Story Time

Each new day in our lives begins on a fresh clean piece of white paper, a new tale waiting to be told.

A Little Child Shall Lead Them August 26, 2010

Filed under: STORY — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 1:39 pm

The Culprit

There is nothing like spending a week’s vacation with one’s grandchildren to gather pondering material on the subject of childlikeness in the Kingdom of God. Our week was a miracle to begin with, a trip we had planned for years which finally came together in the Dog Days of August, 2010. All together, we were ten family members at diverse ages and personalities and temperaments. Ten in one cabin for seven days. Quite a story in itself. However, Abigail, the littlest child at seven, just happened to be the one who gave me the most to ponder and share with you. I will share this story in two posts because, as my sisters will tell you, I cannot seem to “cut it short.”:o

It was the last night of our vacation and Jodi, Luke, Abigail and I had just returned from a full evening of shows in Pigeon Forge. The Comedy Barn was hilarious but the one that impressed the kids most was The Magic Show. I’ll have to admit that it impressed me as well, especially when the magician made a 500 pound white tiger appear out of nowhere and then assured the kids that only God can do miracles. But our wonderful evening was missing one element—food! By the time we got back to the cabin, our stomachs were growling.

While Jodi rummaged the kitchen for kids’ food, I made myself half a ham sandwich, grabbed my book and headed toward the bedroom, my hideout. Carefully placing my paper towel-wrapped sandwich on the bed table, I proceeded to make my last trip to the bathroom before climbing into the unusually high bed with my book and sandwich.

When I returned, breathing sighs of peace and contentment, I had one foot on the bed railing and one on the floor when I noticed that my half ham sandwich had disappeared. I think I forgot to tell you that there were really eleven of us. Tucker, Jodi’s family shih poo, was having a ball running around the roomy cabin and finding crumbs here and there and everywhere. Alas for me, he was now in heaven for on my bed table, in clear view and easy grasp, was the biggest crumb he had ever found. Now, there was nothing but a paper towel.

I screamed, “Tucker! Bring back my ham sandwich!”

Of course, that tickled the children pink and led into all sorts of discussions about what Meeme would do if the dog actually brought the sandwich back. While this was going on and Tucker was licking his chops, I proceeded back to the kitchen to make myself another half ham sandwich. This time I naively wrapped it in a paper towel and for a woman of fairly average intelligence, I then did a very stupid thing. Again, I placed the tightly wrapped sandwich on the bed table and trekked off to the bathroom. I just wasn’t thinking straight, you see. An entire week of fun was taking its toll on grandma.

And so, I strolled back to the bed table and reached for my sandwich which, of course, was long gone. But this time, I saw two white furry feet scoot under the bed like the white rabbit in Wonderland. This time, I was so tired and hungry that I screamed a four-letter word that starts with a “d” just as loud as I could. While the children sat in stunned silence (the first silence in a week), Jodi crawled under one side of the bed and I crawled under the other side hoping we might actually rescue the sandwich in time. Not so. The menacing look on Tucker’s face and the growl that came from his throat couldn’t have been less frightening than the white tiger’s in the magic show. He had discovered the taste of real food and he wasn’t about to cut his dinner short for anybody.

Slowly, I walked back into the kitchen where lots of still shocked little eyes followed my every move. Interestingly enough, Abigail’s face didn’t look shocked at all. It looked rather, ah…ponderous. As I passed her chair, my conscience in torment because I had not only said, but screamed a “bad” word in front of my grandchildren, Abigail moved her little mouth to the side of her cheek and out came the following words of wisdom.

“Meem, this is a sign. You’re just not supposed to eat a ham sandwich tonight.” Her facial expression and tone added up to “And that’s the end of it.”

I looked into her very serious big blue eyes and replied, “Oh, okay.”

“What are you eating?” I asked.

“Chocolate chip cookies,” she happily replied.

“Could I have one?”



Ride, Clyde! August 21, 2010

Filed under: STORY — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 12:49 pm
The day following our traumatic bed adventure, we rose bright and early to explore the hidden city of the ancient Nabateans and later, the Romans. One might be interested to know how one might access a hidden city. I certainly was. There seemed to be no way in but through a very narrow corridor in the rock called, “The Siq.” I don’t know which awed me more, The Siq or the city itself. I could really run off on a million rabbit trails at this point, but I’ll try to stay on track which would ordinarily mean climbing on my camel to “ride, Clyde!” But not quite yet.

