We heard that Weston Pass was the place to go to find our wily elk for sure. So instead of heeding my tip #8 for Day 1 prep (See tip 8), we drove up to a spot on the road below Weston Pass way before the sun rose.
The hike up to where we knew the elk would be was arduous (for someone like me with a gimpy ankle), but we made good time and got to enjoy the sight of dawn breaking over the cold Rocky Mountains. After a while, we hunkered down in some pine trees. We’d wait a while and watch the herds pass by. We’d have our pick of tasty future meals.
After about ½ hour, Mike decided to move farther up the hill. I stayed below. We’d have different vantage points of the same open area through which the elk would meander…at any minute. I drilled myself on the gutless method of removing the tenderloins. Dinner.
Suddenly I saw wild gesticulations from above, and when I followed Mike’s pointed finger, THERE THEY WERE! Although difficult to see from my position, a cow, two calves and a spike were walking through a small clearing between thick pines on the far, far side of the meadow. Mike gestured for me to come up to where he was already in a firing position, but I think we both knew that the tiny window of opportunity and the distance were too challenging to overcome in the split second between seeing them and watching them disappear.
“I should’ve taken the shot,” he said, “but by the time I had the elevation adjusted, it was too late.”
“You did the right thing. You want a clean shot.” I told him what he already knew.
“You stay here. I’m going over to see if I can pick up the trail.”
For the next 90 minutes, Mike hiked and I lay prone in the meadow grass by a large, dead tree trunk. Maybe he’d scare them out and I’d get my shot. Instead, I waited and lounged and peered through the grass, remembering my 5th grade teacher at Archie T. Morrison Elementary School in Braintree who had us do something quite similar during our poetry unit, but without rifles. I think she might have been the one who sparked my interest in writing.
While Mike hiked, I shot photos, something my friends tell me I should be doing rather than shooting “poor innocent animals.” I took my hunting glamour shot and visited for a while with a nosy lark bunting. I really do like shooting photos, but I’d like to know I could feed myself during the zombie apocalypse too.
By the time Mike returned, he was beat and I was ready to head home.
“There are tons of signs over there. It’s like an elk highway. We’ll come back tomorrow, okay?”
I would have agreed to anything at that point. We were silent as we drove home, tired and hungry, and our reward for our efforts on Day 2 was a glorious rainbow embracing our little Leadville.
I got this silly idea a few months ago that every girl should grow her hair down to her butt at least once in her lifetime, and since I never had, it became a goal. I’ve tried this several times in past years, never with success. The longest my hair has ever been was during sophomore year at Smith College. I was really cool then. I wore my wavy locks in braids and sashayed around campus with my patchwork skirts and my art portfolio.
I had lusted after Sheila’s hair in high school. A gymnast with thick red hair well past her butt, she represented everything I believed to be sexy. She was even smart and not too stuck up, so I had no reason to hate her. But I knew I’d never get the attention she got wherever she happened to be with her gorgeous locks swaying as she walked, lifting in a breeze, glowing in the sunshine. I also knew I was not built for backflips on a balance beam. For those petty pretty things, I envied her.
The “pixie” cut was Mum’s choice for me throughout my childhood years, and although I can’t remember ever complaining about the choice, I also coveted my baby sister’s long, golden strands. For school picture day, the best I could do was try to keep a ribbon-clip in my hair. Girls with long hair could do ever so much more. Even as a youngster I sensed the glamor symbolized by long hair, so after growing my own to shoulder-length in high school, I determined never to cut it again in college.
And then I joined the Army.
Cadets at West Point in 1979 had no access to hair stylists or salons, and my first butchering by the high-and-tight-hungry barber in the basement of a cold, stone building left me horrified—and convinced I could do a far better job myself. Fortunately, aside from ensuring my shoes shined like mirrors and my shirts were tucked just right into my starched pants, I had little time to think about my appearance, and the uniform hat hid much of my face beneath it, and my hair.
I think I could probably take a few trips around the world with the money I’ve saved over the years by cutting and coloring my own hair and cutting my husband’s and sons’ hair. My horror at the cash register each of the few times I treated myself to a professional cut and color rivaled the horror I felt leaving that barber’s chair decades earlier. Two hundred dollars? Are you kidding me? And that’s without a tip? Do you have any idea how many bags of clothes I could fill at Goodwill with two hundred dollars?
For a few years we lived in a place where $200 was pocket change and hair extensions were as commonplace as Tupperware, so I convinced myself I deserved the occasional splurge. But I always felt guilty after handing over the credit card and hopping into my car, and when I checked myself out in the rear view mirror, I never felt 200+ dollars prettier. For $8.95 and about one hour in the privacy of my bathroom I could emerge with a color and cut that was “me.”
