A Summer Trip To The Un-Flat Lands


A Father's Day present suggested in June and executed in early July confirmed what I've long suspected–I am not a flatlander.

Dawn, 13-year-old grandchild Kamryn, and I were eating in a Carlinville restaurant (one that has at least one passes-for-vegan item on its menu because Kamryn decided last year that her conscience won't allow her to eat animal products, a decision her once-farmer granddad hasn't completely digested yet) after her softball team played its first game of the summer season. Dawn asked what I wanted for Father's Day.

Kamryn slyly suggested I might want a road trip to visit brother Dale in Pennsylvania; she's been to his house several times, and I thought she wanted to go there too. The words "road trip" triggered a thought, though; for several years I'd harbored a wish to visit either the Blue Ridge Parkway or Skyline Drive in Virginia. I'd ridden through the Shenandoah Valley (on my way to a junior college in North Carolina) and liked the scenery. Later, Jimmy Stewart, an actor from the town I grew up close to (Indiana, PA) starred in a Civil War movie called Shenandoah (I have that movie in my VCR collection–I suspect Judy and I saw it together while we were dating). Then the valley was featured in Country magazine, and finally when I went back to WWC for a reunion and recognition of a soccer team, Amtrak's scenery car gave me a quick glimpse as it whizzed through Staunton, VA. I was intrigued.

I don't know that I was aware of the term "bucket list" until the Morgan Freeman/Jack Nicholson movie came out several years ago (I seldom go to movies, but I did see that one). That movie made me aware of my own mortality in an emotional, not just an intellectual, way; I still haven't formalized a written list, but a visit to Staunton (pronounced Stanton) became a goal before I personally kick my bucket.

I haven't traveled much, in retirement; most of my ramblings are mental, not actual. Still compared to my parents, I'm a globetrotter. They had one trip together that I'm aware of–to the Fingerlake region of New York state when I was old enough to trust with the milking while they were gone. They traveled with mom's brother and his wife. Mom came to Illinois with my brother to say goodbye to Judy in her last year; Dale drove her out I-70, and she complained (because she was afraid of them) about the truck traffic both ways. She needed a tranquilizer; it wasn't her world just as the world of technology isn't mine.

During my working years I was too busy to travel much–an airline trip to L.A. with daughter Jenni to attend a nephew/cousin's wedding and a trip to England, Ireland, and Scotland with Barb and Larry Hewitt and their merry band of travelers were the longest jaunts I had. I enjoyed both, but I felt duty-bound when I had a teaching career. I did accompany Kaylyn and Kamryn when they competed in tumbling tournaments, but their far-away events were in the summer. After retirement I went to as many of Kyle's club soccer tournaments as I could, but those were primarily weekend jaunts.

Even after retirement, I have travel-limiting duties. During the school year, few weeks pass without football, basketball, or baseball games to cover, and I want to be at them. My other "beats" (Hillsboro City Council and Planning Commission) ensure I'll be at city hall the second and fourth Tuesday and the third Thursday of each month. I'm not complaining; my work for The Journal-News matches my skill set and I enjoy the time spent, but that doesn't mean it isn't limiting. Perhaps that's why I enjoy the work so much–it regulates my schedule so I don't have to worry about it.

Kamryn's eyes really lit up when I mentioned Virginia. For some time she's been communicating wirelessly with a friend, Sophia, in Virginia. Though they'd never met personally, they had common interests, primarily tumbling and trampolining. Both thought it was time to meet.

I'd heard the stories of old geezers posing as young people over the internet to lure young people to their lairs, so I was suspicious. Dawn assured me she'd seen Sophia on Facetime though.

Later that night I answered Dawn's request for proposals about Father's Day (she'll probably not make the mistake of asking again) by suggesting she drive Kamryn and me east. The only time I could go without missing more than one obligation was the weekend before the Fourth, so Dawn (Who could refuse the pleading looks in the eyes of a youngest child and an old father? I suppose it wasn't fair) plotted our route. We left Saturday, June 30, and returned on Thursday, July 5.

