Thank you for joining me for the summer redux series. I will be re-posting stories you may not have read, in the fashion of a summer re-run. The original “A Side Trip to the SPAM Museum” posted back in March 2013. It’s been embellished a little since then.
* * *
Previously in Fannie’s world . . .
Summer arrived in Western Washington. June rain, fog, and wind with regular helpings of sun breaks, which roused the spirits of undecided Western Washingtonians from spring Gore-tex wearing to summer blue tarp camping—because they bring their own blue sky with them. The mercury stretched to 65º F, then yawned.
A sun break highlighted a small brown and gray ranch house in Gig Harbor, Washington.
Neighbor, Bunny Gutierrez, stood at the end of Richard and Fannie Cranium’s driveway, clutching the box of Bissinger’s chocolate-covered blackberries they brought back from their trip.
Richard relived his travel trauma induced by the road trip with Fannie’s parents . . . .
* * *
Bunny’s long blond pony tail wagged behind her head. She pressed the box of chocolates to her chest in an effort to subdue the laughter. With her refined Texas accent, she said, “Richard, I’m not sure if I should feel sorry for you or not. You volunteered for a self-inflicted gun shot wound.”
“Gee thanks, Bunny,” Richard said, his tall lean frame hunched with exhaustion, his shoulders slumped like a bear. Dark circles camped under his blue eye. “Remind me to volunteer you next time.”
I put my hand on Bunny’s left arm. “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 far less than a foot and a half taller than me.
“I’ll bite. What happened?” Bunny asked, her pony tail played hide-n-seek behind her head.
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.”
* * *
Stuffed birds and animal heads ornamented the walls of the large dining area. A mural depicting a cowboy roping a calf covered one wall. A second, smaller dining room located through an arch opposite the hostess’ station lead to the bar and additional bathrooms.
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.”
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 salad 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, my green eyes taking a barrel roll.
“You’ll thank me later when it brings back all those fond childhood memories,” she said, waving the salad tongs at me.
I whispered to Richard, “Like the memories of my dad feeding it to the dog under the table.”
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.
My father polished his bald spot with his right hand. “Velverlorn, I’ve been thinking, we’ve always said we’d visit the SPAM Museum.” He said, “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 cleared my throat. “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, borrowing my mother’s number 10 look, ‘correcting errant children at a glance’.
It bounced of my father and splatted on the mobile land yacht’s carpet.
“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, giving me the official parental ‘negatory’ head shake—conversation over. “Everyone else is always early.”
The sun set somewhere over Nebraska. The moon peered 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. An eagle flew over the parking lot toward the river.
An overly caffeinated hotel clerk checked us in at 6 a.m., my zombie avatar glowered in the corner of the lobby. No one should be that exuberant before 10.
Standing outside our rooms, my mother snapped her fingers. “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. 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. I only remember the first bounce.
The next twenty-four hours blurred with images of a river, rolling hills, mansions, trees, grass, farms and the backsides of eyelids.
“Richard, there’s a few things I need to warn you about before we head for the reunion with my folks,” I said, taking his hand in mine.
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, rubbing the side of his nose with the pointing finger of his free hand.
“I’m not done yet,” I said, squeezing his hand, “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 raked is fingers through his thick 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.”
He pulled out his laptop. He searched for the SPAM Museum. “Fannie, it’s a six and a half hour drive from here.” His voice sank. “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.
Richard stared at his laptop. He sucked in air, his pointing finger tapped rapid-fire on the screen. His devilish grin spread across his face. His voice trembled. “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, frustrated, “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.”
“Conroy” won the prize for farthest travel after four and half hours of visiting.
When it was time to leave, my father took the car keys. “I’ll drive the first shift.”
We headed north to Austin, Minnesota. The sun check-out over Cedar Rapids, and the full moon filled in for the north star when we crossed the border into Minnesota. The moon rested halfway through its journey above the Hormel plant.
“Conrad, it’s so late, we won’t get to meet any of the Spambassadors,” my mother said, frowning. Her voice filled with a wheelbarrow’s worth of disappointment.
“The what,” Richard mouthed across the back seat to me.
“That’s the name for the museum docents,” I whispered, my smile suppression mechanism picked the wrong moment to fail. The smile squirmed onto my lips.
Tapping the back of the driver’s seat, I said, “Dad, stop the car. I want to get a picture.”
The mobile land yacht moored 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.
“Richard if we ever get back here during the daylight hours, I would love to take the tour,” I said.
The moon disappeared from the sky. Richard took over driving. An hour later he pulled off the freeway into the Shell station in Blue Earth. We stretched our legs.
My mother asked, “Fannie, didn’t you tell me you’ve been trying to find a little green giant here your last four trips?”
“Yes, why do you ask?”
“Is that it?” she asked, pointing to a statue under a spotlight next to the propane case.
My hand wobbled, my voice shook. “Oh my god, Richard. Look, look, look,” I said, pointing.
The flood light back lit a halo on the head of the re-purposed, green-painted “Bob’s Big Boy” with his green leafy toga.
Richard looked up from the gas pump. He almost dropped the gas nozzle. His jaw dropped about a mile. His voice dropped into the basement. “Fannie get the camera.”
My mom and dad posed opposite each other with the Little Giant. Each bending one leg back at the knee. They stretched to kiss his cheeks. The gas station attendant joined us for the group photo.
The Little Giant moonlights nowadays as a candy salesman. Handmade fudge anyone?
* * *
Bunny’s tongue took a quick detour passed her lips. She snorted. She 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, her Texas accent a littler thicker through the laughter. Her ponytail bobbed up and down.
* * *
At the time of this posting, the SPAM Museum re-opened last month in downtown Austin with the original location being converted into office space. The new museum will be celebrating 125 years of Spam and hope to attract 125,000 visitors this year.
And if you haven’t heard the Spam Song, sung by Tia Carrere and Daniel Ho, check it out.