Flesh and Blood, Bits and Pieces

I walk for hours. Sometimes my hip will end up hurting from the unevenness of the trek, one foot on the shore, the other in the water. I have learned to wear an old pair of sneakers tied tight so rocks don’t get in my shoes. My hair is now long enough to pull back out of my face when the breeze blows. I have become my favorite animal, the red tailed hawk, able to spot even the smallest bit of colored glass in large expanses of wet stones.

I grew up in a little town on Lake Ontario. My sisters and I used to gather beach glass after swimming. Our collection is long gone, seen as just a foolish child pastime. Our jar of precious gems has been thrown away.

At age eighteen, I left Western New York to start college but I have returned from time to walk the Ontario shore to reclaim the lovely smooth glass pieces weathered down by 20 to 30 years of wave action. My travels have taken me even deeper into uncharted territory, to a new exotic place called Barcelona, New York on Lake Erie. The beach glass is abundant there because, over the course of history, 2000 shipwrecks have found a resting place below its cold waters.

I have jars of glass but I love the search. Walking on the beach is a kind of meditation nicely interrupted by the excitement of seeing the sparkle of green, brown, or blue treasures among the pebbles. I have found rare red glass, four pieces to be exact. Red is the ultimate prize for all who roam the shore. Even having achieved this, I still go back and I think there are many beachcombers who would understand.

I decided to stay a week in Barcelona in early September. I considered my continuum of comfort and my budget. Should I tent? The campsite I usually stayed at sometimes had high winds that in the past have blown over my equipment. At the other end of the spectrum was the option of a hotel room but that would have been expensive. I compromised and chose to rent a little barebones cabin at a KOA campsite. It would be economical but sturdy enough to shelter me from any type of weather.

I drove across the state to the campsite on the NYS Thruway. I stopped once to get a cup of coffee and use the restrooms. I glanced at the large posters on the walls that gave historical information about the area. I knew some of the history of my state. I had gone to Seneca Falls to the Women’s Right Museum and sitting on Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s porch, I silently thanked her for all she did in 1847 to help females get the vote. I took art classes at The Chautauqua Institute established in 1874 as a church camp and later turned into an education center. I knew Frederick Douglass frequented this part of the state and that John Brown, the abolitionist, was buried in Lake Placid. The Underground Railroad had passage through New York and after Harriet Tubman helped so many slaves escape to freedom she settled in Auburn, NY. I had heard once about the strange Oneida Community founded in 1848 which offered a system of free love to all its members. In Lily Dale, the Spiritualist community that has been in existence since 1848, I listened with a bit of scepticism to the claims about contacting and communicating with deceased relatives.

I noticed the words “The Burned-Over District” on a poster directly in front of me as I drank my coffee. It explained that this was the label given Western and Central New York in the early 1800’s. What? I had never heard that phrase before. Was there a fire? Maybe a very big explosion that had scorched the area? A book was mentioned,The Burned-Out District, published in 1950 by a professor named Whitney R. Cross and before I got to my campsite I had bought it for my Kindle.

Every morning at my little cabin, I would start a fire, make my coffee and read for hours.

Social science was my major in college and still peaks my interest as I have come to realize nothing in life or history is one dimensional. My reading of Mr. Cross’s book confirmed this as I read through the clues that explained the dynamics of the antebellum era of my Western New York home. I soon learned that this area had been a hotbed of reform. All my life there were hints around me but, in school, history was only presented in dates and battles. I have come to realize that the true story is one of flesh and blood and actual things that happened, bumping and pushing around in one big motion that goes on and on and touches us today.

In the early 1800’s, our new nation was already looking for ways to expand. People in The East wanted more farmland and space. The Appalachian Mountains running from the south to The Adirondacks were a difficult wall to cross. But there was a way to get through, The Mohawk River. Using this natural waterway, the Erie Canal was started on July 4, 1817 and completed when it reached Buffalo on May 17,1821. Transportation was easier on this much shorter route to The Atlantic as compared with the route to the ocean down the Mississippi to New Orleans.

Because of the sudden rapid development and migration from the east, at this time at least thirty spiritual movements, cults, utopian communities or religions sprong up. The Shakers, Mormons, the Oneida Community and the Spiritualist are the best known. And there were many more divergent groups that are now gone and not as well know.

Joscelyn Godwin in his book, Upstate Cauldron, states “the whole phenomenon, with its concentration in time and space, is without parallel in social or religious history.” The forming of the Burned Over District itself that got its name from the emotional experiences of revival meetings lit the fire of new ways of thinking all over the countryside. Charles Finney was instrumental in this evangelist movement. I had no idea he moved and peach throughout my county and got his ministerial training from a mentor in Adams, New York.

As Mr. Godwin points out progressiveness of this area was due to”the mass emigration of New Englanders cut loose from their home churches, the mushrooming of towns along the Erie Canal and the opening to the West, with its sense of a new world dawning, and the growing disgust with institutional racial and gender injustice.” The passion of the revival meetings pushed many to action. The temperance movement gained strength and the crusade for women’s right to vote took off. The Liberty Party founded in 1839 in Warsaw, New York was dedicated to the freedom of slaves and had followers all over the state, including in my village in The North Country. Churches in almost every town worked for the abolitionist cause.

