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I am on the bus this morning, and I get the following text from Kelsea:
“So they think our school is gonna blow up.”
The world stops for one split second.
I call her.
She doesn’t answer.
The bus is speeding away down Highway 36 and I am thinking how I have to get off and get to her, to her school. Totally impractical. What am I going to do, run there? I’m twenty miles away.
I call my ex to ask him what’s going on, and he looks online and finds that a suspicious device - pipes, wires, and a battery – was discovered on a bus and brought into the school by the bus driver. The school staff took it back outside and called police. The students have been moved into the auditorium and the gymnasium. I tell him to go to the school. He tells me not to worry and goes bowling.
I am sitting on the bus holding the top of my head to keep it from flying off. Moving the students into the auditorium and the gymnasium puts the entire school in two places, so that if someone truly is evil, they can just blow up those two places where they know students will be sent in the event of just such an emergency. My imagination is colliding with thoughts of Columbine and New Town.
Kelsea calls me from the auditorium. She is fine. She is seeing her friends. She is overjoyed that she won’t have to take her algebra final this morning, because she wasn’t ready for it. She too wonders why they’ve just put everyone in two places instead of evacuating them all. She says she will stay in touch. I tell her I love her.
I know my daughter. She will do anything to save others before she saves herself. She has always been this way. Her future career choices reflect his attitude. It is something that, as a mother, I just have to live with.
But I do not want to be one of those parents whose child does not come out.
I sit on the bus and try not to panic. I have never really felt this way before. All these feels are swirling around inside of me: fear, panic, anger, anxiety, that feeling that I will do anything to get to her, and do anything to someone who hurts her. I feel a desperate helplessness as this bus takes me farther and farther away from my baby girl. Tears well up and I try to stifle them. Yes, helpless. I have always known how much I love my daughter, and how I am so blessed by having had her in my life for any time that the Great Spirit chooses to grace me with. But I never really had a glimpse of losing her. Not even a glimpse.
One of my friends at work calls this “catastrophic thinking.” I know I have this unfortunate tendency, inherited from my father. It’s a hard one to control, especially as a mother.
Half an hour later, I get a text from her.
“So it was a science fair project. Awkward.”
I spend the rest of the morning feeling like I am coming out from being underwater, trying to ease the tension in my neck, trying to return to a sense of normal.
I hope that kid who misplaced his science project gets an A. He certainly taught me something about myself today.
I watch your heart break from a distance
And there is nothing I can do.
When you were small,
I could cuddle you
And make you giggle
And kiss your tears away
And you would be all better.
Now, my touch at the sight of your tears
Makes you angry,
And the choices you never made
Are making you hurt.
It’s a pain we all go through.
You’ve seen it near break me.
And when it happens to you,
You think no one can know how you feel.
But we do.
We all do.
That doesn’t make it any easier.
I wish it did.
I so wish
[These three days are always hard for me, especially coming at this time of year that I love. And so, over these next three days, I will be reposting what I lived during these days six years ago.]
With thanks and apologies to Eugene O’Neill for the post title.
[The next three day's postings are my memories of the day before, the day of, and the day after my Mother's death four years ago. This is a difficult anniversary for me, though it seems to ease each year.]
December 10, 2006: I don’t remember what we did today. Probably not too much but talk – and laugh. Uncle George and E-Bro were with us now, but strangely I don’t remember them being there. I only remember us. Over the past week, we had spent nearly every moment together, waking and sleeping. I probably took a walk once and went out to the store a couple of times. I took showers alone and went to the bathroom alone. But you didn’t. It was as if we were merging, merging for the last time. Looking back now, I see that that wasn’t a good thing, but it wasn’t something I could control. We had been so very close for so very long that our separateness was, for most years, only a matter of a few degrees. In the last days, those few degrees simply vanished.
You had started asking for the morphine towards the end of the day. Not much, but you’d never needed it before. I can imagine how much you must have been hurting to make that concession. You always hated painkillers, hated anything that made you feel out of control of yourself, unlike yourself. It didn’t seem to affect your clarity, but it did seem to ease your pain. I remember your pain. It was in your bones. When you would move sometimes - or sometimes when you were still and it was so bad that it would make you move – your face would grimace in this expression that was indescribable. You would hold your breath until it passed. I hated to see you in pain. I encouraged you to take the morphine. After all, we knew you didn’t have much time left – why spend it in pain? But you wanted to spend it being present. I admire that.
