October 13, 2013
My dad is 91 years old today and celebrating with most of the family in Maryland as I write this in California. He was supposed to be here visiting but a bout of vertigo made flying unappealing, to say the least. (My brother Mike and sister-in-law Peggy did make the trip and we had a wonderful three days exploring the region around Redding: Mt. Shasta, New Clairveaux Vineyard and Winery, the Sundial Bridge and River Trail.) I was looking forward to my dad’s visit as it’s been more than 10 years since we saw each other on this coast. Last year on this date I was with almost all of the family in Maryland, including my son who flew in for the occasion of Dad’s 90th. It was a great party sponsored by the children (food) and grandchildren (drinks). Entertainment was provided by the 6 great-grandchildren, ages 2 months to 5 years. They just ran or crawled around a lot, but they were cute. This year’s party is missing my mother who passed away last December and I know Dad is missing his wife of 69 years. I miss her, too.
Below are the travelogues from October 8 and 9,2012. I took a break from writing while I was with my family so these are the last two until October 22nd.
Oct 8, 2012: Elyria, Ohio
This morning we drove to Lemont, IL—not far from Chicago and visited the cemetery at St. James’s church. This is where several McCulloughs (Mike’s paternal grandfather’s line) are buried in a family site down the hill from the church. This was wonderful for Mike, kind of a peak experience for a historian and amateur genealogist. I enjoyed the beauty of the place and took several photos trying to capture the autumn light on the trees. Fall is flamboyant in Chicago; brilliant colors, crisp and cold air and light that makes the leaves glow. Growing up on the East Coast, I dismissed Redding’s more subtle season. Later I realized that autumn is the shift in the intensity and direction of sunlight.
We stopped in Elyria, Ohio (home of author Sherwood Anderson) for the night and I finally threw away the cheese. It could have been a sentimental moment; after all this block of cheddar had traveled from Redding to Ohio without us ever snacking on it. Still, keeping it cold had lost its charm … and for some reason we didn’t feel like eating cheese and crackers (I still have the crackers). While Ohio no longer has the Howard Johnsons of my youth, the buildings remain and are reminders of the past glory of fast food in the 1960s. Today the long structures with the “rotunda” at the front have been converted into food courts—Starbucks, Sbarros, Burger Kings, etc. The cool vending machines and white chocolate lollipops with a milk chocolate puppy or kitten in the center are gone forever. Which brings me to a brief rant about the many “outlet” malls and freeway stop areas in our country. You literally cannot tell where you are when you turn off the freeway into one of the tan stucco Starbucks, Chipotle, Applebee’s, Chevron, Subway, etc. strip malls. As for the so-called outlet stores, how can there be so many Gap/Old Navy, Edie Bauer, and Dress Barn outlets? They clearly outnumber the parent stores, and I’ve never seen a Dress Barn that wasn’t an outlet store. Explain that!
Still among all the homogenization of the American landscape are the unique eating establishments of our country. Tonight we ate at Reuben’s, which the 20 year old hotel clerk at the Elyria Best Western assured us served “awesome food.” I don’t know about you, but when I’m confronted with a huge menu that serves everything from omelets and falafel to Amish style pulled turkey and fried sauerkraut balls, I get a little nervous. Some of that tension diminished when the waitress brought me an 8 ounce glass of wine… okay, it was Sutter Home, but we’re a long way from California. We passed on the sauerkraut balls; my parmesan chicken was edible and Mike thoroughly enjoyed the hot turkey with gravy and mashed potatoes. Why is the gravy yellow? Just asking.
Full Disclosure: part of the reason the cheese didn’t get eaten in the Midwest is that Mike and I bought a couple of bags of chocolate caramel corn in Iowa… Tomorrow we drive through Pennsylvania (Cracker Barrel Country) and into Maryland to my sister’s in Mt. Airy.
Oct 9, 2012: Mt. Airy and Silver Spring, Md.
We arrived at Noni and Dale’s about 5:00 before either was home from work. Dale had left us a key and we had time to drag all of our stuff into the house before Mike took off to wash the car. I suppose this is as good a place as any to talk about Mike’s obsession with the car.
Whenever we get a new car, there’s a breaking-in period. By this I mean, breaking in Mike. Since I know how this process works, I successfully got a few concessions from Mike before taking off on the trip with the Santa Fe Sport. Yes, we would be able to have drinks in the car and Mike would not freak out whenever I was driving. Except for the exaggerated pantomime of fear when I have to brake quickly (see “Road Rage Fridays”) Mike has limited his mania to cleaning the windows—twice—every time we stop for gas or get ready to leave in the morning (or if I leave the car unattended for too long). He has a process. First he sprays the windshield with Stoner’s Invisible Glass and cleans off the bugs (and worse) with a paper towel. Then he sprays the windshield with Stoner’s Invisible Glass and polishes it with a micro-fiber cloth. Then he looks through the windshield from inside the car and asks me if it’s “better,” which I concede. That’s our routine…
Anyway, shortly after we arrived, my sister came home from work. I just love my sister; we are so close and so similar. Our lives have not been the same—she married and had children young; I married and had child late. Put it this way, when I was 36 I had an infant; when Noni was 36 she had a 17 year old. But we share a sense of humor and a practical, get-the-job-done way of looking at life that is the legacy of our parents. I always say that Noni, who is 6 years younger than I am and the youngest in the family, is the guardian of my youth. She has the memories that come with the vantage point of watching older siblings tangle (I mean interact) with parents and she had what my brothers and I consider the great advantage of being raised by parents who were more relaxed about rules. And by more relaxed I mean she got to spend the night at her friend’s house on school nights. Really.
Noni is one of my top three favorite people on earth. My son Max thinks his aunt (and godmother) is hysterical and that he gets his sense of humor from her (thanks, Max). She is the person who always got along with everyone even through the years when I defected to the West Coast and my brothers lived in Europe. She has always taken great care of my parents, and now, even though my brothers live near, she is the one who worries most about them.