Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Angels Among Us (By Lauren L.)

This was written by my oldest daughter for an English class during her Junior year of high school. This story took place in July 2004 as my parents and the two oldest grandkids were enroute to the annual summer camping trip that I have referenced many times before here on the blog. She made an A on her paper.

Angels Among Us
I have always believed in angels. Most people do, right? If you were raised in a religious family, or even just to believe that there is a God, then odds are you believe in angels. However, do you believe angels can ascend from Heaven to help us profound times of need? Sure, you see it on T.V. shows, and hear stories from other people. I had always thought it was possible, but it never happened to me, at least not until that summer.
We were on our way to the western part of Texas. It was nighttime, and I was in the backseat of an old white F-150 that belonged to my cousin DJ, who was seated comfortably in the driver’s seat with his girlfriend, Stacie, next to him. I can still hear vividly the walkie-talkie, and taste the beef jerky we were snacking on as we passed through the small town of Luling, Texas, on our 5-hour trip to Garner State Park.
We were following my MeMe & Pawpaw, my mother’s parents, as they pulled their brand new travel trailer with their Ford Expedition. As 18-wheelers approached, I never ceased to hear the ‘chhh’ “18-wheeler coming up on the left” followed by another ‘chhh’ sound. DJ was warning my Pawpaw so he could drift to the right and avoid getting sucked in by the big trucks as they drove by. Stacie and I were engaged in some deep conversation when it was abruptly broken by my cousin’s screaming voice. I look up. No, I am dreaming, this cannot be real. Four 18-wheelers drive by faster than my eyes can comprehend, the trailer gets sucked into the wind, it jackknives, and they start swerving uncontrollably. Though I don’t believe anything I am seeing, everything is so vivid. Sparks start flying all over the road, and the one thing I was praying would not happen was playing before my eyes. The flipping. “Oh my God!” I must have screamed a hundred times. The Expedition, with the trailer still attached, was flipping-one, two, three, four, five—at least five times in front of me. DJ drives the truck off the road and we hit a small tree. He jumps out yelling to Stacie, “Call 911!” and he loses his shoes in the waist high grass. I quickly follow him in disbelief of what I just saw. I stop at the edge of the road and let DJ continue to run, for fear of what I may find ahead of me.
I thought they were dead, they had to be. How could someone survive what I just saw? A million thoughts are racing through my mind. My grandparents that I love more than life itself were just thrown into the grassy median right before my eyes. I pray to myself and look up to see DJ running back yelling, “They’re awake, they’re okay!” I wake up and come to realization. I run to the car and tears burst from my eyes as I talk to my grandparents, covered in blood, asking for help. I run back across the highway to retrieve some clothes or rags, anything my Pawpaw could use to cover his head and stop the blood flow. Stacie is on the phone with 911, frantically trying to figure out what mile marker we are at. A trucker pulled over soon after the crash, and was by our side in an instant telling Stacie where we were and how he couldn’t believe what he saw. He was somewhat short, hadn’t shaved in maybe 5 days, and was wearing a funny looking hat. I was in a state of shock, and muttered to myself how ironic it was that we sat down in the living room and said a prayer before we left. He looked at me with a smile on his face and recited a Bible verse. I was taken aback, and he could tell by the look on my face. He said it again, and I felt so moved by him, but I was in a hurry and had no time to comprehend the words he was saying to me. He stayed the whole time, until my grandparents were taken away in the ambulances, just watching from the side of the road, as if he was just observing everything taking place. Once my grandparents were safely on their way to the hospital, we spoke again. He told me his name, one I have forgotten because it was such a strange one I had never heard before, and gave me God’s blessing. I told him how grateful I was for his generosity and continued picking up all the luggage thrown from the trailer. Before I knew it, the man was nowhere to be found. That night was the worst of my life, and ironically the best. My grandparents lived through such a horrible experience, and came out much better than we expected. My Pawpaw suffered some cuts, a broken finger, and some compressed vertebrae. My MeMe, on the other hand, shattered her shoulder bone and is still going to physical therapy, but doing so much better.
Though I cannot remember his name, or the Bible verse he so calmly recited to me in a time of panic and distress, I will never forget the man who stopped to help us that night for the rest of my life. He was there before anyone showed up, and stayed until my grandparents were taken away. His calm presence was so comforting, and I thank God he was there. Even though I will probably never see this man again as long as I live, he most certainly had an impact on me. Was he an angel? I’ll never know for sure, but I know what I believe. Do I believe in angels? Of course, I always have. Do I believe God sends them with a guiding light to your rescue in times of misfortune? Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

