An Ode to the Mother Road

Hello readers! 

I bet you’ve been wondering where I disappeared to over the last several weeks. Well, I’ve been a little bit of everywhere, if you want the honest truth. Sometimes, we all just have to refill the old well – both the spiritual well and the writing well. As for my husband and me, one of our favorite ways to do that is with a road trip. Usually, it’s just a short jaunt to somewhere close, like Solvang or Santa Barbra. Maybe if we have some extra time, we’ll do Big Bear or Yosemite. For this road trip, well… we went a little grander in scale. 

Both of us have had long-time dreams to do Route 66. Not just a state or two. We wanted to do the whole dang thing. I had wanted to try it ever since I first read the Grapes of Wrath (which was much longer ago than I will admit here!) My husband’s parents went several years ago, and he had always wanted to follow in their footsteps. 

So, with 66 sparkles in both of our eyes, my husband and I decided it was time! We grabbed our camping gear, flew into the Midwest, rented a car, and started the long haul back to California on the same old trail that thousands upon thousands of others have taken since the 1920s.

For a history buff like me, it was quite an experience. It is an experience that is hard to put into words, really, even for a writer! It’s more of a feeling. You can feel so much when you drive that old road – in both the good parts and the bad. I will be writing a great deal about this trip in the weeks and months to come. But for now, I will leave you with this poem I wrote to try and capture that feeling – the feeling of driving the entirety of old Route 66 (where, yes, we did indeed get many kicks). 

I hope you enjoy it! 

AN ODE TO THE MOTHER ROAD

 It was when I read about the family Joad

That I first learned of the old Mother Road

The grand old route across the whole nation

But most who took it weren’t on vacation

Not in the 30s, it was more of a must

Because their farms had turned to dust

Families like the Joads gave it their all

“California or bust,” we don’t want to fall

The route found pavement and fun in later days

With neon and pump stations, wigwam hotel stays

Family diners were packed to the gills

Where families and children got their thrills

Route 66, the road stretched to the skies

How I longed to see it with my own eyes

I made a promise to myself as a child

One day I will drive the whole stretch in the wild

I wanted to bask in those neon lights

I wanted to see all the incredible sights

I would go all the way, the whole thing I would do

It would be like a time portal I could just drive through

A portal indeed to a different time

Although it’s hard to see underneath the grime

The pump stations are silent and coated with rust

The road is cracked and surrounded by dust

Weeds sprout through the pavement on that old highway

On modern maps, you can’t really find the way

The cafes are quiet, there’s no one around

The motels are decrepit, the bridges closed down

The old neon lights have all gone dark

Picnic tables are empty all through the park

No laughing children, no cars, no trail mark

The shops are closed, main street has no spark

But it’s not really gone, I’m here to say

The old route’s spirit lingers, it won’t go away

And for those who are willing to look up close

There are gems buried deep on that old mother road

A town where burros run wild and free

You can pet them and feed them for a one-dollar fee

Quirky cafes with the best food around

Cadillacs and slug bugs stuck out of the ground

Giant things loom across the whole way

With good people who remind you how to laugh and play

The old Burma shave ads that still make you smile

And old-fashioned cars that drove many a mile

I felt a new energy on that road

I somehow felt I could really unload

I yearn for it now as I sit here alone

A grand old road that made me feel more at home

I’ll never forget my time on that trail

What an adventure, I’ll weave many a tale

Of all the gems thrown into the mix

On the old mother road – Route 66

M.B. Henry

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California Route 66

If you ever plan to motor west, you may not be able to take the highway that’s the best. So, I took many pictures for you! Take a photographic journey on the Mother Road by clicking here. 

A while back, I wrote a post about a big explosion on the Ypres Salient in WWI. It had an impact, you might say – oh, the puns. Many of my friends here on WordPress said it reminded them of a similar incident that occurred during the US Civil War. So I thought, why not make that article a two-parter? Here for you is the story of the Petersburg Mine of 1864. My readers were right to point out that the two stories follow a very similar path, right down to the horribly tragic ending.

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It’s been awhile since we’ve checked in with this incredibly long poem, hasn’t it? I figured it was time to post another segment.

In the First World War, poison gas saw its first large scale use on the Ypres Salient in 1915. It was a very potent chlorine gas, and it caused hundreds of casualties and almost 70 deaths. As the war advanced, so did the cruelty of this particularly barbaric weapon. Phosgene and Mustard gases were introduced, both of which rotted the lungs and caused blisters and burns on the skin. Some variants of these gasses were invisible and hard to detect by smell, which meant soldiers wouldn’t know they were exposed until they were already symptomatic. I’ve read many accounts of gas attacks on the Western Front, and it’s hard reading to get through. Poison Gas became one of the most infamous aspects of the first world war, and one of the most feared weapons. Although it’s difficult to read about much less write about, I felt I had to include it in this poem. Here for you is the third segment of Part II of the “Let Me Tell You How I Died” war poem series.   

LET ME TELL YOU HOW I DIED

PART II – SEGMENT 3

Gas!

Here we are rushing the works again

And I charge the field with the rest of my men

Up to my knees in mud and slime

Surrounded by bones, debris, and grime

A shell lands near me as I make my way through  

But it doesn’t explode, or cause much ado

Then there’s a hiss and the air turns yellow

The field grows foggy, I let out a bellow

I can’t get any sound to leave my throat

My lungs burn, eyes water, skin bubbles and bloats

It’s poison gas that they’ve thrown at me

It’s Mustard, it’s lethal, and I’m too weak to flee

Caught out in the field without my gas mask

There’s no worse death, for mercy I ask

But it won’t come, so I splash into the mud

My skin burns hot and I cough up blood

My vision goes black and my hearing fades

My insides feel torn apart by knife blades

Soon I don’t feel anything, my life was so brief

But when death finally comes, it’s a relief

To Be Continued…

To read Segment 1 of Part II, “Shelling” – click here.

