Pioneer Days Parade 2018

Saturday of Pioneer Days in Twentynine Palms is our favorite day of the 3-day event.  Starting the day with pancakes at the fire station and then watching the parade is the best part about Pioneer Days.  What began as a novelty for our 2-year old son to have breakfast in the fire station on Adobe Road has become tradition for us.  We love arriving to the fire station and being served by the fire fighters and seeing the huge fire engines up close. For $16 our family of four can enjoy a great breakfast with other members of the community.

Our parade-viewing strategy this year is a little different.  After trying to view the parade on Adobe Road and baking in the sun, we decided that Twentynine Palms Highway may be a better choice.  We parked the car in the public parking behind Papa John’s Pizza and walked a few blocks to the fire station on Adobe Road to have breakfast.

Once our bellies were full of scrambled eggs, sausage, and pancakes from the firehouse we made our way to the parade route.  On the way there we saw the Jelly Donut beckoning to us like the sirens in Homer’s “Odyssey.” The highway was already closed for the parade but we looked both ways before we crossed anyway.  We were greeted with the wonderful smell of fresh donuts. Once armed with our donut bounty we crossed the highway again to the shaded curb and settled in to watch the parade while feasting on donuts.  Parade viewing is more pleasurable with a donut in one hand and a coffee in the other.

Now came the hard part – waiting patiently until the parade starts.  This is difficult for kids of all ages. We were close to the beginning of the parade route and could see them lining up into position.  The wait was unbearable. My daughter couldn’t wait any longer.

“Can I see what time it is?” She asked for at least the third time since we’ve sat down.

I plucked my cell phone out of my purse and handed it to her.  She looked at it.

“It’s 10 o’clock!” She announced.

No sooner had the words left her mouth that the police car at the beginning of the procession lit up it’s lights and blared it’s sirens.  We all jumped, startled at the blast of sound. The parade began to move forward. It started exactly on time.

On came the parade.  We all stood when the color guard came and men removed their hats.  What followed was a representation of the community’s best. The Marines were first.  They rolled down Twentynine Palms Highway in a big LAV-25, Humvee, and MTVR. These large armored vehicles were impressive up close.  I never appreciated their size passing by caravans of them while driving on the highway.

“Look honey,” said a young mother to her son, “Marines, just like daddy.”

Palm Vista Elementary school and Joshua Tree National Park had representatives in the parade.  The Kiwanis Club, the Fraternal Eagles, and the Twentynine Palms Historical Society were also there.  The Sky’s the Limit tossed hand fulls of small buttons into the crowd with their logo on it from a fancy convertible.  There were also people in the parade who want to be elected to serve the community in November.

Everyone was waving and smiling to those watching them along the street.  It’s so neat to see all different members of the community come together representing our city.

This year there was a ton of goodies that were passed out to the audience by those in the parade.  My kids got fliers from Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, American Heritage Girls, Trail Life USA, and two Fall festivals put on by local churches Halloween Night.  Each flier was accompanied by a piece of candy or two. The kids got so much candy that I commented that we wouldn’t have to go trick-or-treating this year.  My children looked up at me in horror not recognizing I was teasing them.

People walked up and down the parade route trying to sell things.  The kids looked longingly at the man selling cotton candy and novelty toys.  Other kids were lucky because their parents bought them bubble blowers and plastic noisemakers from the cart.  My children looked at the cart knowing they couldn’t have anything from it because they chose donuts instead. On his return trip, the man pushing the cart slowed down as he walked past my kids.  Smiling at them, he tempted them with the goodies hoping their mom would cave in and buy some pretty junk. I smiled back at him and he kept walking.

We saw my children’s coaches and classmates.  I saw my coworkers and students – both former and present.  We waved and said hello and got an occasional hug. It’s nice to feel part of the community.

The parade ended, as parades usually do, with emergency vehicles blasting their sirens.  Like “the wave” at a large stadium, People stood up and put away their folded chairs as the emergency vehicles passed them by.  My large mom-purse was filled with all the goodies that were handed out from the parade participants as we stood and packed up our things to leave.  

“We’re going to trade your candy in for a toy, sweetheart” said a mom to her young son.

