Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Road Trip Adventure Across America: Part Eight

Hello Muddah,
Hello Fadduh.
Here I am at
Camp Granada.
Camp is very entertaining.
And they say we'll have some fun
if it stops raining.
Allan Sherman & Lou Busch

Winnsboro is in East Texas, two hours from Dallas but with a totally different topography.  When you hit Sulphur Springs the Great Plains fall away and a hilly terrain full of trees takes over.  Besides the ponderosa pine forests around the rim of the Grand Canyon and the pines around Colorado Springs our trip up to that point had only taken us through rocky mountainous or desert or scrubby terrain or flat farm country spreading to the horizon.

Autumn Trails Covered Wagon

Winnsboro's hilly forested landscape was a perfect setting for its famous Autumn Trails Festival held every weekend in October.  They host unique events such as a trail ride, classic car parade and rodeo.  This part of East Texas is also dairy country and the joke is that cows outnumber people by a large number.  Later in our trip we take a tour of the Southwest Dairy Museum as proof of the moniker.   

One Olivia Ten Cows

For such a small town it's a wonder that Winnsboro has become a center for arts and entertainment in North East Texas.  It's rise has been aided by my own mother who is still very active in the community and has been a vital participant in making the town a destination rather than just a place to stop and get gas, a drink and a lottery ticket on your way somewhere else.

Dogwood Ridge Main House
We were staying in the sprawling home of my sister Kim and my brother-in-law Van, along with my mom and niece Molly plus three cats (at the time of our arrival-another story for later) and three dogs (there were four dogs but one passed away a few months earlier). The house, which sits on one of the highest points in Wood County, has had a transference since being bought way back in the late 80’s. The renovations included building a second level of the main house and adding on to an existing separate structure that was part garage and part workroom.  The addition was a small apartment intended as a place my Dad could stay while on visits from New Jersey. It is where he finally passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2004.  It also was the place I stayed in while on a six-month editing sojourn a couple of years ago.  

The Apartment - left part of building
On our first night in the house Avery and I slept in the guest room in the main house while Olivia bunked with my mother. The reluctance to stay in the apartment was due to it being taken over by my niece Jennifer’s BELONGINGS from an apartment she had in Austin.  She was now living in a small place in New York City.  The apartment was wall-to-wall boxes and furniture and even the bed was covered.  I was resourceful, rearranging everything to clear off the bed and create a walking space to the kitchen and bathroom.  It would do for Avery and I giving Olivia free reign of the guest room.  It was also a keen tactic on my part because Olivia always gets up early and this allowed us the ability to sleep in – for a month, month and half anyhow.

Avery and I moved into the apartment on our second night and stayed there the entire time while in Winnsboro. The arrangement had only one drawback – Avery would fall asleep up at the house most evenings (a good 50 yards from living room to apartment bed) and so I would have to carry him each night, usually also carrying a drink, my computer and any number of clothes items that had come off during the evening.   

On the other hand Avery began getting up in the morning, putting on some shoes and walking up to the house on his own, allowing me to get a little extra shuteye that I never get in Moorpark. 

The reason we timed our visit accordingly was to get to Texas in time for Uncle Van and Aunt Kim2’s birthdays, bundled together on June 30th and July 2nd, respectively.  An amazing family fact:  The kids have two Aunt Kims (or Kimberly as they call Uncle Kevin’s wife in order to distinguish between the two) and get this…they both share the same birthday. Go figure! How did that ever happen?  I guess I WAS fated to marry Johanna.  

Aunt Kim of Winnsboro Birthday
On one of the first days in Winnsboro I was asked by my mother’s friend Maryann Miller - director of theater for the Winnsboro Center for the Arts and my co-scriptwriting teacher (I helped teach a seminar with her previously) - to help out with a comedy night performance her theater students were putting on.  They were performing scripted comedy skits first and then wanted to do improv after intermission.  It seems Maryann’s son was scheduled to come out from Dallas to mentor the kids but he had to cancel last minute so I was asked to step in.  I’ve done a little improv over the years, especially fooling around with friends, but not professionally.  We kept it simple and stuck to true and tried improv games.  It was a lot of fun and I loved working with the kids who were quite a talented bunch.  I had one great bit that got a lot of laughs, which is always gratifying.

Comedy Night at Winnsboro Center for the Arts
The birthdays come right before Independence Day. Back in Moorpark the town celebrates on the 3rd of July with fireworks and such.  We hadn't missed one since moving there so to keep the tradition alive remotely we had to see fireworks. Luckily, Winnsboro has their own display but on the 4th like most towns.  We all jumped into the Suburban and went down to the city park to watch.  They put on a nice show for a tiny town in the middle of nowhere...just kidding. 

