We are home. Forty–eight days, twenty-two hundred miles, three hundred gallons of fuel, eight RV parks, one thousand one hundred and fifty two hours of companionship, and ten grouper sandwiches later, my husband and I made it. We are official RV’ers with our badges of future park reservations already on the calendar. Yes, we will travel together.
Thanks to our grandson who, with my sister, was a devoted House Sitter, our home was sparkling clean and vibrating with love and life when we arrived from our six-week vacation in Florida. His yelp of joy and bear hug wiped away any vacation blues I had. Florida may have been sunny and soothing, but home has my heart.
While I unpacked, replaced my cosmetics, and unwrapped souvenirs, memory bytes of people I had met, mostly with Bridgett leading me, interrupted my thoughts. These had been the ones, each unique and genuine, who made my vacation rich and blessed.
Take Yhenna (pronounced “Hannah”) for instance. Weighing less than a hundred pounds, she dressed in black flannel pants and a long sleeved white t-shirt, because “I’m allergic to the sun”, she told me. We met at the Bluewater RV Resort in Key West, an unlikely town for someone allergic to the sun. However, she and her husband had headed south from Michigan to capture a little warmth. The couple had two rescue dogs in tow. The oldest one, “Ziggie”, was a monstrous pit bull that pulled Yhenna, holding onto his thick leather leash with both hands, up and down the long oval path in the center of the park. Unlike the common reputation of pit bulls, Ziggie was a whimp. He had an encounter with a small dog who had attacked and bitten him on his chest. Now Ziggie runs from dogs smaller than him, which is most every dog he meets. He jumps, yanks, and pulls tiny Yhenna who just smiles at wary passers by assuring them that “Ziggy is only afraid! He is a gentle dog!”
Bridget would have nothing to do with Ziggy, but she loved his person. Yhenna is from North Korea, where she met her husband who is British and an engineer doing work there when they met. He brought her home with him to England, “A bigger bundle than I had planned!” he chuckled. His new bride went to school in Great Britain where she learned English and computer technology. Twenty-three years later, the couple own their own computer technical engineering company in Michigan, serving huge businesses all over the country, and Yhenna speaks in elegant British with a delightful Asian twist. Always cheerful and passionate about dogs, she bonded tightly with Bridgett, who would have left me for her except for the leash in my hand, hooked onto her collar. I became very fond of Yhenna, too, because she was refreshingly open and genuinely kind – a blessing, for sure.
We met another nice couple at Bluewater – Laura and Frank, who stopped by our lot after I had met Laura at the pool one day, and invited us to go out to dinner with them. While staying at RV parks or campgrounds, most people are transient acquaintances, so it was nice to suddenly have new friends to go out with.
Laura is an avid reader, which I learned when I had first met her as she was reclining on her lounge with a book, “Orchid Thieves” by Susan Orlean, propped on her lap. I pulled it up on my Kindle right away and have found it to be a fascinating account of the existence and extinction of orchids and the obsessive greed of those addicted to their exotic beauty. I confess, I came home with three gorgeous orchids I found when we stopped at an orchid market in Homestead, the mecca of Floridian orchids. But I’m not addicted.
While enjoying our dinner of grouper topped with a delicate cream and crab sauce, our friends told us that they were on their last RV trip. They had been traveling in their coaches (they had owned several) from Connecticut to Florida for ten years and Laura was tired of it. She added that at seventy-three, Frank was becoming more and more physically tired from the demands of a house on wheels, but of course he would never admit it. Finally, during their stay at Bluewater, they found and bought a house in Key West. Now renovating the kitchen and buying new beach style furniture, their traveling days had come to a pleasant end. I glanced at Dan, the same age as Frank, to see what he thought of such a novel idea, and caught a glint of the West in his eyes. Our traveling days have just begun!
Paul, the last friend we made on our trip, just may have been my favorite. Paul, his wife Kelley, his aging father-in-law (“He’s a little slow these days, but he was an engineer and he’s handy to have around my rig,” Paul added later.), and their blind Boxer, pulled into the slot next ours the day after we had arrived at Fort Pierce, Florida. Their spanking new fifth wheel, complete with a toy trailer that converts into an outdoor patio, housing a huge shiny black Harley when they travel, and their diesel truck made our thirty-eight foot RV look like a pop-up camper.
The couple had driven down from Massachusetts where there was still six feet of snow on the ground, and was settling in to gather with relatives in the area. In fact, they had invited the whole clan over to their slot - within five yards of our RV- to show off their new home on wheels and celebrate. Dan and I escaped into Vero Beach for dinner and let them party on unhindered. Although I was soon to discover, nothing much kept Paul from having a good time.
Since they had owned the fifth wheel for only two weeks and had stopped at two campgrounds on their way down to Fort Pierce, Paul was frightingly green backing his rig into his slot next to ours and attempting to set it up. Dan saw the problem immediately, and respectfully so as not to offend the ego of a fellow Rig Owner, offered his help.
“Absolutely!” our new neighbor exclaimed, “I sure could use some advice on hooking up this thing. I haven’t had a chance to read my manual yet!”
Wondering how in hell this guy ever drove all that machinery down I95, Dan took Paul around his rig and showed him how to hook up and secure it into the slot. Then he gave his student a last piece of advice.