My Foiled Attempt at Trying to be Hip

A few years ago when the saying "My Bad" became popular, I'd heard it referenced in movies and from the kids for some time. After hearing it for a while, I was able to determine that it meant something along the lines of "Ooops, I'm sorry" or "Sorry that was my fault". I've never been one to practice using the latest hip lingo or slang terminology and this will give you a good idea as to why.

One day I threw a kitchen towel or something at my husband but it was a bad throw and ended up hitting him in the face. With it having been an accident I wanted to acknowledge my error and bad throw so I said, "Sorry, my bag." He looked at me real funny and as soon as he said, "What did you just say?", and I saw that smirk on his face, I knew immediately that I'd just totally screwed up. He asked me again what I'd just said. I very reluctantly answered, "My bag", as if in more of a question form and almost apologetic. He started laughing hysterically and informed that it was actually "My bad" and made fun of me for days to come.

As I've said before, you have to be able to laugh at yourself and a good laugh is almost always worthy of sharing with at least someone. The one and only person I chose to tell this story to was my sister and she was sworn to secrecy. We had a good laugh at my expense and I thought that would be the end of it.

Months passed and I'd all but forgotten about my little slip of the tongue until one day when my sister's middle son decided to mock me. They were at my house when he slipped up by saying, "Oh, my bag" to me. I turned around with my mouth wide open. My sister had that “deer caught in the headlights stare” knowing she'd just been busted for telling anyone my embarrassing story. She tried defending herself and claimed she couldn't pass it up, that it was just too funny. Making it worse, she'd told all three of her boys and her husband and my kids were now asking for the details.

It became the norm for all of the kids to harass me about it at any and every possible opportunity. Every time I turned around I was hearing one of them say, "My bag". It died down some over the years, but every time I think they've finally forgotten it, one of them still goes there. (Even as recently as Christmas Eve!)

Up until last summer it had remained a joke only between my kids and three nephews, but that all changed during our annual camping trip. We go with a large group of people every year and there are easily thirty kids within our group. Apparently, one of my precious, beloved nephews decided to share the "My bag" story with all of the other teenagers during the trip and my little secret was out. I couldn't walk past a kid without hearing "My bag" during the entire trip. I tried the ignoring method but it just wasn't effective.

I'm sure the eulogy at my funeral will go something like this: "Well, she might've been our crazy aunt, but we'll always remember her fondly for that old saying "My bag". Now I stick with phrases that are more my style.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Panari Tribe

Updated: Photo of the Panari Tribe

On my side of the family there are ten grandchildren ranging in ages from twenty-years old down to one-year-old. The twenty-year old still thinks he's a kid and still acts like one. He's my sister's oldest. She also has a sixteen year-old and a thirteen-year-old, all boys. Before they moved from our street it was common for our kids to play outside, including the twenty-year-old. They went through a stage where they all had light sabers and would play with them all over the neighborhood. They also played hide and seek late at night during the summer. When Cassidy had a recent slumber party, my nephews played a joke on the girls. I alerted them when we were on our way to wrap their house but had no idea what the plan was, only that they were going to scare them. After the girls had made their way into the yard my nephews jumped out from behind a tree all dressed in black, shooting off their paint ball guns loaded only with air. It sounded like a Military attack scaring even my husband and I who were expecting something to happen. You could hear screaming girls for miles.

