Tag Archives: travel

Meeting Ulysses and Thomas

It’s been history week for us. Kate loves history so we left out Monday morning and drove to Appomattox. And we got lucky. They were filming at Appomattox for a new movie to be shown at the Visitor’s Center, so there were several people walking around in period costume. As we walked into the square we were stopped because they were filming a scene with a wagon carrying an elderly gentleman and a little girl that came barreling into the square. We took the back way into the Visitor’s Center, picked up a guide, and proceeded upstairs to see the current video presentation.

And two words into that presentation I lost it. Those words: April 12. Hubby had a nephew that was born on April 12. I wrote about him here. He was a civil war re-enactor, among other things, and he took his own life at age 21 in 1993. We’ll never understand why, and we miss him every day.

As we left the Visitor’s Center and headed into the square, we saw someone who looked vaguely familiar. Upon closer inspection we discovered himself, General Ulysses S. Grant, portrayed brilliantly by Dr. Curtis Fields. He talked with several of us for quite a while and never broke character.

Kate and Me with the General

Kate and Me with the General

Alecto thinks I look like I’m going to drag him off to a hanging or something. I assured her that I was just suffering from the heat, or something!

Here is a video I found of Dr. Fields on Youtube:

I have a great deal of respect for those who work diligently to ensure that our history is preserved. As Dr. Fields talked with the children, he constantly reminded us that “the kids are the past’s future.” I’m not saying that we’re still fighting the Civil War, although we do joke about it from time to time. I am saying that our country’s history is important, and needs to be preserved. Dr. Fields takes great pains to ensure that his portrayal is accurate, drawing much of his information from General Grant’s own personal journals.

It was a powerful hot day, so we continued our visit at Appomattox by visiting the jail house (dismal place) and the McLean House where the actual surrender meeting occurred. We also took in the preserved general store, which reminded me so much of the little country store my great-grandfather used to run in Fancy Gap. As we walked back through the parking lot to the car, we saw General Lee coming through the lot headed back to the site for the afternoon’s filming. Because he was in the parking lot and not actually on site, we didn’t take much of his time but did stop long enough to thank him for his service in helping to preserve our country’s history as well. He was very humble.

We headed to Staunton to spend the night. After dinner we drove around town a little and discovered the local shopping mall. Or, what’s left of it. Most of the stores were boarded up, and the few that were open were virtually empty. It was sad and a bit surreal. Parts of it reminded me of some of the pictures you see coming from Detroit these days.

Tuesday morning we headed east across Afton Mountain to Charlottesville and Monticello. We got there early so we could walk around the grounds before our tour time, and before the heat became unbearable. The grounds are beautiful, just as I remembered them from the last time I was there, about 40 years ago. (There’s another scary thought that I don’t want to think about right now. As Scarlett says, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”)

We took the self-guided tours of the “dependencies” of the house-the slave quarters, kitchens and storage areas that are underneath the main house. Then we headed for the starting point for the actual house tour.

Monticello is beautiful. Period.

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After the tour we walked a bit more, then walked back down the hill to the visitor’s center before heading for home.

We had in interesting conversation about “haunted houses” when Kate asked if I thought Monticello was haunted. I said, “Of course it is, but probably not in the way you think I mean.” We talked about the memories contained in any given place, and wondered what it would be like to be able to access those memories in some tangible way. I think about that every time I drive past the old general store and house where my great-grandparents lived and worked, or when I pass the house in Christiansburg where my parent’s lived until Daddy’s death almost 10 years ago. I wonder how it could be 10 years already. I look at the pictures Kate took of me and I see my grandmother looking back at me, and again, I wonder how that could have happened, and happened so quickly.

We are all the total sum of our individual histories, and I think maybe we are also greater than the sum of our parts, if that makes any sense. During our walk through the underbelly of Monticello, we got to inspect one of the “indoor privies”. I told Kate about how, when I was a child, we used to play hide and seek and if you were unlucky enough to be “it”, you had to hide in the outhouse and count to 100 while everyone else hid. She said she would have cheated on the counting, and I said that of course we did too! Kate has no concept of actually having to use an outhouse for anything, and I have a hard time grasping the fact that, during my lifetime, there were people who still did. And they didn’t live out in the boonies, they were in town. Yesterday I watched a series on the History channel about the Nasa years, and I remember those heady days of our trips to the moon. Today I noticed the half-moon in the summer sky and I started thinking about the fact that humans have actually walked on that surface.

History. What does it mean, for us as individuals and for us as a nation, and for the world? Heavy stuff for a summer day.

