Eric and I were up bright and early, and in a frantic search of coffee. Eric saved the morning by discovering a bag of coffee in the freezer. Many of you know how I despise Starbuck’s, but I wasn’t about to deny a cup of ANY brand of coffee! The rest of the house slept, and rather well.
Eric and I took sweet Sassy with us on a walk up along the ridge. Sassy couldn’t hear very well, but she smiled and led the way with tremendous dignity.
I feel inclined to boast on our relationship, dear readers. I have grown so comfortable with you that I’m now posting pictures of myself without makeup. I almost didn’t include them, in all honesty, but that would mean that I’d surrendered fully to vanity, and I have done my best to keep this genuine.
Morning fog hovered low in the green valleys, as winter had not yet arrived. We ran into a neighbor, and he told us about an old homestead to check out, just over the hill.
Nikos and I borrowed Eric’s car, because our tenants renting our house, had asked us to clear out the Amish shed. Sophia was going to Abbey’s to play with Ava, Arron and Nikolas were interested in nothing else but the spy rover and could have been happily occupied for fifty years, Eric was being picked up by his best friend to enjoy lunch at the iconic Jim’s Spaghetti House, and finally, Elizabeth had to practice her dance as she’d been going through withdrawal. Katerina was thrilled to join her mama and daddy.
Back to our sweet house on the hill, yet it was no longer ours. It was strange. The tenant was a nice guy, around our age, and at first difficult to chat with. He showed us the changes they had made to our house, and it had truly become theirs. Once he warmed up, we talked while emptying the shed. Nikos claimed that I was the hoarder, but no, it was evidently him! Nikos couldn’t give up a jacket from 1982, rusty tools, and just a bunch of garbage I’d never even blink at keeping. I had gone through old crafts proudly given to me at one time by the kids, pictures, old clothes, and a basket with lights and pine I’d made one Christmas. I decided to take it back to MN with me. The kids’ crafts, pictures, books, and Nikos’ junk we’d store in Daddy’s and Leandra’s basement. I felt sentimental, but far more inclined to throw everything out.
Our renter had a granddaughter with cerebral palsy. They had chosen our house because it was one story and conducive to his granddaughter’s needs. I realized I’d also been difficult to open up. I appreciated the emotion he quickly hid while speaking about his granddaughter, and I began telling him about Katerina. I was trying hard to hide my own teary eyes. Sifting through years stolen by time all too quickly, memories and emotion, I suddenly looked up to see two hawks circling high above our heads. They seemed to be dancing a choreographed piece and finally, they faced one another, and in-between them was a rectangular rainbow, each hawk holding one end up. Our tenant took a picture and I asked him if he’d captured the rainbow. He blankly looked at me and asked, “What rainbow?” I turned to Nikos, he also said he didn’t see a rainbow. That rainbow, just as plain as my hand, the dancing hawks, were a sweet, sacred morning gift. I could not speak, think nor look up, because my eyes were indeed filled with tears.
I told Katerina, who was chasing the tenant’s little dog (the size of a guinea pig) around, to get her shoes on, because we were going for a walk. My little girl, I used to take her for stroller rides on the same and familiar road. I used to stand on the front porch and watch for Nikolas and Elizabeth to hop off of the school bus; both of them would break out in a run when they caught sight of me. So much had changed moving to Minnesota, yet it hadn’t.
Katerina talked about the funny kids in her class, our cats at home and what mischief they were undoubtedly getting into, why she likes our house we moved into more, and I appreciated the partial sunshine and the spring-like temperature. I was also struck with the profound realization that we’d likely never take this walk again. I knew to listen closely to Katerina’s happy chatter and be accepting of never again’s.
One of our old neighbors came out and passed the time, her business is dong very well. I will never have an entrepreneur propensity, or most likely I’m just lazy.
As the two of us walked up our old driveway, our renter asked if he could say a prayer for Katerina before we left. The four of us held hands in a circle as he prayed earnestly. Only Katerina said “Amen” without a choked up voice or tears.