It's no surprise that my oldest nephew would be behind the start of an amusing little tradition among the kids. While on our annual camping trip a few years ago, he started giving his cousins nicknames similar to Indian names. These nicknames were special and unique, and aren't exactly ones the kids wear proudly. As a matter of fact, they're meant to poke fun at a trait or quality of each kid that isn't very flattering, and they're not supposed to like their tribe names. When they first shared their names with the adults, we totally cracked up. They refer to themselves as the Panari Tribe.

Last Saturday night they christened two new members, my daughter's boyfriend and my nephew's girlfriend. The younger grandchildren have not yet been named, but their day will come.

Member Names:

DJ - Has Big Nose (The very handsome oldest nephew who does in fact have a big nose)
Lauren - Still in Diapers (My oldest, still acts like a baby, especially when she doesn't get her way)
Tyler - Not So Good Breath (My nephew who just needs to chew more gum)
Megan - Looks Like a Man (My niece who has a muscular and athletic build)
Trevin - Sweats A Lot (My nephew who plays many sports and apparently sweats a lot)
Cassidy - Pouts A Lot (My youngest daughter who is often known to have a scowl on her face whenever she's mad and who can hold the world's longest grudge)
Caden - Prancing Pony (My son who they claim fights like a girl! NOT)
Taylor - Oh So Nasty (My niece who has the biggest heart ever, but who likes to roam the camp ground barefoot and dirty all day & night)

Two newest members:

Jessica - Acts Like Female Dog (DJ's girlfriend, not always friendly or in the best of moods)
Travis - Still Breastfeeds (Lauren's boyfriend, has his mom wrapped around his little finger and she goes to great lengths to make his life less stressful!)

I'm sure the adults have also been given names that are not so flattering and they've sworn to keep them top secret. I shudder to think of what mine would be.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Leaving Korea (Part VII/The End)

I'll never forget the feeling of relief that came over me when my husband finally returned home. When he walked through the front door of our apartment I literally jumped into his arms, wrapped my arms around his neck, my legs around his waist and held on to him for several minutes like a three-year old child. He was home and the stress and anxiety from the past month were instantly lifted and would no longer weigh me down. He would protect us and keep us safe. I would again be able to sleep soundly, share adult conversation and no longer have to handle everyday tasks alone. I followed him around the apartment like a lost puppy for several days. I'm not sure he could even use the restroom without turning around to find me at standing at his heels.

We went back to our normal routine after he returned home. It was now April and I'd been there for five months. I was looking forward to going back home in July to spend a month with family before we would move to our new duty station. We'd just found out we’d be returning to Ft. Ord, California. We'd spent a year there while he was in school and were happy to be returning to a familiar place. I was doing much better now that I'd survived the month of hell but had grown tired of everyday life being such a struggle. I was sick of walking everywhere, sick of the boredom, sick of the limited choices of food, sick of the small apartment without a yard, fearing for my life everytime I rode in a car/bus, just sick of it all. I knew I could handle life without him for three months. We'd spent three-months apart before I'd arrived. One day in late April I decided that I wanted to go home. I didn't want to wait until July and leave with him. I was ready to see my family, have a car, gorge myself on Mexican food, drive to Whataburger at midnight for a milkshake or cheeseburger if I wanted one, watch regular TV anytime I wanted, talk to people on the telephone (for free)and take long baths or showers with plenty of hot water. I was ready to go and would throw the idea out there as soon as my husband got home from work. I was afraid he would want us to stay but the idea was actually relief to him, too. Life had been harder for him with us there, as well. Living in the barracks was so much easier. We'd both made sacrifices to be together. I was so happy when he thought my idea to go home was a good one. I knew I'd miss him but it was time to go. I'd lasted as long as I could.

