Looking for Flags

I parked my Sequoia at the first aid station of the Moab Red Hot a little before noon and set out on my journey. From the aid station, the 55kers, who were 5.5 miles into their 34-mile trail race, started the next portion of the course, an 11.5-mile loop that would circle back to the same aid station. My mission was to sweep this section, i.e., to run/hike it after all the runners had passed through and pick up flagging and, I jokingly thought, any dead bodies I might encounter.

It rained all morning and I felt bad for the runners who had been out there in the wet for four hours already. I noticed though as Kate Avery and I drove up the Gemini Bridges Road to the aid station that the runners we saw were smiling and seemed to be enjoying themselves. Kate was also sweeping; her job was to cover the 15 or so remaining miles of the 33k course. She was a bit worried about getting finished before dark, not because she couldn’t cover that many miles in that amount of time but because we both knew how time consuming it would be to stop and remove ribbons. We discussed how we couldn’t go faster than or pass the last runner and if there was a runner in distress it would be our responsibility to make sure the runner made it back safely.

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Looking back on the Gemini Bridges Road we drove to the first aid station.

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Parting ways with Kate. She’s sweeping a different section of the course.

I grabbed my backpack and my waterproof hat with a brim and set out into the high Utah desert. I mountain biked in this area a couple years ago and was familiar with the terrain. Right away I noticed the bright greens of spring new-growth, dazzling with raindrops in the bit of sun that was peeking through the mostly socked-in sky.

I wasn’t expecting to see any runners out there – their cut-off time for being back to the aid station was noon, the same time I started – so I was a little surprised to see a woman, with a bib, approaching me when I was about three miles in. I was taking the loop counterclockwise, the same direction the runners were, and was perplexed as to why she’d be coming from the opposite direction.

“Did you decide to turn around?” I called out to her once she noticed me. She responded with a question of her own, “Do you know where the aid station is?” There was the aid station from which I started but along this loop there was another aid station as well. “Which one?” I asked. “Any,” she said. “I’ve been out here for 17 miles and I haven’t seen a single aid station.”

Red flag.

I spent a few minutes talking to the woman, the whole time assessing her mental state. “There is an aid station about three miles from here, but I just removed all the flagging that would lead you to it, so I’m not sure you’ll find it. You can come with me, if you’d like, and we’ll circle back to the aid station in about eight miles. I have my car there and I can give you a ride wherever you need to go.” I knew that if she continued in the same direction, I would turn around and follow her. I did not want her to be out there by herself. Luckily, she turned around and came with me.

She seemed quite disoriented for the first hour that we hiked together. She trailed behind me and kept checking her watch and her phone and shaking her head. She couldn’t believe she had gotten lost, couldn’t believe she hadn’t made the cut-off time. I inquired about where she’d been, trying to figure out how she could have possibly missed the first aid station, let alone the second, and why she was going the wrong direction on the loop. She couldn’t answer any of my questions and kept saying that nothing looked familiar. I kept her engaged in conversation. She was from San Francisco and worked for Hewlett Packard, she was out here with her running friend who was doing the 33k, she had done this 55k race a few years back, her husband was going to be upset with her for getting lost. I helped her concoct a story for him about how, just upon the time she realized she wasn’t going to make the cutoff and wouldn’t be allowed to continue, she came across me and felt bad that I was out here on my own and decided to keep me company so she could get more miles in. She liked it and said she’d use it.

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With Maura from San Francisco

We were on the Metal Masher trail, which, at its high point, is 800 feet above the Gemini Bridges Road parking lot (the race start point) off Hwy 191 north of Moab. As we hiked through a dense cloud, I sensed that we were on the edge of a high cliff. The cloud broke then, and we could see the parking lot 800 feet below us as we stood just five feet from the cliff’s edge.

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I parked at this sign near aid station one and started my sweeping duties here.

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When the cloud moved on, we could see the parking lot/race start 800 feet below.

I asked my new friend several times if she was warm enough, if she had water, if she needed anything to eat. Her answers morphed over time as she slowly accepted the fact that she was no longer in the race. Scary though was her thinking that since she was no longer racing she didn’t need to concern herself with any of these things. “Yeah, I’m cold, but it’s just that usual post-race freezing numb feeling that you always get.” “I don’t feel like eating. I should have eaten some protein a half hour after I stopped running, but I already missed that.” “I’m not thirsty.” More red flags.

