Friday, October 23, 2015

Thoroughly Mean-spirited Millie.

Originally written months ago, this is part of the Abby and Ann Series.

A few years back, Jacques and Vera asked me to watch their neighbor, sixty-one-year-old Millie, until she could get placed into her assisted living facility. She had been in a rehabilitation center after a mild stroke and reassured the nursing staff she had someone to care for her. Little did I know that person was me. I was to be the bridge between rehab and the old-folks’ home.

The day that I started work was they day she arrived home. I was searing in ninety-something degree heat at the end of April, ringing Millie's doorbell, when her daughter drove up the lane. After a struggle, my new "friend" got into her home and into bed. Millie’s insurance didn’t pay for twenty-four hour nursing care. Let me tell you, she needed it.

I stayed with Millie the first night, but reminded her I had to get up bright and early for my job. She gave me a mean look, but I figured it was the meds.

That afternoon, I checked in on her. Nobody had been by and the nurse was running late. I am not trained in the medical field, yet Millie wanted me to put all her pills in their little Sunday through Saturday compartments in two huge boxes. I counted. There were twelve prescriptions. One was OxyContin, because, Millie had taken a fall during the stroke, fell down a rocky hill next to her house, slammed into a fire hydrant at the corner and then was run over by a golf cart. Her neighbor was driving the cart when he changed course to avoid running over Millie. Instead he struck her in the lower back. So the major issue wasn’t the stroke, it was her back that was messed up.

I told Millie I couldn’t manage her prescriptions. Thankfully the nurse showed up that evening just as I was leaving. The next morning, before I went to work, I checked on Millie. The pills were all sorted out. I made Millie her breakfast and went to work. She asked if I could give her a bath. I looked the situation over and realized I could never get all two-hundred plus pounds of her into the tub. She suggested I give her a sponge bath. I told her I’d never given an adult a sponge bath. No problem she insisted. Her guest bedroom was an ensuite with a shower. I looked at it and the shower had no barrier. I told her I would give it a try, but wasn’t the nurse supposed to do that? Again, she gave me a funny look and said, “That’s your job.”

I try to be kind and I’m told that I am tender-hearted, so I figured I would help her. We came to an agreement. I offered to sit with Millie while she bathed herself. That afternoon, I knocked on the door and let myself in. Millie told me where I could find a sturdy, white plastic chair for her to sit on during bathing. I put it in the shower, got her towels, wash rag, shampoo and soap ready. She requested I get the water to a comfortable temperature. I did, and then rested the shower hose onto the seat. She got her wheelchair to the shower and then I was supposed to help her into it. We struggled together and that’s when the hose swung away from the chair and gave us both a shower. She slipped (gently, for a woman of her size) to the floor. She sat there and bathed herself. As I stood outside the shower doors, she asked me questions like how long had I lived in the desert, what my children did for work and so on. This continued for a while until I asked her about her kids. She said it was none of my damn business and to stop being so nosey. I helped her towel off and luckily her daughter came by to help get her into bed.

A few days later, after another shower, Millie was leaning over me, gripping the shower rails. I’d just toweled her off. She wanted me to check the bed-sores on her bottom. Then Millie wanted me to pull her adult briefs onto her enormous body. Since she was incontinent and the shower was narrow, I had to get creative. She slipped and nearly fell on my back. After that, I told her she would have to let the nurse check on her sores and dress her. “I need help NOW and that damn nurse only checks in once a week for five damn minutes!”

Many days she would call me names and I chalked it up to loneliness or the medication. Some evenings Millie would have me take her on long walks, in the lingering heat, insisting that she was chilly. Then when she would reach the park, Millie would refuse to go home. I would call her daughter, but only got a laugh-out-loud text back. . .sometimes. . . if I was lucky. I’d remind Millie that I had a family to get home to and a job; Jacques, Vera and Sharleen were wondering why I wasn’t spending as much time with them. I hardly saw my family. I was falling asleep at work. I finally flat out refused to take her anywhere. She would get mad and yell at me. As always when I refused to help her place her pills from their bottles into their pill boxes she would curse me. I reminded her that a nurse would be by in a day or two to straighten them out. Then Millie would throw containers all across the room, scattering tablets and capsules. I’d hope and pray that there would not be a home invasion. We’d both be murdered for the OxyContin and other pills. Their street value could put a kid through college. . . or pay someone’s bail.

