Category Archives: The Power of Words

Productive Duct Cleaning

Several years ago a horrific smell came up from the basement and seeped into the garage. After an extensive search, we discovered a dead mouse. Who knows how he’d gotten down there, but he’d been separated from his kin, that was certain, and couldn’t find his way out. He could have been female – which I mention here as a nod to political correctness.

Once you’ve smelled something that’s been dead a while, you never forget it. It’s the worst thing ever, except for possibly the temporarily permanent (oxymoron, I know) residence that that distinctive odor takes up in your nose.

Dead Thing Duty is Bill’s job. No, he wasn’t elected in any democratic way, nor did we draw straws to see who would get stuck with cleanup duty. It was a dead thing – and I do the laundry –so that particular task was delegated to him.

A couple of years after this necrophobic incident, I started hearing noises in the wall behind the bed at night. It was intermittent, and at first I couldn’t be sure I wasn’t suffering from auditory hallucinations. This went on for a few days and then all was silent again. I thought nothing more of it until some weeks later when I began to smell another something I didn’t like all that much once again.

The air contained a slight tinge of a disagreeable odor I couldn’t quite identify because it seemed to come and go. I couldn’t get a solid whiff of it until one day it took up permanent residence in the bedroom.

I duct-taped the vents and moved to the sofa in the family room. At least I could breathe there. It was summertime, so I left the door to the porch open at night. Bill, of course, was not happy about this, given the nature of his “This-is-a-security-issue” complex. If you’re married to anyone in law enforcement, leaving first floor doors or windows open and unlocked any time of day or night is a huge deal. The bigger deal in my mind was the odor I could not abide. The car in the garage was starting to look like a good place to prop up a pillow and spread some blankets.

If that didn’t work, the Sheraton Suites would do nicely.

The odor deepened, and the air was so thick with it, I thought I’d puke. I was worried about it getting into the fibers of the bedding or the clothes in the closet. Would I have to burn all our clothes? Purchase a new wardrobe? (This last option, not a problem at all.)

It morphed into other areas, soaked into crevices, spilled over behind the furniture, and spread across the carpet like a morning fog. I knew what it was now – a dead thing – like the mouse in the basement. And I remembered the sound in the wall and thought it must have been an animal that got trapped in the wall’s duct-work.

I sprayed the rooms. It didn’t help. Bill said it wasn’t that bad and would dissipate soon anyway. He couldn’t smell anything downstairs, but his nose has always been, shall we say, insensitive. It didn’t matter, though, because I could smell it– and I was not happy.

Bill could hardly smell it at all after a while. Defective olfactory equipment. No more, no less. I considered moving from the family room sofa to sleeping on the back porch. I would have done so had I not been worried about spiders. If it’s not one thing it’s another.

I called a duct cleaning company.

Here’s what I learned –

The “Why” of residual smells after duct cleaning: Sometimes the rodent will be sucked out by the company’s vacuum “but occasionally pieces of the animal, due to the bodily fluids, will be left, (not to gross you out) stuck to the duct-work.” No odor will dissipate until its time has come.

Containment Strategies: “The cold air return will suck the smell back through the furnace and filter it through the rest of the house. That’s why there are pockets of odor in different places in the house.” I sealed off the cold air return with duct tape.

Why weather matters: “With a small animal, heat and air will dry the dead thing out faster, so the smell dissipates sooner, especially if it’s in the ducts. But if it’s in the wall, it reeks for the duration.” Which seems like years.

They looked everywhere – even in the attic – sometimes the smaller animals get in the walls, get trapped, and die up there – and then there’s really nothing you can do but wait it out.

Isn’t that good news?

I toyed with the idea of burning the house down, but that was an action I’m certain the insurance company would likely not have condoned. Nor subsidized.

The duct company’s total “catch” can be summed up this way – one small skeletal remains of “something” that once upon a time might have been a mouse. No meat on them there bones. How could it have devolved to this extent in only three months? The smell was so vile, you’d have thought an entire cow had died on the upstairs landing and been left there to decompose.

