Sunday, January 31, 2021

Long Way Home - Chapter 13


What were they getting into?

Their geriatric detective work had been successful. The resulting reunion, in the heart of an intimidating counter-culture haven, would be an awkward, even tense, few moments.

It was rather off-putting, the unexpected need to be offering her Grandmotherly advice…..hoping that her interest, in the midst of an uncomfortable situation, would be accepted as real.

Finally, having dispensed their modest elder-wisdom, it was time to move on toward the Southern California sunshine…..seeking their own snowbird nest.


                                                              Chapter 13

Leaving Mango standing in front of his lean-to Gary turned the Toad around and drove back down the canyon to where a narrow, but well-traveled fire road snaked up the hillside through the trees. A minute later he pulled to a stop in front of the dirty white trailer, parking next to a late model SUV that looked distinctly out of place in that ramshackle setting. Turning to Claudia he suggested, “Why don’t you stay in the car while I see if she’s here?”

“You be careful.”

There was nothing about the long, dust-covered trailer that would have stood out in an urban trailer park. But there in the timbered scruffiness of Freedom City it had the look of an oversized mansion. 

Two large plastic tanks next to the front door held the dwelling’s water supply. Around the corner, on a concrete pad, sat a cylindrical propane tank. On the roof a bank of solar panels provided electricity to supplement the gas-fueled generator. By any measure this Johnny Winn person that Mango spoke of was a Freedom City aristocrat....blessed with creature comforts not available to his neighbors.

The wooden box that served as the front step looked sturdy enough, so Gary stepped up and rapped on the door. A few seconds later he knocked again. Inside, a dead bolt turned and the door opened a crack. From his box-top perch he strained to see the face peering from the interior darkness.

“Yes?” The door opened enough to show her face.

“You’re Laura,” he said. Though she was no longer a perky high schooler, this was certainly the girl in the Hafner’s photo album. “It’s good to finally meet you.”

“Who are you? Do I know you?” 

“I’m Gary Harris. And you don’t know me. But I’m here with your Grandma Hafner.”

“Grandma Hafner?”

“Yes indeed. She’s right over there in the car.” He pointed to the Toad. “And she’d like to see you.”

The door swung open and the young woman leaned out, looking toward the car. For an instant Gary captured the sight of the attractive, if unkempt, young lady....wearing a knee-length floral dress that could not conceal the protruding evidence of a mid-term pregnancy. A moment later she let out a surprised shriek, turned, and ran crying to the back of the trailer.

Waving for Claudia to join him, Gary called out Laura’s name through the open doorway. A moment later, instead of the girl, he was surprised to see a slender young man walking across the room toward him. He was a good looking youngster....clean shaven with, by Freedom City standards, short hair.

“I don’t think she wants to see you,” he said. 

“You must be Johnny Winn?” Gary stepped down from the box to stand beside Claudia. 

Without waiting for an answer he explained, “This is Laura’s grandmother. She’d like to see the girl.” Johnny nodded politely to Claudia, while Gary continued. “I take it Laura is embarrassed to have her grandmother see her. Right?”

“Probably so.” Johnny looked down at them, now with his own questions. “How’d you find her anyway? You must know this isn’t a real smart place for you to be snooping around. We don’t much like strangers up here.”

“Yeah. We’ve heard that already,” Gary nodded. “Look, we’re not here to snoop. We don’t want to take her away or talk her into anything. Her grandmother’s been very worried since Laura ran away.” It seemed best not to mention Laura’s parents right then. “We just want to talk to her. You can stay right here with us if you’d like.”

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen her get freaked out like that about her, you know, her condition.”

“No one’s going to hassle her about that. I’m just asking you to tell her that her grandmother really wants to see her. What do you say?”

Johnny Winn was obviously uneasy at finding himself in the middle of their family standoff. In truth he was having a hard time understanding why their problems were not being dealt with the way he had always experienced them in his own home....with his father’s torrent of angry name-calling and threats of physical violence. Finally he nodded to Claudia. “I’ll see what she says.”

