Like more and more travelers, I’ve forsaken air travel when possible and gone back to moving around the way most of us did in the fifties – on the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Dwight’s highways are six decades old, but my reason for hitting the road is thoroughly modern: I’m a grandmother in Connecticut with a grandson in Georgia who needed tending during his school vacation.
My family was so horrified that, at 70, I was undaunted by a 2,000-mile round trip that my daughter, Camian, left her four children to join me on the open road.
No worries – her children are quite responsible, and their father was home. It was the first time since she married John in 1984 that we had real, uninterrupted time together, and it was wonderful. I learned that in so many ways she is still the daughter her father and I raised, but that she also has been shaped by nearly three decades as a wife, mother and member of a large, extended family. It was great fun getting to know, anew, this loving, funny, wise and most efficient woman.
Together we worked hard not to eat “bad road food” and found, in Lexington, Virginia, where we stayed overnight on the way to Georgia, the Southern Inn. Tucked away in a nondescript shopping mall, the food, service and atmosphere were all good.
I took along John Alexander Williams’ Appalachia: A History to support my family stories about our Appalachian roots in Wytheville, Virginia.
To our surprise and delight we found an open door at the Mansion at Fort Chiswell in Max Meadows. My research is solid enough for me to believe that Cami’s great, great, great grandfather, Ed Cloud, was one of the slaves who helped build this mansion. According to Freedman’s Bureau records, he was owned by the McGavocks, the family that built this grand house in 1850 when Ed was twenty.
I confess to a moment’s temptation when standing in front of a collection of bowls, pestles and pots that looked ancient, and possibly created by my ancestors. But just as these items wouldn’t have belonged to them then, they couldn’t be mine now. Just seeing them there was enough.
The time in Georgia with both daughters was tender and nurturing and full of cooking, talking and being together in a way that time, distance and individual families make nearly impossible when you don’t live near one another. Daughter Leslie, a strong, resilient, warm and resourceful woman, makes a good and welcoming home, and being there rivaled any fancy vacation retreat.
It was a special time for us.
We were each fully in the moment, appreciating the gift of a week together. Of course, the delightful six-year-old Henri took it as his due to have three women at his beck and call.
Leaving was hard and the trip home was quieter. We did our usual imaginings about the lives of people long gone from falling-down farmhouses, speculated on what cows think about, if anything at all, and I read parts of articles from a two-day-old newspaper.
We weren’t as lucky in our dining choice on the return trip and were grateful that at least the wine was good.
After having been welcomed going and coming by New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Georgia, the Welcome to Connecticut sign was especially good to see. Son-in-law John surprised Cami with a pickup in West Hartford, and I finished the trip with a silent last hour alone.
This was a good trip; it was gratifying to spend slow time with one beloved child, and then with two daughters and a grandson – with no one watching the clock.
On the road it was satisfying to watch the country change physically from one region to another, then back again in the other direction.
While I believe in public transportation and think we’ve missed too many opportunities to move our citizens around more effectively than we do, as I pulled into my driveway I thought of Dwight D.’s vision – appropriate for his time and a robust auto industry – and, now home safely, said a silent, “Thank you, Mr. President.”