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Men Are Cowards, It’s True…But You Don’t Have To Be

Posted by Deborah Huso on May 15, 2014 in Travel Archives

Originally published July 8, 2012.

She was bored.  She loved, had a capacity to love, for love, to give and accept love. Only she tried twice and failed twice to find somebody not just strong enough to deserve it, earn it, match it, but even brave enough to accept it.

–William Faulkner, The Town

I have a friend who is about as tough as women come. I say this with both admiration and regret. I admire her for being able to plow through the world without giving up despite all its disappointments, but I also regret that she has never found a safe place to be vulnerable. On the surface, it doesn’t make sense. She is married to one of the kindest men I know.

The problem is this: he isn’t brave.

And it is not an uncommon problem. At the risk of some serious e-mail flack in my inbox in the morning, I’m going to say that men, in general, are cowards. I’m not questioning their physical prowess, their ability to withstand the stress of armed combat, the ambition and drive they exercise in climbing everything from corporate ladders to Himalayan mountaintops. But modern men are lacking in courage in some areas that have women hopping mad.

And it’s not just my friend, who complains about the fact that her husband doesn’t stand up for her, will not take her side in heated conflict, but stands there mute, and, in some cases, even allows her to be insulted. She fights back. He remains silent. Is my friend suffering from some kind of fairytale idea of a Prince Charming who is going to ride in on his white horse and defend her honor?

I actually don’t think so. I think the guy is engaging in the classic male conundrum of “conflict avoidance.”

My former spouse used to chastise me not infrequently for being a bit too vocal at times with my often controversial opinions. “You know I’m the one who is going to end up defending you with my fists one day,” he would say.  I knew there was never any danger of that, first of all, because my husband, like most men, would, when push came to shove, do everything to avoid conflict (emotional or physical), and secondly, that the likely opponent would probably do the same…meaning it was highly improbable that any man was going to come up to me and tell me “what for” in an aggressive manner that might lead my husband to clock him.

My ex-husband never clocked anyone on my behalf. And he’s not a small man, by any means.

I remember a couple of years ago another girlfriend of mine noted how a male acquaintance had made a flirtatious remark to her one day in church and then promptly patted her on the rear. I asked her if she had advised her husband of this pass. “Are you kidding?” she replied “You know how scrawny Mark [names have been changed to protect the conflict avoiders] is. He could never take that guy out.” She totally overlooked the reality that even if Mark was a body builder, he would not have done a thing. My friend even asked her husband to give the offending churchgoer a call. He declined, saying it would be “awkward.”

The fact is life is awkward.

And men just don’t like awkwardness.

Rest assured, I’m not advocating the revival of dueling pistols. But once in awhile women like to know their husbands, boyfriends, maybe even their fathers think they are worthy. And it doesn’t require beating anybody up.

It requires something much more frightening to the male psyche—emotional risk.

Most men aren’t willing to take it and will do anything possible to avoid even having to look at it. Women, who live lives rich with emotional risk taking (unless, of course, they have experienced some trauma that has shut them down and made them more like men), cannot help but get angry at the men whose avoidance of reality causes so much depression, anger, and heartbreak.

In her essay, “Why Women Get Mad at Their Husbands,” J.R. Bruns, M.D., talks about this apparent emotional “detachment and selfishness” on the part of men that “leaves women feeling abandoned and frustrated.” Bruns describes the average American marriage, marriages that are often defined as “good” (meaning only that the couples are staying united despite their daily verbal exchange of snipes, ongoing resentment, and tension so thick you could cut it with a knife), as “loveless unions of obligation.”

Part of the problem is that men, in an effort to win the prize of the woman they think they want to have between the sheets with them for the rest of their lives, play an unconscious game where they temporarily release their emotional inhibitions, often speak and demonstrate their deepest feelings, and put on a display of just how much they will give for love that frequently rivals that of a Bird of Paradise. Even the smartest among us have been misled by this mating ritual, believing ourselves to be among the lucky few who have found some rare gem of a man who is unafraid.

What happens after marriage or after a year or so of cohabitation is that men go back to being men. Meanwhile, the brave women they seduced are left scratching their heads, feeling neglected, unloved, and bitter because the guys they so adored have turned into these creatures who make them feel used and taken for granted. The loving looks across the dinner table have ceased on the part of both parties. As Bruns points out, the eye gazing has turned into eye rolling.

Most men are actually okay with this state of things so long as their wives aren’t giving them too much crap about going out every Saturday morning to play golf with the guys or preferring the company of the television to date night. As their wives and girlfriends fall into despair over the loss of emotional intimacy in the relationship, the guys are issuing forth some sigh of relief that the risky stuff is over.

And while I know I tend to try to be upbeat (or at least humorous) when discussing the absurd trials and tribulations we all go through in this life, I have to be honest, ladies, and tell you the odds are stacked against you if your quest in this life is to find an emotionally courageous man. There are plenty of them masquerading as such. But don’t maintain too many fond expectations that the guy you’re in love with right now (if you’re unfortunate enough to even be “in love”) is ever going to pull out all the stops for you one day. He’s likely no Prince Edward, and while he may tell you you’re as worthy as Wallace Simpson, rest assured, he is not going to give up the throne of England for you…or anything else that makes the average male reasonably comfortable.

You’re just not that important to him.

This is not to say you’re not worthy. You know you are.  Your girlfriends call you “fabulous,” and they mean it.  You are.

But fabulous just isn’t a big motivator for guys, I’m loathe to report. Unlike us, if they have a comfortable place to sleep, access to some fine liquor for when they have an “off” day, good food to eat, some hunting or kayaking gear to keep them amused in their free time, and at least the respect of their colleagues and kids (if not you), they’ll consider life good enough if not downright grand.  If they’ve got some true emotional intimacy with a woman who feeds their ego and makes them feel accepted, that’s just icing on the cake that most of them can live without, especially if they have to work too hard to keep it.

It’s a values game. Women value deep emotional connections; men, by and large, do not.

Women crave and dispense emotional intimacy as naturally as breathing, whether because they are biologically predisposed to nurture and love or socialized to be there for the people they adore, I don’t know.  I just know that because women are so good at it and men so clumsy and ultimately uninterested, it makes for a tragic disconnect between lovers. Women come to see the men in their lives as fakes and cowards. Men come to see their women as nagging and bitter.

Respect dies on both sides.

And once respect dies, love is the next casualty.

This morning, my four-year-old daughter crawled into bed with me, as she often does on lazy weekend mornings. After snuggling up to me and peering at me with those large blue eyes, she said, “Mommy, I love you, and I will take care of you for the rest of your life.”

She was decidedly baffled when I broke into tears.  The tears did not come because I believed her or even because I knew that children say these endearing things while we parents know full well our children will grow up, move away, and think not much about us anymore (which is as it should be). The tears came because I, like so many women I know, once believed that a romantic partner would say those words to me and mean them, live by them—consider me worthy of the risk of his heart.

I have not been wise enough yet to give up on this quest for the brave man, though some of my friends laugh at me for believing men can offer anything to my life other than grief. They have been burned so badly by faith that they have forsaken it. One of my girlfriends who watched her own parents live in seething misery with one another for years said she can remember once sitting on the countertop in her mother’s kitchen when she was nine and saying matter-of-factly, “Mom, you need to get a divorce.”