This went on for a couple weeks.

One evening, Millie offered to give me a tip and I declined. She insisted and her daughter handed me fifty dollars. The daughter only came by once a week and usually I was busy washing Millie or making her something to eat. I took the opportunity to ask Millie’s daughter when the big move was. (Nothing had been packed yet.) She said, “Oh, my mother is saving a ton having you come by every day.”

Millie chimed in, “Liesa is mine, I’m going to keep her!”

“You do realize I am going back to Michigan at the end of June, right?”

Millie’s daughter turned away to make a call in another room and Millie gave me dirty looks. “I want you to stay. I need you! You are a horrible person, leaving an old woman by herself all day!” At first I thought she was yelling at her thirty-nine-year-old baby girl, but then realized she was mad at me!

I’d had enough and as I was about to leave, a man showed up. He spoke to Millie and her daughter. He asked me who I was, and how I’d gotten this job. I explained that I was a friend of Jacques and Vera up the street; he knew them. I explained that I was doing this as a favor to them until his mother was put into a facility. I’d kept notes for the future nursing staff.

This man, her son I discovered, read my notes, spoke first to his sister, then Jacques and Vera who'd walked down a couple houses to Millie’s to check on the situation. He handed me a check for fifteen hundred dollars. The next week Millie was in a facility with her husband whom I never even knew existed.

I had enough money for gas to drive cross country, the ability to stay in a hotel along the way instead of sleeping in rest stops and cash left over for a couple massages. (OH! My aching back!)
. . .and I vowed to never be taken advantage of again.

Abby and Ann, Millie really had me convinced that I was some sort of ogre by not staying with her every night. Did I do the right thing in letting this go on for so long? Am I really uncaring of the elderly population? Should I have kept taking her outside in her wheelchair? She needed the fresh air. Why did I feel so good when handed all that money? What would you have done?


Names have been changed. Shared with permission, by Millie’s son. He’s a fitness coach and says, if anything, maybe this will encourage people, especially seniors, to eat healthy and lose weight. It’s more difficult for care givers to manage large patients who likewise have shorter life-spans.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

If I Can’t Put My Own Damn Bra On, Let Me Die

I hope to go out of this life like a Viking. Okay, maybe not the fighting and pillaging part, more like Brünhilde, her chest supported with a form-fitted breastplate, singing at the top of her lungs. I want to go out screaming and kicking, too, not lingering on, a burden to others.

My parents Dave and Ann thought the same way. They were lucky and blessed in that. Ann went quickly. She wasn’t feeling well, had a considerable amount of dizziness and went to the doctor. It was discovered that a small-cell cancer had spread throughout her tiny, elf-like body. She fought the pain bravely with steroids and morphine. Toward the end, she would take a prescribed pain pill, chase it with a couple cigarettes and nod off to sleep. It was only the last week of her life that she was bed-ridden. Ann only had to be bathed two times under hospice care. There was one bed-sore in its beginning stages. One morning, her small frame could not take it anymore. Those of us gathered bedside noticed that her bottle of morphine was low. She let out one last gasp. The attending nurse, my cousin, said Mother had passed. Papa took her remaining pills and flushed them down the commode before they could be counted. Pharma or nature? Either way, Ann was gone. If she suffered at all, it wasn’t long.

Papa had been living by himself in a sleepy little retirement area in the Southwest when he took ill. At the age of sixty-nine it was discovered that he had a blockage near his heart. During a life flight to the hospital, he nearly died. Papa decided then to see the world and toured Asia, enjoying every moment. Years later, he too succumbed to lung cancer. It was quick but not merciful.

I remember Papa’s brother Ed used to say, “Getting old is Hell.” Uncle Ed would kick his walker out of spite. This was before the stroke. After it happened, my uncle held on for a few more years, a shadow of the man he was. After work, about three days a week, my cousin went to the care center to massage my uncle’s legs, yet Ed still got pressure sores. The first evening I went to see him, I learned that when he said, “Nurse, GO!” those words meant he needed a nurse or an aid so he could get assistance in having a bowel movement. On my visits I watched many other seniors and disabled people, lingering, crying for death. This was nothing like the AARP commercials I’d see on television, the ones with elderly couples dancing and hiking. This was HELL.