You had stopped eating by now, but today I could still get a few Dibs into you. Water. Your beloved orange sherbet in little tiny spoonfuls. It was sunny, and the light slipped through the slats of the blinds in gentle patterns, changing throughout the day, as sunlight does. You never asked for me to open the blinds or asked to look outside. Looking back, that surprises me, as you so loved nature. But you were focused on the world inside your three rooms, the world that encompassed the people you loved most, and the small things you had around you that you treasured. The rest of the world didn’t matter anymore.
People came and went, people you’d known for years and years who loved you so. You always thought of yourself as being alone, as not having many close friends, but so many people felt like you were THEIR close friend. You were very comfortable with that, with all of it, and with being alone. I suppose that’s the mark of a person truly happy in herself. But today, people came knowing that they were coming to say goodbye, even though nothing had been said. I left them alone with you, and they usually came out of the bedroom and started to cry, and I would thank them and comfort them as best I could.
Everyone brought food. You weren’t eating. I couldn’t eat, except late at night, when I couldn’t sleep. I would eat weird things in weird amounts, knowing I just had to get something, anything, into me. It wasn’t comforting. It was a random necessity. That had been going on for a week, my eating like that. Ever since you really stopped eating. For me, that was the beginning of my thoughtless, mindless eating habits that have added so much weight to my small frame in the last four years.
I don’t remember doctors coming. I don’t remember even talking to the doctors. But that must have happened. Mustn’t it?
In the afternoon, you took a nap. As always, I stayed beside you for most of it. I would go do little things, make phone calls, shower, clean something, constantly checking on you. When you woke, I took your hand, asked you if you had a nice rest. You said yes, and looked at me strangely. I chattered at you, you responded politely, still looking at me in that odd way, patting my hand. Then you said, “Who ARE you?” And I reminded you that I was your daughter. Your eyes cleared, you looked relieved, you laughed at yourself as you recognized me. I felt a chill that I did not show.
I had been so wrapped up in caring for you. For months, I think, I had been flying across the country every weekend to be with you. Your death became my life. We had always been close, except for those nasty teenage years, but especially since Kelsea’s birth. We had talked every day. After the last diagnosis, we talked three or four or five times a day. In the mornings, to be sure you were okay. If you were lonely. If I was bored. If you went to the doctor. In the evening before bed. If I was scared. If you had some piece of news. We talked so much because we knew that soon we wouldn’t be able to talk at all, not in the same way.
And you were so happy to have the three of us there. You loved us so. That night as we were going to bed, you felt it was going to be your last night. You said goodbye to me. You told me to tell Kelsea that you loved her. You reminded me that the car keys were in the little bowl on the half-wall by the kitchen. Yes, ever the Mother. And you went to sleep.
But it was not your last night.
I don’t think this is quite the right title for this post, but I’m struggling with how to express myself this time.
I am lonely for my daughter.
I am not generally lonely. I have a wonderful fiance. My niece is a great roommate. Thunder Cat is a good snuggle companion. I have friends (if I ever reached out to them). But the loneliness of a parent for a child is a unique animal. And the sense of missing a family unit is sometimes quite poignant – another kind of loneliness.
I have always been the one in the family who worked. My ex was always the stay-at-home parent, even when I didn’t want it to be that way. I missed a lot of Kelsea’s day-to-day growing up. I tried to make up for it by spending as much time as I could with her when I wasn’t working – except for the solo vacations to try to save my own sanity.
Now Kelsea is a teenager. We are going through the to-be-expected separation period. She spends most of her time with her friends. We still have some small time together, but she stays at her Dad’s most of the time, because he’s closer to school, and getting her there doesn’t work very well with my getting to work. Some people say I should push to have her stay with me more, but that’s just not how we operate. We talk and text every day. She will be driving in a few months, and is so looking forward the her freedom. I remember that from my own teenage years.
But I miss the kid stuff. I miss our dedicated play time together. I miss our “famous chats” and our reading and snuggles and watching trashy TV and talking about anything and everything. I guess this separateion from the parent is a normal thing – just what happens when teenagers grow up. It must be preparing everyone for that day when they leave home and forge their own life, the one that you as a parent have been readying them for since the moment they were born.
Once you are divorced, and one parent is not with the child as much any more, the sense of a family unit dissipates like a wisp of fog. Gone also are those dreams you had, of being the proud parents seeing your child off to various milestone events, or attending school plays hand-in-hand. I am wise enough to realize that those visions, like many others I had, were more fantasy than lost reality – I know that by looking at the reality of my life within my marriage for almost 20 years.