I left in mid-May. We splurged on a ticket for Lauren this time. She'd just turned two and we would've been required to purchase one for her. I would've done so anyway after suffering through the miserable flight over there. The flight home was a breeze compared to that one. We were bumped to business class for reasons I can't recall on the flight from Seoul to San Francisco. The seats were spacious and much more comfortable. The only mishap was when Lauren got motion sickness and threw up all over the tray she'd been coloring on. I felt so bad for the nice man sitting next to us knowing that he'd paid for his seat and was now in the midst of a puke-fest. He was so kind. I got her changed and cleaned up but we all know that's a smell that will linger. Oh, I'd just survived hell so a little puke wasn't going to break me. Like a good mother I broke up a tablet of Dramamine and sprinkled some over her ice cream when we landed in San Francisco. I didn't want her puking again on the next flight. We both slept like babies until we landed in Houston.

Home sweet home. I wanted to kiss the ground. I was on an adrenaline high and didn't sleep for 24-hours after we arrived. I devoured huge amounts of Mexican food immediately after leaving the airport. It's amazing how much can change in just six months time. There were vehicles on the freeway that were totally foreign to me. The Chevy trucks had changed their body styles from the squared look of the 80's to the rounded style of the 90's. The cars were different, too. I'd never heard 90% of the songs playing on the radio. It was weird.

I had a car. I had regular TV. No more Barnaby Jones and Baretta reruns! I had fast food anytime I wanted it. I had a phone and you better believe I used it. I had family and friends surrounding me. I had as much water as I needed. It felt so good to be home!

I'm thankful for the opportunity I had to experience such a different culture and way of living. I made no bones about how difficult it was for me, but the bumps in the road make us who we are. The experience of being over there was a good one that helped me grow and appreciate the little things we take for granted here. The worst part of my stay there was the month I spent alone. I know I could've handled it much better had I been older and wiser and more self-sufficient. If I were to live it over again armed with the knowledge and wisdom I now have under my belt, it would've been a cakewalk. Well, maybe not quite that easy, but definitely not the hardship it was for me back then. Recalling those long nights filed with anxiety, the fears that I couldn't seem to get control of and that terrible feeling of being all alone with no one to turn to for support has been somewhat emotional for me to look back on, but I survived. It would make me stronger in the years to come when he would be gone for weeks or months at a time. Of course, I had all of the things that make life easier available to me that I didn't have while in Korea

We often still eat Korean food and drive all the way across town for it. I love the Korean people and respect their culture. When my husband received orders to return to Korea for another year in 1992, I made the decision to stay with my parents. I knew I would miss him like crazy, but wasn't willing to endure the challenges and struggles that it required of me to again live there.

Happy Birthday, Paul/Dad/Grandpa Paul!

I'm so glad to see you posting again. Obviously, that means you're getting around more. I hope you continue to feel better each and everyday. We love you and are thankful for your successful surgery, minus a few mishaps along the way. I hope you have a great birthday and will talk to you soon.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Living in Korea (Part VI)

After several sleepless nights, I thought changing our sleeping habits might be more practical. We were already night owls and often slept late. I decided if I was going to be up all night unable to sleep and exhausted the following day, Lauren and I would just stay up all night and sleep during the day, or at least most of it. I started allowing her to stay up until she ran out of fuel. I'd stay up until the traffic and activity down below started picking back up and I could see hints of daylight. Then I felt safe and could finally sleep soundly.

