Oops! Forgot one. This weekend a friend reminded me of it. Hm-m . . . some friend. So I’ll resurrect these original blog posts of mine just this one time.
I speak of the memorable trip my small daughter, elderly cat and I took to Newport, Rhode Island wherein I got lost in the wilds of New Jersey.
Keep in mind, the family husband / father wasn't with us. No. He'd gone on ahead, pulling a U-Haul trailer loaded with the clothing and household goods we'd need for our six-month tour in Newport. He also had the family dog.
It was very early January, 1980. The trip began well and just kept on progressing the same. But it was only Day 1.
We finished loading the car and started out from Austin, Texas, waving farewell to the first house we'd ever owned, and drove up to my sister-in-law’s house in one of Dallas - Fort Worth’s center cities. That was the memorable opportunity my brother-in-law took to query my six year old daughter about how “cat” and “dog” are —or rather — are NOT spelled.
It went something like this: “Okay, Gretchen, how is “cat” spelled?” The poor kid is a phonetic speller. And Jeff is a born and bred Texan with a broad Texas drawl.
Gretchen's reply went something like this: “C . . . A . . . A . . . T.” I can see the wheels of her brain whirring like the fan in my car's radiator as she sounded out the word.
No-o, says he, it's spelled ‘c-a-t’. Okay, now, this one is easy. How do you spell 'dog?' ”
“D . . . A . . . W . . . G,” Gretchen dutifully replies, spelling it, of course, just the way it sounded. Poor little kid.
“No,” Jeff says once more, his muscular Texas drawl doing the verbal equivalent of push-ups and pull-ups a Marine Gunny would have been proud of. “It’s spelled “d-o-g.”
I let it go. More on this topic later. Believe me -- there's ALWAYS a later. I’m just glad she finally learned to spell the English language.
We pass through a blizzard as soon as we hit I-81 in the gorgeous state of Tennessee. What did Tennessee look like? I couldn’t have told you up to that point. I’d only passed through it in either a long winter’s deep dark night, driving rain or white-out blizzard. Not auspicious introductions to the beautiful state I now call home.
I digress. We finally arrived in Bristol, TN / VA and stopped for hot chocolate — and a potty break, of course. Sorry . . . TMI. So we soldiered on . . . and on . . . and on through driving, blinding snow. As I'm becoming cross-eyed.
We reach Roanoke, Virginia as darkness falls with a resounding thud. Find a hotel, eat supper and collapse in our beds. Next morning, frigid air, but clear skies greet us with a great big grin. I should have been warned — again. It wouldn’t last. Oh — it remained clear; and sunny. But that was all. I drove up I-81 to Harrisburg, PA. I continue on, dutifully following my Rand McNally. You may recall that only the U.S. Navy possessed GPS at that time. No Garmins or any of those other handy tools available for people such as me. Of course not.
I find I-78 . . . no problem. But don't scream "YAY!" just yet. Just past the state line with New Jersey, the plot thickened. I come across a sign that reads something like I-78 South to I-95 (where I need to go, by the way). But . . . South??? Despite the fact that the car tries to turn south, instinct tells me, Rhode Island is north. Right? Wrong.
Within five miles I hit village streets. Endless village streets. One little town after another . . . wall-to-wall. But, hey, I’m still headed north, by gosh and by golly! At least give me a “P.” (Stands for Persistence.)
I don’t know how many miles we travelled through those endless small towns and tiny villages. Thousands and thousands of them, surely. The sun is going down and I'm getting desperate — still without a single clue where I am. I know I have to cross the Tappan Zee Bridge, but where is the um-m . . . bleeping thing?
It isn’t small. It crosses the Hudson River, for Pete’s sake. It’s huge. Mammoth. Get the picture? So finally, near tears, I stop in a parking lot to peer at the map — still clueless, but persistent. (See what I mean? Gimme another P!) A working man strolls out the union hall door wherein the parking lot is located. Union hall? This isn't the place Jimmy Hoffa got murdered . . . is it?
“Can I help you, lady?” he asks pleasantly. So far, so good. He sounds nice. Not like someone who would murder me for asking really stupid questions. Questions like "Please, sir, where is the Tappan Zee Bridge?" He should have collapsed on the ground holding his sides.
After my pathetic admission, and he finally stops hee-hawing (I never said he didn't laugh), he points down the street and says, “Go down three blocks then take a left. Go down two more blocks then turn right for one block and you’ll see the bridge . . . or words to that effect.
