Honestly, It’s Not For Everyone.

Nebraska State Line
Nebraska’s slogan when we visited in 2008.  It has been replaced (the slogan, Not Nebraska) twice since our 2008 visit.

The State of Nebraska recently made the news.  Nebraska Tourism officials paid a Colorado firm $450,000 to come up with a new State slogan.  They were discontented with their old slogan “VISIT NEBRASKA, VISIT NICE” after Nebraska came in dead last on a list of states tourists were interested in visiting.

They came up with . . . DRUM ROLL . . .

“Nebraska: Honestly, it’s not for everyone.”

In these days when everything is over-hyped, I appreciate and admire honesty.

But my wife and I really enjoyed our visit to Nebraska, a great state to visit for people who love American history.

In 2008, my wife and I followed the Oregon Trail from Independence, Mo. to Oregon City, Oregon.  Night three found us in Hastings, Nebraska.  When we travel, I always try to negotiate to get the very best room rate possible when searching for a motel.  After the desk clerk in Hastings quoted me a price, I asked if that was the best she could do.

“Are you here for business or pleasure?” she asked.

“Pleasure” I responded.  “My wife and I are here on vacation.”

“SIR” the clerk responded without hesitation.  “NO ONE comes to Hastings for pleasure.”  I may have lied to an innkeeper a time or two in my life (nope, no pets) but this was not one of them.  She gave us the business rate anyway.

Though we traveled mainly off the beaten path, my wife and I enjoyed visiting the historic sites in southern and western Nebraska.  After leaving Missouri, Oregon Trail emigrants turned right at Gardner, Kansas and headed north to Nebraska.  In Nebraska, they turned left and followed the Platte River most of the way to Wyoming.  Along the way are some amazing historic sites, including (but not limited to) Fort Kearny, Chimney Rock, Ash Hollow, and Scott’s Bluff.   I had no idea western Nebraska was in the Mountain Time Zone before that trip.  (Possible new slogan: Nebraska – There is so much to see, it takes two time zones!)

Our first stop was in northeast Nebraska at Rock Creek Station, famous for being the site of James Butler “Bill” Hickok’s first gunfight.  On July 12, 1861, Rock Creek Station employee “Bill” Hickok took offense when local bully Dave McCanles proposed the nickname “Duck Bill” for Mr. Hickok.  That was a reference to Bill’s rather large nose and protruding lips.  Mr. McCanles also made ill-advised observations about Mr. Hickok’s “girlish build and feminine features.”  This peeved Mr. Hickok a great deal.  Mr. McCanles and two of his companions, James Woods and James Gordon, all died of wounds received in the ensuing gunfight.  There is no record of anyone else ever suggesting a derogatory nickname for Bill after that.

So, there’s that, Nebraska!

How about:

“Nebraska: We put the “Wild” in Wild Bill Hickok.”

Wild Bill Hickok
Wild Bill Hickok – What are you looking at, punk?

On July 21, 1865, Wild Bill had what is thought to be the nation’s first one-on-one quick draw gunfight.  It occurred on the public square in my home town of Springfield, Mo. after Wild Bill had a run of bad luck in poker. Though warned not to, Dave Tutt had the temerity to go out into the public square wearing a pocket watch he had won from Wild Bill in a poker game.  Mr. Tutt became an early resident of Springfield’s Maple Park cemetery as a result of his poor decision-making in that matter.

Seems Wild Bill never got over being a little touchy about being disrespected.

He could take a lesson from Nebraska.

The Lure of the Appalachian Trail

Our Summer Vacation – Day 13 continued

On our drive from Valdosta, Ga to Amicalola Falls State Park, my wife and I passed through Cordele, Ga.  Inside the Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor’s Center is a display honoring a man from Cordele, Gene Espy.

In 1951, at age 24, Mr. Espey became the second man to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail.  The display contains the equipment he carried, much of it military surplus.

