November 19, 2014 @ 8:48 am | Filed under: Travel
This make-your-own map is going around Facebook and I couldn’t resist.
Create Your Own Visited States Map
(Cut off on the left: everything’s pink except Maine and Rhode Island.)
I’m a little tortured by that Arkansas gap! On our cross-country trip four (!!) years ago, we just barely missed that state; our route eastward took us through Tulsa and then northeast to Mansfield, MO, to visit Rocky Ridge Farm (naturally). We almost nicked the top corner of Arkansas then, but nope. And on the way back, we took the southern route through AL, LA, TX and so on.
I’ve been back and forth past RI several times too, en route from NYC to Massachusetts. But somehow we never drove through it.
Funny that two more of my missing states (so far I’ve been to 40, which ain’t bad) are major Little House milestones! One of these days I’ll get to DeSmet, SD, and Pepin, WI, for sure.
Beyond the borders of the U.S., I’ve been to four countries: Canada (for a wedding in Toronto, but I really need to hie myself to PEI one of these years, too); Germany; France; and Spain. Germany & France were one summer during high school, when I got to stay with a German family for a couple of months. They took me all over the country, with a week in Montélimar, France (nougat capital of the world) to boot. And Spain was the awesome week in Barcelona with Scott in 2008. A life-changer in some ways, that one.
But then I suppose all travel is life-changing!
During my visit to Portland last week, my friend Ron took me to several Beverly Clearly sites he knew I’d want to see. Didn’t have to travel far to Klickitat Street, and found a geocache there, which delighted me (and, when I got home and told them, my children). We drove by Beverly Cleary’s childhood home, and the nearby elementary school which now bears her name. Between them was a busy intersection where I imagined Henry Huggins performing his stalwart crossing-guard duties.
Then we wandered over to Grant Park, where the statues are.
Poor Beezus! No statue!
There’s a geocache nearby named after the statues, but we couldn’t find it, despite a diligent hunt. I guess I’ll have to leave it to my kids when I take them to this site someday.
Karen E., naturally I thought of you and your Ramona the whole time. Perhaps our next family meetup should be in Portland? 🙂
Marveled at the Utah desert, among other things.
(More later. Lotta unpacking to do. And SDCC starts tomorrow!)
So I went to Alabama for research. I have volumes to tell about the trip—Scott says I could write a book about the writing of this book! I am working on a detailed account of the trip, but I will probably save most of it for when the book actually comes out. But for now, a few highlights.
We flew into Atlanta last Saturday night—or actually, it was early Sunday morning, I guess. Was nearly 2am by the time we reached our hotel. That’s only 11pm San Diego time, so it wasn’t too awful. On Sunday morning we met our friends Brian Stelfreeze and Stine Walsh for brunch at Ria’s Bluebird, which is now one of my Favorite Places to Eat, Ever.
I could have eaten three bowls of those grits. The omelette was mushroom and fontina, if you’re like me and like to know as many details about people’s meals as possible. Also: homemade peach jam on those English muffins, and killer sweet tea.
We lingered long over our meal, and then lingered even longer in a baking parking lot talking to Brian and Stine, because we don’t get to see them that often and they are wonderful. I didn’t take any pictures! Unless you count my photo of a stinkbug on Brian’s shirt. What’s the matter with me?
Eventually we dragged ourselves away and headed west. First stop: Hueytown, Alabama, just south of Birmingham to visit my Great-Aunt Cinderella and Great-Uncle Terrell. Yup, Cinderella is her real name—but you can call her Aunt Cindy.
Aunt Cindy is my father’s aunt. Her older sister, Bettye, was the family genealogist and the person who first introduced me to the chapter of our family history that is the subject of my book. Aunt Cindy had her photo albums ready and waiting for me, and we spent several happy hours looking through them. She is a marvelous storyteller. This was to be a recurring delight on our trip—time with marvelous storytellers. I could have happily spent the whole week eating up Aunt Cindy’s stories. Uncle Terrell had some good ones of his own, too, but Scott had to tell them to me later because Aunt Cindy and I were talking a mile a minute.
All too soon we had to get back on the road. We wanted to reach our hotel before dark.
We stayed in [Small Town] but didn’t spend much time there. Our real destination was [I will tell you when I can]. First thing Monday morning, we drove to the County Archives in the heart of town. This county has a rich and unusual history in which my ancestors played a large part, and, well, that’s why I want to write about it, and I can’t wait until I can talk about it more openly. The incredibly nice folks at the Archives knew we were coming and were so kind to us all week, helping me look up information on old churches and schools and cemeteries and ancestors. And one day I will tell you all about where and what and who and why.
By an incredible stroke of luck, a distant relative of mine happened to be at the Archives when we first walked in. Of course, we didn’t know we were relatives right at first. I mentioned I was working on a certain branch of the family, and one of the archive volunteers said, “Oh, you need to talk to Darryal!” and motioned this kindly fellow over. He is a local historian and teller of fine tales, and one of the sweetest people you could ever hope to meet. Right away he offered to “carry us” to some cemeteries and other sites of relevance to my work. Not that morning—he was on his way to the funeral of his aunt who had died at the age of 105—but if we’d return the next morning, he’d be there.
Well. That was pretty exciting indeed. We spent the rest of Monday morning working in the Archives—my heroic husband spent at least an hour making photocopies for me—and then we moseyed down the street for a stunningly delicious meal at the local diner. (We liked it so much we ate there the next two days.) Best carrot cake I’ve ever had. (I liked it so much I ate it the next two days.)
After lunch we went out driving, exploring the area. Our wanderings took us through some of the tornado-ravaged towns I wrote about the other day. We also visited this old jail.
