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Travels With Billy

by Laura W. Haywood

 

When I was a kid, I used to love traveling, but my fondness for it passed when I hit my adult years. It took me years to figure out why: grown-ups have to pack and unpack their own bags. Unfortunately, my husband, Billy, loves travel -- any time, anywhere.

Our honeymoon was a simple matter. Bill hadn't been at his job long enough to take a real vacation, so we settled for a long weekend in Virginia, just a couple of hundred miles from our home in New York City. But, in May, we had to take a real trip. Bill's sister died tragically in her mid-twenties, a month after giving birth to her only child. We had to fly to Nebraska for the funeral.

Bill loves flying -- he even took flying lessons and soloed -- but I hate it. Well, hate isn't really the word. I'm terrified of it. I get on the plane, fasten the seat belt, and start to cry, and I don't stop till I'm on terra firma again -- and the more firmer, the less terror.

But I fly when I have to and on that occasion, I had to. We took a United Airlines flight to Omaha, where I stopped crying. We had to change planes there for the flight to North Platte. It was in the Omaha airport that Bill and I had our first fight, and for a while I thought we were going to get divorced then and there. As we passed a window, Bill pointed outside to a Frontier Airlines plane and said, "That's the kind of plane we'll be taking."

I don't want to say that plane was old, but you could see where the words "Spirit of St. Louis" had been painted out on the side. Okay, it wasn't quite that old, and it didn't really have an open cockpit, but it was still...well, elderly. "You don't seriously expect me to get on that wreck, do you?" I said in horror.

He looked me square in the eye and said, "You're spoiling this whole trip."

"Well it's your sister's funeral. You aren't supposed to be enjoying it anyway," I said.

We didn't speak again until we were on the Frontier plane. The flight was a nightmare. The plane was filled to capacity, and about 75 percent of the passengers were under the age of twelve. It must have been a group of some kind, but I was too terrified to try to get to the bottom of it. To compound the unpleasant situation, we flew through (my version) or near (Bill's version) a tornado. The plane bounced around, the lights went out, and everyone on the plane -- including the children, the stewardess, and Bill -- reached for barf bags. Unfortunately, they'd run out of them on an earlier leg of the trip. I will omit any further description of the flight.

That summer, we had to go back to Nebraska -- Bill was working to settle his father's estate, and there was no avoiding another trip. And another, and another, and another. The first three years we were married, we vacationed every year in that tourist wonderland, Arcadia, Nebraska, population 450 if you take the census on Saturday night and include the inmates of the local saloon.

Bill learns fast, and we drove out each summer.

The first year, one of our stops was Ottuma, Iowa. "It's a nice little town," Bill said. "They have a couple of good restaurants." They did. Unfortunately, we got there on a Monday, and both restaurants were closed on Mondays. Bill had said there would be things to do in Ottuma. I wasn't looking for Broadway theaters or nightclubs. Miniature golf would have been fine. We drove around that evening for a couple of hours, seeing nothing. Finally we spotted bright lights at the top of a hill and, with out tongues hanging out, followed the beacon in the night until we got to the lights. It was a carwash. So we sat there for an hour or so watching the cars being washed.

But Arcadia was our destination. Arcadia is two blocks long, has two car dealerships, a gas station, two hairdressers, one barbershop, a feed and farm supply store, a hardware store, a dry goods store, and a restaurant. It also has a hotel that consists of four rooms and one bathroom. We stayed in a motel in Broken Bow. But the first day we were there, Bill took me to lunch at Chuck's Cafe. It was a limited menu: chicken-friend hamburgers or the daily special. I had the hamburger, something I don't care to discuss, and Bill had the daily special: canned spaghetti, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cole slaw. There was an A&W Root Beer stand next to the motel in Broken Bow and it quickly began to seem like a gourmet paradise.

We spent our days in Arcadia cleaning out a house that Bill's family had had for three generations (it took three vacations to get to the point of an auction), swatting mosquitoes (Arcadia's principle crop), and visiting some of his old friends. One of them was a pig farmer. I was told not to worry -- I could sit in the house with the farmer's wife while Bill viewed the pigs.

We got there on a blazing hot day, and there was no house; the farmer and his wife lived in town. Shortly after we arrived, the farmer insisted on showing us the baby pigs. We were standing on some boards and the farmer happily explained that the manure pit was beneath the boards, which had collapsed the week before, dumping him into the pit. I established a new world's record for speed in getting off the boards, and I went and sat in the car (with the air conditioner running -- it must have been 100 degrees that day), while Bill went to visit the boar.

We had many adventures in Arcadia. We visited the library, where the books were arranged by the color of the bindings. We drove out in the pasture of a farm my husband owned. We went to see his windmill which, every time we got a few dollars ahead, blew down and had to be replaced. I was very disappointed -- it looked more like a pinwheel on a high tower than the pictures of Dutch windmills I'd been envisioning.

But, finally, Bill managed to get the estate settled. He hired an auctioneer who auctioned off all sorts of stuff, and our compulsory vacations in Arcadia were over.

The fourth year of our marriage -- I was 29 -- he tried to make it all up to me. He gotten deeply involved in his Masonic Lodge, and he took me to Utica, New York, to see the Masonic retirement home.

We had a great vacation the next year: we stayed home.

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