Mr. Duct Cleaner continued: “Six or seven times a year, we have ‘vermin’ issues: mice, rats, snakes…” I made him stop there. I already had enough nightmares to last a lifetime.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Neither Gone Nor Forgotten.

Mom at 22.

My mother died in the early morning hours of May 6, 2017 after a long, hard-fought battle will illness, injury, and a life that, beginning in reduced circumstances, was filled with hardship and pain. She never had it easy. Never got a break. Not even for one day.

Today’s post is one I posted some time ago and feel is particularly fitting now.

She was weak before the accident and more severely weakened after it. The orthopedic surgeon said her arm was shattered and because she was high risk for surgery, he chose Option #2 – putting her under for the 10 minutes it would take to reshape her arm and hold it in place while they cast it. It would not afford her the mobility she would otherwise have had, but she would have some use of it even if it didn’t work quite as it once did.

There was a time when her hands did what she wanted them to do. When we were kids, Mom didn’t have a lot of free time, but on Sundays she played games with us. Our favorites were Sorry, which we played over and over again, and Monopoly, one game sometimes taking an entire afternoon, and a card game called War – so fast-paced we played it even more times than Sorry. Sometimes Mom made popcorn on the stove, put it in a big bowl, and we’d eat it as we sat around the game board on the floor in our tiny living room. When she was able to set aside a few extra dollars, she would walk us downtown to the Park or Lake theaters to see a movie and by us milkshakes at Isaly’s across the street. Sometimes we’d go to Edgewood Park to play and swim.

She was always busy: cooking, cleaning, making our clothes, washing and ironing, keeping the shack we lived in as clean as possible. She made curtains to cover the scarred window panes so it looked more like a real home.

When my sister came home from school with lice in her hair, Sunday game time was put on hold, and Mom spent the entire afternoon and evening going through my sister’s long, thick, black hair, one strand at a time, picking out the nits. It was a painstaking process, but her fingers were deft then. They could do anything.

But those same fingers that once pushed our clothes through a hand-wringer washing machine, now struggled to push the buttons through the buttonholes on her blouse.

Her hands ironed my father’s work shirts for his shift at B&W, and later, after he left us with nothing, they ironed a bushel basket full of white dress shirts each week for the men of other wives with easier lives. Each bushel basket contained 20 damp shirts rolled up like newspapers. Twenty white dress shirts had to be starched and wrinkle-free. A pristine job earned her $5 for the basketful. If the owner was dissatisfied with even one shirt, no remuneration was forthcoming for Mom’s efforts.

Those same hands that made most of our clothes using material selected from the pile of remnants on the bargain basement table at Marshall’s in Barberton, now have difficulty pushing a button on the tv’s remote control because the arthritis in them is so painful.

Mom’s hands have wallpapered, cooked, sewn, crocheted, and knitted for far more years than they haven’t. There is a picture of a flower-patterned, intricately crocheted tablecloth on top of a drop-leaf table in front of which my sister and I are sitting when we were about 4 and 6 years old. Mom had placed a small Christmas tree on top of it, and Christmas icicles were dangling from its branches creating a prism of sparkles behind our heads as the photo is taken. Mom made that decorative piece the year before I was born. Now it graces my own dining-room table.

Those hands that took care of us and once did so many things with such ease falter now trying to push the nurse call button. They can no long push her up from her chair or pull a blanket over her in bed. She’s a little better after all the physical therapy, but not enough.

She tries to lift her left arm so she can use her fingers to utilize the utensils she needs to cut and pick up her food, but it proves difficult. She tries again and it’s hard to watch her struggle and not jump in to help, but we are told not to. It is something she must do herself. The fiberglass cast stretching from her shoulder to just below the first knuckles of her fingers is too heavy to lift with her good arm, which isn’t strong either. The fingers on her good hand shake as she attempts to grab those on her other hand, semi-contained by her cast. I want to cry.

Her entire life has always been a struggle.

For a long while Mom worked hard to get strong enough to go home, and she finally made it. But she threw some clots a few months later and suffered several TIAs. She spends her final five months in Hospice.

