Hoka Hey

Hoka Hey is printed in simple red block letters on a small sign hanging next to my neighbor’s door in our winter RV park here in Texas.  It is a rallying war cry attributed to Crazy Horse of the Oglala Lakota tribe and has come to be interpreted as:  Today is a good day to die.

My neighbor, Mike, says the small sign represents one of his prime directives.  Not that he plans to die each day; nor does he expect to ride into battle.  But he has certainly had his share of battles:  two tours in Vietnam, two difficult divorces, five major heart attacks, 11 surgeries, a quintuple bypass, life with a pacemaker, and a recurrent struggle with addiction to cigarettes.

When such is your rallying cry each morning, it must inspire you to live that day to the fullest.  It probably helps you to accept those things that are outside of your control and be grateful for the measure of life that you have been granted to walk this earth.

Dawny adores Mr. Mike.  He gives her cookies and love.  She heartily hopes that his final Hoka Hey will be a day far into the future.  In her simple dog’s view–and, though simple, it is no less true, honest, or relevant than some of the more complicated ways humans have of looking at things–Dawny gets it.  Today is always a good day to die.  But it is an even better day to live.  Live and gather cookies.

Mike was kind enough to share some of his experiences, thoughts, and significant life moments with me.  It is an honor when another human opens a part of their heart and their story to you.  I hope to do his words justice.

Mike dreamed of living the full-time RV life for a long time before he hit the road in May of last year.  He spent eight years researching, reading RV forums and blogs, and making other preparations, such as downsizing from a 4,000 square-foot home to a condominium and from 70 tupperware containers to the 16 he has now.

While making these preparations, Mike was laid off from his job in the IT industry (just before retirement).  Already involved in the care of his aging father, Mike became his full-time caregiver for the next four years.  They were best friends.  Before Mike’s father died, he made his son promise that he would follow through on his dream.  He also set aside some money to help finance the purchase of Mike’s rig, a 25 foot class-C motorhome.  After settling his father’s estate, Mike hit the road.

Earlier in his adult life, Mike had an Australian sheepdog named Molly.  She lived with him for 19 wonderful years, serving as his best four-legged friend.  In the end, she went blind.  Her strong spirit still sent her running through the world as if she were sighted, though, and she would crash into trees, fences, and other unforgivingly solid objects.  Eventually, Mike had to let the vet put his beloved companion to rest.

Hoka Hey.  Death has a way of shaping a person.  The bond of love and respect Mike shared with his father, as well as this particular dog, formed echoes that have guided his steps and his outlook to today.

For instance, a neighboring couple recently had to leave their little beagle, Sally, behind for a few weeks in a local kennel while they travel to another state.  Mike regularly goes to visit Sally in the kennel.  To love her.  To reassure her that everything will be all right.  That takes a mighty big, soft heart.

Mike happens to be a strong introvert, like me.  He enjoys his time of solitude, reading four or five books a week.  But, unlike me, one of his favorite pastimes is sitting outside of his rig, visiting with neighbors who drop by and giving doggy cookies to each and every pooch who ventures near.  He always has a welcoming smile and a friendly wave.

In this way, Mike meets a wide array of people as they circulate in and out of the park, many of whom share some of his most formidable, challenging, life-altering experiences.  He estimates that at least half of our fellow campers here are veterans.

Mike comes from a family that has an unbroken line of over 200 years of honorable military service.  His father served in three wars:  World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  Mike did two tours in Vietnam, winning several medals and ribbons of honor.  He says that he was glad to have served his country, but he would not want to go back and do it again.  The war was hard enough, but returning home to the dismal, hostile reception our soldiers received at that time shook the ground upon which he walked.

He has lived with that trauma for decades.  It has affected his behavior and his relationships, his reactions and his interactions.  And not necessarily in a healthy way.  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) wasn’t even officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) until 1980, when they added it to their diagnostic manual.  Much of APA’s early work and research was based on experience with Vietnam vets.

Hoka Hey.  No, it is not Mike’s turn yet.  Dawny says so.  As does Sally.  And Max, and Beauty, and countless other discerning canine souls.  Not to mention the many two-legged friends Mike has made in his short time since starting down this new road.  He has gifts to share.  And cookies.  He has life to savor.  And enjoy.

Mike’s son and daughter, his sister and her family, and many old friends are still in his hometown area in Ohio.  In his house on wheels, he will be able to visit them in the temperate months, then return south for the winter.  His sister and her husband just bought a 36 foot class-A motorhome (the large bus-sized type) and are planning to join the snowbirds who fly south for the winter, spending at least some of their time traveling and camping with Mike.  These are the things that help to ease the pang when loved ones are missed.