The experience of her parents’ “loveless union of obligation” cemented her feelings for life that men and love were hopeless. She would, no doubt, call herself a realist.

Another of my acquaintances who spent years in a passionate love affair with a man she admits to this day is the only person who has ever lit her fire ultimately gave up the whole thing, exchanging it instead for a stable if passionless long-term relationship with a man who is often gone from home all week. She says she enjoys the alone time and remarks that she and her life partner have “really good sex” maybe four times a year.  “And it’s enough.”

She may be onto something. Maybe we need to be more like men and start to understand the concept of “good enough.” Not only will we be less likely to be emotionally devastated when love forsakes us, but perhaps we will not resent the men in our lives so much either for failing to be brave and failing to love us as we feel we deserve.

There is one problem here, however, and it goes back to the old saga of shifting gender roles. In a world where most men no longer go off to war, earn all the bread for their families, or provide the tangible protection they offered a century ago to wives and daughters, courage has become a lot harder to define.

For some women, courage means having a husband who will tell off his dad who insults his wife. For others, it means having a boyfriend who is confident enough to cry when he is sad. It is no wonder, in some ways, that many men have given up the ghost, settled for “good enough” marriages, and forsaken love. We want them to be tough and sensitive at the same time, devoted and adventurous in the same breath.

The cultural dialogue is a mess of mixed messaging where we at once berate and honor the men who suck it up and stick around, frequently poking fun in popular culture at their dogged dedication to wives who despise and disrespect them yet then trashing the guys who go for broke and walk away from sterile relationships. Women who leave the “decay” of modern marriage, as Los Angeles Times reporter Robin Abcarian (who reported on the Schwarzenegger-Shriver split) calls it, are applauded for bravery. Men who go are often painted as selfish devils even though they were painted as selfish devils in the marriage, too.

It is a marvelous and wicked Catch 22.  Risk everything, and you’re damned. Risk nothing, and you’re damned, too.

Women know the definition of courage for themselves. It has been the same for centuries and across cultures: risk everything for love (whether that’s love of lover, love of children, or love of friend).

For men, the definition was once “risk everything for honor.” Honor used to be a much simpler thing back when cultural hegemony was the norm. Now we live in communities and countries where values, religions, and ethics are more diverse than they have ever been. There is no longer one definition of anything anymore. The result is knowing what is right and brave is often a very individual decision bound to be condemned by someone.

It is easier perhaps to just lay low, watch TV, have a beer, and tune out of all the emotional drama. That is what men do.

It is why we women are so angry.

We have been taught to follow our hearts. When we stop following them, we know we have failed somehow. Men, on the other hand, have never had a cultural injunction to live for love. They know all about living for honor and duty (however their particular culture defines those things). But living for love is not in the male cultural lexicon unless they are poets.

So while I don’t know the answer for finding a satisfying relationship with an emotionally courageous man, short of finding your own personal Pablo Neruda, I do know you should not abuse yourself as not being worthy of love or give up on life, as Eula Varner Snopes did in Faulkner’s The Town. Nor should you, however, try to draw water out of a stone.

I have forgiven the cowardly men of my life because I know the varying societal pressures under which they operate and the psychological dramas from which they come, but forgiving and accepting are two different things. Sometimes accepting means settling for far less than you expected or desired. I’m not ready to do that yet. Because the day I do it is the day I become a coward. And, in the end, if we want to define bravery, let’s keep it simple: bravery is decided and worthy action in the face of fear.

If the man you love is afraid, do not censure him. We are all afraid. Cowardice is when we let fear stop us, whether we are women or we are men. “A fellow is more afraid of the trouble he might have than he ever is of the trouble he’s already got,” William Faulkner wrote in Light in August. “He’ll cling to the trouble he’s used to before he’ll risk a change.”

Faulkner is right, of course, but just because our natural tendency is to give into fear, that doesn’t mean we have to.

 
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My New Orleans

Posted by Claire Vath on Apr 29, 2014 in Musings, Travel Archives

IMG_7675If, after my latest trip to New Orleans, someone had told me we were actors in a carefully-concocted movie script, it wouldn’t have surprised me.

There was the cemetery, the grass still woven together with silvery dew. Camera-toting tourists ambled through row upon row, looking. My husband and I were there with a sense of purpose, my skirt dragging through the soggy grass as we traipsed, passing crumbling facades of unkempt graves. People stacked one atop the other. Hundreds of them. Because when you are gone, what better way to rest eternally than sandwiched among bone-laced cement?

But it’s not a place to lament the dead, no. Rather, those left behind. The woman who Scotch-taped a Father’s Day card to her husband’s grave, perhaps; that’s the stuff that makes your heart hurt. But it’s what separates the living from the dead: the capacity to go on living and loving, despite…everything.

The last time I drove through the Lakeview district with my husband, things were apocalyptically different. But that was 2005. We are here now; it is eight years later, and things are humming with activity. The last time my husband saw his grandparents’ house, it was a piece of collateral after the storm to end all storms. The porch screen, tattered then, drooped like loose skin off the house. River mud clouded the warped wood floors in the living room and bled into carpets, and shards of glass were scattered around the furniture.

But things look better, so we park our car to survey the progress. The house looks much the same structurally, but it seems to sag a little less, breathed back into existence by coats of fresh paint, new landscaping and cheerful inhabitants.

So, death, life … then lunch. Isn’t that always the way here?

We’re swiftly revived by a chilled corn broth with fresh crabmeat and even fresher avocado. A pulpy peach bellini. Gin shaken with green chartreuse—just enough to make for a dreamy lunch. Pork belly BLT. Seasoned-to-perfection kobe burger.

IMG_7657Lunch is punctuated by flashes of blue—a bit of spectacle passing outside the restaurant. A fallen cop, his hearse, his comrades processing down the street. A reminder that while life hums within, afterlife isn’t that far away.

We finish our lunch and move on to our hotel.

“Have you been here before?” the woman at the check-in desk asks.

It would take too long to explain.

My husband’s family is from here? I spent most of college back and forth from here? My grandmother lived a few blocks from here? My kids want to read “Goodnight Nola” every night?

“No,” I say, fumbling over my words. “Well, yes, I guess. But it was a very long time ago.”

 “Well, you sure knew where our secret entrance was,” she says. “So welcome to New Orleans.”

If the blisters on my feet from the not-quite-broken-in sandals are any indication, we’ve walked miles so far. But we have more ground to cover.

Bourbon Street is still as gross as ever. People wearing Drunk 1 and Drunk 2 T-shirts and smiling like they’re original. Leathery old women wearing feather boas and drinking hand grenades. Silver-haired men with goatees and football jerseys sloshing beer on the ground as the beads clink around their necks.

The bartender at the local dive bar we pop into is busy topping off drinks with sickly sweet ginger-ale and doling out beer.

On the other side of the silver-haired drunk, a mid-fifties couple is sipping frozen Irish coffees, the house specialty. They’re clearly out-of-towners (So are we, I guess), and are clearly on their second or third drinks at 5 p.m.

“We’re here from up north visiting our daughter,” the woman tells a patron beside her. “She moved here just before Katrina and her husband is in the military.”

And there it is. We’ve clocked less than 30 minutes before the “K” word surfaced.

We move on.  Another local watering hole. We’ve been here before. It’s been awhile.