I repeat those directions and cling to them as if it was a life preserver and I was stranded at sea. “Don’t say anything to me,” I demand of my dearest child. “That goes for you, too,” I order the cat. Everybody stares at me with big round eyes as I mutter the directions to myself over and over like some sort of idiotic mantra. I go down two blocks, turn left and go down two more (or whatever), turn right and — there’s the BLESSED bridge!
Where did it come from? It isn’t like New Jersey hid the thing behind an Invisibility Cloak. Like I said, the darned thing’s colossal.
No truer word was ever applied to a bridge — “Old,” that is. Really old. I laugh my idiot head off. An elderly nurse I’d worked with in Austin had gripped the car door’s armrest each time she crossed the I-35 bridge over the Colorado River with me. Maybe she knew something I didn’t, but the bridge through Austin is something like eight lanes wide, doesn't shimmy and shake when you drive over it, and is absolutely flat.
Eureka! City lights ahead! Not many, I grant you, but any are better than the none I’d encountered since leaving the interstate.
So we cross into Newport on the wide, stable Narragansett Bay Bridge and . . . now what???
I don’t have a clue where my husband is . . . or even where the Navy base is located. It’s big, too. But it’s not like they put up signs that point the way. No siree, Mama! Not the U.S. Navy. They cross trackless oceans without a road map — and presumably, their wives can navigate a city to locate the base. In the dark. In an unfamiliar town. With an exhausted child and an elderly, hungry Siamese cat who shares the fact for mile upon endless mile.
Have you ever witnessed an already wild-eyed woman come completely unglued? I must have scared him because he grabbed his phone pronto and handed it to me when my husband answered. My wonderful guy tells me to meet him at the Burger King in ten minutes. (I have a six-year-old with me and they all like those cute, cute, cute paper crowns, right?) He'll be there in five minutes.
"Just one question. Where’s the Burger King?" It’s not like I know this place. It isn’t as if I couldn’t get lost on an island -- or in a brown paper bag, for that matter. I clearly hadn't yet managed to get over being lost in New Jersey, for Pete’s sake!
Husband arrives, happy as a clam. We eat. Husband asks questions like, “What’s wrong with you?”
Then has the temerity to laugh like a wild monkey when I tell him my sorry tale. Brave man. He clearly doesn’t know who he’s messing with here — doesn’t have a clue of the danger he’s in.
My blue eyes start flashing and the whites turn red to match my red hair. I morph into an honest-to-God fire-breathing dragon — I mean wife.
He’s a fearless U.S. Navy officer, but understands retreat is sometimes the better part of valor. He changes the subject fast. Tells me all about the gatehouse full of antiques he’s rented for our winter stay in the city. Sounds fun. But if antiques amount to old and ugly, then those furnishings fit the bill. But, hey, I’m a Navy wife — I can make anyplace feel like home. Right? Right!
It seems he's also had a mishap during his second day in the city. The dog was sitting on the front seat of the car -- not tethered in -- and he stops for a red light. The dog must have made a decision that driving so far sucks for young, healthy, rambunctious Labrador Retrievers and dives for the open window. (Open window? It's January in Newport, RI, for Pete's sake! Where the high temperature for the day hovers somewhere near zero degrees Kelvin!) Husband pulls up beside her and goes through the "BAD DOG" routine. She absolutely adores him. So that's sufficient to make her cower in abject shame. He points to the open car door and that's all it takes. All's well that ends well . . . to borrow a phrase.
I have fond memories of the place after all these years. Except for starting my daughter in school on a Friday. (Remember when I mentioned earlier that there's ALWAYS a next time???) What idiot starts their child in school on a FRIDAY, for pity's sake? Don’t ask.
My poor phonetic speller came home with a spelling test she’d all but failed. From the previously mentioned list my daughter brought home, the first-grade teacher had a New England accent. A pronounced one. I had not yet met her and I already knew it.
My husband offered to take us out for supper our second night in Newport. He got home late -- wouldn't you know. Gretchen was ready to eat the cat by the time he finally showed up. But he redeemed himself. He took us to this fabulous restaurant right on the waterfront, called Sala’s. Daughter ordered her favorite food, spaghetti (what else?)and husband makes it a quarter serving.
“She’s hungry,” I warned.
“Trust me,” said he. He's a Navy officer, after all, not to mention, an electrical engineer. He’s always right. A quarter serving filled an enormous platter.
And I had my first ever whole steamed lobster — fresh from the ocean — laying on a platter placed right before my famished eyes.
<Sigh-h . . . . >
~Life is good.