As a result of the change, our normal daily routine was shot. We'd sleep until the afternoon between 12:00pm and 2:00pm. By the time we were up and moving around, we had limited daylight hours left to run errands or visit with friends at the cottage. There was often days that we never left the apartment if we didn't need to. In spite of how long and boring the days and nights were staying home, it was sometimes preferable to venturing out into the cold weather. On the days we did get out, we'd often arrive on base with only an hour left before the cottage would be closing. Regardless, we'd usually stop in for a short visit. Upon leaving the cottage, we'd typically ride the bus over to Camp Hovey to pick up our mail or sometimes go to the USO Club to call home. We also spent countless evenings just browsing around the PX and eating dinner, or what was actually lunch, at one of the fast food places before heading home to our dark, empty apartment. If we needed groceries, we’d hit the commissary last and take a cab home like we always did after grocery shopping. Sometimes the landlord would hear me come in and offer to help carry the bags upstairs, which was always nice. Otherwise, it required several trips after getting Lauren up to the apartment.

I wasn’t as fearful about arriving home after dark with all of the activity on the streets as I was about the long dreaded night I had ahead of me once inside for the night. Those nights were so long. We spent all of our time in our small living room until we went to bed. I'd read or write letters while she played or watched a video. She only had a few to choose from. VHS movies hadn't been out that long so we didn't have much of a selection at that time. If I were lucky enough to have one of Judy's six-hour tapes from the states, I'd watch it all in one night, including every commercial.

I had a Korean friend named Sohe (So-He), who dated a soldier in my husband's unit. When it came time to do laundry it was Sohe who carried the duffle bag of clothes to and from the laundry mat for me. I was so grateful that she'd volunteered to help. I'm not sure how I would've managed to do it alone. Honestly, I just didn't have the muscles needed to hoist and carry something that heavy and she did. I suppose I could've managed carrying smaller loads with numerous cab rides back and forth, but having her help was truly a blessing. We used the laundry mat on Camp Casey while the guys were away. I didn't need to go as often with one less person to wash for either.

One night I was watching the local news and saw a report about the discovery of some underground tunnels leading from North Korea to South Korea. At the time, I had no way of knowing that they’d been discovering similar tunnels for years and this was not something out of the ordinary. I was terrified. We were about twenty-five miles south of the North Korea border. In my mind it was a sure sign of plans for an invasion by the North Koreans. I was now facing the fear of a possible invasion along with everything else I’d been dealing with. It was overwhelming.

If we’d had a phone, email or some other means of communication I wouldn’t have felt so isolated and alone. I certainly would’ve run up the phone bill but it would’ve been worth it to keep my sanity. Thank God for Lauren. She was the only thing that kept me from officially going bonkers. I had friends, but no one I was extremely close to. One week we didn't make it by the cottage the entire week and I hoped no one was worried about us. I then realized it wouldn’t seem unusual considering our new and recent sporadic schedule. At that point, I found myself thinking that if anything bad were to happen to us, it would probably be two weeks before anyone would think to come and check on us. That thought made me feel sick. I was just ready for my husband to come back home and for my month of hell on earth to finally end.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Absolute Best Medicine

I can recall many occasions in my life when I have laughed so hard that I was literally gasping for air, trying to stop and couldn't. Times I thought I might die on the spot if I didn't get away from the person sharing the hysterical laughter with me. Some of those times are “you had to be there” stories and I couldn’t do them justice in writing, but I can think of a couple worthy of sharing. Isn't it funny that we seem to be more prone to uncontrollable laughter at the worst possible times?

For me, it was often Sunday mornings in church as a teen and pre-teen. My friends and I would purposely sit behind a man who would make the hour long service much more entertaining for us than the pastor. It was rumored that he actually suffered from narcolepsy, though I didn't know that until many years later. He would doze off repeatedly during the service with his head bobbing all over the place. The funny part was that he'd wake up many times from his own snoring but he’d nod right back off just moments later. My sister recalls one time when his head slammed down onto the back of the pew in front of him with a loud thud. I missed that particular incident, but watching him nod off provided great entertainment for my friends and I, in between writing notes and games of hangman or tic-tac toe during the sermon. We could usually maintain our silent laughter, where only our shoulders would shake, without uttering a sound. Sometimes, one of us would lose control and let out a slight snort, which would have a contagious effect on the others, resulting in the kind of laughter that was almost impossible to control. Once you lose control of that silent laughter and you make a noise, you're usually in for a real battle to maintain control.