Another beloved elderly relative died slowly over a matter of weeks, hooked to a respirator, watching family members come and go, argue over what would happen to her house, talk as if she wasn’t in the same hospital room. She saw everything happening and had a desperate look on her face. All the nourishment that went into her was liquid, pumped right through a port in her neck and into her stomach. Everything that exited her body came out of a tube. Yellow, almost orange, urine into a bag; brown sludge into another receptacle that hung bedside, sealed from the air but not from the eyes of visitors, friends and grandchildren. One day she made the motions of writing. My husband handed her a pencil and notebook. I think she wrote that she just wanted us to let go and say our goodbyes, but nobody was certain. A family member brought some of her legal papers to the hospital that week. A day or two later, she was sent home, unhooked from her tethers, dying peacefully that weekend.

I tend to a couple, Jacques and Vera. They’re from Canada and were old friends of my family. They knew my parents Dave and Ann since before I was born. A couple times a year our family would meet up with their family at a lakeside resort outside of the Detroit Metro area. They always had some little dogs that delighted us kids. My papa would just scowl. Dogs were farm animals to him, not family. Jacques, an athletic, old meathead even then, would bench press all the kids, one at a time and then invite us all to roller skate while Papa relaxed and told stories. Jacques’ wife Vera and her in-laws would sit around the campfire with my mother Ann listening to my father’s tales. On rainy nights, they’d opt for the clubhouse. We’d go hiking, swimming, fishing and boating.

I lost track of Jacques and Vera for about ten years. Then one day, I answered an ad to do light housekeeping and driving for an older couple. Imagine my surprise when I saw Jacques and Vera! They were “snowbirding” near my desert community where I live half the year. They’d arrive from Canada in October, cockapoos in tow, and leave at the end of April. A couple years later, Vera’s best friend from high-school, Sharleen, joined them. A widow, Sharleen lives in the casita adjoining Jacques’ winter home.

Since I’d last seen them, Jacques and Vera were also converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons or LDS). Sharleen, not a Mormon, was always a hell-raiser, as they say, but Vera loves her best friend none-the-less. They were like sisters. Sharleen, having no living family in Canada, opted to live in the desert Southwest year ‘round.

Three days a week, I’d clean Vera’s home until she and Jacques left in April or May. I’d also tend to Sharleen’s casita for another several weeks, then at the end of Spring, I’d shut off all the toilets, pipes and electrical switches at the main house, head back to Michigan for several months until my return in Autumn when I’d freshen the big house. With my husband’s instructions, I turned all their water and electricity on. This became a routine until last year. Jacques and Vera didn’t show up at their usual time. Weeks went by. I didn’t hear from my elderly friends, not a letter nor a post card. My phone calls went unanswered. Sharleen, who now has dementia, was no help. She has in-home care givers, and does quite well for now. If she'd heard from Jacques and Vera, Sharleen didn't remember and didn't tell me.

Finally I got a call one day in January just before Jacques and Vera came rolling in. Their son J. C. was driving this time. He got them settled in. A day or two later, he flew back to Canada. Turns out, Vera had a stroke in early October of 2014 and it spun their lives around. Additionally, Jacques was in a wheelchair with degenerative disc disease. That wonderful, sweet, crazy couple believed that I could assist in their bathing and toileting. Lord knows I tried, but after Vera slipped and landed on me while I was getting her out of the shower, I asked if they could get a nurse. I’d noticed that morning that Vera had sores on her buttocks. Maybe they developed during the drive south? Anyway, the Canadian government is reluctant to pay a nurse outside of their country for long-term care. (Sharleen pays for her own assistant.) Jacques and Vera begged me to keep trying.

Getting Vera dressed is a game of “Please don’t fall while I’m pulling up your pants,” followed by, “I hope your heavy right arm doesn’t land on my head, knocking me out!” As she bends over me, her large breasts usually box my ears, leaving me with ringing in my head. Her feet are swollen, but she insists on wearing the same size five shoes that she danced in as a young woman. I want to get her some Caitlyn Jenner sized slippers for her tender tootsies to wear instead.

Also, some of you readers may know that Mormons wear sacred garments to promote modesty. Putting a bra of any kind on Vera, even a sports bra, one that won’t eventually roll or pop-up, is impossible. Decades ago, I asked the ladies that sell garments at the store outside the temple if I could make a suggestion that bras, or at the very least, cups, could be a part of the garment tops. You would have thought that I’d asked for pink lacy negligées! I got scowls that would have made Don Rickels wither, speechless. Here I was, years later, in the early winter of 2015 wanting to march right over to Beehive Clothing and demand answers! I wanted something that would fit my buxom old friend and I wanted it now! I have heard that I’m not the only care-giver, patient, child or friend with these concerns. (What can we do but pray?)