Standing in the dusty clearing in front of the trailer Gary and Claudia exchanged questioning glances, each wondering how long they should wait. They had come so far. It would be a shame to leave without seeing her. Then the door opened again, enough for Laura’s head to poke out.

Tentatively the girl stepped down to her grandmother’s side, though her gaze remained fixed on the sandy ground. A large, multicolored beach towel was draped over her shoulders, falling below her waist.

“Hello, Laura,” Claudia said reaching for the girl’s hand.

“Hello.” Her response was little more than a whimper.

 Claudia slipped a finger under Laura’s chin and raised her head, smiling a smile the girl could not resist. Finally, wrapping her arms around her grandmother, she let herself be pulled to her shoulder. 

By the time she stepped back, Laura’s embarrassed grin had given way to a smile of her own. “It’s good to see you, Grandma. And ...?” She looked toward Gary as if to ask, “Who is this”?

Claudia laughed and took Gary’s hand. “Laura, I’d like you to meet my husband. This is Gary Harris.”

“A husband? Really?” Laura was struggling with that bit of information. Her Grandma Hafner, the one she knew, had always been single. Who would ever think of her as being married, with a husband? “I’m glad to meet you, Gary Harris.”

“Could we take a walk up the hill?” Claudia asked, nodding to the overgrown fire road that continued beyond the trailer.

“Sure.” Laura took her grandmother’s hand and they started up the trail, with Gary tagging behind. “How did you find this place? Not many people even know where it is.”

“We asked a lot of questions in Ojai. You’d mentioned Freedom City in the letter to your mother. So we just started asking around.”

“And then you just drove right up the canyon?”

“That’s right.”

“That’s really hard to imagine. Most people wouldn’t have the nerve to do that. There are lots of stories out there about how strangers are treated here. It scares most people away.”

“We had a good reason to keep going.” Claudia squeezed Laura’s hand, then in the next breath asked, “So, when are you due?”

Her abrupt question took Laura by surprise. In an instant she realized her hopeful attempt to conceal her secret had failed. “About four months, I think. Maybe March,” she answered without looking up.

“You’re not sure? Have you seen a doctor yet?”

“There aren’t any doctors up here,” the girl said with a forced laugh. “Anyway, there’s no money to pay for one.”

“Will you go to town for the delivery?”

“There are lots of babies born up here. It happens all the time. It’s no big deal.” Why wouldn’t her Grandma back off? There was no need for all her questions, especially in front of a man she did not even know.

They paused in a clearing above the trailer. From their vantage point they could see across the canyon ....taking in trailers and tents on the opposite hillside that had not been visible from the road.

“Laura,” Claudia continued, not wanting her thoughts to be left unsaid. “Having a baby is a big deal. And it’s not always safe....for the baby or the mother.”

“Come on, Grandma. Women have been having babies forever. It’s the most natural thing there is.”

A stern, no-nonsense frown settled across Claudia’s face. “Have you been taking care of yourself? And your baby?”

The girl’s first impulse was a loud, vocal protest ....until she reminded herself that this sweet old lady might be the only person she knew who really cared what happened to her. It was time to be straight. 

“Honest, Grandma. I’ve stayed away from the bad stuff.” She bit her lip and kicked at the dirt. “I got off on the wrong foot. I know that. But Johnny’s made me stay clean. He has a thing about dope babies. He won’t let me go there.”

“So you moved in here, with him?”

“Yeah, I moved in here,” she nodded. “But it’s not what you’re thinking. Johnny has his own lady here. I live with them. After the way Mango messed with me I don’t want to go back there.”

Claudia set aside the urge to speak of Mango’s hopeful reunion plans. Instead her grandmotherly concern remained on display. “Have you thought about going home, to San Jose, to have the baby there?”

The protest Claudia expected did not materialize. Without warning Laura hung her head and the quiet tears began. “Do you have any idea what my dad would say if he saw me like this?” She looked up, brushing the tears from her cheek.

“Laura.” She grasped the girl’s face in her hands. “Your father and mother would want to help you anyway they could. You have no idea how worried your mother is.”

“But not Dad.”

“Your father too. He sometimes doesn’t know how to show it, but I know he’s worried too.”

