October 20

Muskrat Love and Lessons from New Hampshire

Even with a slight hunch to his back, at almost 91 years old, he is still about the most dapper guy I know.

I’ve often told myself when I slow down and maybe someday retire, I will get on Ancestry.com and learn about the history of my family.

But my great-uncle Vin is here from up east this week and he shared with me a few things last night at dinner that I never knew.

I did not know he worked for the railroad for over 60 years. I didn’t know we were fur traders or that he was a poet with a collection of about 150 pieces including a lengthy one about the death of John F. Kennedy. I’d really like to read that.

I didn’t know there was someone else in my family who prayed to Jesus to find their favorite pencil.

On special occasions, I’m allowed 12-22 seconds to utter a prayer before meals. After one sentence to Dear Lord Jesus, my brother chimes in to zip-it before the food gets cold.

But last night, just as the first spoon of potatoes was about to hit my mouth, my aunt Maureen nudged me on the right. And grabbed my hand.

I looked up to a table of people with bowed heads, holding hands.

Dear father, we thank you… 

My heart soared. Uncle Vin offered the kindest, sweetest, most sincere prayer I have ever heard in that breakfast nook.

I come from prayer.

I was rooted in a love for God.

I remembered this as soon as he began to give thanks, sounding so much like my grandfather it made me nearly cry for how I’ve forgotten.

In-between the occasional cursing and small sips of red wine from the Waterford crystal, he told stories.

He told a story about watching his father haggle with a muskrat dealer over a nickel. They went to the next trader and the man stood there with his two children hiding behind his legs. He looked past them to see their broken-down shack and the lack of beds or even mattresses, but just rags thrown down on the floor for sleeping.

“I messed up this cut right here,” the man apologized.

“Oh, no. These are fine pelts. The fur is black and shiny.”

Before this, the only time I think I’ve ever heard about muskrats was from the Captain and Tennille song.

He paid that man more than he offered the first.

When they got back in the pick-up truck, my great-grandfather spoke kindly, “Tell me what you saw.”

Uncle Vin retold what happened, asking why he paid the second man more money.

“The first trader will always be here and I can go back and get more next week. But that man, the one with the children in front of the run-down shack, he needed that money now. He needed it to feed his family and survive.”

Every story came back to a lesson and back to the bible.

He brought up the rich man from the Bible who couldn’t part with his stuff. Right there, in that moment, I was over-filled with joy.

Muskrat love.

And a love for God.

My family was rooted in faith.

 

 

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October 16

When life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Identifying values.

I can identify the things I value all day long. It’s my follow-through that is still lacking.

For example, on my calendar for yesterday, the new one I bought so I could prioritize all that is important, there is a big giant X and a side note that says, day off.

It was going to be a day of reading, relaxing and spending time with family.

But then as I was double-checking and catching up on leads, I noticed a new house pop up in a neighborhood where I have client friends looking and then an agent wanted to preview some land I have listed.

I figured I had time. I thought I could do it all.

And so I made time for all the wrong things.

I happen to love finding the perfect place for people to live out their lives. I’m crazy passionate about homes.

Behind this front door is where the real stuff is happening.

So I raced to the country and then back to the city and then back to my house to read scary stories about Creepy Carrots to a little girl who’d waited too long for her Grammie to get back.

My phone has been off ever since.

We went to the park and she climbed to the top of the green bar even though she was wearing new flip flops instead of her tennis shoes and she proudly proclaimed, “I told you I could do it!”

There was an episode with another little girl named Lala, and an adamant refusal to surrender two tiny words, “I’m sorry.”

The short sentences are the ones often hardest to say for a four-year-old, although they are the ones most often coming out of my mouth.

“I’m sorry.”

Sorry, I don’t have the answer you want to hear.

Sorry, I don’t want to hear about the personal trainer who already has a girlfriend.

Sorry, I should have gotten back sooner.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to say it like that.

Sorry, I forgot to call back right away.

It seems I’m always apologizing.

And sometimes to myself.

I messed up my Spanish streak and my 100 uninterrupted days.

