Monday, August 17, 2015

When Cows Attack!, or, Vacation, Part Two

I love animals; I really do. We've had dogs that were more like our children, and as a child, I grew up in a family that loved several dogs and cats. I even endured life with a crazy, cursing parrot in the house (Shit, bird!). But I have no love for livestock. Really.

As a small child, a petting zoo goat ate part of my ponytail. I looked the creature in the eyes, and it terrified me. I really think this was what started my irrational phobia of goats. (Goataphobia?) I can't even look at pictures of them. I HATE goats.

I fell off a horse as a teenager, and even worse, was almost killed by cows.

Okay, maybe they were not actually going to kill me. But tell that to eleven year-old me, because at the time, I was going to be killed by a herd of cows.

The cows belonged to my friend Susan, who lived out in the country. In elementary school, we would jump on the trampoline and taunt the cows. When I was seven, we were jumping and her grandmother suddenly rushed out of the house crying. We thought someone in her family had died. No, not a family member; instead, it was Elvis.

We graduated from mocking and taunting cows to chasing them with a go-cart. It was all fun until we ran out of gas, a far, far way from her house (and too far away for anyone to hear us screaming).

The point of the story is this: if you ever find yourself in a position to chase cows with a small, recreational vehicle, DON'T DO IT. A herd of cows does NOT like to be chased by a go cart. Who would've thunk, right? It was a terrifying hour or so before they stopped surrounding us and we could run back to her house.

Maybe it's a fear of bovine karma; maybe it's just that they are another big, smelly farm animal; either way, I just don't get close to them any more. Once you've had a herd of stinky, large, loud cows mooing at you and giving you the stink eye, you really don't want to be near them ever again.

So if I told you that to get to this:

I had to go dozens and dozens of these:

You will understand why finding my ancestors' graves was such an adventure.

Summer vacation, part two---After we had visited Texas and Mexico, we ventured to my hometown in Mississippi (2013 population: 1576. Salute!). My cousin came down to visit and we somehow came up with the brilliant idea to chase down our great-great-great-great grandparents' graves in rural Shivers, MS.

Equipped with a GPS, a phone number from our cousin in Pascagoula who has visited the grave sites, and a general direction of where the heck Shivers, Mississippi, is, my older (and braver) cousin called a total stranger and asked him if we could get on his property to view the cemetery.

The guy said he would happily show us the small family plot on his farm, but he would have to meet us at the gate so we didn't let the cows out.

Once we got on the farm I realized that yet again, I was surrounded by a loud herd of cows. I couldn't do it; I got out of the driver's seat and let Al take the wheel. They looked harmless, but I'm sure they would have attacked, had we turned our backs.

Okay, maybe not. Yes, I'm exaggerating (obviously). But do you know what the cows did do? They did something very, very bad.

For the several decades now that my family hasn't owned the property, it has remained a working farm. Even though the farmers did their best to protect our little family plot, which sits in a little grove of trees, cows somehow got to it and knocked every single one of the gravestones over, breaking several in the process.

Stupid, stupid cows. Herds of cows are dangerous. If they aren't surrounding the living with ominous moos, they are stumbling stupidly through graveyards, doing major damage.

My cousin and I had three of our four kids with us, gingerly brushing off graves (and looking for ticks, or worse, snakes, in the process). We excitedly said, "Look, it's Isham's Civil War marker!" "It's Elizabeth! And Eli!"

I've never seen a picture of any of these folks, and I don't know much about them other than what's in records, such as their birthdates, death dates, and from census records, their occupations. They were small time farmers in Choctaw territory. They lost children in childbirth, they went off to war, some died very young, and others lived to ripe old ages. Being in that small cemetery made me wonder, how did people feel during each of these funerals? Were they relieved that someone was no longer suffering from pain or disease? What about the young widows, left with hungry mouths to feed? How did they make ends meet? Did they have closure? I can't imagine the pain of losing a child; some of these families lost multiple. How do you ever get over that loss? And who was the last person alive to know any of these people? How long ago was that? My ancestors probably held hands, sang hymns, and comforted each other at grave sites that, almost 200 years later, their great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren would be traipsing around.

I hope one day, my sons will sit down as old men and tell their grandkids a story. It will go something like this: Long time ago, your wacky great-grandmother, Granny L, and her first cousin Al took us down a country road to a dirt road. Then we drove down a long, gravel driveway, that ended at a gate. We entered a farm and continued until we came to a little stand of trees. There, in deep brush, we saw Eli and Elizabeth. Hanson and Missourie. Isham and Rebecca. Who are these people? We aren't really sure. It's written down in the family genealogy folder she kept. What we do know is that they are part of our DNA, and maybe the reason we like music, or we like to tell stories. Or maybe why we like to fish or work in the yard. Maybe they are why we are good at math or science or English. Or maybe why we aren't. They were most certainly strong willed and probably quite stubborn to live such hard lives and survive. 