Dawny and I wish the absolute best for Mike as he continues his journey.  We have faith that the beauty of his spirit, the steadfastness of his love, and the strength of his intellect will continue to pave his road with integrity and compassion.  With the rise of each day’s sun, may his loved ones and friends (both old and new, two legged and four) bring him great joy until he reaches his destination, his final Hoka Hey.

Youngsters on Wheels

I have a beautiful new friend.  She calls me her “Bestie” and “BFF.”  She is young enough to be my daughter, so to have her put me into the category of friend like that simply makes my heart giggle.

Laura, her husband, Adam, and their young daughter, Daisy, joined the ranks of full-time RV’ers a year and a half ago.  Unlike so many of us out here, they are far from retirement age.  They home school Daisy and must actively earn a living while on the road.

Laura agreed to share some of their story for this blog posting.  I’ve changed names and minor details for the sake of her family’s privacy.

Before taking such a drastic step, they were living what many would identify as the American dream.  To afford this dream, Adam worked two full-time jobs.  In addition to home schooling Daisy, Laura worked full-time at a small business they ran and cleaned houses on the side.  Two people, four jobs…  all to pay for a beautiful house they could barely enjoy and vehicles to drive them back and forth from this house that was filled with all the trappings.  (There is a reason they are called “trappings,” you know.)

Exhausted, distracted, frazzled… stress was their daily measure.  Even though she home schooled Daisy and they were together nearly constantly, Laura was so worn out she couldn’t truly invest in her daughter.  Not thoroughly, not deeply.  It broke Laura’s heart that she was not able to be totally there for her.

Or for her husband.

Laura and Adam had met at a dance bar when they were just 18 and 19.  Laura saw Adam dancing.  She told her friend, “I’m going to marry that man.”

When Adam approached the two young ladies, he made a bee line for Laura and asked her to dance.  They’ve been together ever since.  Laura later asked him why he came to her and not her friend, who was the type who usually attracted male attention.  “Because you were real,” Adam replied.

Each of them had recently suffered deep heartbreak, however, so they decided to take things slowly and to date other people, even though each knew in their heart of hearts that the other was “the one.”

A year or so into the relationship, they were in a bad accident.  Taken to different hospitals, Laura freaked out.  Was Adam all right?  What if he wasn’t?  She hadn’t even told him she loved him, and oh, how she did love him!  She made contact with him through friends of her Mom’s, who worked at the hospital.  Yes, he was quite a mess, but he was alive.  And he loved her, too.

“It’s about time,” Adam responded to the third-party message.  He knew Laura was the one from the start and had waited patiently for her to get to the same page.

Now, over 20 years into their marriage, they were at another turning point.  Exhausted from the rat race, Laura and Adam sat down at the dining room table one evening for a serious talk about their future.  Adam’s father had recently passed away.  He had all these wonderful plans to travel after his retirement and hadn’t been able to enjoy them.  After his father’s funeral, Adam realized that he wanted Daisy to know him well enough so that when his own end time came, she would be able to stand and say what a wonderful man he had been, not just listen to accolades from friends and coworkers who knew her father better than she.

Realizing that they were not guaranteed anything, let alone tomorrow, Laura and Adam decided to get a grip on their lifestyle.  Take back control.  Reorder their priorities.  The first step would be to drastically downsize and simplify.

After briefly considering the tiny house trend, they were increasingly drawn to the idea of a tiny house combined with mobility.  They had a small towed trailer they had used for vacations the past two summers.  If they went bigger, they could have enough room for all three of them to be comfortable and even have a workshop in it for Adam.

The romantic appeal of a nomadic, gypsy lifestyle totally captured Laura’s heart.

Before making the final decision, the little family took a two week test run in their camper from the Smoky Mountains to the Atlantic coast.  It rained every single day.  And they had the best time ever.  They played in the rain, walked in the rain, listened to the rain on their tiny roof.  They loved each other in the rain.  They found hope in the rain.

Laura realized she had fallen head over heels in love with her husband again.  She saw the man she originally fell in love with emerge from the confining shell that society uses to package its participants.  When they returned home, she couldn’t wait to sell their stuff and hit the road.

That was September.  By December, their house was sold and by March, they were living full-time in their fifth-wheel trailer.  They had spent the winter between a rental apartment and their RV, downsizing and figuring out what was and what was not needed.

Adam makes a living for the family doing an assortment of jobs, including his crafting business which he operates out of the workshop in the back of the rig.  Laura is proud and delighted to contribute by doing workamping jobs that earn them free site rentals.  They are independent, entrepreneurial, and smart–good traits under any circumstance, but especially valuable when on the road.

I asked each of them what their favorite thing was about living full-time on wheels.

For Daisy, it is all the friends she is able to make now.  Indeed, Daisy is the social butterfly of the campground, flying around on her bicycle or her scooter, an assortment of other children peddling in her wake.  The best thing is, not only is she a natural leader, she is a kind, good-hearted friend.