IMG_7430We take a seat at the bar, order two drinks. We are thirsty and eagerly drink the city in, mixed with a little whiskey. All of a sudden the door bangs open—or at least that’s how I like to recall it—and a six-plus-foot-tall … person half walks, half stumbles in. He’s wearing a straw-yellow wig, slightly askew, an S&M-style cowboy hat with a fleur-de-lis badge on it (what else?), a leather studded bikini and combat boots. Between the bikini pieces, a massive gut hangs, and he tromps straight to the back of the bar, pulls some dollars out of his bra and feeds them into the video poker machine.

We suck down our drinks and move on, eager to cover more ground.

Another street, another bar.

Two old men enter the bar. This is not the start of a joke. Or maybe it is. They are both old, old. As in 80 was years ago. Their pants are hoisted well above their waists. And they’re both wearing Orville Redenbacher-style hats. Except, even old Orville didn’t wear a skimmer hat like that. The result is more Double Mint twins—geriatric style. The 50-something bleach blondes with too-tight clothes, in-your-face jewelry and obnoxiously large Louis Vuitton bags.

The old men tap their feet to the music as they perhaps reminisce of a long bygone era. Or perhaps they’re just tapping their feet because they’re happy to be alive and may just get laid tonight. No matter. One of the women is getting to her very high-heeled feet. She’s walking toward the stage. I grab my husband’s arm. She gets up on stage and commandeers a microphone.

“Oh God,” my husband and I whisper to one another.

But it’s OK. She clearly knows the band. And she belts out Summertime in a surprisingly soulful, throaty timbre.

We breathe a sigh of relief. It’s okay. The living is easy, after all, here in the Big Easy. It’s summertime.

We leave after a bit, gasping for some nonhumid air when we hit the streets. But it is not to be. What meets our eyes, our ears, is the band of brass musicians playing the hell out of dented trombones and trumpets. They’re kids and they’re good. Oh, they’re great actually.

Same street, another bar. We’re ushered in by the tattooed hostess, sucking in the clean, refrigerator-cold air. We grab a table, a drink. And the musical cacophony washes over us. We split a smoky duck confit pizza and buttery yellow bursts of egg yolk coat our mouths. It is beyond delicious.

We are tired and full, and, frankly, we’re out of money. It’s time to call it a night.

So we’re herded back to the streetcar with all the other hot, tired, out-of-money tourists, and we go … clanging and swaying down the avenue until we lurch to our stop and step out again into the humid night under the resplendent oaks.

New Orleans  means something different to everyone. But for me, when I’m there—even if for only a night—it is home. And it’s good to be here again.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Mind Fuck For Girls: Why I Don’t Believe in Fairy Tales…Or Do I?

Posted by Deborah Huso on Apr 21, 2014 in Girlfriends, Men, Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters, Relationships, Travel Archives

Originally published March 2, 2012

Coral, gold, and gemstone on Ponte Vecchio

Last Saturday I promised my four-year-old daughter movie and pizza night if she behaved herself all day while I caught up on work in the office.  I don’t know as I would go so far as to call my daughter “girly.”  She hates baby dolls, loves cars, trucks, trains and LEGOs and is especially fond of getting as dirty as possible when outdoors, but she also has a fondness for all things Barbie and princess.  I’m okay with Barbie, and I’m actually okay with princesses, too, as long as we’re just talking about dressing up in a fabulous gown and looking beautiful for the day.

But there is a point at which my tolerance runs a little thin. Heidi persistently asks for Disney princess or Barbie princess movies–you know the ones where the girl finds her “one true love” and lives “happily ever after.”  And much though I’d like to pretend my efforts to make her strong, independent, and choosy are overriding all this falderal, I know they’re not.

I still try though and resisted Heidi’s begging for yet another Barbie princess movie last weekend and chose instead the movie Enchanted. You may have seen it. It’s a little bit of an anti-fairytale with the otherworldly princess rejecting Prince Charming in favor of an imperfect marriage to a New York divorce lawyer. It still has the flavor of happily ever after, but it’s a slightly better twisting of reality.

Heidi loved it, and she even got it when the princess fought the dragon instead of the divorce lawyer. But still, it wasn’t perfect. Because the princess fails, and both she and her lover are saved by a chipmunk. Women are still not allowed to save themselves in fairytales.

A friend of mind calls Disney princess “mind-fuck for girls.” I think that’s an apt description.

Rare is the woman, no matter how intelligent, who does not suffer to some degree from a childhood of fairytale mind-fucking. I always thought it had bypassed me.  Instead of browsing through catalogs at pictures of stunning wedding gowns as a pre-adolescent girl, I was cutting out pictures of my dream house…which I did eventually build, by the way. It seemed to me, even when I was quite young, that I had a much better chance of building the perfect house than of finding the perfect man.

You can control the construction of a house. Love is something else entirely. It runs where it wants to without asking anyone’s permission in advance. And most men are not prepared to be Prince Charming. They didn’t grow up watching princess movies. So there’s an emotional disconnect between boys and girls right from the get-go. My preschooler recognizes it already. She told me in the car one day, “Boys are stupid, Mommy.” I nodded, for there was much truth in this statement. And then she continued, “Daddy is a boy, so Daddy must be stupid.”

I laughed aloud, as I often do when profundity on a grand scale comes out of Heidi’s mouth. One of my girlfriends told me Heidi is far more advanced than we ever were as girls if she already gets the idea that guys don’t get us.

Even though my parents raised me not too put too much credence in fairytales and to make my own way in the world without relying on anyone else to make it for me, they apparently did not protect me enough. Because I still grew up believing that maybe, just maybe, I would fall in love with my best friend and live happily ever after.

A better view than the jewelry: on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence

It didn’t happen. Not for lack of trying. I think, like so many women (especially young ones), I did my best to cram romantic partners into my personal visions of Prince Charming. And the poor men could not help but fail. My former husband had no idea I actually wanted to be proposed to at the lovely overlook where we first watched the sunset on Skyline Drive. I honestly don’t remember exactly anymore how he asked, it was so unmemorable. Others were worse. Like the boyfriend who foolishly told me he’d bought me a diamond just out of the blue with no indication beforehand that marriage was even on the table. I told him he better pay off his college loans and credit card debt before he dared show me the thing. Thank heaven for that caveat. We broke up long before he had his finances in order, and I was saved from what probably would have been a disastrous marriage.

So I don’t have a romantic proposal story about being carried off on a white horse into the sunset to pass onto my daughter. But then my mother didn’t have one to pass onto me either. She got her engagement ring in the mail. (My dad was in the Air Force in Texas at the time.)

And maybe these anti-fairytales are better anyway. For what pain women suffer in believing that a man will sweep them off their feet one day and love and cherish them forever after. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, mind you. But it’s rare. In my 36 years, I’ve encountered only one such couple. They were in their 50s when I met them, working at a museum where I had a part-time job during grad school. They’d been married 30 years. Every day at the end of work, that man would come into the gift shop where his wife worked, scoop her up off her feet, and kiss her. And she would giggle like a young bride. It was amazing to watch. Everyone in that museum shop would turn to look, no matter how many times we had seen it. And we all longed to be so lucky.

