A Tribute to My Mother...Ethel Mai (new) Downing

R.L., Ethel, and Bobby Downing, 1943
     March 7, 2023, marks the 106th anniversary of the birth of my mother, Ethel Mai (New) Downing.  Although it has been nineteen years since she left us, I still think of her often, especially when I observe the condition of the office of motherhood as practiced by the general populace. From what I see, a conclusion can be drawn as to the cause of the many social ills being suffered by this generation. The major contributing factor to the degeneration of the family unit is the woeful lack of mothers of the stature of my mother.  In most cases today, the office and responsibilities of motherhood have been relegated to the back burner by the contemporary feminist, and though having produced through biological process a child, the duties required to nurture that child to adulthood are neglected.  Careers, personal satisfaction, and feminist peer pressure command greater attention and emphasis than mundane motherhood.

    Born on March 7, 1917, into a large family (five sisters and three brothers) of modest means, she lived most of her early life in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Although the family struggled during the Great Depression following the market crash of 1929, her father managed to work during the entire financial crisis as an engineer for the local railroad.  However the pressures of providing for his large family caused him to begin drinking, and he eventually became an alcoholic who took his frustrations out on his family. Mother told me that when her dad would come home in one of his moods, she would hide her brothers and sisters in her bedroom until he fell asleep on the couch.  One of her brothers (my uncle) told me that Mother was the only one of the children who would stand up to their father and would not allow him to roar at her siblings.  He told me that eventually a grudging respect between father and stubborn child grew to the point that he would not press my mom to "bring out those kids so I can see them."   To complicate matters her mother contracted breast cancer, and in those years before proper treatment and surgeries, she became bed-ridden for the last two years of her life.
     In 1938, Mother married a poor farm boy from Mangum, Oklahoma. Robert L. Downing came from an even larger family than Mother's and at the age of 13 had to quit school in order to help earn money to support his parents and fourteen siblings. They were both 21 years old when they married. Within a year or so, the new couple moved to Baytown, Texas, where it was said jobs were in abundance. In the next fifty years together, they managed to carve out a living, create a home, and see four children born into their family. When her first child was born (her first and favorite one...namely, me), she quit her job and became a full time professional mother and home manager. Throughout this period, Mother remained loyal to her husband, cared for her children, and established a home where there were standards of behavior and conduct. Meals were home prepared, and dining in a restaurant was usually reserved for Sunday after church.  We children never worried about food, clothing, shelter, accidents, or love because mom was always there.  Dad was there, too, and played an equally important role.  Although he brought home the bacon, Mom cooked it.  Honesty and integrity were just two of many high expectations in our relationships with one another and our acquaintances.
     Mother was a bit of a disciplinarian and expected...demanded...that her children behave properly both at home and away.  She did not flinch from the observed need to give one of her kids a swat (after a warning) to remind the child (probably one of my sisters) that she was being pushed to the limit.  She was sort of the first line of defense when it came to discipline, however.  If the situation really went south, that was when she called for backup (Dad) to establish order.  I knew I was in deep trouble when I saw Dad removing his belt or, if he was outside, reaching into his pocket for his pocket knife and cutting off a low-lying branch of a tree and stripping it of its leaves.  Bleeding heart liberals today would yell "child brutality!" at such actions, but the discipline worked...I behaved...and I never doubted my dad and mom loved me. Usually with just a few minutes of the perceived torture, we were all happily engaged in whatever activity going at the time.
     I do remember, however, one time when I was a little older...around twelve or so, I did something to deserve a swat from Mom.  Sure enough, she popped me with whatever...and I laughed and said, "That didn't hurt!"  To which she replied, "Let's wait till Dad gets home."  I knew I had just committed a cardinal sin and was about to reap my judgement which I did a few hours later when Dad got home.  After that, I grimaced whenever Mom disciplined me whether it hurt or not.
      In 1950, Mother and Dad were introduced to Pentecost and in a matter of weeks were baptized,
Easter Sunday, 1950
received the Holy Ghost, and began their long, faithful walk toward their eventual spiritual home. Mother, along with Dad, created a home built on spiritual values and passed those values to their children, not just in word but in deed. Mother's legacy lives within her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

    There's an old song that states:

"If I could only hear my mother pray again.
If I could only hear her tender voice as then.
How glad that I would be!
It would mean so much to me!
If I could hear my mother pray again."

     In 1990, Dad passed away, and Mother's loyalty to his memory never wavered, and after 52 years of marriage, she never really recovered from his loss. She would live with his ever-present memory for another 14 years.
     On December 24, 2004, the family laid Mom to rest in a simple, elegant ceremony at a small farming community cemetery in her home state of Oklahoma. She had survived the Great Depression, World War II, and 87 years of life. I was reminded of the admonition of Paul to the Philippians in his epistle to the Church:

"Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord."

     Though she has been sorely missed, she lived a full life, faithful to her husband, her children, and her God. And today I can rejoice in the Lord…..because Ethel Mai (New) Downing was my mother.

The Bear Facts

     After my parents-in-law moved to Wyoming in 1971, it seemed only fitting and proper that Shirley and I visit them the following summer of 1972.  Having never visited the Cowboy State and after listening to the glowing descriptions phoned back to us by my in-laws, we decided to see for ourselves this natural wonderland…never dreaming it would soon become our home for seventeen years. Wyoming conjures up images of rugged, hardy pioneers settling the wild, untamed west, and since we couldn’t ride in a covered wagon to the new land, we decided the next best option would be to travel by car and camp along the way, thus going more or less back to the basics which would allow us to really tune in with nature when the opportunity arose.