Kate has decided that she would like to be a Civil War re-enactor like her cousin.  It makes me cry. We named her after her cousin because she was born three weeks after he died. I think a part of him lives on in her. She looks like him too.

How does this happen?

And how did THIS happen?


and a happy time was had by all

Um, then again, maybe not.

So, I really liked traveling by train. Talk about leg room! I’ve flown 1st class exactly once in my life, and that was only because a bunch of us missed our connections in Miami coming home from Santo Domingo a few years back and Wubby and I were lucky enough to catch the last 2 seats to DC, 1st class. From there, it was the back row of a Dash-80 to Raleigh. “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Or something like that. Did you know that you can see the PILOT from the back row of a Dash-80? You do now, don’t you?

So anyway, train was fun. Rest of trip, not so much.

I’ve helped plan a lot of trips to places for teens in my career as a professional chaperone, and let me tell you, this thing might have planned well, but it was executed poorly. First and foremost, the heat index was 120. 120!!!! People, this is dangerous, hello, get a clue! Day 1 was spent at Arlington National Cemetery, followed by a play at the Kennedy Center (that I skipped because I couldn’t walk or breathe.) Day 2 was spent touring government buildings (Capital, Supreme Court, Library of Congress), Smithsonian American Indian and Air and Space, National Archives, then a night “tour” of the monuments. The info we got from the trip coordinator said “tourmobile”. There was no tourmobile, it was a WALKING night tour. I spent this day in the National Gallery of Art (the Impressionism exhibit in the West wing is being renovated, FYI), the American Indian Museum and the Archives. Then daughter and I bugged out of the night tour and high-tailed it back to the hotel before I croaked, literally.

Day 3: I got late check-out, then enjoyed the lobby and lounge at the hotel while students went to Holocaust Museum, American History (where they saw the 1st ladies dresses and NOTHING else), and Natural History (where they saw the Hope diamond and NOTHING else). Then back to the hotel, catch the train and come home.

Long story short: that was $800 that could have done so much more. Lesson learned (as if I didn’t already know this one): take your kid to DC yourself, as we’ve already done twice and will probably do again unless the country goes completely to hell in a hand-basket next Tuesday. And for heaven’s sake, have a plan B for things like insanely hot weather, hurricanes, floods, blizzards, etc.

We got back to the train station Sunday morning at 12:39 AM exactly on time, back home by 1:30, and slept for 18 hours straight. Sad, but true. Now it’s almost a week later, and I’m just about back to 1 week post-surgery, where I was 2 weeks ago. I miss my brain.

Arlington always overwhelms me, and this time was no exception. Everyone always stands at JFK’s gravesite and talks about where they were, etc. I was not quite 3 years old then; I don’t have a clue where I was or what I was doing. RFK’s assassination is what I remember. We acted it out at after-school care every day for weeks, everyone wanted to be the first one to play charades so they could stand up then fall down.

We watched the changing of the guard at the Unknowns, always sobering, all of us standing quietly, sweating bullets, while these men repeat the drama every 30 minutes, completely without emotion, so precise, so dedicated to what they do. Then we headed behind the amphitheater to the mast of the Maine, but I stopped, couldn’t cross the street. Just sat on the curb and cried. Partly because I was so hot, partly because of what I’d just seen, and partly because of what was in front of me on the other side of the street. Something that really isn’t that emotional, but….it was the memorial to the Challenger Flight Crew. THAT is a day I will never forget. I was working at my first programming job, went to lunch w/ my parents since both of them worked nearby, and we went to a stained glass supply store so my dad could buy some glass. He was an artist with glass. They dropped me off back at work, I walked in and heard about Challenger, and we all just sort of sat there and stared at each other.

I walked across the street and up to the Challenger memorial, along side the Columbia memorial, and a memorial to the service men killed in 1980 in the failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iraq.

Later that night, while the students were at the Kennedy Center, I scribbled something down about Arlington, which is already posted.

Here’s the last thing I saw as we were leaving the Cemetery:

Seemed appropriate, a male Cardinal…the color of blood.

In the shadowlands

In the shadowlands

Time, frozen yet frantically

passing. He sees life.

I took my son to New York. Only time will tell f the trip had any affect on him, desired or otherwise. Our flight was delayed an hour out of Charlotte due to “traffic into LaGuardia”. I think that meant it was raining in New York, because it was when we finally arrived. Raining hard.

Our approach to LGA took us right up the East River, just after sundown. The look on Wubby’s face as he was the Manhattan skyline for the first time was worth the sacrifice of free plane tickets to Cielo in January.  We were supposed to take a cab from LGA to Grand Central and then the train to South Norwalk. The delay tossed those plans right out onto the tarmac in Charlotte. Luckily, we have an amazing friend in Alecto, who very generously sent a car for us that deposited us in her driveway at approximately the same time our (missed) train was leaving Grand Central.

