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Meet Pollyanna’s Brother

Sometimes your best Facebook post is the one you don’t make.

I just deleted a lengthy tome – a response to something a friend posted on Facebook. In thinking about it, I thought it was more appropriate to post here on the blog instead.

On starting this blog, I made a conscious decision that I was going to refrain from any political statements. There have been a few posts  … a very few … where I alluded to things there were going on in the country while being very careful not to point fingers or take an outright political stand on things. I’m going to follow that rule to some degree today, but given the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise a couple of days ago, there’s something I need to get off my chest. And it has to do with the political climate we are all living in.

Like Will McAvoy of “The Newsroom”, I remember a time when we didn’t identify ourselves “by who we voted for in the last election.” When disagreements with other people’s viewpoints didn’t escalate to estrangement from one another. And when we didn’t think that those we disagreed with were evil!

I have good friends … dear friends, with political viewpoints that range pretty much all the way up and down the “conservative – liberal” spectrum. So I’m deeply troubled and saddened when those friends post things on Facebook like, “Guns don’t kill people. Leftists kill people,” or “It’s okay that 26 kids get killed at Sandy Hook, but let one Republican Congressman get shot and all hell breaks loose.”

Given how vilification is the norm these days, is it any wonder that someone has taken a pot shot at elected officials? Quite frankly, I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before now. And it doesn’t really matter that this time it turned out to be a guy with a liberal bent who shot a conservative congressman. It could just have easily been the other way around. Next time, If there is a next time, it could be. Hatred isn’t confined to one side or the other. Neither is violence. There are people on both sides who are extreme enough to listen to all the hate being expressed in politics today and decide to act on it.

I don’t care what your political beliefs are. From my perspective, we all have valid concerns about the problems in this country. And for the most part, they are all legitimate concerns, whether you personally share specific ones or not.

But also for the most part, when you get down to the basics, we all want the same thing – a decent place to live where you don’t have to worry about stepping outside your door; meaningful work, whether it’s in a job or as a stay-at-home parent; the ability to put food on our tables; and a chance at a better life … ideally, for ourselves, but most definitely for our kids. I’m pretty sure those are universal wants and desires and it doesn’t matter who you are or who you voted for!

After that, I’m pretty sure most of us would like to see some ongoing problems in our country addressed, too – a reduction in child poverty and suffering; adequate and affordable health care; a reduction in violence; the right to practice one’s faith, or to live without having someone else’s belief system forced on them. There are others, but that’s not the focus here.

Unfortunately, none of those things are going to happen … basic or otherwise …  if we continue to vilify those we disagree with. Or see them as incapable of rational thought. Or think of them as evil!

We have to establish a give and take. A middle ground, a place where we can agree. And be willing to compromise. Even on things for which we feel there is no room for compromise.

Some people are saying that the divisiveness in our country is the fault of “the media”, or the current makeup of Congress. In reality though, we really can’t do anything about “the media” … CNN and Fox News aren’t going to change, and we’re always going to have the New York Times and the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world.  The odds that most of Congress will be re-elected are greater than the odds that the New England Patriots will make the playoffs each year, too. So it doesn’t seem like we can do much about them, either. We’re not going to see an end to money influencing our lawmakers (or the election process itself), nor are we going to see term limits. At least for the foreseeable future. We can only take full responsibility for ourselves.

We can take responsibility for how we see each other. How we talk to each other. And how we act towards each other. Even if “they” live an entirely different way of life than we do! Even if “they” have an entirely  different political perspective than we do.

I work very hard to do that myself. That wasn’t always the case – I’ve been guilty of my share of vitriol (and I’m ashamed to say that I had lapses this past November). But a few years ago, something happened.

I made a generalized statement one day that attached all sorts of vile reasons to why someone would vote opposite of how I believed. And a good friend “Joe” (not his real name) pointed out to me that if I felt that way, then I must feel that about him, because he was going to vote differently than I was in the election.

That was a moment of epiphany. I knew that none of those vile reasons applied to him. And yet he was making a political choice different from mine. And I was embarrassed about it! I owned up to it, told him that was wrong of me, and aplogized. But it still weighed on me. If I could be wrong about him, what did it mean about others. Could I be wrong about them as well? And the simple answer was “yes”.

That was tough to acknowledge. It was a negative reflection on me. It caused even more turmoil as I continued to be caught up in political chat threads and Facebook posts by people who were as adamant in their opposing beliefs as I was in mine. Other friends posted nasty generalizations about people who held different political beliefs than they did … and whether they knew it or not, they were indirectly aiming those accusations at me! And I felt the same sting that Joe did. I still feel those stings when I see them posted nowadays.

I continued to struggle because I was still embroiled in those political discussions. I hated those people that were posting stuff I disagreed with. Hate! And at the same time, my experience with Joe was causing all sorts of conflict.

When you add all of that to the ongoing depression and anxiety I was feeling, it put me into a horrible downward spiral. I got to the point where I had basically lost faith in mankind. And I lost faith in myself and my ability to deal with people. In retrospect, it was probably a major factor in why I became reclusive. Why my hands would shake as I reached for the door knob. I’ve mentioned that before in earlier posts, how difficult it was to leave my apartment, even to let Frank out to do his business. I could barely make it to the grocery store and started having take out food more and more.

I won’t recite all the stuff you can read on the “About” page. I made the decision to leave my consultancy practice, get rid of my apartment, and go on the road. And those of you that have followed the blog for awhile now know the transformative impact that had on my life.

Those of you who have followed Frank and me for a while have also read the stories about how my faith in mankind has been restored. You might remember Len, the guy who was managing the campground down in La Feria, TX, who let the young veteran and his family stay in a no kids, 55+ RV park because “it was the right thing to do.” Or the guy who simply said, “Pay It Forward,” as he put $20 of gas in my car early one morning when my debit card wasn’t working because, unbeknownst to me, I had to make special arrangements to have it accepted in Texas. Or the women who insisted that they were going to bring me dinner a few nights around Christmas, just wanting to show kindness to an old guy who was traveling alone with his dog.

Nobody asked what anybody’s political persuasions were. Or what religion they were. Or if they were gay or straight. Or why they were in their particular situation.  They were just doing good! And those were just a very, very few examples of all I’ve seen and experienced on the road.

So why can’t that goodness and respect for one another extend to politics? Why can’t we see other people as human first and put aside whatever other differences there might be. And. Just. Talk. Civilly. To. One. Another.

Are you a staunch conservative? Are you a staunch liberal? I’ve got news for both of you. You are not 100% right on everything and you don’t have all the answers that are needed to solve this country’s problems. And the people you oppose? They’re not 100% wrong … and they are not the source of all those problems!

The simple fact is that we need each other to move forward. We need to get back to a point where we used to be, when the majority of us could be civil, and compromise, and be satisfied that we got some of what we wanted in a negotiation, but not everything. Instead of getting the best of what each side has to offer, we’re getting nothing of benefit. All we’re getting is further apart.

Liberals are not going to destroy this country. Conservatives are not going to destroy this country. They won’t, you know. Rush and Rachel be damned.

You know what will? Hatred, divisiveness, and incalcitrance will. It’s happening. Now!

If you can’t accept that, then you’ve wasted whatever time you’ve taken to read this post. You will continue to be a part of the problem, in my opinion. And we will all suffer as a result. Go back to the news source that tells you what you want to hear. And I wish you well.

If you accept it though, and you also see in yourself what I recognized in myself back when Joe called me out from my hatred, divisiveness, and incalcitrance, then I pray that you use this post as your epiphany. And that you simply stop before you think of the “other guy” the way you have been. And see them as just another person who wants what you do … but has different ideas how to get there. Someone who is worthy of respect. Someone who is worthy of being listened to. Someone who is human.

Quixotic?  Yeah, sure. Pollyannaish? Most definitely! But at this point, it’s all I got.

Who knows? If I can do it, then you can do it. And if the few hundred of you that follow this blog will tell somebody else, then maybe they can do it. And sooner than later, our representatives can do it … after all, we elect them. And if they figure out they’re not going to get reelected by dividing us, maybe they’ll start focusing on governing instead of what we have now. And what will the media have to say about that?

Regular programming on this blog will resume tomorrow. I promise. Thank you for indulging me. And for those of you wandered over because of the title, neither Hayley Mills nor Kevin Corcoran will be making a guest appearance today.   : o)

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2017 in Musings

 

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“Rock” On

Frank and I are finally close to Nirvana. Actually, we’re on the outskirts of Warrensburg, NY … but as of about 2 p.m. this afternoon, I’d be willing to bet you could send a letter to Buddha using Warrensburg’s zip code and it would find its way to the man. But let me back up a bit.

