I Birthed a Redneck

Maybe he’s not mine.  Yeah, I remember the delivery room, but maybe he was switched in the nursery for one of those hardy, Minnesota babies – it’s probably just a coincidence that he looks just like my husband.

At least once or twice a month, I realize I live in the wrong state.  It’s hunting season right now in Minnesota and everywhere there are guys, wearing camo, driving camo-painted trucks, scanning the horizon for something to shoot.   Soon, I will see dead deer in the back of pick up trucks at the grocery store. This week, there will be photos of camo-clad guys hoisting dead birds on the sports page of the local paper.

I grew up in the suburbs of San Francisco.  My people drink wine, eat fine European cheeses and grill vegetables.  In college, I majored in Beach and Boys and purposely selected a guy who enjoys the finer things of life. We like restaurants, nice hotels and wine on the patio on a summer evening.  In the Fall we switch to red wine and enjoy the turning of the leaves. Somehow, Junior slapping a dead goose on my kitchen counter does not fit with this picture.

I’ve lived here for 20 years and have learned that Minnesotans are a different breed – closer to the earth.  They love their cabins. Garrison Keiler said the woman are strong here in Lake Wobegon and he’s right.  I have friends, fine hardy women, who sit all day in deer stands, waiting for Bambi to stroll by so they can blow him away.   Walleye (a fish with big popping eyes) opener (the day the onslaught begins) is on Mother’s Day.  Every year the lakes (we have 10,000 of them) are actually packed full of men and women, trolling, casting, jigging, bobbing – whatever they do, ignoring their mothers.  I occasionally eat what they pull out of their live wells (the holes in their boats where they stash their fish)  I like lakefood, as opposed to seafood, which actually comes from the sea. They don’t appreciate my distinction.  While we’re on the subject of food, many freezers here are filled with mystery venison products, which they try to pawn off each year to make room for “this year’s deer.”  Each Fall, they recirculate a popular lie that if you put venison in a stew you won’t be able to tell that it is disgusting deer meat. I fell for it, once.

Unlike my California brethren, many Minnesotans grew up on farms. Some of our family’s friends invited us to spend the weekend at Grandma’s dairy farm.  To educate the California city slickers, they brought us to the milking parlor.  Don’t be fooled – this place should NOT be called a parlor.  We were herded into a lowered-trough between two rows of stalls. We stood there, unsuspecting, as a farmer backed up some huge cows into the stalls above us.  He then proceeded to hook up some steel cylinders to teats on obscenely huge, veiny udders.  My boys started snickering.  It was then that one of the cows exploded from the back end. We stood horrified as manure sprayed everywhere. The cylinder guy didn’t bat an eye; just kept on working.  The kids started screaming. Covering our noses and mouths, John and I dragged our gagging, crying offspring to the safety of the farm yard. Lesson learned – just drink milk, don’t ask where it comes from.

Up until now, I’ve been able to keep my California identity firmly intact. We live here but have not assimilated to the culture.  But now, MY husband is considering buying MY son a shot gun when he turns eighteen.  MY husband is entertaining the prospect of taking a shooting class. Country Music is blaring from sound systems in MY house.  They are having giddy conversations about good hunting spots and tags that they plan to affix to their kills. What’s next, ammo on the grocery list?

Bravely, as only a California Girl can do, I will fight this detestable turn of events. I will not succumb to this sad downfall.  I will not pluck a duck or any other sort of fowl.  My walls will remain antler-free.  Wine glass in hand, I will chop herbs and prepare meat from clean packages complete with freshness dates.

Attention Family:

Blaze orange is NOT an attractive accent color.