Maybe I miss dreams that I never had a chance of fulfilling. Then again, I was always trying to fulfill those dreams on my own, even in my marriage, and not as part of a team. My ex and I, in hindsight, were never a team, never partners. That feels sad.
The tragic events that have happened recently in Colorado have made me all the more sensitive about how precious my daughter is, and how quickly someone dearer to you than the moon can be snatched away forever. In the blink of an eye.
I know Kelsea misses me sometimes. I know I miss her often. I know she sees the texts and Facebook messages I send her daily, even if she doesn’t respond, so she knows that I’m thinking of her always. We still have our mother-daughter traditions (she loves traditions) and we still carve out time for special things. But the days of being her best playmate, of her sitting on my foot and clutching my leg when I had to leave the house, those days are gone. And I miss them.
I loved spending what time I could with her in her childhood. It was like having my own childhood all over again.
I guess we all have to grow up. Eventually.
Having a teenage daughter makes you walk back into your own past. You see the things that she is going through and, if you are open, you can remember how you felt at that age, what you were feeling, how you reacted. I was going to say “if you are lucky”, but I must admit that revisiting my teenage years, even in my mind, is sometimes a painful thing. Adolescence isn’t something that most of us would want to go through twice, at least not without the benefit of the wisdom we gain in our futures – and now, I WILL say “if we are lucky”.
I was a late bloomer. I didn’t have my first date until I was almost 16, didn’t have my first kiss until I was actually 16. (You don’t get any more details past that point, sorry.) I was a miserable 14- and 15-year-old. I didn’t know why no one was interested in me. I wanted to believe that I was so pretty that I scared boys off, but my Mother told me that was not the case – she did it gently, but I still remember that conversation – exactly where we were and everything. My best friend Sarah and I felt like we were wearing some sort of sign that said “Never been kissed.” And just like a lot of other things in life, if you didn’t have experience, no one seemed to want to take a chance on you. Sounds like trying to find a job, doesn’t it? Of course, the corollary is rather true as well – if you had too much experience, people weren’t really interested in you either. Strangely enough, also like it is in the business world.
Anyway, as I said, I was a grumpy, bad-tempered teenager (until I could drive and then the world literally opened up before me. I became much nicer once I found my wings.) I didn’t want to be seen with my parents. I stayed in my room almost all the time that I was home, entertaining romantic notions of escape, and what my life would be like. I spent a lot of time in a dreamworld. The scarring experience of my pre-teen years likely played a role in this confused isolationism, and while I remember that, I don’t add it into the equation when I think about my teenage years in the grand scope of things. I guess I remember being a typical teenager.
Well, bloom I did, robustly and delightfully. I think most of us do, even though we think it will never happen. And once I came into my power, I felt invincible. Sometimes I still feel that way. Invincible, yes. Loveable is a little harder to believe, but I’m making good progress on it.
As I watch my girl and her friends go through their teenage years, I compare my own experience to theirs, and draw up from the depths of my soul the turbulent emotions surrounding change, acceptance, love, hormones, justice, freedom, adulthood, social quandaries, sexuality, school, frustrations, and delights. I don’t know if I’m right in applying my own perspective to their situations, now some 35 years later.
But on some level, I think that young women are young women (even if those of my daughter’s age are a bit more worldly than most girls of that age were in the late 1970s), and that the emotions that swirl around aging haven’t changed. In fact, as I find my half-century mark rushing up to meet me squarely in the chin, I realize that I am still experiencing a myriad of emotions around love, escape, freedom, satisfaction, work, frustrations, justice, time demands, acceptance, and delights. I don’t think of myself as much older than Kelsea or her friends at heart. I still feel things just as fully, innocently, and honestly as they do, as I did back then.
I was a late bloomer back then. Perhaps I’m a late bloomer now. Perhaps I am just eternally in bloom. But I am reminded of those lovely roses that bloom until early in the fall, their petals full and lush, their fragrance sweet. And when it is time for them to go, those petals fall like velvet tears, their scent still lingers in the air.
Photo of the day for January 30, 2012: Late Bloomer
San Francisco, California.
A lovely weekend
The man who leaves walks down Wynkoop every day playing his mandolin at 5:00 pm
Cases of San Pellegrino
Instead of a quote of the day, I have a request: Please send prayers to Sarah Bennett, one of Kelsea’s friends who was seriously injured in a car accident during the weekend.