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Still covered in fleece!!

It never really did warm up at our last campsite. During our last week there, Frank spent most of his time inside the Nutshell asleep. And I spent most of my time in the camp chair with a fleece over my lap. There were some mornings where I also wrapped a blanket around my back, too. I was managing, but I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t getting to me a little bit.

I did get a couple of things done, though. Summer doesn’t start until June 22nd, you know. So technically, it wasn’t too late for me to get some spring cleaning done. And I’m pretty happy with the results.

First off, I went through a bunch of old paperwork I had been carrying. Not all of what I’ve amassed, probably about a third of it. Most of it was old mail – receipts, some magazines, some invoices for things that are automatically paid online, and what have you. I burned it in the fire ring one night with a couple of logs on top to make sure embers didn’t escape into the atmosphere. I figure I’ll do a little bit more at each stop and eventually I’ll have it down to nothing.

Next, I went through two of the bins I’ve been carrying around since day one. One of them had become a repository for stuff that I just needed to throw into the Nutshell when it was moving day. You know – “I’ll get to it later” stuff. In reality, it should have been named the, “What the hell was I thinking?” bin. Isn’t it funny how, in the heat of the moment, something seems important enough to keep for later? Then later comes. And reality hits.

With that in mind, I found the following items in the “WTHWIT?” bin …

  • Four cans of stale beer for which there was no room in the cooler when I packed up back in November
  • Two shirts that needed to go in the laundry after my laundry bag was already in the trunk of the car … I have no idea how long they’ve been there, but I had been missing them
  • A dirty dish rag, probably thrown in there at the same time the shirts were
  • A bottle of ketchup which, if shaken with all my might 15 times, might yield enough ketchup to cover half a sandwich
  • My mallet, that I have been looking for for at least a year … I’ve been using my hammer on the outer stake for the canopy and cringe with every loud clang of metal-on-metal.
  • A rock. A big, flat, 20 pound rock that I saw one day and thought, “this would be really good to hold down the canopy insert” … which of course, never happened because I forgot it was in there. And it never dawned on me to look with every campsite move, even though I would always think, “GEEZUS, what the hell is in here?” when I picked it up because it was so damned heavy!
  • Three crushed packages of ramen noodles. Yes, they were right under the rock.

That is what I had been hauling around for months. Needless to say, the bin is now empty. One less thing I have to worry about on move day. I don’t know what it originally contained. It must have been something that was consumed along the way, like paper towels or canned goods or something. I kept the rock …  I think it might be a good thing to use to hold down the canopy insert someday.  : o)

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The newly cleaned out galley, ready for use

Next came the cooler. I hadn’t been using it that much as of late because I had gotten into the habit of eating out of cans. I took out the few things that were there and gave the inside a good scrubbing with bleach and hot water. It’s now as good as new and packed with eggs, hamburger meat, hot dogs, and 4 beers of the homemade variety. More on that to follow.

Finally, I tackled the galley. I haven’t been using it. Not at all! When I bought food, I just left it out on the camp table. And when I moved, I just threw whatever was on the table into the cabin of the Nutshell, loose.

That’s not the case now. I organized the galley … which in reality is nothing more than two shelves for storage … so that I don’t have to just throw things into the cabin on move day. The top shelf has my one pot and frying pan, the electric skillet, and hot plate, some bowls and plates. The lower shelf, which has more height than the upper one, was divided in half. I put appliances on the left, including the coffee maker, electric kettle, heater and fan. The right hand side holds all my non-perishable food. Right now it has cans of beans and pasta; some packages of rice; soup, both canned and boxed; condiments; and a glass measuring cup with my cooking utensils and miscellaneous other things in it. Like a cheese slicer. A cheese slicer that I bought new two years ago in Charleston and have never. Once. Used.

Larry suggested that since we just passed our 2-year anniversary, a good topic for a blog post would be, “Things I didn’t know that I didn’t know.” In other words, things that I would have done differently had I the benefit of foreknowledge. One of the biggest things I would have done different is I would have packed a hell of a lot less than what I did! Like a cheese slicer. Seriously – I’m going to dirty up a cheese slicer, that is a pain in the ass to clean even in a kitchen, instead of just using my paring knife to cut off a hunk of cheese to eat? Or the set of 16 Tupperware knock-offs that are now down to three, with only two lids? Don’t even ask! There. I just eliminated the need for that post! I’m on a mission to minimalize! LOL

Anyhow, I got all that done towards the end of my last full week at Timothy Lake South,PA. Just in time for some company.

On Sunday, an old classmate from Pompton Lakes came out to the campground. Actually, John lives less than 15 minutes away, in the Poconos. And when I say old classmate, I mean the “original” classmate for all intent and purposes. When I moved to Pompton Lakes in the middle of second grade, John was the first kid I spoke with. He asked me if I knew where the cafeteria was and walked me down there come lunch time. At recess, he showed me the ropes, per se. Where everybody hung out. Who in his estimation the good guys were and who weren’t. We sat and visited for a few hours before he had to leave. While he was there, though, he told me that at one point he and his wife had an RV. That they were avid campers, although most of it was in tents when his kids were in the Scouts. And that when he retires, he and his wife have talked about doing what Frank and I are doing. John, if that happens, I hope you let me know. I’d love to camp next to you and the Mrs!

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The Cornerstone guys: Front, Bob and Lou; Back, Tom, me, and Gary

The next day brought a visit that I was really looking forward to with a lot of anticipation. I don’t mean that as a slight to the other friends we’ve seen along the way. It’s just that this one was special in a different way.

Back when I lived in Wayne, I belong to a men’s group at my Parish. It was called Cornerstone and there were six of us that more or less formed a core group. Four of them made it out to camp on Monday for dinner. (Ed, we missed you! Hopefully I make it back for another stop in or near New Jersey and we can all have another visit when you can attend.)

You know how you can identify good friends? You can be apart from each other for years and when you get back together, you just start back into conversing as if you had never been separated at all! That’s the way it was with Gary, Lou, Bob, and Tom. We talked about everything from our vagabond journey, to the Yankees and Red Sox, to a little bit of Parish news, and I don’t know what else. It was fantastic! They even brought some bottles of the beer they all get together and brew at a do-it-yourself place in New Jersey. I have to admit, it’s pretty damn good beer!

That was it for all the visits. Frank and I packed up on Wednesday morning and drove 4 hours north to the Lake George Escape Campground. We’re not actually on the lake itself … that’s a few miles away. Instead, we’re on the Shroon River. Plus, there’s a little stocked pond that is right behind our campsite. Haven’t done any fishing yet and I’m not sure if I will right now. We’ll see how it goes.

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Our set-up at Lake George Escape Campground (after escaping the Bogs of Mordor)

We had a little bit of an issue coming into the camp. This is one of the Encore parks that I was given as a spiff when we signed the Thousand Trails contract. I didn’t think anything of it, but what I’ve learned is that the Encore Parks set aside a limited number of campsites for the Thousand Trails clients. And when I got to mine, I wondered if there was a feud going on between the two companies. My campsite look like the bogs that Gollum led Frodo and Sam through on the way to Mordor!

Half the campsite was covered with standing water and almost another quarter of it was mud. And as I sat there looking at the other nearby campsites, I realize that there was standing water everywhere!

When I returned to the office to let them know this wasn’t going to work, the woman’s response was, “Yes, we’ve had quite a bit of rain” … said with a sympathetic shrug and grimace, but from her standpoint, that was the extent of what she was going to offer as a conciliatory gesture!

That’s when I found out that they expected me to stay in that one little water-logged area because that’s where all the Thousand Trails campsites were. It took about a half-hour discussion before someone finally agreed to let me stay in another area of the park.

Frank and I have a great campsite now! It’s relatively nice size, and we’re backed up to the pond I mentioned earlier. There’s a little bit of an issue with mosquitoes here right now. I went out and bought a couple of citronella torches along with some citronella pots for the table. They seem to be doing the trick – it doesn’t seem to be as bad as it was before we picked up the citronella stuff. I also have some Deep Woods Off, but I don’t want to use that until I absolutely have to. As an aside, I can only imagine with the mosquitoes would have been like over in the bogs of Mordor. I’m grateful that someone had the wherewithal to allow us to move.

