I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
- Psalm 27:13-14
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
- Mark 9:35
To explain the verses, Psalm 27:14 is the verse my wife quoted most often, but when you add Psalm 27:13 and Mark 9:35, you get the essence of the woman I married.
The photo is of my wife at Zion National Park in Utah, a couple of days after she was at Yoho National Park of Canada in British Columbia. A slight difference in temperature.
Last week we ended with me having a wreck in our sports car one week after our wedding. My wife wondered what she had just signed up for. It was too late for cold feet at that point.
My wife had been going to school on the G. I. Bill. These days, the G. I. Bill works a lot differently than it did then. She simply got paid each month and if her grades were good enough, she did not have to pay the money back. She never had to contribute any money. Today it is like the 401K program where you contribute some, the government matches it, and then you draw the money out.
She concentrated on dropping courses early if she thought she had a bad teacher, a teacher that she could not relate to, or she got the first test paper back and this person graded too harshly. If you looked at her transcript, you would see three different people: before we dated, while we dated, and the married woman. She made pedestrian grades before we met, even a “D” every now and then. Then she made average grades for the two semesters while we dated. Then she made above average grades after we were married, even while she was pregnant. But then nearly ten years later, she went back to school and she made straight “A’s,” usually tops in each class. It shocked her Humanities teacher when the teacher asked if there were any people in class who learned English as a second language. The latest essays had been horrible, and the teacher wanted to give some people the benefit of the doubt, but when the curve buster, due to far exceeding everyone else, had learned English basically as a third language, knowing some Javan local dialect, then Dutch, then English, the teacher threw that idea out the window. The second-best student in the class was also an English as second language student. The others in the class had been undone by a poor public education system while the second language English students had worked harder learning the language.
But what helped my wife improve her grades was that by the time our vacation was approaching that summer, she guaranteed she could take off two weeks by quitting her job at the hospital. This would put our finances into a tailspin that contributed to this vacation only having one big rival vacation, eleven years later. But I wanted her to get her degree. She wanted to get serious about going to college since I would have a masters before she finished her undergraduate degree. But even then, we had no idea that neither of us had much control over destiny. She would reach the level of senior twice, but never getting a degree. She probably had more college hour credits than I did, and maybe more top grades than I did, but never a degree. She picked up twice, left school, and followed her husband.
We did have control over this vacation, and I thought we could hold the cost down by camping. My wife agreed, but somehow we only spent one night in a tent on the trip, but it was highly memorable for good and bad reasons, mostly not so good.
Our Trip to the Columbia Icefield – our furthest point
After work that Friday, we started out from Port Neches, Texas. I was late getting home from work. We hit rush hour traffic in Port Arthur, Texas and Houston, Texas, gridlock there. I had planned on stopping at my uncle’s house in Fort Worth, Texas, but it was nearly midnight when we arrived in Fort Worth. He was highly upset. And since we never had another opportunity to make up for that mistake, it still weighs upon me 48 years later, and many years after he has been gone.
We drove from Fort Worth, Texas to Colorado Springs, Colorado the next day. Along the way, we took a trip up Capulin Mountain in New Mexico. My wife had seen the molten lava inside an active volcano. Seeing an inactive one was no big deal, but she hated the gravel road up the mountain with the sheer drop-off next to us on the way up. Driving down while hugging the mountain was not nearly that bad.
The next day, we stopped at another of my uncle’s homes, this time in Casper, Wyoming. We got there in plenty of time to visit, and this uncle became one of my wife’s favorite relatives on my side of the family. And he is still around in his upper 90s.
It seems we have not done much sightseeing, but in one late evening and two full days, we have covered 1,400 miles, and we have been in four different states, large ones, although we just clipped the corner of New Mexico.
The next day we drove through Grand Teton National Park and into Yellowstone. We “camped” by finding that the historic Old Faithful Lodge was just a dollar or two more than the nearby camping area. The rooms in the lodge were like camping, with a shared bathroom down the hall, but our room was the corner end room where we could look out our window to see Old Faithful Geyser blow its top, at a regular rhythm. We walked the trails at dusk and had a wonderful time.
