Friday, June 18, 2010

After Vacation, Scrambling to Catch Up

Traveling is one of my favorite things to do—partly because home always seems so comfortable and refreshing afterwards. Yet the reentry into ordinary life takes some scrambling and emotional readjustment. While I have tried to catch up with laundry, mail, newspapers in the vacation packet, emails, blogs, and now Facebook, Gerald has the lawn and his garden in good shape again. He accomplished a small custom mowing job for couple he mowed for last year, and he has made connections with our good neighbor Scott about whatever those two have to work on together.

Nevertheless, Gerald has still managed to attend two softball tourneys since we have come home. First, the afternoon of the day we got home, he rode with Gerry to St. Louis area. Gerry dropped him off at 2 a.m. or so the next morning. He got to see granddaughter Tara, who was there with the 18-and-under Southern Force, but not her four-year-old Aidan who had decided to stay longer with Gma Vickie and Gpa Gerry down in Georgia. Vickie and Aidan were watching Geri Ann on the Georgia Southern Force team at Birmingham, and Erin was substitute coaching this team for Tara.

Then Wednesday night this week Tara was planning on driving down from Aurora after finishing a softball lesson up there and hoped to arrive at Woodsong at midnight. (Gerald was really scrambling to arrange to go with her since he had thought the tourney at Chattanooga where they were headed did not start until Friday—not Thursday—so he lost a day of prep time.)

I stayed up to 2:30 hoping to help her and the babies inside (who sleep when they travel at night) but mostly just to see those dear faces. Although I knew she probably had gotten a late start and undoubtedly had road construction this time of year between there and here, I briefly started to worry. I debated phoning—but I always think a phone call in the middle of construction driving is not helpful. I knew she would call us if she needed us.

Gerald then woke up and did phone her, and she was only thirty or so minutes away and she was late for the reasons I had surmised. I had lain down on the upstairs couch so I would hear her come in—but when she did, I went on one side of bookcases and she took sleeping Maddux down the stairs on the other and had him soundly settled in the baby bed in just a few minutes. I did get to hold and rock Peyton briefly for Tara, but very quickly they too disappeared to downstairs bedrooms. I did not go to sleep again easily, but I hoped Gerald did since he would be driving when they planned to leave at 5 a.m. I woke briefly to hear their voices as they left, but decided the kindest thing I could do was stay in bed and not break their focus as they hurried to gather up and get on the road again in order to play ball at 1 p.m. yesterday.

The next I knew the phone was ringing at 9 a.m. Tara was driving now. Gerald phoned to say they had unexpectedly decided to take our car since Tara did not have her vehicle loaded with equipment since it was already there. They had hurriedly emptied the car of my jacket and raincoat in the trunk, the bags of empty med bottles I had collected that the free medical clinic has quit recycling and that I offered to a crafter, the cloth carrier full of song books I needed to take to a meeting I was going to have to miss last night, etc. (Gerald hates that I leave things in the car so that I do not forget them, but since usually he drives the pickup and I drive the car, he tolerates my using the car for a storage system.)

On the road, however, they discovered my cell phone was still in the car because that is the only place I use it and not then if I can help it. Knowing I’d be sleeping in, Gerald waited until 9 to phone me. I was glad they had taken the car, especially since he said he had driven for a couple of hours in some of the hardest downpour he’d ever experienced.

I was already running late for the day’s plans. I had an appointment for an archivist in the library at Southern Illinois University Carbondale to look at personal scrapbooks I’d kept during my four college years in the early 1950s just in case Special Collections wanted them for local/social history purposes. (They did.) After a quick breakfast, I made a couple of necessary phone calls, and I found a rolling suitcase to transport the scrapbooks and hoisted them in the back seat of the pickup. I delivered the song books to the proper location in the opposite direction and then headed to Marion.

By this time, I realized that Gerald not only had my phone but the quarters I keep in ash tray and the $l00 bill in the console. I had managed to spend or give away all $170 left over from vacation, and my bill fold was empty. I had a coin purse on vacation with change in it, but I had not thought to find and grab it. Not to worry. I thought I would just stop at the bank site located inside Kroger’s and get some money. By the time I reached there, it was pouring rain and I also gave up my plan to run in and get Stefeny to do something with my permanent-less hair. It would do no good since I’d soon be out in the rain again. I also realized that if I made it to the doctor’s office before the technician’s lunch hour for my one week-late INR, I did not have time to stop anywhere.