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At 50 pounds, Mr. Espy’s equipment is 20 pounds heavier than today’s hikers carry

Here is a list of the items he took.  None were high tech or ultralight or carbon fiber.

espey equipment

In 2008, Gene Espy published an autobiography titled The Trail of My Life: The Gene Espy Story.  Earlier this year I purchased a copy of that book on-line.  When I opened it to begin reading, I was surprised to find Mr. Espy’s autograph and the inscription “Best Wishes and Good Hiking to Eric”.  It was dated Sept. 10, 2009.

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I also have the book written by the very first A.T. thru-hiker Earl V. Shaffer.  Mr. Shaffer completed his hike in 1948 after serving in the South Pacific during WW II.  His best friend had lost his life during fighting on Iwo Jima and Earl Shaffer’s goal was to “walk the Army out of my system”.  His book is titled Walking With Spring – The story that inspired thousands of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers.  

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In 1955,  Emma Gatewood, aka “Grandma Gatewood”, became the first female to thru-hike the A.T.  She was 67, wore Converse All-Star tennis shoes and carried a shower curtain for shelter.  Prior to her hike she told her family she was “going for a walk”. Grandma Gatewood ended up hiking the A.T. multiple times and also hiked the Oregon Trail.  She once said “I get faster as I get older.”

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Speaking of fast, on August 28, 2018, Karel Sabbe (age 28) set a new speed record for hiking the A.T.  Mr. Sabbe, a dentist from Ghent, Belgium, completed his hike in 41 days, 7 hours, 39 minutes.  That’s an average of over 52 miles a day.  The previous record was 45 days, 12 hours, 15 minutes, set by Joe McConaughy in 2017.  The average successful thru-hiker takes about 5 months to hike the 2191 miles thru 14 states from Springer Mountain, Ga. to Mt. Katahdin, Maine.

You can find the link to his story here:

https://www.runnersworld.com/news/a22865359/karel-sabbe-breaks-appalachian-trail-speed-record/

When Earl Shaffer, the very first thru-hiker, started his hike in 1948, he encountered a family having a picnic in the Georgia countryside.  Seeing Mr. Shaffer carrying his backpack, the husband asked “Howdy, where you headin’?”

“To Maine” replied Earl Shaffer, eliciting shock from the couple and their small son.

Finally the wife spoke up.

“Y’all mean to say you are walkin’ all the way to Maine, over the mountains, all by yourself, and carryin’ that thing?”

“Yes Ma’am” replied Earl.

The woman shook her head, chuckled, and said “I’m glad I got sense, Mister. I’m glad I got sense.”

Since Earl Shaffer’s hike in 1948, over 15,000 hikers have successfully thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Earl started his book with a verse he wrote

There’s a lone footpath along the crest                                                                                                     of the Appalachian Chain,                                                                                                                 On the cloud-high hills so richly blest                                                                                                      with sun and wind and rain.

Today’s hikers typically inspire themselves with a shorter, less romantic verse”

No rain, no pain, no Maine.

Unable to resist at least a short hike before leaving, my wife dropped me off at the top of beautiful Amicalola Falls.  As she drove back around to the bottom, I hiked a mile thru woods, over rocks, and along ridges back to the Visitor’s Center.

Then it was west, winding through the hills & hollers of north Georgia, to I-75.

One more night on the road and we were home.

We had learned a lot, made some great memories, and lost a friend during our journey.

After 8 different beds on a 14 night road trip, it was good to get back home.

Without bedbugs.

 

 

Finding Our Way Across Georgia

Our Summer Vacation – Day 12

After a good night’s sleep in Doc Holliday’s hometown, Valdosta, Ga., my wife and I were ready to cover some new ground on our way back to Missouri.

But first, breakfast!

The last time I stayed in Valdosta (1967), my $8 room did not include breakfast.  In 2018, our $125 room did.  It was a good breakfast, but not worth the extra $118.  Still, in 1967 I was earning $1.35 an hour, so $8 amounted to about a day’s pay in those days and I thought it was an outrageous sum to pay for a place to sleep.  On that 1967 trip I covered 3000 miles and spent a total of $32 on gasoline which I charged on my new Gulf credit card.  Gas prices averaged thirty cents a gallon in those days.