Transportation is another challenge to put it mildly. Thankfully, Jacques and Vera live down the street from a clinic and have a great relationship with the staff there. They ride their electric wheelchairs to their appointments. (The bills are paid, I assume, out of pocket. They don’t tell me.) The worst experience was driving Vera to the store, at her request. I only did that once. I could barely get her into my compact car from her electric scooter. Also, I had no way to transport the machine. No problem according to Vera. We could use one from the store. Once there, I couldn’t get her into the one provided. We asked for assistance but the employees at the mart cannot legally assist shoppers. Two guys named Alan and Jose who were walking through the parking lot on the way to the store heard Vera’s pleas for help and assisted her into the electric wheelchair. Bless those angels!

Once inside the store, Vera was quickly falling asleep at the wheel. She had just taken her prescribed pills before we left her home. My dear elderly friend would nod off repeatedly, wake up, select a box of treats and ask if I’d like some. I would decline.

“Oh, Honey, as a child you ate sweets! Let me buy you these!” and she’d grab some cheese Danishes with her good hand.

Frequently I tried to persuade her to go to the check out, but she’d motor on, slow down, sleep five minutes, awake with a startled look on her face and then see something else, sugary, shiny or pretty in another aisle.

After three hours I said, “You’re so tired. Let’s get you home and get you fed.”

She’d smile and show me the hot-pockets in her basket. “I’ll heat these up when you take me home!”

“Okay, then. Let’s go!” I’d say, smiling.

“Not yet!” She pulled away, kids staring at her wide-eyed. You’d think ten-year-olds would have the good sense to run out of the way. They didn’t. Neither did their mother. Vera stopped the electric menace mere inches from them. I honked the horn for Vera. It made a cute little squeak. Pitiful!

I said, “I bet Jacques wonders where we are!” She called him on her smart phone. Well, she tried to. She dozed off, I am not joking, FIVE times before she dialed all the numbers. She left a message. I wasn’t even sure she had the right number. I texted him. Jacques said that I was grown-up and needed to tell her to leave. That didn’t work. I wanted to cry.

By now, I was sweating like a hog and it was only the end of January. Noticing that something else was dripping, I said, “Your ice cream is melting, we really should go.” It was oozing out of the carton. She relented and we went to the cashier.

As we left the store, Vera took my hand and said, “This is the best day I’ve had since my stroke! Thank you, THANK YOU for taking me out of the house today!” We got to the handicapped parking space and I helped her from the scooter to my passenger seat which was lower. My back felt like it was going to give out. Then it happened--thank you Mr. Murphy for your dumb laws--an insect flew down my blouse.

I reached into my cleavage to retrieve the errant creature, but then thought to myself, what if it was a killer bee? Then just as quickly, I had visions of its five hundred hive mates attacking me. Stomping my feet and crying, I unbuttoned my shirt, exposing my bra and garments to the bag boys, shoppers and homeless people on the curb. I was finally becoming unglued. All the time, Vera howled with laughter repeating that this was “The best day ever”. By now, she was having brassier issues of her own. Her sports bra that I had labored to get over her body, the one that I had pulled down past her sternum and rested upon her ribs, had noticeably rolled up and was above her breasts. She peeled in laughter some more. I saw her dentures coming loose, the fixative goo clinging to her lips. In desperation, I reached into my bra and pulled out a little, yellow beetle with black spots. Flinging it, I got into the car, sat down and buttoned my shirt. Reaching into her handbag, Vera handed me her pocket blood pressure gauge, giggling that I wasn’t being very lady-like.

Reporting the results, (my pressure was 172 over 149 -- if that’s possible) I started to weep. “I’ve always had good blood pressure, usually 110 over 60!”

She said, “Oh, Honey, it doesn’t work for me either.” (To be on the safe side I went to the clinic down the street after I dropped Vera off. It was 120 over 78.)

Hours after we left, I got Vera to her home. Jacques was seething. I could see it. I’d only seen him mad one other time and that was at the resort in Michigan when the model airplane that he’d labored on since before I was born defied his commands and kept flying, hitting a delivery truck. All those decades ago he kept calm in front of us kids, and then he went behind the clubhouse letting out a stream of foul language that would make a sailor blush!