I got the INR on the opposite side of town and way past Kroger and there was plenty of time to get to the SIUC library now. I had found a lonely dollar bill in the pocket of the rolling suitcase evidently tucked there in case I wanted a cola or something at a Writers Guild book signing. I was hoping I’d find free guest parking at the library, but if not, I’d run in and get change for that bill. As it continued pouring rain, I was grateful that I’d phoned my friend who usually rides with me to Guild and told her I was not sure I’d go that night—and neither was she since she had an out-of-town med procedure—and I had no phone for us to make last minute plans.

By the time I arrived at Carbondale, it was a different world—a dry one. I had plenty of time and I parked the truck in a 15-minute slot at the library thinking I’d go in and get change for my dollar bill. But although I like driving the truck and being up high enough to feel like king (or queen) or the road, I only drive it two or three times a year and parking that big old thing is not one of my talents. There was one empty visitor space left. Before I got out of the truck, someone swooped in and took that empty spot, put their quarters in and left me without hope. I saw how lopsided I had parked and did not feel I ought to leave the truck like that even for 15 minutes.

Since I had plenty of time, I thought I’d just drive over to the big parking lot by the Student Center; and if I were lucky, I’d find a visitor’s spot with left-over time on the meter. I did—between a tall metal girder on one side and a little blue car on the other. I pulled in—scared to death I’d scratch the truck or hit the sweet little car. I was so lopsided that I was scared to pull out but I safely did after realizing these parking slots were not really for visitors.

I went around, found the visitors’ spots two aisles over next to the street and found a slot without a red “Expired” sign popped up. It was next to the stairs up towards the road beside the Student Center and so very easy to park there. When I got out and looked, the meter seemed to have a full 8 hours left. That did not make sense—why would there not be some time expired if someone had just left it? There was no sack over it as there was one non-functioning meter. Why look a gift meter in the mouth? By now it was later. I lifted the suitcase down and realized I could not go up the steps with it, but walked on up to the other Student Center entrance, where the parking lot had sloping sidewalks for wheelchairs to access the street. It was hot and muggy as is typical after rains in Southern Illinois. I crossed the street and welcomed the air conditioning as I walked straight through the Student Center to the outside trail leading through the woods I love. The trees were still dripping water but my hair was already a mess, so I did not care. Soon I was at the library and in Special Collections.
By this time I had begun to think more about that parking meter. Did the sign there say there was a $75 fine? Would someone charge me that if some campus police could tell it was obvious I had not put any money in that meter. I asked the person I was seeing for an opinion, but he didn’t know. I had even hoped someone would say, “Don’t worry. I’ll be able to fix it if you get in trouble.” Or maybe someone would say: “Let me tell you about secret parking spaces on the other side of our building.” I’ve had both those things said to me before when asked to come to meetings at SIUC, but no one said either yesterday. So I left the scrapbooks, got change for my $1, and walked back on the path now going upward in this direction through the woods to the Student Center and across the street to the parking lot. I really welcomed the air conditioning this time.

Remembering I had parked across from the entrance to the Student Center, I looked for the truck right by the entrance—and it was not there. I was confused. I had not been gone long enough surely for it to be towed as some signs warned. And that visitors’ sign definitely did say there was a $75 fine. I wondered how much it cost to retrieve a vehicle that had been towed. I kept looking for a campus police figuring he would have pity on me when I showed him my quarters and good intentions. None were to be seen. Would this be funny in ten years? I hoped so as it was not then.

A sweet lady pulled into the parking space next to where I thought I had parked. She saw my look of confusion and asked my problem. She felt sure no one would have towed a vehicle that quickly—and she had a phone. Let me call the parking people for you, she offered. I was so grateful and she started dialing. Then I saw our truck way down by the other Student Center entrance that I had not been able to use because of the steps there. And I remembered I had parked there in an identical looking space. I was too relieved to feel embarrassed and thanked my good Samaritan profusely before she had the phone call made that might have embarrassed me.

I gratefully walked down to the truck and looked at the meter—still registering a full 8 hours. It had not moved. Would I get a ticket if I stayed there? No one around to ask, of course. Looking up again at the $75 warning, I moved the truck on down a couple of spaces—most of the visitors’ slots were empty right then. I parked perfectly and put my four quarters in the meter giving me two hours of honest-bought time to go back and use at the Special Collections Center at Morris Library. I walked back through the Student Center and the woods as fast as I could to not waste time. I was drippy by the time I reached the air conditioning of the library but a little smug that I’d had my exercise that day.

The helpful young attendant took my order for the George Washington Smith papers, and I signed the release paper for donating the scrapbooks which the archivist thought had programs and other papers not likely to be available elsewhere. I grabbed a pencil and went to work on the Smith material that would take weeks to review if I really examined them. I mostly wanted to work with Smith’s 1930s research on the Trail of Tears, and I barely glanced through a small portion of those materials when I ran out of time. Maybe someday I will have an entire day to go back with plenty of quarters for 8 hours and spend the day with Smith.

