Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Not the TV show - me.

My friends always have the latest gadgets that they can’t seem to live without and everyone I know touts their car Satellite GPS navigations systems as lifesavers. Not to be high maintenance, but after last week that is just, quite frankly, not enough for me. If I can’t have my own personal navigator (note: translate that to my husband!) willing to stay glued to a cell phone answering it at my beck and call, then I am jus not going to drive anymore.

When man first roamed the earth, travelers found their way by using the stars and sun to guide their journeys. During ancient times they used land markings such as Mountains shaped like eagles or rivers with three forks to mark the route. Later travelers got their directions through listening to stories told by brave explorers around the campfire and scratching notes on bark. Maps actually came into existence in early Greek times with the first ones made of clay, progressing onto paper rolls, to the fold up maps of today.

In the 21st Century man has gotten increasingly sophisticated with satellite technology, GPS tracking, and talking navigation systems and such – none of which I can use.

Just as it is certain the sun will come up tomorrow or that Winter follows Fall or that two plus two always equals four it is also certain that if there is chance of choosing the wrong way while driving to a location it can be certain that I will choose it.

I have spent a good portion of my life wandering around in the state of being lost. I am convinced that this is not my fault. It is a genetic flaw, passed on to me by my mother and father which is, in itself, quite ironic since my Dad spent his whole adult life traveling all over the world. You see, my parents ran a travel agency which ,in it’s hey day, planned thousands of trips all over the world for people to all types of destinations. All of which required some sort of attention to geographic orientation.

To illustrate. I can not remember one single childhood trip – even the ones we took twice a year to the Beach in Port Aransas, Texas where we even stayed in the same condominium year after year – that did not involve at least one major episode of getting lost. Actually, I can’t remember a single vacation anywhere that did not involve major map hysteria - with my father screaming at my mother or my mother lecturing my dad while the four of us just sat in the back holding in our pee, because there was NO way Daddy was going to stop now; we had already been lost once and were behind schedule.

Then there was the case of our weekly Junior High carpool. My friend, Julie Little, was in my carpool for several years and every single week on my Mom’s carpool day, she would say “Now girls, be on the lookout so I don’t miss Julie’s house this time... Which house is it?” And about half the time she would have already driven by it. Sadly, I seem to be carrying on the tradition, I pass Jackson's house at least half the time I am driving carpool and he always has to say "It's here Mrs. Collins."

As I said, I don’t blame my parents. Based on the number of family stories I have heard about my grandparents on both sides, it is obviously not Momma and Daddy's fault. This affliction was clearly passed onto them through some sort of defective genetic line. First let’s examine my mother’s ancestors – the Hopkins. According to my mother and her sisters, my Grandmother (who coincidentally is named Irene like both my mother and me) was quite well known for her traveling exploits throughout South Texas.

I often heard them tell the story about the time my Grandmother wanted to treat my mother and her two sisters to a shopping trip to San Antonio. Because my Grandfather, Dr. Joe, was a physician in the town of Victoria, he often had emergency patients and on this particular day he had to cancel the trip to see a patient. Rather than wait for Dr. Joe, my Grandmother decided to drive the girls herself. This was in the early 1940’s, and while women were driving independently by then, it was not a very common sight to see women driving on the highway out of town. And certainly not alone with three children.

I can just picture them. Gran in her best dress, gloves and hat - she was big on hats. My mother and her sisters dressed in their finest, climbing into the black Plymouth Sedan (I have no idea if this was their car, but it looks like it should have been!); starting out from their home on Lantana street and going through Victoria to the edge of town and heading out toward the highway to go South in the direction of San Antonio. The only problem was that apparently Gran had never actually driven there by herself and did not have a map to consult, because since she could not actually read one, she saw no need to own one!

The first thing she did was to stop at Mr. Murphy’s’ gas station at the edge of town to ask him how to get to San Antonio. The story gets a bit murky here, but according to family lore, the directions should have been fairly simple. Just take a left out onto the highway and follow Gonzalez Street (or US 87-N) to the loop around and then get on I35 South which goes straight to San Antonio. Alas, due to that pesky genetic way finding deficiency, it was not to be. There was something about a map and some words exchanged about south and then east. But apparently Gran never confessed to Mr. Murphy that she did not have a map (because she couldn’t read one) and also never told him that she was not sure which way was south!

The next thing that is remembered is that there was some commotion over whether or not they were actually going the right way and my Grandmother very smartly announced that she did not know why anyone was worried, “I’m just following that man in the black car in front of us.” When the girls asked her why, she said, and I am quoting here, “he looks like he would be going to San Antonio.” About two hours later when the man stopped at a diner in Hallettsville it became apparent that this nice man was not going to San Antonio and another plan of mapping must have been implemented. I am not quite sure if they ever did get to San Antonio that day, but I do know that the day went down in Hopkins History as “The time Momma followed that man all the way to Hallettsville thinking he was going to San Antonio.”