We arrived back at the lodge and went up to our room. We found the bathroom available, so we each took turns showering. Finally, back in the room with a view of a lifetime, we looked at each other instead, and we rolled into each other’s arms in the middle of the king size bed. As we romantically had our arms around each other, we suddenly realized that we had been given false information. We did not have a king size bed at all. We had two twin beds that they had pushed together. Only the top sheet and comforter were king size. Since we had turned those down to get amorous in the semidarkness of a dimly lit lodge bedroom, our bodies had found the gap between the two beds. One bed flew west. The other bed flew east. And we landed with a jolting thud on the floor. After we screamed for that half second of falling, not having a clue why a crack in the earth’s crust had formed beneath us, it took a few seconds to figure out what really happened. Then, there was so much laughter, it took us a long time before either of us thought about getting amorous. It was during that time that we realized that the lodge did not have a television set in the lobby nor in any of the rooms. For a while, we turned off the lights and we watched the elk and moose and other animals that came into view when they walked near the lit portions of the walking trails. There was a more modern accommodation at Old Faithful, much like a hotel, but that will never compare to two twin beds flying out from underneath us and our quick journey to the floor.
Most of the next day was spent in Yellowstone. We walked to the falls. We walked around the mud pits and hot pools and everything we could see. We slowly side stepped around a buffalo that decided he wanted to graze next to the trail. We left by way of the northern exit into Montana. As we drove along, my wife saw a billboard for a resort hotel. She saw that the billboard said that a spa treatment accompanied the accommodation for no extra charge, so we stopped early that day. It was so early that I got a chance at playing golf. She had her spa treatment to take care of the bruises she got from hitting the lodge floor so hard the night before, and although I had only picked up the game of golf a month before, I played nine holes of golf with rented clubs, finishing with just enough light to see the ball go in the last hole. I putted for birdie twice, missing both putts, but I had never done that before as a beginner. Double-bogey was more my speed. But I will admit that the par five became easy. At such an altitude and the dryness of the ground, and the rock beneath the surface of the grass. I hit a drive that went nearly 500 yards, all downhill, about the normal 250-300 yards distance for a beginner golfer and then it kept bouncing and then rolling and rolling and rolling. I lost track of it, but luckily, I hit it straight down the middle of the fairway and it was easy to find. If I knew what I was doing, I would have been putting for an eagle, but I missed the easy pitch.
When I returned to the luxurious hotel room, I was sweaty and my wife, who was watching a movie on television, smelled so good, lotions she rubbed into her skin from the spa, but she would have nothing to do with me until I bathed, twice. And as for the television, it had been several days since a television had been on in our presence, and we had not even noticed.
The next day lived in infamy for most of our lives. I had crunched the numbers on the trip to Glacier National Park and it was easier driving up the east bank of Flathead Lake than the west bank and less towns to go through. Halfway up the lake, she saw a sign for Bing cherries. She said to at least get three pounds. They had a sale on the ten-pound box of cherries. It was the price of about three and a half boxes, and she wanted “at least” three pounds. When I returned with a ten-pound box of cherries, she knew to never trust me going grocery shopping ever again. After about three days of snacking on tart cherries, we forgot about them behind the seat. We would arrive at a fruit fly inspection station in Arizona many days later, and we had still forgotten the cherries. We claimed that we had no fruit with us. I guess it was not a lie in that we had genuinely forgotten the cherries. The inspector thought she smelled something, but she let us go. The next day, we finally remembered the cherries. Did I mention that the sports car had no air conditioning? I think I did last week. The cherries were now well on their way to becoming cherry wine behind our bucket seats. At least we had them in a sealed bag by this point. It was years before that story of ten pounds of cherries was not brought into casual conversation.
But then, we got to the western entrance to Glacier National Park before lunch. We started up the “going to the sun” highway, and we were going rather slow, a lot of traffic and impossible to pass, but everything was tree lined. As we reached the end of the trees, we also reached the switchback. Now we were treated to a fantastic view, and another sheer drop off, with no railing on my wife’s side of the car. Right at the switchback, there was a deer, maybe a yearling, that had been trapped by fear with the constant flow of traffic. My wife rolled down the window and pet the deer. Did I mention we were driving slow. Yep, that slow. She said, “Awww, it’s shaking.” It was petrified by fear, unable to go down where the trees were because there were too many cars on the road.
We did not stop much until we got to Calgary, Alberta. This would be Wednesday night. We got into Banff National Park the next day. Nature trails were not on her agenda. The town of Banff was a gold mine of cute jewelry stores, souvenir stores, and such. We stopped at a beautiful German restaurant in the city center. Really, Banff is more of a Ski Lodge town, but this was late July. We ordered the Veal Cordon Bleu. It came with noodles in Alfredo sauce and glazed carrots. The tables all had the standard checkered tablecloths. The waitresses wore Dirndl dresses. The picture in my mind has been reinforced with my wife buying the same kind of checkered tablecloths when we moved to Germany and the many times, maybe once each year that she would fix the same meal that we had in Banff that day, usually with chicken Cordon Bleu instead.