   I had just purchased a 1971 Chevrolet Kingswood Estate station wagon, a behemoth of a vehicle powered by a 454 V8 that I learned on the trip would average 10.5 miles per gallon…and that was at a steady cruising speed before we hit the mountains.  But it laughed at mountains, took the steepest incline without a complaint, and had room for all our camping gear.  We bought an 8’x10’ standard tent, bedrolls, lantern, cooking utensils, hatchet, propane stove…you name it.  By the time we pulled out of Baytown, we were self-sufficient and probably could have lived out of our car for a couple of weeks without ever approaching civilization.

   The first day we drove all the way to Clayton, New Mexico, and our first opportunity
to break out all the camping gear was that evening at Clayton Lake State Park (See 
photo).  It wasn’t the most scenic place we would camp on our trip, but being the first night, it was memorable.  At least everything went smoothly.  The second day we traveled into Colorado and turned west toward Durango, where we camped near Silverton just past Molas Pass next to a ski resort that was closed for the summer.  When we awoke the next morning there was a trace of snow on our tent and the portable heater we brought felt really good. Packing up, we drove north and then east along Highway 50 out of Montrose, stopping at a scenic camping area along the Arkansas River not far from Canyon City.  On our fourth day, we viewed the Royal Gorge Bridge and then headed north into Wyoming to a joyful reunion with the family late that evening in Casper, Wyoming.

   We visited for several days, exploring the surrounding scenic beauty, but eventually we continued our traveling.  Being as close as we were to Yellowstone National Park, it seemed only natural that we take in the entire ambiance of Wyoming and tour our nation’s first national park.  We traveled west from Casper on Highway 26, and about 285 miles later found ourselves at the South Entrance to Yellowstone National Park.  Actually, we had taken a short detour to Jackson Hole to marvel at this quaint western town and then retraced out steps to the entrance to Yellowstone.

   There’s something exciting about entering Yellowstone. The incredible scenery with snowcapped mountains and the promise of viewing wildlife in their natural habitats, along with the official looking park rangers, all contribute to a feeling that something invigorating is about to happen.  As we passed the ranger check station, we paid our park entrance fee and received all the park information, which along with all the obligatory maps and notations of scenic beauty, included a warning about feeding the wildlife.  The opportunity to feed animals had not entered our minds, and we didn’t really think much about it.  There was something in the brochure about keeping your food put away when camping, but we gave it only a passing glance.  Our son, Bobby, who was five years old at the time, was all eyes, however, as he scanned the sides of the road for any kind of unusual wild animal.

 The day was quickly slipping away, and upon locating a campground just north of the park entrance, we ducked in, found a spot, and set up camp for the night.  By this time, we were pretty efficient in our camping techniques and within a few minutes the tent was up, cots and bedrolls ready, and supper was being prepared.  To be honest, I have forgotten what we had for supper, but our normal evening meal when camping was sandwiches, or some kind of soup or chili. As the sun set and darkness fell, the evening became cool as it usually does in the mountains, and we stirred up a lovely campfire and enjoyed cups of coffee.  By this time, Bobby was running out of gas and decided he was ready to hit the sack, so he crawled into his bedroll and was soon sound asleep.

   In time the fire began to die out and Shirley and I decided to find our own bedrolls.  You must remember that our tent was 8’ by 10’…with three beds packed inside there was not a lot of space.  It was…um…cozy, but comfortable.  Shirley, of course, cannot go to sleep without reading two to three books, whereas I go lights out when my head hits the pillow.  So, the last thing I remembered was Shirley reading by lantern light as I drifted into a lovely sleep…until I woke up to someone banging me on the shoulder and saying in an excited whisper, “There’s something out there!”   With my usual alertness, I rose and said, “Huh?” and Shirley repeated, “Something’s out by the picnic table!”

   The “door” of the tent was drawn shut, but I cracked the fold of the tent just enough to peer out toward the picnic table…and saw it.  The bear was black, about ten feet tall with yellow, vicious eyes, three-inch claws and fangs hanging out of his drooling mouth.  Okay, okay…that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but at first glance, that’s how it appeared.  The second thing I saw was our food box and ice chest sitting on the picnic table, and suddenly like a revelation, the warning from the Yellowstone brochure flashed like a large neon sign in my mind.  “Make sure all food is placed in a secure area for the night!”  In the ensuing few minutes the bear ate every scrap of food we had.  The fact that it was wrapped in baggies or whatever made no difference.  He used his claws to unzip every bag as cleanly as a teenage boy going through a refrigerator after school.  The most amazing thing I saw was when he got to the Tupperware container of cold milk.  This is the absolute, honest, saw-it-with-my-own-eyes truth…he put the half gallon container under his…er..arm (front leg?) and with the other paw used a claw to grasp the top and pop it off as smoothly as you ever saw in your life.  Then with both hands (paws?) he raised the container to his lips and glub, glub, glub…drank the entire half gallon of milk.  When he finished, he set the Tupperware container down, wiped his mouth, and continued to dig in the ice chest.  If you don’t believe this story, I still have the Tupperware container with two claw punctures in the lid for your inspection.