“Make a check list. That’s the only way you’re going to remember all this stuff. Otherwise you are going to damage your rig or kill yourself. Or maybe both.” Dan can be blatantly direct, but he spoke from experience.
“Got it!” Paul shook Dan’s hand enthusiastically. “A checklist!” he beamed.
That was the thing about Paul. He was always happy. In love with his new life, he shared with true emotion the two sides to his story. The first one he told me while, excited as a kid with his first bicycle, showing me the inside of his sprawling fifth wheel mansion, complete with fire place and bar.
“I just wanted a change,” Paul, around fifty years of age, told me. “So I told Kelley, “Let’s try out an RV. She was fine with it.”
Kelley seemed to be pretty laid back so I wasn’t surprised that she had agreed with her husband’s plan. Paul didn’t seem to be the type to lose an argument.
“Since I already had the truck and had just bought the motorcycle, I knew I’d have to get a fifth wheel. This one has everything we would ever want, including lots of sleeping space for company!” Paul spread out his arms, showing me wondrous approval for his new world.
“So I bought it!” He lowered his voice, “Don’t tell Kell, but I think I’m going to sell our home!”
This, I believe, is the secret dream of all Rig Owners.
Paul’s second story – the real one – he shouted back at me as he drove me around the park on his new Harley.
“I thought I was dead Christmas Eve two years ago,” he hollered. He had almost died from a pulmonary blockage in his heart. As a teen-ager, he had lost both of his parents, his brother gave in to despair, and Paul grew up to be a very angry young man. He tried to fight his demons with alcohol, then with obsessive strength training. When he injured his shoulder while lifting weights, he had it checked out, and thought it was fine. He didn’t know the ongoing pain was from a blood clot traveling to his heart.
“On Christmas Eve I went to the emergency room and was rushed into surgery. They almost lost me.” By then Paul had slowed down the Harley so I could hear him better. “Since then I’ve known how good and precious life is and that I have a purpose in it. I like to take on each day as a great day and I take every opportunity to give back something good to people!”
And that is how and why I got to ride a Harley for the first time in my life.
“Want to know a secret?” Paul asked, leaning into our motorhome as we said good-bye when we were heading off for our next destination north.
This man who would give the shirt off his back, laughs at his own mistakes, and takes life as a playground smiled, “You’re the first girl ever to ride on the back of my Harley.”
Then he saluted Dan. “Check List. Yes sir!”
It’s been a long time since I’ve been called a girl.
These and so many other people I met, mostly while walking cheerful, curious, and ever sociable Bridgett, cause me to reflect the best thing about travel – the people. I have mentioned a few of them here in “Reflections From an RV”, but there were so many more who popped up like colorful M&Ms with delicious stories.
I got to reunite with my cousin Bobby after over thirty years. There he was, tending his bar on Duval Street in Key West, across from Sloppy Joe’s! We hugged and laughed, recalling memories that had separated us and then brought us back together again. Except for white hair and age spots, it seems as if time had no say at all between us.
It was at Sloppy Joe’s where we met Jim, a former Navy Chief, whose friendly charm engaged everyone he served at the bar. Because Dan’s career in the Navy had lauded a picture of his squadron’s jet and logo on the Walls of Fame at Sloppy Joe’s, Dan had free beers and our two daughters, who were visiting us for the week-end, and I enjoyed free Margaritas and Pina Colattas, thanks to Jim’s hospitality. We took so many pictures of Jim, our favorite bartender, he’ll probably be featured on our photo Christmas cards this year!
I could not close out my memories without mentioning Mary Gay, who came to our rescue at almost ten at night when I had fallen from my bike and gashed my leg on the pedal. In spite of the blood of strangers, she ran to her house to bring back water and bandages. She was all gentleness and compassion as she hovered over me. Several days later, with my leg wrapped and healing, Dan and I drove back into Key West to find Mary Gay. When she saw me at her front door, she threw her arms around me and cried. I told her that God had used her when she ministered to me. She looked incredulous, tears streaming, as I told her how He had chosen her because her heart had been willing. People like Mary Gay are angels on earth.
The kindness of people – strangers – blew me away. One lady offered me a Conch Fritter from her plate as I was sitting at my table alone, waiting for Dan. Another lady, Jen, gave Dan a cold beer while I shopped in her store (Jen is a very smart proprietress). Later when I left my phone in the dressing room, she ran two blocks, leaving her shop unattended, to return it to me.
People don’t have to be kind – they choose to be. When I went to Key West during Lent, it had been my intent to observe the Holy Season by worshipping Jesus through the people He brought along my path. I was humbled to find Him shining in the smiles, services, and stories of so many. I can attest to and acclaim, Christ is risen and He is alive and well in Key West! It truly doesn’t matter where we are or how far we travel, with the love of God in our hearts, we become magnets to those looking for love and a new friend.
Dan will be retiring at the end of December of this year. Our plans are to travel many more miles in our new motor home. We have prayed earnestly about this our new Season’s venture. God has given us assurance that He has lots of adventures, amazing sights, and many more friends to meet. I will share my Reflections along the miles and hope you, too, will enjoy the people chosen to enrich the road before us.