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Happy Independence Day (4th of July for those of you who haven’t had your coffee yet)!
While looking for something brilliant to post for today, I learned something new. The inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty is part of a larger work. I’ve copied it below so you can look smart at your family barbeque. Well, as smart as you can. Some of you, you know who you are, can only ever achieve so much, but we’re rooting for you!
The New Colossus
By Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
To be read in David Attenborough’s voice.
It’s time for the yearly migration, when great herds move across the landscape. Each summer, participants travel in an epic, dusty journey that carries them from their homes across the countryside and to their summer destination.
I’m talking, of course, about middle class Americans going on vacation.
Each year, travelers leave behind the tired, brown grass of home for lush, verdant all-you-can-eat buffets of popular vacation destinations where they gorge themselves and listen to bad Van Morrison cover bands.
The massive herds move in a seemingly organized fashion, traversing the landscape like a great ribbon whose members comprise a variety of sizes, shapes and experience levels.
The zebra-like sedans move in coordination, trailing one another at distances too close to believe. Their numbers punctuated by a parade of campers and third wheels that swing their ponderous trunks, flap their large gray ears and trumpet their horns in anger when the gazelle-like compact cars cut them off.
All must travel. All must do it at the same time.
Parents and their young have it the hardest. Boundless, squirming energy threatens to burst forth from backseats across the US. Tired, frazzled and overworked parents seek to calm their offspring with the balm of digital devices.
When things go wrong on the journey, the danger intensifies.
A popup thunderstorm turns the interstate bridge into a raging river. Water, a perilous inch deep, stands between the herd and its destination. Wearily, its members lower their heads and forge into the waters. The elderly and the infirm bleat their flashers in alarm.
The strong are the first to plunge into the current, fearing neither the snapping crocodiles of the rumble strips that line the nation’s interstates, nor the anxious fellow travelers on all sides. They’re beating last year’s travel time, even if everyone in the car has to make do with using a cup instead of taking proper potty breaks.
Only the strong will survive the dangerous journey and even after they arrive at their destination, the danger continues. Their bodies will be burned lobster red in the sun and their feet will blister in ill-fitting footwear. Lurking lions and hyenas prey on ignorant tourists who can’t spot the difference between fake designer handbags and the real thing.
After a week of battling long lines at favorite watering holes, prodding sullen teenagers to cooperate during photo opportunities, and three trips to the store for items forgotten at home, the herd rousts itself for the long, weary return journey, where they’ll stay until next year, when school releases and the family packs up and leaves again on The Great Migration.
It’s funny the things we’ll do and endure for our pets.
My cat Seti uses me as his own personal Mt. Everest, and scales to the summit (my shoulder) at least once a day. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s easier to let him climb me than try to stop him. One slip and the grappling hooks come out; and I’m left with claw marks over two thirds of my body.
I once shared a home with a dog that was so gaseous, if she ducked her head and slunk from the room, you knew it was too late for you. We would gasp what fresh air we could and flee. The dog lived to be fourteen. We gasped and fled a lot.
My cat Mimi is simpler to live with. She has only one quirk. She eats the furry tails off toy mice. For years, I’ve purchased toy mice and plucked the little leather tails off before giving them to her.
It’s an easy concession for life in a tranquil home.
Years ago, I purchased Mimi a fresh pack of toy mice. At the time, we had three cats and the gassy dog; and Mimi, the least annoying of the pack, was often overlooked. I purchased the jumbo pack of mousies to make up for the lack of attention she received.
Dutifully, I plucked the tails off the numerous toy mice then flung them onto the hardwood floors. I watched her dash after them, carefully target a likely victim and strike it as hard as she could.
Toy mice skittered under the entertainment center, behind the refrigerator and into the nether reaches behind the dryer.
This was why I bought the big pack.
I left her to her mock slaying, and went to the office to work on a project. Hours later, I was sitting on the floor organizing stacks of papers when Mimi strolled into the room with a mousie in her mouth, looking as smug as only a cat can.
“Did you have fun?” I asked her.
Then, I noticed that I missed pulling the tail off the mousie in her mouth.
“Give me that,” I told her. “I missed a tail and I don’t want you to eat it.”
It was one of the only times in my life that a cat has done what I asked of it.
She spat the mouse into my lap and it RAN!
I shrieked and leapt from the floor.
Mimi had found a better toy than the ones I’d given her. She’d found a live mouse to play with, and I’d nearly pulled its tail off.
I’ll do and endure many things for my pets, but I draw the line at sharing my lap with a live
My family is descended from English royalty on my father’s side. Occasionally, our ruling class past rears its head in our modern, middle class, suburban lives.
One of our more notable relatives, Queen Catherine Howard, famously lost her head when she had an affair and cheated on her husband King Henry VIII.
I’m told we are also related to the late Princess Diana but we weren’t invited to the wedding. I’m sure our invitations were lost in the mail.
Echoes of our past position on the throne show up in mundane places, but no moment of repressed royalty stands out more than the time my four-year-old niece, Nicole, decided to demand her due respect.
Over shorts and tee shirt, she donned a fluffy pink princess dress. On her head, she wore a cone cap over her long, brunette curls. She looked like a diminutive Maid Marian but without the pesky Robin Hood to steal attention that should be hers.
Her older sister Callie, my mother and I were playing a board game. We paused momentarily when Nicole flounced into the room and addressed her subjects: us.
“You may call me Princess Snowflake,” she announced.
No one paid much attention. We’re used to such demands. I’ve never yet been successful in getting my unruly family to pay me the homage I’m due.