All these revelations about my home, the places that I thought knew but never really did, overwhelmed me. People in my state once banned together to help others. Why wasn’t I taught more about this? Has too much history passed for us to remember the good that was done? Has The turmoil of The Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and The Civil Rights Protests moved us away from the original goals of fairness and inclusion?

My little cabin faced a small creek and I spent some peaceful moments just thinking. I thought of the present, my existence in a world with so much conflict. I wondered if I would have been happy two hundred years ago in my little town in Burned-Out District. At least there wouldn’t be any internet. But would it matter? We are all on this continuum called history and each one of us must find our place in all the pushing and pulling. The people of Western New York did the best they could. Can we do better? Maybe our salvation as a society will come when we stop slipping so close to the edges and realize that over two hundred years later we are, still, all in this together.

Copyright 2019 @ The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

How to Be an Explorer of the World

“It worries me greatly that today’s children can recognize 100 corporate logos and fewer than ten plants.” -Robin Wall Kimmerer

I found this great book in a thrift shop. I loved the title and was intrigued by its unconventional format. The author, Keri Smith, calls herself a “guerilla” author, priding herself on creative ways to present books and deliver her message.

Someone on Amazon wrote a review saying they hated this book, declaring that it looked like a five year old wrote it. However, most reviewers loved it and so did I . With no rules or expectations she invites readers to go out and experience the raw world, reality without a screen or someone else’s interpretation.

I’m a retired teacher and a grandmother. It was very natural for me to bring this book when I visited my class of three grandchildren. We went through some of it but it was not the book’s purpose to be merely looked at. It was a springboard for action.

The second day of my visit was coincidently a day for my grandson, a five year old , and I to spend some time alone together. With a plastic bag, a camera and no expectations we set out for a walk in the neighborhood around Syracuse University to see what we could see.

Street Artifacts

The book encouraged us to look for faces. We found one.

We stopped to see the progress on the house we liked that had a part of its wall made of glass bricks. The people who lived there were always making improvements and we enjoyed noting the changes.

I did a little teaching, pointing out the ionic style columns on this house

We found a lot of great art.

And some interesting things that could inspire art.

Connor found a simile. “The white garbage bags look like little snowmen.”

We solved a mystery as we tried to guess what we were seeing across the street (first picture) and discovered what it was with a closer look (second picture).

We saw a lot of examples of people trying to communicate with printed words.

A construction crew caught our attention.

We found a prompt for a story. What happened here?

At the beginning of our walk, I told Connor about my goal to someday make it up these steps without stopping.

On the way back to Connor’s house, I said I would try doing thirty steps. Five year old Connor bounded up this hill encouraging me to keep going. I made it to the top, stopping three times for about 30 seconds to catch my breath but I made it. Connor inspired this teacher grandmother to achieve something she didn’t think she could do. For me, it was the greatest lesson I had learned in a long time.

I encourage my teacher, parent, and grandparent friends to look into other books by Keri Smith, The Imaginary World of (your name here), This is Not a Book, F nish Th s B k, Pocket Scavenger, Wreck This Journal, The Line, and Guerilla Art Kit.

I soon learned that what Connor and I did during our day together was just not kids’ stuff. Wandering around (exploring?) in a bookstore recently I found an article in the August 16-23 2019 issue of “Newsweek” called “The Pathway to Innovation”. In the article, Rob Walker states “noticing things that everyone takes for granted-and that could be improved, amplified, repurposed or replaced-is often the first step to innovation.” He uses the example of the creation of Velcro that came about when the inventor was on a walk and found the hooks of burdocks attaching to the loops in the fabric of his socks. Mr. Walker has written a book for adults, The Art of Noticing. Like Ms. Smith’s book it suggests many activities that will get adults away from the screen and out into the real world.

Copyright 2019 @The Autonomous Traveler All rights reserved.

Wearing a Fuzzy Pink Bath Mat to the Prom

My last post, “Everybody Must Get Stoned” was a bit dark and discouraging. I guess my intention was to sound the alarm about where we are headed as human beings if we don’t get our act together. I’m really an optimist and I owe my resilience to my mom who repeated the same mantra over and over,”don’t worry, we will figure something out”.

My family was poor and we faced a lot obstacles that I won’t go into now. My parents didn’t go beyond an eighth grade education and, like all of us, they made some bad choices in their lives. But they did manage to give their children some important skills

Because of her promise that we would figure things out, my mom gave me a sense of power. When things broke or didn’t meet the required expectations, confident problem solving was always invoked and we persevered until things were back on track again.

In the peace of my camping trip a few weeks ago, I found the time to think about a lot of things including my childhood, my mom, and who she helped me to become. Because of her, I don’t give up, have chosen a life of action, and I’m a happy person. And I’m proud to say that I haven’t given in to any addictions (well, maybe, a small Pecan Turtle Blizzard at Dairy Queen from time to time.) The hard times in my life, have always been motivators for me, opportunities to figure things out and move on to the the next or an alternative step.