    During all this activity, we were sitting in our tent protected by a very thin sheet of canvas and trying to plan an escape.  The table, our tent, and our car formed sort of a triangle, and we decided that our best escape would be to make a break for the car while the bear was occupied.  At this point, silence was golden, and we were barely breathing.  It was also then that I learned I had been too cheap in buying Bobby’s sleeping bag.  Our two bags were heavy cloth and well insulated, but Bobby’s was made out of some kind of polyester and vinyl.  When we tried to pull him out of his sleeping bag it sounded like we were crushing tin cans.  We feared the noise would attract the bear, not to mention that at that same moment we realized there was coffee, sugar, and cream in the tent, and everybody knows that a bear can smell sugar at a distance of about three miles!

    Then I realized…I have my gun!  If I have to, I’ll….no, it wasn’t a very big caliber and will just enrage him.  I decided to take another look at the bear…and he’s gone!  Or at least he’s not at the table.  Suddenly there were more shuffling sounds outside and they’re closer to us!  I heard in the silence of the tent, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…” and realized that my wife had repented of all her sins and rededicated her life to God four times over, so she was ahead of me since I was only on my third repentance.  We continued to sit in panicked silence for what seemed an eternity.  Suddenly with a loud scraping sound, the tent shuddered, and the bear brushed the sidewall of the tent nearest my head.  The lantern rocked from its hanging position (long since turned off), and I don’t know if we screamed, yelled, or passed out silently, but we froze in horror, expecting the bear to rip open the wall at any moment.

    We sat…and sat…and sat.  Afraid to speak or even breathe.  Slowly I peeked out the door again and saw no bear.  Only darkness and silence.  We probably sat as statues for the good part of thirty minutes.  And then we heard the crash of a trash can…but it was away from us!  Without a word we grabbed Bobby, ripped open the tent door, and ran for the safety of the car, piling in and slamming the doors.  Only then did we begin to breathe but still shaking from our frightening experience.  I’m not sure if we slept in the car, but we spent the rest of the night there anyway.

   When the morning came, we surveyed the damage, and, other than the fact that we were foodless, we were in good shape.  I picked up the now-empty Tupperware container and decided to keep it as a memento of a frightful time.  Other campers mentioned that they had heard that there was a bear in camp last night, to which we agreed that, yes indeed there was.  We spent the day touring Yellowstone, but we did no more camping.  I don’t mind telling you, the thought of a repeat performance of that night did not appeal to any of us.  We drove back to Casper to visit with the folks again, and we camped one night in Nebraska on the way home (far from the threat of bears).  But since that last camping night in Nebraska, my family has never spent another night in a tent.  Shirley made it clear that the only camping she would ever do in the future would be with a solid wall between her and nature. In all the years we lived in Wyoming, we always camped in a trailer or motorhome.  One encounter with a bear was enough for us.


Paradise Revisited: Noel, Missouri

    Looking back on my childhood, I draw the conclusion that my three sisters and I grew up in an almost Norman Rockwellian atmosphere.  Not in the sense that we lived in an area where the geography or the scenery was postcard perfect, but in the sense of the aura of peace and tranquility that a painting by Norman Rockwell inevitably presents.  In the eyes of Norman Rockwell the view was always comfortable, quiet, serene, and safe, and he had an uncanny skill in capturing the essence of the best of the human spirit.

    Throughout his adult life, my father worked hard to provide for his family.  The tradition of the husband provider and the wife home keeper was embedded in the culture of the time, and my father was successful in providing his family a comfortable home.  My mother took her home duties seriously, and none of us ever missed a home cooked meal or went to school wearing torn clothes.

    Though my father worked hard practically fifty weeks out of the year, he determinedly set aside at least two weeks every summer for our family to take a Vacation.  I capitalize that word because to us kids it was more than just a trip; we were to travel to our version of Paradise on Earth…namely, Noel, Missouri.  We had discovered this haven of happiness when Dad decided about 1950 to go back to his roots…at least as far as he could go.  Though Dad was born in western Oklahoma, many of his older brothers and sisters had been born in southwestern Missouri and northwestern Arkansas.  He had learned that many of his uncles and aunts still lived in that region of the Ozark Mountains, so, about 1950, we took our first vacation to the area to see how many old relatives he could find.  He knew that his grandfather Thomas Findlay Downing had been a circuit riding preacher who traveled from town to town in the area on horseback preaching the gospel and saving sinners.  Reverend Downing had also hauled logs on wagons pulled by horses to earn a little more money to keep body and spirit together and eventually established a church just outside Southwest City, Missouri, where he pastored for several years.  Years later, Dad ran across an old character in Pineville, Missouri, who remembered Preacher Downing and stated that he had admired Preacher Downing because “he was the only preacher who would walk into a bar through the front door…all the rest of the preachers snuck in the back.”  Apparently, the ministerial expectations were somewhat more relaxed back then.

    Anyway, on this summer day in 1950, we cruised into Noel, Missouri, in our black 1949 Mercury.  Noel was then, and is probably now, a sleepy town of about 800 inhabitants.  Its main claim to fame is Elk River, which passes through Noel on its way to Lake of the Cherokees in Oklahoma.  In this far northwestern edge of the Ozarks, the rivers are fed by clears springs, and the water, moving with a current that can be slow to near-rapids, is cool and clear.  Because a dam had been built across the river just downstream from Noel back in the twenties to generate electricity, the river had backed up and deepened so that the waters through Noel were fairly deep.  In fact, the two mile or so stretch through Noel is called Shadow Lake.  In the thirties and forties, the Noel townspeople begin to exploit this natural treasure, and, by the time we arrived there in the summer of 1950, Noel was a beehive of activity.  (See photo) To add to the scenic nature, there were majestic bluffs which overhung the river, and when several roads were cut through these bluffs, tourists came from far and near to drive their cars underneath these hanging bluffs and marvel at the engineering feats.