As we explored the incredible rose-red buildings which had been carved into the rock from time immemorial, a few Bedoin children followed us around like little puppies…talking puppies, trying to sell their wares! One little girl attached herself to Crystal and Beverlie like a shadow. All day long, she begged them to buy her jewelry and, of course, they did. Whether it was my friends’ shining blonde hair or just my “she doesn’t wear jewelry” look, I don’t know, but the fiesty little girl ignored me, leaving me to the attention of the cutest little fellow. He must have been no more than seven years old. I looked at him early on and asked his name. “Hassan,” he said, “my name Hassan.” From that moment on, Hassan was my shadow, rolling out about four English words like a stuck tape recorder.

“Madam, ride my donkey. Ride my donkey, Madam.”

Most of that very warm day in the dry desert heat, Hassan trailed behind me repeating his line, “Madam, ride my donkey.” Over and over again, I replied, “Hassan, I cannot ride your donkey.” But Hassan had evidently been sent to America to be trained by Donald Trump or perhaps, Zig Ziglar, because he did not give up on his sale. Finally, I decided there was no other recourse than to come right out with it and give Hassan my real reason for not riding his donkey.

“Hassan,” I began, “I cannot ride your donkey because I am too fat and I would hurt your donkey.” There! The truth was out. I figured he would take one “real” look at me and another at his donkey and walk off in search of another client less weighty. Or, even better, he would say something Southern like, “You are not fat, Madam. Donkey be fine.” Neither phrase came out of his little mouth.

Madam,” Hassan assured me soberly, “my donkey strong! You ride my donkey!”

That was not what I wanted to hear. I’ll let you think about it.

As Hassan had assured me, the donkey was very strong.

PS: The little beast of burden faithfully carried me eastward through the winding city streets and into the prefecture of of Hassan’s cousin, Nabal, the camel driver who spoke more languages than I can name. Gene Brooks was waiting astride his trusty ship of the desert while learning about the removal of the Bedouins from Petra only twelve years earlier.

Rudene Kennedy, Crystal Odom, Beverlie Brewer and I mounted our own rather interesting beasts and Nabal led us through the Portal of Teman (Door of Hope) to the more outstretched portions of the city. My dear camel only stopped once and that was to drink a coke. Not me, the camel.

By the way, camels are very strong, too.


BUILD A BED? August 18, 2010

Filed under: STORY — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 12:41 pm

(Sadly, RT was not on this trip. His presence always makes things more interesting and, of course, more enjoyable for me, but this story just had to be included in our traveling aventures. Hope you enjoy!)



Inside the Lost City

Being the leader of twenty people on a journey to Israel is no small task. By the end of the week, I was exhausted. Nevertheless, our days in Israel had been everything we had dreamed and more, and now, nine of us repacked our bags for a three-day jaunt over into Jordan to visit the ancient lost city of Petra, the rose-red city “half as old as time.” We could hardly wait. Touring Petra would be the icing on the cake.


 Eight had signed up for the trip but the morning we were to take a shiroot (Israeli taxi) to the Allenby Bridge to cross over into Jordan, our phlegmatic little friend, Crystal, made a last minute decision to climb aboard. We were happy to have her along as she always makes any adventure more adventurous. The problem, however, was that Crystal had no visa which was required to enter the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, particularly from Israel. We soon discovered that one could not obtain a visa at the Allenby Bridge border crossing, only at the crossing up in the Galilee, a two-hour drive from Jerusalem and another two hours drive back down to Amman before we could even begin our journey down to Petra. I quickly did my math and found that before we even got in a vehicle, we were already four hours behind schedule. But we couldn’t leave dear Crystal in Jerusalem all by herself, so we called another shiroot and pulled our luggage out to the curb.

Because we loved Crystal and wanted her along, I thought nothing of the four-hour detour. It was only when the shiroot drove up that I sensed the first clue that the journey might not be a breeze. The driver introduced himself as “Jihad.” Can you imagine a mother naming her son, “Holy War?” Well, the information was a bit unnerving, but Jihad turned out to be a nice guy and so I put my worries to rest.

About two hours later, Jihad delivered us to a border crossing that was right out of the movies. Our panoramic view consisted of a wide, wide desert of sand with a tiny block building set in its midst. I could just see people running hither and thither while machine guns exploded all around. Nevertheless, we said goodbye to Jihad, pulled our luggage  across the hot desert sands and entered the little building safely.