Before doing this blog, my approach to writing used be all screwed up. I would start something and then label it “dumb” and give up. It took a long time for me to finally hear my mom whispering, “don’t worry, just revise. You’ll figure it out”.

There is a funny story about the lengths my mom and I went to solve a particular problem. I was going to a formal dance and I needed the appropriate clothes that we just couldn’t afford. My aunt let us borrow a long white brocade dress and my mom added a lovely pink satin ribbon to the waist, letting it cascade down in the back. I needed a shawl and after some creative brainstorming we decided to buy a pink faux fur bath mat and line it with satin fabric. We devised a clasp hidden under more pink ribbon that matched my dress.

Well, I went to the formal event and people said my shawl looked like a bath mat. I guess what was important was that they didn’t figure out that it actually was a bath mat.

I can laugh about this now. It was one humorous glitch in a long line of my mom’s victories. She was determined that all three of her daughters would go to college and, beating almost impossible odds, she made that come true. She did other incredible things, too, that only came to light after she died.

When I was looking for a picture of a pink fur bath mat for this post, I came across pictures of pink fuzzy pillows that were for sale. I’m going to buy one so from time to time when life presents me with a problem I don’t think I can handle, I can hold the pillow, remember my mom, and know everything will be okay.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

“Everybody Must Get Stoned”-Traveling with Forrest Gump

I’m very scared!

“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” written by Bob Dylan, released in 1966


“Well, they’ll stone you when you’re trying to be so good
They’ll stone you just like they said they would
They’ll stone you when you’re trying to go home
And they’ll stone you when you’re there all alone
But I would not feel so all alone
Everybody must get stoned”

There are a lot of interpretations of this song. Some say it’s about drugs or the songwriter’s critics. Bob Dylan named the piece “Rainy Day Women #12& 35”. In explaining the meaning, Dylan told about two women, ages 12 and 35, who came into his studio. He had just read an article about the stoning of females in a Middle Eastern country and he was pondering whether all relationships were about stoning.

53 years after this song was released, I tend to agree with Bob Dylan’s message and it is just as intense, maybe even more intense today. We are tribal , so eager to label others. We are not living in a supportive world where we recognize the good in others. We gossip about, evaluate and assess everything and everyone we come in contact with. As we become more and more stressed we tend not to acknowledge our own human failings and the counterproductiveness of our actions. We only look for people to blame. We join with others who might think like us because being in a group gives us strength and anonymity. And as we herd together, we turn over our sense of rationality and justice to the power and force of the emotional mob we identify with. We seek out scapegoats and we stone them.

The examples of this condemnation abound. Atheists condemn Christians. Muslims dislike Jews. Liberals look down on conservatives. Immigrants are seen as unworthy. Minorities are distrusted. All rich people are seen as greedy and dishonest. All poor people are viewed as lazy. Intellects see the uneducated as dumb. Republicans fight Democrats. The two coasts of America look down on the fly over states. Mets fans boo the fans of Yankees. It goes on and until “everyone must get stoned”.

When I was doing my graduate work at Saint Lawrence University, my advisor, Dr. Bill Fox, taught a required course called General Semantics. He was a great teacher and I learned a lot, especially the practice of avoiding dividing any situation or idea into the two neat parts of either/or. Dr. Fox helped us see beyond the illusions of right and wrong, correct and incorrect, black and white. He encouraged us to seek out all the shades of gray and, in doing so, led us to all the colors in the rainbow.

When I was an elementary teacher, I found a great book on critical thinking skills for kids. One of my favorite lessons concerned the dangers of absolutes, using words like always, never, all, everybody, perfect. We had a lot of great discusses about coming to better understandings.

I think I’m personally sensitive to wide label brush strokes because I’m 100% Polish-American. I spent a lot of my childhood listening to Polish jokes that labeled the people of my nationality as “dumb”. The pain is long gone and hopefully it has made me person who approaches the people I meet with an open mind, eager to understand who they are.

We all share a common destiny. Each time we do an injustice to one person we are doing an injustice to all of us. It’s as if the world is standing in a big circle, not a circle of unity but one of destruction. And I fear that if we keep throwing rocks at each other no one will be left standing.

I’m very scared.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

My Imaginary (and Real) Friends

Because of family dynamics and the fact that I was very shy, I spent a lot of time alone when I was growing up. But life is about adaptability and I came to enjoy my own company. I always found things to do, to see , to ponder. When my life became too overwhelming I would ride my bike through my neighbor’s orchard, across a wide field and visit an old friend, a tall maple tree that for some reason was left standing in the acres that had been cleared so long ago for crops. Like me the the tree was alone but it was so much more, beautiful and majestic in its solitude, happy to just be. It became known as my “thinking tree” where I sat under its sturdiness and tried to find peace and some of my own strength.