He met us at the door, wearing the same scathing look while I explained the situation. I carried in three sacks of candy, cupcakes, éclairs and melting ice cream. To Jacques' credit, he calmly said, “Vera has impulse issues now.” (Well, thanks for telling me AFTER the shopping trip.) Their aging cockapoo Peppy was making a yellow puddle in the kitchen corner. I put everything away, cleaned up and made a hasty retreat.

On the bright side, I will never take Vera shopping again. She won’t buy all those treats. On the bright side, I wasn’t stung by a horde of killer bees. On the bright side, my back didn’t give out and we can buy Vera bigger shoes. On the bright side, Jacques never again brought up our lovely trip to the giant-Wally-world-of-food-bargain-store.

My husband said I needed to have a back bone and just leave. Leave? Leave her in the store? He said that I should have forcibly taken her out. She is twice my size and was driving a small but heavy vehicle. What could I do? What would Papa’s favorite columnists advise? Abby, Ann, are you listening?

Despite trying to think positively, I was left with two major issues that still trouble me: The first, is the idea that ladies’ LDS temple garments should be made with brassieres as part of the top. They could be sold in chest and cup sizes like bras are. God, our Father, made breasts. I don’t see why we can’t accommodate them, large or small. At the very least, provide the option of padded, supportive garment tops to disabled women. My second thought is, when I die, I want it to be quick--after a game of cards like my Auntie Lynn Marie. She won everything, fairly. Nobody let her win. She walked away from the table, grasped her walker and without warning, collapsed, a grin on her face.

I want to go out like that, conquering the world, or at least a board game. I don’t want to live a half-life, lingering, harming other peoples’ backs, spoiling their health. I’ve told my kids, “If I die suddenly, throw a party. Cheer that I went out a winner. Be happy that I wasn’t using up money that could be better spent on my grandchildren’s college educations. Be comforted that I didn’t have to suffer with bed sores, cracking lips, bruises from blood draws, tubes hanging from my body. I don’t want to live in a mortal prison."

Sharleen says that I should let my loved ones tend to me in my old age, that I cared for my kids and that they can meet my needs when I am old and worn out. Our mutual friend Yvette says Sharleen is nuts. I say that it is my decision and despite what the Church says, I hope that I can be put to sleep if it comes to that.

Abby and Ann what would you say? What would you do?

Are you listening?

This is part of my series “If Abby and Ann were Listening” which was originally penned for another blog months ago. I’ll be importing stories from it every couple weeks. Please note also: Jacques and Vera have a sense of humor and support my creative efforts. There are no confidences broken here as actual names have been changed.

Monday, September 28, 2015

If Abby and Ann were Listening.

My late father always said, when you have a problem, don’t take it to God. Take it to Dear Abby. If she doesn’t respond, write to her sister Ann Landers. An avowed atheist, my dad didn’t read the Bible, he read the newspaper. Every morning, he faithfully studied the advice columns before work started at the Fisher Body Plant in Delray, Michigan. He retired from that division of General Motors in the late 1980s. That was more than thirty years of sage advice that Papa gathered from Abby and Ann!

Mom was barely a Creaster. She skipped services for entire decades, favoring church social events and mother-daughter parties. Yet, Mommie had some strong convictions. She taught me to pray, believing in the power and comfort of prayer. Never-the-less, for my first seventeen years, Dad’s teachings won out.

I eventually grew up, married and moved to the desert southwest like my dad’s sisters did. Following in their footsteps, I’m having a love-hate relationship with the desert. Like one of my aunties, I also travel between the Great Lakes and the west. I live in the desert during the school year, where I work two part time jobs: one in an office and the other tending elderly folks. Some of the senior citizens in the region are known as "snowbirds" because they move with the equinoxes, following the sun like migrating fowl. My seasonal jobs allow me to travel home to Michigan for months on end. I also get to do a few book signings along the way.

The reason I'm starting this series of posts, entitled, "If Abby and Ann were Listening," is that blogging is a great way for people to get things off of their chests. Additionally, some individuals enjoy my crazy family dramas; a few stories make people chuckle. (I hope they're laughing with me and not at me.) Many folks tell me that I need to get these tales down in writing. Most names and actual places will be changed, since some situations are difficult for me to get through and some of the people I'll be writing about are not very nice.