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I KNOW it’s Cherry Blossom Fesitval

Cherry Blossoms & Washington Monument

Cherry Blossoms & Washington Monument

Our Nation’s Capitol  – The Finale

At a gas station outside of Gettysburg, PA, I got out my map to estimate the drive time to Stafford, VA where Grandpa had booked us a hotel.  He got a new GPS for Christmas and had used it to find a town close to Washington DC, where we could catch the Metrorail subway system into the city.  I know that everyone has a GPS now days and people love them; more accurate; so convenient; blah blah blah. I am well aware that this statement makes me a dinosaur and older than my father, but I like old-fashioned, paper maps.  I like to pull over to the side of the road and unfold them across the dashboard, absorbing the grand scope of the U.S.A.  I like to see all the cities along my route at once and not just a small screen showing the next ten miles down the highway.   By using the space between the knuckles on my index finger, I like estimating my drive times.   I even know how to fold up the maps after I use them.  So, according to my knuckle test, there was no way on God’s green earth we were going to mobilize 9 people every morning in time to drive from Stafford, VA to the nearest Metro station, where we would then ride a train into Washington DC to arrive in time to take all the 9:00am tours that I had set up SIX MONTHS IN ADVANCE!! (notice the growing hysteria?).

Hyperventilating, I dug out my trusty AAA  guidebook and started systematically calling every hotel in the Washington DC area.  I got the same response “Sorry Ma’am, It’s Cherry Blossom Festival, we’re booked.” In desperation, I called the front desk at the Stafford, VA Comfort Inn & Suites to see if it was just my imagination that they were as far as I thought they were from Washington DC.   I found out that not only were they that far, but with commute traffic, it was more like 2 hours to a Metro station that would eventually take us into the city.  And that was when I lost it – I blubbered out my whole story to this guy; the drive; the grandparents; the kids; Gettysburg – poor guy, I think he was scared.

He said, ” Ma’am, can I put you on hold?”

“Sure, why not?” I responded.

My head pressed to the steering wheel, I listened to the numbing elevator music as the usual pandemonium clamored around me – kids sliding back and forth over the seats in the car; kids dodging around in the parking lot throwing things at each other; kids schmoozing Nana for candy money, etc.  Grandpa felt bad and was trying to find a new town on his GPS.

Then, my therapist/front desk attendant got back on the line to say some of the most beautiful words I have ever heard. I still consider this a minor miracle. It would be perfectly appropriate to add heavenly choir music as a backdrop to:

“Ma’am, I’ve got something for you.  There is a new Country Inn close to Washington DC and within walking distance of a Metro station.  They just opened up yesterday and are completely empty – do you want me to transfer you to their front desk?”

So, our vacation was saved by God and a guy named Nick. We got three rooms in a brand new hotel, with easy access to the Metrorail system in Washington DC, during the National Cherry Blossom Festival! Our week was amazing.  We did it all; the museums, the tours; the monuments.  Grandpa proved to be a wizard at getting us on and off the Metro trains and we wrapped up the week with a drive to Charlottesville, VA to tour Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello.

After lunch, we kissed Nana, Grandpa and cousin Megan goodbye and I again donned my long-haul trucker hat to begin what became a 25 hour trip home to Minnesota. Which brings us full circle to “Mom’s gonna kill you.”  We all agreed that it would be great to make it home in time to celebrate Easter dinner with Dad. Unfortunately, because of weather, mountain roads and traffic, it took us 16 hours to make our goal of Louisville, KY on Saturday night.  I don’t recommend driving 16 hours in one day, in fact, it’s not even legal for truckers.  After dozing briefly at a hotel, we got up @ 4:00am, shared a classy sunrise Easter breakfast at a roadside Waffle House, and hit the highway.

Somewhere in Wisconsin, about 4 hours from home, I desperately needed a nap.  The road was long and straight and I figured my spectacle-less son could handle an hour behind the wheel so I could get some sleep.  I gassed up, switched over to the passenger side and closed my eyes.  That’s when, in the back seat, my son Peter decided to conduct a science experiment with some diet coke and mentos candy in his mouth.  For those of you who don’t know the outcome of this chemical reaction – try it…outside.

So the moral of my story?  Road trips are worth it.  They are grueling, grimy and sometimes embarrassing.  But, your family will bond together in ways that you just can’t accomplish on a 3 hour plane flight. Our road trips are some of our best memories; my grown kids love recalling our many adventures.   If you are parenting alone, or your spouse can’t go with you for whatever reason – be brave and go anyway.  The trade-off for lost sleep, nation-wide embarrassment and hair-loss is a stronger character, life-long memories and a closer family.