Instead, we went for a walk with the dogs and found some pecans. I taught her how to crack them open and she taught me that one side goes in her mouth and one side in the bowl for the pie.

We read more books.

I thought I’d have time after laying down with her to get my other 8 unfinished things done.

But after a week of running and being sick, I fell fast asleep, all squished in, by the most important thing to me in this whole world.

When I woke up this morning to that sweet face, it was okay.

I know today will be a new day to get all those other things done. You only learn how to hunt and crack pecans once.

You only get to watch Moana 136 times. Sometimes we can’t do it. Not all of it anyway.

Life isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. But then sometimes it is. I never get tired of hearing, “Grammie?”

“Yes, baby girl?”

“I love you.”

 

 

 

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October 13

Debilitating Detours

It was maybe 1988.

The year of the stolen wallet conundrum and the first time I ever got fired. One had nothing to do with the other, but the older I get, the more I think it may have had everything to do with it.

We might have been watching Rain Man or Working Girl, I forget. What I remember very clearly is that when the house lights went up, I found a black wallet on the theatre floor.

Contrary to my do-a-good-turn-daily upbringing, my new husband at the time convinced me to keep it. Sort of. He was often enticing me to do things I didn’t want to do, including marrying him.

But, when someone buys you some stuff and gives you money to get back home and a ride across the country in a Camaro, it would be rude to say, “No,” when they ask you to marry them. I believe it was Friday the 13th.

“Sweet!”

“We have to give it back,” I offered.

“You don’t give it back. When you find a wallet it’s expected that you will keep the money, because you found it. It’s your reward. You are supposed to throw the wallet in the mailbox so they can deliver it to the owner.”

“I’ve never heard of that.”

“Trust me. They are just happy to get all their cards back.”

“Okay,” I agreed. “You’re probably right.”

So I think we pulled out about $22.00. to cover the movie tickets and snacks and still had a little extra gas money for him to get to work that week.

As newlyweds who never should have made it to the altar, we were broke a lot and only had one car. To his credit, he was a hard worker and learned a new school after his military days where he was an at sea loan shark. Eventually, he became a butcher at the local grocery store.

My job in advertising was downtown and much closer to our three-story brick apartment building so I was the one who got to walk.

In the Midwest winter.

Dropping the wallet in the corner mailbox almost felt like a very altruistic thing to do. Except, repeatedly shushing that still small voice only seems to make it get louder and louder, even after the deed is done.

It was sometime around my late teens and early 20’s that I started to get pretty comfortable with compromise. When I hustled my way through the door, brushing snowflakes off my coat shoulders, I was told work started at 8:00 am.

I thought 8:05 was close enough.

So I started a routine of getting there as quick as I could, depending on how my morning was going. Somedays 8:10, 8:04, 8:13.

“Work starts at 8:00. If you can’t be on time, you’re not going to have a job.”

I thought my boss was a derelict.

And came in the next day at 8:01.

“I’m sorry. You are a great worker and everyone really likes you, but we’re going to have to let you go.”

“For being one minute late for work?”

I thought they needed me. I was one of the best employees they had. I was cheerful and funny and worked hard.

I was also perpetually tardy.

One of the things I loved the most about living in Mason was my ability to be on time. When there is no traffic and you live 26 seconds from your office, it’s pretty easy to not get hung up by accidents and rerouting detours.

Initially, I was shocked and thankfully, about three weeks later, was offered my job back.

As I look at my life, forks in the road, decisions I’ve made, and paths I’ve taken, it’s even more shocking to see with clarity now where it clearly started to go wrong.

It was in the silencing and the shushing of that voice that gently said, “No.”

No.

This is not for you.

This is not the way.

To this day, I absolutely despise being late. I still am on occasion, but not without the stress sweat stains to prove it.

When we ignore that voice long enough, we stop hearing it at all. And that’s when we know, we’ve really gotten detoured.

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October 9

Communication and the Conference Call

“Which one is yours?” she asked.

I quickly replied, “The broken one.”