Because a lot of it is luck in the end, isn’t it?  Chances are Mr. Right is out there for you.  But chances are he lives on the other side of the country or maybe halfway across the world. He may not even speak the same language as you. How do you find him? That man whose personality is so magnetic that you’ll forgive him a thousand times for failing to put his socks in the hamper or for failing to pick the kids up on time? (Because you know the reason you’re really mad at your husband about his sloppiness and forgetfulness is because you’re mad at him for not being Prince Charming, right?) He’s not your match, and both of you know it, so you spar over the kids’ grades, whose turn it is to do the grocery shopping, why his mother is coming over again, and what to do on the weekend that everyone will enjoy.

Most of us settle for Mr. Half-Right. Or maybe even Mr. One-Quarter-Right because we know that our chances of finding the true Mr. Right are very slim. And someone told us somewhere, likely in a fairytale, that we have to get married, have kids, and pretend to live happily ever after with our “one true love.”

I’d like to think I’m over it. Sometimes I think I am. I’m a realist at least 85 percent of the time. I know men and women often don’t speak the same language, that they have wholly different expectations, that neither gender can be expected to read the other’s mind. I know that 90 percent of the time when a man hurts me, frustrates me, makes me crazy, he really has no idea he’s doing it.

But then something will inspire me to start believing in fairytales again…or at least make me want to believe. It happened most recently last November when Dorothy and I were in Florence, Italy, walking the famous Ponte Vecchio. In case you don’t know, it’s a famous bridge spanning the Fiume Arno that is lined with shops selling gold and silver jewelry. I’ve never been much into jewelry. Once when my former spouse suggested he should update my engagement ring, get me something with a bigger diamond, I told him if he had that much money, I would be far happier with a fantastic vacation or a piece of land. (I never got the diamond, by the way, or a vacation, or a new piece of real estate.) But something about this romantic 1345 bridge in Florence, overlooking the river, with its shops of jewelry and the couples hand-in-hand walking across it gave me a little regretful thrill.

“Wouldn’t it be grand to get proposed to on this bridge?” I suddenly said to Dorothy. “And then go into one of these shops and pick out your ring?”

Dorothy, like me, is something of a cynic about love, but even she had to agree. Yes, that would indeed be fantastic. And so we stood there a moment in between all the glistening shops, looking out over the water and the city, daydreaming about something that was long gone for both of us. And I think we felt a little foolish that we even had such a girlish daydream—two business-owning women who had paid for their own trips to Italy and gone unaccompanied by husbands or lovers.

The “mind-fuck for girls,” as my friend called it, apparently outlasts education, prosperity, experience, even divorce. Which really leads me to wonder what it’s all about, why we can’t let go. Is it something like the “Hope” of Pandora’s Box? Does the idea that the “one true love” is out there somewhere keep us trudging onward in the most hopeless of circumstances, enduring the string of dates with men who are not “the one,” sifting through them all, wondering, and wondering if Prince Charming is ever going to show up? Do we really go through all of this thinking we’re going to be the rare and lucky woman who truly lands Mr. Right??

Maybe.

I know there have been times in my life when I have wanted to shout like Charlotte in Sex and the City, “I’m 35! Where is he?!”

I remember watching a friend of mine walk down the aisle a few years ago. And if anyone had been through the relationship ringer, she was it. I remembered her lamenting during her days as a single, dating woman, “I’m exhausted by it. I am exhausted by dating men, none of whom are right. I just want to give up.” But one day, years later, she walked down the aisle arm-in-arm with the man she believed to be “the one,” and the beaming smile on her face gave me hope for a moment.

Maybe this will be it, I thought. Maybe she really found him, and they’re going to be in love forever. She’ll prove it’s possible. I even told her so.  “Make me believe,” I urged her.

But that’s not how it happened. Her husband is not picking her up into his arms at the end of every workday and planting an “oh, my god, I am so in love with you” kiss on her lips. The question is though: does he need to be?

And I’m afraid the answer might actually be “yes.”

But do I say that because I’ve been mind-fucked, too?

Probably.

But I do know two women who found love in their 60s…finally. And at least one of them is quite madly in love. I think of her sometimes when I start feeling hopeless. I remind myself there is always that five percent or less chance that something magical might indeed cross my path one day.

Crazier things have happened.

It never crossed my mind, for example, when I was the child of hard-working parents just barely getting by at times that I would one day enjoy the luxury of standing on the Ponte Vecchio looking at diamonds and coral pendants and perhaps, more importantly, looking across the centuries-old architecture of the city where Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci once lived.

I bought a ring for myself that day. It was not a diamond. It was not even expensive. I bought it from the jeweler on the bridge with only a few dozen pieces in his window. He told me he was able to sell the same pieces as his neighbors so much cheaper because of his low overhead. I slipped it on my finger, pulled my leather gloves back over my hands, and proceeded on my way to the Galleria degli Ufizzi to look at the original paintings of Botticelli, Raphael, and El Greco, something I also would never have imagined being able to do on a typical writer’s salary.

It did not occur to me until later that I had done my best to live out my fairytale thus far. And perhaps that simple gold filigree band was something of a self-engagement ring for me, not on the scale of the famous right-hand diamond. My fairytale is not quite that big, not yet. And I suspect if it ever gets that big, I’ll be buying more land with mountain vistas or maybe checking out Antarctica, not frittering money away on diamonds. Who knows?  That is the beauty of it, too. The not knowing what’s around the next bend.

In the tale of Pandora’s box, humanity is saved by hope. But hope is not sitting on a windowsill wishing for Prince Charming to come dashing around the corner. Hope is active. It is work. It is believing…and doing…and being…even when the evidence suggests that the game will not end as you would like. It’s still worth a bold attempt. Don’t leave it to princes and chipmunks to save you. That’s great if one comes along and gives you a lift. But try lifting yourself first.

 
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The Cruise From You Know Where, Part II: You’re Not in Atlantis Anymore

Posted by Deborah Huso on Apr 6, 2014 in Girlfriends, Travel Archives

"I'll trade you an apple slice for a smoke."The first night of our journey on the “Fun” Ship we met our tablemates in the Main Dining Room.  I’ll call them Mutt and Jeff.  (Actually, I think one of them really was named “Mutt.” )  Anyway, Mutt and Jeff hailed from western Kentucky and were on this cruise as an anniversary present from their children.  On the surface, they seemed like an ordinary couple in their mid-60s, both feeling, as they admitted, a bit out of place amidst all this “luxury.”

We did our best to be sociable, even after they told us about the “coloreds” in their neck of the woods, and wondered later how seating arrangements on these cruise ships were arranged.  It obviously wasn’t by age and interest.  But Mutt and Jeff were equally concerned about us.  When I mentioned “my husband and daughter,” you could almost hear their sighs of relief.  Thank God, we weren’t a lesbian couple after all!

Of course, Mutt then had to ask about Sarah’s marital arrangements, and Sarah replied she was not married.  “Well, how old are you?” asked Mutt.

To which Sarah honestly replied she was 33.  “Oh, well, I’m sure you’ll find someone one day, dear,” Mutt added with great sympathy.

I think that was the point at which my very happily unwed friend decided she no longer wished to engage Mutt and Jeff in conversation.

It was just as well.  We had our waiter to amuse us with tales of all the muggings and murders that occur in Nassau, Bahamas, our next port of call.  We were sufficiently warned that winning a lot of money at the casino at Atlantis would make us particularly susceptible to being knifed in the back.