I will be telling you about the chickens and other critters on my porch. I will tell you about my crazy friends and my second job working with an older couple that comes down from Canada. I mostly want to share the Hell that my family puts me through. I have children and grandchildren. They can be a source of joy, but are frustratingly, maddeningly dependent on me. (A shrink told me not so long ago that I'm a co-dependent.) I will also tell you about my husband, a gentle man whose patience is often at a breaking point because of a few of these situations.

Mostly I would like to write to Abby and Ann, since my life is so stressed out. I could write a letter every week for a year, which is what it would take to get these frustrations out of my my soul. I don’t want to send an endless stream of correspondence; I would come out of this looking like a stalker. Also, my dad told me that, sadly, the Friedman Sisters passed away. The last sister died in 2013. My papa has also left this world. I bet Abby and Ann were up in Heaven standing beside my mother ready to tell my late father, “See, there is an afterlife and we’ve been waiting to tell you!” So, if anyone out there wants to give me advice, you can be my Abby and Ann. If the real sisters are up there listening, please, send advice. Send it right away! I think my dad would approve.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

We are Hildale

Two large vans loaded with mothers, aunts and little children went on a drive. . .and never came home.

Monday evening September 14, in Hildale, Utah some adults rounded up the little ones to watch the flooding in their neighborhood. The mothers corralled the kids in two vans during an exceptionally heavy thunderstorm. They cautioned the children to stay away from the rushing water and asked them to remain inside the vehicles to watch the weather. They parked at a safe distance, parents standing in the rain, when in an instant, the water rushed from behind them, washing away the road. To the horror of onlookers, their vehicles were swept by the forces of water, down slopes and rocks. Their vans came to rest, twisted in the aftermath.

It could have been you. It could have been me. It could have been my children and grandchildren. Most people who have lived in the west for a fair amount of time know not to hike in canyons and washes (also known as arroyos) during rainstorms. They know to stay out of the swimming holes even if a storm is ten or fifteen miles away. The rain gathers from high plateaus and rushes down the sides of walls, converges to the lowest and narrowest points creating a swift running river where only minutes before sand and lizards baked in the sun.

Decades ago after some storms, my children and I stayed a healthy and safe distance watching water run down dirt roads in Southern Utah. Still, we were in a neighborhood, away from canyons. Thankfully the water from the storms never gained so much momentum to sweep us away.

Sadly, the focus in the media and amongst most people is the fact that the victims were members of the FLDS community, a renegade offshoot of the mainstream Christian “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (LDS). Many people poke fun at the FLDS manner of dress and isolation, joking about how many Polygamists it takes to fill a van before it stops floating. I wonder if people would say the same if this was a van of people from New York visiting from out of state. What if this had been a bus load of European tourists?

In fact, that same evening, hikers from California were swept away while traversing through Keyhole Canyon in nearby Zion National Park. As the crow flies, Zion is only fifteen miles away from little Hildale. Part way into the hike, the rain began. Within less than fifteen minutes, the Virgin River rose from fifty five cubic feet per second to over 2500 cubic feet. The hikers were hit with a wall of water which later slammed Hildale like a tidal wave. I don’t hear jokes about the California hikers.

At press time the total number of dead in both instances is twenty. As of posting this blog entry the search continues for little Tyson Black whose deceased relatives and the mangled van he was riding in were found a half mile away. Some bodies and debris were discovered as far as six miles away.

The mayor of the little polygamist community called this an act of God. I will agree that Heavenly Father created weather, but each of us chooses what course we take in life. The mothers chose to watch the flash floods at what they judged to be a safe distance, but the waters changed course and took them off guard. God did not do this. These communities are already struggling with their faith. They do not need to be angry at their creator.

My heart and prayers are with Hildale, Utah and Colorado City, Arizona. I will stand with you.

Je Suis Hildale

(Photos #1 and #2 -- Vehicles and families minutes before the wall of water hit them, via John Barlow and Channel 13 FOX News, Utah)
(Photo #3 credit Saint George News.)


