Just A Clueless Tourist, Sir

Guilty As Charged

A writing exercise one day was: tell about an adventure you had while traveling, focusing on one particular scene during the trip. So here’s a scene from when I drove my daughter to Mississippi for a Teacher’s Summer Class.

Twelve years ago our daughter wanted to attend a week-long workshop for teachers — the event being held in Mississippi, no less. She didn’t want to drive all that way alone, so I accompanied her and did most of the driving. I was excited about the trip, having never been to the Deep South before. We were living in Quebec at this time, so had two long days on the road, entering the US at Detroit and heading more or less straight south on Interstates.

The second day found us somewhere in Kentucky on a nice four-lane highway and I was behind the wheel when we came up behind a line of about six cars, every one of them in the right lane, doing almost 50 mph. I found this curious, as the speed limit was 55 mph and the left lane was completely empty. I craned my neck and peered ahead as best I could, expecting to see some extra-wide vehicle causing this slower traffic. Nada. Just a line of ordinary-looking cars.

Now I was really curious. Had the speed limit changed and I hadn’t noticed the sign? Last thing on earth I wanted to do was get nailed for speeding in the States. I knew the chain gang was passe but I’d read some pretty awful accounts of arrests at gun-point and strip searches, etc. Not to mention fines and fees for a US lawyer.

A few minutes later we passed a sign: 55 mph. So why is everyone doing below 50? As the road went round a curve I got a better look at the lead car. A police cruiser. Aha! He was cruising along at a lower speed and the drivers behind were all meekly following, no one daring to challenge his authority. I joined the line and took it easy on the gas for another mile.

Would it surprise you if I mentioned here that I can be a rebel at times? As I drew near yet another 55 mph sign, I wondered,  “Am I going to poke along at 50 mph for an hour in deference to the whims of those officers? Can they arrest me if I don’t just meekly follow? Have they got any reason to stop me for driving at the speed limit?”

Nope. At least I sure hope not! So I pulled into the left lane, sped up to 55 mph, and slowly overtook the police car, making very sure I wasn’t speeding. If I was indeed committing some other social faux pas, I trusted my Quebec license plate would tell him I didn’t know any better.

They say about sheep that when one sticks his head through the fence, the others will surely follow. People are much the same. When I was some distance ahead of the cruiser — we didn’t have cruise control so I kept one eye glued to the speedometer the whole way!— I saw in my rear-view mirror that other cars had pulled out and were also passing the cruiser. I suppose they’d been anxious to see if I’d get into trouble and when no lights started flashing they decided they could get away with it, too.

Now I can say I led a mini-coup — a social rebellion of sorts — in a foreign land. I can just imagine those policemen sitting at the doughnut shop later and chuckling about it, just as I am now.

What would you have done?

A Willing Heart

The six-year-old girl eyed the young man sitting next to her in the church pew; she’d never seen him in their church before. In fact, his few words of greeting to her father before the service started revealed a different accent than the little Scottish girl was used to hearing in their town.

She was eager to “show herself friendly” as the Good Book said, and make him feel at home. But how? In her mind she rehearsed the words “Welcome here. I’m glad you’ve come,” but she was too shy to actually say it. Still, might there would be some way?

Right then a hymn was announced, number 489. She saw the stranger pick up a hymn book. On impulse she slid over toward him and whispered, “I’ll help you find it. I know those big numbers can be hard to sort out.”

“Thank you so much,” he whispered back. “I can manage alright until 100, after that it gets tough.”

So she helped him locate hymn #489 and he offered to share the book with her. She smiled up at him and they sang the verses together, the Scottish lass in first grade and the Englishman with a Degree in engineering.

Quote of the Day:

If nobody ever said anything unless he knew what he was talking about, a ghastly hush would descend upon the earth.

– Sir Allen Herbert

(Anecdote retold from an account in and old Friendship Book of Francis Gay.)

The Ages of Women

Another Friday Fictioneers prompt has come around and I’m cheating a bit this time. I’ve had this story in mind ever since I read about the three ages of women. No, I can’t claim credit for this bit of wisdom. it apparently comes from a Scottish grandma — whose name I of course can’t locate now when I want it. 😦

I realized lately that my new cell phone has no frowny faces, only variations of Happy-face. Is this a giant plot by a multinational corporation to force callers to make cheerful replies?