(Take a listen to what it sounds like around here when there aren’t any motorcycles)

Unbeknownst to Frank and me, we picked a hell of a time to visit the Lake George area. This week, it played host to The Americade motorcycle rally! Now any other day of the year, Warrensburg’s population is a little under 4,500. Not this week – they estimated over 30,000 bikers came in for the rally. And this was everything from your John Travolta / Tim Allen weekender “Road Hogs” to hardcore clubbers. For the last few nights, the only thing louder than the toads and birds at the campsite was the roar of the motorcycle engines during the “Let’s see who can rev their engine the loudest” contest. One thing I’m grateful for – everyone here pretty much obeyed the rules. At about 10:30, everything died down and by 11:00, all I could hear were those toads and birds.

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As of this afternoon, our loop is completely empty!

And today? Everybody’s gone! Literally. Frank and I are the only campers on this loop. I haven’t ventured out to see what the other loops are like. It’ll be interesting to see what’s what when Frank and I visit the dog park at the other end of the camp tomorrow morning.

Oh yeah. At the beginning of this post, I referenced Nirvana. For the last three days, the weather has been absolutely magnificent! Today is the best so far! Temps in the low 80s, with a little bit of a wind … just enough where I didn’t have to get the fan out to cool down a bit. And there hasn’t been a cloud in the sky all day until right now, about 7:30 p.m. but even now, it’s nice out. No need for a fleece. (Now  would be a good time to bring up that rock again … except as rocks go, it wasn’t all that grungy.)

Frank has been enjoying the sun, too. He’s been outside most afternoons, either sunning or lying next to me under the canopy. I’ll take a few more days like this, thank you very much. Before we know it, we’re going to be in the middle of the sweltering heat of a New England summer. So I’m grateful for days like today.

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Frank missed an opportunity to say hello to the butterfly that was scoping him out.

So that’s it for now. Oh yeah except for one other thing. I finally had some mail delivered and it was waiting when we arrived here on Wednesday. And what was in it? My ordination papers! I am now a certified Dudeist priest in the Church of the Latter-Day Dude! More on that in our next blog entry.

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Connecting with my inner Dude

Suffice it to say, Frank and I are abiding quite well. Even the occasional nihilist has done little to affect our serenity. About the only thing I’m missing is a rug to really tie everything together. This worn-out old tent carpet we’ve been using is … well, pretty close to worn out!

And for any of you who might cast a bit of negativity towards the life philosophy we’ve come to embrace, all I can say is, “Well, that’s like, your opinion man!”      : o)

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2017 in Musings, Travels

 

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Happy Anniversary!

Two years.

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Launch day, 5/31/2015

Two years ago today, Frank and I left everything behind and drove away from our apartment in Charleston, SC.  I was despondent, wracked with anxiety, and totally unsure as to how long it would be before I would give up and chuck this life into the ocean off Big Sur.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect what what was going to happen next! What has happened.

Since putting Charleston in our rear-view mirror, here’s what’s happened to my Chief Navigator and me – we have:

  • Stayed at 43 campgrounds in 18 states
  • Visited a total of 24 states
  • Put a total of about 34,000 miles on the car
  • Lost two tents to storms
  • Acquired the Nutshell, the teardrop trailer that’s our current home on the road
  • Visited three emergency rooms for diverticulitis, a leg infection, and a crushed finger
  • Returned to Texas for what was feared to be a heart problem and got a clean bill of health
  • Dealt with extreme weather conditions from oppressive heat to freezing cold to floods, thunder, lightning, hail, tornadoes, and hurricane-force winds
  • Had memorable encounters with deer, squirrel, rabbits, ducks, a bobcat, owls, hair-stealing birds, lizards, snakes, armadillo, and an East Texas toad
  • Been mistaken for Santa Claus and a biker named Danny Hoffler
  • Witnessed an untold number of people helping out their fellow man

(Our second tent  in the process of being damaged, December 2015)

Frank had his little escapade as well. While I was in a hospital having a test, he decided he was going to go looking for me and did his best MacGyver impersonation to escape his kennel. He somehow unlocked his crate, climbed a chair and a couple of boxes, pushed out a piece of plywood next to a window air conditioning unit, and escaped through a hole in a fence that none of the other dogs would normally be able to get to. Nearly two days later, he and I were reunited when he miraculously stepped out of some scrub brush and sat down on the side of the road like he was waiting for a bus … just as I happened to be driving down that road, heading back to camp after giving up searching for him that day. Oh yeah, over 12 miles away from the kennel … in the opposite direction from our camp site.  That was just one of the more memorable experiences over the past two years. But that’s not the only miracle we were blessed with.

Along the way, I was also able to shed a lifetime of depression and anxiety. It took a whole lot of writing therapy, prayer, meditation, encouragement and support from friends … and a little sign that stayed on my dashboard for about six months that read simply, “It’s all worked out before. Trust it to work out again.”  I’ve written about a good portion of the process involved in my healing.

Through the blog, we’ve shared each of these experiences with you all, pretty much in real time as they were happening.

We’ve also included a bit of travelog; campground reviews;  and stories about some of the people we’ve encountered, ranging from funny to poignant to downright spiritual! And I’ve appreciated your forbearance as I’ve reflected on a few current events while trying to put them into the perspective of our travels.

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You’re spending  too much time on my laptop, Frank!

Frank’s been a big part of this, too. If you’ve been here from the beginning, then you’re familiar with our daily fights over sleeping accommodations. You know about his penchant for picnic tables, his love for Blood Sweat and Tears and his hatred of emergency sirens (funny how he expresses both love and hate the same way: howling). And you’ve seen the degree of sneakiness he can muster when it comes to grabbing $7 chicken breasts off the camp table when I’m not looking. You even know his picks in the last three NCAA basketball tourneys.

This Vagabond Journey would not be even remotely enjoyable if Frank hadn’t come along for the ride. It wouldn’t have been possible without the loving support of dear friends all along the way, too. And it wouldn’t be anywhere near as fulfilling if it wasn’t for the folks that have been reading along on the blog and sharing their comments with us. I’m so very grateful that we have touched some of your lives in a meaningful way.

It’s nowhere near done, by the way. The road trip, I mean. Any thought of driving off a cliff at Big Sur has long since gone. We haven’t even seen half the country yet! Hell, even after we finish up our planned travels along the west coast next year, there’s still the northern Rockies, the Plains states, and the Great Lakes region that we haven’t come anywhere near. So I hope you continue to follow along on the continuing Adventures of Frank and Jeff.

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Keep on Smilin’

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As mentioned in our last post, Frank and I are staying at Timothy Lake North Campground, right next to the Delaware Water Gap, on the Pennsylvania side. We’ve been here about a week and a half now, and have another week to go before we continue to head north.

It was a little bit crazy over Memorial Day weekend, with a lot of rowdy neighbors. To be honest, I’m proud of myself that I was able to refrain from approaching a couple of them about some of their late night partying. But I was able to let it go.

Frank had a good time. There was a family from New York that camped next to us, with two boys age 9 and 14. Chris and Greg spent almost all their time over here playing with Frank. And he loved every minute of it! They left early Sunday afternoon and Frank spent the next three hours lying under the Nutshell, staring wistfully at the place where their tent had been.

We had a chance to visit with old friends in the area, too. We spent last Thursday morning and afternoon in Pompton Lakes, having lunch with some dear classmates from long ago. We have more visits on tap between now and when we leave next Wednesday.

About the only downside has been the weather. It just isn’t cooperating! Today is the first day since shortly after we arrived that we haven’t had to deal with rain and cold temps. I sort of thought by now that we’d at least be out of the cold. I know from our experiences over the last 2 years that we’re not going to escape rain. But the cold? Give me a freakin’ break! I’m close to becoming a climate change denier. Where’s this global warming everyone keeps talking about?  : o)

That’s it for now. Frank and I will touch back in before we head out to Lake George, NY, our next stop. I cannot pbelieve how fast this year has gone by.

 

And I’ve come to roam the forest past the village
With a dozen lazy horses and my cart
I’ve come here to get high
To do more than just get by
I’ve come to test the timbre of my heart
Oh, I’ve come to test the timber of my heart

And I’ve come to be untroubled in my seeking
And I’ve come to see that nothin is for naught
I’ve come to reach out blind
To reach forward and behind
For the more I seek, the more I’m sought
Yeah, the more I seek, the more I’m sought

Joe Pugg, Hymn 101

 

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2017 in Musings, Travels

 

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Pennsylvania, Round Two

When we made our last post, Frank and I were about to head into Pennsylvania. We’ve actually moved on to our second campground in the Keystone State. We are now at the Timothy Lake North RV campground, on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware Water Gap.