I feed her dinner. She cries because her hands and feet ache so badly; most of the time she can’t hold a spoon in her hand. All she wants to do is go home, unable to accept the fact that she isn’t going to make it back.

She doesn’t always recall who I am and sometimes refers to me as “the nice lady who comes to see me every day.” One day she says she hasn’t seen that lady in awhile and wonders where she is, what’s happened to her. She cries because she likes her so much and says “that lady was so nice to me.” She couldn’t make the connection between me and “that lady” and it made me so sad. For her and for me.

But during those five months together, we carved out a mother-daughter relationship I will treasure the rest of my life. I love my mother and have a deeper understanding of her and all she’d been through. I know she had to die; we all do. But I didn’t want her to die alone and spent the last week of her life sleeping beside her – she in her bed, I in the recliner pushed up against it.

I will miss our talks, Mom. Our playful banter, even the tears we shared. I know you’ll miss my dancing (a private joke between us). I hope I brought you a measure of happiness and helped you make the peaceful transition to a better life with Grandma and Aunt Toni who have been waiting for you for so long. And I hope you know, now, how much I have always loved you.

Now I know, for certain, that she loved me, too.

She had to do the dying herself, but I wasn’t going to let her be by herself when she did it. I was there. I kissed her, telling her it was okay to let go. She would be all right, and we would all be okay. She chose to leave this earthy plane later that night as I slept by her side.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. You will always be in my heart.

Your loving daughter, Linda.

“If you can remember me, I will be with you always.” – Isabel Allende

Cinderfella and the Leather Slippers

Bill is very particular about the slippers he wears, and he wears them religiously, especially when we are traveling – dirty floors and carpets full of germs and all that. And never, ever, would he allow someone else to wear them. That would be tantamount to asking rain not to fall. Bill can be so Howard Hughes-ian at times, I could swear he’s at least a distant relative. Even I had better think twice about putting his slippers on and flopping around the house in them, as I’m wont to do at times.

Soooo, when he stepped into the shower after a week filled with sight-seeing and morning to evening side-trips in southern France, he was so exhausted he didn’t realize for the first couple of minutes that he’d done so without removing his leather slippers – the ones with the shearing wool lining. The only kind worthy of adorning his feet. By then, it was too late. They were soaked inside and out. Needless to say, when reality set in a split second later, I couldn’t keep from laughing. I mean, really, how could you not see the humor in it.

Mr. Bill, nit-picky in the extreme about certain aspects of daily life, stepping into the shower with expensive slippers like that – talk about a Priceless Moment! And it wasn’t as if we could go shopping for another pair just like them right then, either. Pretty exhausted by this time myself, I was unable to maintain my composure, and the staid, reserved manner I would normally turn on for a situation like this just wasn’t working for me. It was just too much. The slippers were soaked clear through and squished with the least hint of pressure. Sopping wet – what can I say? I couldn’t help myself.

I left Bill stuffing his slippers with dry washcloths and met Mary Jane and Joe for breakfast that morning, relaying the details of this calamity, engendering another raucous round of laughter as Bill arrived at the table. I’m sure the other diners were wondering what on earth we found that hilarious at such an early hour.

Before we left for the day, Bill was uncharacteristically calm. So calm I couldn’t be sure he wasn’t channeling some stranger. A monk in a secluded mountain-top retreat or Buddhist guru bent on serious meditation perhaps – peaceful men who use words sparingly (or in the monk’s case, not at all). Asking me if I thought a hair dryer might help – I said it couldn’t hurt – Bill un-stuffed the moccasin look-alikes, removing the soaked washcloths, and pointed the hair dryer down their throats.

I hadn’t told him I didn’t think the hair dryer idea would actually work, but it became a moot point anyway as, after a few minutes on high heat, the hair dryer died. Its wire had burned through. Obviously, one non-industrial strength hair drier was not able to manage a big job like this. There was nothing else we could do right then as we were momentarily leaving for the villages of Beaune and Cluny. So Bill re-stuffed the slippers with dry washcloths and placed them in front of the sliding glass door to catch the heat from the sun in the hope that would facilitate the drying process.