Actual fireworks from Winnsboro!

My niece Jennifer flew in from New York for her mom's birthday but we never saw her much as she stayed in her room most of the time.  After the birthday she drove to Austin and returned a day before to fly back but due to some weather delay her flight was canceled and she had to come back to the house and fly out the next day.  My sister was working and so I was enlisted to drive her two hours to DFW Airport, which I did.  After dropping her off I wanted to hang around for a while in case her flight was canceled again and so I decided to go see my old stomping ground and house in Coppell, Tx.  I noticed that there were a lot of changes - they finally built up the "old town" with new shops and restaurants and widened roads that were small country roads before.  I then went by my old house and noticed how big the trees had gotten that I planted back in the early 90's.  
Me and my old house

Then I went by a car wash because the car was filthy from driving through Monument Valley - red dust covered the entire interior.  I broke down and got a full detail of the car, plus they told me that they could fix the couple of dings in the windshield.  After a phone call to our insurance company they quickly made the repairs and the car was grateful - I could hear a sigh of relief come from her engine.  

The blue Honda getting spiffed up.

We knew the kids would get bored in Texas unless they had things to do so it was already planned that Olivia would take a two-week drama camp put on by the Arts Center and headed up by Marilyn, where the participants would write and perform an original play.  For Avery it was Camp Deer Run, a near-by summer camp that had a day camp component for younger kids.  With Avery not being from that neck of the woods my sister arranged for the daughter of a couple who on occasion help out with yard work at their house to attend camp with Avery so he wouldn’t feel that out of place.   
Carla & Avery - first day of camp

Carla was bilingual, smart and only six months older than Avery and he knew her from previous visits – the only caveat was that she lived way on the other side of Winnsboro whereas the camp was the opposite direction and only ten minutes from the house.  Even though it took an extra hour a day in driving it was nice for Avery to have a companion and they got along great. 

The days before camp started were lazy.  The kids would play in the pool, do things with Grandma or hang out with the animals.  

Harry the cat

Cooper the dog

Avery Potter

During camp the days wore them out and they pretty much watched TV or movies in the evening.  At my sister’s they have a sit down dinner every night, which is nice.  Having cut out most sweets it was hard to avoid the many desserts that would appear.  I did indulge in the birthday cakes and perhaps a little Bluebell Ice cream now and again. (See later blog about our trip to Bluebell factory).  Food wise, there was always an abundance of stuff we don’t have around our house in Moorpark – big boxes of Goldfish crackers, cookies, ice cream sandwiches, cans of Sprite, etc. The kids were in snack heaven.  It was summer so I let them indulge knowing it would be hard to cut them off when we got back home.

In Moorpark I was walking 3 miles at least 5 times a week.  I wanted to try to keep that up in Winnsboro and I did start the first weeks when the mornings were fairly cool, for Texas, hovering in the 80’s and at least tolerable.  I did my same route that I walked when I was there editing and was close to 3 miles with some good elevations.  I would be accompanied by the dogs, Cooper, Lola and at times the dog from down the road, Blackie, who wasn’t looking too good.   

On my walk
Cooper on a walk
Cooper, Lola and Blackie

When I was here last Blackie got into a big fight with Cooper and Lola which resulted in him getting chewed up a bit on his back leg. I was in the middle of it and had to pull Cooper away by his tail. Blackie limped away and I guess never fully recovered, but he mustered up the energy to come along on our walks.  Then the real summer came and with temperatures climbing into the upper 90’s.  By not being able to walk until later in the day after taking the kids to their camps it was just too hot. Luckily, I didn’t gain all that much weight as I tried to continue to eat right.  

I’ll first talk about Olivia’s drama camp.  The kids came up with their comedic play: "The Kingdom of Macadamia: A Little Nutty Place" and Olivia was cast as Princess Eloise, the heroine’s sister. I stayed out of it other than to drop her off and pick her up every afternoon.  At the end of the two weeks they put on two performances over two days.  They were aided with a musical theater professional from Dallas who helped them arrange the music along with Shannon Monk, the director of the camp who is also a singer and actress. The kids did a wonderful and entertaining job. The play was a lot of fun and considering it was all done in two weeks was amazing. Great job Olivia and troupe.