As we went along, she tried to help me gather flagging, but her cold fingers were useless with the knots. She was wearing shorts (as were most of the runners) and a light rain jacket. No hat. No extra layers, I doubted, in her tiny waist pack.

I’ve had mild hypothermia before. I know that you usually don’t understand the state you’re in and that it’s always good to have someone else there to take charge. Thus, I started to get more firm with her. I pulled food from my pack and offered her some. I pulled out and offered my dry, heavier raincoat. As we went along, I told her the story of my first Olympic-length triathlon. It was raining during that event and after I finished the swim and was 15 miles into the bike ride, a truck came along and said the race was cancelled due to lightning in the area. Of course, we all had to finish the 30-mile ride to get back to the staging area. The truck kept coming by and asking if we were okay or if we wanted a ride, and we all kept saying no, no, we’re fine. But, in truth, we were all freezing and crying and could barely move our hands to operate the gears and brakes on our bikes. I had to come right out and tell her the point of the story – when you’re hypothermic, you do not think straight. You need to listen to others who are trying to help you. Finally, she ate.

After a couple of hours of hiking with her, we came upon a vehicle. Two men hopped out. “Man, are we happy to see you two!” I’m sure by that time the race officials had figured out that this woman hadn’t checked into any aid stations. One of the men started tending to her. I told the other guy what had been going on and that it’d be best if they could take her and make sure she was thinking straight before dropping her off anywhere. Before hopping in the vehicle, she gave me a big, tight hug and said, “Oh my gosh, thank you so much for finding me and taking care of me. I hope you don’t mind if I get in with them.”

They asked if I wanted a ride, too, or if I wanted to continue on with my hike. I looked around at the incredible scenery and the clearing skies and said, “I think I’ll just continue on.”

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Much of the scenery was obscured today, but when the clouds broke, the usual beauty presented itself.

As I finished those last three to four miles, I had a renewed sense of purpose. I wasn’t just out here looking for pink flags. I’d had to watch for red flags, too. I got the opportunity to support a fellow runner in a time of need. It’s what we do, all of us runners– we support others in the running community, in so many ways, shapes, and forms. I was glad for the opportunity to give back on this day.

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So grateful to be out wandering around looking for flags.

The Fun 50 Year

Before I toss out my 2016 calendar, I want to document my “fun 50” year. I turned 50 shortly after New Years and decided to book out my year with lots of fun events and weekends. Having just turned 51, it’s time to reflect on this past amazing year.

January:

Hawaii 5-0 birthday party on the Grand Mesa (skiing, snow shoeing, 10,000 feet elevation, fires, food, drink, decorations, all with 35 friends)

Feed lunch to everyone at work

Bangs Canyon 30k (19 miles of snowy trails)

3rd annual Glenwood Springs Night tri (run in the canyon, swim laps at the hot springs pool, eat at the Village Inn)

Camp on the Mesa with Jim

Cross country skiing and snow shoeing in Ridgway with Butch and Rochelle

February:

Camp in Ouray with Amy for her 18th birthday

Camp at Rabbit Valley with Jim

Camp and mountain bike at Klondike Bluffs north with Jim

March:

Camp at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico with Jim

Climb Mt. Garfield

Trip to Riverton to visit family

Camp in Moab with Amy for her senior year trip

Rappel Morning Glory Arch

April:

Widowmaker 9-mile trail race

Highline Lake night time mountain biking

Three-day canyoneering class

May:

Camp at Highline Lake with Jim and teammates

18 Hours of Fruita mountain bike race

Camp in Montrose with Rochelle

Black Canyon Ascent

Garfield Grumble

Canyoneer the Black Hole of the White Canyon in Utah

June:

Ragnar team trail race through the night at Snowmass

Camp at Highline Lake with Jim

Camp at Bryce Canyon with Mary Jo

Bryce Canyon trail half marathon

Ride horses through Bryce Canyon with Mary Jo

Camp on the Mesa with Rochelle

Camp at Turkey Flats with Rochelle and other friends

Turkey Flats 9-mile trail race

July:

Camp in Gunnison with Jim

4th of July 8-mile race Gothic to Crested Butte

Climb Mt. Crested Butte

Mountain bike in Crested Butte

Crag Crest 10-mile trail race

Trip to New York City with Amy

Central Park night bike tour

Empire State Building

Brooklyn Bridge bike tour

Statue of Liberty

Ellis Island

911 Memorial

Book of Mormon show

Rockefeller Center

Radio City Spectacular show

Camp at Ridgway

Mountain bike the RAT trails with Julie

August:

Camp in Ouray with Jim and friends

Mt. Sneffles half marathon

Camp in Lake City with friends

Climb Wetterhorn Peak

Climb Handies Peak

Climb Mt. Garfield

September:

Camp in Jackson, Wyoming with Amy and family

The Hole Half Marathon in Jackson

Desert Edge team triathlon with Elizabeth

Desert Edge individual triathlon

Camp on the Mesa with Jim

Camp at Crawford Reservoir

October:

North Rim 20k at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Visit Addy in Denver

Trip to Wyoming

Hike to search for wood sprites (wood carvings) with Terrie and Sandy

Run to Whitewater (18-mile trail run)

Camp at Rabbit Valley with Jim

Camp at Dewey Bridge (Moab) with Rochelle

The Other Half half marathon

Camp and mountain bike at Klondike Bluffs north with Jim

November:

Camp in Moab with Rochelle

Maob trail half marathon

Groovy 10k with friends

Climb Mt. Garfield

Start 40 days of exercise (I only did 35; stuff happens)

December:

Winter Sun Party Bus to Moab

Winter Sun 10k in Moab

Cross country ski – lots

Snowmobiling on the Grand Mesa with Amy, Adam, and Jim

Run in downtown Christmas lights with friends

Christmas Eve morning Serpents Trail run

Group snow shoe on West Bench

Trip to Wyoming

January:

New Years/51st birthday party on the Mesa (skiing, snow shoeing, rock hunting, fires, food, drink, friends)

What a year!

Yes, I do have a job. I’m a teacher. I did all of this around my teaching days.

I’m assuming my year of being 51 will be just as exciting and look quite similar.

Life is fun. Live it!

A Rotary Youth Exchange Blazer Story

The day had arrived. The day I was looking forward to and dreading all at the same time.

I was in charge of one of the big suitcases and the rolling carry-on while she wheeled the other big suitcase and shouldered her overstuffed backpack. We followed the signs to Lufthansa and entered the ticketing/check-in line. After months of learning, checklists, paperwork, to-do’s, and last minute errands, we realized then that she still wasn’t ready.

“Amy!” I fake scolded. “Where are your luggage tags? You were supposed to write them out long before we got here!”

“I know. I forgot. I didn’t have my host family’s address.”

“What do you mean? It’s in your paperwork. Get it out.”

Down came the backpack and out came an envelope full of the documents she’s supposed to travel with:  names and address of her first host family, the Rotary club in France that will host her, passport, birth certificate, permission to attend school, her insurance policy, parental permission, travel itinerary, and several other items. We pulled out the one with her host family’s address and I read it to her as she wrote it on the tags. She was nervous and her handwriting was atrocious, almost illegible.

As we fumbled with the tags and reorganizing some of her documents, a young girl got in line behind us.

“You can go ahead,” I said, scooting over the two suitcases I was in charge of.

She smiled and wheeled on past us, all of her luggage neatly stacked on a rolling cart.

“Mom,” Amy whispered, “do you think she’s an exchange student?”

“She might be,” I said. “I just don’t know why she’s all alone. It seems like someone would come to the airport with her.”

Once we felt organized, I told Amy to put her official Rotary blazer on so I could take her picture. All of the kids in our Rotary District – District 5470, the southern two-thirds of the state of Colorado – as well as all students going abroad through any of the United States Rotary clubs are supplied a black blazer. They exchange and collect pins and proudly display them on their blazer as they progress through their year abroad.