Shortly afterward, we boarded a bus to visit some wineries – we could have used a big glass of wine at that moment  – and to soak up the local history on an all-day tour. On the way Joe, reading a copy of the ship’s newspaper, turned to me pointing to a story about Jerry Brown (then governor of California) and his proposal to impose new restrictions on Californians, which Brown deemed necessary due to the drought. He rattled off what they were and said there was one in particular that he thought would interest Bill. It was the one banning individuals from stepping into showers wearing their slippers because they soak up too much water. Too much water, a valuable resource currently in short supply, was being wasted on slippers in need of a washing.

You know how it is when something is set in motion (Newton’s law and all that) – once I started laughing, I couldn’t stop. Tears were streaming down my cheeks and Mary Jane and Joe were also making the most of this moment of levity. When I turned to see how Bill was handling being the brunt of the joke, I found him laughing, too. People were looking at us liked we’d lost our minds, but we didn’t care. We were enjoying the moment we were in to the fullest. Too many people don’t, and look at all the fun they miss.

The real test would come this evening, though, when Bill’s slippers, hopefully, would be dry. Would Cinderfella’s soaked slippers still fit?

Just Another Bitch on the Bus

When students came to my classes on the first day of the semester, they were not assigned seats, and over the years, I had ample opportunity to observe them as they filtered into the room looking for familiar faces and sat with other students they knew. Some sat apart from the others until they latched on to someone with whom they shared something in common. For the first week they tended to sit in those same seats they sat in on the first day, tacitly claiming them as “theirs.” Pretty much all the students followed suit in that same implicit way.

By week two, it was less likely that anyone was going to move into ”someone else’s” seat, even when that person didn’t show up for class.

By week three, you couldn’t pry students from their unassigned seats with a crowbar.

I was reminded of my former students three years ago when Bill and I went overseas with our good friends, Joe and Mary Jane. We traveled part of the time on a bus going from place to place, and it occurred to me that bus riders behaved the same way. Even when they were stuck in seats they didn’t particularly like, they were loathe to encroach on what they perceived as another person’s territory.

Most of the time, but not always.

To ensure you’d get your proper seat back upon returning to the bus, individuals used water bottles, sweaters, town maps, anything they had handy to mark their territory – unlike other creatures of the natural world that use urine for that same purpose.

If you’ve ever watched sheep in the fields, you know they take their cue from the sheep in the lead. The first one to turn in any direction is followed by one, then another, until the whole flock is moving in the same direction. Cartoons depict actions like this as groups of animated characters blindly following their leader across a cliff, but this happens in real life, too. Remember Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Hitler, any number of leaders of religious cults?

Students coming to class the first week or two.

Our last stop of the day before returning to the riverboat was an ancient village some distance from the river where we were docked. After our tour, we had free time to roam around on our own, then wend our way back to the bus on the edge of town for our return. Bill and I arrived before Joe and Mary Jane and attempted to save the seats they’d sat in all day and which were across the aisle from ours. As there were no assigned seats, seats were technically up for grabs any time we disembarked and returned, though our guide said we could leave our things on the seats because the bus would be locked. Like the students in my class, everyone tended to return to the same seats each time they got back on the bus. If there was a mistake made regarding possession, the person who’d had the seat previously got it back.

It was going to be a long return trip to the riverboat, and we tried to save our friends’ seats, putting our jackets on them. When a couple of interlopers tried to sit in the seats we laid claim to, Bill said in a friendly way that they were taken, as the woman had never even asked. Responding to Bill’s attempt to save the seats with a venomous tone Bill generally does not take well from anyone, the wife became demanding, insistent, and rude. Her docile husband never opened his mouth. We’d seen these people off and on all week long; they were always on their own and seemed not to have made friends with anyone. Frankly, it was not difficult to imagine why.