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Welcome to the Highway California

Back in the old days, in the 1960s, there were just maps. There were no MapQuest, Google maps, Google Earth, GPS etc. You took it at face value that the Atlas you held in your hands was correct. If it showed a straight road in an unfamiliar state, you hoped and prayed it was correct. Before that, in the days of pioneers and explorers, men made their own maps. In 1805 the Lewis and Clark Expedition set out to explore a portion of North America to find a route west, hopefully one that could be traversed by water. Of course, they needed an experienced guide to show them the way and ask directions. They found that woman -- Sacagawea a Shoshone. They had no GPS, no maps, just a will to explore the unknown.

"No GPS!" You gasp. Ah, dear young reader of mine, the common citizens did not have GPS technology at their fingertips until a decade ago. I don't even think our government did in the 1960s when the following story takes place. Even with this wonderful technology, I know of people in the desert who were led to the ends of cliffs because their GPS said the road continued. It happened to some tourists from Israel about seven years ago who were visiting the canyon lands of Arizona and Utah. Someone couldn't wait to pee, so a driver stopped one of the rental vehicles part-way through their trek in the middle of the desert. As the boy began to relieve himself he said, "We're at the edge of a cliff!" Had they gone farther in the dark, their caravan would have plummeted, taking the families to their deaths.

Which brings me to my story. My daughter and I spent her recent spring break in Death Valley. (I hate the desert with a passion; still too blazing hot even in March.) Anyway, sometimes we got lost, or at least I thought we were because the maps my daughter and I were using weren't accurate. I'd just go a little farther and sure enough, we'd be where we hoped to go. At some point, I got to thinking about a family story. (Note to readers hoping to visit Death Valley, DON'T. Okay, you still want to go. Take water, about a gallon per person per day, and if a guidebook says you can travel a dirt road and that four wheel drive is not required, you still need four-wheel-drive and a high clearance vehicle, but I digress.)

About 1962, before I was born, my dad drove my mom and sisters to California in his station wagon. Almost to their destination, he and my mother studied a map. My German-born mother, no Sacagawea, said, "This road looks shorter," so my dad agreed to take it because he valued her opinion. I still don't know why; he was Scots-Irish and Cherokee and had a keen sense of direction. My mother on the other hand, bless her heart, got lost in the super-market or on her way to garage sales.

The road, possibly California State Route 130*, started out paved but then, became dirt, then rocks, then boulders. A narrow one-lane path most of the way, it was washed out in spots, and began to ascend, at first gradually. Soon it was no more than a deer-path as my dad called it, with steep drop-offs and serious grades. He had to stop several times, he was sweating so badly. Dad said his sight went all white even, for a brief few seconds. The way zigged and zagged, having several switch-backs and hair-pin turns. He feared that another car, picking up speed with the pull of gravity, might come down one of the curves as he creeped up the path. My oldest sister Jeanette recalls looking out the window, seeing how close the car was to the side of the mountain. She feared falling off the edge on the other side. Jeanette remembers that she and the three other family members in the station wagon were the only people on the road. Would anybody find them if they careened to their deaths? (Even as recently as about fifteen years ago, an elderly couple who went missing were found at the bottom of Arizona's Virgin River Gorge, months after they were last seen. They were still in their van, strapped in their seatbelts, not much more than skeletons and dried sinew.)

The journey continued as the sun got low on the horizon, but there was no place to rest, no place to turn around. Soon, night fell. According to my sister Margie, "Not a peep was heard while we traveled on that road." Finally after tense, bone jarring hours upon hours they found a real highway and proceeded on their way.

Several years later, George Pierrot had a guest, possibly Stan Midgley, on his show "George Pierrot Presents". The guest discussed the worst roads in the country and he said by far the most dangerous was the exact same one that my dad had driven! Mr. Pierrot commented, something like, "Wouldn't it be sad if some poor fool were to get lost on that trail, thinking it was a short-cut, not knowing what he was up against?"

The guest replied, "There isn't anyone that stupid. The man would be a fool! Something like that would never happen!" Well, my dad sure felt pretty low when it happened and then again when the show was broadcast.

So the moral of this story is, even with the best technology or a colorful map, use good judgment and common sense. My Papa had common sense. He was a well-read man. He was an experienced man who served in the Navy and even he was caught in a dangerous situation. Additionally, if you ever survive a similar experience, be sure to tell the story and see the humor in it as my father did, years later, because there is more to life than just survival. There is also laughter around a good campfire. Now, turn off your computer and go make history.

*Note, if I can find or verify the actual route, I will update this blog.

A Sideshow Journey by Liesa Swejkoski

Make Custom Gifts at CafePress