No matter.  Sarah had already been to Atlantis on a previous trip, and I was more interested in seeing the local color of Nassau.

Hey, where's the manor?

Hey, where’s the manor?

We bypassed the cruise ship’s overpriced excursions and planned a day of touring the city on our own, by bus and on foot.  And if you take no other advice from me with regard to touring the Caribbean, take this–bypass the taxis that are lined up right outside the cruise ship terminals.  Aside from being overpriced, they will isolate you from the culture you hopefully want to experience.  Yes, the islands of the Caribbean, in reality, are not the paradises the travel brochures make them out to be.  Aside from the resort areas (like Atlantis), they are, for the most part, hopelessly dirty, weather- beaten, rundown, and rife with poverty.

But if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not the Atlantis type anyway.  Sarah and I hitched a ride on a local bus with the aim of first visiting Ardastra Gardens and its flock of reputedly trained pink flamingoes.  Riding a bus around Nassau is an experience in itself.  This is not your usual city bus.  Nope, for the small fee of $1, you have the privilege of riding around in an oversized van with fold-up seats that require you to stand up, fold up your seat, and practically sit in another passenger’s lap in order to let others on and off.  The buses are popular with the locals and always full.  It’s an experience that won’t disappoint, especially when a local missing a couple of front teeth asks in lilting Bahamian English, “So you girls want to get drunk?”

There’s not actually a bus stop at Ardastra Gardens, so we got off the bus (Bus 10A is the one you want to take) as close as we could to the place and walked along broken-up sidewalks strewn with garbage to this sad little tropical garden a few blocks from Arawak Cay.  While the books I’ve read make Ardastra sound like a delightful place, it really isn’t.  But then delight is not the attraction here–the flamingoes are.

Lory parrot in for a landing

Lory parrot in for a landing

Garden paths will take you through unkempt tropical undergrowth and alongside the cages and habitats of mournful little monkeys, meerkats, endangered Bahamian parrots, and giant tortoises.  None of the animals look particularly happy to be here, though they are perhaps better off here than outside the gates.  The one exception are the Lory parrots who enjoy daily feedings by zoo visitors.  Be careful if you engage in this activity, however, as the parrots will get into feathered fights on your hand, arm, or head over a succulent piece of fruit.

Sarah and I had read about the flock of marching pink flamingoes and were anxious to see what this was all about.  We gathered with other curious visitors at the appointed hour and were treated to what we have since declared the highlight of our trip.  There’s nothing particularly organized about this group of “marching” flamingoes, but there is something decidedly humorous in watching their trainer attempt to establish order among flocks of feathered fuschia chaos.  You’ll have to watch the video to see what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=q0LLPUrtX0U

 
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The Cruise From You Know Where….

Posted by Deborah Huso on Apr 1, 2014 in Girlfriends, Travel Archives

Originally published May 23, 2009.

Our "Fun" Ship

Our “Fun” Ship

Last fall my childhood best friend and I decided to take a vacation together.  Though we’ve known each other pretty much since we were born (in the same hospital one day apart), we had never ever made time for a “girlfriend getaway.”  I’m almost ashamed to admit, in retrospect, the cruise was my idea.  I had taken a short cruise once before with my husband and found it to be a reasonably acceptable experience, though I have to admit one “at sea” day is about as much as I can handle.  I don’t care what the television ads say,  being stuck in the middle of the ocean with 2,000 people you’ve never seen before just isn’t that fun, no matter how many Bahama Mamas you drink.

But wait–this was a Carnival cruise.  You know the tag line: The Fun Ship.

Well, my dear friend Sarah and I really had no idea what we were in for, though perhaps we should have taken the kilted guys playing bagpipes outside our hotel the night prior to embarkation as a sign.  This was going to be a very unusual vacation.

It all started out decently enough.  We had reserved an ocean view balcony suite and, hence, earned ourselves the right to priority, escorted check-in.  But one cramped suite later, we discovered the meaning of the term “partially obstructed view.”  From our miniscule balcony that we could almost fit a chair on with room for our legs, we had a marvelous view of…a lifeboat.  Yep, a lifeboat.  Well, at least in the event of an emergency, we were covered.  All I had to do was swing one leg out of bed and into the lifeboat….no chance of drowning on this trip at least.

No matter.  We weren’t going to spend that much time in our suite anyway, right?

Time to take a tour of the ship and hit the buffet….

Check out the "stars" in the ceiling

Check out the “stars” in the ceiling

The particular Carnival cruise ship on which we were traveling was definitely showing some age and wear.  (I’ll refrain from giving the ship’s name or the embarkation port in an effort to protect the potentially innocent.)  Retro 70s was the going theme with no shortage of glitz (though the glitz could have used a little polishing).  Nevermind.  There’s that buffet, of course, one circuitous route past the water slide that was never operational the entire journey.

And that’s when we knew…this was going to be the cruise from hell.  Sarah and I do not make any pretensions to being slender beauties, but the clientele of the ongoing ship’s buffet made us both feel, well, a little out of place…or maybe underweight is a better word.

As we glumly gathered our fare and sat down among corpulent strangers, we both looked at one another across the table and realized we were next to tears.  These people were going to eat their way through the Caribbean, and we were stuck with them for the next five days.

“I think I’m going to cry,” I said to Sarah.

“Me, too,” she responded.

And I felt like the worst friend ever for even thinking a cruise was the way to go for our first annual girlfriend getaway.  Sarah was never going to want to get away again.

But it wasn’t long before a glimmer of hope appeared–the safety drill!  Pretty soon we were rounded up with our other suite mates, all the top deck, ocean, limited ocean, and partially obstructed ocean view balcony folks, and we saw svelte couples in tanks and trim retirees with glistening white dentures, all the comforting signs of normalcy.

“WHERE have these people been?” Sarah asked as we strapped on our life jackets.  “THESE people look normal.”

And yes, yes, they did.  And pretty soon a cruise attendant in white shorts and shirt advised us that in the event of a Titanic-like disaster, we would be the first ones off the boat.  So it turned out that our lifeboat-view balcony suite had at least earned us high rank in the disaster-at-sea pecking order.

But after the safety drill, all these comforting strangers disappeared again, probably, Sarah surmised later, hiding out in their suites.  That’s certainly what we felt like doing.

Ketchup and Mustard

Ketchup and Mustard just back from the bar

Thank goodness we didn’t, however, because we were about to have the most hilarious time of our lives.  Did I mention we accidentally took this cruise across Halloween?  Oh, yes, but even next to the stocky gentleman we were to see later attired as a Crown Royal bottle and a happily paired ketchup and mustard, FORMAL NIGHT was going to knock our socks off….stay tuned….

 
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Diving Deep and Coming Up For Cocktails: Why I’ve Thrown Caution to the Wind

Posted by Deborah Huso on Mar 18, 2013 in Travel Archives

With one of my girlfriends after swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands

A couple of weeks ago, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) contacted me out of the blue and asked if I’d like to get certified as a SCUBA diver. Apparently, a couple of their media folks had had their eye on some of my outdoor recreation and adventure travel writing and thought I wouldn’t necessarily be the worst person in the world to teach diving to.

They could be wrong about this.