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Our setup at Timothy Lake North RV Campground

This wasn’t quite where we intended to be. We had reservations at the other Thousand Trails campground on Timothy Lake. But when we got there, it seemed that none of the sites were really going to work for our little setup. They were more geared towards bigger RVs, long and narrow. They were so narrow in fact,  that we would have had a hard time setting up the canopy while leaving enough room to walk around it without stepping out into bushes in overgrowth. Fortunately, the staff was really cool and when I told them about my concern, they suggested I try the other campground located just a mile or so up the road.  if we found a site up there that we liked,  we could simply switch her reservation without any impact on our departure date.

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Our view of the sunset through the woods

Sure enough, we found a great site at the top of a hill … a corner site where two roads intersect. We’ve got plenty of room here and we were able to set things up where, instead of looking at other RVs, we’re looking at woods.

Woods. I love them! And I’m not talking about forestland. Unless you have spent time in the Northeast, you and I probably have a different idea of what that word represents. There’s something different about the woods where I grew up compared to other places I’ve lived like Texas, Colorado, or California.

There aren’t a lot of pine trees like in the west, nor is there a lot of scrub like what you see in the south. It was a conglomeration of oak and tulip trees, maple and birch.  You can pick your way through the woods without feeling pressed in, like I sometimes felt walking through coastal redwood forests where I used to camp in California or the pine forests in Colorado. There’s an open canopy that lets light through, but it’s more dense and higher than woodlands I’ve seen in the Texas.

When I was growing up in New Jersey, I lived in two towns that had woods. In Waldwick, where we lived until I was halfway through second grade, our house was surrounded by them until builders started to develop the neighborhood. And in Pompton Lakes, the whole southern edge of town was woods until developers came in and tore them down, too.

I used to enjoy them quite a bit as a kid. They provided an escape. I could walk back in the woods and before you knew it, it was if I had left everything behind. In Waldwick, I could take 100 steps out my backdoor and I wouldn’t even be able to see our house! In retrospect, everything seems bigger when you’re a kid, so going “deep into the woods” was probably the equivalent of walking a couple of blocks. But that didn’t matter. Perspective, right?

In Pompton Lakes, there were woods a half block away from the house. All you had to do was walk to the end of the block, cut through the side yards of a couple of neighbors and there you were. They stretched all the way along the river and ended across the street from my elementary school.

There was a path ride along the river that we sometimes took as a shortcut to school, but I used to like to get off the path and head into the trees. When I was nine or ten, I built a fort back in there. Nothing fancy – I had found a place where there was a stand of trees real close together with a single opening. I found some big limbs that still had leaves on them and propped them up to form a sort of door. And once I got in there, people could … and did … walk right by me and without knowing I was there.

I used that fort many times as an escape. Especially when my father was on one of his whiskey binges, or just in one of his moods, where I knew that if I hung around, it would just be a matter of time before I did something to piss him off and I’d get beaten. I’d take comics or Hardy Boy books in there and spend entire afternoons reading. When I wasn’t reading, I would imagine that I was a pioneer and this was my fortress from the Indians. I made a chair out of an old stump and fixed up a table using fallen branches I had gathered.

So I guess I have some romantic attachment to woods. And the couple of times we’ve come to Pennsylvania on this vagabond journey, I think I felt that same sense of familiarity. Of security. Funny how it was last year, sitting riverside at the campground in Lancaster, looking out into the woods across the water, that I finally found a sense of peace.

I think Frank likes it here, too. Whereas most days he spends his time sleeping in the Nutshell, he’s been outside every afternoon since we arrived, even when it’s been sprinkling a bit. His nose is always going. Plus, instead of just sitting in front of me doing his watchguard thing, he’ll test the limit of his lead when it’s not been raining. Sometimes he’s oblivious to me watching him … he’ll go as far as he can, walk around to the other side of the canopy, sit down, and then just start turning his head in all directions. His nose will be up in the air and it’s just going a mile a minute! I’ve taken him on a couple of walks since we arrived … between raindrops. It doesn’t matter where we are, we just don’t seem to be able to escape rain!

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Gettysburg Farm RV Campground

Frank had a closing counter with nature at our last stop, Gettysburg Farm RV campground in Dover, PA, about 25 minutes north of the battlefield. We were only there for 5 days – it was a timing thing in order to set our reservations up for the summer holidays. Long story – suffice it to say that Thousand Trails has some restrictions on the number of your open holiday reservations at any one time, and the 5-day stopover solved a problem I thought I was going to have between Memorial Day and the 4th of July. As it turns out, the problem went away when I accepted an invitation from Michael, another Thousand Trails camper who we met in Florida. I’ve mentioned before. He spends his summers in New Hampshire and we’ll be staying with him for a few days over the 4th of July holiday.

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Gettysburg Farm, where city kids can spend Summer vacationworking their asses off! LOL

Nevertheless, I’m glad we stopped at Gettysburg Farm. It’s an actual farm, where kids get to work with animals during the summer. We had a really nice campsite there, too. It was more open than where we’re at now, but we still had plenty of trees around us. Plus we had some really great neighbors. There were some nice visits with a number of folks that would stop by. I’m not sure if the draw is the Nutshell, which stands out as being unique amongst all the big RVs; Frank, who charms everyone wherever he goes; or the sight of the old guy with the beard relaxing in his camp chair with his four-legged companion sitting on his lap. The beard is gone by the way. I had it shaved at a barber shop while I was there. I have to admit that I’m not wild about how I look clean shaven. But I’m pretty sure it’s the right thing to do going into the Summer heat and humidity. Besides, it’ll be back at full length by the time Fall rolls around.

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Yep … sans my beard of 2 1/2 years

Anyhow, back to Frank and his Close Encounter of the Nature Kind …

The Nutshell was set up right underneath a tree at Gettysburg Farm. And an owl decided that tree was an ideal place from which to signal his friends. And with his first screech, around 8 pm on our second night there, Frank lunged out of the Nutshell’s cabin and with one bound was at the end of his lead, looking all around. It was the exact same reaction he had to the emergency signals we heard from NAS Oceana while at First Landing State Park in Virginia. Only this time, the screech had stopped by the time he was out there to look.

I have to say it’s the best 4-legged Vincent LaGuardia Gambini impersonation I have ever seen! Frank came back and jumped up on my lap with a look that screamed, “What the f**k was THAT!?!?!?” The only things that were missing was a woof with a Brooklyn accent and a pistol in his right paw!

Then the owl went off again. And Frank nearly did a somersault trying to vault off my lap. He couldn’t get out there fast enough! And it went on two more times. It was almost as if the owl was telling his buddies, “Hey, watch what I can do to this four-legged thing on the ground!”

Frank finally camped out under the tree, realizing that the sound was coming from somewhere above him. And as soon as he heard it … and saw where it was coming from … he started howling!

We didn’t hear the owl after that. I hollered out to Frank, “Way to go, buddy! You scared that thing off. Good dog!”

And with that, Frank came running back and jumped up on my lap, grinning and feeling like he was every bit the hot shit he thinks he is. I couldn’t help but laugh and every time I did, Frank would turn around and start licking my face. Pretty funny. I think that’s the happiest I’ve seen him since that day at Flagler Beach when he had such a good time playing in the surf.

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Flagler Beach, FL back in March …  I love this photo of French so much that I had to share it again!

I take that back. Frank had a really good time a couple of nights later. I got a call from Rena, a friend we made through the Teardrop Camper Group on Facebook. She lives in Delaware and came out to visit us last year when we were camped in Lancaster. Anyhow, the Tearjerker chapters from Pennsylvania and Maryland were holding a joint get together at a state park about 30 minutes away from where we were camping. Rena was attending and invited the two of us over for the Saturday evening potluck. It was our chance to meet the new addition to her family – Tucker, a cute little 1 year old puppy.

Frank and Tucker got along great! Tucker would stand on his back legs and put his front paws on Frank’s shoulders. Frank would then get down on his belly and do a quick roll to throw Tucker off. And they did that over and over. He loves being around dogs that are close to his size. There were two other beagles at the potluck, too, so Frank had quite the little get together. And I had a chance to visit with Rena again while making some new friends. Good times, all around.

Up here it Timothy Lake, I had my own close encounter with nature. Well, not quite so close, but it was close enough as far as I was concerned. I’ve gotten up a little earlier than usual the last two mornings – about 4:30, where I normally get up between 5:00 and 5:15. And this whippoorwill was going at it non-stop. I mean he was making what seemed like 50 calls a minute, nonstop for over an hour and a half. I had to delay my meditation time both mornings because he was so intrusive. Being one with nature is one thing. But this? I posted on my Facebook wall …

“I’m pretty close to finding out what Whippoorwill stew taste like!”