Olivia & Ryan

Olivia as Princess Eloise

Princess Eloise & Duchess

Now on to Avery's experience. Camp Deer Run was nestled in the East Texas woods and there is a reason why it has its name: Almost every morning we came across some deer.  It’s a very well kept up camp with a terrific bunch of counselors.  Avery had a great time making crafts, swimming in the pool and getting muddy in the creek – on his second day he returned with what had been a white t-shirt but had somehow turned brown.  It never recovered and had to be put out of its misery.  We don’t operate a no-kill laundry so PETA please don’t bother us.   

Even Tide couldn't save this.

Crafts and camp photo

The junior camp ran a week at a time so Avery and Carla repeated the same activities the second week.  I would pick Avery up and it seemed most days he had a cut or bruise somewhere on his body.  He plays hard.

Notice cheek

Notice chin
Johanna’s brother Kevin’s brood finally made it back from Tennessee (Aunt Kimberly, cousin Ashley 5 and cousin Copper 3 - yes just like the dog – I told you it was all fated) and so we planned on getting together over the weekend between camp weeks.  They live in Allen, a northern suburb of Dallas in what was once just farm land back in the day when I first came to Texas from New Jersey…yes, I came in a covered wagon. The kids had great anticipation to see their cousins. Kim, who headed up a start up civil engineering firm was busy working on a project and so the Dads took the four kiddos on an adventure to the Ft. Worth Stock Yards via the Tarantula train that runs from Grapevine to Ft. Worth and back.  

Ashley & Avery - Five Year-Old Power Couple

Uncle Kevin, Ashley, Olivia and Cooper
We get to the train station in time for the train but all the tickets for the air-conditioned cars were taken and so we ended up in one of the open-air cars.  Okay, it’s hot but we’ll be moving so it can’t be too bad, right?  At first it was okay as we puttered out of Grapevine Westward. But then things turned to the dark side. Besides a planned stop, for a reenactment of a train robbery – shoot out included – there were two very long stoppages due to freight trains needing the right away.  With temperatures hovering near 100 and with four bored kids the waits weren’t very fun and it was a relief when we finally arrived at the Stock Yards.

Avery rubs Cooper's head for good luck - to get the train moving.

You ain't from around here, are you, son?

Is that Billy the Kid or Billy the Dentist from Euless?

Hey look, a lady bug.
Are we moving yet?
The Ft. Worth Stocks Yards is of course a tourist tra...I mean spot now but it is still home to a rodeo and they still hold cattle auctions. The days of acres and acres of stocked cattle are long gone but they do have mini cattle drives down the avenue a couple times a day for show. Where the train stops there are loads of shops and restaurants, most with a western motif.  Along the avenue there are other attractions, including stage rides, longhorn cattle you can get a picture with, the Cowtown Maze, the famous honky-tonk Billy Bob’s Texas and more.  And as they say in Cowtown, Ft. Worth is where the west begins, y'all. Dallas is where the east peters out.

We stopped at the Stock Yards Museum, mainly to get into some air conditioning but also to get a little history.  Afterwards we went back out into the heat to see the cattle drive and then headed back down to the train, which we were told would have a later departure time due to the aforementioned delays.  We got some ice cream and drinks and then…as much as I tried to stave it off…the dreaded curio shopping.  The kids had to have something but I limited the amount they could spend. To his mother’s disdain, Avery got a couple of toy cowboy pistols that came with their own holster - hey, we were in Ft. Worth. Olivia and Ashley got bracelets.  After some pictures with the conductor we boarded the train and this time we were lucky they let us sit in the air-conditioned cars, plus no stops along the way.  The rest of the weekend was calm and cooler. 

It rained Sunday, something we hadn't seen much of in Moorpark, so Kevin and I took the kids to the movies where we saw Monsters University. 

We had about a week and half between the end of camp and when we were to leave for Mississippi to meet up with Nana and Poppa in Collins.  We didn’t do too much except for a few excursions, one of which involved Avery and I going to go see the Texas Rangers play at the Ballpark in Arlington.  We left early that day for Dallas and had lunch with my friends Bob & Clare Tullier, Steve Salis and Steve Eason. We then drove to Arlington and got there right when the parking lot opened but for some reason they don’t open the stadium for another hour after that – huh? So we had to wait in the heat but Avery was a patient trooper.  Once inside we first watched batting practice.  Players were throwing balls up to various kids in the stands. One kid to the right of us got a ball and one kid to the left of us got one but poor Avery was too short, standing just barely above the railing and so I don't think they saw him besides Dad waving his hands and pointing to him. "Hey, third string outfielder, give one to the kid." Avery got bored with that and so wanted to find the playground that Steve Salis had mentioned to him.  I walked all around and finally had to ask someone – it turns out that it was inside but it wasn’t free.  It was so hot that I was willing to pay just to get into air conditioning. There was a lot of stuff for Avery to have fun with and I staved off dehydration. It also allowed us to kill two hours until game time.  