Or maybe their story will go something like this: Your crazy great-grandmother, Granny L, spent a sweltering, miserably hot afternoon screaming and cursing at cows while her cousin drove us to a graveyard in the middle of nowhere. She had a real thing about farm animals. Did we mention the cursing? Anyway, we don't know who these people were. All we know is she was shrieking with excitement and talking to their graves like they were RIGHT THERE. Did we mention she was crazy? That woman was cra-zy. She talked to cows AND gravestones. Certifiably CRAZY. 

Either way, as long as they remember our graveyard adventure and tell their own children (and grandchildren) about how very,very happy it made me to finally see the graves of people I have only read about, I will die a happy woman. (If they do it while eating hamburgers, even better. Stupid cows).

And maybe they, too, will take a winding trip in the middle of nowhere, Mississippi, to find the Myers of Simpson and Lawrence County who have shaped who we are today and in the future.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Slug Bug Fail; or, Las Vacaciones, Parte Uno

What do you get when you combine 11 flights on four airlines through eight airports? You get summer vacation. It's RAT time, and in case you haven't noticed, I've been on a hiatus of sorts while we've been enjoying a relaxing break from school and work the last five weeks.

Five weeks of togetherness. . . and believe it or not, we are all still talking to each other.

What did we do during that time? We visited family in Texas and Mississippi. We ate out. A lot. We got our fill of lots of food we simply can't buy in a restaurant here (and don't have the ingredients to cook).

We had teeth cleaned and hair cut. We bought books. It was so nice to be back where there are book stores---I can't stand having to buy a book online without the opportunity to flip through the pages first.

We shopped for items that are limited or hard to find here: cheap school supplies, kids' shoes that don't cost $50, OTC medicines we don't get here for some reason, and school clothes that were on sale. Every time I go back, however, I find that I end up buying less and less things.

It's funny how much you realize, with the passing of time, that you can do without almost anything. Case in point: donuts. I have always been a die-hard donut addict. Living here, where we get donuts but they are previously frozen and taste horrible, has been a great way to break me from that bad habit. I ate donuts once in five weeks. It had been 6 months since the last time I had them. With many things you wean yourself off of, they just aren't as amazing as I as remembered; I can't believe I'm saying this, but I can now live without them. Those of you who have known me a long time are probably thinking, Wow. Yeah, me, too.

We also went to a country I adore: Mexico. Mexico is the first country I visited outside of the US and my desire to travel the world and live overseas started there. I had never been on an airplane until I was 16 years old and traveled with a school group to Mexico City and Teotihuacan, Villahermosa and Palenque, and Cancun. Twenty five years ago this summer, I got my wish of living overseas while studying Spanish in Cuernavaca and living with a local family. Oh, and I also met the guy who would eventually become my husband on that same trip. So the birth of my wanderlust and the beginning of what would be a lifetime relationship all took place in Mexico. I've been all over and enthusiastically recommend visiting there if you haven't. We've been back three times now, always during our anniversary, once with our oldest child, and this time with both kids.

It's crazy that a family who lives in the Caribbean would chose another Caribbean location for a vacation, but that's exactly what we did. We stayed near Akumal this time. Why Mexico? For one, you can't beat the food. If anyone reading this is willing to cook me chilaquiles every morning for breakfast, I'll put you up for free. (I'll also make the mimosas). We ate nopales and tamales, dozens of types of salsas, fresh fruit, and ceviche. Those were just my favorites. My somewhat-picky kids managed to eat traditional Mexican food for almost every meal, three times a day, for almost two weeks. I was proud of them.
nice, small sand (unlike my nice, big sand) in the Yucatan
In addition, I love mariachi music, handcrafts and folkart, and in the Yucatan, the Mayan culture. The highlight was probably visiting Chichen Itza. I totally got my geek on at the Mayan ruins. The kids enjoyed it, too.  We also ventured into a Chedraui supermarket (clothes, food, and major appliances) and swam in a cenote. We visited a Mayan village and walked around Playa del Carmen. But mostly, we just relaxed and read, took naps, swam, and relaxed some more.
Hammocks make you sleepy. True story. 
We were in an area that doesn't have as many American tourists as other parts of the Yucatan, and thus, less English speakers---and it felt great remembering how to carry a conversation in Spanish. We all got to speak Spanish, including our 2 boys who have each been in Spanish classes for 3 years (elementary language classes is one of many advantages DoDDS kids get over the majority of American kids). As son 2 said to me, "We aren't in Cuba anymore, mom! We have to speak Spanish now!" Oh, the irony. My GTMO friends will totally understand the lack of Spanish in Cuba (at least in US-Cuba).

Chichen Itza

One more thing: if you take kids to Mexico, whatever you do, don't get suckered into playing "slug bug." Seriously. If you have ever traveled or lived in Mexico, you'll understand why. OUCH.

photo source:

More on vacation, including going through a cow pasture down a dirt road off a gravel road that was off a country road, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Mississippi, all in search of my great-great-great-great grandparents, next time.