“That’s a good idea,” I told her.  “Otherwise mom and dad would eat it, right?”

“Oh no.  It would go straight into the trash!” She replied.  

When we got home we dumped all the goodies on the kitchen table and separated the candy from the fliers they were taped to.  This candy isn’t going into the trash because I don’t have it in me to be wasteful. All that candy on the table wouldn’t fit in our candy jar.  So I asked my kids which ones they liked the least and I took those and set them aside to take to work. My high school students will appreciate them.  Throw away your own candy, as for me, I will save it to be appreciated by someone else.

Next year’s Pioneer Days Parade will be just as enjoyable.  Especially now that we know that the optimal viewing spot is on the highway.  We also know to bring a bag to carry all the goodies and fliers as the parade participants are very generous to kids.  Until next year, Twentynine Palms Parade!

The Lego Castle

“Mom, will you build a castle with me?”  My 7-year old son Logan asked.

His blond hair and blue eyes reminded me of another little boy about his age who asked me that same question about 25 years ago.  My heart squeezed and and I said “Yes, I’ll build a castle with you.”

I got up from the kitchen stool and went with Logan into the guest room at my parents house where the Legos were dumped all over the floor.  They crowded the floor, scattered among the displaced desk drawers and papers. My parents were remodeling this room. I sat on the floor close to the threshold of the room with the Legos before me.  Logan seated himself across from me with his back against the desk drawers. The Legos were spread between us.

My mom kept all the Legos her children played with.  The bricks before us were the same Legos that I played with when I was a girl.  I loved Legos back then and I had quite a collection. In the 1980s and 1990s Lego had pirate and castle lines and those were my favorites.  I had small island hideouts, little pirate row boats, and forrest men tree houses. The star of my collection was a large pirate ship complements of my grandparents for Christmas.  It was the best Christmas gift I ever got from them. It took me all morning and a few tears to put it together. The pirate ship had everything: a captain’s cabin, lots of firing cannons, a parrot and monkey, three tall masts with red and white striped fabric sails, and my favorite:  a female pirate. Back in the early 1990s there were not very many girl characters in the Lego sets.

My little brother added to the collection in the mid to late 1990s with his ninja sets.  Playing with Legos was something we had in common. My brother and I would sit companionably together building with Legos despite our 6-year age difference.   I know the purpose for each uniquely-made Lego block. I know from which set a piece was from and I remember how to use certain pieces for the greatest effect.  It’s like stepping back in time. The quantity of Legos has decreased slightly over recent years. Grandma lets Logan take his creations home sometimes.

I told Logan what pieces to find and I started to build the castle.  We found large doors; those had a special piece to clip them on to, where are they?  There’s one. Good, there’s another one, we’ll need two. Logan collected all the pieces that have the little arrow loops in them.  Those would be the castle walls. He also found a couple of pieces that looked like a bunch of logs fused together. They were about the same size as the arrow loop pieces and were from my little brother’s ninja sets.

Logan found all the accessories to go with a castle: helmets, bows and arrows, swords, cannon, flames, and shields.  His accessories were a mixture of pirates, forrest men and ninja. We worked companionably together on the castle. He finds pieces to use and I find a way to use them.

Logan asked “Can I go swimming?”

“Yes,” I responded.  “Chloe is already in the pool, Grandma’s watching her.”

Logan couldn’t stand the thought of his sister beating him back into the pool.  Everything was a race to those two. He got up and went outside.

Our castle wasn’t finished.  I continued to work on it. I added a second level, making sure everything is reinforced.  There’s nothing worse than placing a Lego guy on a brick and the structure collapses from the pressure.  I added another level and included places to insert the shields into the castle wall. I remembered doing that in one of my forest sets.  

As I build my Dad wandered over to the guest room.

“Reliving your childhood, huh?”  He smiled.

“I guess so” I replied, intent on my building.  Dad chuckled and left me to my work.

I finally finished the castle working alone.  It had two large doors, three levels, two shields in the outer wall, a cannon (Logan’s idea), and battlements.  I wondered why I finished the castle without Logan working with me. I knew Logan would really love the finished product and I had fun building the castle.  Even as an adult there is something satisfying in snapping bricks together.