    We drove through the little town, and we kids got more excited by the minute as we saw swimmers, boaters, and other kids running and screaming like wild banshees.  It had taken us nearly two days to get there from Baytown, so my sister and I were ready to take off like rockets.  But Dad insisted we find a place of lodging to unpack and unwind, so we drove along U.S. Highway 71 looking for a place to light.  We drove along the river for about a mile until we came to a place that would become a part of our lives for probably as long as any of us children live:  Green Valley Courts.


    Now, I realize that the name is not very impressive.  Today, to impress someone with your vacation plans, you must mention Disneyworld, Hawaii, St. John, Fiji, or some other exotic spot.  But things were not quite the same 60+ years ago.  When we kids rolled into the driveway of Green Valley Courts, it was as if we had died and gone straight to heaven. The courts themselves were individual log cabins, each with a swing.  There was an actual modest valley, shaded with oaks and other tall trees, through which passed the most gorgeous stream or creek, whatever you wanted to call it, we had ever seen.  Before we even went to register, our whole family bailed out of the car, and rushed down to the stream (our name for it) and stuck, first our hands, and then our feet into the water.  The water was coming from a spring barely three miles away and was icy cold, rushing rapidly over smooth, round rocks with a burbling sound that was sublimely soothing.  Many times in our visits we would put a watermelon in the water overnight and it would be wonderfully cold by the next morning.  On this first visit, Dad barely had time to register and unpack before we were all back down to the water’s edge.  For the next two weeks, Dad would drag us away from “our stream” while we visited his relatives, but we counted the minutes until we were back to adopted home.  In the years to follow, Dad would throw out suggestions for some other place for our vacation, but we always wound up in Noel.  In 1959, Dad and Mom decided to go to Virginia instead (more relatives.)  We drove three hard days and finally stopped in Bristol, Virginia (barely into Virginia), but we kids had moaned and groaned so much, that Dad finally asked us, “What do you want to do?”  In unison, we yelled, “Noel!”  We turned around and went back to Noel. 

     Needless to say, over the years we’ve had many memorable times in Noel, but in 1957, and event took place that at the time didn’t seem like much, but it is actually the basis on which this little essay is established.  It was June of 1957, and as usual we were all in the stream’s water having a glorious time.  Just about a hundred feet upstream from where we played was a bridge over which ran the road to Southwest City.  On this particular day Dad and I wandered upstream to where we were beneath the concrete bridge.  The stream with its bed of smooth, round rocks was a perfect resource for rock throwing, and we were constantly bouncing rocks off the water’s surface or at some target.  For some reason, I picked up a rock and scraped the concrete support of the bridge.  I found I could write as if I were holding a pencil!

     My mother always had a mantra she believed in: “Fools’ names and fools’ faces always appear in public places!”   For some reason both Dad and I forgot Mom’s observation and we scraped our names and the date on the side of the bridge.  “Bobby Downing 6/27/57” “R L Downing 6/27/57” In a few minutes we lost interest and returned downstream to the rest of the family and enjoyed the rest of the day.  In time we forgot about our actions.  I was 14 years old and Dad was 39.

  Starting in 1950 and for nearly 30 years, Noel was a summer gathering place for our family.  Eventually I had three sisters to compete with, and believe it or not, my wife and I spent our honeymoon at Green Valley Courts in 1961.  In time our children came along and both of them have made pilgrimages to Noel.  Although Green Valley Courts disappeared in the seventies after being converted to small apartments, we continued to visit Noel, although we had to stay in “less satisfactory” accommodation…i.e., no stream to play in.

   In the mid-seventies, my family moved to Wyoming and lived there seventeen years.  My dad died in the nineties, during which time Noel took a turn for the worse because Tyson Foods built a huge chicken processing plant in Noel which ruined the river and attracted transients and illegals from miles afar to work for minimum wage in the chicken plant.  Noel was no longer the haven of peace as before.  The last time I visited Noel, three years ago, there were heavily shrouded, masked women walking the sidewalks, cafes advertising "Genuine African Cuisine!" and suspicious sorts wearing hoodies in ninety-degree weather watching your moves.  We have our memories, but Noel is no more.

   In 2007, my wife and I visited Branson, Missouri, which, of course, anyone over the age of sixty is required to visit sooner or later.  After our visit, however, we scheduled ourselves to travel to Grove, Oklahoma, to visit my sister Kathy and her husband.  To travel from Branson to Grove is a westerly trip, and, as luck would have it, we were to travel to within about ten miles of Noel.  A pang of nostalgia struck me as I got closer to Noel, and, finally, at the last minute, I made a turn and drove the familiar road along the river to Noel.  In fifty years, the road had changed little, except it was no longer U.S. Highway 71, but a county highway.  Highway 71 had long since been rerouted to bypass Noel, which destroyed the tourism business.  Eventually we drove into Noel, and whatever glamour was there earlier had long been washed away.  Noel was a ghost of its lively past.  After being depressed for ten minutes or so, we decided to drive on to Grove. As we were leaving, I suddenly realized that we were going to pass the site of the old Green Valley Courts, and then I remembered the bridge.

