The Middle of Nowhere

I rise to defend “the middle of nowhere” comment made by British Prime Minister David Cameron in response to some awkward comments about the current Olympics by a guy who staged  the 2002 Winter Olympics in the middle of nowhere. That would be Mitt Romney, the Republican’s presumptive nominee for president and a guy who has a habit of saying the wrong thing. (This is not to defend President Obama, who himself has stepped in a quagmire a few times.)

The middle of nowhere, for those who might be geographically challenged, is Utah. It is in the middle of nowhere, but it’s obvious to me that in making that comment Cameron doesn’t appreciate Utah. It is a staggeringly beautiful state. 

When we lived in New Mexico, we would drive to Elko, Nevada, (another beautiful nowhere) and stay in Moab, Utah, which is about halfway. Moab is about three hours south of Salt Lake City, the major city associated with the Winter Olympics. I couldn’t wait to get to Moab, not just to stay in the Gonzo Inn, but to drive through Arches National Park. (That's Delicate Arch above.)

The first time we visited the park, I kept stopping to take photos where there was no place to stop and finally turned the driving over to my wife, opened the car’s sunroof and poked my head (and camera) through the opening and photographed to my eye’s content while my wife drove around the park.

We also visited a nearby state park, Dead Horse Point (don’t ask), which provides a spectacular view of the Colorado River on its way to the Grand Canyon and another park named Canyonlands. (We’ve also been to the Grand Canyon, but that’s in Arizona and it’s also in the middle of nowhere.)

We’ve been to Moab several times, even spending a Thanksgiving there with our extended family. On another occasion, we spent a Memorial Day weekend in Park City and visited Olympic sites. 

Some of the most beautiful sites I’ve seen in my life were in the middle of nowhere. If they weren’t, they probably wouldn’t be beautiful anymore. 

The next time somebody says something is located in the middle of nowhere, think of it as a good thing.


Another Barn Story

We’re enjoying a visit of one of our daughters and, more important, two grandchildren. Our grandson likes baseball (he used to like trains, but not anymore) and so we went to a game between the State College Spikes and the Batavia (New York) Muckdogs. (Who names these teams?)

Don’t ask me what level of baseball we were watching. I stopped following baseball when Mickey Mantle retired. I’m clueless. If it’s not the Steelers, it’s not. 

One of the players for the home team was a guy named Barrett Barnes, which led to a series of jokes from my daughter Amy. She knows I’m working on a photo project called Pennsylvania Barn Stories and her series of jokes played off Barrett’s surname. 

The jokes got old faster than the game as the home team fell behind quickly. I was ready to go home if anyone else was, but they hung in there. The grandchildren and their father spent a couple of innings at the playground before returning late in the game to our seats behind home plate (5th row, no less). Our grandson fist bumped with Ike, the team mascot. (Aren’t you impressed that I know what a fist bump is?)

Lo and behold, the home team came from behind and eventually tied the game, not once, but twice. At 8-8, it struck me as more of a low-scoring football game than a high-scoring baseball game. 

And so we arrived at the bottom of the 9th, two out, tie game and Barrett Barnes is the batter with a man on second. The barn story comments begin anew, with my daughter predicting there would be a barn story that night. 

Hardly had she said that and hardly had I groaned than Barnes slammed a single into far right and the runner on the second came all the way around to score and end the game. 

Jubilation on the field and in the stands and I got my barn story.

Thanks, Amy. And Barrett.


A Moment To Remember

A year ago my wife and I sat with my mother for one last lunch at her nursing home in Albuquerque before moving from New Mexico to Pennsylvania. Sometimes she knew who we were, but lately that had not been the case. 

As we chatted, she asked us where we lived. Santa Fe, we told her. Oh, she said, do you know that other couple from there?

Of course, she meant us.

We told her that we knew them very well and that seemed to satisfy her. 

No one enjoys seeing an elderly parent slip into a state of not knowing. My mother, who raised my three sisters and me when our father left in 1949, always had a quick wit about her. The one I remember best occurred when I reported to her that the state police officer giving me a test for my driver’s license would not let me fill out the form as R. Thomas Berner. The officer insisted on Ralph Thomas Berner, but because Ralph was my father’s name, I never used it in full so it was disconcerting when the officer insisted on it.

The government doesn’t allow people to do that, he said.

Tell it to J. Edgar Hoover, my mother quipped when I told her.

My sisters, who have sat with my now 97-year-old mother through more than a decade of lunches and dinners, have reported that even as her mind seemed to deteriorate, she still had those moments of lucidity and she could get around in a wheelchair. She might not know who you were, but she could still come up with a good rejoinder.

Because she did not know us at that final luncheon, I did not feel guilty about returning to our native Pennsylvania. But about 10 months after settling in, I heard from one of my sisters that my mother wanted to know where I was. Traveling, my sister told her, which was more or less true.

Nevertheless, I decided to visit my mother. When we stopped by coming from the airport and my older sister told her who I was, she opened her arms welcome wide. It was the only time she indicated she knew who I was. When I sat with her for lunch day after day, she gave no sign that she knew me, even though I made it point—as I always had—to call her “Mother” or “Ethel.”

So I was surprised one day when the lucid mother spoke up. I forget the circumstance that made me ask her if she was OK, but I do remember her reply. In fact, I immediately typed it into my smart phone so I wouldn’t forget.

“Are you OK?” I asked.
She looked at me and replied: “I don’t know what that means anymore.” 

I was stunned at how profound her answer was, that despite her fading mental condition, she could verbalize her condition in one short sentence.

And then she went back to being herself.


Building Interruptus

Notice that this barn is part stone and part lumber. Most people wouldn't give it a second thought because there are barns that might have stone ends but filled out with lumber in between.

That's not the case with this barn. If you look from left to right, you'll see that the barn becomes lumber to the end. That's because the man who started the barn was killed in accident and his son finished the barn with lumber.

The details are sketchy. They were handed down through the family, but those who might remember the oral history are now deceased.

Just another Pennsylvania barn story.