I was amazed Bill didn’t tell her off – or rather, shove her off the bus. Bill’s request to save those seats for our friends, who would have to move several seats away, was met with pure disdain. However, Bill proved to be a model of self-restraint, the likes of which are rarely seen. When we told our traveling companions what happened, Mary Jane’s only comment was “Just another bitch on the bus.”

Classic Mary Jane: honest and direct. Funny, too – she’s knows how to lighten up a moment and deaden a fuse.

Like Nathaniel Benchley once said, most people are sheep. They do what everyone else does and they are not amenable to, or perhaps leery of, change of any kind. But occasionally you’ll run across that “bitch on the bus” and best to tread with care when you do.

The Earth Beneath Our Feet

Laura and I have done some house-sitting in both California’s exclusive enclave of Montecito, known for the celebrities who live there, and Santa Barbara with its beautiful harbor, the Channel Islands off the coast, and the Pacific Ocean beyond. The city’s backdrop is formed by the Santa Ynez Mountains and its foothills, lit at night by lights from isolated homes dotting their landscape.

Other homes can be seen from the vantage point we occupy on top of one of these foothills, but they are well below the house we are currently minding. Save for the insects, the coyotes, and the sporadic warning of a hissing rattler poised to strike, we are out of easy reach in a realm of total silence.

A few minutes past midnight our first night there, we are awakened by a chorus of frenzied coyotes howling and barking. Within a few seconds everything begins to roll and shake.

It’s a minor earthquake, a tremor. A presentiment of possibly something more, something bigger to come.

Like the earth beneath our feet, relationships are similarly subject to tremors, warning signs that something might be amiss. And it doesn’t always take much to cause that rolling, shaking feeling. Sometimes we are subjected to little “digs” that ordinarily engender a halfhearted laugh, and we move on. But when these become more pointed, too frequent, or are delivered at the wrong time, the brief, deflective chuckle morphs into something less chuckle-worthy and more disturbing. One’s disappointment over this seemingly innocuous form of what feels like bullying should be enough to discourage a repeat of this offense.

And if it doesn’t? If the pattern of bullying or neglect continues, despite one’s pleas for reform? What message does that kind of disregard, and the tremors it causes, send? The underlying problems take on weight and begin feeling more like earthquakes shaking the solid foundations on which one thought they had been standing.

A bit rattled initially, you manage to dismiss it. But it’s disheartening to be summarily dismissed or not taken seriously. To feel that what you want, or you yourself, isn’t important. That your feelings don’t matter at all. Bullies will tell you it’s all “in good fun,” but when they push you to the point of anger, it doesn’t seem very funny, does it? It’s not a punch in the stomach or a derogatory remark, necessarily, but it’s bullying just the same.

If you’re doing or saying something that is clearly not appreciated, why keep doing it?

Disappointment becomes frustration, then anger, and causes a disengagement that takes on a permanence you failed to anticipate. The message you send says 1) you don’t take this seriously, and 2) how the recipient feels about your message isn’t important. That message conveyed may be unintended, but that is the message just the same.

We can’t play with people’s feelings, then say we didn’t mean it.

A tremor is a warning that puts us on notice. Worse things may come if we don’t heed the message it sends. The next time might be one too many. Consecutive incidents chip away at the foundation of your relationship, and each nick requires more effort to overcome the pain it inflicts. The crack becomes a chasm, and you perch on its edge watching everything get sucked into its black hole from which nothing is any longer salvageable. When we fail to heed the warning signs, when we become inattentive to our surroundings and the individuals in them, bad things can – and will – happen.

Last night’s tremor was a reminder that things could have been, and might still get, worse should we fail to do all we can to obviate problems that might arise from our disregard or complacency.

There’s a reason they’re called warning signs.

Everything and Nothing

While en route home from a three-week vacation trip, it seems I left one of my notebooks on the plane stuffed into the seat pocket of the person in front of me. Tight quarters being what they are these days, I’m surprised I didn’t notice, given the 8 ½ x 11 notepad stuck out at the top. My reading glasses, pen, and book were also there, so I’m at a total loss as to explain how I could have left that notebook behind. I would rather have left an arm behind than that notebook.