My wife and I had two goals for the day:

  1. Survive Atlanta traffic, which was not new ground for us; and
  2. Find our way to Georgia’s Amicalola Falls State Park, gateway to the Appalachian Trail, which was new ground for us.
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Driving in Atlanta is not for sissies

We entered Atlanta well before lunch.  My heart rate increased as traffic thickened.  Atlanta traffic is notoriously bad.  And it has been my experience that if you do not drive AT LEAST 20 mph OVER the speed limit you risk being run over at worst or receiving multiple one-finger salutes at best.  I try to stay with the flow – that’s usually 25-30 mph over the posted speed limit.  Occasionally, an Atlanta police car will suddenly appear out of nowhere, lights flashing, speed past our car, and make a traffic stop.  How they decide who to stop is a mystery to me.

As it turned out, Google maps directed us through the bowels of Atlanta with a minimum of hassle and spit us out heading northeast toward the Chattahoochie National Forest, home of Amicalola Falls.

As the skyline of Atlanta receded in the rearview mirror the nice lady on Google maps spoke up:

“Exit right.  Then turn left.”

We obeyed to the letter.  We exited Highway 19, turned left, crossed over Highway 19 and awaited further instructions.

“Make a U-turn.”

Huh?  I HATE it when she says that.  But I obeyed, recrossing Highway 19 heading the opposite direction.

“Turn left”.

That put us right back on the same Highway 19 she had requested we leave a few minutes earlier.  Guess she thought a curly que would be a nice addition to our route.   95% of the time Google Map instructions are perfect.  The other 5% of the time is why we still carry an Atlas in our car.

bojangles chicken

Not having had lunch, we stopped in Dahlonega, Ga., located on the southern edge of the Chattahoochee National Forest.  After a quick stop at the Food Lion grocery store for bottled water & snacks and a stop at Bojangles Famous Chicken for a carry-out box of famous chicken & biscuits, we were ready to explore Amicalola Falls.  As we pulled out of the Bojangles parking lot, I suddenly heard a siren and saw lights flashing in the rearview mirror.

Rats!

I pulled over.  The police car sped past me toward some emergency elsewhere.

Whew.  I am never quite sure if a Missouri license plate brands us as Yankees or fellow southerners in Georgia.

The scenery was gorgeous as we neared & entered the State Park.  We paid a small entry fee and received a guide to the Park and a permit to hang on our rearview mirror.  Parking was scarce, but we finally found a spot near a picnic table.  We exited our car to claim that picnic table which was located in a beautiful, shady area near the Visitors Center.

The Visitor’s Center in Amicalola Falls State Park near where we had our picnic lunch is where all thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail check in & receive their permit before officially starting their 2191 mile hike to Maine.  Registration for approval to hike the A.T. is typically months before you plan to begin a thru-hike.

This was the same place where, three months earlier, my brother had hoisted his 30 lb pack onto his back, crossed under an archway, and started hiking the 8 1/2 mountainous miles one must traverse to even get to the 2191 mile Appalachian Trail.

More than a few hikers have called it quits before even reaching the official A.T.

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I love to hike and found that standing in front of this arch is like standing on hiker holy ground.

But this day, under a threatening sky, I hiked from our car to our picnic table. Instead of a 30 lb pack, I carried some cold drinks and a 12-piece box of Bojangles Famous chicken and biscuits.  It was great.  I understand how it got famous.

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My wife, Val, awaiting our picnic lunch

The trail could wait.

It was  time for lunch.

Backward, Turn Backward, Oh Time in its Flight

Our Summer Vacation – Day 11

Interstate 75 and "Alligator Alley" in the Florida Everglades
I-75 From Fort Lauderdale to Naples – aka “Alligator Alley”

Our last morning in Fort Lauderdale was a whirlwind.  Packing the cars, taking a headcount, checking out of the condo where we had spent a great week – then it was another two-car parade to the Fort Lauderdale airport where we dropped our son and his family off at the curb.

They would be sleeping in their own beds that night.