I bought her some jade jewelry and then we went to Lake Louise for a few photos before we headed toward Jasper National Park. It was getting late and the only place available to stay was a camping ground, our only night pitching a tent on the trip. My wife’s idea of “camping” was staying in colorful out of the way hotels, most not that expensive. We arrived at the campground in a thick fog. Since it was next to impossible to see, the ranger said to camp anywhere we saw an empty site. We pitched the tent and then took our two sleeping bags and zippered them together to make one big sleeping bag. Amorous, but as it turned out – necessary.
We played Texas canasta by the light of my camp lantern. She won in one deal. I learned my wife was a master at counting cards. She knew what I needed to come down. She came down, froze the draw pile so that I had to come down before I could draw from the pile and then she refused to give me the card that I needed. When she finally went out with me having a ton of cards in my hand, she won the game on the first deal of the cards. She got well over 5000 points, and I was stuck with a huge hand with more than 2000 points against me. This is Texas Canasta where you play with four decks of cards. I learned she had a way with cards, and she was highly competitive. She learned that I was a sore loser, but over a 7500 point swing in only one deal of the cards?
We camped out together for the first time. That made this memorable. The card game made it memorable for the second thing. A few hours later, we were huddled together trying to conserve body heat. We were freezing. That was the third thing that made this night memorable. As the sun came up, I packed everything while she tried to thaw out by drinking coffee and cooking on the camp stove, mostly warming her hands. The campground had a thick tree cover, so we could not see what was going on until we cleared the trees. We had heard the river trickling near us all night, a babbling river bouncing on the rocks, but as we left the campground we saw the mountain that had been hidden in the fog the night before … and the glacier that stretched all the way down to the edge of the river. We had been camping next to ice that was feet thick and that was where the wind was coming from all night long. How was I to know! The fog was as thick as pea soup when we arrived the night before!!!
The next day, on Friday, one week after we left Texas, we did a lot of driving, we went to the Columbia Icefield, barely inside Jasper National Park, far short of reaching the town of Jasper. After freezing the night before, my wife was not happy that I wanted to take a photo of her standing on the icefield at its most southern point. It is one of the only photos where she did not smile in her entire life, two of them on the same day, both because she was still not thawed out from our camping trip the night before.
From Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada to San Antonio, Texas
We drove back through part of Banff National Park and crossed the continental divide in Yoho National Park in British Columbia, Canada. My wife endured the drive over a rough gravel road to Yoho Falls, but again she refused to smile for the camera. We were nowhere near the Falls, but she was still cold. But then from the summer heat of Texas to freezing weather in Canada and only a sweater to try to warm up. And it was August the first.
From Yoho to the border crossing into the US into Idaho, whether you call it the panhandle or the stovepipe (since the panhandle goes north and south). We went to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to Spokane, Washington to the Tri-Cities of Washington. We had no idea that twenty years later we would be living there.
We then drove through the beautiful Blue Mountains of northeast Oregon, and back into Idaho, staying the night in Boise.
The next day we drove through Utah. My wife had no interest in the location where they drove the golden spike that united the railroad that had come from the east with the railroad that had traversed the mountains in the west. We looked at the Great Salt Lake as we passed. Our destination was Brice Canyon National Park, but we stopped a bit short in an old style roadside motel called the Rock Candy Mountain Motel. When we told the proprietor that we were kind of on a second honeymoon, having only been married less than six months, he said that they had a brand new section of the hotel that had never been used. It wasn’t really finished but they wanted us to have a special treat. He gave us the key to the room closest to the nature trail. Some nature trail! They had salted the mine, so to speak. They had painted rocks and glitter on some of the rocks so that if you knew the words to the silly Harry McClintock hit, The Big Rock Candy Mountain, you could find it all. The crystal fountains, lemonade springs, the cigarette trees, the hens that lay hard-boiled eggs, and bulldogs with rubber teeth, all of it along the “nature” trail. But we did not stay for free, as the Burl Ives version of the song implies, but it was the cheapest hotel, cheaper than camping out that night in Canada and our room had two king size beds – real king size beds, two televisions, two of everything, including two bathrooms. It must have been a room designed for a large family. And the extra room in the room was enough for another couple of king size beds, one huge room.