Imagine 5,000 of these calls in a row. I kid you not!

That’s it for now. Later this morning, we’re driving into Pompton Lakes to have lunch with a few old friends from high school, before which I’ll stop by the school and make a small cast donation to a scholarship fund that was set up in the name of one of our classmates, who passed away suddenly a few months ago. Sam returned to Pompton after graduating from college and became a beloved English teacher. He was one of the good guys. And while I don’t have a lot, I want to at least give something of what I do have as a way of remembering him.


One last thing – you all have touched me very deeply over the last week or so. We received an outpouring of comments, private messages, and Facebook posts, expressing appreciation for the last blog entry “The Prison Sentence.” I am so very grateful to have been able to share something that was so well-received. I know you all have been entertained by our stories from the road, and that gladdens me to no end. But they’re just stories …  it’s an entirely different thing to have offered something that helped others as they bring themselves back from the pit of depression and guilt. It means that something good came out of the suffering that I’ve had to endure during my lifetime. That’s a blessing I wasn’t expecting. And it means more than I can adequately express in words. Thank you for that.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2017 in Musings, Travels

 

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The Prison Sentence

It’s been a long while since I’ve specifically talked about why Frank and I live the vagabond lifestyle today. I had a recent conversation with someone though, and felt it might be good to talk about it. Besides, I’ve been tagging my blog posts with phrases like “depression”, “anxiety”, “PTSD”, and the like. And continue to do so despite the fact that a lot of recent posts either don’t address those subjects anymore or only address them in passing.  

I’ve pictured some people who come to the blog via one of those particular tags and start thinking, “What the hell?”

Sure, they could go to the original “About” page and learn about the symptoms I had when I started this blog, and some of what was going on back then. But unless they were to go back and read through earlier posts, there hasn’t been much here lately to directly address those subjects.

I have been a long time sufferer from what was diagnosed as complex-PTSD, the result of more than a decade of horrible physical and mental abuse as a child. The primary symptoms I experienced were depression and anxiety. They manifested themselves in many ways, such as: low self-esteem; overeating; an inability to open up and trust others, especially in relationships; a belief that I was an imposter at work, combined with a fear of failure; OCD things, like having to go back and check lights to make sure they were turned off (sometimes locking and unlocking my office door as many as 10 times before I could leave); the need for the more than occasional thrill, whether it was speeding, unnecessary risk taking, or cocaine abuse; nightmares and night-time sweats; and suicide ideation. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I probably spent 4-5 years where I woke up every day wondering if that was the day I was going to “do it”.

The one symptom that I’d like to address, though, is guilt. It’s not one of the things you necessarily think about when it comes to PTSD, but if you’re like me, it manifests itself in a significant way.

I’ve spent a good portion of my life feeling overwhelming guilt. I think it comes about because when you’re abused as a kid, you tend to think of it as being your fault. I know I did. I’m a pretty smart guy, and I was a pretty smart kid, too. So when one gets beaten for something they did, you would think the intelligent thing to do when facing the same situation again, is to do exactly the opposite, right? Well, that’s what I’d do. The problem though, was that it didn’t work!

Here’s a tiny example. You start getting yelled at, so you try to explain yourself. What happens? You get beaten for talking back.  So the next time you’re getting yelled at, you logically think that the best thing to do is to keep your mouth shut. Only this time, you get hit because you were supposed to reply.

If that happens enough times, it can pull a real mind fuck on you! After a while, when you start feeling like it doesn’t matter what you do. You start to believe that it’s your fault. You shut down. And when there is no positive reinforcement to counter the negative, you begin to feel worthless.

It’s one thing to feel that as a kid, but it reinforces the same thinking as an adult, with dire results. Your first reactions to bad situations are affected. You stay in bad relationships longer than you should. You stay at bad jobs long after other people would quit. You question your own  decisions  constantly. And you live under constant stress because whenever something goes wrong, your first reaction is to feel responsible. Whether you are or not!

That’s not to say I don’t have things I’ve done for which I should feel guilt or responsibility. Everybody does. But when you feel that way about everything, it’s hard to separate out the justifiable ones from the noise. And you carry the burden with you much longer than you should, justified or not.

Anyhow, guilt was probably the hardest thing for me to overcome. It was certainly the last major symptom I had to deal with to get to where I’m at today.

It was something I used to talk about a lot with my buddy Larry. He would do his damnedest to get me to see that I needed to let go of things. And that was regardless of whether the “thing” was or wasn’t my fault, or perhaps was only partially my responsibility. And I spent the vast majority of those conversations arguing against myself.

We were in another of those discussions early last spring. It was about something that is very personal to me. When I started the blog. I made the decision that I wouldn’t talk about it. Maybe someday, but not now. But it’s something for which I have felt almost unbearable guilt for a long time. I’ll just say it involves a family relationship with an extremely bad outcome, and leave it at that.

For whatever reason, Larry took a different tact during this particular conversation.

“Okay. Let’s say that it’s your responsibility. What type of sentence do you want to give yourself?” I didn’t understand what he meant, so he went on.

“People commit crimes, they get sentenced to jail. But when a court hands down a sentence, that’s it. They serve their time and are then released. They are considered to have ‘served their debt to society’.

Sometimes they get out early for good behavior, sometimes they’re placed on parole. But there’s an end to it. It doesn’t change what they did. It doesn’t change the past. But they get to move on with their life. Their life changes as a result of what happened, obviously. But they get to move on the best that they can.

Now I know that you believe in justice, Jeff. You care about people not being treated harshly. You believe In fairness. You’ve been the judge, jury, and prosecutor here. So what type of sentence do you want to give yourself? Be fair now. And after that, are you willing to accept that once it’s over, you can let yourself out of the prison that you’ve put yourself in?”

You know, that reached me! For the first time in my adult life, I had something to consider that took the emphasis away from guilt and put it on something else. I don’t remember what I said to Larry at that point, except that I would consider what he said. But this was a way I hadn’t looked at things before and I needed to think about it more.

That little talk occupied my thoughts for at least the next couple of weeks. To be honest, a part of me did everything it could to tear that argument apart. But it couldn’t. The simple fact is that it just made sense no matter how I looked at.

It no longer mattered whether I was guilty or not. My conscience was the jury and had already convicted me. Whether it was fair … or not … was also no longer an issue.  The verdict had been rendered and was in. But now, the Court was back in session – this time to deliberate on the sentence.

How much longer was I going to hold myself in jail? My self-imposed guilt had lasted for almost 20 years. Murderers had been released in less time! So with that in mind, the Court came to a decision. The sentence would be … time served.

Nothing really changed. Like I said before, the past is the past. What happened, happened. But in the mind of “the Court”, I could now go on. I’m still living the consequences of my sentence, of course. While I was in “jail”, I lost a relationship that meant the world to me. I lost a job. And all of the property and material things I had accumulated were gone.

But I was free to move on. And make the best out of the life I have remaining.

The conversation stayed with me. Over the next couple of months, I thought about it less and less. But it  was definitely still in the back of my mind as I went on and made plans for the rest of 2016.

In late May, Frank and I were camped next to a river in Lancaster, PA.  Since that conversation with Larry and the ensuing two weeks, we had gone through a whirlwind of activity. We had travelled from Texas to California and back, picking up the Nutshell. Spent a month visiting friends in Dallas. Gone up to Colorado to see more friends and then back across more than half the country to Lancaster. And it was the first time in a long while where we really had time to stop and relax.

Anyhow, I was up early doing my morning meditation and prayer as usual. I typically get up before dawn. I like to watch the beginnings of the day – how the world gradually comes alive as the sun rises. And sitting there looking at that slowly flowing river as first light appeared, I realized that I was at peace. Letting it sink in for a while, it “dawned” on me that I hadn’t felt that way in my entire adult life. But there was no mistaking it. I felt totally at peace.

The thought then came about how  I almost served a death sentence.  How  I was ready to do myself in before starting out a year earlier.  Hell,  I was still looking at eventual suicide as  the likely outcome  when I drove away from Charleston in May 2015. But that expectation had totally left me now. And I broke down in tears.