My wife and I were headed back to 1959 by car.

When my wife was a kid, a summer road trip was an annual event.  Along with her Mom, Dad and two brothers, my wife vividly recalls exploring the United States by car.  One of those trips, circa 1959, included a visit to Weeki Wachi, a roadside attraction north of Tampa on U.S. 19 featuring real, live mermaids.

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The underwater theater at Weeki Wachi Spring

The Weeki Wachee Mermaid Show was the fulfillment of the dream of former Navy Frogman, Newton Perry.  In World War II he taught Frogmen how to navigate underwater.  After the war, he scouted out pretty girls and taught them how to be mermaids with the aid of air hoses concealed in the scenery.   Newton Perry’s typical mermaid could drink Grapette, eat a banana, do the ballet – all with a smile – twenty-feet under the surface of Weeki Wachee Spring.

My wife never forgot that.

On Day 11 of our vacation we hoped to end up at Weeki Wachee, now a Florida State Park, but still featuring daily mermaid shows.

To get there, we would have to navigate “Alligator Alley”, the nickname for the stretch of I-75 that traverses south Florida from Fort Lauderdale on the Atlantic to Naples on the Gulf of Mexico.

That actually sounds more treacherous than it was.  Alligator Alley passes through the Everglades and Big Cypress National Park.  Though there is no telling how many alligators saw us, we didn’t see any alligators.  That might have changed had we been unlucky enough to have a flat.

Though the alligators didn’t slow us down, road construction, traffic signals and beach traffic did.  By mid-afternoon it became clear we would not make it to Weeki Wachee before its 5 pm closing time.  Since the next day was Sunday, the park didn’t open until 10 am.

Weeki Wachee would have to wait.

My wife wasn’t overly disappointed.  What she REALLY wants is to take our 8 year-old granddaughter to see the mermaid show at Weeki Wachee and pass those memories to the next generation.

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Though the Weeki Wachee sign states “You’re Probably In Time For the Show!”, we weren’t

Whenever I revisit a spot I recall fondly from my childhood, a poem by Elizabeth Akers Allen titled “Rock Me to Sleep, Mother” sometimes comes to mind.  That poem opens with the following lines:

Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,                                                                            Make me a child again, just for tonight!

The rest of that poem is a little dark, but I love those first two lines and imagining what it would be like to go back and experience life as a child again for a single day.  The closest I’ve come is experiencing life through the eyes of a child, first our son, and now our grandkids.

We ended up spending the night in Valdosta, Ga.  In 1967 I spent a night there prior to taking Army Basic Training and before the U.S. Army generously furnished a very large comfortable room for me and 23 other guys.  The thing I most recall about Valdosta from that night was having to spend $8 for a room.  My budget for that trip was $3-$5 a night.

Oh, yeah – one other Valdosta memory!

Doc Holliday was born there.  Despite that fact, when I was making a reservation, the national Marriott reservations desk person had never heard of Valdosta.

“Where?” she asked.

“Valdosta, Ga” I replied.

“Never heard of it!” she responded.

“Ever heard of Doc Holliday?” I asked.

“Yes” she said, unconvincingly.

Well, Doc Holliday was born in Valdosta” I informed her.

She found us a room.

And it made the eight bucks I paid in 1967 sound really cheap.

With apologies to Elizabeth Akers Allen:

Backward, Turn Backward, Oh time in its flight.                                                                            I want a room for 8 bucks, just for tonight!

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Doc Holliday inadvertently suggests the only activity I might actually beat him in.

 

 

 

 

 

My Least Favorite Night of Vacation

Our Summer Vacation – Day 10

The last night of vacation is traditionally my least favorite.

2018 was no exception.

It was time to try to pack up everything we brought, plus the souvenirs we bought, into our suitcases and eat up all the leftovers in the refrigerator.  I know, I know.  You are not supposed to be sad that it’s over.  You are supposed to be happy that it happened!

As Forrest Gump might say “I guess I’m always a little of both”.

Check-out was 11 am sharp the next morning.