“You don’t know how he is, Grandma.” Her sobbing was louder now. “He’d just go off the deep end like he always does. He’d dredge up everything I’ve ever done wrong, and tell the whole world that he knew I’d end up just like this.”

Exchanging a questioning glance with Gary, Claudia drew Laura to her shoulder. Neither of them had faced that particular situation before. At that moment it seemed to them that grandparenthood was rather late in life to be learning such drastic new responses.

Finally it was Gary who spoke up. “Laura, you don’t know me. But your Grandma and I are a team. We’d like to do what we can to help. Your folks want to know that you’re okay. We promised them we’d try to find out how you’re doing.” 

He read the trepidation in the girl’s eyes as she wondered what kind of report her parents might be receiving. “Why don’t we just tell them that we saw you, and that you’re well. That’s all they need to know for now.”

“You would do that?” Laura said through her red-eyed smile.

“We could do that. Couldn’t we?” He winked at Claudia, looking for her agreement. “But only if you’ll promise to think things through a little more.”

“That’s right, honey,” Claudia was picking up on Gary’s offer. “Being a mother is a big responsibility. Is this really where you want to have your baby? Here in Freedom City? Is this where you want to raise your child?”

“You don’t think much of Freedom City. Do you?”

Gary passed on the opportunity to offer his candid, unabridged critique of Freedom City. Instead he settled for a bit of diplomacy. “That’s not for us to be the judge of that. But it is our place, especially your Grandma’s, to help you think about your new responsibilities....about being a mother. From now on you can’t be thinking about just yourself.”

“I know. I’ve been wondering how that will feel.”

“Do you ever get to town? Do they let you out of here?”

 Laura flinched at the directness of his question. “Of course I do. I can go anytime I want. There’s someone going out almost every day. Why would you think I couldn’t?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make it sound like that.” Gary paused to let her calm down. “Here’s the deal. What if your Grandma left you her cell phone number and our e-mail address? We’re going to be somewhere in Southern California for at least another few months. If there’s anything you want to talk about, just get in touch. The library in town probably has free internet access. You could email her from there.” 

Hopefully Laura was willing to accept his smile as a sign of caring. “And if you’d like to see us again, we can come back just about any time. In fact, if it’s okay with you, we’ll plan to stop by on our way back to Oregon in the spring.”

“That would be nice.” Then, after a moment’s thought, “But please, be careful coming up here. Not everyone around here is a good guy.”

Together the three of them strolled back down the hill to the Toad. After their quiet goodbyes and a long grandmotherly hug, Claudia held Laura at arm’s length and looked into her young face. 

“One more thing, honey," she said. "Doing something silly, just to get even with your father, may not be the best thing you can do for your baby. Please think about that.”

Laura nodded and started toward the trailer. 

Minutes later, after a tense return through ‘downtown’ Freedom City, Gary stopped at the turn off....where the canyon track joined the gravel road. With a deep breath he winked at his wife, who had said nothing since leaving the trailer. “Well, did we get it done?” he asked.

“How can we know?” 

“Is it okay if we don’t tell Dennis and Cyndi everything, at least for now?” It was not his family they were talking about. Was his place to be shading the truth like that?

“We’ll have to tell them sometime. But I’d like to give Laura a chance to think about it for a while.”

There were so many reasons to be worried for her young granddaughter. Yet there was so little they could do. “She’s a smart girl. All we can do is pray for her and trust that she’ll do the right thing.”


For days Gary Harris had looked forward to their Tuesday morning drive from Ojai to Indio with more than a little apprehension. During the course of the previous week he had maneuvered their long motor home, with the car in tow, down the Oregon interstate, along the winding two-lane roads of the coastal redwoods, and through the busy afternoon traffic of the Bay Area freeways. 

Yet in his mind the legendary, even infamous, Los Angeles freeway system would be an altogether different challenge. He had heard tales of the hectic, high-speed traffic, confusing interchanges, and sometimes combative drivers. Like most Oregonians, he had never considered the label of ‘California driver’ a term of endearment. Though he had never driven those fabled Los Angeles highways in any kind of vehicle, let alone a house on wheels, it seemed the moment of truth had arrived. There was no escaping it. 