I felt kinda bad because our delay caused Alecto to miss bikram Thursday night, but I got over it when she fed us homemade meatballs and marinara sauce. Bedtime came  quickly, and Homer graced me with his presence on the bed for the duration. Wubby swears Ally (Allie?) the tortoise shell kitty came out of the bedroom where I was passed out with Homer, and I do vaguely remember waking up  during the night and thinking, “there’s a cat sleeping on me!”, but decided I dreamed it. I never saw this particular cat during our stay, but Alecto swears she has two cats. Whatever.

Friday was rest-up day. Alecto left us her car, bless her heart, and I got to practice driving like a Connecticut yankee. Fun. I haz some. Took Wubby to the bank so he could get some folding money. We discovered downtown Weston, CT–because we didn’t blink as we drove past. I’m not supposed to say what we would call Weston here in the NC Piedmont (strip mall, with class.) Suffice it to say that found Weston to be a very quaint little town square indeed. I can’t believe the elementary school kids aren’t scarred for life for having attended Hurlbutt Elementary, though.

After a leisurely afternoon nap, we were treated to dinner at the Roadhouse. If you’re from my neck of the woods and you can remember what the Fourth Street Filling Station was like when it was Shober’s, then you’re close to the Roadhouse, particulary in the winter when the firewas stoked at Shober’s. That was a long time ago.

Next up: Wubby goes to bikram, then hits the big city.

I not nervous…well, maybe a little

Thursday I’m piling Wubby in the car, heading to Charlotte to catch a plane to NYC and (hopefully) get from the airport to Grand Central in time to catch a train to someplace in Connecticut where Alecto, bless her pea-pickin’ heart, will pick us up and take us to meet Simon.

This will be my third trip to the big city, on purpose as opposed to those nasty layovers at JFK on the way to Santo Domingo. I know, it doesn’t make any sense to fly to NY to then fly to the Dominican Republic, especially not in January. But hey, it was cheap. Although we did wind up flying all over the eastern seaboard in a blizzard only to wind up back in Greensboro about fourteen hours later, but that’s a different story.

My first trip was in 1983. I was 22, and had never been on a plane before. We flew out of Roanoke, VA, which is an experience, as the airport is surrounded by mountains. True story, when they needed to extend the runway at the Roanoke airport, there was a major road in the way. Solution: put in a tunnel, then bury it and build the runway on top of it. Sometimes I really miss Roanoke. Anyway, it was a business trip for my mom, and a lesson in traveling for me and my aunt (mom’s sis.) While she worked, aunt and I wandered around mid-town, in the rain, for three days. Then the three of us wandered around for 2 more days and came home, in the rain. We couldn’t get to the airport because some tunnel somewhere was flooded. Our flight was delayed 5 hours, because of rain and fog. When we finally boarded, we were ninth in line for take-off and the liquor was flowing freely.

I didn’t see much of the city on that trip. It rained. A lot.

The second trip was three years ago, for a job interview. It was supposed to be up and back in one day. Didn’t happen that way. It was June, the first 90+ degree day of the summer, and there was a power outage. Then the thunderstorms came rolling in. The interview went well, and sometimes I wish I’d gotten that job. Turned out that someone already with the company found out they were interviewing outside and decided he really wanted to move to NC. Oh well. At least I didn’t have to spend the night at the airport. It just so happened that a great friend of mine was in the city on business and was gracious enough to let me crash at her hotel, which was very nice. Something-or-other Murray Hill. We had a lovely time, and I got home mid-afternoon the following day.

So I’m wondering what on earth has possessed me to take my 20-year-old kid to the big scary city. Not really wondering… I know why. Art. He needs art. MoMA, Met, Whitney, whatever we can find. We’re meeting up with an artist, cousin of my dad’s, who has a studio somewhere on the west side, around 72nd I think. I’m a little nervous about meeting him, afraid I’ll blubber and cry like an idiot. He looks like my dad. I suppose I’ll have to apologize in advance.

I think I’m ready for it to be Thursday. Except for some tiny details, like packing. I suppose I should have my head examined, but hey, I already know I’m crazy so that would be a waste of time. I have a new toy to play with on the trip, a netbook. Could come in handy if we get stuck in an airport during a thunderstorm or other rain-related event.

I promise not to touch the paintings.

What I really can’t figure out is why Alecto is being so nice to the Wub and me. But then, we might be sleeping with the dog!