The next day, we went to Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and spent the night of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, in Arizona, camping, at least it was a mountain cabin with a shower and bathroom down the walking path a bit.
The next morning, Monday, August 4, we took a lot of photos and then drove to Winslow, Arizona. It was barely lunch time. My wife was singing a song about Winslow, Arizona and she wanted to stop for the night. We had just made it past the fruit fly inspection, and she was tired. I said that Gallup, New Mexico was a better place to stop. It would make the next couple of days easier to drive. That mistake would be known as the night drive that almost never ended.
We arrived in Gallup about dark to find that the national championship for high school rodeo was ongoing in Gallup, New Mexico. One hotel had the presidential suite available for about $500 for the night, half a month’s wages for me, before taxes. This was a time when $25-30 was an expensive room. I think the Big Rock Candy Mountain was $11 for the night. We drove for over an hour to a Holiday Inn and they were full also. “Don’t you know there is a rodeo in Gallup?” Yes, we knew. We knew all too well. We said we were going east and where was the nearest hotel of their chain that they could make a reservation. We got a reservation at a hotel on the east side of Albuquerque, New Mexico. We arrived about 1:30am and we slept until ten am. We went to a breakfast place next door, and the service was so bad that we did not leave until afternoon. I guess no one in New Mexico eats breakfast that late. My wife suggested a one-penny tip to show our disgust, but I said that I wished to give the whole restaurant my two cents worth for such lousy service and horrible food. I dropped the two pennies on the table, and we left. I had never done that before, nor never since.
The afternoon drive was uneventful to Lubbock, Texas where we spent the night, and we arrived in San Antonio, Texas, to the Gunther Hotel about lunchtime the next day. My trip counter said we had gone about 6,200 miles in thirteen days. We got a room on the same floor with the rest of my wife’s family all on the fourteenth floor, which you know what that means. The Texas Folklife Festival would start the next morning with my wife and her sisters “sweeping the sidewalk” to signify that the festival grounds were ready for the people to show up, all filmed for the local television stations and pictures on the front page of the papers.
The Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio, Texas
In those days, the Festival was the first weekend of August when Thursday through Sunday was all in August, thus the second weekend of August that year.
The Chamber of Commerce of Nederland, Texas quickly learned that I was a commissioned Army officer and thus a prime candidate to run the Dutch settlement concession stand for half the time we were there. I barely got to see each of my wife’s performances, the Lebanese belly dancers, the Cajun two-steppers, a couple of cowboy bands, some Scottish bagpipers, and a German dance group who had an accordion player who was of Czech descent, who knew much too much about my wife, or so he pretended to know. He also flirted with my mother-in-law. I assumed they were old friends from the previous year’s Festival. We ate borscht at a Russian booth, some lox and bagels at the Jewish food stand, some Filipino dishes that were out of this world and I had to suffer as their cook stove was directly up wind from where I was working and I could not slip out to get more, Lebanese shish kebabs, and other foods that I had never eaten before in my life. And the Dutch had cookies, and I sold a ton of them.
And besides the food at the Festival, my wife and I started a tradition of going to Mi Tierra, a 24 hour Mexican Restaurant in the downtown San Antonio area.
My wife, her mother, and her three youngest sisters had four or five sets. They developed a following that were there listening to each performance for over twenty years.
And what is next?
We move to Nederland, Texas and we bring our first son into the world. All before I get my graduate school diploma and orders to report to the Army, all on the same day.
And to all this, I give praise and honor to God. Only He knew that the two of us would one day marry each other, and it would truly be until death did we part.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.
How in the world do you remember all of that detail! Blessings Mark!
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Hey, when that was the big monster of a trip, it sticks, but then, I had to map it out. I knew we arrived in San Antonio mid-afternoon on Wednesday, but it seemed far too much driving from our night of camping, to the Columbia Icefields and then all the way to Boise, but for us to get to San Antonio, we had to drive nearly 700 miles that day, something in that range. So, some details are starting to fade a bit.
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I’ve been to most of the places you mentioned here, but I didn’t have half as much fun. I have also fallen through the middle of a king size bed that turned out to be two twin beds pushed together and made up with king-sized sheets and blankets. However, I was in the bed alone when that happened. Like I said, not as much fun! 😀
Every time I see the name Winslow, Arizona, I think of the Eagle’s ‘Take It Easy’ song. “Well, I’m a-standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and such a fine sight to see… “
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I think that was why my wife wanted to stop there.
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