I’m claustrophobic to the degree that I will occasionally have mild panic attacks on small commuter jets. And I’m terrified of deep water, especially if I can’t see the bottom. Tell me while I’m in this deep water where I can’t see the bottom that a hammerhead shark might come drifting by, and I might just suddenly decide I want back in the skiff.

So why I told the folks at PADI, “Absolutely, I’d love to learn to dive,” I have no concrete idea. I just know that some of the best experiences of my life have started out scary as hell.  Thus, I have a default setting in my brain that says if something seems inordinately challenging or frightening, I just need to jump in and do it.

Fortunately, I have friends who are exactly the same way.

One of them is coming with me on this SCUBA diving trip to the Bahamas. When I asked her if she wanted to go, she squealed and said, “YES!!!!”

Strangely enough, she, like me, is mildly claustrophobic and has never had a particular urge to learn to dive. After her confined water dive experience this last weekend, she told me she was exhausted, felt utterly stupid, somehow passed the test, but was as excited as ever. “But you know since you and I are going to be diving buddies, if you decide you really don’t want to go way down there deep to look at that shipwreck, you know I’ll be okay with that, right?”

I nodded and advised her, given our claustrophobia handicaps and poor multitasking skills (how do you remember to descend slowly, equalize your air spaces, and operate your buoyancy control device all while carrying a steel tank on your back?), that we might come across as geriatric divers. We decided to come up with an underwater hand signal for “how about we ditch this dive and go get a cocktail?”

Which comes back to the question of “Why do it?  Why do something scary and unfamiliar that you’re not even sure you’ll enjoy doing?”

Because it might change your life. That’s why.

There are anthropologists who would argue it’s just in the genes of some of us to be risk takers.  Is your ring finger longer than your index finger?  Mine is.  That’s supposed to mean I’m genetically predisposed to sky dive and cheat, ever on the lookout for the next big thrill.  Personally, I think it just means I have funny looking fingers.

I don’t do the things I do because I have a genetic compulsion to live on the edge. I do them because experience has taught me that wonderful things happen when you dare to step outside the familiar trappings of your life, challenge yourself, and introduce yourself to people who fire your brain.

When I moved to the isolated mountains of Highland County, Virginia, all by myself 11 years ago, apparently on a whim, quit my day job, and began to pursue a full-time career as a writer, pretty much everyone in my life thought I was crazy. I didn’t think I was crazy.  I was just doing what I do–testing the waters of a grand new experiment in living, which in this case was seeing if I really could do what I wanted to do, live where I wanted to live, and be who I wanted to be without going bankrupt.

It turns out I could.

And there have been a lot of other things I’ve done since then that looked risky as hell at the outset but turned my world upside-down in beautiful and amazing ways.

I had my first kayaking experience off St. Croix when I was pregnant with my daughter and a bit reluctant to go paddling off into the sea on a whim. But I shrugged and did it anyway. Years later, sea kayaking is one of my favorite things, and it has allowed me to paddle up to calving glaciers in Alaska and drift along colorful rock formations on Lake Superior I could never have seen otherwise.

Far be it from me to take on the world from the deck of a mega-cruise ship. Because life isn’t something you watch. It’s something you do.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “It is impossible to win the great prizes of life without running risks.” How true. There is nothing nor anyone in this world that I value highly that I have not risked wildly or worked hard to have. My deepest, most rewarding friendships are the result of long and dedicated acquaintance where I dared to risk vulnerability and censure by being myself. The incredible career I live and breathe every day is the result of a no doubt inane belief I could not only pay the bills as a writer but live a pretty darn good life, too.  It took years of work and a willingness to leap off the high dive into a precarious world where paychecks didn’t come biweekly to pull it off.

This is not to say risk always pays off in an immediately positive way. Sometimes it blows up in your face.  That’s why it’s called “risk.”

Not every wild venture I’ve taken on has turned out for the best. Heaven knows I’ve fallen in love (or thought that I had), only to discover the person on whom I’d showered so much admiration and affection had borderline personality disorder. I’ve taken on a new and way out of my field job with hopes of grand financial remuneration and promotions only to be told by a boss and self-proclaimed amateur chef who paid $300 for a gourmet mushroom that I had to wait my turn, no matter how smart I was, to climb the corporate ladder.

But even the risks that seem not to pay off at first have their own less obvious rewards. They offer lessons that make the next risk not quite so risky. Once you know how to kayak, how to shoot a bow and arrow, how to hit a bull’s eye with a pistol, how to keep from screaming when a sea lion dives at your snorkel mask, and how to survive a broken heart and a foiled career move, things like learning how to SCUBA dive or venturing into a foreign country alone don’t seem quite so daunting. You’ve already proved you can stare down fear.

Don’t confuse staring down fear with not being afraid, however.  I’ve never said I wasn’t afraid.  Take for instance my trip to Ecuador last summer.  After developing a fond acquaintance with a local from Guayaquil who was trying to teach me functional Spanish, I took him up on his offer to show me the city. After we’d strolled the crowded Malecon, eaten ice cream cones on the river, and he’d tested my Spanish reading skills by asking me to read aloud the inscriptions on local monuments, we walked away from the tourist areas, deeper into the heart of the city. I heard gun shots, the streets were more isolated, some apparent acquaintances shouted something in Spanish to my companion that seemed to suggest he had quite the prize in this long-legged, blond American girl he’d found.  My gut instinct told me to flee, to find my way back to the five-star hotel where I was registered, to abandon this latest scheme to experience some of the “real” Guayaquil.

But something of the risk taker held fast in me. I smiled at my escort, took his hand, and we walked to dinner where I understood nothing of the exchange he had with the waiter. Instead of worrying about it, I resolved to revel in the sunset over the river, to absorb the melodic sounds of my companion’s voice as he spoke to me in beautifully accented English with a few Spanish words thrown in, and remember this was living.  The next morning, my Latin companion delivered me to the airport safely and put me on my way back home.

When I read, a couple months later, about the dangers of Ecuador, about how supposed taxi drivers would pick up foreign tourists and then deliver them into the hands of criminals who would rob them and sometimes even commit physical violence against them, I marveled at my bravery (ignorance?) in Guayaquil. However, I would not have traded the experience of touring the city with a handsome and intelligent local at my side for anything. Despite my girlfriends’ teasing that I had acquired the “bucket list” experience of finding myself a Latin lover, what really counted for me was the insider’s view of Ecuador I received—my companion’s perspective on local politics, social injustice, poverty, and crime. He had brought me, for a moment, into the thick of Ecuadorian life.

And that’s what risk taking does—it takes you into the thick of things.  It’s where life happens.  So next time a wild opportunity throws itself on your doorstep and you’re not saying “yes” because you’re scared, it might be time to reevaluate. Saying “no” to a possibly life-changing experience isn’t really about being cautious or safe so much as it is about being cynical. And as American political satirist Stephen Colbert says, “Cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics say no. But saying ‘yes” begins things.”

So, readers, let’s begin….

 

 
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Stories from the Road: Finding the Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe

Posted by Deborah Huso on Feb 26, 2013 in Stories From the Road, Travel Archives

Pegram Parlor at the Linden Row Inn on Franklin Street in Richmond

My latest “Stories From the Road” column has hit the press. This one, on the Petersburg and Richmond haunts of Edgar Allan Poe, will appeal to anyone who has a hankering for how to get closer to the master of the macabre.  Though it’s not the easiest thing getting inside the head of the literary man who married a 13-year-old girl.  Even in 1835, that was a bit unusual.