Four grown women stared at the art display inside the Houston Center for Photography. We saw vintage mirrors and our mother’s mirrors and replicas of gold leafed, long-handled ones that still sit on the top of triple dressers back home.

It was an odd work, but one I could see on the wall behind a couch on the cover of some sort of shabby chic magazine.

I caught a quick glimpse of myself and noticed the sincere apprehension reflected just underneath the joy that was more obvious on the surface. Who am I to be here?  Which character will I play, which one will I display or am I also, free to be myself? 

For the last three days, I’ve been at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference at the Marriott Westchase. Surrounded by creative types, I was only slightly concerned about my ability to be with the best of the best, the people who took their craft seriously and had publishing dreams every bit as ambitious as my own. It was truly a crowd of beautiful people.

I’m getting only slightly better about stalking editors at writer’s conferences and for that, I am not sorry. Admittedly, when one mentioned she knew all the songs from Sound of Music AND was a fan of the hilarious book, Dragons Love Tacos, I knew I was just a few feet away from a fabulous new connection.

Pretty sure she didn’t get the memo.

This would have been a good time to reign in the ridiculous enthusiasm I was feeling in favor of a more professional approach. Perhaps not all editors from Manhattan want to be pulled into an elevator and squealed at.

I didn’t do that. But I was so, so close.

Earlier that day, I’d spilled coffee on my cream linen pants, the ones with the outstretched waist, held up only by a turquoise undershirt that fit fine until four years ago. For a good part of day one, I was both praying someone would love my new manuscript and that my pants wouldn’t fall off when I bent over to pick something up. Saying something stupid or offensive to someone is most assuredly, always a given.

Later, in Jennifer Hamberg’s, Finding the Funny session, I literally started crying when she read her super fun rhyming book, Monkey and Duck Quack Up.  I found her hilarious and felt immediately sympatico.

I pitched my story to an editor and afterward, proceeded to follow her suspiciously down the corridor in an attempt to peak into her Highlights Barn bag because she must have inadvertently stolen mine. Why would we both have the exact same handbag from Honesdale, Pennsylvania? Am I right?

Awkward.

Connections were made, but mostly the ones in the car on a long drive down and back, having sensitive and somewhat serious discussions about who we are, who we love and where we come from.

While I absolutely adored the immense kindness, creativity and the opportunity to mix and mingle with people I felt destined to know, at times, I felt out of place, tip-toeing a bit around questions and conversations, certain that many times, I’d said the wrong things.

My heart’s desire is to love God and love people. I also have a lot of questions and found myself struggling with where and how my faith will fit into these new and hopefully lasting friendships.

As I travel on exciting, but less certain, less steady paths, I want the many mirrors of who I am to reflect the love and grace of God. Because the shards of glass in the broken mirror are a constant reminder of the change in the image I now see.

Not the fairest in the land, but someone who is extremely grateful and distinctly different than who I was, in the beginning. Someone with her own story, who also, has a few things to say and write about.

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October 6

When a Three Hour Tour is A Whole Lot More…

For a really long time, when I was a kid, I had an irrational fear of falling into quicksand.

I think it was the Gilligan’s Island episode that did me in. I don’t know if there are a lot of places in Iowa where there are pools of sinking sand hiding in between corn fields and hog farms, but I was definitely a little skittish going down the big slide after seeing the Skipper sink so quickly.

Poor Gilligan was just whacking away on the coconut tree branches as his Skipper sank further and further. He was unaware that his friend already escaped from the miry, sinking sand pit and was standing right by his side the whole time.

Skipper stood watching his little buddy cut and chop while he wiped his forehead with a look of exasperation that seemed to say, “Why are you even bothering, Gilligan?”

Why do we bother?

A few weeks ago I had a phone conversation with my second cousin’s best friend’s brother-in-law. That lengthy description should appropriately disguise the person I was really talking with.

I asked how his new assignments were going online. “Pretty good.”

“Are you on track to hit your goal of getting all A’s and B’s so far?”

“No. I got a C in Intro to….” something super important.

“The instructor said I could make it up by going back and turning in the extra credit, but I’m not gonna do that.”