“You know, if we were spending the night in a motel, driving just our car, I’d probably leave at four in the morning to beat that rush-hour traffic.” Gary explained to his bemused wife. 

“I’ve never seen you worry about such things.” 

“It’s not a matter of worry. I’d just rather avoid the traffic jams. But the way it is, there’s not much we can do about it.” When he stopped to envision such an early morning departure in the motor home, he understood at once it would be impossible. 

“We couldn’t go through the whole disconnect routine....unhooking the utilities, rolling up the awning, and retracting the slide out in the middle of the night. Not with our neighbors sleeping fifteen feet away.”

“So I’ll get to sleep in after all?” Claudia appeared pleased at that prospect. 

Shortly after ten o’clock the next morning they were past the half-way point of their Los Angeles crossing. By then it was obvious there had been no reason for Gary’s exaggerated concerns. Other than a time or two when he was forced to make a quick lane change to avoid being sucked off the freeway on an unexpected ‘Exit Only’ lane, everything had gone smoothly.

Well before noon they pulled into a rest area south of San Bernardino, just sixty miles from Indio. Over a light lunch they leafed through their thick RV Park directory, looking for directions to the Indio park where they had made reservations.

“I’m a little nervous about having to book for thirty days at a place we’ve never seen.”  .

“Barry said it’s a nice place. They were happy there.” Claudia was referring to their RV park neighbors in Milpitas, who had recommended they reserve a space in Indio well before their arrival. “The picture in the guide book looks pretty classy,” she added, hoping to reinforce her endorsement.

“They always do, don’t they? But you can’t trust the pictures.” 

In fact, Sanderson’s Sunland Park had turned out to be even nicer than they expected. With the unanticipated local tax, which had not been included in the price they were quoted over the phone, it was also somewhat more expensive than expected. Still, by late afternoon they were safely ensconced in their first southern California home. It was finally official, they were now Snowbirds.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Long Way Home - Chapter 12



It would take a lucky “third time,” but finally her grandmotherly persona cracked the code….they had a lead to work on. Would it be enough?

What followed was most a surprising scene….. the pair of trusting oldsters waltzing big as life into the hidden ‘stoners’ campground, looking for her granddaughter.

There, in a matter of minutes the question had become… would they deal with what they found?

                                             Chapter 12

Having come up empty at the skateboard park Gary and Claudia were ready to check out the only other 'youth hangout' lead they had gathered from the city police officer. Map in hand, they drove across town to the mall and it’s adjoining park. The sprawling expanse of brown grass, dotted with scrawny, nearly-leafless trees, did little to inspire confidence. 

At first glance the park appeared to be empty, until Claudia spotted the small band of young men standing against the back fence. From a distance they seemed to be in uniform....wearing identical outfits of baggy blue jeans, loose black tee shirts that reached to their knees, and orange stretch caps pulled down over their ears.

“That has to be a bunch of gang guys,” Gary observed. “I think we’d better pass on them.”

Claudia shook her head and reached for the door handle. “We have to ask,” she said. “They might be the ones who have an answer.”

“Then I’ll go with you this time.”

“Gary. Please. I’ll be just fine,” she answered, reminding herself it was no time for her husband to be risking a shoving match with half-a-dozen macho youngsters. Not after Cousin Sarah’s blunt warning that Gary might be only one rap on the head removed from a future she did not want to think about. “You stay here. I’ll right back” 

A minute later, as she neared the milling crowd of boys, Claudia sensed a growing doubt about things being ‘just fine.’ Before a word was spoken the intimidating aura of the young gangsters had her on edge. At closer range she noted signs she had not seen from afar....the identical shoulder-length hair, wispy mustaches, and tattooed arms. 

By then she realized those youngsters were not waiting passively for her arrival. They were turning to face her as she approached and the young man in front stepped forward to ask, “What do you want, old woman?”

“I’m looking for my grandson,” she answered hesitantly, knowing at once she was not prepared for an extended conversation with that bunch. In a matter of seconds her carefully scripted introduction was forgotten. It was time to get right to the point. “He’s supposed to be living in a place called Freedom City. I’m trying to find out where that is.”