But there was another reason I finished the castle without my son.  I finished it for that other blond-haired and blue-eyed little boy who asked me that same question 25 years ago: “Do you want to build a castle with me?”

My little brother asked that question repeatedly for a few weeks in the mid 1990s.  I was making my way out of the Lego stage. My pirate ship was dismantled and I was more interested in my friends and boys.  When my brother asked me if I would build a castle with him, I told him no. But he was persistent and kept asking. I kept telling him no.  I don’t remember if I finally acquiesced to building a Lego castle with my brother. I think I did but I don’t know how much of that is wishful thinking, hoping that I did the right thing by my brother.

There is a family resemblance between my son and brother.  So when Logan asked me “Mom, will you build a castle with me?”  I was transported in back time. It was almost like I was building a castle with my brother using the same Legos we would have used 25 years ago.

Coyotes in the Desert

I have the teacher’s edition of the first grade curriculum open in front of me with eager first-grade faces looking up at me from behind their little desks.  I have to give a lesson on carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores. I am substitute-teaching at Condor Elementary School on the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC).  

There’s nothing like accessing prior knowledge when teaching a new concept.  

“Do any of you hear the coyotes at night?”

About 20 heads nod up and down and some reply with an enthusiastic “Yeah!”

“And what do they sound like?”  I knew what their response would be but I couldn’t help myself.  

“Aaaaah – Oooooooh!” Howl about 20 first graders.  Some emphasize their howls with tilting their heads back.

“That’s right!”  I say after the last of them get their howls out.  “Coyotes are carnivores which means they eat other animals.”

I’ve been hearing coyotes howl at night ever since I can remember.  My family would come out to Twentynine Palms to spend the weekend at our small homestead cabin in the outskirts of Twentynine.  It was about 25 minutes to downtown Twentynine Palms with the MCAGCC practically in the backyard. I always associated hearing coyotes as a sign of being in the boonies.

I was surprised when I heard coyotes howl during the first nights at our new home in downtown Twentynine Palms.  It sounded like I had a chorus of coyotes singing for me just outside my gate. Their yip-yips sounded when they celebrated a successful hunt.  One or two of them would cross the street or trot down the road in the early morning. Coyotes are always something to see. Lean and long with coloring to match the desert landscape, they are quite beautiful.  

The coyotes don’t know they are supposed to stay in the boonies.  They are happy to make any quiet place their home. The Twentynine Palms Public Cemetery is surrounded by a chain link fence with large oleanders planted along the perimeter to serve as a windbreak.   People occasionally walk the asphalt paths of the cemetery as it’s a quiet and relatively flat area. I was walking the fence with it’s oleanders one day when movement caught my eye. I walked closer to the side of the fence and startled something out of hiding. Three coyote pups ran out of their den.

“Oh!  I’m sorry, I didn’t know that was your home!”  I tell their retreating figures.

The puppies were cute and small.  They looked like miniature versions of their parents.

We live in-town but we get frequent visits by coyotes.  A large coyote trotted through the alleyway behind our back yard.  A few seconds later two more coyotes followed the first. They were graceful in appearance and purposeful in movement.  Then I remembered that my cat was outside. My 7-year old son spotted the cat high on the limb of a dead tree in the empty lot next door to us.  He’s a smart cat to shimmy up there when those coyotes came through. Coyotes are carnivores after all.

Small dogs and cats keep coyotes well-fed.  I woke to hear my two dogs barking furiously outside at 4:30 in the morning.  I padded over to the blinds in my bedroom window to see what they were barking at.  Both the shepherd and chihuahua mix had their attention fixated at something across the street.  The shepherd’s hackles were raised and his front legs were propped up on our chain link fence.  The chihuahua mix was so excited that she continuously hopped up and down next to the shepherd.  She hopped about a foot or two up the corner of the chain link fence. Then she climbed up the rest of the fence and jumped down on the opposite side and took off like a shot across the street toward the unknown thing.

