I try to visit my parents on their desert cattle ranch in New Mexico whenever possible. Occasionally, I out-clever myself and we meet somewhere. One year, that place was Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Texas Panhandle.
My husband and I arrived at the cabin first. It was a nice stone building tucked along the top of the chasm. Outside, beautiful red-rock Spanish skirts decorated the landscape. Inside, two bedrooms were separated by a three-foot hallway. Strangely, there were no doors on either end of the short hallway. A sink and toilet was on one side of the hallway. Directly across from it, another glass door covered a shower. Anyone getting out of the shower had to step directly into the open hallway. If you were using the toilet, anyone walking through the very short hallway could see what you were doing. Then again, if you’re in the bathroom, I guess they already know what you are doing.
My husband and I moved our things into the room with the microwave and refrigerator because it had a double bed. The other room had a daybed with a twin stowed underneath. My parents tend to fight over who is hogging the bed when they try to sleep in a double. I figured they’d be happy about the twin beds and mildly unhappy about the strange engineering concept that put all the electronics in our room…their room had a light, but not a single electric outlet.
Since I had expected mom and dad to arrive an hour earlier, I hiked about a mile to the public telephone booth near the ranger station and reached dad on his cell phone. What followed was a typical father/daughter communication with a bad connection thrown in. “Where are you?” I asked.
Dad replied, “Highway forty, almost there.”
Since highway forty doesn’t lead to the park, “almost there” didn’t make any sense. As long as dad knows where he is, he can be maddeningly inexact. “Almost where?” I asked.
“Almost to Amarillo,” he replied. “I guess we’re going to stop and get dinner.”
“I thought we were going to grill food here?” I said.
“What?” he crackled back.
“Weren’t we going to grill?”
“Well, I don’t know where we are going to stop,” he replied. “We might get something grilled.” More crackling while I hinted that they had the food.
“I guess we can bring you some food.”
“No, I said…” The connection crackled. “Hello? Hello?” It was gone. Died. Calling back would do no good. Parents never listen to their children anyway.
I hiked back to the cabin and reported the development to my husband. Mom and dad had agreed to bring a cooler with steaks and burgers. My husband and I only had buns, potato salad and silverware.
“So what should we do?” he asked. “Eat potato salad?”
The wind was picking up and we didn’t really want to drive to Amarillo in search of a meal. If we were delayed and my parents arrived before we returned, we had the only keys to the cabin.
We waited. Two hours later, we were starved.
Dad’s only comment upon arrival was an innocent, “I didn’t know you were waiting for us to bring the food.”
“I told you we had the food,” my mother asserted.
“But weren’t you hungry?” he asked her.
“It doesn’t matter,” I interjected. “We have the food now.” It was seven o’clock and the wind was blowing very hard, which made it difficult to get the charcoal hot enough to grill.
While my husband and I ate, dad told us about the Italian restaurant in Amarillo. “It didn’t look like much and they had plastic forks, but the food was darn good!”
Mom agreed. “I didn’t want to stop there at all. Italian food is so expensive. I was just going to get a salad, but they had spaghetti and breadsticks. I could have eaten a dozen of those breadsticks.”
“And the price was right!” dad added. “You should drive up to Amarillo before you head back home and try it.”
“What was it called?” I asked.
They looked at each other. “Oh let’s see.” Dad scratched his almost gray hair. “It was–do you remember?”
Mom frowned. Her hair isn’t as gray as dad’s and she perms it so she has those little old lady curls. “No.”
The breadsticks and plastic forks rang a bell in the back of my mind. “Fazolis?” I guessed.
“That’s it!” they both shouted.
“How did you know?” my mom sputtered. “I thought you said you hadn’t been to Amarillo before!”
“It’s a chain,” I said with a grin. “You guys need to get out more often.”
It was downright blustery outside so we went inside to tell stories about growing up on the ranch and all the creepy crawling bugs and rattlesnakes that are in the desert. My husband, from tame Wisconsin, was not overly inspired by our enthusiast tales of survival.
Before long, a discussion started on the cabin design.
“Even if the second room was an add-on they could have put in electricity. The electrician must have been lazy,” dad decided.
“I guess the guy putting in doors was lazy too,” my husband said.
We examined the door frames to see if doors had ever been attached. “Maybe we could take the door off the water-heater closet and latch it onto the hallway opening,” I suggested.
Dad stroked his gray day-old stubble thoughtfully. “If you had thumbtacks you could at least hang a blanket. But my tacks are in the truck. We brought the car.” He carefully searched the cabin, but didn’t find tacks. All the while he mumbled, “You get out of the shower, your naked butt will be hanging out for all the world to see.”
From the look on my husband’s face, I was pretty sure he was not excited about this possibility.
Though we all stared at the doorway long and hard, no solutions appeared. The opening loomed.