Amy gave me a look. I knew what it was about. Yesterday, as we were loading up to leave our home in Grand Junction and drive to Denver–where she’d be flying out of–she said, “Mom, what should I do with this blazer? I hate it; it’s so ugly. I mean, why don’t they just tell us to go buy an attractive, well-fitting black blazer that we actually like instead of SURPRISE! HERE’S THE UGLIEST BLACK BLAZER WE COULD FIND FOR YOU!”

I laughed out loud. Both of our emotions had been running high for the past two weeks as her departure day loomed and both of us had had a few outbursts and good cries over nothing, really. She wasn’t being ungrateful or disrespectful to the Rotarians who had helped her get to this point, just open and honest and funny. We all know that a heavy, black, too-big, too-constructed blazer is not what any teenage girl wants to wear, let alone travel in or meet their new families in. They want to wear comfort clothes and something in which they feel attractive and that represents the way in which teenagers dress in the country they’re from.

When my laughter subsided, Amy gave me a pouty look. “Mom, I’m scared I won’t be funny in France. I mean, how can I be funny when I don’t even know the language?”

“Honey, I think that anything you attempt to say in French will probably be hilarious. You’ll be plenty funny and interesting.”

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I got the official departure photo and then helped Amy neatly fold the blazer and tuck it into her carry-on. “You should probably get this out right before boarding the plane and wear it for at least a little while on the plane. It’ll help other exchange students notice you, if there are any others on your flight. And make sure to wear it when you layover in Germany and maybe when you land in France. You’ll be safer in it – airport personnel are probably familiar with these blazers and they’ll know you’re an exchange student and a minor – and people will be less likely to mess with you.”

We then went to the counter, just as the other girl was finishing her check-in. “Hey, are you with Rotary?” she asked, looking hopeful. “I saw your blazer.”

“Yeah!” said Amy. “Are you?”

“Yes. I’m going to Croatia.”

“Where are you from?” I asked, knowing she did not live within District 5470. Croatia is not one of the 20 countries that students in District 5470 can exchange to.

“Boulder,” she answered.

“Are you here alone?” I asked, feeling at once both a little sorry for her and also that perhaps I wasn’t letting my daughter be independent enough.

“Oh, my dad’s here. He’s parking the car or something.”

“Are you traveling through Germany to get to Croatia?” I asked her. If so, that would mean she’d be on Amy’s flight.

“Yes, I’m on the 5:30 flight.”

“Cool,” said Amy, her eyes lighting up. “So am I!”

She gave the ticketing agent her passport and as he finished up his work, he asked, “Any seating preferences?” Not knowing exactly what that meant, Amy responded with, “Umm… no, I don’t think so.”

“Well,” I started, “is there any chance you could seat her next to the young girl who just checked in? The one in line in front of us? They’re both minors and they might feel more comfortable sitting together.”

“Sure,” he said. “I can do that.”

We were plenty early to the airport, but Amy was too nervous to have lunch or look around in the shops. So we made our way to the security area and plopped down on some seats there. I asked Amy how she was feeling. She seemed okay. I felt okay myself, compared to what an emotional mess I’d been the two weeks leading up to this point.

The line going through security looked long and I guessed the process might take about 45 minutes to an hour. After a while, when it seemed like it was probably time for Amy to make her way to her boarding gate, I said, “Hey, maybe I can stand in that line with you. That’d give us a little bit longer together.”

The woman in charge of the entrance to the line said it would be fine, that I’d just have to exit the line when they started checking boarding passes. “Unless, of course, you get randomly selected for Pre Check.”

“Pre Check? What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, we randomly select some people to go through a faster security line. You don’t have to take your shoes off.”

“Okay,” I said and we started winding our way through the serpentine straps used to create and manage a line of people. We didn’t go more than 20 feet before a man said, “Pre check. This way.” We veered off to the right into a different line.

I guess we were randomly selected, I thought. Amy was the one to notice. “Interesting. Everyone in this line is in a family. Look at the babies and kids. And us. The other line is all men. Nice random selection.”

I had it in my mind that I would be with my daughter for about 45 more minutes before I had to say goodbye to her once and for all, but the Pre Check line was only about two minutes long. The time was now. “Oh my gosh, Amy, we have to say good-bye now. Are you good? You okay?” I pulled her in for a hug.