“Why not?”

“Why would I bother?”

Why bother? he asked.

“Because you had a goal to make A’s and B’s!”

That’s when I went all motivational speaker on him. “Why bother? Are you kidding me with that? You bother because you want to be better. You bother because someone has offered you an opportunity to fix it. You bother because an attitude of ‘why bother?’ is a total slacker mentality that is not going to get you anything in life that you want.”

I think I heard a huff and a snicker. “It’s not that serious.”

“It IS that serious. It’s about the choices we make every day. The little things matter. That’s why you bother! Where would we be if everyone had that attitude?”

I thought of that confrontational conversation last night while I was chomping down my movie diet of buttered popcorn and Twizzlers in the super awesome reclining seats at the Palladium Imax. Whaaat? Reclining seats? Glory! Glory!

Reclining seats? Glory! Glory!

Admittedly, I felt a little bad chilling out and deep chair seating while I watched, Mully, an incredibly inspirational story about the power of one person who had every stinkin’ reason to not bother. But he refused to give up and be what his uncle and father were.

He succeeded and succeeded and succeeded, until one day, God called him out on his motives and that incident wrecked havoc, i.e. transformed his life. The catastrophic numbers of children suffering bothered him enough to change his life and Mully became the man and daddy to over 23,000 orphans who were abandoned to die in the streets of Kenya.

I can’t get over the power of a person who is so able to embrace such incredible kindness and love after every valid reason to be bitter and not bother.

I can only seem to muster up that kind of love in a way that is mostly inconsistent, despite my heart’s desire to stay steadfast with family and friends who know all my insides and issues.

But still, on most days, I bother to try because I believe it’s important to keep trying, keep moving, keep pulling and pushing to find what works.

Even when it feels like we’re quickly sinking and see no way out.

He actually changed his mind and did the extra credit, raising his grade to a B!

 

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October 2

Where Love is, Mercy Triumphs

Joan Jett, Kenny Rogers, Tom Petty, Sheryl Crow, Matchbox 20, Michael Jackson, Natalie Merchant and Prince. The list goes on.

From the cheap seats I could afford, I stood, screamed and pushed my way to the stage when I could find a way. Determined to be as close to the front as possible, in the fly zone of musician sweat, I had to be.

In the 90’s at a Natalie Merchant concert, I actually maneuvered my way backstage through a half-open door and made it to the side of the curtain like the crazed fan I was at 23-years-old or so. There she was, standing, singing, just in front of me. I could see her whole back so clearly as she performed. Until a giant intruding hand grabbed my right shoulder from behind, “What are you doing here?”

Long after the crowd departed, I stayed, demonstrating my perseverance while I stalked the darkened exit door and closely parked tour bus. I was simply not leaving until she came out and signed my Natalie Merchant Tiger Lily guitar book. At times, I’ve held onto love just as tightly.

After Natalie boarded the bus, I could see through the tinted windows as her beautiful, graceful shadow moved towards the back. Eventually, she turned, and walked back down the row towards the front, opened the bus door and took my book to sign with a black magic marker.

I still have it.

Yesterday, two minutes late with a small child in tow, I walked into our sometimes concert-like worship service, equally determined to lay low in one of the seats in the back. I have been a back seat, back row kind of girl for a lot of my life, hardly ever rushing the altar with the same zeal as my former concert days.

But, a family of four, needed that row and a volunteer seat-finder found us two in the front. I started to sweat like a…

Never mind.

That was only for a minute.

The worship band played and sang and led us in songs that always seem to move my heart to a calmer, more grace-giving place. I wondered why I’m always so determined to stand at the back.

Pastor Jason called me out, commenting on my fancy fedora, the one I usually wear when I haven’t washed my hair and Saydee Grace asked, “Why is he talking to you?”

I thought immediately of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, how crazy he was to talk to her and how maniacally she ran back to town to tell everyone to come and meet the man who told her everything she’d ever done.

I’ve done just that thing.