I rolled the dice and took my turn.
‘Her majesty’ intruded on our board game. We handed her the dice and let her take a turn.
She played for several moments. Then she began to squirm.
“Do you have to go to the bathroom,” my mother asked her. The kid might dress the part of royalty, but she still has a few things to learn about using the potty.
She nodded and rose moving slowly toward the bathroom.
“Go quick before it’s your turn again, sweetie,” my mother said.
Nicole wheeled. Her pink skirts flared. Her eyes blazed with temper. The cone on her head slipped slightly to the right.
She pointed a royal finger at my mother. “Don’t. Call. Me. Sweetie! Call! Me! PRINCESS! SNOWFLAKE!!!”
She was a fury of tiny pink imperialism.
Fortunately, my mother is descended from a long line of royal servants. It’s genetic coding that prepared her well for living with my father and his descendents. She knew exactly how to respond in just such a situation.
She smothered her laughter and told the kid what she wanted to hear.
Life can be pretty hard without a throne. It’s harder still when all efforts at reclaiming it are met with laughter.
My husband Brian has been working hard and I believe in rewarding hard work so I bought him a present.
I bought my husband a grill.
Is there any greater symbol of American masculinity than a propane-powered outdoor oven? Anything that screams, ‘I am man! See me roast meat!’ louder than a four-burner-stainless-steel-deck-monstrosity?
No. Not even John Wayne or Chuck Norris would dispute the raging image of manliness that a grill evokes.
I think married women will agree with me when I say that asking a man to cook hamburgers on a stovetop reduces him to a sad shell of his usual self. But ask a man to grill those same burgers and he beams with pride, tripping other would-be-backyard chefs to be the first to reach the shrine of his manliness.
Once, I convinced Brian that the food processor was a power tool. He now treats it almost protectively as he does his grill. He rushes to the kitchen to take over if he hears me remove it from the cabinet.
“Power tools are the domain of men,” he once stated proudly.
I shrugged and handed him a block of Colby-Jack to shred in the ‘power tool’ of a food processor. If he wants to call small kitchen appliances power tools, who am I to stop him? Besides, I don’t like to cook. I’m happy to foist off the responsibility on someone else.
How is it, that women have supposedly come so far, yet in my household, I work an eight-hour day and I’m stuck cooking dinner? Sure, I’m a writer and I work from home. It’s not as if I have a long commute. And, yeah, sometimes I call watching TV “research” but ideas have to come from somewhere!
Wasn’t it the Bible that said, “There’s nothing new under the sun?”
The new grill has taken a load off me. Each night, Brian rushes home from work to throw the nightly slab of protein on the grill. Tomorrow, he’s doing kebabs so he’ll grill the veggies too. It’s freed me of extra responsibility, which is great!
I’ve been working hard and I believe in rewarding hard work.
That’s why I bought myself a present.
I bought my husband a grill.
The secret to marital success is not communication. It’s the ability to have adventures together.
My husband Brian and I excel at having adventures, which probably explains how we reached twelve years of marriage without divorce proceedings or a maiming, well significant maiming. Our equally feisty tempers quell at the prospect of losing our best playmate.
Recently, Brian asked me if I wanted to go for a drive to a place called Jumping Off Rock.
I didn’t. I’m terrified of heights.
He persisted, “It’s not far. It’s at the north end of the lake. We might see a pair of nesting peregrine falcons,” he said.
Peregrine falcons were the candy that lured me into the proverbial van.
I relented, we climbed in his Honda Element, dialed up GPS and set out.
“We’re good at this,” I told him fondly. “We’re good at having adventures together.”
I frowned at the GPS. “It says we have another thirty minutes to go. I didn’t think it would take that long.”
“Part of the drive is on a dirt road,” he told me. “Maybe GPS is accounting for slower driving speeds.”
“That must be it,” I agreed and sat back to enjoy the ride.
GPS navigated us to the turn off. It was the dirt road. We got excited. Our destination and peregrine falcons weren’t far away! We meandered up the winding road, dodging potholes and washouts from the recent rains.
Our route led us higher and higher. It was plain that we were going up the mountain – up the mountain on a dirt road. I began to get uncomfortable but the lure of the falcons made me hold my tongue.
The road went ever higher. Mile after mile we climbed. The road was a single lane in width and offered scant opportunity to turn around.
For the last four miles, I’d been taking stock. We were far from civilization on the side of a mountain. No one knew where we were. We had no food, no water and no additional clothing to weather a cold mountain night if we became stuck in one of the many mud puddles that lined the trail.
Finally, we reached a gate. It stood open and inviting, enticing us to climb higher and seek out rare birds of prey. Past the gate, the road went sharply upward and was covered in loose scree.
“I think we should turn around,” I told Brian.
“We’ve got to be close,” he said and he gave the Element gas to tackle the hill.
I felt sick to my stomach.
“What if we get stuck out here,” I asked.
“It can’t be much farther to the other side,” he said.
I looked at GPS and nearly threw up.
“We’re not even halfway,” I told him. “It will be nightfall soon,” I dropped my voice to a whisper, “and we’re in bear country.”
He stopped the Element and looked at me. I could see he was becoming as worried as I was.
“We’ll go back,” he agreed. He turned the Element around at the first opportunity and eased back down the mountain.
When we came to the gate where I first wanted to turn around I said, “I wish you had listened to me and turned around here.”
“I thought you were joking,” he protested.
That’s when I changed my mind. Having adventures is overrated but I’ve decided the key to marital bliss really is communication after all.