All I recall at this point is filling out papers standing in a little cubbyhole that looked something like a voting booth. I do remember, quite well, being taken into an office in which a very friendly man smiled at me and offered me a seat. And, I do remember that about an hour later, I suddenly realized that he was telling me we had a problem with our visa. Not Crystal’s visa; she was fine. Since I had obtained our visa back in the States from the Jordanian Embassy, I naturally assumed it was perfect and in order. Not so, but not for any reason one might expect. Strangely enough, our group was traveling with a diplomatic visa. One might also assume that a diplomatic visa would make traveling easier and possibly more comfortable. Not so again.

The smiling checkpoint guy had an issue with the reason we were carrying a diplomatic visa. He wanted to know exactly who we were and why we were in Jordan. One does not, he inferred, need a diplomatic visa to visit Petra. Considering the fact that I did not know I was carrying a diplomatic visa, I could supply our interrogator with no answers other than we were just eight American tourists who couldn’t wait to see the city that had been lost for a thousand years. However, since we were believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus, amongst ourselves we agreed that our special visa was due to our royalty in the Kingdom of God. We kept that to ourselves, of course.

Throughout the afternoon, the little office began to fill up with various members of our group. Karen offered to telephone her friends in Aqaba who would certainly vouch for our good characters and lack of any manner of plans to harm the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. No spies among us, no terrorists, not even a politician.

In the meantime, my greatest concern was that the vehicle rental agency rep waiting on the Jordanian side of the sandy desert—who turned out to be none other than Mohammed—would leave us, thinking we had changed our minds. But Gene Brooks, the one very handy man in our group, somehow managed to send word to Mohammed that we were alive and well and would join him on the Jordanian side as soon as possible.

While Mohammed patiently waited, we spent another hour in the friendly but persistent border guard’s office and then, out of the clear blue, he said, “Welcome to Jordan! I hope you have a nice stay.” Before we could say, Salaam (peace), Mohammed opened the doors to the 9-passenger vehicle and we crammed ourselves inside. He made ten.

I’ll have to say that the two-hour ride back down to Amman where Gene and Beverlie eventually signed papers for the vehicle and left Mohammed, were quite enjoyable. We were in the ancient tribal territory of Gad who was one of Jacob’s twelve sons and rather coincidentally, the name my grandchildren call my husband. Gad to them is a shortened version of Granddaddy.

We soon discovered that Mohammed (like my friend, Peggy Guthrie) had multitudes of cousins, one of which offered the only lunch menu on the two hour journey down to Amman. With a huge smile, Mohammed explained the culinary delights of his cousins’ restaurant, and while our mouths watered, we nodded in agreement to whatever his plan was. Soon, we were ushered into a vividly colorful restaurant and seated around a table with a gorgeous view of the hills of Gad. Within minutes, our table was filled with all the odoriferous dishes Mohammed had described and we were oohing and ahhing over everything. Famished females must be an interesting sight in the Middle East. We were watched quite closely.

After filling our empty stomachs quite nicely, Mohammed came over to our table rolling a gigantic hookah, offering it to all of us with his friendliest smile. In case you don’t know what a hookah is, I’ll explain. It’s the thing that the caterpillar was smoking in Alice and Wonderland. Remember? I’ve never been quite sure what one might be smoking if one puffed on a hookah but evidently it wasn’t too strong because Mohammed continued to drive us to Amman with no upsets nor accidents.

However, just before we departed—after congratulating the staff on a wonderful meal—the eight women in our group waited turns for the restroom, the door to which was hidden behind a colorfully beaded curtain. I can’t recall which of us entered the restroom first, but from then on, we were eight silly women, laughing and giggling all the way out to the van. There was no commode, just a hole in the floor over which one must straddle or else get no relief. I came home having learned that going to the restroom is sometimes an art one has to learn and that short-legged people have a much harder time learning. On to Amman.

Leaving Mohammed on the street with lots of genuine smiles and thank yous, Gene crawled into the driver’s seat and I rode shotgun with the map in my hand. The plan—my long-studied plan—had been to drive down the King’s Highway to Petra, arriving there in the afternoon while still light. But that was before the four-hour detour plus our detainment at the border crossing. You know, I forgot to take pictures at the border. I will always regret that.