For Adam, it is accompanying his daughter as she spreads her wings.  Rather than turning around one day in surprise to find that Daisy is four inches taller, her growth is now imperceptible simply because he is there for every moment of it.  Imperceptible and huge, all at once.  It’s a good thing to take time when witnessing a miracle.

As for Laura, she is thrilled to follow the love of her life to the ends of the earth once again.

You see, Laura lives a very spiritual life.  A life of faith.  She prayed before going into this.  She prays before they make any kind of big decision. She prays prayers of gratitude.  For her husband, for their daughter, and for each day.  Before their change in lifestyle, Adam had left the little church they had long belonged to.  This caused a deep conflict in Laura’s heart.  Once they set out on their adventure, though, she realized her husband may have left the church, but he did not leave God.  Indeed, she sees him now as a better man than ever before.  Where she had been blaming him for so much of the negativity that she had been feeling, she can see now that much of that negativity came from pressure and judgment put on by the outside world.

We are never totally free from judgment, which is often shrill and, more often, takes on subtle disguise.  Indeed, being human, we each carry our own judgmental tendencies with us wherever we go.  There were at least a couple of family members who were very resentful of Laura and Adam’s choice, but that didn’t sway them from taking the path that they felt was right for them.  One family member has come around since then, and has admitted that her reaction came from a place of selfishness, and that when she looked at the situation after some time and with clearer eyes, she was able to understand and accept.

Maybe some day Laura and Adam will buy a small house and settle down in one place for a spell, but they hope never to get drawn back into the same trap as before.  Meanwhile, they continue to live their dream on wheels, all wrapped up in one another.

(Photo at top of post is complements of Daisy’s Legos and her toy truck and fifth-wheel trailer.  For those unfamiliar with different RV styles, a fifth-wheel is a towed trailer which, instead of mounting on a hitch on the back bumper of a truck, mounts in the truck bed over the rear axle.  Fifth wheels have more head room inside, more storage, and more versatile floor plans than most travel trailers.  Laura and Adam’s bedroom and bathroom is upstairs in the part over the truck bed.  Daisy’s room is a loft over her dad’s workshop in the rear of the trailer.  They even have room for a washer/dryer and a growing puppy, critical items acquired since hitting the road.  The cat, well, the cat came along for the ride.  And yes, like most cats, he is quite critical.)

Boxes, Both Miraculous & Mundane

Joy sat on her art box as the small, storm-tossed boat filled with water.  She calmly watched as both of her shipmates abandoned her to swim back to their ship, anchored offshore.  Her beloved box, filled with calligraphy pens, paint brushes and other wondrous, creative tools, was shrouded in a portrait of Our Lord that she had painted on the lid before setting out for Mexico from Canada several years previously.  Alone.  With Our Lord by her side to protect her.

And protect her He did.  Joy could sit with her art box in front of her while traveling through Mexico (not necessarily the safest of places for a woman traveling solo), confident that no evil intentions would cross.  She could enjoy and flourish and live and love.  And no evil crossed Our Lord.

He guided Joy’s little boat safely back towards shore that night.  A local Mexican noticed her bobbing closer and closer to the dock.  By the time he kindly tossed her a rope, the boat was gone.  The boat was later recovered, the art box with its beautiful shroud no longer there.  No, not there in the strictest sense of the meaning.  But it… He… certainly lingered, providing no less strength, courage, discernment, and love to Joy’s emboldened heart.

 * **  * ***  ** * stardust *** *  **  ***

I asked Joy and Tony if they knew they were meant for each other when they first danced.

“I knew before she came,” replied Tony.

Tony had a 200 year old country inn in Massachusetts.  There was a ballroom on each of three floors.  He had taught ballroom dancing at Radio City Music Hall.  He explained to me that everyone has a certain dance inside of them.  Tony is a tango.  Joy, the salsa.  (I am a waltz!)  Find your dance and the others all fall into place from there.

One Winter night, Tony had a vision of a beautiful brunette coming to his inn.  He told his staff and friends then and there that he would be leaving the inn to go with her.

Meanwhile, Joy had completed a job crewing on a tall ship that sailed from New Hampshire to New York’s South Street Seaport.  As a reward, Joy and her friends were treated to the use of a cabin in the woods of Massachusetts.  Not long after their arrival, a local woman, Sophie, showed up, shotgun in hand, to check up on the property and who was living there.  Once Joy and her friends passed inspection, Sophie suggested they go see Tony up at the inn.

And so they did, knocking on the inn’s door one wintry Sunday night.  Patrick, the valet/bartender, answered the door.  Upon entering the inn, Joy saw Tony, dressed in a red and black plaid lumberjack jacket, messing around with a bowlful of oranges in the next room and she thought, “Hello, old friend.”  They recognized each other immediately.  Their dance together commenced and, in Tony’s words, “We never stopped dancing.”