I laugh at myself now for my most recent attempt at long locks because this attempt marked the fourth time I’ve repeated this sequence:
Decide to push past the awkward not-short-not-long phase.
Camouflage the transition as best as I can.
Start to feel good about my progress as my hair reaches my shoulders.
Chastise myself for compulsive hair twirling.
Enjoy the hair twirling because that means it’s growing longer.
Buy all manner of hair adornments and accessories.
Realize I’m spending lots of time keeping my hair out of my face.
Wake up one morning with a mouthful of hair.
Spit it out, walk to the bathroom, find the scissors, and cut it all off.
Tell myself I’ll never grow my hair again.
Last week’s hair-in-the-mouth will be my last. The liberation I felt from all things “hair” inspired me to lighten up in other areas, too, and I filled bags with clothes and shoes from my stuffed drawers and closet. How did I get so many pairs of socks?
As I pondered the decision to embrace my inner pixie, the whole idea of hair consumed my thoughts for several days. I asked a long-haired friend why she would never cut her hair and she confessed to having an emotional attachment to it. She plays with it and it is a comfort to her, although she told me she woke up nearly strangled by it one morning. When she returned to her studies, I watched surreptitiously as she absentmindedly twirled and occasionally chewed on the ends of her lovely locks.
Every time I see someone who’s lost their hair to cancer treatment, the foolishness of my own vanity becomes clearer. It is vanity, after all, and it affects some more than others. Hair is something we adorn, hide behind, deceive others with (“Only her hairdresser knows for sure”), perm, tease, spray, braid, extend (so much deception!), feather, spike, dreadlock (Eek!) . . . the hair care industry will never die.
But I don’t want to be a slave to my hair anymore. I want to believe I’m at a stage in my life in which I’ll spend far more time on my inner development than my outer appearance. It’s not like I’m mature enough to shave it all off, though, and I’m still going to buy my $8.95 Clairol every six weeks, so I’m not walking away from all expressions of vanity.
“I like it. It’s cute,” my husband told me when he returned from work.
I’ll never be a Lady Godiva, and I’m finally okay with that.
I’ll settle for cute.
A friend recently suggested I read this article about hair. The author’s research extends beyond her personal experience, and she too was a pixie at one point! Siri Hustvedt’s article in New Republic.
“You need one of those scoot around things for après foot/ankle surgery,” my friend Stacy posted on my Facebook page. Shortly thereafter, my friend Kristi attached a photo, suggesting it might be way more fun than crutching around the house. And it did look fun. The next day, our local medical supply service delivered my new getabout from Roscoe Medical, a burgundy beauty complete with adjustable everything, a lockable hand brake, and a sizeable basket. My sister Christine suggested insurance might pay for it. We’ll see. In any case, I already feel like I’ve been released from a cage!
I’ve been doing really well with the crutches
and the muscles in my arms and left leg appreciate the workout. Scooting up and down stairs on my butt also exercises my “dip” muscles and my right thigh muscles (holding my leg up the whole way), and the maneuver I have to do once I reached the top of the stairs to stand up again works my left butt cheek squat muscles. Stretching my right hammy on the back deck railing while Ranger does his business feels great, and I am perfectly in control.
But my decision to get this walking aid was finalized after I nearly tipped over two nights ago crutching to the bathroom for a 2 a.m. pee. Fortunately, I tipped against the wall and was able to finish my business without further calamity, but I knew right then it was time for a safer mode of travel around our house.
With Roscoe I can do almost as much as I can do on two legs, but it has taken some practice and everything still requires more time. Although Ranger’s water bowl splashed all over the floor while transporting it on the basket, my plant watering container worked just great. Lesson? Leave Ranger’s bowl on the floor and refill with the watering can.
Also, Roscoe doesn’t have such a great turning radius. This was probably a conscious decision on the part of the medical community so speed demons like me won’t launch ourselves over the handlebars taking corners on two wheels. As a result of this limited turning capability, I often have to lift the back wheels off the floor—remembering to keep my hand on the brake—and position them to make it through a turn. With all the twisting and turning and lifting I’m doing, I’m getting a great core workout on top of everything else. I don’t know that I’d recommend this scooter for anyone not physically capable of manhandling it to varying degrees.
And I’m really happy I spent 9 years in the Army Transportation Corps because my experience with 3-5-7-point turns and maneuvering big trucks into tight spots comes in handy when I have to visit this tiny room several times throughout the day.
