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The Path Taken Together

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“We are now arriving in Rugby.  Rugby, North Dakota,” announced the conductor over the loudspeaker.  “For those of you who don’t already know, Rugby is the geographical center of North America.”  My two adult dinner companions and I looked at each other and smiled as the youngest of our party, six-year-old Thing2, absorbed the information.  It was the first time he had been silent since we had been seated with the Boy Scout troop leader and den mother.  

The train may not have reached the geographical center of North America at its appointed hour, but the dining car staff was a model of down-to-the-minute efficiency.  Feeding 400 people in two hours required military precision and, as in our case, sometimes seating strangers together to ensure every booth was used to its fullest potential.  

I had seen the Boy Scout troop board the train earlier in the day.  We had just reached the border of North Dakota when the uniformed flotilla of teenagers marched past us and then forgotten about them – a tribute to their chaperones’ ability to keep a dozen boys in line for hours on end – until the seating hostess put me and Thing2 together with their leaders.  

Twelve years of living in a very small town has not undone my urban-cultivated and media-nurtured policy  of never talking to strangers.  However, for Thing2′ – born and bred in the country – strangers don’t exist.  As soon as we sat down he began chattering with our companions, asking about their badges and where they were going.  

Sociability had been his hallmark for the past two days of our cross country train trip, and it kept him happily busy as he played with other children and introduced himself to friendly passengers in the observation car.  He showed neighboring passengers the pictures he was taking and cooed at babies.  He chatted with a friendly Amish woman about her dress (which he found beautiful).   And, as he got to know people from all walks of life, so did I. 

Now, as we sat with our companions from the midwest, I thought of the pundits and pollsters who love to claim that Americans are completely at odds with each other – divided by region and class.  Listening to the troop leader talk about changes in North Dakota topography and things that were high in the minds of his neighbors, I was reminded that there were probably more shared values on that train than insurmountable, opposing ideologies.

We may have had different boarding points and destinations, but we were on the same journey.

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A Flea Ring Circus

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“That looks like fun,” I said, pointing to the placard for the upcoming Bondville fair.  The Big Guy barely registered heard me over the din emanating from the diner into the waiting area, and I let it go.  There was already a circus waiting for us at home.

We had come home from vacation the night before already a little deflated from a two hour delay on our train ride, but we were still looking forward to a family evening of sloth on the couch.  Then thirteen-year-old Jack began yelling from the bathroom, and our homecoming was upended.

 I got to the end of the hall just as Jack raced out of the bathroom, his legs dotted with fleas.  Our dog, still at the kennel for the weekend, had left the larvae as a welcome home gift. Without a furry nest, the pests targeted each of us as we entered.  Fortunately, the upstairs of our house was still closed off and flea-free and, doffing our clothes downstairs, we scuttled out to the car for a hose down and wardrobe change before plotting our next steps.  

Hoping that Google satellite didn’t work too well by twilight, I rummaged through my bag for a clean pair of jeans as the Big Guy and I debated who would carry the best flea remedies at eight o’ clock on a Saturday night.  Three hours and four stores later, we rolled back down the driveway armed with fogger and traps and a strategy, but the vacation aura had seriously begun to fade.

We spent the night camped upstairs, slapping at phantom fleas.  I woke early on Sunday and went for a run, hoping to restore some of the restorative I’d been creating over the last two weeks.  Returning home refreshed, the Big Guy and I commenced the first battle of the day  – fogging the fleas.  The need to get out of the house for a few hours was the perfect excuse to head to the diner for our favorite breakfast, and my spirits continued to rise.  I knew we had a day of laundry and cleaning ahead of us, but nothing is quite as restorative as a meal with no dishes to do.  

Then we walked in the the door.

Almost immediately, I was assaulted by the little vermin.  Yelling to the kids to stay out of the house, I forgot about restoring sprits and began collecting washables while the Big Guy vacuumed up the pests – dead or alive.  For three hours we cleaned and scrubbed, preparing another round of fogger and traps.   All through the day we laundered and cleaned and vacuumed, and it was dark again before we cautiously declared “Mission Accomplished.”  It was a dubious victory – I had cleaned before the vacation, and a day of scouring left us with basically the same house, minus the invaders.  The fleas had rallied once or twice, but by the time we sat down for dinner, any itches were caused by our imaginations.  

More licentious than the itching, however, was the impact a day of hard labor had had on our moods – or so I thought.  Our previously-planned evening of sloth began late, but our boys were still ready for a snuggle on the sofa.  The Big Guy and I were starving and exhausted, but quietly pleased with ourselves.  More than once during the day we had remarked to each other that we make a good team, and that’s not something you always discover on vacation.  It’s something you find out when you’re standing in your underwear the middle of your driveway, frantically trying to find some peace in the chaos.