I had written two blogs and had a solid start on an essay on those pages. I’m sick to my stomach just thinking about it, in tears even. Every single writer reading these words knows exactly how I feel.

In the larger scheme of things, this is nothing, really. Yet in this particular moment it is everything. Everything and nothing at the same time.

And I have to say that it’s all right to over-react, an accusation some might like to make. Not everything has to be compared to the worst thing that might have happened. Not everything, regardless how small, has to be minimized either. Not every smaller event or setback can compare in importance to the larger things in life, but that doesn’t mean littler things don’t count in one moment in time or another. They weigh in differently, but that doesn’t mean they don’t count. Especially if they have a space of some significance in one’s life, however momentary that might be or how irrelevant to someone else.

Life isn’t all or nothing. It’s made up of loads of both big and little things. If a truly big thing had happened, I would be devastated. And no, I’m not devastated, but it is a blow to have lost those words, those thoughts, and the direction they were pointing me in at that specific moment. Moments like that don’t always arrive on time and sometimes not at all,  and the thing is, I don’t recall where they were taking me. Where they had brought me. So much information was processed between my having written them and my searching for them now. I wrote them down and put them away for later digestion. I thought they were safe.

But my brain was on overload the entire time we were gone. We were in Greece, in Israel, in Naples, Pompeii, and Rome. Cities of Antiquity, the Holy Land. There was so much to see and do. So much information to absorb. So many cobblestones to negotiate and cross.

So that which I wrote along the way was set aside as new things were being processed. I wasn’t worried about it. I’d get back to it, polish it off, and send it out when I got home.

Only it wasn’t there when I got home, was it.

I have turned the house and the car inside out three or four times, but I’m going to have to stop now so I can move forward again. Whether it’s writing about something or doing something, there comes a point when we have to move on. Do something else. Let go.

Obviously, I’ve had a bit of trouble letting go. I was hopeful I could write this and get it out of my system by doing so. If you could see how red my fingers are from holding on so tightly, how precious little tension has been assuaged by searching the same places over and over again, how stress lines have formed on my forehead as I sit here going over the possibilities and looking for new places to search, places where I still might find the notebook that’s surely waiting to be rescued.

Letting go? You can see how well that’s worked out.

On the Road to Nowhere

We didn’t do the Willie Nelson “On the Road Again” thing that might have taken us on the back-country roads of West Virginia, Kentucky, or their equivalent. Nor did we go anywhere as exotic as Mandalay (in Myanmar, aka Burma) about which Frank Sinatra sang in “On the Road to Mandalay.” But we did drive to Scranton, PA, Bill’s hometown, this past weekend to spend time with family and old friends – a combination package, more or less. Not exotic, not even what one might call exciting. But its nostalgic quotient brought to mind pleasant memories and funny stories of Bill’s youth. I’d heard most of them before, but each time we go, there’s one more thing exposed that I didn’t know. Or maybe forgot; who can say for sure?

We took my car, a Honda Accord, because the manual transmission is easier on fuel than his Acura. And the Accord has, at the moment, much lower mileage because it’s newer, a 2016, though if we keep taking it on these excursions, my numbers will rival the Acura’s quicker than I would hope.

Plus we’d had a navigation system installed (Bill’s car, of course, has had one in his) though it’s not as if we didn’t know where we were going. But its operation has offered somewhat of a learning curve, and I was using this trip to get better acquainted with its gazillion components. An overstatement, perhaps, but I’ve been left in the dust and on the side of the road like sagebrush in a desert as far as technology is concerned, so any opportunity to better the prospects of not getting lost or dying of hunger because I can’t locate a restaurant – with a navigation system, no less – are welcomed.

Frustrating, to the max, but welcomed. A challenge, so to speak.

On my system, street signs pop up at the top of the screen and blink out of existence when they near the bottom. That’s where our doppelgänger – the arrow – remains fairly constant. When the last one disappeared, there was nothing left but two pale orange strips indicating a divided highway endlessly threading a path through what appeared to be a vacuous “Beyond.”