The man spoke to her with sincerity, truth, and love. He spoke in such a way that the words penetrated her heart and re-connected her conscience with the girl she knew she once was.

There comes a time when we have simply had all we can stand. That is when we have to push our way to the front.

There comes a time when we need to hear the heartstrings of a father’s love. We need to wake up and walk boldly into our day a little more different than we did yesterday. Something has got to go. Something has got to give.

The thing I love most about my God is that I sometimes see him on stage, taking the solo, my front row rocker, I follow his lead.

I am forgiven. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

So I can sing along with Joan and her jet black hair as she sings, Now I don’t give a *&^% about my bad reputation… Some call it crazy.

I call it Grace.

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September 29

Beyond the Barbed Wire

I was killing time under the shade tree, pulling sharp ranch ‘pokies’ off my wide legged pants, the ones that are super stretchy with deep pockets to hold my camera. Luckily, my fingertips are somewhat calloused and I have a lot of experience in extracting cockle burrs from my clothing.

While I was doing this, taking pictures and waiting for the well driller to show up, I noticed someone watching me from across the fence at Settler’s Ridge . If you can call a red-headed cow a someone, anyway.

It seemed she was as fascinated by me, as I was of her. I’m no expert on cows and didn’t look that closely. It may have been a bull.

I’ve thought about that four-legged creature with the auburn bouffant hair-do quite a lot this week. I’ve written, read and talked about bullies. It’s interesting that this colorful cow was off on its own, standing near me…on the fence.

I wondered if she was content to be different or was also, like me, looking for a gap in the five wire or another way out, a way to run free.

Yesterday, sitting in my car, we were talking about a glue incident, this girl and I. We were talking about the way we are sometimes brave and stand up for what’s right and the times we fall short to fit in.

I confessed that once, walking home from school, I let a group of girls convince me to do something mean to a girl who only knew hard days. A life of every day, going to school and being the target of harsh treatment and name-calling.

The truth is, she was the stinky, smelly girl. More than once, she came to school with bugs in her hair. Usually, I didn’t just look the other way. I stepped up and stepped in. I helped.

Usually.

But that day, a bad day, walking home from elementary school, I joined in. I took a dab of glue, put it on a leaf and casually stuck it on the top of her head while pretending to ‘help’. The other girls laughed.

I still see that day, and still feel that guilt.

With her slow, broken speech, the kind we sometimes mimic, I still hear her say, “Hey, th-at’s-not-fun-ny.” More than anything, I remember the hurt look of betrayal in her eyes, behind the coke bottle lenses that were sometimes knocked off her head, How could you?

That’s a day I would do-over. A wrong I would right. I’ve often wondered where she is and how her life turned out. I’ve prayed for forgiveness, but that it not be forgotten. It’s helpful sometimes to see the ways that we’ve hurt.

I confessed this terrible day to a girl who wanted to do what she could to make a difference, so she asked everyone to bring pet supplies instead of presents to her birthday party. Then she donated it all to our local shelter.

Sometimes we stand on the fence, afraid to look or be different, secretly wishing we could grow a pair and stand up a little taller, away from the crowd.

Some of us long to break through the barbed wire barriers that keep us contained, like cattle. We search for an open field to run or a trough that quenches the thirst in the heat of the day.

That’s no bull.

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September 25

For Whom Does the Bell Toll?

It was Sunday. A day of rest.

I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the yellow brick ranch with the mismatched shutters. We were talking about the neighborhood and all the work that needs to be done. I was raving about the private backyard and raised garden beds.

Even while working, we can find that place of peace. It seems to me that when we are asking and seeking and searching for God, he always finds a way to make his presence known.

There was a giant dumpster in the driveway blocking the garage. Her dad was talking about the almost dead tree that sat too close to the house and needed to come down. And then I heard it. I don’t know of any sound more beautiful than Sunday morning church bells.

I thought of the dumpster, the dead tree and suddenly remembered I was in a hurry to get to back to Boerne for the 10:00 am service at my own church. I promised myself not to outpace the rhythm of the day and as I was driving by the large Catholic cathedral, I knew I needed to slow down. I needed to breathe. I needed to allow room for more rest and less running.