“Freedom City?” Before she realized what was happening the young tough had hold of her arm as his dark eyes bored into hers. “You ought to know better than that, lady. It’s not smart to be asking about something like that. You understand?” 

Turning her away from the others, he nudged her back in the direction she had come. Then with a nod to his friends, he led them off toward the mall.

Meanwhile the sight of the grim-faced young man grabbing Claudia’s arm had overcome Gary’s role as a cautionary observer. As the boys walked away he was already crossing the street, hurrying after them.

“Gary. No!”

Claudia’s shouted warning, and the sight of her running in his direction, was enough to break off Gary’s pursuit. He turned and waited for her. 

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“I’m fine.”

“That’s the last of that idea,” he declared. “I’ll do the asking from now on.” He led her to a concrete bench at the edge of the sidewalk. “God. I’d never forgive myself if one of those punks had hurt you.”

The unexpected sound of her quiet laugh caught him by surprise. “He wasn’t going to hurt me,” she said. “He was telling me something. And he wanted to be sure I understood.”

“What did he want you to understand?”

She closed her eyes, reliving those few seconds. “He wanted me to know I shouldn’t be asking about Freedom City....that it’s not a smart thing to be doing.”

“He was threatening you. Damn, I should have been there.” 

“He didn’t threaten me. He was warning me, looking out for me. That’s what I heard.”

Pulling her to her feet, Gary started back to the car. “Anyway, that’s enough looking for today. Sounds like we need to come up with a new way to find Freedom City.”

Minutes later, as they waited at a traffic light, Claudia signaled her reluctance to give up so soon. “Over there,” she pointed. “In front of the store.... those boys. Let me talk to them.” Gary started to object, but she was insistent. “Please. There’s just two of them. It will only take a minute.”

With renewed confidence she approached the boys, sensing none of the intimidating presence of her earlier subjects. They were a disparate pair....the short, baby-faced one was decked out in the same baggy outfit she had seen before. The other was a taller, chunky youngster with the skimpiest beard she had ever seen. 

“Excuse me, boys,” she said stopping in front of them. “Do you have a minute?”

“For what?” The smaller boy was already defensive.

“We’re looking for my grandson. We heard he might be around here, at a place called Freedom City. But no one can tell us where that is. Or if they do know, they won’t tell us.”

“Why would you want to know that?”

“I told you, I’m looking for my grandson. I have some very good news for him.” By then Claudia was flashing her best Grandmother smile. “But I can’t tell him if I can’t find him.” 

Finally the bigger boy appeared to take an interest in her story. “Freedom City’s not a good place to be going,” he explained. “It’s full of dope and bad dudes.”

“Oh my.” She was not pretending her concern. “That’s all the more reason I have to find him. He may think he has to stay there, but he doesn’t”

“He doesn’t have to?” The larger boy was taking charge of the conversation now. “Why not?”

She appreciated his interest. In fact she found herself liking the boy. “What’s your name, son?” she asked.

“Hardrock,” he answered proudly.

“Hardrock? Oh my, that has to be a nickname. What’s your real name.”

Glancing at his friend, he said softly, “It’s Harold.”

“Well, Harold. Our grandson got into some trouble up in Oregon. And he ran away. We heard that he might have ended up in that Freedom City place.” She reminded herself she was telling a lie, at least the ‘grandson’ part. But certainly the gist of her story was true....sort of. 

“His parents called yesterday to tell us that the charges against him have been dropped. He can go home. So it’s very important that we find him.”

Harold was staring at the ground, kicking at the edge of the curb. “I gotta tell you, Ma’am. I’ve never been to Freedom City. My mom would kill me if I ever did.” He looked up into her face. “And I don’t think you should go there either.” 

She waited, hoping he had more to say. And he did. “Last summer my cousin Derek went up to Taft with us. Up over those mountains.” He pointed north, to the high hills beyond town.

“Yes,” she urged. “Did you go through Freedom City then?”

“No, Ma’am. Freedom City is way up in the hills somewhere. It’s not on the highway. But Derek showed me the road that goes there. And he made me promise not to tell Aunt Helen that he’d been up there once.”