I felt like I did when I drove through big ranch country in Wyoming. Or through Utah, in another world on another planet. Even in Kansas one sees the occasional silo off in the distance, or the intermittent Stuckey’s pit stop shop that pops up occasionally in this two-dimensional world.

If you’ve never gotten excited at the prospect of what looks like a building off in the distance, then you’ve never driven through Kansas on Interstate 70 and been thrilled at the prospect of stopping at a Stuckey’s. Looked forward to it with anticipation. Snacks, trinkets, souvenirs, gas, restrooms – what’s not to love about the place? Answer: Everything, unless you happen to be driving across Kansas.

If you’re in luck, or having a bad day depending on your point of view, the ennui that develops on this stretch of highway might also be broken by the tornados for which Kansas is well-known. At least they serve to keep your eyes from glazing over due to the sameness of it all. But if you’re driving, and getting into a center hall, a bathtub, or a basement is not in the cards for you, look for a ditch you can lie down in. When my granddaughter, Kearsti, and I drove to California once instead of flying, there were five tornados in our general area, but no ditches, not that I could have seen one in that blinding downpour. Kansas was anything but boring that day.

My first, and only, trip across that portion of The Great Plains, referred to as The Dust Bowl in the 1930s for good reason, was in 1975 with my then husband, Dick and our three children. To relieve the monotony, we made a game out of identifying license plates – could we get all 50 states? And who could win by spotting the most? We rated rest area restrooms – some interesting comments there. We didn’t have seat belts then and the kids would either hang over the back of the front seats, argue, or take naps: one took the floor (with pillows for “the hump” that accommodated the rear wheel drive shaft, one got the seat, the third got the back window sill – more accurately known as the parcel tray or package shelf (though I like “ledge” better). They rotated positions regularly to keep the peace.

If traffic and drivers’ attitudes had been then what they are now, none of us would likely have made it beyond the age of 40.

Stuckey’s was, by far, the highlight of that day, and it took all day to get across it.

Our avatar, the arrow, indicates movement. We go here. We go there. And where do we get? According to our nav map – nowhere.

But things are not always what they appear to be on the surface. Not always what they look like or what you expect.

It looked like we were going nowhere, but here’s where nowhere led us.

It led to Bill’s youngest brother, Mark, and his wife, Tina, who live in Dunmore, a Scranton suburb. It led to Sibio’s where we joined their sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, Roger for a fabulous Italian dinner and spent a wonderful family-centered evening together.

It led to, as Proust phrased it, “A Remembrance of Things Past.” Driving through old-style neighborhoods where it’s still safe for kids to walk at night. Where big old homes are close together in compact neighborhoods that allow neighbors to look in your windows and talk to each other over fences or yards that seamlessly grow into one another. Everyone knows virtually everyone else’s business and if they don’t, they have no qualms about asking – they’ve all known each other for years, watched each other’s kids grow up, shared the joys of marriages and births, and grieved together over deaths. These neighborhoods comprise large extended families. So unlike the divisive, sprawling neighborhoods of today where you’re lucky if you’ve even met the person who’s lived next to you for the last five or ten years.

Sometimes we think we’re getting nowhere, but if we keep to the road long enough, we do get somewhere. Maybe not where we’d planned to go, but isn’t half the fun of going anywhere to be found in the journey itself? If we make the most of our time – and the ways of contributing to our own or someone else’s well-being are numerous and can be enlightening, fun, cathartic – it will be time well-spent. What it takes is making a commitment to put something into or get something out of the moment we find ourselves in.

To do that, to be a positive contributor to the path we are on, we must understand that what we see in the mirror (of our bathroom or our car, though not while we’re driving, – or on the map screen itself) doesn’t necessarily reflect what it appears to. There’s always more one cannot, or perhaps refuses to, see. We must look further, dig deeper.

Clear your mind of the garbage accumulated over a lifetime. Look with fresh eyes and keep those eyes open, and give whatever moment you are in your best self.

A good thing to keep in mind, and not just when you’re traveling.