I quit in time to enjoy the leisurely walk back through the woods and not risk getting a ticket if my four quarters had been used up and that nasty red “Expired” sign showed up. I did not doubt if that happened, a parking lot attendant would appear at that precise moment. By the time I left Carbondale, it was 4 p.m., and the weather was perfectly clear. There had not been the road construction as I had feared when I left home; and with no rain, I decided to attend the Writers Guild meeting at John A. Logan College because I really wanted to see and hear Gary Metro, editor of the Southern Illinoisan who was speaking. I knew parking at night at John A. would not be a problem. I could read in the library until our 7 p.m. meeting.

I was tired and realized I was hungry, and I had no money. Who would take a credit card? I assumed Golden Coral would although Gerald has always paid when we went there a couple of years ago and I doubted if he used a card I found several empty places on the far side of their lot, and parked the truck expertly—hey I am getting good. It was four-thirty. If a combined breakfast and lunch is called “brunch,” I wondered if a combined lunch and supper should be called “lupper.”

Of course, they took my card. I looked forward to sitting to rest, enjoy people watching, and enjoy the ice water and coffee as much as the food. Over twenty years ago when Jeannie was at Eastern, I sometimes deliberately stopped alone for a meal after I’d taken her up to school and I remembered thinking that it was good for a woman to learn to dine comfortably alone since she might someday have to do so. That is more true today than then.

There were interesting people to observe and make up possible stories about. Some happy stories. Some sad. Couples who had lots to say to each other. Others who ate silently. A couple with a child of a different race who could not possibly be their biological child. How sad was his life before he joined them? Was his story happy now?

There was an elderly couple with an adult son, who did not look retarded but acted so. The mother smiled and even laughed once at his conversation with much flailing of hands. I was grateful she could still enjoy him, but knew this was not the end-of-life time she had envisioned for herself and her husband when this baby boy was born. Her neatly dressed husband whose coloring reminded me physically of my brother, sat silently throughout their dinner time going to the various buffet areas for food, which he seemed to eat sparingly but quite competently. Yet from a blank look on his face, I felt he might not ever be available for conversation any more with this wife and son. I wanted to scream to this woman: You are a hero. You are looking after the ones you love when there probably are few rewards other than knowing you are doing the right thing.

Most of us were dressed in light-weight clothing, lots of jeans and tees, several in shorts. Only one woman in a formal jacket over her blouse. One very tall professional man had on the only suit--a black suit with blue shirt but no tie thankfully. A large percentage of us were obese. One very tall slender attractive young woman was as tall as the extremely tall man who happened to be beside her at the buffet. Her hair on top of her head made her two inches taller, and I was glad she did not worry about her height as girls used to do in the old days. There was a cute very young teen who had liquid of some kind dripping off her plate, and she carefully avoided it with her flip-flops as she realized it. I was glad her look of embarrassment did not last long. Several people had cell phones and had pleasant looks as they perused text messages. No phones rang nor annoyed. I did overhear a phone caller ending the call with “Love you too.” Felt good.

The two sixty-looking men nearest me were the only ones I could hear conversing and the only thing I heard was the name of Bobby Fischer and the word “chess.” One had short hair and was slender and smiley. One with a pony tail was extremely heavy and awkward looking because of that.

There was a young teen boy with a brimmed hat on, and an attitude to go with it—a good attitude I could tell. I wished I knew him. Another young teen was was sitting with what I surmised were his great grandparents. I saw several grandparents with a child. One young woman was dining with two adorable preschoolers. One family with the mother looking stressed, her somewhat older husband happily carrying and caring for their preschooler as he went down the buffet line while the mother took care of her mother, I assumed, who was with them. My only unpleasantness was the realization that I did not have anything to leave on the table for April, the very attentive employee who served our area handing out hot bread and who kept our coffee cups full. If I ever go back and I probably won’t, I’ll tip her double. Hopefully others tipped her well.

Rested and no longer hungry or thirsty, I went on to John A. Logan and hurried down to the library to browse in the genealogy room only to find it closed at 6 p.m. this summer. But the genial librarian there renewed my community borrower’s card and let me check out two books quickly so I had entertainment while I waited for our meeting to start.

I drove home without incident and stopped at the end of the lane for our mail and retrieved the wet newspaper I had not thought about in the morning since Gerald always walks down and gets it for us. I spread the paper out to dry, checked the email, dressed for bed where I saw the coin purse lying on my bathroom counter, and went quickly to bed and soundly to sleep. It had a silly kind of day but overall a good one.

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