I know that really, every day is special. But today is especially special for me. Why? Because today is the day that my most special and precious daughter arrived on this earth (at least this time around – she’s a very old soul.)
Because some of her friends read the blog, I’m not going to inflict much gushiness and reminiscing on her. After all, she’s 15 today, and you know what that can be like. At least I do. I remember 15 quite well.
The idea that she’s 15 is amazing to me. How could that be? Like an excellent vacation, it feels like she’s been here forever, and yet the time seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. I wish I had been (then and now) the one to spend more time with her. I missed a lot of her day-to-day growing up by working so much to support us all these years. But she had an excellent parent in her dad for those many years. And I do feel that the time we have spent together has been “quality” time, more precious for its scarcity.
It snowed the day before she was born; it is snowing now. That day was a Sunday. Today is a Thursday. But at 4:06 pm on that day, my life changed forever for the better because this strong, smart, beautiful, funny, caring soul decided to grace it.
I can’t wait for many more years of roadtrips, inside jokes, kitchen disasters, epic fails, soul-level hugs in front of endless fields of sunflowers, famous chats, and getting to know one another better as we both continue to grow and change.
Happy birthday, Kelsea, my dearest daughter and friend.
Last weekend, I took Kelsea and Uber-Cool Will to a rock concert.
Yes, I really did.
Uber-Cool Will’s parents had taken them to the Moody Blues at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in the beginning of the summer, but I’m not sure you can call that a rock concert. I was surprised that the Moody Blues were still alive, much less still playing. They had a good time, but it wasn’t exactly rocking, and they were more impressed with how much secondhand funny smoke they thought they were inhaling.
In other words, this was Kelsea’s first rock concert. She didn’t really want me to go, because who wants to go to your first rock concert with your Mom? But there was no way I was letting two 14-year old loose in Denver’s Pepsi Center all by themselves. And so it was take me, or don’t go at all – her choice. She chose to take me.
I have never been a huge fan of concerts. The combination of extreme noise, too many people, expensive tickets, and bands that are often disappointing when they haven’t been mixed and spliced and torqued within an inch of their life have never added up to a fabulous experience for me. I could probably count the number of rock concerts I’ve been to on one hand. And having come off of a blissed-out weekend of otherworldliness at Cottonwood Hot Springs, I was even less in the mood.
But Kelsea was super excited and couldn’t wait, so there was no way I was letting my lackluster enthusiasm color her world. I dressed in my cool clothes, and the three of us were off. Our goal?
The Foo Fighters.
I turned Kelsea onto the Foo Fighters during the Excellent Adventure Roadtrip. It took her a while to warm up to them, but now she loves them, especially because she adores the late Kurt Cobain, and Dave Grohl used to be Nirvana’s drummer, so being in the same space with Dave was as close as she could come to being in a room with Kurt. I just liked a few of their songs.
We were totally in the nosebleed seats, but it was all I could afford. While the Pepsi Center claimed to be sold out, there were definitely some empty seats when things were getting started. Perhaps that’s because we started promptly at 7:00 pm with an unanounced warm-up band: Mariachi el Bronx.
We found a mariachi band, in full sombrero regalia, to be an odd choice for an opening act for a quintessential rock concert. But a bit of research shows that Mariachi el Bronx, hailing from Los Angeles, is actually a punk band disguised as a mariachi band. Sometimes they play punk (as “The Bronx”) and sometimes they mix mariachi and punk – they consider both to be part of the soundtrack of Southern California. We got pure foot-dancing mariachi and some bafflement, but I truly enjoyed them.
The second warm-up act (do they usually have two? I have no idea) was Cage the Elephant. If you too are unfamiliar with this band, their style is considered “slacker funk-punk”.
Who knew? All I can say is, there was an enormous amount of screaming and hair shaking, combined with some flailing. Honestly, it was the first experience in a long time that I could say truly made me feel old. Totally not my thing. I found myself dreading the rest of the evening, wondering how I was going to be able to sit through another two hours of noise, and trying to find my zen.
Kelsea and Uber-Cool Will had, in the meantime, moved to the empty row ahead of me, so as not to be completely associated with an adult, and to feel more like they were on their own. Fine by me. I could still poke either one of them whenever I felt like it.