Here.

Here?

Yes.

I parked the car, took a quick glance in the rearview mirror, adjusted my olive green peace cap and considered my outfit. Were hats allowed? There was no way I was taking off my hat to display my super flat hair. Carefully and somewhat fancifully I walked up the elegant concrete stairs while holding onto the rail.

My little girl self-spent a lot of time with locked arms, playing and prancing on the wide church steps of Sacred Heart singing the Laverne and Shirley, Schlemiel and Schlimazel thing.

I looked for an empty seat towards the back and scooted into an oak pew. Guitar players and mandolin players and a large choir of people were singing. The tiny notes filled the ceiling as I looked around, taking it all in. The giant wood beams, the stained glass that let in just the right amount of sunlight.

And then father began.

In Spanish.

I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed before. So many men in button-down plaid shirts and women with gorgeous and flowy, long, brown hair. Just last week I broke my 78-day streak of days of lessons, but I am determined to be bi-lingual. DuoLingo says I’m a whopping 9% fluent now.

Every once in a while I could understand a phrase and clearly heard words like Christ, brothers, casa, and unity.

Quickly I was able to pick up, “and also with you.”

I thought again of the dumpster, the dead tree and the sound of the church bells ringing. I thought about how we carry each other, locked arms, hand in hand up and down the big stairs of our day and our lives and the stares because of our possibly inappropriate attire.

Some things are universal.

A handshake, a hug, and a hallelujah chorus translate in pretty much any language.

 

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September 22

A Night to Remember

Two people twirled on the concrete dance floor in front of me as dark rain clouds hovered above and teased.

Occasionally a big gust of wind would rustle the leaves and threaten more serious weather, but the jazzy trumpet players and the Nash Hernandez Orchestra blew the clouds, and the crowd away.

I sat in my favorite brown lawn chair, the one that’s survived sunny days in the river, soccer games and weekends at Girl Scout Camp. It’s disintegrating now, the footstool straps broken, but my feet were on the ground, tapping to the sounds of Sinatra and classic songs that never fail to bring a smile to my face.

At last.

Bob and Sandy are two of the biggest music lovers I know in my still new to me, old-timey town. When she called to tell me about the concert at the library amphitheater, I knew I’d probably be too busy to go. When you are self-employed in sales, it seems there is always one more call to make or twenty-nine papers that still need scanned and turned in.

An impromptu orchestra concert was not on my Thursday night to-do list, but it will be. It trumps dishes in the sink and walking the dogs, although Charlie and Mr. Riley love a good concert. They sat next to me on the grass, soaking up cool vibes, music magic and repeated compliments about how well-behaved they were.

The band from Austin has been pleasing standing room only crowds since 1949! I sat there listening, giving thanks for amazing musicians, the library I love, and free entertainment. Thanks to the support of the Hill Country Council for the Arts, last night’s debut evening was just the first in a series of concerts.

Camping chairs in red, yellow, green and blue dotted the lawn with coolers of beverages kept close by. The man in the fedora twirled his dance partner with the red dress, ankle boots, and purple headband. For a minute, I remembered how much it hurts your cheeks to smile like that all the time.

When they played an old familiar song by Duke Wellington, the tears began to well.

Oh, good Lord. I dabbed my eyes the way you do when the wind blows a little dust into the corners. I thought of my grandpa Terrill, one of the greatest men I’ve ever known in my life. The kind of grandpa who proudly introduced me to all of his friends at VFW picnics and sat next to me on the couch with a snack on a t.v. tray. Together, we watched Walter Cronkite and the 10 o’clock news.

Last night I listened through the salsa and the sonatas, trying to catch the memory floating so close to the surface.

And then it came.

Long, long ago, before I knew what it would be like to be a big girl, the things we go through, the stuff we endure, before I knew that a seven-year-old smile could ever fade, I had a grandpa who was larger than life and loved me the right way. The way all little girls long to be loved.