The bottom line is, Roscoe has freed my hands so I can cook and clean and do laundry and …
Dagnabbit! What have I done? When I had crutches, Mike was doing those things for me. Now he knows the truth. Oh well. He still has to hoist Roscoe upstairs at night and down in the morning. And walk the dog. And pick up his poop out back. I haven’t figured out how to manage that balancing act yet and don’t plan to.
My friend Nadine told me she was going to suggest getting a knee scooter, but could visualize me flying down the street into town on it. The burden of responsibility would have been just too much for her. She knows me too well. There’s a community market off Main Street today. I wonder how many peaches I could fit in this basket . . .
Well I’ve finally been shipped out way down here deep in the heart of Texas. We left Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 P.M. and arrived here this morning at 10:00 A.M., with a swell military reception. About 500 boys came down with me, and the shipment was claimed to be the largest out of Ft. Devens. There’s so much to tell that I’ll probably have to wait until after the war to tell you; but I’ll do my best now.
To begin with we rode on a Boston and Maine day coach that saw its prime 75 years ago. Nothing but the best for the army, you know. However, the other cars were all more modern and it was better than walking. Leaving Mass., we hit the corner of Vermont, then thru New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, then Texas. I might have missed one or two states, but it doesn’t matter. We hit snow in every state except Texas, which I think is God’s country. (It might be a little of the devil’s too, for it is so hot down here!) We passed under the Appalachian Mts. By way of the Hoosac tunnel, and crossed the Mississippi river. After viewing the country all the way down here, except for Texas, I was thankful that I lived in Massachusetts, for you don’t realize the poverty that most of the people live in. Most all shacks we passed were inhabited by colored people, and a few whites. Yet they seemed to be happy and waved to us as we passed by.
Among some of the things of interest we saw were the oil wells of Oklahoma; also the biggest factory I’ve ever seen, later found out to be a Douglas aircraft plant; also oil refineries, brick kilns, miles and miles of flat land, and finally real cactus.
Camp Swift is one of the newest army camps in the country and is very nice. It is a camp for specialists and practically everyone is a sergeant or a commissioned officer. We’re the second group in here and pretty near all of us will have stripes (arm stripes) shortly. We were started on our basic training, that is, some of the most important commands.
I guess I’ll turn in now and continue tomorrow, March 6, 1943. Here’s my new address. This is permanent, so please write as I am anxious to hear the news from back home.
Pvt. C.M. Bernier U.S.A.
A. Battery, 922 F.A. Btn.
Camp Swift, Texas
The F.A. stands for Field Artillery, the Btn. stands for Battalion, the A.P.O. stands for Army Post Office
I don’t know why I didn’t make the Signal Corps, but I’ll do my best here. The Field Artillery are the boys who man the big guns behind the lines. I will probably be assigned to a gun crew but I’ll have to wait to find out.
I just got back from supper, and had some ice water. What a treat that is! I’d give a dollar for a quart of Boston water. Down here it’s awfully flat and you don’t seem to satisfy your thirst.
By the way, please send me my Polaroid sun glasses, my ring if you have it, an extra bath towel, and about ten coat hangers. Try and send them as soon as you can. Tell all the fellows my address, and that I’ll write as soon as I get enough to tell about.
We’re confined to our barracks for two weeks, because of measles, colds, etc. They do this to every new group in camp. Of course that doesn’t apply to us while we’re training.
If there’s any news you’d like to know ask me in your letter and I’ll answer them. I guess I’ll sign off now with love, because I miss you all.
My V-MAIL project starts with a postcard from Ft. Devens, Mass. (from back when the abbreviation was “Mass.” rather than “MA”!) showing a painting of the Post Theatre:
Got here about 9:15. An army truck brought us to the Fort. We were then issued rain coats and toilet kits, then bedding, and over-shoes. Boy! We sure needed them. Very muddy here. Learned how to make a bed, army style. Just got thru eating. Pretty good food. More later, Moe
No zip code . . . no charge . . . no idea what he’s getting into!
It seems that nothing would stop my father from writing home, not being in a tent, not “forgetting” to bring his pen! Letters sent home the last half of May, 1943 focus on the drudgery of camp life (and the seemingly endless guard, cleaning, kitchen duties!) and the smaller things, like not being able to buy treats.
“If we had any more inspections I would have dropped from nervous exhaustion. We have to shake our blankets out daily and five minutes later they are full of dust. They should call this Camp Dust instead of Camp Swift.”
Despite the drudgery, he always seems to keep his dry sense of humor.
“Monday I was hit with my old faithful “K.P.” I would rather walk twenty miles than do K.P. It’s really rough.”
K.P., or “Kitchen Patrol/Police,” is the equivalent of being a busser/dish-washer/floor scrubber at a fast-food restaurant…with no chance of earning tips!