Gene had only driven a few minutes when we came to a decision-making fork in the road. We had three choices. We could take the King’s Highway down through the mountains of Esau to Petra—the idea of which Mohammed thought was rather stupid because darkness would fall early and we wouldn’t be able to see wild animals and such on the small, curvy, isolated mountain road. We could take the Desert Highway which ended up in the same place but traversed the desert rather than the dangerous mountains. There might be a few wild beasts but not to worry. Our third choice was to turn in at the sign that read “Mt. Nebo” and get Moses’s perspective of the Promised Land and then travel the Desert Highway down to Petra, arriving late but with better spiritual insight. Number three won. Experiencing Mt. Nebo was well worth the time.

The Desert Highway presented us with no particularly wild animals but we did cross paths with a few donkeys, dead and alive. And if the King’s Highway was any darker, we would have had to stop the van and wait until morning to travel.

We finally arrived in the lost city (we clearly understood how it got lost) around 10:00 p.m. Our first order of business was to check in the hotel and the second was to get in bed. The day seemed to have expanded like unto the day that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still so the battle could be won. Our battle, however, was not yet won.

The desk clerk greeted us cordially. My good friend, Michelle, who had been living in Israel for about a year and spoke five languages fluently, stood beside me to help with translation if needed. But language wasn’t the problem. The nice desk clerk handed me the keys to three rooms and off we went with our eyes half closed. We opened the doors to our rooms and bid one another good night. What happened next reminds me of that phrase from “The Night Before Christmas,” the one that goes, “When what to my wondering eyes should appear….” We had been given three rooms with one double bed in each room.

 After trudging back down the long hallway and reminding the clerk that I had reserved three rooms with two double beds in each room and another single room for Gene, he informed me quite nicely that I had done no such thing. I had asked for three rooms with a double bed in each room. Much later, I came to the conclusion that the word “double” was the culprit. But at the time, the word wasn’t the issue. Sleep was the issue.

The very gracious argument went on quite a while with me continually explaining that our group consisted of eight women and one man and there was no way we could all sleep in three double beds. That particular problem didn’t seem to concern him at all. Over and over, I asked if the hotel had rollaway beds. No, they had no rollaways. Michelle was at a loss. Her five languages were not helping.

There is no telling how long this “discussion” went on with the members of our group left sitting on the floor in the hallway near the rooms. I don’t know if it was the length of the argument or the problem itself that caused quite a few hotel staff members to gather near the counter and listen. I really hadn’t noticed them until one of them, a rather elderly man, looked at me and said in very broken English, “I bild you bed.” He looked like one big smiley face. Michelle and I looked confused, I’m sure. We must have said something like, “Huh?”

It was obvious that all the staff (the desk clerk ignored this aside conversation) agreed with the smiling fellow. Their countenances were filled with happy affirmation and as he led us back down the long hallway, chattering away about “bild you bed,” Michelle and I nodded, agreeing with whatever the great idea was. Anything would have been great at that point.

Literally, within minutes, the guy and his cohorts built enough beds for all of us to sleep in. To this day, I am not sure, but I think “build a bed” takes the place of rollaways in Jordan, perhaps the entire Middle East. Anyway, if you end up over there with no place to sleep, ask someone to build you a bed.

More to come on our Petra adventure…..




Brotherly Love? August 12, 2010

Filed under: STORY — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 3:11 pm

Traveling from North Carolina to New England in the peak of Autumn color every few years, RT and I had zipped through the City of Brotherly Love many times. However, we had never explored Philadelphia; hadn’t even stayed a night in the most historical city in the United States. Sad to say, but true.  And so, the day came when we said this shouldn’t be, jumped in the van a bit earlier in the day than usual, and set out for Philly via Havre de Grace, Maryland.

The small coastal town of Havre de Grace had become a favorite stopover for RT and me. Crawling with history, water, boats and good restaurants, it’s a great place for a one night stay or a few days of interesting browsing. Surprisingly, our favorite eating establishment is a small Italian restaurant near the Interstate rather than the great seafood places near the Bay. It’s called The Olive Tree, just in case you make it to Havre de Grace one of these days.

