Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Homecoming

The Eagle has landed.
Or in less obscure and dramatic terms, we’re home.
After a long jaunt up and down the eastern seaboard, we arrived back at our digs late last Wednesday night after a long, lazy drive out of the Smoky Mountains, through the rolling hills of Tennessee, into the flat Amish country of Indiana and southeastern Illinois and, finally, through the Illinois River Valley leading home.
All was well.
The house was still standing, my lawn had been mowed by good neighbor John, and even our cranky cat, Max, was waiting for us as if it had been just four hours instead of four weeks. Under the tutelage of his personal cat whisperer, our neighbor and house-watcher Shannon, he has now learned to actually eat the once-despised dry cat food that he generally ignores in favor of something canned and smelly. The only real sign he knows we were gone is that he insists on sleeping with us instead of going out to stalk in the nighttime neighborhood. On the other hand, it’s been pretty cold.
After weeks of sleeping bags, motels rooms and other borrowed bedsteads, the creaky old berth that once was my grandparents’ bed felt just fine as we began to settle back into life at home. The house was cold, as I had turned the thermostat way down before we left, but I’ve so far resisted the temptation to really warm the place up, as we continue to put off the real beginning of the bank-breaking time we call furnace season in our hard-to-heat old barn.
But it’s warm all the same as we share the beauty of midwest autumn, enjoy the greetings of friends and neighbors, hear all the news, and begin to tell the tales of our travels.
One of the things we’ve always done when we roam is to explore all the other places we could live if we wanted to. This trip was no different, as we looked closely at beachfront bungalows, brick cottages, backwoods shacks, intercoastal houseboats and cute water-view condos that caught our eyes. And while the thought of someplace different and nearer to water and woods and kids and, especially, grandchildren, is a tempting idea that we’ll continue to explore, it’s hard to imagine a life that doesn’t also include our big, old family home, our dear friends and the beautiful sight of Wiley Park on a crisp fall morning.
Home, that is.
We were startled by--and proud of--the sight of son Patrick, whose smiling visage graced the front page of the Jacksonville Daily News the morning after we arrived back in North Carolina after an up-coast swing. Paddy, who teaches English at nearby Richlands High School, is also the offensive line coach for the football team. It seems the O-line was expected to be the weak link on an otherwise talented squad, but after a four-game sweep that saw Richlands average over 50 points, he and his undersized overachievers were being credited with much of the season success so far.
“Coach Sloan has done a great job of pushing us and telling us anything’s possible, no matter how big or small we are,” said one player.
By the way, Richlands shares a nickname (Wildcats) and colors (blue and gold) with the now-defunct Galva football Wildcats. Serendipity, plus all my old Galva stuff is right in style.
“You ought to write a travel column.”
That’s the reaction I’ve received from several readers since arriving home. Yes, I guess that’s kind of what this column has been for the past few weeks, as I’ve tried to tell you a little about where we’ve been and what we’ve seen. And while these pages will now turn to more home-bound topics until the next time we hit the road, I’d probably be amiss if I didn’t include a quasi-comprehensive list of “best” or, at least, memorable things encountered along the way, like the real travel writers do:
•Best beach: North Topsail Island, NC
•Best campsite: Ocracoke Island, Cape Hatteras National Seashore (nestled next to an oceanside dune, with the most incredible moon/stars display ever.)
•Best historic tour: Historic Jamestown, VA archaeological tour
•Best ferry ride (we took lots of them): Ocracoke to Cedar Island (two and a half breathtaking hours across Pamlico Sound)
•Best fall views: (tie) The mountains, streams and valleys of Vermont and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
•Best fall weather: Galva and Kewanee, from what we hear.
•Best back road: Highway 12 through the Outer Banks,which connects an island with the mainland via ferry.
•Most exciting experience: (tie) Sailing on Lake George; getting lost in the Bronx.
•Most lavish hotel room: Trump Marina in Atlantic City (under $50 with an AARP card!)
•Best meal: The birthday cake I shared with my grandsons.
•Best free stuff: The sample room at Ben & Jerry’s factory
•Best WiFi hotspot: McDonald’s--everywhere.
•Best public restroom (this is important, really.): My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Bardstown, KY
•Best highway sign (state-sponsored): Moose Crossing (Vermont)
•Best highway sign (non-state-sponsored): The word “Virginia” spelled out with pumpkins. (surprisingly, Virginia seems to be the jack o’lantern capital of the world.)
•Best place we had never heard of before but discovered along the way: The National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes in Emmitsburg, MD.
•Best small town we had never heard of before but discovered along the way: Woodstock, VT.
•Best T-shirt: “Don’t ask the locals for directions, they lost an entire colony.” (Roanoke Island)
•Best food I thought I’d never try, but liked anyway: Goat cheese grits. (Really!)

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