Living out of a suitcase

I’ve been doing that this summer. While it’s true that we do try and go somewhere every summer, that’s usually just for a week. Since the middle of June I’ve spent a week in the Dominican Republic with Baby Girl, a week in the mountains at Jesus camp with Wubby and Baby Girl, and 35+ teenagers I know, and another 750 I don’t know, and a week at Hatteras with Alecto and her girls, plus 1.

So, the DR: we built a concrete block wall, one of the kids was attacked by ants, it was hot. But it was Cielo and that’s just fine.

Jesus camp: For the first time in my 5 trips to camp, I hiked Rec Hill every day at least once, most days more than once. The weather was perfect, like early fall in the NC mountains instead of mid-July.

Hatteras: Alecto spoiled me rotten. It’s amazing that people who’ve only “met” in cyberspace can actually spend a week together in the real world and not feel awkward, but I think we managed. I think I may have been on one “all girl” trip to the beach, but we were all related. This was just us girls. We put up a screen house by ourselves. It’s in my back yard now, waiting for me to put it back up and see how it weathered the storms. The screen house had adventures too. The only time we ate out all week was when we had dinner w/ Alecto’s dad at their beach house.  The last time I was on the Outer Banks was 27 years ago and that was Nags Head. Until last week I had never been to any place on the Outer Banks south of Manteo. I have been to other barrier islands in NC; we have bunches. Just not Hatteras. On the way home I stopped by the lighthouse and took some pictures. Also caught a doe and her fawn having breakfast.

There will probably be one more week of suitcase living before school starts back, a week in Todd, NC at the butterfly house.

Where did summer go?

Lost in the mountains

We’re hiding in the mountains this week, somewhere on the Ashe / Wautauga County line. There’s a creek that runs next to the house. We’re surrounded by wildflowers, butterfly bushes, and…BUTTERFLIES! Hundreds of them. We’ve used sugar water to make friends with them; then they go back to the bushes. At night they hide in the trees so that, the next morning, they can float down to the flowers to spread their wings and dry out before beginning another day sipping from the blossoms.

Interesting thing about the butterflies: when you see hundreds of them from a distance of just a few feet, they all look the same, and they all look perfect and beautiful. When you look closer though, you see the evidence of their daily struggles: ragged wings, missing tails. They live a hard life, these butterflies. But, from a distance or at close range, they’re still beautiful despite their imperfections.

Kinda like people.

Today we tried to locate Elk Knob State Park. We were not successful. It’s a new park, somewhere off of Meat Camp Road. Don’t you love it?? Actually we did locate what is supposed to be the entrance to the park but it was roped off, for some reason. Anyway, we passed it by and continued on Meat Camp until it dead-ended on some other road, where we took a right. Seemed like a good idea, and it was because we eventually came back into NC194 that leads right back to where we’re staying, sort of. We kept going until we found Lansing. Interesting place….drive faster, I hear banjo music.

Of course, we didn’t bring a map. We don’t need no stinkin’ map! Continued following NC194 North, thinking we were headed for Jefferson. Lots of Christmas tree farms, cows, horses, goats, but no Jefferson. Then we hit a place called Sturgills and I recognized where we were, sort of. A couple of miles later we crossed over into Virginia and I knew exactly where we were…..about 25 miles north of Jefferson. Should have gone south back at Lansing. Oh, well. It was fun anyway. We listened to redneck country music on the iPod, told stupid jokes and laughed until it hurt.

We found Jefferson, too. And found our way back home to the mountain hideout.

Now it’s dinner time, ham sammiches for the lot of us. The butterflies are all still busy with their all-day feasting. I caught a little toad and Wubby and I played with it before we let it go. There’s tea steeping in the teapot I found for $8 in an antique shop in Boone on Sunday. The ruby-throated hummingbird that lives here should be making his evening appearance soon. I plan to have the camera ready, but if I don’t catch him that’s ok. We haven’t had any hard-core plans for this week, other than a scheduled trip to the Fresco churches tomorrow to meet Wubby’s beloved, who will be spending the rest of the week here with us.

Just wandering in the mountains, lost and at the same time, found.

Flickr pix

I’m really lazy and it’s been really hot around here, so today I finally took the time to put some pix from our trip on Flickr. Then came in here and added the little widget that, for some reason, only shows my very informative photo title (img_xxx), but will show other photos in the pop-up thingy.

Technology is great when it works like it says it will. Flickr widget, heal thyself.

The pictures turned out ok. We purchased a real digital camera before we left and are so glad we did. Of course, any bad digital picture can be prettied up. Like I said, technology is great when it works like it says it will.