “Photography as Art” by Art Wolfe who we both admire. It was stimulating as he compared a history of artists to potential styles of photography that could be abstracted into designs from nature. Heading back to New Bruenfils, our talk focused on potential photos.
Leisurely mornings were the mutually agreed on rule—nonstop tea and nonstop talking in PJ’s. Monday afternoon drove to San Antonio for a half -day visit. We wanted to try some new photo shots as well as seeing the sites.
Note: I take snapshots to illustrate my writing. Gail is a serious photographer and walks around with a giant camera and lens around her neck even though she is only 5ft tall. I claim it is a man magnet—attracting all males from 8-80yrs old. If I were looking for a man, I would just buy a cheap camera shell and walk around with it. I parked near the Alamo as we belted out “Davy, Davy Crockett…..” Ready for adventure, the wide sidewalk with shops and restaurants lured us on. We went inside a store with beautiful items from Turkey, nostalgia swept over us. I asked the Turkish owners how Turkey was fairing with the political upheaval. “The best thing you can do for Turkey,” he said, “Is to travel there. We stopped to visit to giant lions on wheels in front of a store. Imagine, you could just roll the lions to wherever you felt threatened!
Around the corner from the Catholic church was a sculpture on a bench titled “Homeless Jesus.” I paused and took a photo because it was so simple and so meaningful. It remains a strong memory with me.
After a quick lunch we jumped on a double decker tour bus that had jump-on jump –off privileges. It was a sunny, warm day and the country music blaring from the speaker fit the day. Alas, the art museum was closed.
We stepped off the bus to go down to the River Walk to wander and take abstract water photos. Having a strong interest in the workings of the 1930’s WPA and CCC, I noticed that the bridges were constructed by WPA workers. It was only when flood control was put in place that it become a tourist attraction. TIn the Menger Hotel where many famous people stayed, there was a telegram that was sent to the sculptor of Mt Rushmoe who had a studio in the hotel.he Alamo was the last stop before we headed home.
Fredricksburg was Tuesday’s trip. I was glad we could take a back road instead of the freeway. It was a 90 minute drive. It is a German town, and I was curious how it became the center of a memorial for General Nimitz of the Pacific theatre WWII fame who was born there I did see an unusual photo signed by him wearing a cowboy hat and holding a guitar in ….
Independent bookstores, whose demise I find, is greatly exaggerated, are a priority. .On the counter in a basket was a fluffy, sleeping cat who blended in with the adjacent old books. It seemed he wandered in one day, a feral cat, whose tip of the ear was cut off, the universal sign that the cat had been neutered. He was now a permanent fixture, the owner told us, only answering to the name of “Kitty” which was the name of Anne Frank’s cat. He kept the old building rodent free staying there all day and night. Ambling the sidewalks, we found a couple of interesting clothing shops, oh so nice. I found my “mother of the bride” dress for my daughter’s wedding in June—French linen made it Italy and yes a few more things. With my colostomy body I wear mostly tunics now—a good excuse for new wardrobe pieces, I think.
The days passed quickly with warm, sunny weather. A rest day was in order and we committed the next day to a proper rest—unless something called our name. Of course it did. We know each other well. Late afternoon, off we went to a nearby town, Gruene (German for Green). It had been a cotton town founded by a man…wait for it…named Gruene. He built a beautiful home, and one for his daughter when she married.
The town has many other buildings including the still functioning Dance Hall. The boll weevils came along and the Dust Bowl—the town died. Some time later, a young student found the abandoned town along the river and figured it would become a great tourist town. He was right. An old fashioned general store with blaring country music, dance hall, the wonderful Gristmill restaurant on the river greeted us in rehabilitated buildings. My favorite was the Black Swan antique store housed in Gruene’s daughter’s house. Many beautiful antiques including a large rectangle tea kettle and items I had never seen. The workers were very gracious and lovely piano music played. I bought a ceramic replica of a coach foot warmer for Jim’s and my cold feet. Alas, the wealthy people had beautiful ornate foot warmers that were very pricey. But what caught my eye, and how could I resist, was Paris Rain bath salts!! And soap which she cut into 3 pieces that she recommended for easier management. Definitely a special memory. I told her about my claw foot bathtub in the woods at Jim’s and she insisted that I show her pics and drooled over the Alaska scene.