There was also a woods near my home. My parents used fear to keep us safe and told us that terrible things would happen to us if we wondered there. I remember that when I was about six or seven I wished that I could own a gun, a very strange thing for a little girl to want in the 1950’s. I wanted to know the trees that lived in the cool darkness. I’m proud to say with determination and no gun, I eventually came to know them and added them to my group of acquaintances.

I am no longer shy and I have evolved into quite a people person but I still enjoy my own company and the company of trees. Last week, I returned from a camping trip near Lake Placid in my beloved Adirondack Mountains. I spent six days tenting. A friend who loves creature comforts wanted to know what I could possibly do for six days without a hotel bed and with only a gas camp stove to cook on. Here is my answer.

I set up a well organized, cozy campsite. It takes awhile but I made myself a very comfortable home on my site at the KOA in Lake Placid. I always have flowers on the tablecloth that covers the picnic table provided.

I caught up on my reading. In 2020, I’m taking an 80 day solo road trip through the southern states, going as far as New Orleans, and writing about it on my blog. Every morning at the campsite, I made coffee, build a fire and delved into two American history books, These Truths by Jill Lepore and The Half has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist. I was brought to tears as I read about the horrors of slavery in our country.

I visited the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center in Wilmington. One of my sorority sister’s who lives in the area told me about this place which was not far from my campgrounds. I was thrilled to see so many animals that I had come to know and love, especially a red tailed hawk which I have chosen as my totem.

I listened to the whisper of the pines. They make their own mysterious sound and seemed to inspire me. As I looked up into their lacey beauty, the clutter of my thoughts and feelings seemed to sort themselves out into words and ideas that I might be able to write about in my blog.

I figured out a way to go for ice cream even though it was the day of the Iron Man races and all south bound lanes were closed near my campgrounds. Because of a good sense of direction and a little luck, I got my treat and was able to get back to my site by taking back roads.

I had the same bird visit me each day. I soon learned that it didn’t like bits of hot dog rolls but loved whole wheat crackers.

I thought of my dad and how he had instilled in me the love of trees and nature. He took my family to Canada to show us where he liked to fish and he bought us to Wilmington Notch Campground long ago when the white birches there were still alive.When we moved to a new house, one of the first things he did was plant trees all over our property.

Decades later, I realized that, through his example, he also taught me to take an interest in people and seek out their stories. He had a great sense of humor and loved “shooting the breeze” with anyone who wished to converse.

I drove to Keene Valley I remembered when I had passed through this valley on the Saturday after the Twin Towers had collapsed after the attack on September 11. I wondered then how something so beautiful and peaceful could exist when the rest of our world was falling apart

I stopped at Noon Mark Diner named after Noonmark Mountain. An elderly lady was looking for a table as she proclaimed to some people that her usual lunch spot wasn’t serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that day. Like my dad would have done, I started a conversation with her by commenting on her “Adirondack Women, Forever Wild”. I had a t-shirt that said the same thing. I asked her if she wanted to join me for lunch since the waitress hadn’t come yet and I thought that maybe two of us would be easier for her to notice.

We compared our Adirondack experiences. I had climbed eight of the High Peaks and she had climbed twenty-seven of them. Her name was Elizabeth Clark Eldridge, “Betty” for short, and her family had founded The North Country School, a prestigious progressive private boarding school attended by kids from all over world. In fact, she had become friends with one of its famous alumni, Peter Wilcox, the Greenpeace captain and environmental activist. She sailed with him on several excursions and was the ship’s cook. She was proud to say that Peter always corrected her by calling her “The Greenpeace Chef”. Betty was joyous, kind, and a very interesting person.. We are going to be pen pals and it all started with a passing word about her T-shirt.

I went swimming in The Ausable River! In Jay, by the old covered bridge, are lovely grey rocks that allow the Ausable River to jump and laugh and dance. I went there, hair tied back wearing my ugly black cover up and swam in my bathing suit in a quiet pool, unashamed of what I looked like as the younger swimmers dove and slid with daredevil enthusiasm. I’m sure I got as much joy out of the experience as them, maybe even more.

I finally visited the John Brown historic site. In my fireside readings about slavery, of course, this famous abolitionist was mentioned. Like a lot of Americans who are inadequately taught history, I had not paid attention to this man’s homestead and eventual resting place in Lake Placid. He was an quite a person, a man who wouldn’t support the injustices of his time and tried to do something about it.

I was carrying my copy of The Half has Never Been Told, the book about American slavery as I walked around the grounds. A woman stopped to talk to me. I think she heard me tell the site ranger that I would be touring The South and writing about it on my blog. Her name was Marsha Southgate and I later found out she was a published author. But what was important to her was that I knew about her mom who in 2002 walked through Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada to retrace the steps of history. I have since ordered the book her mom wrote, In Their Path: A Grandmother’s 519-Mile Underground Railroad Walk. Mrs. Joan Southgate also helped establish Restore Cleveland Hope, an education center dedicated to the anti-slavery and Underground Railroad history of the area. What a wonderful coincidence to become connected to these two women.