Once I saw her go over the fence I quickly found my shoes and grabbed the flashlight that we keep above the stove.  I hurried faster when I heard her aggressive barks turn to howls of pain. I opened the front door and went across the street, shining the flash light and looking for our dog.  The light shined on a coyote’s backside trotting down the street away from me. It had our little dog in its mouth and there was nothing I could do. I was incredulous.

One of the most difficult things I had to do was tell my young daughter about what happened to her cherished pet.  A hard lesson to learn.  Living in the desert means I must keep my small pets inside for their own safety. Coyotes are neat to see and a pleasure to hear but they are carnivores and they don’t know they are supposed to stay in the boonies.

The Cemetery Walk

She needed to get out of the house and feel the sun shine on her.  Feeling it’s warmth, feeling the breeze on her skin, and seeing the distant hills in the desert landscape soothes her soul.  Being outside in God’s creation is the best medicine for her. It’s self-prescribed as the best medicine to fight the blues.

She’s been feeling down for the past couple weeks and only realized it a few days ago. Her husband asked if she was okay.  She reflected, and then replied with “No, not really.” When he asked what’s wrong she realized that she couldn’t really say what’s wrong with her.  The monstrous dark cloud of sadness had settled on her and she didn’t even notice it. It’s no surprise really. She’s been dealing with sharp pain in her knee for about two weeks that makes sleeping difficult and working difficult.  She’s come home from work physically and mentally wiped out almost every day for the past two weeks.

Pain in her knee or not she needed to get out of the house and into God’s creation. Not wanting to overdo it, she opts to do a lap or two around the nearby cemetery.  Easy stuff when compared to the 10-12 mile runs she used to do when training for her half marathons only about a year before. She’s proud that she did those halfs and one day wants to do the Los Angeles Marathon.  She was jealous of her two twin cousins who successfully completed the LA Marathon just today. One day, she tells herself.

She sets out to do her 1.5-2 miles.  Walking. Her 7-year old son sees she’s heading out for a walk and asks to join her.  Not this time she tells him. This medicine is best taken alone. She changes clothes, puts on her Garmin watch, pushes the start button as she hits the bottom of the driveway.

It’s a beautiful day outside.  She’s thankful for her long sleeves and hat protecting her from the early summer sun.  In the desert, mid March is the early summer. There’s no such thing as spring here. She walks around the cemetery thinking about how she can fit exercise into her schedule and looking at the far hills with the shadows of the high clouds on them.  Beautiful. Her soul is being fed.

She goes around the cemetery once.  It’s been about a mile and she’s not ready to go home  yet. So she decides to go around a half-lap. The anti-inflammatory medicine her mom gave to take for her knee pain is working great.

The graves she passes each has a story to tell but she doesn’t know their stories.  All she knows are clues to their stories. This one was a beloved mother. This one was a veteran of World War II.  This one had a short life. Walking through the cemetery reminds her that this life is short and and everyday is a blessing.  It always puts her problems into perspective. Do not worry about tomorrow as each day has enough worries of its own.

She’s almost done with her half loop when she sees a grave that is littered with flowers, keepsakes, and mementos.  She walks toward the grave and looks at the grave stone. She gasps when she recognizes the name and picture on the stone.  She knows this story. It’s a former student of hers who died in a car accident a year ago. It was a was tragic and unexpected death.  She sobbed waking back to her classroom from the staff lounge where the principal had gathered the staff to share the news.

She becomes teary-eyed staring at the grave sight.  At the grave there are little figures of Disney Princesses, flowers, large hair bows, a weather-worn Bible, and various other small items. The grave itself was filled with white rock.  She bends down and picks up the few pieces of white rock that have strayed into the surrounding dirt and places them back onto the grave.

After saying a short prayer for the family she resumes her Garmin watch and continues to walk back home.  She ponders over the ways of the world and how some who bless us are in it for such a short period of time.  She wonders about what could have been. How is the family doing now? She feels guilty for being depressed when the family has such profound grief.

She leaves the cemetery with it’s raised white-rock graves and comes onto the street.  There is a bicyclist just leaving his driveway. He turns the corner and pedals toward her.  She recognises him as a student who attends her school.

He smiled and said “Nice day for a walk!”  

She snaps out of her reverie.

“Yes it is!”  She replied, smiling back.