In the year that’s gone by since that morning, I can honestly say that peace has never left me. Sure there have been some things I’ve had to deal with that have caused anxiety. But the anxiety has been event-specific, and that sense of peace has remained throughout … as each of those anxiety-provoking things were handled, the peace returned.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned that I had a conversation that spurred me to write about this. When I was at the Tearjerkers event at First Landing State Park the weekend after Easter, I met a fellow named Kenny.  He had arrived in a 50 year old camper that he had restored and stopped by to visit a few times over the weekend.

Kenny is a substance abuse counselor at a VA Hospital in West Virginia. He had shared a little about his life before embarking on that career, and how it had helped him in dealing with some of the vets he was now working with. And for whatever reason, I felt moved to share my “courtroom” story with him.

It moved Kenny, too. He said it was something he had never heard put quite that way, and that he knew of guys he’d seen who would definitely benefit from that perspective. He then said that if I didn’t mind, he wanted to borrow it to use in his counseling. He even said he intended to share it with other counselors, he liked it so much!

Of course I told him that he was free to use it! After all, it wasn’t mine to begin with, that it came from a friend. Kenny, if you happen to be reading this, I hope that the analogy has been put to good use since we last saw each other a few weeks ago.

Some people believe that you’re here on Earth for one particular purpose. I remember seeing a friend in Dallas last April. I had worked for her husband at a gas station while in high school. She said something along those lines to me one morning when Frank and I were visiting their home … that I had been kept from suicide because I hadn’t yet done what God had put me on Earth to do.

I don’t know that I believe that. That we’re here for a specific purpose, other than just working out our individual lives. But if that’s the case, a part of me would like to think that my purpose was served by giving Kenny something that he and his fellow counselors will put to good use helping others. Finding peace is something that everybody should do!

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Frank and I head out tomorrow to Pennsylvania. I should put the following in a macro, so I don’t have to keep typing it : “it’s hard to believe it’s already time for us to leave this place.”

Bad weather’s kept us from doing all the sightseeing we wanted to while staying in Williamsburg. We did get to drive down to Jamestown and to Yorktown, but didn’t get to do a lot of exploring because of the rain. Nevertheless, we had a great time here. On to Pennsylvania!

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2017 in Musings, Travels

 

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Val and Dave

Frank and I have moved on from Lake Gaston. We’re actually in our second campground since leaving. We spent a very nice weekend at First Landing State Park, in Virginia Beach, VA. We went there to take part in another Tearjerker gathering. This one was sponsored by the Virginia chapter and there were about two dozen teardrops present.

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Our setup at First Landing – look at all the room we had!

The campground itself was really nice! One of the nicer state parks we’ve been to. Like Myrtle Beach State Park in South Carolina and Goose Island State Park in Texas, it’s located right on the coastline. We weren’t able to spend a lot of time over by the water because of the weather. And we didn’t hear the surf from where we were, either.

Instead, we heard Reveille and the Star Spangled Banner every morning from NAS Oceana, the military base just south of the park. And while we missed the Blackhawks flying over the park at near tree level as they had done during a training mission earlier in the week, we were treated to multiple tests of the emergency broadcast system every afternoon. Frank was pretty funny – the first time we heard it, he came darting out of the Nutshell like it was on fire! He started looking all around trying to figure out where it was coming from. And when it was over, he came back to sit in front of me, with a look on his face that said, “What the hell was that!?!?”

That Friday was Heaven! After spending months freezing our asses off,  the 90° temperatures felt fantastic! Unfortunately, the weather didn’t hold up for the entire weekend and it started to pour by late afternoon on Saturday. And since Frank was freaking out about it, we weren’t able to join the others at Pizza night.

Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time! We made a lot of new friends; met a couple of teardrop camper owners that we had been corresponding with online like Bob, who ran the event, and Doris, who has been following our travels through the blog and through the Teardrop Camper Group on Facebook; we even had time on Saturday afternoon to enjoy burgers and brew with Ella and Matt. They live in Virginia Beach and came out to the campground to meet us.

Ella and I have been friends for a few months now, both being members of another Facebook group. Its funny how when Frank and I first started out, I was not all that interested in dealing with people. Decompression was first and foremost on my mind back then. But that changed pretty quickly. I’ve mentioned before how campers are a family. I don’t need to go into that much more. Suffice it to say that perhaps the biggest blessing out of this journey … aside from reaching a point where I feel at peace with the world … has been getting back to a point where I can deal with people and not experience anxiety as a result.  And it’s not just dealing with people now … it’s looking forward to who we get to see at our next stop, without worrying that it will cause any anxiety or hesitation! That’s a huge change for me, and one for which I am incredibly grateful!

But it’s Tuesday now and like I said, we’ve moved on. This afternoon, Frank and I find ourselves sitting next to Currituck Bay, at the Bells Island Campground, on the way to the outer banks in North Carolina.  We arrived on Sunday after a very short drive from First Landing. There was purpose to this stop – it was to spend a little time with another good friend from my youth. Bear with me a bit, please as I digress …

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The downtown Pompton Lakes that I grew up with

Pompton Lakes was a pretty cool place to grow up. I don’t know if you could call it a typical small-town, because I don’t know what typical was back then. The population was less than 10,000. And while the homes were typical of Suburbia, it didn’t really have the same feel to it that the towns on TV had. To me, it was less like Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best and more like The Andy Griffith Show (which had nothing to do with the fact that my father looked enough like Andy Griffith when he was younger to have been his clone.)

Whenever you saw them, the homes on those first two shows were pretty big, with big front yards. That wasn’t really the case in Pompton. It had a mixture of styles. First, there were homes that had been there for forty, fifty years and longer. I remember some with big porches on them, that were close to the downtown area and the high school.

Then there were homes like the first one we lived in when we move there in the middle of my second grade. These were bedroom community, “set-em-up-quick” homes, built  after the war, that were less than 1,000 square feet, with tiny living rooms and even smaller bedrooms.

Lastly, there were the newer homes that were being built. A big section of Pompton was undeveloped when we arrived and builders were at work tearing down the woods on our side of town to put up the next phase of larger, multi-level houses. We moved into one of those when I was in 7th grade. My sister had been born about six months earlier and my grandmother moved in with us two months after, when my grandfather died suddenly of a massive heart attack. There was no way we could all manage to live in that first house.

The Ramapo River ran through the backyard of that second house. It was pretty cool having a river in our backyard. When it was a vacant lot, some of the neighborhood kids had built a swing on one of the big trees that hung out over the water. And when we moved in, my father had me shimmy up the tree and replace the rope with a newer one while he replaced some of the wooden platforms the kids had built to jump from.

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My backyard, before it was my backyard. Photo courtesy of Facebook friend Robert Beck.

As an aside, imagine my shock and surprise when Robert, one of those neighborhood kids, posted a photo of their swing on Facebook about two years ago. I go online, visit Facebook to see what was going on, and the second image I see is … my … back … yard??? That was incredibly cool, especially given the fact that I have virtually no photos from my past!

I think it was the river that gave the town a bit of a rural feel, at least to me. I can’t tell you how much time I spent swimming in, boating on, and fishing in that river growing up. As soon as school let out for the summer, it would be pretty much from the moment I got up until it was time to come home. Even during school, my buddy Leo and I would get up to go fishing early in the morning before school started.

The other thing that gave Pompton its “Andy Griffith feel” was Wanaque Avenue, our “downtown”. It branched off the Hamburg Turnpike, the main road that ran north out of Paterson, the county seat. Downtown began about where the library sat, a couple of blocks past the Turnpike. It ended less than a half-mile away, at the train station. And in between, you could imagine that you were in Mayberry. Except for the accents of course! Just take a look at this photo shown up the post a bit.

It’s funny, but I can remember so much about what downtown looked like, and yet I can’t remember what I had for dinner three nights ago! A block down from the library and across the street was the Superette, with the lunch counter where I had my first ever Cherry Coke, and where I got caught trying to lift a Playboy magazine. (It was six months before I showed my face in there again and I’m grateful the guy behind the counter forgot what I looked like … or remembered, but was willing to give me a second chance.)

Just past  and across from the Superette was a side street where Saint Mary’s Catholic Church was, next to Lenox Elementary School. I went to Lincoln, the other elementary school that served the south end of town.  I can’t tell you how many CYO dances I attended in the basement of that church. But I can tell you how many of them I danced at. None! I was way too self-conscious to even give it an attempt. That followed me all the way through High School, where I didn’t even attend my prom. But that’s a story for another blog post. 

