Clutching her new Momo doll and gasping for breath between fits of laughter, Bunny said with her refined Texas accent, “Richard, I’m not sure if I should feel sorry for you or not, it’s like you volunteered for a self inflicted gun shot wound.”
“Gee thanks, Bunny,” Richard said his shoulders slumping. With dark circles under his blue eye he said, “remind me to volunteer you to go next time.”
Laughing I said, “Bunny, that’s not the best part. Richard thought it couldn’t get any worse.”
“Oh, don’t remind me,” Richard said draping his arm around my shoulders to prop himself up. He seemed much less than a foot and a half taller than me.
“I’ll bite, what happened,” Bunny asked, her long blond hair swept back into a pony tail that crowned her statuesque figure.
Running my fingers through my short brown hair I said, “We were okay until we stopped for lunch at Al’s Oasis in Oacoma, South Dakota.”
We followed the hostess to a long table lined with captain’s chairs in the middle of the dining room. She handed us menus. Pointing in the direction of the salad bar she said, “you can choose the salad bar, order off the menu or both. I’ll be back in a few minutes to take your order.”
The large dining area was surrounded with stuffed birds and animal heads. A mural depicting a cowboy roping a calf graced one wall. A second, smaller dining room located through an arch opposite the hostess’ station lead to the bar and additional bathrooms.
After ordering our lunch, my mother lead the way to the salad bar. My father handed out the plates.
When my mother reached the end of the bar she said, “Conrad, look, they serve SPAM. When was the last time we ate SPAM?”
My father thought for a moment, “You know, Velverlorn, I can’t remember.”
“We have to eat some,” my mother said piling it on all of our plates.
“Gosh, thanks mom,” I said rolling my green eyes.
“You’ll thank me later when it brings back all those fond childhood memories,” she said smiling.
“Like the memories of my dad feeding it to the dog under the table because they forced him to eat it in the Army,” I whispered to Richard.
After lunch, Richard tuned out with his iPod. He drove the sky blue mobile land yacht toward the last leg of our journey, Louisiana, Missouri.
“Velverlorn, I’ve been thinking, we’ve always said we’d visit the SPAM Museum,” my father said polishing his bald spot with his hand, “if we plan it right, we can leave the reunion a little early and take a side trip to Minnesota on the way home. It can’t be more than a six or seven hour drive. If we time it right, we’ll catch the museum before they close.”
“That’s a wonderful idea,” my mother said, “I’ve wanted to go ever since Barbara told me about her visit.”
“That settles it then.”
I turn around in my seat. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
They both stared at me blankly.
“Richard and I have to get back in time for work next Monday,” I said looking at my parents.
“Pish-posh, Fannie, we’ll have plenty of time to see the museum and get you and Richard back in time,” my father said waving his hand at me.
“Dad, you do remember you have issues with being on time?”
“Nonsense,” he said shaking his head. “Everyone else is always early.”
The sun set somewhere over Nebraska. The moon rose over the low rolling hills. Richard pulled into the parking lot of the River’s Edge Motel at 2 a.m.. We slept in the car until the sun rose. A bald eagle flew over the parking lot toward the river. We checked into our rooms at 6 a.m.
“We don’t have to be anywhere until 1 p.m. when we’re meeting my cousin, Bill, for lunch and a tour of the mansions,” my mother said as we stood outside the doors to our rooms, “we’re going to sleep for a few hours then meet you out here at 12:30.”
Setting the alarm on my wrist watch for 11:45 I said, “We’ll see you then.”
Richard and I dropped our luggage on the floor of our room and fell on top of the bed. The next twenty four hours blurred passed with images of mansions, a river, trees and farms.
“Richard, there’s a few things I need to warn you about before we head for the reunion with my folks,” I said holding his arm.
Richard looked from my hand to my face, “Fannie that sounds ominous. But after the last week, I’m willing to listen.”
“Good, cause here’s what you need to know about this branch of my family. Only Cousin Bill remembers who’s the blood relative, which is my mother. They can’t remember my father’s name so they always call him Conroy, you’ll get used to it,” I said taking a breath. “When we arrive we’re expected to contribute to a pot of money which will be divvied up toward the end of the pot luck as prize monies for categories such as the oldest relative to attend, longest married couple or the relative who traveled the farthest. In that category my father always wins and my mother now keeps her mouth shut.”
“Fannie that’s nothing to worry about,” Richard said taking my hand.
“I’m not done yet,” I said, “while you were driving yesterday, my parents planned an unscheduled stop at the SPAM Museum in Minnesota after the reunion. My dad is planning on leaving early so we can hit the museum before it closes.”
Richard ran is fingers through his thick crop of brown hair. “He does know we have to be back to work next Monday?”
“Oh I reminded him,” I said, “he gave me his canned pish-posh speech.”
Richard sat on the bed for a few moments looking around the room. Rubbing his chin he said, “how long do you estimate we’ll be at the pot luck?”
“We’ve never made it out of there in under four hours.”
“Where in Minnesota is the SPAM Museum?” he asked picking up his back pack.
“Austin, just off the freeway.”
Pulling out his laptop he searched for the SPAM Museum. “Fannie, it’s a six and a half hour drive from here. We’d have to skip the reunion to make it to the museum before they close.”
“I know,” I said putting my hand on his knee.
Looking at the map, he gasped. He said, “you know, we can stop at Blue Earth and take our pictures with the Jolly Green Giant again. We might even be able to find the Little Giant this time.”
“That’d be fun, but it doesn’t help with our dilemma,” I said, “how do we make up a full day’s worth of driving?”
Richard studied the map for a few minutes. “Here’s the plan, tonight when I take over driving we go all the way to Rapid City. When we leave Yellowstone, I drive. We go non-stop except to buy gas, pee and get fast food. If my estimates are correct, we can stop in Cle Elum for breakfast on Sunday morning and be back home around midday.”
Later that day “Conroy” won the prize for farthest travel. We spent four and half hours visiting.
When it was time to leave my father took the keys and said, I’ll drive the first shift.”
As predicted we headed north to Austin, Minnesota. The sun set over Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The full moon rose into the clear sky when we crossed the border into Minnesota. We reached the Hormel plant after dark.
“Conrad, it’s so late, we won’t get to meet any of the Spambassadors,” my mother said frowning.
“The what,” Richard asked looking at me.
“That’s the name for the museum docents,” I said.
Tapping the back of his seat I said, “Dad stop the car, I want to get a picture of that.”
The mobile land yacht moored just off the fence outside the Hormel Plant. A giant can of SPAM and a white and blue pig stood vigil in spotlights outside the plant. After taking the picture, we drove around the corner to find the SPAM Museum, a full block long monument to the undisputed champion of mystery meat, located on SPAM Boulevard.
He leaned close and whispered, “only if we leave your parents at home.”
Richard took over driving. An hour later he pulled off the freeway into the Shell station in Blue Earth. We all got out of the car and stretched our legs.
My mother asked, “Fannie, didn’t you tell me you’ve been trying to find a little green giant here for your last four trips?”
“Yes, why do you ask?”
“Is that it?” she asked pointing to a tall statue under a spotlight next to the propane case.
“Oh my god, Richard, look, look,” I said pointing, my voice shaking.
Richard looked up from the gas pump. His jaw dropped. “Fannie get the camera.”
Bunny laughed. “You mean to tell me that you’ve been searching all over Blue Earth to find that statue and it was at the first gas station off the freeway all along?”
“Now that’s funny,” she said nodding.