Anyway, with a happy smile I want to thank Rochelle Wisoff-Fields for hosting this multi-aged group of writers — and for this week’s photo prompt as well. If you wish to join the gang in responding to this prompt, check out Rochelle’s blog, Addicted to Purple. (Does someone care to offer a countering “Three ages of men” version?)

Photo prompt © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

The Three Ages of Women

Helen squeezed Hazel’s arm. “I’m so glad you decided to join me on this trip. Travel’s much more enjoyable with a friend.”

“Well, I had been thinking I should stay home. Thought my children might not be able to manage without my helpful advice. Older and wiser, you know. Then a friend enlightened me on the three ages of a woman: ‘Muddle age, middle age, and meddle age’.

Helen’s laughter echoed in the narrow passage. “I’ll remember that one.”

Hazel grinned. “So I decided I’d better get some new interests in life before I slip into that last one.”

The Scenic Route

Blazing A New Trail

For some reason this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt inspired me with another take on this scene, so I hope you’ll all bear with me.

In our early married life — back when GPS hadn’t entered its inventor’s dreams yet — my adventurous husband eschewed maps. As we wandered our way through new territory he would occasionally quote Daniel Boone, which went something like:
“I’m never lost. I may go for weeks not knowing where exactly I am…but I’m never lost.”

I’ve created another driver with the same adventurous soul — who took a wrong turn somewhere.

Photo © Ted Strutz

“Well, Dan’l Boone,” Dot Kentucky-twanged as their car pulled into the ferry crossing line behind several others. “New territory to explore?”

Jay frowned. “I’m not lost. Maybe somewhat misplaced at the moment.”

Colton, their youngest, stared over the back seat. “We’re going on a boat? There’s never been a river on the way to Grandpas before.”

“This isn’t Route 85, either,” Clark added. “When will we connect with that again?”

“A little miscalculation. Hang in there, guys. We’ll get there.”

“Okay, you two.” Dot threw them a quick glare-and-wink. “Dad’s taking the scenic route this time. Let’s enjoy the view.”

Nature Makes Cats Too Smart

It’s time for another round of Friday Fictioneers, the delightful group hosted by our devoted and tactful host, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. If you’d like to join in the fun, check out her blog and click the blue frog to add your own 100 words to the melee.

The picture today was donated by Dale Rogerson expressly for today’s prompt. The copyright belongs to her and you need her permission to borrow it. No doubt there’ll be many different tales spun out of this photo; I myself came up with two. I’ll go with my first idea, revised and hopefully clarified.

So, gentle readers, here’s another dose of Winnie’s wry wit and wisdom.

From their hotel window Winnie observed the commotion below. “It’s that irritating cat again. Up in that tree, smug as can be. Third time this week.”

Raylene and Winnie watched the crowd milling around. The owner wrung her hands; someone shouted orders; someone fetched a ladder. Perched on his branch Sir Whiskers blinked superciliously.

Winnie rolled her eyes. “Imagine bringing your cat on a holiday!”

“And it loves to lead a merry chase. Sir Whiskers seems to relish having everyone scrambling after him.” Raylene shook her head. “Nature shouldn’t make cats that smart.”

“Or people that dense.”

Will’s Cooking Skills

Will set the bubbling pot of stew on the table beside the biscuits he’d just taken out of the oven. Then he tossed another chunk of wood into the stove. With the storm crashing outside like it was — the wind whistling in through whatever cracks it could find — he wanted the fire to stay good and hot.

He sat down at the table and bowed his head for a short grace — a prayer that the food would be edible as much as blessed. “Well, now let’s see what you’ve come up with, Will, my boy. Maybe this time…”

He ladled soup into his bowl, then stretched his long legs out under the table and reached for a biscuit. Still nice and warm. Can’t be that bad. The thing crunched when he took a bite, something like the cracking of a stick of kindling, but his teeth didn’t make much of an impression.

He dropped the biscuit onto his plate. It landed with an hopeless thunk. “I just gotta learn to bake!” He blew his frustration out in a long stream of air. “While I still have some teeth to eat with, that is.”

His thoughts jumped across the fields to the next section, where his brother Jim would be sitting down to a delicious supper, surrounded by his family. Will gazed out the window, imagining them gathered around the table. He could almost smell the meal. Grace was an excellent cook; Jim and the children would be well fed.