“The road? Where was it?”

“I’m not exactly sure,” Harold admitted. “It was a gravel road that turned off to the right. I could see that it started up a steep hill, but that’s all.”

“Goodness. That’s not much to go on. How far from town was the turnoff?”

“I guess maybe half an hour or so. I don’t really know.” It appeared Harold was losing interest in her endless questions. “The thing is, just after the turn off we came to a service station and store. Derek told me that’s where the Freedom City guys go for beer.” He paused. “It was a dumpy little place, with a bunch of old tractors in the field next to it.”

At last Claudia could relax enough to smile the smile she felt. “Thank you, Harold. You’ve been very helpful. And in case you’re wondering, no one will ever know where we found out about Freedom City.”

“Thank you, Ma’am.” Then, shaking his head, “But I still don’t think you should go there.”

“We’ll be very careful. I promise. And I hope you’ll keep doing what your mother says. Okay?”

Later, sitting in the ice cream parlor up the street from the RV park, Claudia glanced over at her husband to tease, “This detective work is kind of fun, isn’t it?”

“You did good, Babe,” Gary agreed. “I’m proud of you. I just hope Harold turns out to have a good memory.”


They had been driving up the winding gravel road for twenty minutes....dodging ruts and pot holes, looking for signs of Freedom City. Leaving Ojai in midmorning, they had driven north in the Toad, scanning the passing countryside for signs that matched young Harold’s sketchy description. 

The one side road that might have been a match was confirmed when they rounded a corner to find the the rustic and rundown country store, exactly where Harold said it would be. They stopped there for bottled water then backtracked to the dusty gravel road and started into the rugged foothills. Now, after several miles of dusty road and inhospitable wilderness, they were becoming discouraged. 

“This must be the right road,” Gary grumbled once more. “There’s been a lot of traffic along here. Why else would that be?”

“I don’t know. But it seems to be getting narrower.” Claudia’s apprehension was showing. It was a bit uncomfortable, being so far from civilization and not knowing what to expect. “How much further should we go?”

“Well, look at this.” Gary slowed, pointing to the road ahead. “The main road goes straight ahead. But all the traffic’s been going up that canyon on the right. We just might be getting close.”

He turned, following the sandy track that led up the bottom of the tree lined canyon. Little more than a quarter mile later they rounded a bend and were startled to see the first signs of their destination. 

It was immediately obvious that Freedom City was not hampered by restrictive zoning codes. On both sides of the narrow road, scattered across the tree-covered hillsides, was a motley collection of tents, ancient trailers, and rusting vans. Slowing to a crawl, the dust-covered Toad crept along, drawing curious stares from the few inhabitants who let themselves be seen. 

Suddenly Gary was startled by the sight of a lean, long-haired man in denim coveralls stepping out in front of the car, forcing him to brake to a stop. 

“What the hell are you doing here?” the man asked loudly.

That had Gary climbing out of the car, aware that the entire population of Freedom City must be watching his entrance. “We’re looking for her granddaughter,” he answered, pointing through the car window to Claudia. “It’s nothing to do with the law or anything like that. We just want to see the girl.”

“I suppose you know this ain’t a good place to be making social calls. We don’t much like visitors.”

“I think I can tell that,” Gary nodded. “I don’t feel so good about it myself. But she needs to see the girl. It’s a family thing. So tell me, is there a young man here by the name of Mango?”

The man’s icy stare grew even more penetrating, as though he was trying to divine Gary’s intentions. Finally, he pointed a few yards up the road toward a blue tarp-covered lean-to, roped between a pair of trees. Without another word he turned and started up the hillside.

Back in the car Gary explained, “I think he’s saying that Mango is there, in that blue tent.” 

He drove ahead and pulled off to the side of the road. A minute later, skirting a chaotic pile of firewood, the two of them approached the disheveled lean-to. There, through the open flap they saw the sleeping form of a lone man, stretched out on a blanket-covered mat.

Exchanging anxious glances, they were unsure whether or not to wake the young man they assumed must be Mango. 