“Mom, I’m sad,” she said, and started to cry a little.

I was sad, too, but tried not to let it show. “Don’t be sad, be happy. Go have the time of your life!” And I let go of her. And I walked away. And I cried, but not as badly as I thought I would.

I had to go upstairs to level two to exit the area. When I got up there, I realized I could look down on the security lines. So I found a quiet spot and stood looking over the railing, scanning like crazy to locate Amy. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t figure out where that Pre Check line was. Or maybe she had already gone through it.

I glanced at my phone, it being in my hand, and saw a notification from Facebook that Amy had mentioned me in a status update. What? How? I thought. She’s in an airport security line. I opened it up and there was a picture of me standing on level two, looking for her. Randee Bergen spying on me it said. What? She saw me and I couldn’t see her? I wish I was spying on you! I wish I could see you one last time! I thought. Or, maybe not. Maybe this is for the better.

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I exited the airport and went to find my vehicle in the parking area. Should I leave? Was it okay to leave the airport and head back to Grand Junction when she had more than an hour to sit at her gate? What if her plane didn’t show up or wouldn’t be able to take off? Maybe I should stay.

But I couldn’t. I drove away.

When I stopped to get gas, I texted her. Are you at your gate? Have you found your friend?

Yes, I”m here, but I don’t see her anywhere!

You will, eventually. I love you!

Not too long after that, there was a text from Amy. I found her and guess what? Her name is Amy!

Crying, I typed. No, that wasn’t texting language that I typically used; it was something Amy would have said. It usually meant happy tears, oh how special, how meaningful, something like that.

Then I added a smiley face and pushed SEND.

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Quick Question

Is anyone out there who never had trouble with spam comments now having to deal with them? That is all I am getting and it’s really annoying.

Also, I put up a new post a few days ago, got a few legitimate comments, and now the post is completely gone. At first I thought, “Well, maybe I didn’t really post it. Maybe I imagined it in my Reader.” But, the comments are there in my notifications.

Weird stuff. And it’s really turning me off from blogging. Any similar stories? Ideas?

Thanks, WordPress community!

Friendship in France

We Americans! We’re a bunch of insincere and pompous phonies. Liars, even!

Or so the French seem to think. Our tendency to strike up a conversation with just about anyone, and go on and on past the small talk and into deep ideas and details about ourselves, is incomprehensible to the French.

In my reading of Au Contraire! Figuring Out the French, the nature of friendship–and how it differs there from here in the U.S.–is so far the most interesting and easy-to-illustrate aspect of French culture.

I have found myself in several situations over the past few months doing just that–explaining how friendship in France works–and with complete strangers to boot. First it was a man at a wedding reception, someone I didn’t know, someone who sat down beside me to say hello because he had heard that I was from Grand Junction, a town he had been to a few times and had really liked. An hour later he knew a whole heck of a lot about my town and myself and my daughter going abroad and I was teaching him about French culture. Next it was a lady who was in line near me to get passports. We started talking about where we were going (I’m not really going to France, just want to be prepared in case there is an emergency while my daughter is there) and she made a comment about the French. I thought I better explain to her that much of our perception of the French stems from our differences in how we build relationships. And then there was a parent at parent-teacher conferences, a mom I sat near at my daughter’s swim meet, the man at the…

Well, since I’ve explained it so many times, I’ll share it with you, too. It really is quite fascinating.

Visualize a French person with about five concentric walls built around him. The outer wall will be the highest and each successive wall going in and toward the individual will be shorter. Now visualize an American, also with concentric walls surrounding him. The American’s outer walls are low, but as the walls get closer to the person, they get higher, taller.

Now, imagine that you are trying to develop a deep and lasting friendship with each of these two people. With the French guy, it will be extremely difficult to “get in.” It may take weeks, months, years to scale those outer walls. But, once you’re over that barrier, there will be a mutual agreement to commit to the friendship and it will become easier and easier to get close to the person, to get to know the real him.

Now, the American. I’m sure this will sound familiar.  You can approach almost any American and start a conversation. And as long as you’re not creepy or overstepping boundaries or holding a person up from whatever it is he or she was just about to do, most Americans will keep chatting with you. Just like I did with the guy at the wedding reception and the lady in the passport line. Not only did we chat, but I shared a lot about my life, including that my daughter was going to France and oh by the way let me tell you something interesting about the French culture.

