Monday, August 13, 2012

Out West

When I was about eight or ten years old, my Mom and I took a trip out West with her brother and cousin. The four of us packed into cousin Ed’s car and drove to see relatives in Texas, through New Mexico to White Sands National Park, and on to Colorado to visit cousins LeRoy and Majel in their house in the mountains.

It was a great trip. Most photos show me smiling in shorts, red tube socks, and a new cowboy hat bought along the way. (And yes, those are Mork & Mindy suspenders in the photo above.) We stopped at all sorts of interesting places, like a train museum, a battleship, and American Indian sites, and I got to buy a pretty Indian doll and a pink gingham bonnet like Laura Ingalls wore. We were Out West, and immersed in it.

Visiting LeRoy and Majel was a highlight, and I knew their place was special when we drove up a small highway into the mountains through thick pines and turned into their driveway, which was framed by a large wooden arch with their last name spelled out in horseshoes. Wow, a real ranch, I thought. Real horses and cowboys.

And LeRoy was just like his name sounds – a cowboy-boot-wearing “good ol’ boy” with a super-slow drawl who smiled constantly and got a twinkle in his eye every time he made a joke. And he let me ride a horse! I put on my cowboy hat and he helped me climb on for a photo. He and Majel took us to Golden for Buffalo Bill Days, the Coors Brewing Company (where I got water while the adults got free beer samples), Pike’s Peak, the Royal Gorge, and at night Majel made yummy homemade dinners and we sat afterward on their porch and wondered what it would be like to live there with the horses and the mountains.

Years later LeRoy brought his family to see me when I was performing in Branson, Missouri, and they showed up as a surprise in the audience. And when I got settled in Vegas, I started including him on my Christmas card list after Majel passed away. The first time I did so, he was so happy that he called me. Even though I hadn’t heard his voice in nearly ten years, I recognized him immediately, his slow, sing-song “Hello, Shannon, this is cousin LeRoy” carrying his smile to me over the miles.

LeRoy passed away recently, and this weekend was his memorial, back in Indiana with family and friends who reminisced about his gentle ways. I’m glad he was part of my life, too.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Travel Plans for 2020

One day, I’m going to the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics – it’s on my Life List, along with walking the Thames path, seeing the Tour de France, and publishing a book or two. I’ll probably embarrass my husband and son terribly because I know I’ll cry during the whole thing. Surely the “all the nations coming together” vibe gets many people choked up?

I’ve always been a sucker for grand events like the Olympics, ever since I was a Spanish interpreter at the Pan American Games in Indianapolis the summer of my sophomore year of high school. Don’t be impressed by my mentioning of “Spanish Interpreter” – they invited high school Spanish students from all over the state to come give whatever assistance they could, and mine was minimal.

But it was a great experience. We students got together for a whole week prior to the games, to brush up on our Spanish skills, learn about the events and procedures, and learn the lyrics to “La Bamba.” And during my week of volunteering, I met so many interesting people – became pen pals with a judo player from Venezuela, played checkers with guys from the Virgin Islands and Cuba, and was once driven quickly across the Athlete’s Village to interpret for a female athlete from Chile.

And before the games began, Mom and I went to the Opening Ceremony at the 500 Speedway. It was just like the ceremonies on TV, just smaller scale, and I remember exciting moments of jets flying overhead and gymnasts performing stunts on platforms at the tops of the bleachers. We sat in the “card section” and added to the spectacle by holding our yellow cards up at just the right time, to create a scene on the stadium where we sat. We never did know what kind of picture we all made together, but it was fun being a part of it all! Unfortunately I don’t have any photos to share from the ceremony, because my film was erased when I went through Security at the Athlete’s Village the next day.

A few years before that, I experienced my first Olympic excitement when our high school band traveled to  perform at the Los Angeles Olympics. I was too young to go, but as part of the junior high band we learned the music with the older students. To this day, I can still play the main theme of that year’s Olympics on my flute, but my fingers still stumble when going from that high G to F to E. (I can also still sing all the lyrics to "La Bamba.")

So, when will I go to the Olympics? And more fun, where will I go? South Korea would be fascinating in 2018, but Jude would still be a little young for a trip like that. Maybe Istanbul, Tokyo, or Madrid in 2020? Olympic Committee, tell me, where will we travel to?