Thou shalt not covet thy brother’s wife, nor thy brother’s wife’s cooking. But I’d sure like to have one of my own. She doesn’t have to be pretty or so talented, Lord, just an old-fashioned girl that can cook like Ma and Grace.

He jumped when another crack of lightening lit up the yard, followed immediately by a heaven-splitting boom and a fresh wave of rain. The whole cabin seemed to shudder. Oh, dear Lord, please let this storm be over soon!

Loneliness squeezed Will’s chest, making him struggle for his next breath. Even if she isn’t the best cook… If she’d just be here with me tonight when the wind’s howling so wild. We’d wrap ourselves up in a blanket by the fire…

In a flash he saw again Rosanne’s cheery smile — a smile that would have warmed up his cabin perfectly on a night like this. Was she happy now with that school teacher who swept her off her feet and took her away to the city? Why did I dawdle around about it? Why was I so bashful? Why didn’t I ask her first? Will blinked and tried to swallow the lump in his throat.

Will jerked the reins on his runaway thoughts. Smarten up, old boy. No point crying over spilled milk, as Mom always says. Things are what they are. He picked up the biscuit again, broke it into his stew, and poked it around with his spoon. That’ll soften it up some.

He took a spoonful of stew, frowning at the flatness of it. Maybe Grace could show him what to put in stew to give it some flavor. Then he shook his head and scolded himself. Hey, it’s food and you’re hungry. Just eat the crummy stuff and stop thinking about what it lacks.

He was about to take another bite when someone pounded on the door. Will jumped to his feet and hurried to the door, wondering what fool would be out on a night like this.

He flung open the door and saw a young man standing there. His Nash Rambler stood nearby. Though it was dark, Will thought he saw a face in the passenger window.

“Sorry to trouble you, but I hope you don’t mind me stopping awhile in your drive. The storm was getting so bad I couldn’t see a thing. And my sister’s terrified driving in all this lightening.”

“Don’t worry. You’re welcome to park there. Why don’t you both come in and wait out the storm inside where it’s warm.”

“Thanks so much!” The young man hurried back to the car to get his passenger.

Will cast a guilty glance toward his table. If only he had some decent food to offer. “I was just about to have a bite to eat. What about you folks,” he asked as the two young people stepped inside and shed their coats.

“Brought our own,” the young man said, holding up a sack. “Hope that’s okay. We’d expected to stop somewhere en route, but then this storm came up and I drove like mad to get where we’re going. Our older sister’s just had a baby and Vickie here is going to help her for a few weeks. We’re James and Victoria Franks, by the way. From Empress, on our way to Hatfield.”

“I’m Will McKinley.” He shook hands with his visitors. “You’re not that far from where you wanna be. Once the rain lets up it should only take you another twenty minutes or so.”

Vickie gave Will a great big smile. “Thanks so much for letting us stop over like this. It’s so fortunate James saw your lights.”

“For sure,” Will agreed heartily. He stared into her soft grey eyes and wondered if she could hear his heart pounding double time, louder than the rain outside. Oh, dear Lord, please let this storm last all night!

Oh, well. Hatfield wasn’t far away, if he should want to go visiting there some evening.

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One day, over at The Write Practice, our assignment was to write a fiction story about someone, giving special attention to developing the main character. I’ve shared with you the scene in Will’s farm home — then added the travellers arrival so as to give the poor guy a glimmer of hope. 🙂 So what do you think of Will’s character? Is he likeable or not, and why?

Photo-Tour of Dover

I’ve discovered another new blogger I’d like to introduce you to this morning. She blogs as Sojerden and has posted a pictorial Guide to several historic English cities. So if a quick tour of  Dover interests you this morning, hop on over to her latest post via Air Internet and see the sights with her.

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And now for a chuckle at the expense of some confused tourists:

All Hail Neil!

One day some years back a guide was leading a group of American tourists around the British Houses of Parliament and explaining this and that, when he saw the House Speaker crossing the corridor ahead of them, decked in his flowing robes.

The two men were friends so the tour guide called out, “Neil!” and they exchanged a friendly wave. Then the guide turned back to the American tourists — and found them all on their knees.

🙂