Now I don’t want to leave my Dad’s genes out of this line of blame since there is also very clear evidence that his Family Tree was also defective. Growing up in the South Texas town of Harlingen, my father’s parents, who we called Nana and Da, lived very genteel lives and often had a driver to take them where they needed to go. I do know that my grandfather, Winston Harwood (who my father, brother and son are named after), also never owned a road map. Why should he, when he couldn’t read one either?

Who knows how far back this thing goes? For all I know, instead of being a proud fifth generation Texan, maybe I was supposed to be a fifth generation Michiganite or something. My great, great, great, great grandfather might have intended to head off for a totally different climate only to end up in Texas with his wife screaming at him "Pa, I TOLD you to stop and ask that Indian for directions." And to save face, he tells her "Dag nabbit womman! YOU'RE the one that told me to turn left at the prarie."

How the State of Texas ever allowed these two grossly deficient, genetically disadvantaged people to marry, much less reproduce, is beyond me. But the result is certainly evident today. Three out of the four Harwood children my parents produced exhibit some form of this debilitating and life limiting affliction. My oldest sister, my brother, and I all have had to live with the results of being “directionally challenged," My youngest sister, Lucy, can read a map and she never lets us forget it.

Luckily for my children, I think I may have broken this multiple generations long curse. My husband, Kent, is blessed with an extraordinary inner compass. In fact, I use him as a kind of extended personalized GPS, calling him regularly to ask him which way is east or asking him to tell me how to get to 12th. Street or wherever else it is that I need to know how to get to.

It doesn’t matter that often he is not even in the same city or that since he can’t actually see me, how could he be expected to know which way is east - I still expect him to be my own personal map. And, I must say, that over the years he has been trained to keep the incredulity out of his voice as he patiently asks me to explain exactly what I see in front of me as I scream “I don't know, why would I call you to ask if I knew that? Don’t’ tell me to go EAST, just tell me to go right or left or turn around, but don't say east. How in the hell do I know which way east is?”

I can still remember the time early on in our marriage, when we were living in Los Angeles, that I called him crying from a pay phone (yes, we HAVE been married that long) telling him that I knew I was in our neighborhood because I could see the top of our apartment building, but I had been driving around for 30 minutes and still could not find our street. He kept telling me to go South on Ventura Boulevard and I kept yelling at him which way was South - to the right or the left? - and he kept patiently telling me that since he was not with me he couldn’t say which way to turn. Finally, he had a flash of brilliance and told me to look for the mountains. “Do you see mountains? Head for the mountains.” I eventually made it home but not before I had made at least three stops to different convenience stores and used up about a quarter of a tank of gas. And to this day, I wonder if he was literally telling me to head for the mountains...

Just the other day, my son reported to me through the phone as I was talking to his father (during one of my multiple, frantic emergency phone calls to his Dad to ask for yet a fourth repetition of how to get somewhere that I had been before. Anyway, he reported that, “Daddy is rolling his eyes and snorting.” Quite frankly, I think this is unnecessarily cruel, and insulting. I mean after all, I can’t help it. I am handicapped. He could show a little compassion here.

If I tallied up the hours, possibly days, I have spent being lost I am sure I could add a few extra months onto my life. I know that if I factored in the toll that the stress of driving by the same landmark for the third or fourth time in a row and still not finding my destination has taken on me, I would add another a year or two to my life.

Not to mention my poor children. If only they had a dollar for every time they heard me shriek “Quiet! Not one word. Mommy is LOST. I have to figure out where we are.” Or “What did that sign say? Is that South?" Or “Didn’t we just pass by this place a few minutes ago?” Poor guys they always sounded so serious as they would ask, “Are you lost AGAIN? “ Or “Mommy are we going to be late to the birthday party? I thought you said you KNEW where Blakely’s house was.”

Again, let me remind you. This. Is. Not. My. Fault.

I totally blame my parents. The stories of their travel travails are legendary. I bet they got lost in every major city in the world. As I said, I still can’t believe that they made their living planning out travel itineraries for people when neither one of them could read a map to save their lives.

So, sorry Kent, but you are going to have to remain my own personal Mapquest; available at all times, regardless of whether you are running on Lady Bird Lake, or in the middle of a business negotiation or sleeping. I'm directionally challenged. Or Map deficient. Or have Maplexia, or you can call me a Special Needs Direction Way Finder. Whatever you want to call it, it's really not my fault. Blame it on the progenitors. (That's ancestors in the direct line or your forefathers for those of you who might need to go look that word up.)

Maybe there might be some advantage to this. I am wondering if I could get a 504 for my directional issues and be declared as having an official disability? Maybe get SSI money, or my picture with President Obama, or at the very least get put at the front of the line at Disney World?

1 comment:

  1. Reenie, some notes:
    1. Two plus two equals five. Read your Orwell(lol).
    2. Your grandmother's directionally challenge story is a riot!!!
    3. Did you see the Mountains?
    4. Would you know which end of the line to stand?

    Love you sweetie.