The thing about the American’s walls, however, is that even though it’s easy to get in, it’s difficult to continue climbing upward and inward to the real core or the real self of an American. In fact, we Americans may not ever truly know our closest friends and family members. We usually have a lot of mediocre and somewhat superficial friendships.

As I said, once you’re over the outer walls with a French person, you’re in and expected to commit to a truly amazing friendship. With Americans, a friendship might be based on a shared interest, a hobby, or just the fact that two people are coworkers. Once someone loses interest in the hobby, quits a job, or goes his or her separate way in life for whatever reason, the friendship might be over. Not so true with the French.

Another difference in friendships between our two cultures is that Americans are into “doing” whereas French people are into “being.” We like to do things with our friends–go out for coffee, go hiking, take the kids to the park, go to a movie. The French are more inclined to just hang out together. They might talk about what they should do and what it would look like, but no one minds if the group never gets around to doing it. To them, talking about it is fun enough.

Also, Americans don’t like conflict. We tend to not bring up anything that will cause an argument or jeopardize the friendship. The French consider this to be boring and tedious. In France, people like to argue. They look at it as entertainment, as educational, as something that friends can do together. French friends can be direct and frankly critical and it is not at all a problem between them.

I really like that aspect of their culture.

In America, the backbone of the culture is the individual. In France, it’s friendships, groups, the “circle.” In our country, most of us can easily carry on if a friendship or relationship falls away. In France, you are expected to put your heart into a friendship, now and forever. A common expression between friends in America is “I owe you one.” The French language has no equivalent to this. They do not keep score. If you’re not friends, there are no obligations; if you are friends, you’ll do nice things for each other no matter what. And it is baffling to them to hear us say to our new “friends” or to those we were once close to and happen to run into, “Yeah, I’ll give you a call,” or “We should get together sometime and catch up,” when neither party has any real desire or intention of doing so. Liars!

So the French find it weird that we’re so open and chatty with whomever, wherever. To them, that seems arrogant and cocky. Wait, isn’t it the French who are supposed to be arrogant and cocky?

Meanwhile… Another Disturbance

In a recent post, I weighed the repercussions of how disturbing it was to have observed a homeless man and his dog as he staggered across a busy street and crashed through the perimeter bushes of a downtown grocery store. Just a few days later there was another disturbing story involving a dog in a grocery store parking lot.

I didn’t observe this occurrence. But it happened at a grocery store I often stop at for quick purchases.

A woman had a dog onOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA a leash and was walking through the parking lot. As she neared the entrance area to the store, the leash got wrapped around the pole of a stop sign. While she attempted to remedy this, the dog broke free and went straight toward two little girls who were coming out of the grocery store with their father.

The dog attacked one of the girls, biting her body and pulling on her jacket. The man, who had a concealed carry permit, pulled out a gun and shot the dog in the hindquarters. The debilitated dog continued to attack the girl. The man shot it once more and it dropped to the pavement, still. But still alive.

“Shoot him again,” cried the woman who had been walking the dog. “Put him out of his misery.”

“I don’t have the heart,” said the man.

And the dog lay there, alive, until just shortly before Animal Control arrived.

As far as I know, the little girl will be okay. The man was not charged with any wrongdoing. The dog is dead. And the woman walking the dog? Well, she claims to not be the owner and to not know who does own the dog.

This story, though far more violent and disconcerting, is not nearly as disturbing to me as the other dog-in-the-parking-lot incident. I know, from writing about the both of them, that it’s because I didn’t witness the latter. I can hardly set the scene and my story has no detail. The only dialogue I included was what I read in the paper. I can’t describe the characters, can’t build the tension, and I’m sure I didn’t evoke much feeling in you, the reader.

While there must have been plenty of emotion for those who were involved, as well as for any bystanders, I am not feeling what I should. I wasn’t there. I heard about it secondhand. And this is precisely why I’m not as disturbed. But what if I had been there?