The following morning we were up and at ’em about 9:00 a.m. (Getting up at daybreak is not one of RT’s idiosyncrasies and certainly not one of mine.) And I-95 is not my favorite road to travel, but in case you haven’t noticed, it’s impossible to avoid the constantly reconstructed highway if you need to hurry north or south along the Atlantic coastline. We zipped up the crowded interstate and before long it was time for me, the navigator as well as head of reservations, to call for a hotel. We made a good choice. Our seventh floor room overlooked the Delaware River at the exact spot William Penn made landing in 16 hundred and something. What’s more, the hotel was within walking distance of the oldest section of Philadelphia, a delightful area of brick streets, pubs and historical houses.

Our cuisine experiences in Philadelphia were quite wonderful, but since this isn’t exactly a travel guide, I’ll get on to the rather odd part of the story. Because we had enjoyed the trolley tour in Boston a few years earlier, we decided that would be just the thing to do in Philly. We would get the history from the tour guide plus have the option to get on and off the trolleys as we pleased.

Just in case you travel to Philadelphia for the history, let it be known that quite a few historical sites are not open on Mondays, possibly all of them. Therefore, we gazed at the outside of Betsy Ross’s house for a few minutes and then sat on a bench and waited for the next trolley. But when we realized that Christ Church was just around the corner, we left our bench and experienced a very enjoyable half hour or so in the old church and cemetery.

After that, we did the Asian woman thing again and I followed RT down a long, long street to see where Benjamin Franklin was buried. I longed to go in many of the buildings along the way but this was just before we started treating cell phones as little Buddhas and there was no way to let sprinting RT know where I was. Breathless, I finally caught a little glimpse of old Ben’s grave as RT came back through the wrought iron gate.

Thank goodness, we caught the next trolley and found seats on top with a wonderful view of the city. Our guide was a small nervous seeming woman around forty, I’d say, with a baseball cap on her head. As we rumbled along over cobblestone, brick and asphalt, she shared details of Philadelphia’s history that I doubt one would read in a history book. It seems she knew all the ins and outs and ups and downs of the city’s long history, including a scandal or two.

We were on our way out to the zoo when the trolley driver pulled over to the curb of a very busy street, vehicles packed bumper-to-bumper. Instantly, our little guide flew down the steps and nearly ran a few feet down the street and into a bar. That was when the driver got on the loud-speaker and informed us that she would come right back. She didn’t. Not in five minutes, nor ten, nor twenty nor ever. Like the guy in the old song about Charlie on Boston’s MTA, she never returned. We had been abandoned in the City of Brotherly Love.

One might guess that our fellow tourists grew rather testy during this time and they did. Some were downright angry. For some reason, the driver defended the guide profusely and refused to call the trolley company until he finally had no choice. My memory is fading but I think we were given the choice of continuing the tour with another guide or calling it a day. There was no mention of getting our money back. In the end, everyone voted for another guide which called for another fifteen or twenty minutes of waiting time. All-in-all, I think we sat at the curb at least an hour, maybe longer.

Eventually, we rumbled off down the street with our new tour guide, a guy, who didn’t share as many interesting details as the woman but was enjoyable nonetheless. Considering the female guide’s antsy actions and her obvious magnetic pull into the bar, I can’t help but wonder now if her stories had any truth in them at all.



HIGHWAYS AND HIPPIES: A Sequel to “30 Years and Counting” July 30, 2010

Filed under: STORY — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 11:49 am

Have you ever wondered what happened to the hippies of the sixties? Not the ones in the news who committed crimes or acts of terrorism throughout the last few decades but the thousands who haven’t shown up in about forty years? As RT and I sped across the great plains on Interstate 70, we had no idea we were going to discover the answer to that compelling mystery.

We did find a few old hippies browsing around eastern Colorado but none to speak of until we landed in the absolutely delightful town of Boulder. I was beside myself. Famous restaurants and shops of all kinds surrounded quaint brick streets where artists of all shapes and sizes shared their wares with the general public. Even jugglers and clowns and other non-recognizable entertainers performed all up and down the shady avenue.

Whiffs of culinary delights from around the world teased us, luring us into a wonderful corner restaurant for dinner, but not before we began to notice that we had made the great discovery. Most all the old hippies (our age, actually) who didn’t make it in life are now ambling about the lovely streets of Boulder, Colorado. It looked as if they were not doing much of anything. In fact, I might bet that some still wore the same jeans they sported in the sixties, a few holes added.  And unlike Willie Nelson, most pony tails were still intact.