To read Segment 2 of Part II, “Over the Top!” – click here.

When you visit a city enough times, you learn some fantastic things about it. One of my best friends lives in Seattle, and it is an easy plane ride from Los Angeles. So, I have become a frequent visitor to the rainy city up north. As a 10-years-running SoCal resident, I can’t quite get used to all the gray skies and moisture, but I have still found a lot of charming things about Seattle, including the famous underground (click here to read all about that).  On my latest visit this past April, my friend took me to another Seattle attraction that is um… well… not like something you would find in other cities. In a word, it’s gross. However, I mean that in the most amazing way possible.

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Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the Seattle Gum Wall! Which, as you can see, is actually an entire alley way that is covered, from top to bottom, in sticky, germ-infested, multi-colored, disgusting wads of already chewed gum that smell like a stale candy store. From the minute I smelled it coming, I could tell I was in for a treat. And trust me, you definitely smell it before you see it. My friend and Seattle resident who took me there, Erin, warned me that I would – “that wall is two senses in direct contrast to each other,” she said. “Everything smells amazing, but I don’t want to touch anything!”

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It was 1944 in Benouville, a little village in France. German soldiers had occupied it for four years. Every day, they infiltrated the humble little town for food, drinks, and supplies. They didn’t always ask nicely either. They invaded private homes for billets, and they constantly paced back and forth over the gray-painted road bridge over the Orne Canal. Their boots clunked on its metal surface, and the shadow of its tower enveloped them. They nestled machine guns in its steel flanks, and they strapped packs of explosives underneath it, with a single button to set them all off.

It seemed like a small bridge to make such a fuss over. However, along with another bridge in Ranville, this was the only crossing of the River Orne and Caen Canal. Without those two bridges, German defensive units would be ensnared with delays and run-arounds in the event of an invasion. German command wanted those bridges held at all costs when the allies came. If it looked like they would be taken, then they would have to be destroyed.

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Picture this.

It is early 1942. Memories of a vicious attack in Pearl Harbor are fresh in your mind. These memories especially trouble you, because you are a young man in the Seventeenth Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Corps. Now, war has been declared. Training has begun. You suspect you will go to battle soon. You’re restless, and your nerves are jangled.

One day, you are called to a meeting with a high brass officer. He’s a part of a special mission. He says it will be dangerous and some of you will get killed. You will leave the country for a long time too. He can’t tell you where you are going or what you will be doing. All he can say is he needs volunteers.

This is the exact scenario, and the choice, that one hundred and forty men faced in early 1942. When it came, their hands shot up in the air. Little did they know, the mission would be one of the most dangerous and daring of the second world war, and it would come to be known as the Doolittle Raid.

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The “Let Me Tell You How I Died” series is back! Continuing this week with Part II, which has seven segments about World War I. Segment two of Part II covers the horrors of charging out of the trenches against well-fortified positions, machine guns, and barbed wire. It was a tragic scenario that played out countless times across the Ypres Salient, and I saw the results with my own eyes – the thousands of white grave stones all across Belgium.

LET ME TELL YOU HOW I DIED

PART II – SEGMENT 2

Over the Top!

Over the top and give ‘em hell!

That’s the command we know so well

The watch hands tick, it’s almost time

The shells start flying and churn up the grime

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Fire in the Wilderness

It was May 5, 1864.

Spring had arrived in the state of Virginia, but so had the Union army.  It wasn’t the first time, either.  In fact, they had marched through Virginia for quite some time.  Month after month, battle after battle, year after year.  Since 1861, the boys in blue had slugged it out, and lost, against the formidable General Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia.  These fights carried a heavy price tag.  Thousands of lives had been lost.  Countless more were wounded from physical scars, or the painful emotional blows from the losses of fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers.  That said nothing of the many civilians caught in the crossfire whose lives were lost and houses burned.  There weren’t many tables across the country that didn’t have the tragic vacant chair.

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           If any of you were following me around Halloween, you learned that I have a bit of a sweet tooth.  It’s really hard for me to refuse candy, especially when it comes to Candy Corn (if you weren’t following me then, click here and read all about it). 

          Well, I decided to make a two-parter out of that post, because it’s not just Candy Corn that I love.  It’s holiday candies in general.  Something about seeing it packed on the store shelves makes me giddy.  Maybe it’s all those fun shapes and pretty colors.  Because I have somewhat of a short attention span at the supermarket.  Who doesn’t, right?    

          Easter seems to be an exceptionally festive time at the grocery store.  After a hard winter (and I think we all had one this year), all those pastel pink, yellow, and green wrappers are a sight for sore eyes.  So are all the chocolate bunnies, rainbow jelly beans, and brightly-speckled Robin’s Eggs.      

         You know what isn’t a sight for sore eyes, though?  Peeps.  Those mangy Marshmallow creatures that swallow up every candy aisle at Easter.  Even through my deep love of all things holiday, Peeps have managed a place on my hate list. 

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The first time I saw “the Sound of Music,” I was in love.  Not just with that happy-go-lucky story (quite a boast for a movie with Nazis), but also with Salzburg.  The mountains that drew Maria to their wild peaks also had a powerful hold on me.  So much so that the opening sequence, where they just sweep over Austria’s beauty, was my favorite part.

Although, to be honest, I didn’t believe it really looked like that.  I’ve been around film and its “movie magic” for too long.  The mountains couldn’t possibly be that green.  The waters wouldn’t be that clear.  In this day and age, no village is that picturesque.  I was a cold, hard skeptic.  So, I made myself a promise.  Someday, I would go and see it with my own eyes – no “fixing it in post,” and no movie magic. Read More