Monday became the day Sophia and Kamryn met. Originally they were to meet at a trampoline park in Charlottesville, but complications arose in Sophia's family so we met at Flight, a trampoline center in Springfield, VA, nearer her home. It's also in a suburb of Washington, D.C., so we had a taste of D.C. traffic. I was glad Dawn was driving.

After they used the trampoline for two hours, we found a park where they set up their tumbling mats (yes, Kamryn has her own air track which we hauled east with us in the back of the Shryock SUV while Sophia had brought mats in the back of her mom's Jeep–hauling tumbling mats cross country was a first for me, but the girls had planned their day to include tumbling in a park sharing their own mats).

Besides a need to tumble and flip, apparently just for the joy of it, the two share the vegan lifestyle, and it was easier to find a vegan restaurant in a metropolitan area than it is in mid-Illinois, so they used the internet to find such an establishment. I was tempted not to go in, but it was their day, after all, so I not only went in but ordered food–a bowl of corn chowder, which was surprisingly good.

I like to see my grandchildren happy, but it doesn't always happen, especially when they are teens. Kamryn smiled enough that day to make me smile as I think about it now two months later.

Sunday we visited the Frontier Cultural Museum near Staunton; it features the life size homestead of a 1700s West African farm, a 1600s English farm, a 1700s Irish farm (and working forge), a 1700s German farm, and American farmhouses from the 1740s, 1820s, and 1850s. I enjoyed listening to the interpreters. My mother's ancestors came from Ireland and Scotland; my father was of German descent. The gentleman in the Irish cottage talked of Irish home remedies, including sheep-dip tea, a collection of water, honey, and sheep manure which my grandmother once forced upon me when I had a bad cough as a youngster. (One dose was enough to stop my coughing forever, within her hearing range at least). The lady in the forge was making square headed nails. I remember Granddad D. using those around the farm when I was small; one of them came home as a souvenir to rest in my curio cabinet.

Kamryn enjoyed petting a goat and talking to pigs wallowing in the mud; they talked back. She'd say, "You're so cute," and they'd grunt a "Thank you." That too was a trip highlight for me.

Another came when, as we strolled through a homestead exhibit off Skyline Drive late one afternoon, a deer came walking by within 100 feet of Kamryn to sample green apples off a low-hanging apple tree branch; Kamryn was probably 500 feet ahead of Dawn and me. I think the word "awesome" is overused, but it fits that scene. Kamryn and her mom were hopeful of seeing a black bear in Shenandoah Park; I think a deer that close was preferable.

One ought not visit that area of our country without visiting a cave; my choice was Shenandoah Caverns because it features an elevator to the cave floor. We had a guided tour around the rock formations that covered a mile; I only bumped my head four or five times where ducking one's head was required. That experience made me appreciate what was happening in Taiwan more deeply.

We've had a long-standing policy on family trips to not eat chain fast-food because it's so readily available at home; we search out mom-and-pop restaurants in small towns if at all possible. I had the best barbeque sandwich ever in Verona, VA, the best ribs ever at a buffet in Harrisonburg, and a great roast turkey sandwich in a lean-to, clapboard restaurant near Natural Bridge.

On the trip home Kamryn found, again via internet, a place with vegan food in Lexington, KY. I had an Italian sub (they weren't entirely vegan), but I most enjoyed the decor in the Mellow Mushroom. I never accepted the hippie culture in the 1960s, but I enjoyed the reminders of it – pictures of Volkswagon vans, for example, – especially the portraits of Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan hanging near our table. I suppose there was a time I thought the hip philosophy as exemplified by their music was attractive though I lived a conservative lifestyle.

If I never travel again–that's a distinct possibility as each day I draw closer to kicking that final bucket, as we all do,–I have the good times, the long conversations (often monologues as I recalled old experiences) to remember. Dawn, for example, shared a perspective I surprisingly never considered–that she remembers her mom, who died at 48, as a relatively young person. Twenty-seven years later I do too. I wonder now if Judy would recognize what I've become.

As I always do when I visit the mountains, I found a peace I don't recognize in the plains. I don't know whether it's because I grew up in the hills of Pennsylvania or attended my first two years of college in the hills of North Carolina.

I guess I'm lucky I've settled in Hillsboro; it's as unflat as a Midwestern town can be.


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