 **  * *** **  * ** dancing snowflakes  *** *  ** * ***  **

FullSizeRender-261Tony’s heritage is Irish-Catholic/American Indian (Joy was raised an Orthodox Jew).  He is a second son, a healer.  The first son is always the chief, and Tony’s older brother fills that role well.

When he was about 9 years old, Tony fell in love with a pop-up camper that was on display at the Eastern States Exposition.  He would visit often, entranced with the pop-up mechanism that turned the little box into a little house.  He was especially drawn to the lime green curtains.

One day, the camper’s vendor had to leave his station and he asked Tony to keep an eye on things.  Tony jumped at the chance.  Such responsibility!  A fellow came by and started to inspect the camper.  He was a local police officer, and he really loved the camper, but was afraid his wife would think it too small for their needs and too big to store when not in use.  Tony jumped into action, explaining how the pop-up mechanisms worked to create a house from a very compact box, and vice versa when the unit needed to be stored.  The policeman went home to get his wife and when the camper’s vendor returned, he fully demonstrated the little domestic miracle to the eager couple.  The sale was made!  And, boy, was Tony proud.

** ***  * *** *  *** lime green curtains  ** * * *** **  *  **

Joy and Tony have started from scratch numerous times.  From places where they had nothing but their own stores of wisdom and strength and, later, each other.  Times when they simply passed through the next open door (for one always appears) to embark upon the next adventure, challenge, lesson, blessing, without looking back, for there was nothing to look back upon.  They have experienced deep loss and grief in their lives and have had to work through some very painful emotions.  Joy stated that on the other side of her deepest heartbreak, she discovered what true, unconditional love is.

For years, on and off, they traveled in a purple and yellow 54-seat passenger bus (a Canadian Bluebird).  A dear friend’s baby was born in the back of that bus.  Many years they simply tent-camped out of a van.  They worked at a dinner theater, alternately dancing and waiting tables.  They taught art and sewing at a homeless shelter.  They worked with Joy’s brother teaching art at his addiction center.  They often traveled to different family members to help them in time of need.

They cared for Tony’s mother at the end of her life.  Being Irish and Indian, Tony is blessed with a double-whammy abundance of superstitious beliefs.  It is said that when someone passes, you hear three knocks and then will see the shadow of the grim reaper.  Tony heard, he saw, and he accepted.

Tony took a long walk through the neighborhood after his mother passed.  At that point, he and Joy were at loose ends as to the next stage of their journey.  He noticed a pop-up camper sitting in a front yard with a for sale sign on it.  So familiar…  with lime green curtains…  being sold by a retired police officer and his wife…

How much?

How much do you have?

$350.

Sold!

Yes, indeed.

** *  *  ** *** *   ** butterflies ***  * **  ***   ***   ***

FullSizeRender-264Joy and Tony now have a small pop-out camper (the two ends open up into little rooms when it is time to set up house).  I noticed their little homestead right away on my dog walks around the RV park.  It is colorful and looks warm, homey.  Inside, purple, gold, and green (some of it lime) greet your eye.  Outside, artwork spins in the breeze where it hangs from a small orange tree.  They even have containers of grass growing on their porch.

FullSizeRender-263At one point, they had set out a small, purple child’s pool filled with lush green grass.  I thought, “Wow, that couple must miss having a yard or something–they bring one with them wherever they go!”  It turns out that it is wheat grass that they grow for its extraordinary health benefits.

In their wanderings since their paths joined in 1987 (Joy set out on her own in 1980), Joy and Tony have lived and loved and served and learned enough to fill volumes.  When I sat down with them to get “their story,” I imagined some sort of linear tale (I am, after all, a linear, highly organized sort) filled with things like when they first started RV’ing or camping, where they have visited, what their favorite places and experiences have been.  I soon realized that trying to squeeze their tale into some kind of distinct, orderly box–organized around the perennial who, what, where, when, and why–would be like trying to put a leash on a butterfly.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for sharing, Joy and Tony!

** * **  *** *  ** *** *  * ** ***  * ** **  *** *

Today’s post is dedicated to beloved Dolly and Solomon, Joy and Tony’s magnificent canine companions and bearers of their own love story, and who enriched the lives of their people as only a doggie can.

The pictures in the post are as follows, in order of appearance:   1)  Joy’s sculpture:  He Touched Me (symbolic of the three-fold flame, Love, Wisdom, and Power); 2)  Joy and Tony’s sculpture, inspired by Joy’s brother, cradled in a discarded satellite dish; 3) Outside view of their current pop-out camper and front porch with Joy’s painting of the prophet Micah twirling in the shade of the orange tree; 4)  Have Grass, Will Travel!

The names of Joy and Tony have been slightly altered so as to provide a delicate veil of privacy for my new friends.