It was time for some last minute pictures to help us remember the fun we’d had during the week.

Off we went to the Deerfield Beach International Fishing Pier, a mile down the beach.  It is a perfect setting for family pictures.  I captured several of my son and his beautiful family.  I wanted to make sure I got at least one picture in which they were all looking at the camera and smiling.

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Four out of five smiling was the best I could do

In baseball, four hits in five at-bats is a heck of a game.  Taking family pictures, four out of five smiling is about par for the course.  In every picture, our three-year-old grandson stood with his mouth wide open.  When I asked him later why he did that, he offered the following explanation:

I SAW A TREE FROG!

So much for Grandpa’s expertise with a camera, although if you want memorable, it definitely fills that bill.

As it turned out, their Mother, Maria, had already captured one of my all-time favorite pictures of my grandkids.

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For me, this picture sums up perfectly our week in Boca Raton and the good times we shared.

I don’t know if any of the kids were smiling.

All I know is that it brings a smile to my face every time I see it.

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The 2018 Reece & Strobel Family Vacation attendees, less me taking the picture.  In 2019, Grandpa Strobel (second from left, standing) plans to increase the number to 18, including 9 grandkids under age 12.

 

 

Getting to Know the Boca Raton Town Center Mall – From Auntie Anne’s to Zumiez

Our Summer Vacation – Day 9

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Entrance to Town Center Mall

On Day 9 of our vacation we took a break from the outdoor activities and spent a little time indoors at the Town Center Mall in Boca Raton.  The Town Center Mall is a gigantic 200+ store mall where we had to park at the far reaches of the parking lot even on a Thursday afternoon.

Boca pandoraFirst Stop – The Pandora Jewelry Store, not to be confused with Pandora’s Box, a totally different business which markets a monthly “relationship enhancement subscription box for couples.”

A few years ago, I purchased my wife a Pandora Charm Bracelet.  Ok, maybe she purchased it, but I’m pretty sure I was there.  Now, whenever we travel, she has an excuse to visit a Mall that has a Pandora store so she can add a charm to her bracelet as a keepsake of our journey.  When we are dead, our daughter-in-law is going to inherit a charm bracelet with a lot of shiny pineapples, sea shells and palm trees on it.

As my wife and granddaughter headed to Pandora, my grandson and I chose a different venue:  Auntie Anne’s pretzel store.  There are actually two of them in the Town Center Mall.  We were just as happy with a large lemonade and a box of warm cinnamon sugar pretzel parts as my wife and granddaughter were picking out a new charm.

Whereas malls in mid-Missouri might feature a new pick-up or an all-terrain vehicle on display, the two Florida malls were considerably more upscale.  The Galleria Mall in Fort Lauderdale had a Rolls Royce on display.  Sticker price – $384,0000.  The Town Center Mall has a Tesla sales location with pricey – but not Rolls Royce pricey – energy-efficient vehicles on display.

While even the Sears store in Jefferson City bit the dust, the Town Center Mall offers such Specialty stores as Pea in the Pod maternity store, Everything But Water designer swimwear, a Papyrus fine paper store and a Mont Blanc fine pen store.

boca auntie annesEverything from A (Auntie Anne’s Pretzels) to Z (Zumiez Cutting edge clothing, shoes, accessories, and gear for skateboarding, snowboarding, and surf lifestyles for guys, girls, and kids).boca zumiez

In 2007, the Town Center Mall made the national news when 3 people were kidnapped at the mallboca police & murdered.  One of the cases involved a mother & young daughter who were found bound & shot in the head inside their SUV at the Mall.  Though that case was featured on America’s Most Wanted it remains unsolved.  At no time did I feel uneasy while walking around the mall (other than looking at the prices).  I suspect a few rich people may have looked at me sideways and clutched their purse a bit tighter as we passed.  Now there is a police substation right in the Mall.

The truth in advertising award at the Mall goes to Junk de Luxe, advertised as “first and foremost, about a certain kind of hip, urban attitude. An uncompromisingly urban cross over style, making its presence felt on the biggest catwalk of them all: the street”.

