Saturday, June 03, 2017

A slow start

I am having a hard time being motivated to write on a timely manner. It just might be that I'm having too much fun on my first leg of retirement. Here is my catch-up and vow to write more frequently.

Cecile and I drove to Backus, Minnesota to pick up our new Scamp trailer May 22. It was something of a mad dash up there, but the reward was our very own miniature home on wheels.  The Scamp is just 13-feet from bumper to hitch but it has a double bed, a kitchen, a toilet and a shower. They only make 500 a year and you have to get them directly from the factory.

They have become something of a cult. The price is reasonable but the supply is limited. Used trailers can cost as much as new ones (so the new owner avoids the trip to Minnesota).  That made it a no-risk investment for us.

As opposed to the fast trip up, we meandered back, keeping on secondary highways and even a few county roads. The trip gave us a taste of the delightful surprises that come with Scamping. We pulled into New Ulm, MN, after spotting a European-style church spire. As we drove down the main street, we came across the "famous" glockenspiel just minutes from its daily 3 p.m. show. The sign said it was the only authentic German glockenspiel in the U.S. As the hour struck, a carillon of bells played and then a door opened so we could see carved figures dancing below the clock face. It was great fun.

We stopped for the night in Clear Lake, Iowa and found a restaurant off of Buddy Holly Place. It turns out the venue next door was the Surf Ballroom, where Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper played in 1959 before boarding a light plane that crashed in a field just outside of town. The fatal crash site has become a rock shrine. On a rural road way out in the corn fields is a giant pair of Holly-esque glasses. A trail leads off into the field so you can stand at the actual site of "the day the music died. "Bye, Bye Miss American Pie."

Cecile spotted a curiosity in a tour book that became our next target: The house that Grant Wood used as a backdrop for his iconic American Gothic painting. There is not a lot else going on in Eldon, Iowa, but the house and accompanying museum are well worth the side-trip. The museum does a good job explaining the life of a Depression-era artist who was always on the lookout for a good scene. On a visit to a friend, he sketched the farm house with its ornate window. Then he later added his dentist as the straight-faced old farmer and his sister as the farmer's plain daughter.

The staff at the museum is great. They are quick to loan you costumes and then use your camera to take a photo. They've done it so many times that they have the perfect angles marked on the walkway. Cecile and I mugged it up for our own Bentley Gothic pose.

We finally caught the interstate for a faster last leg home. But the trip was a good test for our next great adventure. We are packing the trailer for a six-week western tour. We will head fairly directly to Portland so we can be there in time for grandson Briton's middle school graduation. Before we wear out our welcome, we will meander east.  We have no itinerary, but we do have a goal: Pure fun.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A time to end, a time to restart

For the most part, I have only posted to this blog when I have traveled or have a new adventure. Given the demands of job and family, that was sporadic.

But I'm back. With luck, laid back.

I taught my last class three weeks ago and donned my cap and gown for a last University of Missouri School of Journalism commencement a week ago. I'm retired -- sort of. My paperwork doesn't put me on a pension until Sept. 1, but I have no summer classes and no university duties.

It's an odd feeling, this retirement.  It is somewhat like an atheist, a mystic and a believer talking about the afterlife. Part of me seems to have simply vanished. Part of me has merged with the greater good. And part of me has faith that something even better is coming.

I can't do much about the first except to sigh. I'm quite proud of the second option. And the third -- oh that third. Better things are indeed coming.

Tomorrow Cecile and I go to Backus, MN, to pick up a brand new, 13-foot Scamp trailer. It will be our Tardis, our Transporter, our covered wagon and our embodied daydreams for the foreseeable future. We plan to travel extensively and write our own adventures.

Not that some have not already been written for us. On Mothers Day -- Aug. 14 -- our grandson Fletcher Avel Bentley was born in Knoxville, TN. Though we drove there shortly after his arrival, we expect that the Scamp will give us many excuses to visit son Garrett, daughter-in-law Brittany and our newest progeny.

The trailer will also be out travel ticket to Oregon this summer to visit daughter Gillian, her husband Will and our first set of grandchildren -- Evelyn and Briton.

But first we have to get the trailer. That means I need to get some sleep in this Minnesota hotel, wake early and drive the next few miles to Backus. Backus.  Hmm, seems a good omen for a return to blogging.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Down to earth in Prairie Home

Garrison Keeler would have been proud. Prairie Home, MO, has everything Lake Woebegone has only in dreams.
Saturday, Cecile and I took a winding ride to the 100th annual Prairie Home Fair – an event unlike most of us have seen for decades.  It’s not one of those cows, pigs and jelly jars fairs.  This is community celebration of games, songs and good times. And it is all the better for what it doesn’t have.
Like mobile phones.  The grandstand was full and there were the requisite number of bored teenagers. But not a one was texting, not one was playing a game. And none of the adults were checking email. Their eyes were on the arena.
We arrived just as the kids bicycle races were hitting their mark. About 75 kids from 5 to 12 raced by the handful around four orange cones on a bare-dirt lot. First peddler to make two circuits ahead of the crowd could coast over to a wooden shed and collect $5, cash.
A few more things were notably missing:  Bicycle helmets, clinging parents, knee pads – and lawyers. When kids spun out at that tricky first turn, they rubbed their knees got back on their bikes and peddled like crazy.
But one of those wipe-outs left me a spectacular memory. Two 12-year-old boys who were obviously friends jockeyed for the pole (or cone) on their small-wheeled bikes.  Inevitably, one tumbled and tumbled hard.  He got up, but spilled at yet another corner.
His friend coasted to the booth for his five $1 bills. But as he walked away, he stuffed the bills into his fallen friend’s pocket.
Ain’t that America?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Father's Day Thanks

The Hallmark people got Fathers Day all wrong. Instead of getting gifts, I should be sending thank you cards to you and your brother.
Garrett, me and Dad
Women enjoy a physical and intractable bond with their children, something of which all men are secretly jealous. We instead must cultivate our connection with that squirming little bundle of life.