We found the rest of them a bit further up the road—and the mountains—in Estes Park, the gateway to the Rockies. Having stayed the night in a wonderful little lodge-like hotel RT found on the edge of Boulder, we visited the awesome Boulder Falls and then cruised on up through the gorgeous countryside to Estes Park. Our first order of business being to take care of the gnawing hunger in our empty bellies, we walked up and down the Old West plank sidewalks reading outdoor menus all along the way. We settled on a small grill with outdoor seating where we could enjoy the food and the panoramic scenery of the Rockies at the same time.

The first old hippie we met in Estes Park was our waiter. He seemed to have no clue where he was or what he was doing there. Words sort of slid out of his mouth…very slowly. His eyes were a bit glazed. After we sat at our little table and looked around for about thirty minutes, he wandered up to us and murmured something unintelligible. The pen he held was shaking like the Aspen leaves Colorado is so famous for.

RT was happy to see that the menu included hot roast beef open-faced sandwiches, one of his favorites, particularly when traveling. While I struggled to decide what I was going to order, he patiently watched another leftover hippie tune up his guitar there on the deck. Yay, we were going to be entertained with music from our teen and college years. Perhaps a little Bob Dylan, Donovan and Joan Baez would be included. But then, the musician’s girlfriend showed up and they discussed something about their obviously strained relationship which postponed our entertainment for at least twenty minutes or so.

It was probably because of that postponement that we realized the waiter hadn’t come back out in at least forty-five minutes. Other diners had noticed his absence as well and were expressing their displeasure rather loudly. Finally, RT walked inside to find the waiter who rather dreamily agreed that he was a bit behind schedule.

Finally, the musician began to play and sing—very well, I might add—and the waiter brought our order. We were very happy campers until RT noticed that he had no mashed potatoes which he had very clearly ordered. This time RT actually caught the waiter’s attention and asked if he could bring the mashed potatoes he had forgotten. RT couldn’t possibly eat a hot roast beef open-faced sandwich with neither French fries nor mashed potatoes. I understood his problem quite well as did all the other diners who complained about worse issues than missing potatoes.

The dazed waiter stared at the plate while RT explained the issue of the missing potatoes as if my husband were giving him directions to build a nuclear bomb. If I remember correctly, the waiter mouthed something like, “You wanted potatoes?”

RT said, “I ordered mashed potatoes. Where are they?”

“I dunno.” He slowly walked away pondering the question as if it were the mystery of the ages.

RT and I looked at one another. “Well,” said RT, who didn’t like to complain. “I’ll just eat the roast beef and enjoy the music.”

About that time, a guy pulled up to the deck in a pickup truck and blew the horn. The musician put down his ancient guitar and walked over to the rail to talk to the visitor. After a few minutes of conversation, the fifty-ish musician picked up the guitar, jumped over the deck railing and took off with the guy in the pickup truck.

I have no memory of my food, but apparently it tasted pretty good. RT only half enjoyed his roast beef without potatoes until he suddenly stopped eating and stared at his plate.


I looked. Lo and behold, far beneath layers of roast beef, gravy and bread was hidden a nice little lump of mashed potatoes. I’m sure RT ate more than usual that day just to get some potatoes in with the roast beef. He wanted to apologize to the waiter but I warned him that the poor guy was too stoned to understand or either his brain was as fried as that egg on television.

We decided to stroll down the street a bit to walk off the calories and see the sights of Estes Park which we could have easily seen from where we were…except for one attraction in particular. Just ahead of us, standing on the street corner holding the leash for a gigantic white poodle, stood a woman dressed in a bright pink clown suit with huge white gossamer wings on her back. She was rather hefty with lots of lumps herself and sported what I can only describe as wild, yellow blonde hair.

RT said, a bit too loudly, “Look, MT! Go stand beside her and I’ll take your picture.”

“No,” I whispered, suspecting the woman had escaped from a loony bin or perhaps a traveling circus had left her behind. “Walk faster, RT.”

“She’s a tourist trap. Probably selling those balloons she’s holding in her other hand.” RT was already fiddling with his camera, preparing for a shot to please National Geographic. WebShots was a thing of the future.

“No,” I continued to whisper. “She’s not here for entertainment. I have a feeling she’s real. She could even be dangerous.”

“Nobody would dress like that for real,” replied my very pragmatic husband.

“I think she does.” I kept my eyes on her at all times, hoping and praying she wasn’t hearing what RT was saying. He kept his eyes on her as well, camera in hand, waiting for her to belt out a song or start tap dancing.