The Ballpark in Arlington

Kidz Zone

When I bought the tickets I didn’t think of where the sun would be hitting – well I chose the sunniest section in the whole stadium. It was 100 degrees and Avery was melting badly.  He just kind of folded in my arms for the first two innings.  We finally went up to find some ice cream.  They serve it in a logo cap cup but they fill it up with enough ice cream to feed a kindergarten class and with the heat it was melting faster than a Mylie Cyrus twerk.  Avery maybe ate a third and so Dad had to finish it simply so it wouldn’t melt all over us.  I had also gotten a beer and some peanuts – can’t go to a ballgame and not have peanuts, for God’s sakes.  But beer and ice cream just don’t go well together. Anyway, the nicest usher in the world came by and saw Avery sweltering and whispered to me that she could get some ice.  It was free towel night and so she took one of the towels given to us and returned with it wrapped full of ice.  This saved Avery and he slowly came back to life.   
wilting Avery

Glad I don't have to clean up.

As soon as the sun went down he was up and active and enjoying the game, as was I.  Yu Darvish and the Rangers won that night – too bad they’re fading as the season is coming to an end. There's always hope for a wild card spot.

Let's Go Rangers, Let's Go!
While Avery and I were in Arlington Olivia spent time with Grandma learning to knit and she got pretty good at it.  She enjoyed hanging out with Helen and learning new things, including how to finally tie her own shoes.  It took a while but after a lot of practice she was able to do it consistently.  Good going, Olivia and Grandma.

Grandma & Olivia

Another excursion was an outing to a peach stand in Pittsburg, the next town East and this was no road side shack - it was a big operation with a cafe and ice cream bar and loads of stuff to buy, including bushels of peaches.  Avery also found some namesake soda.

The last trip to the dentist, days before our departure, Avery was told he had several loose teeth that could come out at anytime. Their prediction came forth during July and he lost his first tooth.  Of course, the Tooth Fairy came but instead of leaving cash she left a certificate for a Star Wars ship.  Whatever happened to 25 cents for a tooth rate?  Inflation has gone way up since I was a kid and now Avery is expecting two Star Wars ships (see previous description of promised ship in earlier blog).

Random thoughts:  I wanted to help out with the cooking so one day I made lasagna and I think it turned out pretty good. Judge for yourself. Can't you smell it.  Yummmm.

My sister has had a garden for as long as she's been in the house, I think, and she works hard at it. This year was no exception and her green thumb yielded an abundance of fresh vegetables, including zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and loads of tomatoes of all kinds, including this interesting variety developed in New York called the Weinersnoodle.

From Kim's Garden...radiation extra!

It seems my computer contained catnip because whenever I was working in the main house the two healthy cats would jump up on the table and try their best to steal my attention away from the screen. Fredolin, the black one, and Harry, the big fluffy gray one always wanted my hands to be used to rub them instead of punching keys. To this day I still find stray cat hairs on my computer.

Harry the cat and mouse

Speaking of cats, I told you I would get to the story of why three cats turned to two. Malloy was a rescue cat that had been with the family practically from the time they moved to Winnsboro.  He pretty much became my Mom's companion and would hang out in her room...well most of the animals hung out in her room but Malloy was the first.  That means he was almost twenty years old.  When we got to Winnsboro he was skin and bones and pretty much stayed in one spot, barely making it to the litter box or not.  They said he'd been like that for a while and the expectation was that he would pass on at any time.  But he kept going and going.  I guess he waited until he could see us one more time.

Last ever picture of Malloy
Then one of the weekends, when Kim, Van and Molly were away, I couldn't find Malloy anywhere in the house.  I looked outside to see if he possibly got out and that's when I found him stiff in the garden, maybe twenty yards from the house.  He was given a proper burial when they got back in the ad hoc pet cemetery on their property. Unfortunately, it's pretty crowded.  Gigzy was their Corgi that had been my pal when I was there before and had passed before we arrived.  Many animals have lived and died on that hill, my sister calls Dogwood Ridge.  I'm sure they're all hanging out with my Dad on heaven's back patio waiting for the inevitable table scrap my Dad will throw to them.

Malloy's last resting spot
(Next on A Road Trip Adventure Across America: Eastward to Mississippi, the water park, Mack’s fish camp, golf in the rain and the BB gun.)

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