And then the Foo Fighters took the stage. As I said, I liked a couple of their songs, but Cage the Elephant had really dampened my enthusiasm. I am happy to say though, that it didn’t take long for my attitude to turn around. They put on a phenomenal show. Dave has a gorgeous voice, the drummer, Taylor Hawkins, is one of the best I’ve ever heard, and they were fully as powerful and amazing live as in the studio.
They played for 2 hours and 40 minutes, incorporating only a small break for introductions, and a small break (complete with backstage cam and bottles of champagne) prior to their encores, which included several solo acoustic numbers by Dave. And by the way, Dave is handsome as the devil and I am totally in love with him in an iconic sort of way.
So I had a blast, and wished I had paid for floor tickets, and am ready to abandon my life and follow the Foo Fighters. And Kelsea is ready to come with me.
She rocked it. She stood up during Cage the Elephant and started dancing, and never sat down. Not once in 3 and a 1/2 hours. I am proud to see that I have taught her how to scream “wooooooo” from our many years at rodeos, and she wooooed with the finest. In fact, her voice was practically gone by the time we left. (Mine was gone the next day.)
She admired the instruments. She thought the musicians were hot. She sang along with more of the songs than I ever thought she knew. She smiled. She glowed. She was in her element. The Foo Fighters are justifiably proud of their identity as a true rock band, and Kelsea is justifiably proud of her own identity as a rock connoisseur. A true rocker.
It was some of the best money I’ve ever spent. I’m so glad I got to witness this joyful side of her, and that I could treat her to this experience. And I had a pretty darn good time too.
I spent most of the weekend with Kelsea up in the mountains, poking around Gilpin County and aspens and old mining areas. We had some famous conversations, such as:
Me: I cooked dinner for MKL the other night.
Her: Good…..where are we living now?
Clearly, she has as high an opinion of my cooking skills as I do. And dinner was actually pretty good, with no conflagrations or skin loss.
And then there was this gem of miscommunication:
Her: Can you hug bears?
Me: I don’t think so. They’d probably eat you.
Her: But is it illegal?
Me: No, but still, THEY’D PROBABLY EAT YOU.
Her: Don’t people do it anyway?
Me: Well, I suppose people have, but they’re probably mostly dead. Oh….wait….did you say hug or hunt?
Her: I said hunt.
Me: Oh. Never mind.
I hope to be able to share a photo essay with you shortly, but I seem to be quite behind in posting my writings. I’d invite you all to come to the Bungalow to read the handwritten versions, but I only have one extra bedroom. I promise I won’t cook for you.
Day 3 started too early for Kelsea, but what are mothers for if not to wake their children in some annoying manner?
We partook of the too-expensive breakfast buffet at the Inn, and left loaded for bear (oh wait, that was Day 2). Well, we left, at any rate, excited because today was the day we got to see it: Mount Rushmore, aka, the Big Heads. Goats were dining on tightrope walkways in the air at Old McDonald’s Farm (we didn’t stop). En route, we decided that if we ever own a Jersey cow, her name will have to be Snooki.
Kelsea was keeping track of the disturbing death marker signs with little tick marks (just FYI, in this one day, we counted 27) as we headed through the Black Hills, unsure of what to expect from Mount Rushmore. Some of our acquaintances had said “Oh, they’re smaller than you think.” Others had said it wasn’t worth it, especially not with the crowds. Well, our first peek at the peak was pretty cool regardless of those misguided expectations.
Parking was only a minor challenge, probably because I made it so by debating if the EXIT signs on the structures REALLY meant exit, or if that was just a suggestion. The level-headed one told me not to be an ass – they say exit because they mean exit (and remember the “Road Closed” signs?) Much to our delight, many, many (many) Mustangs were still in evidence, making a long weekend out of the Sturgis Mustang Rally. Each got a “hey-ay” shout out from us.
I never knew I had a childhood dream of seeing Mount Rushmore until I fulfilled it by actually seeing it. It’s fabulous and don’t let anybody tell you differently. The Big Heads ARE big, plenty big, the perfect size, in fact.
The monument is laid out well, clean, accommodating, everything a monument should be. Even the soda machine in the ladies room maintained the theme.
The background museum is worth a stop, and I now regret not having stayed for the video, because we both have some unanswered questions. The museum had details on the sculptor, the heads, the presidents, and the area, as well as some cool giant photos.
The Avenue of Flags was a fitting entryway to the full-on views of the monument.
At the end of the Avenue of Flags, you come upon an amphitheatre with a fantastic view of the heads. It’s the prime viewing spot, if you are unable to walk any farther. We walked to the bottom of the amphitheatre (no one else seemed to do that) but declined to get up on the stage.