I backed out of the diagonal parking space, straightened my vehicle, and then put it in drive. But I didn’t drive. There was a woman and a dog and something wasn’t quite right.

The woman tramped through the snow on a median in the parking lot, though there was plenty of dry pavement upon which to walk. The coat she wore, way oversized, hung open, a thin rope protruding from far within a too long sleeve. Just as my eyes got to the dog–a pit bull or pit bull mix, black–at the end of the rope, I noticed the two girls.

I had seen them in the store, in the produce section and again in the toilet paper aisle. Children always catch my eye–and I try to catch theirs–but I was especially attentive with these two because they reminded me of my two daughters about ten years ago. Five and six, maybe. They were well-behaved and helping their father with the shopping, counting apples and putting them in a plastic bag, lifting a 12-pack of toilet paper rolls together, rolling it up and over the edge of their cart.

Now here they were again. Pink jackets. Matching. They weren’t twins; it was obvious that one was older since she was taller. But perhaps as the years went on and they got closer in height people might mistake them for twins. Holding onto each other, walking, hugging, laughing. Tuned into each other way more than their surroundings. My girls were always like that. Still are.

The dad took hold of the hood of one of the sisters’ jackets as the three of them entered the parking lot. And then the mayhem started.

The woman stepped out of the snowy median onto the asphalt, stepped to the right of the stop sign there at the crosswalk in front of the store. She didn’t see that her dog had gone to the left, wasn’t expecting the thin rope to be jerked from her hand, her hand that was far within the sleeve of her oversized coat.

The dog, perceiving the sudden lack of tension on the rope, looked over at the woman. Then he turned his attention to the girls. The girls–giggling, squirming, just at his level and headed in his direction.

He bolted. Three lightning speed leaps and he was on the littlest one. Growling and biting. Biting her arm, once, twice, and then her sleeve as she turned into her older sister, who was instinctively turning toward her father.

Both girls were screaming as their father let go of them. Let go of them and stepped away. Stepped away as if he was leaving them to the dog.

The pack of toilet paper dropped from beneath his left arm as his right hand went to his pocket. Some pocket hidden in the side seam of his baggy gray sweat pants. And out it came with a gun, a small pistol. And then it was up and in the air at the end of his extended right arm.

The dog dropped, whimpering loudly, seemingly before the crack of the shot, just inches from the girls, huddled together there without their father, who had stepped away from them.

The woman screamed, hurling herself toward the dog with such force that she landed, chest first, on the pavement, fingertips reaching for her companion.

The dog paid her no heed, rose up into an awkward sitting position, and lunged at the youngest again, his hind legs dragging behind him. Another crack and he was went down. Still. But still breathing.

“Put him out of his misery!” came the muffled voice of the woman.

The father scooped his girls up, both of them at once, into the spot where the toilet paper had been. The gun, in his right hand, as well as his eyes, stayed trained on the dog as he shook his head and curled his lips in.

“Shoot him, I said!” came the voice, louder this time. “Put him out of his misery!”

The father shook his head again and took a few steps back, away from the dog. “I don’t have the heart,” he muttered.*

Okay, how about now? Are we disturbed yet? I am. And I didn’t even write about how everyone had to hang around for 15 minutes, waiting for Animal Control to arrive. Waiting for the police. Waiting, and watching, while the dog slowly died. And the woman? She appeared to be homeless and seemed to be walking around town with a dog that was out of control and dangerous, a dog that should not have been in a public place, a place where small children might be.

So many vagrants these days have dogs and, often, those dogs follow them around off leash.

And what about the gun, the gun that was magically there? The gun that was shot in a public parking lot, just feet from two little girls, from others who may have been coming out of the store, from those like me (had I really been there), who were in their cars, or near them, ten, maybe twenty feet away, perhaps in the path of the firing gun, but on the periphery, in the shadows, unseen by the shooter, the shooter who had just one concern on his mind anyway, to kill the dog that was attacking his child.

I’m not even going to get into concealed carry and how many people are or need to be walking around town with guns. In this instance, it was a good thing, a good thing that father had a gun on him. But, needless to say, things could have gone awfully wrong in this scenario.

So many disturbing things here. If you were there. If you had seen it, witnessed it, and thought of all the alarming elements.