But you make it easy. I earned my “Dad” the first time you looked up and smiled as I held you in my arms. I’m forever blessed that neither you nor Garrett ever stopped smiling. Thanks to you, happy Fathers Day to me!

Biology being what it is, I’m not only a father but also a son. So I’ve puzzled through the Fathers Day gift from both sides. Mothers Day gifts were always easy – something pretty, something clutzy I made myself or just flowers. Hugs, kisses and joyful tears guaranteed.

But what to get Dad?

If flowers are the default for Mothers Day, tools are the norm for Fathers Day. But you’ve seen Dad’s shop. Buying another tool for him was something like buying another reindeer for Santa.

Not that he minded. An extra screwdriver or pair of pliers can always find home on the workbench. He was a Dad, after all. The real present was the smile and gleam in his children’s eye.

Some of the best presents you and Garrett gave me were the little trinkets you made yourself. And I actually love getting ties. My favorites are the two you made for me with handprints of your own children. Grandkid chic. Those ties also marked my graduation from mere “father” to “grandfather.”

Son-to-father-to-grandfather. Some men never make it or don’t appreciate it if they do. But I find it wondrous. My dad’s genes became my genes, then yours and Garrett’s genes, the Briton and Evie’s genes. Garrett is next in line to move up from sonhood.

Fathers Day reminds me that I have a responsibility to the future and a legacy no one can take away. I see my dad now only in photos and the Bentley nose. But I feel him in the things I do and the words I say. Sometimes it is the way I stand or the way I walk. The Father of All Fathers Day gifts is catching those same mannerism in you, Garrett or even Evie or Briton.

So thanks, Gillian. You made my (Fathers) Day.


Monday, June 08, 2015

Thankfully, there is no cure for the Green Plague

It would be overly polite to call the place where my father grew up a “dirt farm.” Dirt, yes. Farm, no. It was more of a divot in the vast forest of northern Idaho with enough bare ground that you could coax cabbage, potatoes and other hearty vegetables through the brief mountain summer.
The 10 Bentley kids did the vegetable coaxing at the end of hoe handles, but only because my notoriously stern grandfather had and used a bigger stick. There was no way in the world he was going pay good money for undistilled consumables.

Dad, then, had a hard time seeing gardening as a hobby. It was a chore that put food on the table. He planted gardens during the leanest times of my boyhood, but treated them a small farms that would ease the grocery budget. He even tried to introduce us to a frost-fighting, north country favorite – Swiss chard. My brother and I drew the line there. We would hoe the weeds, but not eat something with the culinary appeal of pond scum. Or kale.

But when I was in about seventh grade, I caught the Green Plague. I was a voracious reader who became fascinated by stories of farm life, huge vegetables and loan between your toes. Dad thought I had gone mad when tilled and planted a plot near the house. I’m sure he chuckled, however, while I was learning that pulling weeds and

Friday, May 29, 2015

The little cockroach who could

I think my car may be a cockroach. If Armageddon ever comes, it won’t be the meek who inherit the Earth. It will be all those unkillable cockroaches – driving Geo Trackers.

I fell in love with my 1990 Tracker almost the moment you and I spotted it at the dealership in Pendleton, Oregon. No worries that it was seven years old. It was tiny, it was bright white and it was four-wheel-drive. And best of all, it was a convertible.

Well, I suppose the best of best of all was that it was cheap. We didn’t need a limousine, just a snow car. This one might actually qualify as a snowmobile.

I loved it, but only expected to see it around for a couple of years.

But it didn’t die in the eastern Oregon snow. And when

Monday, May 18, 2015

Growing a crop of graduates

No one likes to say goodbye. But twice a year I do it with a wistful smile.
For graduation week at the University of Missouri, I put on my bright green doctoral robe, cocked my tasseled tam and made march of pomp with my professorial colleagues.

With us on the arena floor, scores of black-robed students laughed nervously. In the bleachers around us, parents looked on with that special mixture of emotions: pride in accomplishment, relief in completion and worry in a yet-unsettled future.

I understand those emotions – mine are just as mixed. But let’s step back a few months.

Professors could trade their fancy robes for bib overalls. What we do is very much akin to farming – with a 15-week crop cycle.

We do an awful lot of plowing the first few weeks of the semester. We dig up the bits of knowledge students picked up from other teachers, turn it over repeatedly and mix it well with composted lectures.

When their brows are properly furrowed, we plant the seeds of knowledge and cultivate intensely. Somewhere around midterm, they sprout. Or at least the lights go on in their eyes. From that point on it's a race to keep ahead of them.

Then at the end of each fall and spring semester, we harvest the best of them.

Watching the students you impatiently tended walk across the stage and into their future is the greatest reward of teaching. It comes with a cost, of course. By the time they get to caps and gowns, they have a piece of us with them. And as proud as we are, it hurts when that piece goes away.

There's a secret to making the most of academic life, though.  It's the same tip that a student speaker gave to his fellow fledgling citizens of the world:

"Keep moving. Just don't stop moving."