Once upon a time, my sister and I took our kids on a spring break trip. At the time Leo was 9, Eli was 12 and Elise (my sister's youngest) was 13. We decided we would go to Montana and not have a plan. We were going "open to grace" and let serendipity and synchronicity lead the way. We did have vague notions of perhaps finding a hot-spring. The whole shebang felt like an up-and-coming big adventure.
The first night we stayed in a mining town in a room that was saturated with tobacco smoke. The sounds of heavy drinking were coming through the walls and ceiling. (Yes - heavy drinking sounds do come through thin walls....use your imagination here). At 2 am in the morning a marching band (!?) started going up and down the street outside the motel. Hysterical. We laughed so hard the next day. But even weirder things were coming.
Next day, mid-afternoon, we pulled into a commercial hot-spring and motel. It looked "interesting". We thought we might stay there but then we saw the hot-spring which looked like a livestock watering set-up. It was stuffed with about 30 people who were sitting upright - shoulder to shoulder - in a ring, facing outward, with their backs resting up against a cement slab that formed the center of this round, fountain-like structure. The whole thing was in the middle of the asphalt parking lot. The only room that was available in the motel had a bathtub next to the bed. I secretly kind of liked that, but our 9, 11 and 13 year old kids were not exactly keen on public bathing. So we drove on - and once again we laughed and laughed at weird and hysterical far-side situation #2.
But even weirder things were coming.
We drove North. We weren't studying any maps and neither of us knew exactly what was "in" Montana. We told the kids we didn't know where we were going to stay - that we were on an an adventure and "open to grace". As it was getting dark and Elise was getting nervous, she asked us to clarify exactly what this "grace" thing was. I think it was about then that we decided to put "grace" on pause, and look for a "normal" hotel. When we pulled into a Hampton Inn, I remember Elise saying "thank you mommy! thank you mommy! thank you mommy!" I guess the mining town motel and livestock-watering-hot-spring had been a bit traumatizing.
That night at the Hampton Inn was very normal - not "interesting" - and in fact I can't remember anything about it. I am sure we did not laugh until we cried as we pulled away the morning.
We had one more night to spend on our big adventure before we had to go back. We were back to following the "open to grace" itinerary and decided on the spur of the moment to pull into a place that advertised hot-spring pools and a lodge. We arrived mid-afternoon and it looked great. The lodge was new - and clean - and very quiet. In fact, we were the only people staying there. That should have been our clue that we were about to have another "interesting" time.
We settled in and made ourselves a late lunch from our cooler and then just at sunset we went over to the hot-spring area. It was commercial but looked nice.....a large swimming pool filled with what I imagined to be magical healing waters. And a small pool off to the side with even hotter magical healing waters. There were also lots of small huts where you could go inside and enjoy your magical healing waters in private with your special friend.
All of us spent the next couple of hours enjoying the big pool. Then the bar life started heating up. (Yes - I forgot to mention - there was a bar that opened out to the pool). That was OK - not a big deal really - until a very drunk woman in her mid-30's started hitting on Eli. Remember that Eli was at that point 12 years old. In our family we have watched Eli be hit on by girls ever since he was about 6....but this was a first.....a woman 20 years older than him.
Eli didn't understand what was going on but Mary and I were in hysterics of laughter, watching the scene. We didn't let the cougar get her teeth into the boy - we gathered our troops and went back to the lodge for a good night's sleep.
The next morning Mary and I woke before dawn. The kids were asleep and we were ready for our BIG open to grace moment: soaking in the magical healing waters as the sun rose over the mountaintop. We went to the pools and settled into the smaller, hotter pool to steep in bliss. Shortly after we got there an elderly gentleman came and joined us in the pool. He seemed a little cranky but that was OK. Our bliss was unshakable. Then he started scraping at his feet and lower legs with some sort of exfoliation tool. That was getting less OK but we hung in there because the sun was just cresting the ridge. And then the light of dawn filled our eyes and illuminated the magical healing waters......showing us that the water was thick with flecks of skin and mucous. And Grace happened! We levitated! Really - just like Jesus and the saints - we ascended towards heaven.
Mary is so kind....I am sure she smiled and made our excuses as we shot skyward out of the pool, ran to the lodge and stayed in the shower for a very, very long time that involved a lot of soap and non-magical hot water.
We have had so many good laughs, over the years, about that weird trip. Grace was in charge and had a weird sense of humor - just the kind of humor that Mary and I share with one another. After all, it's a preference.....Or maybe its a choice: 10 years of story and laughter following weird events? Or the amnesia which inevitably attends "normal" events?