I stopped at the iron bridge to remember Sharon. Sharon taught Bonnie and I how to fly fish on the Ausable River. The two of us came to the iron bridge after Sharon died to recognize her spirit, to thank her for all she had taught us, and to say “goodbye”.

I observed the first goldenrod of the summer. For my children and I, these yellow flowers always seemed to announce that school would be starting soon and summer was almost done. I’m retired from teaching now and my kids are grown. The message of the goldenrod is now different but in many ways more intense. These flowers seemed to be telling me to live these days of sunshine and warmth to the fullest, warning me not take them for granted.

So that’s some of what I did for six days without a hotel bed and only a camp stove to cook on. I connected with my friends the trees and the rest of nature. How could I be alone when I am a part of them and they are a part of me? They have taught me to look around and see the significance of even the smallest parts of our existence. They have opened my heart and mind to other human beings showing me that I’m connected to them, too. Thank you, trees. Thanks, Dad.

Copyright 2019@ theautonomoustraveler.com All right reserved.

“Break on Through to the Other Side” Traveling with Forrest Gump

Back in 1950’s and 1960’s, sex was what bad girls did, at least that was the social propaganda. Even married couples on TV slept in twin beds. The shame of unwanted pregnancy was something considered worse than death. Body parts were not called by their scientific names but by cutesy words that served as labels when we were toddlers but which never evolved as we grew older. The changes in our bodies and feelings were never quite addressed as we were told to “just deal with it.” My mother even cautioned me not to stick my breasts out too far.

I started college at the age of 18 in 1967. I went to Oswego State with skirts and dresses. (At my high school, we weren’t allowed to wear slacks and the homemaking teacher went around the halls to monitor skirt lengths. If when kneeling, our hems did not touch the floor,our parents were called to bring over an appropriate garment or we were sent home.) Shortly after arriving on campus, I bought my first pair of jeans. They were an olive color. Remembering The Captain Kangaroo Show and Mr. Green Jeans, I soon regretted my purchase, worried that my color choice would open me up to ridicule.

With my insecurities and inadequate “cool person” preparation, I became a college freshman. Looking at a picture of myself from 1967, my naivety was very apparent. I looked like a girl on a recruitment poster for a nunnery.

Freshman Orientation was my first blast into into college life. For some fortunate reason, The Doors, yes, The Doors, were our orientation concert right at SUNY at Oswego in Lee Hall.

I loved The Doors. My appreciation for them has grown even more as I have become older. I own their greatest hits CD and I marvel at range of their styles, jazz, honky tonk, Spanish guitar and their awesome instrumentation in “Light My Fire”.

The day after the concert, the campus seemed electrified with chatter.

“Do you believe it?” one of my new classmates asked.

“Believe what?” I answered.

“What happened to Jim Morrison!”

“What happened?”

“His pants, his pants!” the girl shouted and she hurried to a more knowing group of enthusiastic gossipers.

I hadn’t seen anything unusual, I hadn’t been looking at Jim Morrison’s pants. Many people seemed eager to offer me enlightenment. My education for this incident came in two parts. First, someone had to explain to me that the lead singer of The Doors had become really excited. And part two, his excitement had become visible. Oblivious, I had missed it. I was a clueless, dumb baby in the new wilderness of “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.”

I eventually became informed. Girls from Long Island told stories of their unsupervised lives of drinking and partying. Their youth was entirely different than mine. Being the oldest girl in my family, I guess I was kind of a experiment based on restriction, omissions, and intentional brainwashing, all for my own good.

But women, including myself, thankfully have moved forward. I marvel at our advances, for instance, in the area of linguistics.

In my childhood, I used the phrase “oh, sugar” to express frustration, anger, or distain.

Later, that evolved into “oh,darn”.

And as I grew older, I let “oh, damn” escape from my lips.

“Oh,sh–!” is now a common way to relieve stress when women break a glass or rear end another car or lock ourselves out their houses or whenever we are confronted with the hundreds of frustrating things that go wrong in our busy lives.

And now in my “I don’t give a damn” liberated life of advance years, I say the biggest swear word of all. I don’t say it public, only in the privacy of my own home or very quietly in the company of friends who are also living a “I don’t give a damn” liberated life. It feels good. It confirms that “we have come a long way, baby.”

I first said the big swear word in my junior year of college. Before that I had never heard a female say that expletive. There was no law against it. Our mouths were physically capable of making the required sounds. But something silenced us, something invisible but very powerful. And we weren’t just restricted in our use of that word. We were restricted in a lot of ways.

Long ago, I was given a old copy of a 1967 “Watertown Daily Times” and was surprised to see that job postings were divided into men’s jobs and women’s jobs which back then were mainly house cleaner and secretary.

In 1972, Title 9 was passed , finally opening more participation for women in school sports.

Back in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and early part of this century there was no “Me,Too” movement.

And today there are still gaping disparities in the wages of women as compared to men’s.

Jim Morrison wrote “Break on Through to the Other Side” in 1967, the year I saw him in concert in Lee Hall at Oswego.