I once suffered from uncontrollable laughter at the veterinarian's office when our first dog, Chelsi, had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from the tip of her tail. We were aware that she would be required to wear a lampshade looking contraption around her neck, for about two weeks to keep her from biting at her tail while it healed. We'd been forewarned that she might look a bit awkward. She was a large white German shepherd and as soon as I saw her walking down the hall towards me, I burst into laughter. I was standing at the counter with my checkbook when they brought her out. She was banging into the walls on both sides of her, and as sad as that may sound, I started laughing so hard I couldn't stop myself, even in front of these people. My husband was laughing, too, and by this time had been given the leash to hold onto her. She was banging into chairs in the waiting room and watching her with this big lampshade thing on her head was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen. Of course, knowing her personality and seeing her reaction made it even funnier than if it had just been some random dog. I totally lost control and the more I tried to stop laughing the worse it got. I was literally bent over laughing right there in the clinic. I'm sure the vet staff thought I was evil for laughing at my poor dog. I was trying so hard to stop but I couldn't. She was a big dog and the thing she was wearing was the size of the biggest lampshade you can imagine. She was running into everything and completely disoriented. Every time I looked at her I would burst out laughing and absolutely could not stop. My husband, whom was also still laughing, ended up taking her outside just to get her away from me so I could try to gain my composure. I apologized to the staff and eventually managed to write the check, but continued snickering while I stood there, as hard as I tried not to. It was all I could do not to laugh hysterically until I left. When I got outside it only got worse. I was gasping for air as we walked to the car. The shade had banged into a curb causing her to stumble and she was bumping into cars and I couldn't stop laughing, in spite of how much I loved her, and the fact that she'd just had surgery.
We stopped at a store on our way home and I waited in the car with her. People walking past would catch a glimpse of her and stare at us and then I'd laugh even harder. The laughing continued long after we arrived home. The sight of her trying to maneuver her way around the house and trying to eat and drink with that thing on was killing me. I had bouts of laughter for several days until she finally managed to get around without banging into everything.

I experienced that same kind of laughter about ten years ago at the funeral of our ninety something year old great-great uncle. As far removed as that relation may sound, we'd actually grown up being very close to him. (I'm not so sure my mother will appreciate hearing this story and my sister might not be too thrilled with me either) My sister and I had opted to make the four-hour trip to the funeral with my brother and his wife and would be leaving at 6am. The night prior to the funeral, she and and I went to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Cook-Off and stayed out entirely too late. By the time we crawled into bed it seemed like my brother was ringing the doorbell. I know neither of us slept on the trip and were both delirious and exhausted when we arrived. The service was beautiful and I never intended to start what would turn into another one of those bouts of hysterical laughter at such an inappropriate time. Did I already mention that we were delirious? She and I were sitting very close together (possibly trying to keep each other awake) and she whispered something to me. I couldn't help but notice that her breath didn’t smell very good and never should've said it, but I did. I whispered to her, "Where's the dog?” She asked, "What dog?" I replied, "The dog that just took a dump in your mouth. You need some gum, like yesterday". The hysteria was ON. It was all either of us could do to keep from snorting and rolling right off of the pew. It was awful. We were both about to lose control at a loved ones funeral and trying desperately not to. I do believe there was a snort from one of us but we were able to pass it off as crying. However, it barely passed. I'm not proud of myself for this, although it was a pretty good one, if I do say so myself. It was out of my mouth before I could stop it and I didn't realize how hard it would cause us both to laugh. We were beyond shoulders shaking and were trying to muzzle ourselves. After the funeral, we made our way into the hallway and could hardly even look at each other or anyone else, and were in no shape to speak to anyone. Here we were at a funeral suffering from sidesplitting, gut wrenching laughter. Somehow, we managed to pull it together when we saw our mom and grandmother approaching us.