I could keep going up the street and describe every business. The pet store that had a monkey for a short while; Tony’s Pizza, to this day the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life; the Colonial Theatre, where I got scared shitless and ran out of the first movie I ever attended on my own – 13 Ghosts. But I’ll  leave it at that … I’m sure the “not interested” sign is already going off in most of your heads! LOL

A huge number of businesses had “Colonial” in their names, by the way. Colonial Cleaners. Colonial Bakery. The Colonial newstand, etc. I never did find out what that came from. I assumed it had something to do with the fact that George Washington headquartered there briefly and iron ore used to manufacture cannonballs during the Revolutionary War made its way via a then-top secret trail (on present-day Cannonball Road) through Pompton down to Paterson.

Like I said, I went to Lincoln School, and it was at Lincoln School that I met Val and Dave. I’m pretty sure both of them arrived in town after my family. I remember Val in 3rd grade and Dave in 5th.

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Dave, from the PLHS 1971 yearbook

Dave lived right around the corner from our first house. As an aside,  he was across the street and down a few houses from Jeanie, who I spent an afternoon visiting with when we stayed in Flagler Beach, FL,  a few weeks back. He and I spent a lot of 5th and 6th grade walking either to or from school together.

I think we were joined together by our mutual love of baseball. He and I played on the same Little League team for a while and we would spend most of our time going to and from school in deep discussion over batting averages, home runs, ERA’s, and other important facts (thank God that statistics like FIP and fWAR hadn’t been invented yet – I still don’t understand some of them). This was all despite Dave’s favorite team being the New York Yankees, of course. By that time, I had sworn allegiance to the Boston Red Sox.

We also had a mutual love of astronomy and I can remember meeting up with him on a couple of occasions to watch meteor showers.

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Val, from the 1971 PLHS yearbook

Val was tall! That’s the first thing I remember about her growing up. I’m not sure why, but I took special pride in being one of the taller guys in class. So it was a little unnerving that she and I were about the same height. I don’t know that we hung out all that much together, but she was part of the same group of kids that we all ran with. But then, you could say that about almost all the kids in our class. Being a small town, that’s the way it was! For perspective, I think there were slightly more than a hundred students in that graduating class.

Val and I were both part of the four “couples” that were chosen to entertain the parents on a PTA night in 4th grade, with a demonstration of the square dancing we were learning in P.E. during one of the grading periods. And I also remember having a summer party in 8th grade, when Val was one of the friends I invited over to the house to swim.

Other than that, we all just hung out. We were all members of various sports teams (Dave was in baseball – I was in football after discovering around 8th grade that I couldn’t hit a curveball to save my soul) or were cheerleaders or band members. We all went to the dances; or to the bonfire before the big rivalry football game against Butler; or to one of the various parks in town where we took lifeguarding classes or played in Shuffleboard tournaments. And we all grew up together.

I have to admit, I hated moving to Dallas at the beginning of my sophomore year. I felt like I was leaving my entire world! And I don’t mean that as an affront to any of the Dallas classmatrs that I’ve maintained such good friendships with over the years. You all mean the world to me – but Pompton was my home. The friendships I formed back then are some of my most cherished as well.

So it was with great joy that I was able to arrange to see both Val and Dave as we headed north out of Florida.

Val and her husband Bill now live in Wilmington, NC,  while Dave’s now living a few hours north, in Currituck.

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Our setup at Myrtle Beach State Park

Val and Bill purchased an RV last year and agreed to meet Frank and me at Myrtle Beach State Park for a few days of camping. It was great to see them! We had dinner together the first night we both arrived and spent some time together the next afternoon. Unfortunately, Val got sick and had to leave early. But we spent a marvelous time reminiscing. Bill is a writer, and I also learned all about a book he has in process. Along with that though, I learned that Val and I had something in common – she had also grown up in a home with a horribly abusive parent.

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Val, courtesy of the PLHS reunion website

“If only you and I had known about what was going on with each other back then!”, Val said at one point. “We might have each been able to support the other one more. Who knows if it might have made a difference or not?”

Who knows, indeed.

I don’t think the conversation got much deeper than that. We caught up on what each of us had been doing since we last visited together at one of the reunions. Val’s son and his family had recently made the newspaper in their small town relative to some doings at their farm and I enjoyed reading the article she shared. We talked about our dogs – I forgot to mention that Val and Bill brought their three standard poodles with them. And I filled them in on our upcoming travels.

“Give Dave a big hug for me!”, was one of the last things Val said on Monday afternoon before she left.

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Our set up at Bells Island Campground. Currituck Bay is in the distance.

We arrived in Dave’s neighborhood in the middle of a lull between raindrops. It lasted long enough for him to come over  after finishing up some chores.

Dave and I mostly caught up that afternoon. We talked about everything from school to jobs to movies to you name it. I think one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about seeing old friends is how you can just start up a conversation as if you saw each other last week. That’s the way it felt talking to Dave.

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Full disclosure – Dave’s lost weight since this photo was taken for the reunion website and he looks fantastic today!  Alas, we didn’t have a chance to take photos.

We were able to get together again yesterday afternoon for a short while. Dave teaches now, a career change born out of the economic downturn in 2008. I have to say I think he’s one of the most interesting and thoughtful guys I know. Thoughtful, as in considerate, yes. But also thoughtful in terms of how he considers his views on a subject. I guess that’s what comes from being a philosophy major in college.

Dave also brought by the 1971 Pompton Lakes High School yearbook and we had a great time going through and looking at everyone in the class and talking about where everyone is now. We’ve lost a lot of folks from that graduating class, unfortunately … including Dave’s twin sister a couple of years ago.  A lot of others from the classes before and after ours, too. Dupont chemical had a plant on the north edge of town and it was discovered that they were responsible for toxic chemicals leaching into the water supply. It’s been in litigation for decades. They’re doing some remedial cleanup, but continue to fight any and all medical claims arising from their  irresponsibility. Regardless,you’ll never convince me that the number of deaths of classmates from unusual cancers isn’t tied to them somehow. And it makes me question how I’m still here today, given how much of my life involved that river, where all those chemicals eventually wound up and passed right through my backyard. 

Tomorrow, we move on to our next stop in Williamsburg, VA. After hopscotching around with short stays here and there, it’ll be nice to be in one place for a full three weeks.

Before I finish this post, I thought I’d share one other funny story with you. When we were at Myrtle Beach State Park, there was a family with two young boys in the campsite next to us. They took a real liking to Frank and spent a lot of time over by us so they could pet him. Frank certainly enjoyed the attention!

Anyhow, their mother came over to me on Wednesday morning before they left to say that all they were talking about at bedtime was Frank. She asked them, “ what about the man that’s camping there? You know Frank’s name, but who is the man with him?”

The reply? “Oh, he’s just the man that takes care of Frank!”

Yep. That’s me. Couldn’t have said it better myself. LOL

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Actually,  We do a pretty good job taking care of each other!  : o)

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2017 in Musings, Travels

 

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The Time of our Lives

We’re enjoying our third day here alongside Lake Gaston. Third day? I have a problem, if you can call it a problem.

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Late afternoon at Lake Gaston

I have been taken out of time. Completely. I’ve mentioned it before, but only giving way to the possibility. Each reference to a sense of timelessness would start with a qualifier – “It’s almost as if …,” or, “It  seems/feels like …”  Never full acceptance. But I’m willing to acknowledge and accept it this particular afternoon.

It’s not only that I’ve lost track of the day of the week, or the particular date of the month. I have to calculate how many days we’ve been here. I have to go to my Excel spreadsheet to see the date of our arrival and then go to the calendar to see today’s date. It’s only then that I can do the calculation.

As an aside, losing all track of days and dates has its downside, especially if you are having to pick up and head off to a new home every couple of weeks, or have to know when it’s time to make your next reservation. It’s never good to find out it’s “Move Day” when the ranger comes over and says, “Checkout was supposed to be an hour ago. Are you staying an extra day?” Not that I’ve been in that situation, but I started worrying about it after the first you occurrences of, “Gee, it’s Wednesday, not Monday.”

That’s part of the reason why I plan so far in advance. All our reservations are now planned out through mid September. But we can reserve Thousand Trails campsites no more than 90 days in advance, and because of space availability, it’s important to reserve the moment you get a chance.

So I have all that information in an Excel spreadsheet. And I’ve set it up so that it lets me know what’s what. I have little reminders that pop up on my calendar to let me know that it is “Move Day -2’” or “Reservation Day.” It’s helped immensely in dealing with the “Alz-time-rs Syndrome,” but to agree, it’s also accommodated it and made it easier than ever to simply not have to worry about what day or date it is!

Getting back to the opening thought though, after doing the calculation, yes, today is the 3rd whole day of our stay, after arriving late Wednesday afternoon.