The dining room at Bistro 27 on Broad Street

Nevertheless, while you’re checking out Poe haunts in Virginia, be sure to give yourself the best eats and digs while you’re exploring. Spend the night at the Linden Row Inn, and be sure to ask for “Pegram’s Parlor.” This is the inn’s classic honeymoon suite. Else you might find your lodgings a little rough around the edges.  Then hit Bistro 27 for dinner. I recommend the chef’s special beef ravioli. And while you’re wining and dining, you can watch the world go by on Broad Street.

Kitty in the window on Broad Street

 
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All Roads Lead to Rome: Finding the Courage to Go On in the Holy City

Posted by Susannah on Feb 10, 2013 in Motherhood, Success Guide, Travel Archives

With the kids in St. Peter’s Square

I finally succumbed to sitting on the grotty stoop of the apartment building by the bus stop.  I leaned away as residents pushed by me to enter their building, muttering something in Italian.  Looking directly up from my perch was another striking old building.  By this point, I was less into the architectural details and more interested in how the little overhang protected us from the drizzle, which had progressed well past the tolerable early evening mist.  It was well past dark.  The kids and I were damp, and although it was July, we were getting chilly from sitting still as we huddled in a residential neighborhood a few blocks from the Vatican.

We had crossed the street back and forth and jumped around the block from bus stop to bus stop.  Most of the drivers were kind, and though their facility in English was about as good as my knowledge of Italian, they each assured me that their bus went nowhere near our hotel.  How that was possible puzzled me since our little hotel was in the historical center just off a major thoroughfare. Isn’t there some saying about all roads leading to Rome?   I guessed Rome was just bigger than we realized.  I tried not to complain as it was futile.  We were so hungry for real food, not gelato or street cart popcorn.  I missed my husband and his planning.  I longed for the chipper young Parisian women donning perky green uniforms that we had met a few weeks prior in the Paris metro, with ready smiles and pens and maps in hand.

Honestly, I just wanted to cry, but every time my eyes welled up, my children looked all the more hungry and tired.  I was alone with them.  I knew that had Jorge been here, he would have figured out our transportation home long before we had even left our hotel for the morning.  And if he hadn’t taken care to plan, I could gripe and complain to him, as unjust as I knew that behavior now was.

The stark truth was that after more than 2,000 years, Rome was clearly tired of accommodating tourists.  And after a nine-week odyssey in Europe with my kids, I was ready to go home.

Abigail and Dylan waiting for the bus as the rain starts to fall in Rome

We were stranded, hungry, tired, and cold.  Later when my husband asked why we didn’t just do the obvious and take a cab home, I explained that it hadn’t even been an option for me.  When he and I travel, we have a hard and fast rule about walking or public transport whenever possible.  It’s cheaper, you see more, and you are given a better glimpse into the lives of the people that a cab can’t give. There were chickens under the seat in Bali, a uniformed school boy traveling alone who was almost too small to make it up the bus steps in Japan, and an interminably hot bus in Egypt by the Libyan border that stopped at a roadside shack with the best ground meat kabobs I have had ever had, along with scary looking big men with big guns, lots of flies, and a yucky hole-in-the-ground toilet.  Give up these experiences in exchange for the comfort and security of a cab?  I’d rather stay home.

I also confess I had something to prove.  I could do this trip alone.  I wouldn’t take the easy way out.  After a month with my husband in Spain and Morocco, I had five weeks alone with my kids to see a bit of the rest of Europe and I was going to show the kids, myself, and my husband that this life of a gypsy was in their blood.  Wanderlust would become a part of their psyche by nature and nurture.

But I wasn’t thinking all those lofty thoughts as I cursed the bus schedule under my breath.

Then the moment of responsibility came to me and I was released from my paralysis.  I stood up, looked at my two raincoat-hooded children and knew what we must do.  Though I have a habit of making broad proclamations, I knew I couldn’t force anything.  At this moment, I asked them if we should start walking.  I genuinely wasn’t sure if they had it in them.

They knew it was through the rain, in the dark.  I didn’t know how far we would have to go or how long it would take us.  We were all dead on our feet.  Our legs ached from the long day of walking and standing in our extended tour of the Vatican, preceded by many long days of traveling.

The consensus was to strike out into the dark and start walking in the direction of what we thought was our hotel.  We went a block and then another.  Soon we had crossed the bridge over the Tiber.  Our paces quickened in our soggy shoes as we started to recognize a few landmarks.   We had been walking for no more than 15 minutes at that point.  We soon became giddy with excitement as we realized we were close.  And we had been so close all along.  Within less than half an hour, we were back in our neighborhood and looking at the al fresco dining options.  The rain had stopped, and though we were still wet, we couldn’t help but notice that we were actually late enough to experience dining with the Romans instead of our usual habit of eating in quiet restaurants that were barely open for the evening hours.

As we were seated with our wet bags and jackets hanging off our chairs, I looked at both of my children.  I was so proud of them.  Proud of their bravery, their willingness to take that first step away from the security of the bus stop, and their sense of adventure, not just today, but every day on this journey we had taken them on.

I told them that they must never forget what happened that night.  Never forget how far away we felt from home, how dark the night seemed, and how discouraging the rain felt.  Never be afraid to take that first step away from the complacency of a bus stop into the dark unknown.  Avoid the trap of letting the temporary situations of life, like rain and darkness, hunger and fatigue, overwhelm them and keep them from making their way.   I wanted them to know they always have the strength to make the journey, to remember that more times than not, we are much closer than we think.  Just remember Rome.

And yes…my children do sometimes roll their eyes when I remind them of this night.  But I know that as they grow, there will be many moments in their lives that they think that they cannot go on.  It’s then that they will remember that night in the dark and the rain in Rome and, I hope, take the necessary steps toward their dreams, whether those dreams are as simple as coming home again or launching themselves onto a completely foreign road in an untried direction.

 
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Stories (And Stew) From the Road

Posted by Deborah Huso on Jan 9, 2013 in Stories From the Road, Travel Archives

For those of you who are mainly followers of the wacky musings on this blog and not my more conventional fare, it may interest you to know I actually earn a living as a professional journalist, too. And occasionally, I get paid to do things that are loads of fun–like write columns about road trips. If travel floats your boat and, like me, you’re more interested in local color than necessarily hitting all the high points of a particular place, then check out my new “Stories from the Road” series, a monthly column in Cooperative Living magazine that launched this month.

In the January issue, I chat with Brunswick County, Va. stewmaster Col. George Daniel, who dubs himself “the Dale Earnhardt of the stew crews.”  That would be the stew crews who participate in the annual Taste of Brunswickheld each October just off old Route 1 near Alberta. “I rag on everybody,” says Daniel, and it’s easy enough to believe. His Red Oak Stew Crew has been champion of the event many years running.

The Dale Earnhardt of Brunswick Stew: George Daniels

If you’d like to taste some Brunswick stew in Brunswick County, head to the Alberta General Store, the centerpiece of a one-dog town where you’ll find the heights and weights of local children recorded on a support post at the back of the cafe. “Uncle” Chuck Johnson is the stewmaster here, and he serves up a mean bowl…though not as good as Daniel’s…at least that’s what Daniel says….