Gail dragged me out to check a couple of other stores before closing. Another antique story with thousands of items in an old storefront drew us in and there was the tiny harbor seal in a cluttered glass display cabinet looking quite forlorn.
“Vintage harbor seal,” the tag said. “$14.95.” How did he get there? He’s beautifully made with the right neck angle and big, warm eyes and tiny, perfect stitches, the sign of an expert skin sewer. What is his story? Alaska? Canada? How did he end up here? I walked away, ready to leave the story and the seal behind. But, I just couldn’t. He seemed so lonely in his little corner. I went to the counter to get the clerk to unlock the case. A young Texan, chatty and helpful, but no idea the origin of the little guy.. And now he’s perched right next to me and seems a little happier, even though he doesn’t even know he’s going home to the North. But, the seal is now ready to travel with a new owner with an important mission. Stay tuned.
There was the Royal Doulton Balloon Man all by himself, twice the price of the one in New Bruenfils. As we walked outside to look at an old building converted to an inn that had been Gruene’s house, the smell of grilled steak filled the air. Not normally a beef eater, the smell and hunger called us. We were sure the popular restaurant would be filled Luck was with us and we were taken to a table next to the water once I assured the waiter I could walk down the stairs. It was a lovely meal as the sun set over the river.
On the way home, I turned right and found open parking spaces next to the river. As the sun set, there were many birds in the water as well as white egrets? All flying on and off one tree. Truly a magical site, and we stopped to watch and take photos. Once more, a memorable day in a Texas town.
The week passed so quickly. On our last day together we packed, took nearby river photos and went downtown New Bruenfils. I bought the Balloon man and Balloon Woman.
We wanted one last lunch together and stepped into a small old home and disappeared into a German restaurant, beautifully decorated with the original brick showing and gentle German music playing. Lunch was special as well, Schnitzel and accompaniments. I really meant to save half for Jim, but it was so good I had to order a takeway for him!!
It was time to go to the airport and drop Gail off to return to Toronto and pick up Jim. A memorable week with my cousin and as we always say to each other “I don’t know what will happen tomorrow Mr MGarrity” (google Maggie Muggins). Jim had good visits and was happy to see the Sprinter was ok. I haven’t told him yet of having to take it to a Mercedes dealer to fix the right mirror that I somehow dislocated. Shhhhh.
National politics are in turmoil and we followed them while exploring Texas. But, we found good people living good lives in small Texas towns –caring about all people. Life is good!!
Jim’s only favorite store is Shiptons here in Sheridan, WY. After getting his blood draw at the Welch Cancer Canter, we went off to the store. I was puttering and he quickly didn’t find what he wanted….so he went out to The Grey Panther and I finished. There I found the Little Grey Panther who will now be our constant companion.
We returned for his 11am appointment with Dr. Marino who examined him and then pulled out the blood work analysis. Jim had admitted he was a little nervous and hadn’t slept well last night. I told him that if hadn’t been concerned, I would have his head examined. When Jim had been released from the hospital, I was constantly afraid I would lose this man I love dearly. The fear has settled down but rears its head near doctor appointment time.
It appears the only problem Jim now must deal with is high cholesteral! Liver and kidney functions fine!! A CT in six months. If all ok then, one year to next tests!! “How nice,” I said to Jim, “to only have to worry about high cholesteral.”
Dr. Marino had raved about the hospital food. Patients had complained and a real chef was brought in. I had the health “special.” If here, I would come every day for the health special soooooo good!!
And Jim is off to a well-deserved nap!! Life is good..