Sunday, July 31, 2011

Of Delight and Terror

"Excuse me, ma'am. I'll have to ask you to keep out of this area. We've got explosives set up over here."

Oh, be still my heart! This has to be one of those phrases that just makes my heart skip a beat. Kind of like "A tornado was just spotted a mile away. Jump in my tank and let's go chase it!" Personally, I'm just living to hear someone whisper THOSE words to me.

For some people, its "Come on over - I just bought a cheesecake (or a puppy)." For others it might be "Hey, fella - I gotta hooker in the car and she is disease free!"

I wasn't looking for a charge when I approached the man at the park. I knew they were going to shoot fireworks off from the end of the bluff later in the evening, and I wanted to know how close I could get so I would have the best view for photographing them. I just had never considered the fact that they might be considered explosives.

Interesting the things that get some people all excited. Who'd a thought I'd go all gushy over tractors until I got to drive one? And this thing about storms….. I always wanted to ride out a hurricane until my mom and I were in hurricane Earl a few years ago in Texas. We slept right through it . Now that continues to be on my bucket list, with the stipulation that I stay wake through the thing! (And for those of you know know me - yes, I'm still terrified of freeways, tall bridges, setting foot on airplanes and snakes. There is no logic to one's list of thrills and terrors.)

So, last night, I took Arayo with me to a little campground that rests on the side of the Neosho river. As a child I recall seeing lots of water moccasins along this river, so you know I wanted to photograph the fireworks in the worst way! It was a straight shot over to the point where the "explosives" were set up so the view was sure to be spectacular. As we waited, Arayo and I sat under the stars and marveled at how there could be lightening flashes all around us and not a cloud in the sky. We relished the cool breezes playing on skin and fur. (It was still 90 degrees -- but after weeks of over 100, it felt cool at the time.)

As the fireworks display began, I put Arayo back in the car to protect her. I'd rather have held her, she is so terrified of loud noises any more, but I knew I couldn't photograph and hug her, too. At the end of the display, I opened the back of my Subaru to put tripod and cameras away, and noticed………. Nothing. No 100 pound black dog. I called to her. No movement or sound. I began to panic. I'd left the windows open about 8 inches each - was it possible she could have squeezed herself through one of them?

Finally, I found her. She'd moved to the front passenger seat and attempted to crawl under the car by way of the footwell. Poor Arayo. She does not understand why we have come to this place called Kansas. All spring it was thunderstorm after thunderstorm, and this July there have been 3 nights of fireworks. The world has simply gone mad.

Photos: A fireworks display marked the end of the 100th Annual Labette County fair.

(Note - For those of you who question why I took Arayo to watch the fireworks rather than leaving her home - it was a judgement call. The noise would be as loud at the house as at the park - I figured she would be alone much less time if I had her with me. Why did I put her in the car when the fireworks began? Outside the car she would have been tied to a picnic table - which she would have dragged through a corn field when the explosives began. The car is a place where she feels secure - like a big dog crate - and because I'd been running the air conditioner earlier, it was cooler in the car than out.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Disaster Tour

"Here is where my classmate lived. She shot herself the night before our prom - but no one in our class believed it. There were always other theories, but suicide was the official story.

"On the left is a new bank. There was once a beautiful old two story building there that held a grocery store. One evening, just as the owner locked up and got in his car, the entire outer wall crumbled and fell. No one was killed, but that was the end of that building!"

Friends had called to say they were driving from Florida to Seattle and were planning to visit me in my home town in southeast Kansas. Now, anyone who has grown up on a small community knows that part of your heritage is knowing the ins and outs of what has gone before, and without realizing it - the tour my friends got was - well, perhaps, somewhat macabre.

"One day I was going to school and I heard a horrible sound on the highway a block away. I rushed over to the road and found friends there with shocked looks on their faces. They pointed to an 18-wheeler stopped half a block away and said 'our next door neighbor……. He came out of his house and jumped in front of that truck and it ran over him!' I walked to the truck and, sure enough, there were legs sticking out from under the tires. It happened right here, a block from my house!"

"When I was young, one night my mom came in it and woke me up. It was pouring down rain, but she insisted there was something I needed to see. She drove us the 3 blocks to downtown and, there was the town, all lit up! Lightening had struck one of the buildings and a third of a block in the downtown core was on fire. As firemen worked to control the blaze, half the town showed up in their pajamas to stand on the other side of the street to watch the town burn. I remember people praying the donut shop didn't catch on fire, and finally, the water stopped pumping. Someone had forgotten to turn the water on at the pump house to refill the water tower and they ran out of water. Fortunately, we only lost 3 buildings that night.