The Presidential Trail winds through the forest, a wooden walkway to give you a closer look at the Big Heads.
There was one little viewing hole. We stood in line for it, not knowing what we were standing in line for and double checking to be sure that people ahead of us in line were actually coming out, and it was not some sort of bizarre Big Head feeding tube. Standing in line for an unknown reason made us feel slightly stupid, but we did it anyway.
Being us, we had numerous absurd observations about the Big Heads:
Kelsea: “George looks like he has a little something right there.” (Pointing to the left of his nose)
Me: “It looks like Thomas is leaning in, trying to tell him about it.” (Thomas looked like he was kind of creeping on George.)
We cracked ourselves up with remarks about how rock-hard and sculpted they were.
Kelsea didn’t know that Teddy was wearing pince-nez. Teddy looked a little mad. We decided he felt kind of squooshed and didn’t like it.
Abe was kind of off by himself – not so snuggled up. We speculated that he was being treated as some kind of outcast.
Everyone had some spidery cracks through their faces.
We kept trying to get photos in which trees were sticking up presidential nostrils, but failed, and settled on the classic, “Add YOUR big head to Mount Rushmore” shots.
The trail took us to the sculptor’s studio, in which we discovered that the original idea for the whole thing showed much more torso and hands. In the current version, only Abe seems to have lapels.
The studio exhibit also reveals the existence of the secret cave. Not a secret if you tell everyone about it, eh?
If you were unaware, the sculptor who was behind Mount Rushmore was Gutzon Borglum, the son of Danish polygamist immigrants.
Borglum most wisely thought that the Big Heads needed some explanation, and that said explanation needed to be WITH the Big Heads. So, he put a brief US history, and explanation of the Big Heads, carved on tablets, in a titanium box in a cave that is behind (or perhaps inside) Abe’s head. There were pictures of people doing the dedication. But of course, the cave is off-limits to visitors and there is no marked or visible trail to it. Kelsea appropriately scoffed at my idea that they covered the trail with dirt.
The concept of the secret cave spurred much discussion between us, and seeing it is now on Kelsea’s list of life goals (which sounds a lot better than Bucket List when you’re 14).
Our dialogue ran along the lines of this:
Her: How do we know what he wrote on those tablets? What if he made up a whole bunch of stuff?
Me: We just have to trust him.
Her: What about now? Do they update what’s in there?
Me: I doubt it.
Her: Then won’t it seem like the world just ended when the history did?
Me: I’m sure there will be more records on earth than just that one.
Her: Who’s going to read it?
Me: I don’t know…aliens?
Her: How do we know they’ll be able to read English?
Me: They’re aliens. They’re smart enough to get here, they’ll be smart enough to figure it out.
Her: And why do we send up things like DVDs on space missions? Why do we possibly imagine that aliens have DVD players?
Me: Good, yet unanswerable question.
Her: What if aliens never find this place? Then the whole titanium box thing is pointless. So I should be able to see it.
Me: Well, maybe the survivors of the future destruction from the nuclear holocaust will find it.
Her: If there’s a nuclear holocaust, there won’t be any survivors.
Me: New survivors might evolve.
Her: They couldn’t. There’d be nothing left for them to evolve from. And how would they know English?
Me: Look! A chipmunk.
Truly, our voices were slightly raised during this debate, and we got many strange looks.
All in all, it was a highly satisfying experience. On the way to our next destination, George presented us with a lovely profile.
Next stop: Crazy Horse, Boyd’s Antiques, and Custer State Park.
[OK, we're having so much fun and taking so many pictures that I am running up against a choice of writing or inserting pictures into my posts. So here's the post. Check back for updates with pictures.]
Day 2 started where it ended: South Dakota, land of big stone heads.
I slept like (appropriately) like a rock, but Kelsea did not – pillowcity issues. Which means she stole all the best pillows last night and so it was my turn not to sleep well.
We had another amazing yesterday. We had a fairly leisurely morning, and a passable lunch (yes, it was that leisurely a morning) at the Holiday Inn, spent going through about 30 of those little pamphlets that every mid-range hotel that caters to families has in a big “take one” stand near one of their exits. In my quest for said pamphlets, I chatted with a woman who runs the little hotel gift shop; she has a 13-year old grandson, and gave me tips as to where to go and what to do. Kelsea, with her new interest in Native American culture, was talking during our drive about how what we as the conquering people did to the Native Americans was one of the most heinous things our countrymen have ever done, and when I hinted at this chunk of history to the nice lady, she got rather chilly. Note to self: When in South Dakota,do not mention how we wiped out Native Americans. Apparently, it is a touchy subject.