Finally, when she did neither and just crossed the road with her genetically mutated poodle, he gave in and agreed that she was real. We may have found the strangest and happiest lost hippy yet. And yes, we did take pictures.

PS…I have also discovered many old hippies in various regions of our continent and beyond who have gone on to make a powerful impact on the world around them once they found the Way.


PATRICK HENRY? July 29, 2010

Filed under: STORY — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 10:32 pm

Other than the parking meter episode, our first morning in Germany was fairly uneventful… except that RT had a hard time getting past the fact that I ordered chili for lunch in Germany. He ordered the local fare: sausage and cabbage and potatoes. None of those three items are high on my favorites list, particularly not as a group.

With map in hand and all our worldly goods packed in the back of the little blue Opel, I boarded said vehicle and navigated RT through totally new territory in search of the north/south autobahn towards Switzerland. We were ready for our next adventure to begin.

Now, I can’t remember if I have said this hitherto fore, but my husband is a great driver. In fact, for RT, driving is not a task but an art. I drive to get where I am going. RT drives for the sheer enjoyment. And enjoy, he did. There was no speed limit on the autobahn. Need I say more? My trusty map revealed that our autobahn hugged the Rhine most all the way down to Basel, Switzerland. I was in heaven, as we sometimes say. Scattered all along the lovely river were the ruins of ancient castles, their spires still majestic above the green trees and rolling hills.

“Look, RT! Look at those beautiful castles! Oh, aren’t they awesome?”

“Can you believe this? I could go 200 miles per hour if I wanted to!”

I glanced at my 50-year-old husband. For a split second, I saw a big number “3” on his chest, a cap on his head and goggles over his eyes. Earnhardt would have been proud.

I have no idea to this day if he ever saw a castle while driving through Europe….or anything else. However, we did actually park the vehicle long enough to enjoy a nice patio lunch in Heidelberg and then we toured the famous castle, a delightful change in RT’s usual drive-by vacations. A couple of hours later, we were back on the autobahn headed south.

What happened next was, and still is, a great mystery. Suddenly, we were in bumper-to-bumper traffic which is totally unheard of on Europe’s autobahns. RT looked at his watch. We were losing time…fast. At that rate, we would never get to veer over to drive through the Alsace Lorraine section of France.

Finally, after at least a half hour creeping along the highway, I rolled my window down and shouted to the driver in the vehicle in the lane next to us. “Do you speak English?”

“Yes, m’am! I’m from Georgia. Where y’all from?”

I could have kissed him.

RT leaned around me and asked, “What’s going on here? Has there been an accident up the road?”

“Oh, no, nothing like that. We’re entering the U.S. Air Force base, Patrick Henry. It’s always like this.”

RT and I nearly fainted right there in our seats. How on earth had we gotten off the autobahn? We were entering a military base in Germany just after 9-11.

“Can we turn around?”  RT’s idea sounded good to me.

“Nope. No u-turns,” said our fellow southerner. “When you get to the checkpoint, just pull over to the side of the street. A soldier will go over to you and find out what you’re doing here. Then, if they are satisfied with your story, they will probably escort you off the base. If not…well….”

Oh, my. This was more serious than I thought.

And it was. When we came to the area the Georgian described, a gigantic sign loomed high ahead of us with three lines of huge text: DEFCON CHARLIE! RT informed me that the sign meant the base was on the highest level of alert short of Defcon Delta which meant war.

Then, we remembered 9-11. My dear husband and I were driving uninvited onto an American air force base in Germany only one month after 9-11 with absolutely no excuse as to why were there other than we were perhaps lost.

The first soldier who came over to interview us was German. He waved for an English-speaking fellow who listened somewhat patiently to RT’s roundabout way of telling our story. I wondered for a while if the guy thought RT was lying. I figured the verdict was 50/50. Nevertheless, with neither a smile nor a frown, the young soldier waved us further off the road and said, “Wait here.”

I can’t recall how long we waited there staring at the Defcon Charlie sign, but after a while, a jeep rode by us with its siren screaming and the guy motioned for us to follow. And follow, we did. He didn’t set us free until we were at least five miles down our original autobahn.

But not to worry. Earnhardt made up for lost time and we arrived in France just before dark, castles unseen.