“I got your letter yesterday with the dollar in it. Thanks a lot. Paydays are few and far between in the army . . . . The candy & cookie situation here is quite desperate, as the P.X.s have very little stock and what they have is bought up by fellows leaving for overseas. Any donations will be most gratefully received.”
The thought of a “desperate” cookie situation initially makes me chuckle, but the reality of not having them available because of the war situation makes me feel guilty about what I have in my cupboards right now. “Cupboards”? Does anyone use that term anymore?
When the blankets have been shaken and the kitchen cleaned, there is still work to do:
“Talking about windows, every Friday nite we have to clean all the windows in the barracks for inspection. Besides we have to get down on our hands and knees and scrub the floor. So you see I’ll be quite useful when I get home. If and when I do get home I want you to make me wait outside the kitchen about fifteen minutes before meals, as I might get too lonesome for the army. We have lines for everything, even when we go to town. When I get home I might get too soft if I get right into a movie or can eat immediately.”
And frequently there’s the talk of going home . . .
“Here it is Sunday again, and Palm Sunday at that. I just got back from Mass and communion. Time seems to go by so fast in the army. When I left home it was Washington’s Birthday, now it’s Easter.” The ages old question of where time “goes” seems to unite us in a common theme. A friend’s status update on Facebook today asks, “Does anyone know where September went?” Suggestions for where to “look” to find the missing month are giggle-provoking. “Civilians don’t realize how little free time a soldier actually has.” The notion of “free time” causes me to think. Is any of our time ever free? My husband, Mike, just came in to look at our calendar. He is unable to express–adequately–the frustration he feels over the number of obligations he has taken on given the constraints of time. But I can read it in his face. He does not need to say anything. Nonetheless, we talk over toast about what we might do to improve our current budget.
“Thursday we got paid. This pay covered the period from when we entered the army until March 31. I was paid $48.50. This does not include the $6.75 for my insurance, nor the $3.75 for war bonds. In other words I made about $59.00. Since we will be paid again in about two weeks for April, I am sending home $40.00 with which you can do what you want.” When sons left their homes back in the ’40s, they actually sent money back to their parents. What a foreign concept that is in a world which today seems to accept that children will be cared for by their parents long after they are no longer children.
In 1943, just a month after his 19th birthday, Dad boarded a train to “somewhere” with a toothbrush and a change of underwear. He had joined the army. In one of his first letters home, I discover both his early sense of humor and his sheltered naiveté:
“To begin with we rode on a Boston and Maine day coach that saw its prime 75 years ago. Nothing but the best for the army, you know. However, the other cars were all more modern and it was better than walking. Leaving Mass., we hit the corner of Vermont, then thru New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, then Texas. I might have missed one or two states, but it doesn’t matter. We hit snow in every state except Texas, which I think is God’s country. (It might be a little of the devil’s too, for it is so hot down here!) We passed under the Appalachian Mts. by way of the Hoosac tunnel, and crossed the Mississippi river. After viewing the country all the way down here, except for Texas, I was thankful that I lived in Massachusetts, for you don’t realize the poverty that most of the people live in. Most all shacks we passed were inhabited by colored people, and a few whites. Yet they seemed to be happy and waved to us as we passed by.”
The train’s destination: Camp Swift, Texas. He describes his new daily routine:
“We get up at 6:30; fall out for revile at 6:45, and eat at 7:00. About 7:30 we fall out again and have about an hour of physical exercise, and I do mean exercise. We do all kinds of body bends and twists. Then we form in a circle, walk then run, then do all kinds of torture movements such as squatting down and walking, or walking on our hands and toes. After this we have classes on various things such as courtesy and customs, motors, hygiene, the artillery guns, and other army methods. We eat dinner at 12:00. After dinner we usually have a few more classes, or a training film on different things. Then we usually go for a little walk about 4:00. It’s not so easy to keep step marching in sand. Monday, we did a bit of wood marching. First of all we had to leap across a pretty wide ditch. I didn’t realize it was so deep or wide until I was half way over. I made it all right but some fellows just aren’t jumpers. Poor fellows! Then we do double time running up and down hills, over rocks, and over a log, which is a bridge over a ditch. After going through that I think I’ll give up cigarettes. Boy! was I winded.”
Torture movements! I know Dad played tennis back in his high school days . . . I’ll have to ask if that was the extent of his physical activity before his army days. At least he wasn’t one of the “poor fellows” who couldn’t jump; perhaps he should have played basketball!
I suddenly realize how difficult it will be to find the focus of this memoir writing. So many letters, so much information, so much still to ask . . .
Writing and stories about life, real and imagined!