Wistful Wyoming

                                                                                                                                                                  I am a native Texan with a certain amount of pride in my state, but my family was privileged to live for seventeen years in Wyoming, and, although it has been twenty years since we were residents of the Cowboy State, a part of us remained there when we left. Even today we feel the occasional need to see an antelope in its natural habitat or simply be able to see twenty miles in all directions without even stepping on a footstool. The fact that we still have relatives living in our former homeland gives us further impetus to look for reasons to head northwest from Houston.
     Thus it was that a few weeks ago Shirley, her two sisters, and my esteemed mother-in-law found a bargain in air travel and decided to go back home. As it worked out, my obligations with tutoring at my local school ended about the same time that their travel was scheduled, so I decided to tag along. I mean, there needs to be at least one level headed person in a traveling party, anyway. So we had a fivesome headed to Wyoming.
     The trouble with flying cheap is you have to fly when it’s cheapest…which meant that we would be leaving at 6:00 a.m. on a recent Thursday morning from Hobby Airport in Houston, a mere forty miles or so of lovely Houston traffic from our home in NW Houston. Janie, Beth, (sisters-in-law) and Mother-in-law would have to get up even earlier because they lived 20-40 miles further away. The plan was they would come by our home in Janie’s van on the way to the airport. We needed to get to Hobby an hour before takeoff, plus we needed to find a place to park Janie’s van, so we figured we needed to get on site around 4:30, which meant leaving our home about 3:30, which meant that the in-laws would have to get up at some awful time. But, sure enough, they were at our place promptly at 3:30, and we all loaded up (I do mean loaded) and headed for our Wyoming adventure.
     We made it to the parking garage with nary a hitch. I had gone on line and found the nearest airport parking, secured a reservation, printed our boarding passes, and even checked and paid for our extra baggage (Frontier Airlines…$20.00 per bag checked in), so we parked the van, caught the parking garage bus, zipped to the airport, checked in, and were sitting in the gate area almost an hour before we were to get on board. That’s the way I like it…I can’t wait till the last minute for anything. If I get anywhere right on time, I consider myself late.
     I am not a good flyer…I don’t know why, I’m just not. As the plane lurched down the runway I did my usual Lord’s Prayer, repented of any sins I could think of, and closed my eyes. The takeoff was smooth, and in a few minutes we were settling down to two hours of boredom as we rocketed toward the Mile-High City. Fortunately, after the plane reached cruising level, I calmed down a little, too. Thankfully, I had my iTunes music collection on my BlackBerry, so I whipped out my earphones, selected “shuffle music” and settled back to try to catch a few winks as we sailed along. All in all, I honestly don’t remember too much about the flight, and I slept about as well as one can when you’re strapped into a space 20 inches wide without much reclining or foot room. With the time change to Rocky Mountain Daylight Savings Time, we landed in Denver about 7:30…still early.
     When we left Houston, the temperature was above 80 degrees and muggy. The weather had been hot and dry for weeks and the area was in a severe drought condition. Only at the last minute did we throw coats into our suitcases “just in case.” When we landed in Denver it was 33 degrees and snowing. We walked out of the terminal toward our rental bus to take us to our rental agency, and the wet snow and cold breeze woke us out of whatever morning sleepiness we had been experiencing. We all grabbed our coats out of our bags. Naturally, since we were traveling on the cheap, we didn’t rent from Hertz or the other big boys, but rather from Advantage Rentals. Results: we had to wait a few minutes for the rental bus to amble by. Cold minutes.
     The bus picked us up for the three mile ride to the rental agency, and we saw snow floating beautifully down, lots of snow ground cover, and the majestic snow-covered Rockies in the distance. Gorgeous. I had reserved a Kia Sedona van for us at Advantage (cheap, again) and upon checking in, the agent began trying to bump me up to a Chevrolet Surburban. Only $100 or so more, but the daily full coverage insurance was $48(!). For five days’ rental, I didn’t want to spend the extra amount, so I refused. So she adjusted it this way and that, and I still refused. Finally I said let’s go with the original deal. She said OK and prepared the papers. When she gave me the keys, they were to the Surburban. She said, “Well, we have an extra one, so you can take it at the Sedona price.” I was happy for the deal, but a little bugged about how much it would have cost me if I had caved in a her first suggestion.. Oh, well…the Lord protects the ignorant.