     After we drove over the bridge, I pulled the car off the road and stopped.  I’m sure Shirley thought I had lost my mind when I told her what I was going to do.  I took my camera and tried to find a path down to the stream.  By this time the stream was barely visible through the bushes, grass, and shrubbery.  I also thought about water moccasins because they are plentiful in that area of the hills.  Gingerly I climbed down the embankment to the water, and, finding no place to walk along the edge, I put my nice, white sneakers into the water and waded out.  The water was just as cold and clear as I remembered.  I was a little upstream of the bridge, so I waded down toward the concrete embankment, keeping a sharp eye for land or water varmints.  I reached the bridge and, walking underneath, looked up.

    Fifty years later, the names were still clearly visible (see photo.)  I placed my hand on the letters and suddenly my eyes filled with tears.  For a moment I longed to return to those innocent days of youth, and my heart ached to see my mom and dad.  Only one other time in my life have I ever felt as lonely as I felt under that bridge that day. It almost felt like judgment day when I realized that the words on the bridge were written when I was only fourteen and my future was ahead of me, and now I was sixty-four and the majority of my life had passed, ever so quickly it seemed.  I made a quick summary of my life’s accomplishments, and the list seemed so embarrassingly short.  Looking further down the stream, the little area where we children and parents used to play and laugh was choked with vines and weeds, but in my mind, I saw it as it once was.  I was reminded of the scripture, ” For what is your life?  It is but a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.”

    Eventually, after taking a few photos, I came to the realization that I have been very fortunate.  My childhood was the stuff of dreams…. not wealth and riches, but rather a home with caring parents and loving sisters.  We have gone our separate ways and now have our own families and dreams.  I have been blessed with a wonderful wife, children, grandchildren, and even in-laws.  We have created our own special places and memories. As F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his story The Great Gatsby, “You can’t go home again.”  In 2012 I returned to the bridge; my name and my dad's name were still there...fifty-five years after the event.  I have had a good life.


Return to the Bahamas

Carnival Dream
Saturday, September 25,2021…The day we had been anticipating for months finally arrived, and we began our journey back to the Bahamas via Carnival Cruises…namely the “Carnival Dream,” a ship we have never sailed on. We were happy this time that our children, Bobby, Shanna, and Kimberly would be traveling with us. Shirley and I were especially happy, because that meant we would not have to do all the planning, driving, parking, and other hassling things that one does to go on a sea cruise. Kimberly, with her massive Toyota Tundra truck, would be the driver, picking up Bobby and Shanna and then us before heading to Galveston. She would handle the parking and delivery to the dock, and all would be fine.

       Promptly at 10:00 a.m. the black Tundra rolled into our driveway, and in a matter of minutes we were on our way to our new adventure. Our boarding time was to be straight up noon, so we felt we had plenty of time. We arrived at the parking garage shortly after 11:00 am. We were a couple of blocks away from the massive ship that is the Dream, but the shuttle driver promised us a quick delivery. The delivery part was true, but we were dropped off several hundred feet from the check in station and had to haul our luggage a long distance before it was checked in. By this time the hordes of prospective travelers had all converged at the same place, and the luggage check in was organized pandemonium. Then the fun began.  In previous voyages, the check in procedure was a massive mob of people attempting to all get into the same door (ship’s door) at the same time, so the cruise line came up with the novel idea of assigning sign in times to each traveler which would be spread over about three hours to alleviate the massive mobs. All I can say is that everyone must have been assigned the 12:00 o’clock slot because there were hundreds of people lined up attempting to sign in.

    The current national situation with the COVID problem made it even worse because each person had to show proof of having received the Covid-19 vaccine and passed a COVID test within the three days prior to embarkation, so checking boarding passes, driver’s licenses, passports, vaccine proofs, and negative COVID tests was time consuming. All the while we are standing in a very long line becoming wearier by the minute.   Getting one’s papers confirmed was just the start. Next came security, and we endured the walkthrough X-ray check, which I always fail because of my metal hip, and then the baggage X-ray. Having cleared those hurdles, it was time to make the vertical climb up a very steep walkway to the entrance to the ship. We were told once on the ship our first duty was to go to “Station A4” for the obligatory safety training, which consisted of how to put on the life jacket.

    Where was Station A4? Nobody knew. We deduced it might be on level 4, so we elevatored up to deck four. Got off the elevator and all was quiet. We wandered around for a few minutes until finally a steward came by and pointed us in the right direction. Station A4 was in fact on deck 4 and was a large auditorium…with hardly anyone in it. But a guy came out and briefed us on how to put on a life vest and sent us on our way.  Since we could not get into our rooms till 1:30 we decided to have some lunch,

so we had barbecue at an on-deck place called “Pig and Anchor.” Good, spicy barbecue. Afterward we made it to our rooms which are typical cruise balcony rooms. Compact but comfortable and with a nice balcony. We were on deck eleven; the ship has fourteen decks. By this time Shirley and I were both pretty exhausted from all the walking and climbing, so we rested and unpacked our bags after they eventually arrived.

     At 6:00 p.m. we had dinner reservations at the Scarlet Restaurant which turned out to be clear to the stern of the ship. Our rooms are very near the bow which meant we had a nearly 1,000-foot walk to dinner. By the time we sat down we were sure enough worn out but ready for a good dinner.   Maybe it was because it was our first night out or maybe it was the first day on the job for the wait staff and cook, but the dinner was not good. I ordered grilled mahi-mahi, and it tasted like dead fish, and the vegetables were unknown. They offered bread, and it was a single small piece that was like hardtack. The chocolate lava dessert I have bragged about since our first cruise was more like a serving of Hershey chocolate poured into a cup. All in all, very disappointing. We were back in our room by 8:00, and, although Shirley went next door to Bobby and Shanna’s to play games, I was worn out and went to bed. 