Brunch was a rather risqué affair, spurred by Kelsea’s comparison of excellent french fries to hot guys – I will spare you the details, but it was one of those meals where everything either of us said seemed to have some sort of hilarious double entendre. We finally reached a shutting up point. Then it was off to the car to say G’Day to Lee (the Garmin, in case you’ve forgotten).
After being amused by cheerleaders waving their sparkly pom-poms and screaming out a little purple Toyota Celica, Lee directed us to our first destination: the Chapel in the Hills, or Stavekirk.
Built in 1969, the chapel is an exact replica of an 850 year old church near Laerdal, Norway, and honors not only God but the Norwegian culture that permeates the region. And it’s Lutheran, in case you were wondering, which always makes me think of A Prairie Home Companion. There is no congregation. The Chapel is used for weddings and special events. In fact, there was a wedding about to start while we were there. (When we arrived, we could tell something was going on, but we disagreed on whether it was a wedding or a funeral, Kelsea thinking the latter. But I can smell a groomsman from a mile away, thanks to all those years of catering.) The bride looked lovely and they had a beautiful day for it. We decided not to creep, even though we could have stood in the exact right spot to make faces at the entire cadre of guests.
The intricate carvings depict battles between good and evil and trace back to Viking times, incorporating some pagan beliefs, which may be why I was so comfortable there.
They even have a Leper hole, so that the lepers could worship without interacting with the rest of the congregation. Not much needed nowadays, but if you’re building an exact replica, then you have to build an exact replica.
The light that streamed in through various openings, and enhanced the serenity of the Stavekirke. It felt simple, yet complex at the same time. A lot like religion itself, in some ways.
They play a recording every few minutes, giving you some history and details of the chapel. Of course, just as we were getting started, my camera’s memory card filled up. However, because I’ve forgotten memory cards in the past – and it’s no small feat to find one in the islands – I had a spare. They come in those packages that a rabid scrabbling badger couldn’t open if his life depended on it. Fortunately, my daughter had her trusty knife. (Wait, fortunately? My daughter? A knife?) I borrowed it and started slashing away at the packaging and at that very moment, the Voice on the recording intoned, “Weapons were forbidden inside the Chapel.” We started giggling in a hysterically guilty manner.
A Prayer Path runs through the woods behind the Stave, so we walked along that, following the prayer stones and sometimes touching the statues along the way.
(According to this sculptor, Mary wore steel-toed boots. Who knew?) It led to a large rock overhang (which looked like a shaman hole to me and a perfect place for millions of spiders to Kelsea) and took a minute to be still.
Our last stop was the small museum filled with Scandinavian things and creepy mannequins.
Oh, and the gift shop really needed a goat to trim its roof.
The Stave is a non-profit and runs entirely on donations. Should you be in the area, I encourage you to visit. And the docent ladies are charmingly helpful.
Feeling peaceful, we headed for Bear Country, stopping along the way to take pictures of giant man statues. You should never pass up the opportunity to photograph a giant man statue.
Bear County is an interesting take on a zoo/wildlife park. It’s a little pricey ($32 for two adults, because my 14-year-old would not lay claim to being 13, which would have saved us bucks. That’s what happens when you have just come from a church). But, having never been to Yellowstone, where I would hope to have a similar experience, where else could we find bears and elk practically stepping on our truck? There are a few basic rules to Bear Country: stay in your vehicle with the windows tightly rolled up, pull off to the right to take pictures, and don’t feed the animals. (Note to others: if you are planning to visit Bear Country, wash all of your car windows first.)
I really sucked at keeping the windows rolled up, and Kelsea was constantly nattering about how I was risking my life and going to be eaten by bears, but I successfully tuned her out. I mean, who’s the mother here anyway? (Just kidding, I love her concern.)
Our first encounter was with a two ginormous elk and their harem. Never have I seen such racks (on the guys). You could practically read the mind of one of the gentlemen elk when one of the ladies appeared in a softly flattering light between two trees and he turned his lusty, savage eye upon her.
The elk dudes strolled across the road as if they owned it (which they do) heedless of cars. I’m curious how they trained the animals to become so inured to cars; even though no one is going fast, it is still a pretty foreign object to a wild animal.