The Nash Hernandez band gave me more than a gift of an incredible night of music. Their instrumentation, style, and perfect song selections surfaced a long-lost evening with The Duke, my grandpa and me.

And there I was, for just a moment, standing on my grandpa’s shoes as he danced me across the floor of the legendary Val Air Ballroom. Something to keep. Like hope that floats and knows new days come. At last.

It was a night to remember.

Life is like a song. The notes are always changing. I need stronger shoes than my own to stand on.

 

 

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September 18

The Incident Report that Never Got Filed

It started out as a typical midnight hike through the woods.

We had flashlights, jackets, and packs of Juicy Fruit. It’s important to have gum when you’re exploring tree-filled acres and planning a haunting. The moon barely cast any light at all and carefully, quietly, about 12 girls tiptoed over crunching leaves to make their way to the other troop’s tent in the dark.

It is somewhat customary to mess with girls while on a camping trip, though mine were definitely disappointed by the un-terrified reaction of the big city girls, a few years older than my Junior scouts.

They scratched their nails on fabric and shook the walls from each side, but only one peep of a shriek could be heard before the contemptuous complaining began.

“Knock it off.”

“Get a life.”

“We have a life.”

Just hours before we had a run-in with the wildlife. Our bagels had been ravaged by a pack of racoons. They also completely annihilated the insulated Pizza Hut bag that earlier contained the pepperoni, half cheese pan pizza. It took debating for 36 miles to decide on that because mushrooms or green peppers would be the death of certain 10 year-olds.

But we still needed more adventure. Or a Girl Scout showdown.

Erin had an older sister and was well versed in the art of verbal confrontation. She began chiding the older tent campers.

“Yeah! We have a life. We’re going to find the haunted cabin while you bunch of chickens stay snug in your sleeping bags.”

“Whatever. Get lost,” they responded.

Many wrong turns down darkened paths, that’s exactly what we did. Sometime after getting tangled in a sticky spider web and finding the BEWARE writing on the inside of the haunted cabin, we got lost.

“You go first.”
“I’m not going first, you go first.”

“Someone needs to go first,” I reminded them.

Two of the girls decided to go in together. It was creepy but not nearly as creepy as what we were about to encounter.

We had been walking for what seemed like miles. The girls, the other troop leader and I were starting to get tired. The fun of the adventure and the sugar buzz from the shared Starbursts was beginning to wear off.

“I think we should have taken that other turn back there,” she said.

“Maybe so. Let’s just keep walking for a little bit longer and see where this path takes us.”

And that’s when we heard it. The low roar of an engine. We watched as an old pick-up truck drove by. “Look, there’s a road!”

The girls screamed with delight and started walking quickly towards it. But then the truck turned around and started back towards where we were just about to come out from the woods.

It was going way too slow and we could only see the shadow of a driver.

“Miss Tina. Who is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“It might be a sexual predator,” one girl said in a hushed, suspecting voice.

“Yeah, it might be a sexual predator,” another agreed.

They loved to say those words as much as they loved to eat s’mores and it always made me laugh.

“It’s not a sexual predator,” I assured them. But then the truck crept closer, pulled in and stopped at the metal pipe gate directly in front of us and turned off the engine.

“Hit the deck!” I instructed the girls and they dropped their bellies in the dirt, attempting to hide.

The truck door made the eerie sound of metal rubbing against metal when the mysterious driver opened it to get out. The massive silhouette stood in front of the headlights.

Even my heart was pounding so hard in my chest I thought the predator surely could hear it as we layed on the ground, surrounded by brush.

With a strong southern twang, there was a shout into the dark night, “Whatcha all doing out here?”

I responded hesitantly, “P-p-park Ranger Judy. Is that you?”

“Of course it is.”

We let out a huge sigh of relief, began laughing our heads off and piled ourselves into the back bed of a crowded pick-up for a ride back to our cabin. It’s a story these girls, now in college, still tell and talk about.

Most times our bad experiences, missteps, and wrong turns can remind us of something important.

Something we’ve endured, something we’ve overcome.

Badges of bravery and honor we hold in our hearts.

 

 

 

 

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