Finally Gary cleared his throat loudly and asked, “Mango? Is that you?” There was no sign he had been heard, so he repeated himself in a still louder voice.

By Gary’s third summons the man was beginning to stir. He raised an arm in the air and rolled over to expose his bearded, sleep-filled face. “What the hell do you want?” he grumbled, rubbing his eyes. “Who are you?”

“Are you Mango?”

Pushing himself upright, the young man was stoically studying his unfamiliar visitors. Finally, he asked, “Who wants to know?”

At that Claudia stepped up to Gary’s side. “Are you Mango?” she asked. A moment later she was almost laughing at his startled surprise.

“What are you doing here, lady?” He was on his knees, struggling to process the unlikely presence of an aging couple in the midst of Freedom City. 

“You shouldn’t be here. Don’t you know this is not a real friendly place?” He was talking directly to her. “There are meth heads out there who’d take everything you’ve got if they thought it would buy another hit.”

Her sweet grandmother smile remained in place. “Thank you for being concerned about us, Mango.” She paused to ask, “You are Mango. Aren’t you?”

“Yeah. I’m Mango. But I still don’t know who you are or why you want to see me.”

“It’s okay, son,” Gary said. “We’re not here to cause trouble. We just need your help.”

“My help? For what?” The suspicious frown had returned. “Look, I don’t know anything about anybody. You have to leave. These guys see me talking to you and they’ll think I’m telling you something.”

The smile had left Claudia’s face. “Is Laura here?” she asked. “Laura Hafner?”

“You’re looking for Laura?” A relieved grin emerged from the midst of his dark beard. “Why didn’t you say so?”

“This is Laura’s grandmother. We just want to talk to her. That’s all. To know she’s okay.”

“Then you’ve come to the wrong place. She’s not here.”

“She’s not?” Claudia glanced at Gary, feeling her hopes drain away. “But, she came here with you. Didn’t she? She was here?”

“Yes, Ma’am. She was here. Until Johnny Winn decided she was too good for me. That was a few weeks ago. He took her up to his trailer, up on the hill.” He pointed across the canyon, to the wooded hillside, where a long, white trailer was perched on the edge of a terraced fire road.

“Laura’s up there?” Gary asked.

“I’m afraid so.” By then Mango’s dejection was apparent. “She and I got to doing some pretty heavy stuff. Johnny doesn’t like to see a chick in her condition doing that. So he took her up there. No way I could stop him.” His face lit up just a bit. “I’m hoping that she’ll come back later on.”

“What do you mean, ‘her condition?’” Claudia asked, certain that she already knew the answer to that question.

“If you’re going to see her you’ll know soon enough.” Mango was standing outside the lean-to now, glancing nervously up and down the canyon road. “Look, I’d really appreciate it if you guys would leave. These people get real antsy when they see us talking to outsiders.”

Claudia reached out and took the young man’s hand. “Thank you, Mango. You’ve been a big help.”

Then, taking Gary’s arm, she led them back to the Toad. There she paused to look up the hillside to the white trailer. If Mango was to be believed their search was nearly over. Her errant granddaughter was just a few yards up the hill. But what would they find? Who would they find? Would she even know the Laura who waited there?

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

A quarantine travel fix

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit …..the wife thinks I sometimes “live in the past.” And if is true, I plead guilty as charged.

I suppose for some of us it comes with age. Perhaps its a sign of the brain turning to mush. Maybe it has to do with the way 2020 has turned into 2021. Whatever the reason, for folks like me digging through a seldom-visited closet is apt to turn up surprises….. some of them pleasant, some you had hoped to forget,

In my case the unexpected find was a single box, one I hadn’t seen in years. Though it was heavy to lift, it was definitely worth the effort. Once I had it off the shelf I could have sorted through the contents in a matter of minutes and been done with it. Truth is, however, it has taken me days, and I’m still not done. Why was it so hard to hurry through those alluring contents?

What I’m talking about was a box of pamphlets, guide books and brochures…..scenic photos and seductive descriptions…..souvenirs of places we have visited in the course of our travels. It was unexpected sight of those long-unseen treasures that managed to grab my attention and jog my memory.