Sunday, September 26…Slept reasonably well, and we were outside our door heading to breakfast at 9:00 with the kids. Discovered Kimberly was not feeling well, so she did not accompany us to breakfast at the Lido Restaurant on Deck 10. The Lido was buffet style, and it had about anything you can imagine for breakfast. Every Carnival Cruise ship has a Lido Restaurant, and it is a major breakfast gathering place.   Back to the room after breakfast and sat on the balcony and watched the water slip by. We saw a few flying fish and sea birds, but mostly water. To Guy’s Burger Joint for lunch for two reasons: one, because it has great hamburgers, and two, because a good friend of mine, Jerry Stewart, who is a veteran cruiser, wondered if Guy’s still offered all the condiments for burgers for the taking as they used to do. The COVID pandemic has altered how restaurants offer food to customers, but as far as I can tell, things were normal all over the Dream…it was serve yourself throughout the boat. 

    We wandered around Deck five for a while. That’s where all the stores offering overpriced souvenirs were located….and the casino. I confess…I donated twenty dollars to the casino cause in about three minutes and quit…. especially after a woman who was standing behind me said, “Yeah, I lost $200.00 on that machine last night.” I think the casinos keep the odds stacked severely in their favor on these cruise ships. Back to the room to take a nap in preparation for supper.

Scarlet Restaurant Staff Entertaining

Tonight we requested another table on a different level of the Scarlet Restaurant, and it was like night and day. The wait staff quickly learned our names and gave us excellent service. The food was very tasty, and the dinner experience tonight was just as good as last night’s was bad. Encouraging, anyway. We had our first group photos taken with the roaming cameramen, so we’ll see the results tomorrow. Afterward we went to a live show featuring ‘80s music, and I drew the conclusion that it’s no wonder kids today are the way they sometimes are. There was no “music.” It was all flashing lights, noise, and scantily dressed girls…shallow, cheap entertainment...and the poorest Michael Jackson impersonator I’ve ever seen. To the room about 8:30.

    Monday, September 27. Today was a “cruising” day which meant that we were on the high seas all day without reaching our destination. Last night was a rough night for me because I must have eaten something that did not agree with my system or something. The result was a reflux problem during the night which awakened me about every hour. I was feeling really tired this morning when we arose, so I had an unusually light breakfast of cereal and dry toast instead of the usual cruise feast. We all decided to go up to the Lido Restaurant and play cards. En route to the Lido, we stopped by the photo shop and purchased one of the photos. At $17.50 each, one becomes a little selective. Besides the which, Kimberly had been holed up in her room because she has a touch of the flu, so we wanted to wait and get a full family photo. For an hour or so we played 3-13, but I was still feeling the effects of the night before. II told everyone I was not feeling well, so we broke up. Shirley and I came back to the room, and I laid down and took a long nap. After an hour or so of napping and the much lighter breakfast, I awoke feeling much better. I think I just overate
yesterday (easy to do on a cruise), and I needed to tone down my gluttony.  Back to the Scarlet Restaurant for supper tonight and again received excellent service. Their menu changed each night, and one had many options for an excellent supper. 

Tuesday, September 28. We awoke to a view of the harbor at Freeport, Bahamas. Actually, the view is not too impressive as Freeport apparently is the main shipping terminal for The Bahamas, and what one sees mostly are huge storage tanks for oil, container ships coming and going, and a small forest of cranes for unloading the cargo. We have taken the tour of this island before and there isn’t too much to see, so we opted to stay on board. So, it was to the Lido deck for the usual big breakfast.  We decided to at least go ashore and visit some of the shops clustered around the terminal.  I bought the obligatory tee shirts and a Bahamas vacation shirt for myself. Kimberly is still under the weather, so Shirley stayed on board with her. I was on Bahamian soil for about an hour before reboarding. Kimberly had called for a nurse this morning who came and examined her. She

was diagnosed as not having Covid but was given medications to take and confined to her quarters for 24 hours for observation. The whole world is skittish about Covid-19 at this time, and although the nurse said she probably didn’t have the virus, for the sake of caution she should be quarantined for a day.     

    We had eaten breakfast relatively late and were not too hungry for lunch, so we all went back to the Lido Restaurant and played dominoes instead. It was relaxing and enjoyable. I did manage to eat a couple of cookies, a slice of cake, and a bowl of ice cream, so the time wasn’t a lost cause. Back to the room for a good restful nap. By the time I awoke, we could see action beginning to be taken to cast off the moorings and prepare to head to our new destination tomorrow…Half Moon Cay. By 5:30 or so, Freeport was in our rear-view mirror, and we were back on the high seas.

Freeport, Bahamas

    Another great supper in the Scarlet Restaurant with our trio of outstanding waiters. Karel, Sora, and Wayan now know our names and what we want to drink and treat us like long lost friends. Last night and tonight they prepared additional food for Kimberly which we took to her, and they did it with a smile. After supper we sashayed through the gift shops for a few minutes and caught the tail end of a cowboy trick roping act in the auditorium. Mildly entertaining. He was advertised as a comic juggler, but all we saw were the rope tricks. Maybe he juggled at the beginning.   Back to our room about 9:00 to get ready for tomorrow.

