The Road Revisited

Follow Me Around The United States!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Lost Socks and Lost Children

I lost a sock. Not just any sock. A red monkey sock. One of my favorite socks. The washing machine at the Leavenworth KOA has an apparent penchant for red Paul Frank socks and helped itself. When I folded my laundry on the trunk of the car, it was gone. I all but climbed in the washer and dryer looking for it, which made an old man giggle at me, which made me giggle too. "Lose something?" he asked.
"Eh, yeah. A sock." I pawed through the lost and found items and found only old granny panties and a leopard-print bra.
He was standing in the doorway, walking a tiny Pekingese. "Looks like you're not the only one who lost something."
"Yeah, but I don't really need these big undies. Are you on vacation?"
"No, ma'am, I'm retired! My wife and I are taking our RV around."
"That's great! Must be nice!"
"Well, what about you, young lady? Are you in school?"
"No, I'm on about the longest break between college and grad school one can take. I'm a Future Law School Dropout!" I said proudly.
He laughed. "Well, reach for those stars."
"All the time."

He wished me well as I went back up the hill towards my camp. I watched a four-point buck meander through the thick brush at the bottom of the hill from my site. He stopped to munch, taking fifteen minutes in all to cross in front of me. From their vantage point, my neighbors couldn't see him, and I was glad, because the children would have probably scared him away. I made some Ramen noodles and watched the little kids at the site near mine careen the hills and curves with their training wheels. I was having a nice enough time alone, but the neighbors were still staring at me, making me nervous. So I watched them back. The large family whirled a birthday cake out of their RV and sang to the pretty mother in a variety of cadences. The three people next to them, and across from me, two men and one woman, played cards. Every so often both families would stop to look over at me but say nothing. While I waited for the water to boil, the hairs on my neck prickled and my cheeks began to flush; the tell-tale sign of being pissed. But this time, I was determined not to give into it. I couldn't give into the assumption that RV campers were superior and unfriendly again. I had to do something nice for them. All I had to offer was instant coffee and five peaches, and I didn't have enough for the big family. But I pulled the paper sac from the front seat that held the peaches and walked across the tiny road to the three card players.

Of all games for three middle-aged adults to be playing, they were engaged in a hot game of Uno. "Awesome!" I thought. They waved as they saw me come over. "Hi. Would you like some peaches? I bought them today but they're so ripe I can't eat them all in time."
The happy man with the brown-gray beard and the blue t-shirt smiled wide. "Are you sure?"
"Oh, yeah! They're so good, I just can't eat all of them."
"Well, sure, then! Thank you!" He took the bag and smelled the fruit. "Aw, these are great! Thanks!"
His wife, a red-headed woman in a flower print t-shirt, asked, "Are you here all by yourself?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Oh, my. You're a long way from home. Did you hear that, Mike? She's here all by herself."
The quiet man in the gray tank top glanced at me and spoke slowly. "Yeah, that's a long way."
We made small talk for a few moments, mostly about the town of Leavenworth, until I realized I still had water on the stove. "I have to go, I have to make soup!"
They laughed as I scampered away, calling, "Thanks again for the peaches!"

As I stirred the noodles, the father of the kids next door came over to visit. "So, it's just you here, huh?"
"Yup. Just me."
"That's cool. So how long did it take you to drive out here?"
"I left a month ago."
His eyes widened. "Oh, man! That's.... wow. Man."
He made me giggle. "Yeah, I took a very, very scenic route."
"I guess so. So, can I ask... why?"
"Of course you can ask why! I'm a writer. I'm writing a book about all the people I meet along the way."
"Well, now. If you want stories, you should talk to my dad. Hey, Dad! C'mere!"
"Why your dad?"
"He's a juvenile corrections officer."
"Okay, 'nuff said."

The burly old man walked over, limping a bit with age and experience. He wore a white t-shirt and cotton shorts. His gray hair was slicked back in the way only old men are capable of. He reminded me of Brian Cox. "So you're a retired corrections officer I hear?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said in a deep, gruff voice. He made me explain my mission, then cut in with a "I can tell you stories."
"Like what?"
"Stories about throw-away kids. How no one wants to take the time to educate the children nowadays. Most of these kids aren't bad kids, they're just learning disabled."

His name was Roy Humel. He was a Brisbane, Washington juvenile corrections officer with experience in child psychology. "I stayed in corrections until I couldn't take it anymore. Watching these kids file past you all day, with no one helping them, it got to be too much. I tried to change the system. I convinced the powers that be to conduct a study, in which the children were taught basic skills through methods that had been proven to work for children that are learning disabled, and they all did well. Then they were tested for those same disabilities, and diagnosed. It was such a simple process. But nobody wanted to see it through. So today you still got kids fighting just to live, because no one's taken the initiative to figure out why they're still in crime. They say it's too expensive, too time-consuming. Throw-away children. They're everywhere."

"Check out this website," he continued. " That's the results of the study released in an article I wrote." I checked it days later. It didn't work. Neither did .org or adding various punctuations. Perhaps those who try to help troubled children are as easily written-off as the children themselves.

He left me to eat my noodles in peace.... and slightly depressed. He was right. And if I had a dollar for every time I thought about being a social worker or child advocate or family court lawyer or guidance counselor, I could pay for grad school. But the thought of feeling helpless in the face of a system built of red tape and money keeps me waiting tables, tending bar, and on this crazy road.


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