It was a bit startling to learn that the resulting recollections were as vivid and appealing as the first time we saw those places. Small wonder it was so easy to let my mind wander back to those moments …. the ones I wish I could relive again.  

What kind of places, you might ask. And what makes them so special?  It took only a few minutes to realize those memories are memorable because we were there…..Roma and I alone…..or with the whole family. 

That’s how it works, you know. Your personal history is special because it is yours. You are the one who can remember and relate. No matter how spectacular or how mundane they may be, your recollections are real because you have lived them. And you are the one who has earned the right to assign them the value you choose.

So what were these long-neglected souvenirs that sent me off on my own mind-travels? What sort of reminders have that kind of power? Let me offer a few examples…….knowing very well that these are my memories. They may work for you. But on the other hand, you have your own selection of emotional triggers that can take you back to special places and people whenever you choose

So here we go…..leafing through a stack of twenty to fifty year old after page of alluring photos and vivid descriptions……all of them reminders of special times and places in our family’s life..…especially the year we lived in England and the times we have returned there.

Winchester” - It is so full of history, dating to Roman times and before. We made our home there …..encountering our first English supermarket, sending the kids to school, and making friendships that have lasted a lifetime.

Winchester Cathedral” - In the heart of our hometown, with more history that we appreciated. When the song became popular we sang along.

The New Forest” - Just down the road from home, full of quiet country scenes.....Beaulieu Abbey, Lyndhurst, and the New-Forest pony poking its head into our caravan, hoping for a handout.

Cotswolds in Colour” - Dozens of striking photos of the country’s garden spot. (Though actually the whole nation qualifies as that.) We remember Lower Slaughter, Bourton-on-the-Water, Shakespeare country, and Warwick Castle, where we woke up one morning to learn that Elvis had died.

Beautiful Somerset” - Home of my Tucker lineage, where we walked ancient burial grounds and had tea with the couple who lived in the old family home….complete with tales of John Tucker’s ghost, who still lived there.

Bath” - It’s everything Rick Steves says it is….from the Crescent to the Roman baths. Works best if you like a mob of tourists.

Picturesque Cornwall” - My favorite corner of the UK. I’m a sucker for tiny harbors hidden deep in the Poldark coastline. Also home to some of Roma’s Shorey ancestors.

North Devon” - Visited the rugged Lorna Doone country, and the Ilfracombe casino that cost me a few quid.

Bodmin Moor” - Hauntingly beautiful, including the hidden village of Warleggan….home to the first of Roma’s Shoreys, and the church where the pastor preached to cardboard cutouts.

Westminster Abby” - Is beautiful and stately …..a virtual feast of English history, too much to absorb in the single visit.

The Cabinet War Rooms” - Churchill’s London hideout during WWII, a small underground city, safe from the Blitz bombing.

Wesley’s Chapel” - We attended a Sunday morning service there, a quiet time surrounded by reminders of John Wesley’s Methodism.

The Lake District” - It’s as pretty as they claim, though our lasting impression was of wall-to-wall tourists. (Like us)

City of York” - Is so full of history….walking atop the ancient city walls, the stunning cathedral, and a warming lunch with old friends.

Herriot Country” - A tribute to the James Herriot stories and Masterpiece series. A detailed guidebook to the Yorkshire moors and dales, my other favorite places in England. (Along with all the others.) 

Hadrian’s Wall” - Roman history in the far north of England. I’ll remember it for the time spent there with my parents.

Edinburgh” - I’m remembering the Military Tattoo, a summer night of pageantry, the Castle and the Royal Mile, and golf with the kids on the putting green next to Princess Street.

And there you have it, personal reminiscences of special times and places as triggered by a stack of old travel guides…..each of them still feeling just as real as the moments we first spent there. 

I’ve found it comforting that in today’s world of quarantine and travel bans there are no rules or restrictions limiting our access to that kind of time-warp travel…..the sort that allows a return to any time or place we can imagine.

Those were some of my favorite travels, and I am thankful for the opportunity to visit them again. I am also absolutely certain that you have your own special times and places to relive any time to you feel the urge to return there. 

So why not?  Don't let Covid hold you back.

Bon voyage.