It’s been incredibly relaxing and peaceful here. And that’s despite the hustle and bustle going on all around us. Our section of the park has filled up, I’m assuming for Easter. Because we’re on a lake, the campground has a boat ramp and a lot of campers have showed up with their speed boats and outboards. So there is lots of activity on the lake as well.

There are conversations going on all around and with only one exception, nobody’s loud. But even that’s cool. He’ll get loud telling a story and then all of a sudden his voice lowers a few decibels. I have a feeling his wife is telling him to take it down a notch and I chuckle in the immediacy of the moment when it happens.

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Frank, taking a break from Sentry Duty

Yes, it’s been a totally relaxing and enjoyable time. At least it has for me. I’m not sure about Frank, though. He has his moments … hell, who am I kidding? He has his hours asleep in the Nutshell. But he will suddenly appear, stretch, and then go on self-appointed guard dog duty!

I’m not sure if it’s new smells or what. In the first part of our journey, when we were still in a tent, Frank would do guard duty at night, from a bottom corner of the air bed.  I’d wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and see him just sitting there, staring out the open flaps. He feels like he doesn’t have to do that at night now, given the close confines of the Nutshell. So maybe he’s thinking that he needs to find other ways to earn his keep. Hence daytime guard duty.

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Sentry Frank, one evening before bedtime

He likes to take up position right in front of me as I sit in the camp chair. I watch him scoot his haunches back so that he is sitting right directly between my feet. And then the head starts going – first left, with a pause long enough to take everything in; then a quick turn to the right, as if he heard something.

Once he’s figured out that no one is sneaking up on us from over there, he slowly turns his head back to center and stares out into nothing, contemplating whatever beagles contemplate.  After a minute or so, he repeats the whole process. And again. Over and over.

I’ll laugh at him and say something like, “You know, you can relax. No one has said you have to stand guard!”

At that point, Frank will usually glance over his shoulder and give me one of two looks. The first is worry. As if he’s thinking, “Well, if I don’t do it, you certainly won’t …  What was that? Did you hear that?” (Frank doesn’t appreciate the weight of my walking stick. Neither does he pay attention to the machete I keep handy at all times.)

The other look he will sometimes give is one of disdain. Frank does “disdain” better than any dog I’ve ever spent time with. There’s a, “Don’t tell me how to do my job!” feeling to that look. And he’s a little put off that I’m so dismissive of his protective capabilities. I get the same look when I disturb him trying to get into bed at night and he’s already there.

But there’s almost always a second look. I’ll laugh again and ask if I pissed him off. And I almost always get another look with a smile … “We’re cool. I’m just messing with ya.”

I can communicate with him better than I can with probably most people. At least I don’t have to worry about whether what he’s trying to communicate is filtered, or if it’s what he’s really thinking or feeling. But I digress…

We arrived as late afternoon was approaching. We actually got a great start out of Myrtle Beach State Park. It took almost exactly 30 minutes to break camp and that was it! I couldn’t believe how quick it was. I guess it’s because we’ve been setting up the same way now for so long that there’s nothing to really think about. Most of it is almost muscle memory.

Anyhow, we got on the road about 10 am. Google Maps said it was about a four and a half hour drive. Which I’ve now been able to translate to “Frank and Jeff” time – the amount of time it will actually take including a couple of stops. I also have to figure in how much highway driving we’ve been routed for. Google Maps doesn’t know that we don’t travel 65 mph anymore.

So, we arrived at the front gate around 3:30 p.m. This camp is pretty spread out. It’s a long way down the hill from the entrance to where most of the sites are. And while it might have normally taken 5 minutes to get down to the bottom, we took 10 as we started looking at some of the sites that were situated along the hillsides.

I saw Michael after we got down to the lakefront sites. I knew he was going to be here. He had sent an IM message with a video of geese flying over the lake and that was when we discovered our stays here would overlap by a day.

I sat down at this picnic table and we did a little catch up before I realized we hadn’t yet checked in with the office and told them which campsite I had selected. Plus, I still needed to set up. Frank and I went off to the office and agreed to spend more time with Michael later on.

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Our setup at Lake Gaston

I really had to laugh once the setup started. I posted a few Facebook photos of our set up at Myrtle Beach State Park and jokingly said that we had been living on the starboard side of the Nutshell for what seemed like forever, and wondered if Frank and I would know how to get into the cabin at night if we ever had to set up differently. Sure enough, you would have to know that that’s what we had to do at Lake Gaston!

It’s not that it’s any more difficult. It’s just

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Lake Gaston setup, second view

that the canopy orientation is different. In order to tie it down to the front hitch and back bumper of the trailer, I have to tie down what is normally the back leg of the canopy to the front hitch and vice versa. So I had to untie some stabilizing ropes that were attached to the canopy and reverse them so it could be anchored to the roof.

It also meant that where the main opening to the canopy looks frontward in port position, it was now opening out behind us. In this case, it was extreme serendipity! Without any extra effort, we were set up to look out over the lake.

Now I could have switched out the inserts to see the lake and would have done so once I realized our positioning. But the point is, I didn’t have to. And whether it’s true or not, I had a feeling that the universe, God, whatever you want to call it, was looking out for us … and also reminding me that it’s never a good idea to take one’s self too seriously, given how immediately after my comment we were forced to “go starboard”. I had to stop, give a nod heavenward, and smile.

We finished setting up the table and  put out all our “essentials”. It was now time to relax.

I met Michael in January a few months back during our first stay at Peace River in Wauchula. Tim, another camper that would come by most nights to shoot the breeze, said after our first night there, “I have another friend here you should meet. I think you two would get along together.”

I think it was the next day that Michael rode by on his bicycle. If I remember correctly, he mentioned that Tim told him about me “sitting over here,” and figured he would stop to say hello. I acknowledge that Tim had mentioned him to me as well and we proceeded to have a casual conversation.

Tim was right. We do get along together. I think it’s a combination of shared philosophies, similar experiences of life on the road (although for different reasons), and that we have perhaps come to a shared belief in what things are valuable in this lifetime. I think it also helps it we’re somewhat contemporaries.

We ran into each other at another camp but it was again only in passing. It wasn’t until we both returned to Peace River and spent a little less than a week camp next week other that we had an opportunity to really get to know each other. That’s when we got to do the, “Two old guys sitting in their camp chairs and shooting the shit,” thing. And it was very much enjoyable!

Michael lives in New Hampshire, but spends his winter months traveling the southern part of the United States. He has a very interesting gig – he introduces people to the idea of “mindfulness” using a labyrinth as a tool.

Now this isn’t what you might think. It’s not set up with hedges or other objects. Nor is it a maze. Michael taught me something new – a maze has multiple paths and is meant to confuse you; a labyrinth has one path that takes you to the center and back out.

Michael’s labyrinth is laid out on a huge piece of carpet. I think he said it was 30’×30’.  He sets it up at festivals, fairs and at the camp sites he visits. He explains how a labyrinth can be used in meditation to center one’s self. Or to contemplate a decision. As you enter the labyrinth, you’re supposed to hold your thought in contemplation as you move towards the center.

The other idea is that as one focuses on the path, it also brings them into a focus on the present rather than the past or the future. By putting all your energy into the present, you become less influenced by regrets of the past and anxieties over the future.

Its funny, but I didn’t have this particular thought in mind when I started out writing this post. But perhaps one of the reasons that time has less influence on me nowadays is the work I’ve been doing to address my own complex PTSD symptoms, primarily depression and anxiety.

Meditation has definitely helped to bring a focus on to the moment. But all the writing exercises have led to that as well. They were designed to counter bad habits one builds up from the past such as negative self talk, or bad dreams, or dissociation. They also helped to keep me from worrying about what might happen in the future.

Perhaps I need to stop referring to it as being taken out of time. I realize now that what I’ve actually been doing is living totally in the present!

Anyhow, Michael and I spent a great evening together sitting in the fresh air, next to the lake and amongst the trees. We shared stories, told jokes, laughed at stupid stuff, and generally just let the conversation flow. Half of the stuff isn’t worth mentioning and the other half was personal enough that it stays between the two of us.

Michael was off early in the morning, but that won’t be the last we see of each other. I’ve taken up his offer to come spend a few days at his home when I’m up in New England. It actually solves a little scheduling problem for me since I’ll be at his place over 4th of July. I’m looking forward to that immensely.

This has turned into another long post. And I haven’t mentioned anything about our stay at Myrtle Beach State Park. I’ll do that in a post tomorrow.

 

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2017 in Musings, Travels

 

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