Shock and Awe in Gettysburg

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gett...

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gettysburg

Our Nation’s Capitol   Part 2

I have loved Civil War History since I was a girl.  Every summer, as soon as school let out, I read Gone with the Wind.  Nerd you say?  Perhaps.  But, Scarlett and Rhett are the best and I will be the first in line should hoop skirts be brought back in fashion – just sayin’.  As an adult, I am awed by the terrible brutality of the Civil War and the way it shaped our nation.

I am particularly intrigued by the National Civil War Battlefields. Standing on the place where so many men fought and died is very humbling and it’s something I wanted my children to understand.  So, now that I’m in charge, I drag them through as many of these famous sites as I want. The kids roll their eyes as I mull over the museums, watch the films in the interpretive center and buy souvenirs.  They don’t put up much of a fight because I have the car keys.  Gettysburg was at the top of my list.

We arrived at the visitor center and decided to buy the guided auto tour CD.  As the desk volunteer scribbled a few arrows on a map, she explained how easy it was to follow and pointed us toward the door.  Nana and Grandpa said they would bring up the rear but got a late start out of the parking lot and we lost them on the first turn.  We circled back, came up behind him and tried to pass amid honks and glares from other auto tour patrons.  We got our vehicles back in line and made it to the first stop, which happened to be the only stop we followed in the order of the CD all day.

We were not the only vehicles having trouble navigating the tour.  On every street, cars driven by wide-eyed tourists were creeping along, driving on curbs, making abrupt stops and blocking traffic with three-point turns. People leaned and squinted out windows trying to read street signs. Most of Gettysburg’s homes had huge signs in their yards reading PRIVATE PROPERTY – NO TRESPASSING; definitely a wise move.

After listening to dramatized reenactments at the wrong sites, we eventually gave up on the CD and started pulling over wherever we saw groups of cars.  After questioning the other drivers about what they were looking at, we got back into our cars and listened to the corresponding audio track.  On a few stops we overheard tidbits from guided tours. That’s how we unintentionally found out that we were standing on the place where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address – kinda cool; the kids were impressed.

We happened upon an observation deck, about 2 stories tall. I thought maybe from up there, we could figure out our map.  Nana doesn’t like heights so she and Grandpa stayed in the car.  The kids and I clambered up the stairway and joined a group of onlookers. Surveying the land, I was swept up in my grand love of Civil War history and forgot that I was traveling with 4 teenagers and an eleven-year old.  At the rail, I started saying something profound about the pivotal importance of the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War, when I heard my 13-year old gearing up to hawk a loogy off the deck.   In one of those moments that seemed to move to slow-motion, I heard myself saying “Nooooo Peterrrrrr….”   Too late – he launched the monster of all loogies.  This thing was huge and had a life of its own.  We watched in horror as it sailed out, was caught by a stiff back wind and returned, undulating and twisting, in our direction.  His older brothers ducked as it sailed over their heads for a direct hit on the shirt of the guy behind them. A stunned silence settled over the observation deck.  A woman awkwardly fumbled in her purse for a tissue. I broke the spell by lunging for the ear of the offender as the other kids sneaked toward the stairs.  I dragged the culprit over to make a shame-faced apology.  To glares and shaking heads, I backed my way off the deck nudging the spitter behind me.  We joined the other kids in their full-out sprint to the car, signaling Grandpa to start ‘er up. For once in their lives, my family entered a vehicle without a fight and we squealed away. The Loogy Guy wasn’t at our next stop – our disordered touring method turned out to be our salvation.

After conducting Loogy Guy surveillance, we hit a few more stops.  It happened to be Living History Day and we were treated with a blast from a real cannon, along with some amazing stories about the bravery of the 1st Minnesota Infantry. We sat on the top of Little Big Top and gazed down at the the Devils Den, listening to a tour guide describe the horror of the battle.  The kids were properly awed and I slowly recovered a few shreds of dignity.  With no further Loogy Guy sightings, we wrapped up a great day and set off for Washington D.C.  He’s probably written a blog about how some lousy kid ruined his day at Gettysburg.

Next up – “It’s Cherry Blossom Festival???”