But I didn’t actually see it. I read about it. It caught my attention and it did stick with me, but probably because I had recently written about a homeless person in a grocery store parking lot with a dog along for the crazy ride. Had I not, I may not have given this story a second thought.

Why is that? Are there too many things we need to think about every day? Too many normal things? Are we too busy and rushed to notice the things that would otherwise disturb us? Or do we learn to filter out what disturbs us? Learn to ignore or look the other way so that we’re not constantly dealing with the stress and the concern of what goes on around us? Survival. On so many levels.

*Based on a true story, but not all fact and accurate details. I was not there, did not witness the event, and did no follow-up on the report that I read in the newspaper.

20/20 Vision

The other night I was almost asleep when one of my daughters came in and asked if she could see my old glasses. She knew I had them somewhere, but it had been a few years since any of us had opened the memory chest.

The chest is in my bedroom, so I stayed awake and waited while she dug around, looking for the glasses. I knew she had located them when she burst out laughing. Big, pink, plastic, and big. And she hadn’t even put them on her face yet.

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I have a few other pairs as well, all big and plastic and progressively stronger in prescription. “Addy!” Amy called, between snorts of laughter. “Come try on Mom’s old glasses with me.”

I’m not a keeper. I’m really pretty good about throwing out anything I haven’t used for a while or don’t suspect I’ll be using again. But I do have my hope chest, which, in actuality, has always served as a memory chest. In it are old photo albums, letters, cards, 4-H record books from when I was a kid, newspaper clippings, old glasses and mouth impressions and retainers (gross, I know), and my high school yearbooks and letter jacket. There are also things from my girls’ early years–their baptism paraphernalia and journals filled with funny things they said.

Then both girls were in my room and I was awake and reminiscing and laughing and crying for a good hour or more while we all shifted through the contents of the memory chest.

People have been mistaking my daughters for each other for most of their lives. And they’ve been asked hundreds of times if they’re twins. But my old glasses really make them look alike.

Girls 4Girls 2

Girls 3

Girls 1

Above, Amy is wearing my 8th grade glasses and my high school letter jacket while Addy reads quotes from her Quotable Kid journal.

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Addy likes opposites

That last one could have age 17 on it just as easily as age four. Addy could change moods instantly. One day I asked “How can you be so sweet and wonderful one minute and so rude and snotty the next?” Her response? “I like opposites.”

Amy’s Quotable Kid journal holds some real gems, as well.

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Leaves Falling OffG.B. sent a letter to Amy in the mail. It said, “I miss you. Frosty is doing fine. The leaves are falling off my trees. I am going to visit you soon.” After I read it to Amy she ran over to Addy and said, “The leaves are falling off G.B.’s trees so she’s going to come to our house.”

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Bless my mom for getting me a camera and letting me carry it around with me when I was just six years old and for helping me put an album together. The truck with the camper on it is the truck I drove in high school (minus the camper). My first friend, Ruthie, stuck a Barbie shoe up her nose and almost lost her ability to hear out of one ear. Before moving to Wyoming in first grade, we lived in southern California.

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There are several scrapbooks and 4-H record books from my years of showing horses and dogs and other assorted livestock. One of my first horses was Misty (named after Misty of Chincoteague, my favorite girlhood book). Misty was a brat. She often laid down and rolled while I was riding her. Santa brought her to me when I was seven. He booted her out of the sleigh while flying over our ranch and that’s where I found her. I loved her, of course, despite her unruly behavior.

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Also in the memory chest is a book that my niece, Christie, wrote and had published. She gave it to me as a gift for Christmas one year. It’s a keeper, for sure.

I’m glad I took the time to save and move (multiple times) and store all of these items. Going through them can really bring into focus, for the girls, who I was as a child and a teenager and what that does for their current image of me and themselves. They also now have a much clearer sense of what they were like when they were little and how much joy they brought (and still bring) to my daily life. And, of course, each time I look at these items, I see more and more of my parents’ effort and love. As I get further along in my parenting career, I see it all in a different light and with even greater appreciation.

Hindsight–all those small artifacts and memories and what they mean as we consider them and reconsider them at different times in our lives–brings us closer and closer to 20/20.

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