     The drive from Denver to Cheyenne, Wyoming, was the same that it has been for 35 years…heavy traffic around Denver but slowly thinning as one heads north until you finally crest a hill and the “Welcome to Wyoming” sign greets you. Before you lays an expanse of land stretching majestically as far as the eye can see…mountains to the west and rolling plains to the north and east. Suddenly global overpopulation seems a distant threat, and a certain feeling of safety descends with the awareness that you have 360 degree vision.
     Buddy and Jeannie (beloved in-laws) have moved to Cheyenne from Casper in response to his job promotion/transfer with Blue Cross/Blue Shield and are now residents in a brand new subdivision of what I would call duplex town homes. Each structure consists of two three level town homes…very contemporary and very nice. Any home where Jeannie lives will look like it was a former Home of the Month from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and this one was no different…beautifully and tastefully decorated from roof to basement. I told her (only half in jest) that I was afraid to touch anything. I felt sorry for Buddy…I mean, a man’s got to be a flat out, lazy, dirty slob occasionally (it’s the way we are), and he has no real place to relax. Maybe he can claim a corner of the garage eventually.
     Buddy and Jeannie have a beautiful family with four married offspring and a baby (!) boy at home. Of course, Noah, their “baby” is nineteen, 6 foot 5 inches or so and around 250 pounds, so “baby” is somewhat relative. Grandkids are starting to appear magically, and I enjoyed observing the easy, relaxed relationship that each of the family has for all the others. A close-knit family is a rare phenomenon in American society today, and such a relationship should be treasured and protected. I’ve said this before about the Creel family in general…I have been a part of this family for nearly 50 years, and seldom have I heard a disparaging word from one family member about another. It is the glue that holds this ever-growing family together. Of course, there was that one time when…well, never mind.
     Shirley and I saw most of the Buddy Creel clan that Thursday evening when kids, spouses, and grandkids came from far and near to do what Creels do best…talk and eat. Jeannie and the ladies outdid themselves over the next three days in the kitchen. That statement probably horrifies any feminists who happen to read this, but I got the feeling upon observing our wives, daughters, et.al. brewing up those incredible feasts that they were not suffering very much. When it comes to kitchen creations, no one can touch the Creel women. However, all activities that first evening centered around the newest member of the Buddy and Jeannie family, namely Jack Cooper Bauers, three month old son of Mitch and Meghan. How a tiny, cute bundle of humanity can turn a bunch of women into a bunch of blithering mother hens is beyond me, but Jack was the master of his universe that night. Must be tough being the newest kid, though. For a year or two or three, you’re the darling of the runway, and then a new brother, sister, or cousin comes along, and suddenly you’re second fiddle. Oh, well, one of life’s early lessons we have to learn is how to cope.
     Buddy and Jeannie have been blessed with sons-in-law who are sportsmen, and in my eyes, if you are a fisherman, that fact covers a lot of sins. The last time we visited Wyoming, son-in-law Justin (Michelle) took us fishing, and this time Mitch (Meghan) was the generous benefactor. On Saturday, Buddy, Noah, and I met Mitch at Glendo Reservoir, 100 miles north of Cheyenne to hunt for a few walleye. The drive on IH25 to Glendo is an exercise in either torture or grandeur, depending upon your appreciation of the scenery. A vast, open country with craggy mesas, rocky bluffs, roaming antelope, and about seventeen trees, it’s easy to imagine caravans of covered wagons, seas of thundering buffalo, and tribes of roaming Indians (excuse me, Native Americans.) If you haven’t visited Chugwater, Wyoming, you haven’t experienced true Americana. We arrived at Glendo just as Mitch was putting the boat in the water…and what a boat! It was a brand new Ranger sport fisherman, about 20 feet, with a monster 250 HP Mercury engine plus a 9.9 HP backup. (See photo) This thing was fancier than my car and cost about three times as much. It had a trolling motor with GPS! Once you got to your location to fish, you set your location with the GPS. Then the trolling motor with GPS would hold your location to within 10 feet of your selected spot. I am probably out of touch with modern fishing rigs, but I thought it was incredible. Equipped with two sonars, stereo (naturally), power everything else, this boat hit 59 MPH as we zipped across the lake, and that was not the maximum speed. Well, anyway, I was impressed
     The fishing wasn’t too impressive, though. For Wyoming, it’s still early in the fishing season. The weather was cool and the wind still a little biting. The water was choppy and not conducive to good fishing, and as a result, I will (modestly) report that I was the only one who caught anything, and although what I caught classifies as a fish, but it wasn’t much. But I didn’t care. Being on a Wyoming lake on a clear, bright day with the snowy Laramie Range of mountains in the distance, seeing the craggy, rocky hills, and being miles from the nearest low-rider or hip-hopper…it’s pretty close to a visual representation of happiness. Needless to say, the guys I was with completed the perfect picture. Back home, it was an evening of visiting (food), games (food), comparing cell phones (food), and more food. My thanks to Mitch and Justin for making my BlackBerry work like it should.