Half Moon Cay, Bahamas
      Wednesday, September 29. Today was our visit to Half Moon Cay, the private island owned by Carnival Cruises. Our ticket to the tender (boat) to take us ashore was for 9:00 a.m., so we did not go to breakfast. The island itself is what its name implies…a slender curve of an island in the shape of a half moon. In the middle of the crescent is the pristine beach with accompanying cabins, cabanas, clamshells (canvas coverings in the shape of a clamshell) large enough for two people, and miles of beach chairs. They also have seashore tours, snorkeling tours, sightseeing tours, you name it, and you can get it (if you have enough money.)  We chose a clamshell on the beach; at least it gave us the opportunity to get out of the sun if desired and a place to stash our goods. The water was quite nice…not as cold as Hawaiian waters and very clear, but being a swimming beach, there wasn’t much to see underwater. I had brought my waterproof GoPro camera and had it strapped to my head. I let it run for about 40 minutes, but since there is no screen to see what is recorded, I will have to wait until I get home and to edit the video as needed. Got a few clips of some really tiny fish, but that’s about it. We floated and soaked in the water for some time, then I got a little tired and went ashore to our clamshell while Bobby, Shanna, and Shirley continued to swim. Kimberly is still confined to her cabin until at least tomorrow, so we missed her not being with us. 

        Underneath the shade of the clamshell, I dozed peacefully whilst the others frolicked, although I would occasionally awaken to the sight of another person who should never be seen in a bathing suit. To view an Atlas of a man or an Adonis of a woman on a beach is a rare occurrence these days, and I discovered that a woman can be 100 pounds overweight and still fit into a bikini; although is it a sight that makes one turn your gaze elsewhere. The same thing goes for men, however, except most don’t wear skimpy suits…you just can’t see too much of the suit because the belly coves most of the front. Oh, well…maybe that’s true freedom…to be able to enjoy nature no matter what one’s physical condition.  The only difficulty we had with the whole day was directions as to what to do were very skimpy. In the beginning we had to ask a couple of people where the clamshells were and how does one claim one’s clamshell. We had to hunt for restrooms. We heard by the grapevine where the food was, and we had to ask for directions as to how to get back to the ship. It was an enjoyable day, but all these items should have been covered before we left the ship. Carnival has gone practically paperless, and every bit of news is transmitted by the Carnival app or by QR code. It’s just that the information given is inadequate for confused tourists to be able to decipher.

      Around 2:00 p.m. we decided to head back to the ship. Back to our rooms to shower, de-sand, and relax (nap) for a couple of hours before supper. To our usual table (418) in the Scarlet Restaurant with our outstanding waiters. Nearly two hours of pleasant dining with excellent food and lovely company (my family…unfortunately, still without Kimberly…maybe tomorrow…)  Afterward we went to the same show we saw last night (Comic Juggler) except this time there really was a comic juggler. He was quite an accomplished juggler and an entertaining commentator as he juggled. That wrapped up about 8:45, and we headed back to our rooms for the evening.

     Thursday, September 30. Up this morning about 7:30 (ship’s time) and headed to the Lido Restaurant for breakfast. Whatever one wants for breakfast will be in the Lido buffet, so we all had a good breakfast. We were now in Nassau, Bahamas, overlooking the city from our monstrous fourteen-story tall ship. Bobby and Shanna went ashore to snoop around, but we relaxed on the ship. We have toured Nassau before, and it’s mildly interesting. It’s just that this time, neither of us was up to much walking, and the Covid scare had limited the number of accessible tourist spots anyway. When Bobby and Shanna returned, they confirmed the fact that many shopping stores were closed and activities were limited. We stopped by Kim’s room on the way back to ours and hoped she would be released to have fun this afternoon.  Late morning, we all met on deck eleven out on the rail and played cards (3-13) for an hour or so, then decided to head back to the Lido to find a bit of lunch. We have almost reached the saturation point of food, so we are starting to reduce our portions to try to avoid the dreaded “stuffed” feeling. So far with only moderate success. 

     To the room for the obligatory afternoon nap and were pleasantly surprised when Kimberly came out of hibernation and announced she was clear to roam the ship. She had been confined to her cabin since Monday, so we’re glad to have her back with us.  Bobby and I went to the Spa Club and took advantage of their jacuzzi, a cauldron of hot, churning water that will hold about 15 people. Fortunately, there was only one elderly (like me) couple in the water, so we had a good, relaxing boil in the jacuzzi. They also have these sauna rooms with varying temperatures to sweat out all the evil spirits. We sat in the coolest of the hot rooms for a few minutes, at which time I headed back to the room while Bobby stayed and explored the area. The jacuzzi was good, but the sauna rooms had these ceramic chairs that did not conform to my body and were very uncomfortable, so I bailed out early.  About 4:30 p.m. (while I napped) the Carnival Dream slipped out of Nassau Harbor for the long two-day journey home. About 5:00 we went up to Deck 11 and sat outside in the reclining chairs while the winds whipped around us. At least we were on the shady side of the ship. Kimberly was with us, so we were a whole family again. 

     Back to the Scarlet Restaurant for another excellent evening of fine dining with the excellent wait staff. They were glad to see Kimberly. I think they were beginning to believe she existed only in our imaginations. Kimberly did not eat much; she is still feeling a little delicate and did not want to tempt fate with spicy food.  It was as we were leaving the restaurant the Shirley gave us all a group heart attack.  Just as she exited the main entrance to the restaurant, her shoe caught on something and she stumbled forward headed for the floor.  She was about halfway down when Kimberly, who was fortunately next to her, caught her arm, and when I heard the commotion behind me I turned around just in time to keep her from banging her head on a support post on the way to the floor.  We were all stunned for a second, but she said she was okay, and we continued on our way, as we allowed our hearts to start beating again.  Back to our rooms for us and Kimberly, while Bobby and Shanna went down to take in a show. We were thankful to hear today that our pastor and wife are recovering from their bouts with Covid-19. Though still weak, they hope to be back in church in about 10 days. 