Bright and early Tuesday morning, we met up with Cousin Darryal (it’s pronounced Darrell) at the Archives. He climbed into our rental car and steered us toward the first of three cemeteries on our morning’s agenda. And this is where I could tell tons of stories, but I’m saving them for the book. Suffice it to say that Darryal is an expert on parts of the chapter of history I’m writing about, and we got along like gangbusters. He’s absolutely a kindred spirit—a real live Matthew Cuthbert. And he very generously gave us his entire day—amazing.
We quickly established our shared ancestry. His great-grandfather was the brother of my great-great-great-grandfather. The patriarch of one of the families I’m writing about is our mutual ancestor: Darryal’s 2nd-great, my 4th-great. (And also my 5th-great, due to a marriage of first cousins once removed a little on down the line).
The grave of one of the other brothers (there were nine of them altogether). Darryal is one of the people whose efforts keep these graves well tended and adorned with flowers.
It was kind of an emotional morning. These people I’ve been writing about, who have become so real to me, my great-great-greats and great-great-great-greats, there they were, their names on the stones. I’m kind of glossing over the real stories here, because I really do want to save them for the book. But it was quite something, seeing their graves and (later) walking on their land.
Darryal took us to see a creek bluff where one of my ancestors hid out for a while, and many other sites. And when I mentioned some of the other families I’m writing about, he said I needed to meet his buddy O’Neal, who—as it turns out—is ALSO my third cousin twice removed, but through an entirely different family line. He’s not kin to Darryal; they went to high school together. They both knew my father’s Aunt Bettye very well—“She was a dear friend to me,” said Darryal. “We dearly miss her.”
And so it came about that the next morning, we met Cousin Neal, and he took us on a tour of a whole different set of sites. We visited the cemetery where our mutual ancestor (again, his 2nd-great, my 4th-great) is buried, and then, O marvel of marvels!, he drove us right out to the spot where that ancestor homesteaded. I got to see where the house once stood, and we bumped down a steep branchy-slope-formerly-known-as-a-road to see the very spot in the river where the people in my book almost certainly swam and fished and swatted mosquitoes.
Cousin Neal is another born storyteller, with a deep and resonant voice, and a merry twinkle in his eye. He too gave us a full day of his time, even inviting us home to meet his wife Dot, where showed me some wonderful photos and even gave me some to keep. I could have stayed there a week, too.
Actually what I’d love to do is move my family there for the next year and write the novel in that beautiful hill country. I guess I’ll have to make do with going back someday—this time with the whole gang in tow, and my parents too. Perhaps when the book comes out.
On Monday our travels took us through the little town of Phil Campbell, Alabama. This community is struggling to recover after the devastating tornadoes a few weeks ago. We were told that some of these small towns have been almost completely wiped out and may never come back. That’s a terrible thing to hear, but when you see it, the enormity of takes your breath away. No photo or video can come close to conveying the suffering and loss of the people who live here.
I can’t express how shocking and scary it is, these ravaged streets, nor how monumental the work of recovery. Yesterday we found ourselves in what used to be Hackleburg, Alabama—an EF 5 tornado killed 29 of its 1500 residents, destroyed the Wrangler plant that employed hundreds of Hackleburg citizens, and flattened the town. I’ve never seen anything like it. Enormous old oaks snapped in half like toothpicks, or (somehow even scarier) completely uprooted, lying on their sides with giant stumps and roots ripped out of the earth. Houses crunched and crumpled like old soda cans, or—worse—gone altogether.
I gave up on pictures. The frame is too small; you can’t see how this one little rectangle of rubble is a small segment of a half-mile-wide field of destruction that used to be somebody’s tree-lined street.
I felt uncomfortable, anyway, to be taking them—but Scott said no, it’s important that people know what happened here. It’s been almost a month since these tornadoes, and as you can see, these communities are a long way from recovery. On Monday we were in the archives of a neighboring county where I’m doing research, and the lovely women who work there told us how hard-hit some of these small towns were, and how some of them are just plain not going to come back from this. “When a town ends, that’s history,” one of them said sadly. “That’s history happening right there.”
Last night we came back to the hotel a bit shaken by what we’d seen in Hackleburg. Even weeks later, when you know there’s no tornado on its way back to strike again at that moment, you feel vulnerable and exposed. I kept thinking of the smoke monster in LOST. We’d crest a little ridge and see a swath of flattened trees on either side of the road, the tornado’s path marked out as clearly as a crop circle, as Scott put it. As I uploaded the day’s photos—most of them taken in old cemeteries around the county, quiet, peaceful places untouched by the terrible winds of April—we watched the news out of Oklahoma and Texas with dread and horror, worrying especially about a particular friend who lives near Dallas. I was so relieved to get her “we’re safe” email an hour later, especially after seeing tornado damage up close.
It was excruciatingly hard for all of us to say goodbye to Scott when he left for the new job in California, but the pain of separation was soothed somewhat by the utter fabulousness of cellular telephone technology. And the internet. During Scott’s trip, we talked to him, oh, probably fifteen times a day. He’d call and say, "Tell the girls to Google ‘Tucumcari Mountain‘ " or whatever sight he was seeing at that very moment. All of us felt better, knowing we could be so together even when we were so very far apart.
(Check out this amazing photo of Tucumcari Mountain, NM. [Scroll to the right.] That was his view for some 25 minutes.)
As he went, the kids and I plotted his course at MapQuest. There’s a feature there that lets you add pins to your map as you go. Virtual pin-sticking: a big hit with these children.
I live-blogged his trip on our private family site, so the whole extended clan got to share the fun. Especially when he got stopped by the border patrol as he entered California. Hey everyone! Big German shepherds sniffing my car! Next stop: Felicity, CA, where the road signs say, "Drive Carefully, Broccoli Crossing."