Unplanned Vacations July 22, 2010

Filed under: STORY — Marilyn Denny Thomas @ 11:51 am

You may be thinking that all our vacations were unplanned and you would be correct in your assessment. However, in June of 1977, RT and I decided (at the last minute, I’m sure) to take the kids on an overnighter to Atlantic Beach for our wedding anniversary. Strange, I have no memory of that first day, but later that night after the girls were asleep, RT turned to me and said, “Let’s take the ferry over to Ocracoke and ride on up to Nags Head for a day or two.” Of course, I said, “Okay, sounds good to me,” although I was thinking that RT and I had one change of clothing which only included two pairs of underwear each. (Have you ever wondered why one piece of clothing is called a “pair?” Is it because there are two holes for your legs to go through? Hmmm….) I always took extra clothing for the children so they were okay.

After a few minutes of mulling the clothing issue over, I versed my concern. “RT,” I said, “we only have one change of clothing and that includes underwear.”
“Oh, don’t worry. We can wash them out every night and if things get too bad, we can go to a laundry mat.”
“Okay,” I agreed.
And so, the next morning we thrilled the girls with the good news and headed out to traverse the narrow roads and ferries through Ocracoke up to Nags Head, enjoying the awesome beaches, wild horses and the Hatteras Light House along the way. As usual, RT didn’t stop anywhere except to eat lunch. Not even at the light house. That’s why we have since dubbed him The Drive-by Tourist. More to come on that issue. The only comment I’ll add at this point is that RT was, and is, always in a hurry because something might happen in the business that would call him back. And that’s why, when he pulled the Chevy into Hardee’s parking lot, he instructed our two little girls—particularly Joelle who always ordered a hamburger with no this, that and the other—thusly, “Now, just order a plain ol’ hamburger!”

And she did just that. Thirty minutes later, hot and sweaty and ill as a hornet, RT and I spotted our innocent babies coming out of Hardees. By the way, there were no drive-through fast food chains in 1977. RT tried to control his impatience. After all, this was our vacation. The girls carried their fragrant char-grilled loot with happy smiles on their little faces, reaching the Chevy with the air of a job well done.

“I told you to order a plain hamburger, Joelle. What did you get?”
“A plain hamburger,” she replied.
“Then, why did it take so long?” RT was confused, as was I.
“Because they had to make me a special plain hamburger with nothing on it.”
“But that’s not what I said,” moaned her frustrated daddy.
“Yes, you did. You said to get a plain hamburger and that’s exactly what I ordered.” She smiled at him with her blueberry eyes as if to say, “And that’s that.”
A little later, we pulled up to one of those local beachfront motels which are still nice on the Outer Banks and got a room for the night. The next morning, RT walked into the office and reserved a room for that night. The third day, he did the same thing, amusing the clerk but not surprising him because this was the man with wet underwear hanging on his car’s antenna.
That day we visited the Wright Brothers’ Memorial which Jodi was certain was a building dedicated to the Righteous Brothers and cried when we told her otherwise. At seven, she was more into music than aviation history. Later, we took the girls to a huge waterslide and watched Jodi make about three trips down the slide to Joelle’s one. They were different that way.
On the third night, RT turned to me and said, “I’ve been thinking about driving on up to Chincoteague, Virginia. Joelle loves the Misty books and I’m sure both girls would like to see where it all happened.”
What a great idea. RT was, and is, a good daddy for all his idiosyncrasies. The girls, ages seven and nine, were thrilled. Joelle had tears in her eyes. She would see the homeland of her hero, Misty, and all the ponies she read about nearly every night. Jodi was happy, too. She just wasn’t quite as into the book thing as Joelle was. She was too busy rearranging her dollhouse and leading the neighborhood children on adventures through the woods behind our house.
After enduring the beautiful but harrowing drive across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, we arrived in Chincoteague in early afternoon, just in time to “ride by” the beach where the pony roundup takes place and drive over to Assateague before sundown. I’m sorry to say that we didn’t see the first pony but we had seen wild horses on Ocracoke so the girls were satisfied. The next morning we actually exited the Chevy to visit the Misty Museum which housed the stuffed carcass of…guess who? Joelle’s friend, Misty, the little pony who still blesses the hearts of children all over the world.
We have pictures if you’d like to see them.
Oh, we did stop at the laundry mat after I jerked RT’s underwear off the antenna and warned him, “Don’t ever do that again!”