 
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The Disney Dream…and Why I’m Glad I’m Awake Now

Posted by Deborah Huso on Jan 3, 2013 in Motherhood, Mothers and Daughters, Travel Archives

Making dreams real with some fireworks and electric sparks at Cinderella’s castle

I often wonder how many of us have been screwed up by Norman Rockwell paintings…like the famous family Thanksgiving picture with all the smiling faces, multiple generations gathered around the holiday dinner table. If our holiday dinners don’t look this way (which they rarely do unless you can convince a dozen cranky people to fake it really hard), we get depressed, believe ourselves failures at life (or at least family life), and fall into funks from which the typical American rescue is a bottle of Lexapro…or maybe Wild Turkey.  (Depends on the family.)

Norman Rockwell meant well, I think.  As did Walt Disney when he began building the famous theme parks that draw families by the millions each year. I doubt it was the intent of either to set up unrealistic expectations of joy to which we relentlessly aspire with very little real hope of attainment. Yet that is what they have done.

I attempted the Disney dream with my five-year-old daughter this Christmas. It was, in part, an attempt to escape the family holiday dinner table with all its barely suppressed tension and disappointment in exchange for a Christmas that looked nothing like Christmas, nothing like a Norman Rockwell painting, nothing like anything that could possibly make me compare my life to a dream I can’t say as I’ve seen anyone I know fully attain.

My daughter clowning around with Tigger at the Magic Kingdom

And besides, we all grow up with visions of Disney World as a magical place filled with fun, and joy, and laughter. Where these visions come from, I don’t know.  I think they’re from the same place that sends visions of early parenthood as some period of deep happiness where Mom and Dad share the delightful responsibility of changing diarrhea-laden diapers at 3 a.m. and manage to smile through the whole smelly, sleep-deprived process.

So many parents with whom I was acquainted had encouraged me to take Heidi to Disney, insisted now was the time while she would still think all the princesses and residents of the Hundred Acre Wood were real. And I’d seen their Facebook posts and pictures of their own Disney trips, and somehow, I admit, I was taken in.

But once I began reading the 700+ page, Bible-thick Unofficial Guide to Disney and downloaded all its suggested apps, I began to worry. This was like planning battle strategy—hit this ride at this time to avoid a 180-minute wait. Get a Fastpass for Dumbo, and then go see the Mickey Philharmonic, and make sure to be back at your designated time for your 30-second ride aboard the floating elephant.

Don’t get me wrong. My five-year-old had a blast. And thank heaven for that. Else I would find it incredibly hard to justify the 25 miles or so I walked on hard pavement day after day pushing a Minnie Mouse stroller designed for short parents, carrying a 30-pound backpack, while plotting Magic Kingdom battle tactics on my Droid.

At first, I thought maybe I was a grumpy parent, that something was wrong with me. Why was I not loving Disney???  It was the same line of questioning I engaged in as the mother of a newborn. Why don’t I love every minute of the smelly diapers, the breast milk vomit on my shoulder, the 48-hour marathon runs of screaming diaper rash?

When I began berating myself over the phone to a friend, he said, “You do realize all those other parents hate it as much you, right?”

Um, no, I didn’t realize that.  If that’s the case, why do millions of people descend on the park every year?

Because they’re buying into the Disney dream…in the same way we buy into the American Dream.  Get everything you want, and then you’ll be happy.  Make a wish, throw some electric sparkles into the air, and everything will be perfect ,and the wicked witch or Captain Hook will run away.

One dream come true: a grateful five-year-old

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in dreams, probably more so than the average person who has had the intelligence to give up on the impossible before divorcing twice and switching jobs about a dozen times. But Disney isn’t really about dreams, at least not the kind that are achievable when you make less than $1 billion a year. All Walt Disney has proved is that if you throw enough hard cash at something, you really can make the impossible real. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have done the same thing with a lot less plastic and electric hoopla.

And after a few days at Disney and a fair amount of eavesdropping as well as philosophical chats with parents stuck in the same two-hour line with me waiting for photos with Princess Merida, I began to see that I was not alone in wanting this active vacation for couch potatoes to end as soon as possible.

While walking down a beautifully manicured path in the Animal Kingdom, I overheard a mother say to her teenage daughter, “I haven’t been here in 10 years, and I don’t think I’ll be back for at least another 10.” Dragging her feet and sighing, she continued, “This place is a mess.” (She was referring to the crowds and the spectacle, mind you, not the trash. Disney hires a massive cadre of folks who spend their days sweeping up every scrap of paper and displaced water bottle within three seconds of them hitting the ground.)

I found myself commiserating with mothers pushing baby strollers who wanted nothing more than to get back home to Nashville…and London (and why would you fly across the Atlantic to see this place???)  I listened to fathers snap at their sons, “Enough already. No more whining, no more talking, just be quiet.”  I heard moms and dads bickering on the ferry boat departing the Magic Kingdom, perfect fireworks blasting off in the background over Cinderella’s Castle. But was anyone watching them?  No, just Heidi and me. Everyone else was facing the exit sign for the ferry, anxious to get off, get home, and put the Disney dream behind them.

My ex-husband told me I should take Heidi here again one day, maybe when she is 21, to let her “relive the magic.” I actually guffawed.  If my daughter can think of nothing better to do with her 21st birthday than go to the plastic kingdom, I have done a poor job of raising her. African safari, kayaking Norwegian fjords, hiking the Great Wall—any of these requests I’m willing to consider.  But not Disney World.  Never again.

You see, I’m all about magic…real magic.  The kind you find when rafting down real whitewater on the New or Colorado Rivers, not some fake river flowing through the Animal Kingdom.

It might have been worth it to see Heidi dance with Tigger in full delight or wrap her arms around Minnie Mouse’s waist. But you know what? She was just as thrilled last fall standing under the largest intact T-Rex skeleton in the world at the Field Museum in Chicago and posing in front of a giant Brontosaurus’ thigh bone.

But the really tough thing about Disney is the way it distracts.  It distracts so intensely that the families visiting forget everything but checking off all the rides on their list and getting the autographs of all the “characters” for their six-year-old. It’s not like gliding into Glacier Bay on a kayak or slipping down the canals of Venice on a gondola where you experience take your breath away spectacle of an all-engrossing, thank God I’m alive and breathing and seeing this kind.

By my last night at Disney, I’d had quite enough. Tired and cranky as a toddler, I was trying to push Heidi’s stroller through a mob scene watching the nightly Electrical Parade at the Magic Kingdom.  When a “cast member” chastised me for stopping the flow of traffic so my little one could get one last glimpse of Mickey gliding by on a float, I turned on her with all my Disney angst and let loose a flood of not epithets but something close. Needless to say, she left me alone, and I knew suddenly Disney was not the place for me anymore than a cage in a make-believe Serengeti is any place for a warthog.

I still don’t plan on spending Christmas anytime soon trying to create a Norman Rockwell painting in my dining room…but I sure as heck won’t be watching pacing tigers in “Asia” who are trying to figure out how to break through the glass wall that separates them from the tourists they’d very much like to eat.  I’d rather see the tigers where they belong…in India…and myself where I belong, too—in a setting where magic is real and doesn’t require an electrical cord to make it run.

 

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