“You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Tried to run
Tried to hide
Break on through to the other side

We chased our pleasures here
Dug our treasures there
But can you still recall
The time we cried
Break on through to the other side”

As women, we are breaking through to the other side, our side. Many women in our country have taken leadership roles and have organized movements. But we can’t overlook the individual power of our words that can stop those in our everyday lives who try to diminish us.

Words like-

“That’s unfair.”

“I will not be put down or made fun of.”

“Please respect my boundaries.”

“Please respect my space.”

“I need to be listened to and heard.”

“I will not be taken advantage of or demeaned.”

For way too long, our destinies were written for us. We now need to speak up and create our own destinies.

Copyright@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T Traveling with Forrest Gump

RESPECT

Songwriter: Otis Redding

Made into a single in 1967

Recorded by Aretha Franklin in 1967

What you want
Baby, I got it
What you need
Do you know I got it?
All I’m askin’
Is for a little respect

I was born in 1949, a time when all female children were supposed to be “good” little girls. This expectation defined me for a long time. I worked hard to be a good daughter, a good sister, a good student, and a good citizen. As I got older, the demands grew as I tried to try to be a good wife, a good Catholic, a good mother, good looking, a good worker, a good teacher, a good housewife, a good friend, on and on. In trying to be good at it all, I failed a lot. Like many women, I felt fragmented, not knowing what I was suppose to be.

I believe in personal evolution, the ability of person to become better. For me it was a slow process. Shame and guilt were a big part of my childhood and my early life. But I am proud to say I’m whole now, no longer torn apart by the demands of other people or society.

I have learned to chart my own course, to assess the noise of the outside world and navigate through it all with courage, not worrying about the opinions of others. In the tradition of the Stoic thinkers, I now know I can’t change the things that are out of my control. I can only change myself and this realization has freed me.

I get tired (just a little bit)
Keep on tryin’ (just a little bit)
You’re runnin’ out of fools (just a little bit)
And I ain’t lyin’ (just a little bit)

I speak up now, no longer silent. I simply tell people how I feel and if they can’t respect that, I won’t dislike them or gossip about them or seek revenge, I merely walk away and let them go.

“When you come home,
Respect
Or you might walk in
And find out I’m gone”

I have saved the “good” little girl who was once me. I have finally set her free to be who she really is.

“R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Find out what it means to me”

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

“Everybody’s Talkin”-Traveling with Forrest Gump

Like many people, I look back on my life and wonder how I made it out alive.

I went to college at Oswego State in upstate New York. In the fall and spring, my college was beautiful because of its resort style location right on Lake Ontario I would find solitude on the rocky shores of campus. Looking across the water, I realized that the world was so much bigger than the academic world, that someday I would leave the world of tests, papers, and notetaking and be a part of something bigger. Beyond studying there was a lot fun, Wednesdays (Hump Day) at Bucklands Bar and after April 1, Nunzi’s Bar opened and we all hitched rides to a place of dance and libations, once again on the water. The bar was only for Oswego college kids, it was all ours. (Years later, I named my dog “Nunzi”) Afterward, we would stop at Rudy’s Stand for ice cream or a burger. It, too, was on the water. It seemed like this particular Great Lake existed just for us.

But during the winter, Oswego was famous for its strong winds and record snowstorms.

I experienced weather so cold it caused the stuff in my nose to freeze. The administration had to construct a system of ropes so the petite among us would not be blown into the buildings while walking to class. And the winters went on forever.

I lived in my sorority house during the 1968-1969 school year. It was a large Victorian building with a mansard roof. I shared a room on the third floor with two of my sisters. We had a house mother, an elderly woman who we actually called “mom”. She lived in a two room apartment on the first floor.

We also had a cook who every Friday made us mac and cheese or other high dairy dishes so our stomachs would be coated for a night of drinking and dancing at Buckland’s. She also introduced me to a great recipe that has served me well when I’m obliged to contribute a covered dish to a function. It very easy to make and somewhat inexpensive. The recipe follows. (This is exciting, this my first recipe on The Autonomous Traveler site!)

Green Pea Salad (“Give Peas a Chance” Salad?) 🙂

A large bag of frozen peas, thawed not cooked

Mayonnaise

Chopped white onion

Seasoned salt

That’s it. Mix it all together and chill before serving. If I really have to impress someone, say, someone who really knows how to cook, I add chopped pimento and bits of real bacon. We all know bacon is impressive.

The weather at Oswego State was particularly horrible during the winter of 1969. It was treacherous getting to Buckland’s but ironically not bad enough to cancel classes. I dreamed about escaping somehow. And then it happened, the song “Everybody’s Talkin” hit the airwaves.

“Everybody’s Talkin”

written by Fred Neil

Recorded by Harry Nilsson

Everybody’s talkin at me
I don’t hear a word they’re saying
Only the echoes of my mind

People stopping, staring
I can’t see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes

I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Through the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes

Banking off of the northeast winds
Sailing on a summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone

I bought the single. It became my theme song, my obsession. I played it over and over again until my fellow housemates said they would kill me if I didn’t stop. I desperately needed “to go to where the sun keeps shining through the pouring rain” or, in my case, completely obliterated snow.