     Saturday we were scheduled to go visit Jim and Heather in Fort Collins. They are the professional students of the Creel clan, and, having recently graduated from CSU with masters, they are now moving to Ft. Worth, Texas, where Jim will pursue his doctorate and also teach. Heather has interviews scheduled for the coming weeks and will no doubt contribute more than her fair share to the family success. The going away celebration was to be at 2:00 p.m. at their home. During the morning, however, things became apparent that my mom-in-law was not acting quite normally. She was becoming easily confused and disoriented and couldn’t remember from one moment to the next what was going on. She seemed to be feeling all right, but her awareness of her surroundings wavered. In an hour or two, she seemed to snap out of it, but the closer we got to our time to leave for Fort Collins, her condition seemed to worsen. The family held a conference, and it was decided that Buddy and Janie would take Mom to an emergency clinic to be checked while the rest of us went to Fort Collins. Mom, of course, insisted it was the altitude or whatever that made her a little confused. So off we all went.
     We arrived at Jim’s and Heather’s to a houseful of people and the smell of brisket and ribs on the smoker. We enjoyed a good visit, but most of us had one ear pricked toward our cell phones to catch any calls from Buddy or Janie. Jim, apparently, is becoming quite a cook, and this day was a good indication, as the ribs and brisket (and rice, beans, etc.) were all super tasty. We were able to meet Jim and Heather’s two children…I mean, dogs…Woody and Luke, two well behaved, beautiful golden retrievers. About 4:00 we received a call that Mom had been taken to the Emergency Room of the Cheyenne Medical Center for tests, so Beth, Shirley, and I headed back to Cheyenne. After arriving, we were told that Mom had apparently experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is “a brief episode of cerebral ischemia.” Translation: a small blood clot in the brain which can affect a person in various ways depending upon the location in the brain. The danger is it can sometime be a forerunner of more serious problems, hence the need for close observation and quick response when it occurs. By 6:00 p.m., Mom was released and seemed none the worse for wear. The plan is for her to see her home doctor after returning to Houston for further observation, with Cheyenne Medical Center sending her doctor all the results of her tests. Apparently and thankfully, her CT Scan, Xrays, EKG, and whatever else that was done were all negative for any lingering damage. For the rest of the time we were on our trip she showed no signs of any lingering effects. She was her usual old…I mean, sweet, normal self. By Saturday night, the kids (and Jack Cooper) had gone to their respective homes. It was just us old folks and poor Noah, who spanned the generation gap gracefully. Naturally, when Shirley, Janie, Beth, and Jeannie get together, the games come out, so we all played some kind of weird card game.
     Sunday morning we went to Johnstown, Colorado, to Abundant Life Tabernacle, pastored by Rev. Deiter Skowron. His parents were there, also, and spoke with a heavy German accent. They were instantly likeable, and Pastor Skowron preached an excellent sermon. Their church is beautifully constructed, and a couple of members proudly stated it was built with their hands. Germans…you gotta love them. Afterward we drove to Loveland to meet with all the kids at P F Chang Restaurant. We had a good lunch (Jack Cooper was there), although P F Chang is not my favorite restaurant. The evening was spent with more games, eating, visiting, and eventually packing for the return home the next morning.
     3:30 a.m. does come early. By 4:15 we had said our sad goodbyes and were on IH25 South headed to the Denver Airport. Stopping to fill up the Suburban ($95!!), we arrived at Advantage Rental about 6:00, and about 6:10 we were on their shuttle to the airport. It was a nice, quick check in. We didn’t even have to go inside the building…just get on the shuttle. Again, these things may be normal procedure now days…we don’t do much flying/renting/traveling anymore. We had time for coffee and a scone before our plane loaded. By 8:05 we were in the air, and about 11:20 we landed at Hobby after I said my Lord’s Prayer and went through my takeoff/landing ritual. By 12:15 we had picked up Janie’s van and drove to the Potatoe Patch on FM 1960 and were having some guy throw hot rolls at us while we had a good lunch. Janie dropped us off at our home about 1:30 and our enjoyable saga had come to an end. I had managed to survive a close trip with my wife, two sisters-in-law and my mother-in-law…and we’re still on speaking terms. In fact, I would do it again. I am a very blessed person.