     Friday, October 1. To the Lido for our full breakfast, and we continued there for another hour or so to play cards. Today is the first of two “Fun Days at Sea” as we make the journey back to Galveston. We did not get back to our room until nearly noon, and since neither Shirley nor I were hungry, we did not go to lunch. After a bit of rest and sitting on the balcony watching the sea slip by, we ordered room service and had a couple of sandwiches brought up. Around five o’clock we all meandered down to the fifth deck and sat outside in the deck chairs and just mellowed out. To the Scarlet Restaurant for a special treat tonight…. stuffed mushrooms, filet mignon, and key lime mousse for dessert. It’s going to be tough to go back to peanut butter next week. After the lovely supper, we went to the theater where there was a “comic magician.” He was a portly guy with a good sense of humor, moderately skilled in magic, and mildly entertaining. He was characteristic of the entertainment we have seen so far…not too bad, but nothing to write home about.

    Saturday, October 2. Our last full day at sea, and I am running out of gas. I have a leg problem that affects my walking, and as I have said before, the Scarlet Restaurant is 1,000 exhausting feet away from our room, and any place else also takes a bit of walking. Even the walk to the Lido for breakfast requires a bit of a walk, thought certainly not 1,000 feet. Anyway, we made it to the Lido for breakfast and then played dominoes for over an hour. We decided (I thought) to head back to the rooms so off I started with Shirley and Kim behind. I got to the elevator and turned around and they were nowhere to be seen. I waited fifteen minutes, thinking maybe they had stopped by a restroom. No one appeared so I headed to our room, thinking they would be along shortly. Two hours later Shirley showed up.


    Apparently, they had decided to have lunch and then go outside on deck to relax. Fortunately, I had half a left-over ham and cheese sandwich from yesterday’s room service order, so I didn’t starve.  Everyone decided to go up to deck fourteen, the Sun Deck, to relax a bit, so there we chilled for an hour or so. Bobby, Shanna, and Kimberly decided to go do the jacuzzi and sauna, so Shirley and I went to our room. We had received preliminary directions for debarkation tomorrow, so we began organizing our items and packing for the inevitable leaving of the ship. By the time 5:30 rolled around, we were pretty well packed and ready to go to dinner.  Our last trip to the Scarlet Restaurant was as enjoyable as the other visits have been. Bobby had his usual four appetizers (!) including boiled shrimp, fried shrimp, some kind of strawberry soup, and a cobb salad. Being more moderate, I only had the fried shrimp and cobb salad. The short ribs and trimmings were excellent, and the baked Alaska was divine. Toward the end of our dinner session the wait staff sang us a goodbye song and bade us farewell. We responded by tipping our three waiters we’ve had all week; they were excellent. I have eaten in some very expensive restaurants where the wait staff was not nearly as efficient or personable. They were great.
Back to the room to finish preparation for the early exit in the morning. Alarm set for 7:00 a.m.


    Sunday, October 3   We were up before the alarm went off…in time to see the massive Carnival Dream slip silently into Galveston harbor, do a slow motion 180 degree turn around, and ease up to the dock.  If one had not been looking outside, one would never have known the ship was moving.  Shanna, my beloved daughter-in-law, had procured for me last night a wheelchair to use today, since I was still having difficulty walking.  Promptly at 8:20 the wheelchair arrives, and I flop into it while the family trails behind.  We went to deck 3 to a central waiting area for all mobility-challenged people were.  There my wheelchair assistant asked if Shirley would care to have a wheelchair, too.  She quickly agreed, so both of us were able to anticipate a smoother exit from the ship.  Kim had left the ship earlier to go get her truck to save us a little time and avoid the hassle of bussing to the parking area. 

    We started the long walk (roll) to the exit all the while with proper identification in hand.  Down to the exit door, down the long winding gangplank, into the cavernous room where our luggage was…somewhere.  Fortunately, the luggage was arranged according to exiting time, and it did not take too long to find all our gear.  However, to get from the luggage area to where Kim was to pick us up was way “over yonder,” so Bobby and Shanna were stuck with dragging all the luggage the distance to the pickup area.  We got there just as Kimberly was passing by and unable to stop, so she had to make another round to get back to us. But get back to us she did, and we all loaded up and headed north, stopping at McDonald’s along to the way to get a semblance of breakfast.  From the Lido Buffet to McDonald’s is a bit of a letdown.

     Around noon, we rolled into our driveway, finding thankfully our house was still all there.  We quickly unloaded our baggage, and the kids went on their way with Kimberly dropping off  Bobby and Shanna on her way home.  Although we enjoyed the Bahama time and ship time, what we valued most was the time we were able to enjoy with our kids.  I know we say our “kids,” although they are all grown, responsible adults, but to parents, your kids are…your kids…no matter their age.  We have been blessed to have children and I include our daughter-in-law, Shanna, who love their parents…almost as much as we love them.  They took care of us on our cruise like we were…well, like we were old people.  We are, unfortunately, at that age where we say in our minds, “We can still do that!” but our bodies reply, “Oh, no, you can’t.”  Unfortunately, our bodies are usually correct.  Regardless, it was an immensely enjoyable week.  We’re ready to go again.