"That three story brown building was once the home of the largest mortgage company west of the Mississippi. I don't know what happened to the company, but the building has been kind of neglected in the past few years. Story goes that it sold at auction for $1,000 a few years ago. Someone put in a starting bid and when no-one bid against them, they found themselves owner of a prominent piece of main street. Rumor has it that they finally sold the building on eBay to someone from out of state for something like $8,000. Last year, the entire back of the building caved in. Now, it just sits there. Half rubble."

"Gee," said my friend. "This is a fascinating tour, I'm going to call it the Disaster Tour!"

Hum….. Sometimes you can know almost too much about a place.

Photo: The Deming Building sold for $1,000 to someone who bought it by "mistake". It later sold for $8,000 on the internet.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Reviewing the Ride

Can it really have been a year ago that Arayo and I set out on this journey together? This trip to see the country and meet new people? What an amazing experience it has been - and I'm still feeling like The Ride continues.

It began as a need to break cycles. Sometimes when you are in a rut, you don't even realize how deeply entrenched you are. You exist, but that existence is meaningless. How often do we sense we need a change, but find reasons not to? The house payments need to be made, the dog likes her yard, the doctor is nearby and, while not sick, who knows when he'll be needed…… You know the drill - I think we've all had these conversations with ourselves from time to time.

Years ago I recall someone talking about making change. How we so often stick with the norm for fear of the unknown. He likened it to flying on a trapeze. If you are going to grab the next trapeze and move forward, you have to let go of the one you are on and TRUST that another one will come your way.

So, Arayo and I packed up our lives (mine more than hers since her's just involved a brush, some nail clippers, a toy and a few cans of food), and we headed east. We let fate guide us. Strangers e-mailed and invited us to visit. The heat directed us north to Newfoundland and Newfoundland captured my soul and kept a piece there.

After six months of travel, fate brought me to Kansas where I was blessed to spend what turned out to be my Mom's final two months of life with her and to be at her side when she took her last breath.

How much of life we would have missed had we found more reasons to stay home than to go.

So, while Arayo and I sit in my mother's home in the town I was raised in - our Ride continues. With temperatures near 100 nearly every day for the past 6 weeks and no break in sight, we probably won't be jumping back into the tent again soon - but our adventures will continue, so please don't leave us yet!

Thank you for coming along on the Ride with us. Thank you for your support. To all of you who offered us shelter from the heat, the cold, the rain - who shared with us a piece of your world and a bite at your table - you remain in our hearts. Thank you, thank you all. To open your homes to a stranger and her Newf, was itself a great risk. You enriched our lives - thank you.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Janet Carpenter Memorial Review

Dark clouds threatened as my group drove to set up for my mother's memorial. As we reached the park entrance, the sight of multiple American flags flying from lamp posts greeted us and a lump raised to my throat. I knew they were flying to honor my mom - a woman who, in her quiet way, worked 60 years to better little pieces of this community. Her true passion was this park, sitting atop a bluff overlooking a river and the farmland below, where, today, we were going to pay final tribute to her life.

It was kind of a freaky idea - not something these traditional, conservative Kansan's were used to - but I wanted to hold off to say these public goodbyes to my mother. 4 months would give me time to plan something fitting and to get some distance from the pain of her loss. It also gave family and friends time to learn about her passing and to plan a trip home. Best of all, it gave the park time to rise from the dead of winter. For leaves to grace the trees and flowers to shine from their beds.

I planned the event for morning to beat the ghastly Kansas summer heat - the seating area dictated by the shade of trees. My crazy friend, Sondra Torchia, who does one-woman historical performances, mc'd the event and others joined to tell their stories of the woman I called Mom. Our family created the "Missing Janet Chorus" and sang one of Mom's favorite songs - made popular by the Muppets called "Something's Missing", and by the time the hour-long program was over, people were saying "when I die, I want a send-off just like Janet had!"

Because I've had people ask for some of the details of the event, I'm listing them below and later I'll add the stories I shared - more of the funny light-hearted stories about Mom that most people probably didn't know.

Today marks 4 months that Mom has been gone. It seems like yesterday and the hole in my life isn't getting smaller with time, but she died on her terms without pain and suffering. I have no regrets.

Janet Carpenter Memorial - June 22, 2011
Arrival music - Glenn Miller
Opening song - Gandhi/Buddha, by Cheryl Wheeler
Opening remarks - A Good Life, Sondra Torchia
Reading of Editorial - Heather Brown
Janet Gets a Chainsaw - Dan Turner
Something's Missing - The Missing Janet Family Chorus
Remembering My Mother - Karyn Carpenter
The Red Studebaker - Steve Christy
Janet Made you Feel Appreicated - Annie Stromquist (Janet's favorite niece)
Missing Janet - Megan Hughes (Janet's other favorite niece)
Closing Prayer - Pete Hughes
Closing Song - Over The Rainbow, by Isreal Kamakawiwo'ole
Photo presentation of Janet - to Hero, by Mariah Carey