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It was time for us to take our junk back to “the street”.

Actually, “the beach”.

The Town Center Mall was impressive, but we’ve got Malls in Missouri.

It was time to get back to the reason we drove 1300 miles to get to south Florida.

The hypnotizing, awe-inspiring, timeless beach.IMG_0202

 

 

 

 

How High’s the Water, Momma? Three Foot High and Risin’?

Day 8 of our Summer Vacation

The Ernest F Coe Visitors Center near the entrance of Everglades National Park was just an hour from our condo.  Our route took us near Homestead, Florida, the town where Hurricane Andrew severely rearranged the landscape in August, 1992.  While the kids and grandkids checked out a waterpark, the four grandparents decided to check out the Everglades.

Grandpa Eugene even hoped to ride an airboat on some private land just outside the park if things worked out.

Entry was free with my National Parks Lifetime Senior Pass that allows me and three friends into all National Parks for free.  Passes are available to U.S. Citizens ages 62 and up.  Mine was $10.  Last August, Congress raised the cost to $80, still a heck of a bargain.

After a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center, where we grabbed some snacks and a map, we headed west on State HW 9336.  Florida State HW 9336 is a mere 4 feet above sea level.

First stop: the regally named Royal Palm Visitor Center and the Anhinga Trail.  It was hot and muggy as we climbed from the car.  We added another layer of insect repellent.  Since the Anhinga Trail had two routes, I asked the Ranger for his advice.  Forest Route or Swamp Route?

“If you take the Swamp Route, you will see alligators.  If you take the Forest Route, you will see mosquitoes”  he responded.

Swamp Route it was!  It consisted of an elevated boardwalk through a bright, sunlit area of green vegetation & black water.

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We saw an alligator sunning itself in the brush, but it was this large, colorful Grasshopper that caught my eye.
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,Clouds began to thicken on the Anhinga Trail

As we got back in our car, reinvigorated as the ac hit our sweat-covered bodies, a decision was made to drive to Flamingo Lake at the western park boundary and work our way back to the Visitor’s Center.

Flamingo Lake, we learned upon arrival, had sustained major damage from Hurricane Irma last September and is still recovering.  On the way we had passed a gator sunning itself by a small lake.  Since stopping would have blocked traffic, I decided to investigate on the way back.

Not a lot of activity at Flamingo Lake, though we did spot a pair of manatees lazily drifting in the water.

When asked the most memorable thing that happened on their cruise through the Everglades, a young couple in a kayak replied without hesitation “Fighting off the biting flies!”

On our way back to the eastern entrance to the park, rain began to fall.  It let up briefly and we stopped to see if the alligator was still visible beside the small lake we passed.  Even though news reports had just carried a story about a gator carrying off a woman who had been taking her dog for a walk, and against the advice of the other three occupants of our car, Grandpa Eugene decided to get a closer look.  I got my iPhone ready to record, just in case.

As we watched with wide eyes, this well-marbled tasty gator snack known as Grandpa Eugene, opened the car door, got out, and strolled from one end of the shoreline to the other.  As he stood gazing out over the water intently, the thought crossed my mind to sneak up on him, touch his leg with a stick, and then video the second man in history to walk on water.

Then the rain got serious, with an ample dose of thunder and lightning for good measure.  The narrow road began to cover with water and I soon understood the principles of hydro-planing more thoroughly.  At the storms crescendo, I pulled off the road.  It would have been interesting to watch the water rise on one of the “4-Ft. Above Sea-level” signs but none was around.

During a let-up in the storm we made a dash to the Ernest Coe Visitor’s Center Parking lot and parked on a high spot.  Near a storm drain the water was up to the floorboard on a nearby minivan.

It was an interesting, educational – if somewhat brief – trip to the Everglades.

There would be no airboat ride for Grandpa Eugene today unless it is part of a rescue attempt.

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Potential postcard to send to grandkids back home.  HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME!  WISH YOU WERE HERE!  HERE IS A PIC OF A PANTHER SAYING GRACE OVER GRANDPA EUGENE.