Not only were my younger grandsons and their dad on deck, but older son Colin made the arduous 10-hour drive from Fargo, along with his wife, Geri, my granddaughter and her best pal. I felt kinda bad that Colin and crew had to make such a long journey, especially since they were just staying for the weekend, and would literally be hitting the road and heading back north before their car thoroughly cooled down from the southbound drive. But they're grownup big people now, and pretty much get to do what they want to do.
There were several good reasons for Colin and the club to have made the drive out of the Great Plains and into the dusty goldness that is early fall in the lower midwest. It is, put simply, absolutely beautiful, with the soft hues and gently changing color scheme that makes this part of the world a wondrous place to sit back and enjoy come this time of year.
Moreover, next weekend is my birthday. All of us have other things to do then, so it was decided that the family celebration would take place this weekend, when we could all be together. We enjoyed a backyard bonfire, complete with hot dogs and s'mores. We shared my "official" birthday dinner at a fine, fine bistro I've wanted my kids to enjoy. We took drives through the rolling fields and high prairies that dot this part of the world, and spent time just enjoying each other's company as we gathered on our big old porch.
But the fact is, there was really only one reason for Colin to have made the lengthy overnight drive from Fargo, North Dakota to Galva, Illinois, while knowing full well that he'd be back in the saddle and heading home in just a couple of days.
It's a good reason. A reason I entirely understand, and one that even makes me a trifle proud. It is, in fact, a reason that proves without a doubt that Colin Thomas Sloan is the true son of John Stuart Sloan.
If you've ever made the trip to Tanner's Orchard in rural Speer, you're aware of the over-amped fall-fest that takes place there every year. Besides their world-renowned apple cider donuts and apple fritters, the place has 17 varieties of apples and their world-class apple cider set for sampling; all manner of jams, jellies, sauces and salsas to try and buy; giant pumpkins and gorgeous mums; goats and llamas to feed and pet; u-pick hay rack rides and train rides; and the now-infamous corn maze.
It's always been one of our favorite places, ever since our sons celebrated their fall birthdays there.
And, of course, there's the donuts.
If you've never had a Tanner's donut, I'm not quite sure how to explain the sheer pleasure that awaits you. They have been an absolute mainstay since the orchard opened for operation back in 1947. For a true aficionado, the words "apple cider donut" are enough to send the devoted donut-dabbler into sheer paroxysms of delight and desire.
Finally, the day was nearly over. Donuts had been carefully purchased and sampled in hopes that we'd still have a few left by the time we got home. Trains had been played on. Goats had been petted and fed. There was just one more thing to experience before we headed home.
The corn maze.
None of the adults present were anxious to go tromping through the trails and dead-end passages that make up the maze, but it was finally determined after careful discussions with the folks running the place that our two young grandsons, along with Jenna, the daughter of a friend, would be fine. The trails were well marked. The maze, though large, was relatively easy to navigate, with all trails eventually leading back to the entrance. And we figured Jenna could easily act as the brains of the operation, being a girl and all, and naturally smarter than her little-boy companions.
Off they went.
Now, savvy grandparents and parents will pretty much all agree that no time moves slower than what's experienced when you've sent your precious young children off into a place where the main purpose is to get them good and lost.
Time stood still.
Soon son Patrick and Jenna's mom were in the maze themselves, looking for the overdue trio.
I was just about ready to suggest hiring a helicopter when the three adventurers appeared at the entrance.
"Are you O,K,?
"We're you lost?"
"Were you afraid?"
I was just about ready to chalk the whole thing up to the instinctive ability of children and other young beasts to find their way back where they're supposed to be, kind of like one of those Disney movies, where a one-eyed cat, a three-legged dog and a talking woodchuck miraculously travel cross-country to find the way home.
I began to question the kids regarding the pure, magical bit of instinct that brought them back to the loving arms of their parents and grandparents.
The answer was calm. And made all the sense in the world.
"Oh, I knew we'd find you, one them said. "You've got the donuts."
Well, it makes sense to me.