Spring break in Florida was a sacred collegiate tradition and a great solution to my deteriorating mental state but getting there was tricky. With youthful enthusiasm and naviety, I actually considered hitchhiking the 1200 miles to paradise. Luckily, winter had also pushed some of my sisters over the edge and a great plan was made for five of us to drive down to Daytona Beach for April break. And so the adventure began.

We took turns driving. The song “Born to Be Wild” was on the radio (performed by Steppenwolf, written by Mars Bonfire) and we played it loudly with the windows down to let a southern state somewhere along Route 1 know that we were indeed wild.

Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way

Like a true nature’s child
We were born, born to be wild

A car filled with teenage boys rode up next to us and a drag race almost ensued but getting to Florida safely was a priority so we chose to back off.

After 24 hours of frequent eating , gas ups, and pee breaks we made to it Daytona. We found a room. I don’t think we had reservations and, of course, we didn’t have credit cards. All I remember is that everything turned out okay as we each paid our share in cash.

Crazy fun, sunbathing ,and laughter filled our days and nights. We were involved in an incident at an empty amphitheater. We met a guy who played the guitar and convinced him to go up on the stage. As he played, more and more people came off the beach to listen and sing along. We started a regular hootenanny, as we used to say in the old days. Well , somebody reported us and a police car arrived. The small crowd kept singing and the guy kept playing. I have to give credit to the confidence of the officier, he calmly went up to the player and put his hand gently on the guitar. Without saying any more, he somehow convinced us all to leave.

On my last night in Daytona, I decided to go for a walk by myself to take in the vibe of Florida one last time. A car pulled over and a nice looking older guy ( late 20’s?)started talking to me. We chatted for a while and he asked me to walk on beach with him. I said “yes” and hopped into his car. What a foolish young thing I was to take such a chance. We talked some more and I guess he realized how naive and innocent (clueless?) I was. We drove to a diner for some cokes and then he dropped me off at my motel.

Looking back at a lot of my shenanigans during my youth, it’s hard to believe I made it through alive. I’m wiser now and more cautious. But luckily, I’m still a little bit of a “true nature’s child”. Maybe, just enough to still make my life a tiny bit wild. 🙂

No photo description available.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All rights reserved.

“Stop Children What’s that Sound?-Traveling with Forrest Gump

” Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid”

Song by Stephen Stills

Single released by Buffalo Springfield in 1966

This is the song on The Forrest Gump soundtrack that made me tear up.

“There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong”

53 years later and turmoil continues. I’m more afraid because I have grandchild now. We still have divisions but they seem to becoming worse as time goes on. We have angry conflicts within groups and with other nations and increasing incidents of extreme weather events. Income inequality is growing and so is nastiness and name calling. Drug and alcohol use is skyrocketing and there is an uptick in suicides. Mass shootings in schools, places of worship, and in the workplace are are becoming more and more common.

“There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear”

We are evolving as a species in the realms of technology and innovation but there are deeply embedded quirks in our nature that haven’t advanced since our cave days. Does the “fight and flight” trigger continue to make us wary of those around us, especially those who are different? Is self preservation and self interest overriding empathy? Do we accumulate money not only to enjoy material things but to have power, dominance, and superiority over others?

I’m not absolved from this. I have done my share of bad things as a human being. But in this last chapter of my life, I’m searching to find the best in myself and in our species. I’m encouraged by those through history who believed “that injustice to one is injustice to all.” I pray that we can work together to guarantee that our common destiny is one filled with positive energy and purpose. This is my hope, especially for my grandkids.


“Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down”

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All right reserved.

“The Land of a Thousand Dances”-Traveling with the Forrest Gump Soundtrack


One, two, three!
You gotta know how to pony like Bony Maronie
Mashed Potato, do the Alligator
Put your hands on your hips, let your back-bone slip
Do the Watusi, like my little Lucy
Na, na na na na, na na na na, na na na, na na na, na na na na.

“Land of a Thousand Dances” written by Christopher Kenner in 1962

Hit single by Wilson Pickett in 1966

It really funny how little humans comprehend. I remember dancing to this song in my all white high school in Western New York and as we tried to master The Pony and The Mashed Potatoes we had no idea we were trying to emulate another culture. Maybe it was because we were self centered teenagers and deep into the comfort zone of our all caucasian world. But luckily music was a universal language that first exposed us to a world beyond what we grew up in.

I’m ashamed to say I needed to look up Wilson Picket to learn more about him for this post. I realized that over the years I enjoyed dancing to a lot of his singles including “Mustang Sally” and “In the Midnight Hour”.

In the 1960’s, I was part of a white closed system but not completely. I lived next door to Mr. C.’s farm. Looking out my bedroom window, I could see his yellow house, the grey shingled barn, the collection of outbuildings and beyond it all, acres of orchards. They were my refuge, a lovely deviation from the limits life imposed on me. I was shy and self conscious in high school and I was always glad to get home. School was like a game board with rigid rules and what seemed like only one path. Competition was intense, some won and others were left behind.