Mule Deer, which we see all the time in Colorado. These two were headed to a party in the shed.
We next encountered wolves, but they were all sleeping. ALL of them. Bummer.
Bighorn Sheep. One was just falling asleep in sun, like I used to do in philosophy class in college, with that head nod-jerk thing.
Mountain goats, which Kelsea could see but I couldn’t.
Buffalo in the distance.
Mountain lions all curled up snugly together in their shelter.
And then the bears. So so so many bears. Beautiful bears. Playful bears. Old bears. Bears sunning themselves. Bears just being bears.
It was awesome.
I kept rolling my window down to take pictures. Once in a while, I would roll Kelsea’s down to shoot across her, but since I am a good mother, I kept her up most of the time. This strategy worked pretty well, although twice, I was distracted and Kelsea pointed out that a bear was ambling towards my open window or was about five feet away. No contest, window shut.
Again, it was awesome. Though we did wonder how many people had been really stupid and had gotten themselves eaten.
We wound up at the gift shop and the place where the smaller animals that no doubt would be eaten by the bears hang out.
And where the baby bear cubs play. I wish I could have gotten better pictures because they were adorable. These will have to suffice.
We were undecided about our next destination. Well, I was undecided, but Kelsea was very determined: she wanted to go to Sturgis to the Mustang Rally (the car, not the horse). We looked at the map, talked about what else was on our agenda for the weekend, and decided to take the plunge. I-90/14/79 here we come. Why do highways have to have so many numbers?
The drive was smooth – lovely rolling green/brown hills. We saw a sign for Black Hills National Cemetery, which had been on the “maybe” list of to-dos, and since we were there, we decided to stop.
Kelsea wondered if everyone who had ever died in South Dakota was buried there.
What a powerful place. From what I could gather – and I haven’t done the research yet – any veteran of the armed forces can be interred here, along with spouse and children.
The stories that these stones could tell. I felt a book coming on.
Cemeteries usually give me a vibe. This one felt orderly – which felt appropriate to the military demeanor – and personal yet impersonal all at once. Peaceful but incredibly strong. A sense of contained energy. And a heightened awareness that we were just looking at a tiny fraction of the men and women who had served to protect this country over the last 100 years.
Thanks to all of them.
Continuing on to Sturgis, I had no idea where to find the Mustang Rally. But as soon as we got to town, we started seeing Mustangs streaming down the street. I told Kelsea that I thought we’d missed it, but she was ecstatic just to see so many Mustangs driving down the street. That would have been enough for her.
But we weren’t quite too late. The Mustang Parade was just winding down, and a ton of cars were still there, parked, showing off, or doing the peel-out competition. I was looking for a place to park, having let Kelsea just jump out with the camera before she fell out the door in her eagerness. I only had a moment of panic when I realized I had just turned my 14-year old daughter lose in Sturgis, but we quickly reconnected.
She had fallen madly, passionately, and completely in love. With this car.
And now she wants to move to Sturgis.
The Mustangs WERE indeed beautiful.
We talked with the owner of Kelsea’s new innamorata, who told us there was an excellent Mustang rally up in Steamboat Springs in June. I know where we’ll be going next June. And she’ll even be able to drive by then. Look out.
On our way home, she was too impassioned to even speak properly. But we did start trying to count the “Think! Why die?” signs that South Dakota puts up on the highway to indicate where someone died. Yikes. I think it was worse than in Montana.
We walked to dinner from the Holiday Inn. I had a momentary disappointment when, for some reason, I was thinking about my age and realized that I had just subtracted 11 years from my actual age when I was thinking about it. I was bummed to remember how old I was!
Dinner was at the Firehouse Brewery, a restaurant in the original Rapid City fire station. The food (gumbo for me, Caesar Salad for her) was good. The restaurant was a little loud, kind of crowded, but entertaining, with lots of firefighter memorabilia and patches from all over the country (and the world).
As we left Johnny Lunchmeat started playing cover songs. Awesome name. Not bad music. We can say we saw him before he was famous.
Our walk home took us through the park, which was fine – no drug dealers. As we were walking beneath one of the widely spaced streetlights, it went out, shoving us into near total darkness. This would not be remarkable, except for the same thing had happened on Wednesday when Pat and I were coming back from Parent Night at high school. I had joked that it was Dumbledore. But now I am not so sure.
And so, we crashed. And now, it is a new day. And I have finally gotten the loveable lump out of bed. So it’s off to see the big heads.