I would change my clothes after school and then go down to my father’s cluttered workshop that smelled of oil and dirt to retrieve my bike. Pushing and pulling it over the dry clods of a plowed field I’d finally get it to the powdery road that weaved through Mr. C.’s farm.

My route passed a stagnant pond that was be mixed with insecticides stored nearby. The smell from the fumes was terrible. It was the 1960’s, no one knew any better.

As I pumped the pedals of my bike as hard as I could, row after row of plum, apple and peach trees blurred into lovely shades of green and chartreuse. Sometimes I would stop to pick the ripest fruit from a high branch closest to the sun. Other times I would keep going hoping for the freedom that motion offered.

When I reached the halfway point of my journey, I came to a field where vegetables were grown for sale. A cluster of hunched over bodies dotted the area. I slowed down and was surprised to see black people picking tomatoes. I had never seen anything like this in real life. Sure I had watched “Amos and Andy” and Shirley Temple with her African-American dance partner but this was different.

I noticed that no one acknowledged the loud clicking sound of my old bike. Something seemed to press them all down, forbidding them to make any connection with me.

On I went. A wonderful hill and the gift of gravity were next. I pumped harder and harder and my mind raced.Where did the workers come from? Where did they go when the sun set and darkness came?

Down, down the hill I sailed. The speed and the rushing air cleared my mind. I was gloriously free in the moment.

The road leveled, my bike slowed and I was home again.

Having returned the bike to the dank darkness of my father’s workshop, I walked back to the my house but was stopped by an intruder, a rooster who stood a foot and a half tall. It was autumn personified from the red of its comb and wattle, to the rusty brown on its back, and the yellow cascading down its head and chest. Its grandness was further accentuated by the explosion black feathers at its tail.

The exotic creature was unlike any barnyard poultry I had ever seen. and I sensed that the bird had been bred and raised for a special mission and its defiance frightened me.

The rooster took a step forward, unfurled its huge wings, rose into the air, and thrust its open talons toward me. I screamed and ran into the house as the rooster slowly sauntered into the nearby plum orchard sensing it had made its point.


My mom was preparing dinner and my dad reading the paper laid out before him on the kitchen table. I told then about the attacking rooster and my father told me it belonged to a worker Mr. C. had hired to help with the farm. He went on to describe the rooster’s owner as “Good Ole Sherm” who wore no shoes and who had feet as wide as they were long and was “black as the ace of spades.”

No one ever had to explain to me that during my childhood I lived in a very intolerant country and was part of a prejudice family. My grandparent came to this country directly from Poland in the early 1900’s and I frequently felt the sharp painful stabs of Polish jokes. And my dad and mom seemed to have a lot of negative things to says about other ethnic people, racial minorities and, from time to time, various religious groups.

My dad volunteered to take me to see Sherm about the rooster. After supper, I followed him through the plum orchard to Sherm’s home in Mr. C.’s abandoned chicken coop.

Constructed with old cinder blocks that looked like small grey loaves of course bread, the squat structure had a black tar paper roof and paned windows on three sides. Someone had attempted to clean the glass but dirt stubbornly clung to corners. The small door for chickens was nailed shut. A larger entrance, four weathered vertical boards held together with two horizontal boards, had an empty tuna fish can for a knob.

My father knocked on the door and after a moment it was opened by a tall middle-aged black man in overalls, a flannel shirt, and work boots who seemed happy to see us and welcomed us in.

My father went in first. I followed. The windows brought light into cramped space that was furnished with a broken wicker chair, a lime green formica table with rusted chrome sides and legs, a red kitchen chair covered in cracked plastic upholstery, and a small cot. The shelter had no water, electricity, or bathroom. An oil lamp, camp stove, and a battered aluminum cooler were the only conveniences. I didn’t smell any chicken odor, only the masking scent of white wash.

My father sat down on the wicker chair, I stood. Sherm did not look at me but pulled the chair away from the table and gently motioned for me to sit down. The two men talked about the rooster and laughed as they came up with a plan. They discussed this year’s crop and the need for more rain. Sherm asked if he could get us something. My dad nodded.

Sherm took one step toward the cooler on the floor, opened it and took out a glass bottle of orange juice. He reached up to a wooden plank shelf over the door and brought down three glasses. I could see that they had not been washed thoroughly and a hazy film remained.

I watched my father raise a dirty glass to his lips and drink the warm golden liquid until it was gone. I did the same.

I learned a lot about the hypocrisy of prejudice that day, that humans find great personal benefit in labeling other people with broad unjustified brush strokes. Maybe we do it because we are afraid or lazy or because there is comfort in being a member of a tribe. But if we take the time to talk to individuals, really listen and get to know them, everything would be a lot easier. My dad, despite his prejudicial comments in private, treated Sherm, the person, with the greatest respect and compassion. Witnessing that simple act of hospitality and the resulting act of total acceptance has had a lasting impact on me. I believe in inclusion and the importance of an open mind and an open heart.

Copyright 2019@theautonomoustraveler.com All right reserved.