We left our house with its sweet memories and ate at Tudor’s. Logistically, Tudor’s is not healthy fare, however, it truly feeds the soul. Biscuits n gravy, fried taters, eggs over easy, and good crunchy bacon, all made from scratch will never be considered anything but soul healthy eating in my book. Man, I’d missed Tudor’s!
The three of us went to our favorite park in Hurricane. Back when Katerina was in heart failure, she wasn’t allowed to be around people, due to the high risk of pneumonia and other infections. We’d have Tudor’s breakfast picnics usually every Sunday morning, and take Katerina on stroller rides. She’d point her tiny finger at the trees and gaze out and smile peacefully. Her first word was actually, “tree.”
We hiked through the woods and around the pond, and sat while Katerina played at the playground. I don’t know why it had only occurred to me then, that I’d taken three walks already. What a wonderful, healing and deeply special day it had been!
When we made it back to the ranch, Eric had thankfully fed the kids. I felt guilty not bringing back Tudor’s. We had to pack because we were heading back home-such a brief visit! We were also going to stop by Jo’s house (the house in which I was raised) and then Jennifer and Matt were having a post Christmas party.
Abbey, Ben and kids met us at Jo’s, and we ended up following them to Jennifer’s party. Sometimes, ONLY SOMETIMES, GPS is a good thing. The dogs were all excited and barking, Nikos immediately had gone off with Donald to look at his electrician “stuff.” It was so good to see Jo; there’s no one in the world like her! One of Jo’s sons, Donny, was sitting at the table eating a meal, Nikolas was teasing the dog and getting on my nerves, Jo was telling me about the new changes she’d made on the house, and so on. I felt bad not being able to stay longer, but we were already an hour late for Jennifer’s party.
I wish the following picture would have turned out to capture Jo’s old-timey Christmas tree. Jo still uses the C-9 lights, the kind any 1970’s kid had on their Christmas trees and real tinsel!
From one get-together to another, we made it to Jennifer’s beautifully decorated home. I swear if someone unloaded all of Jennifer’s decorations on my floor, I’d still not know what to do with them. I just don’t know how to do all of that pretty decorating! Lisa and Phil, Angie and her son, Paul and Patty, our whole clan, and the many kids made for a crowded house. The food was wonderful as always, and Jennifer made the best corn salad, for which she had given me the recipe. If you want a copy, send me an email. Matt has turned the downstairs into a man floor, with a pool table, shuffleboard or something, and we all played a card game. I lost early on, didn’t really care because I wanted to eat some more of Jennifer’s delicious food, and Angie ended up winning. I love getting together with my friends because we’ve been close for so long, distance and time cannot interrupt our friendship. I had the best time, and the kids all got along, as well. Katerina and Reese were besties all over again.
We stayed too late, but I wanted to prolong the night as long as possible, knowing that the following day we’d be crammed into Eric’s rental car and driving home.
Bright and early, I did a load of laundry, heated up some coffee from yesterday, and Nikolas wanted to take a walk with me. My sweet little boy, so quiet, his mind always on building go-karts, robots, a million facts about space that I have to pretend that I can remotely follow his conversation. Nikolas and I both commiserated over how much we wanted to take Sassy back with us. We love that dog, dearly.
A light mist silently fell, the fresh scent of leaves and the far off smoke from a wood-fire filled the heavy air. Nikolas and I stopped and gazed over the countryside, the hills an integral part of us.
It didn’t take long before our peace was interrupted by my husband who acts younger than his own son, growling and pretending he was some kind of bear, wolf, who knows?! Eric and Nikos met us up on the ridge and we hiked down to the old cabin.
Finally, the inevitable arrived, and we left WV. The fighting began in four minutes. I was still sad about leaving Sassy, as well as grouchy, because I didn’t get enough sleep. I argued with Nikos, Eric, Elizabeth and I even complained about Arron and Nikolas for being too quiet. Yep, I was unreasonable and not a nice passenger.
Along the way, Eric and I remembered the trips with Daddy, we’d traveled the same highways, on our way to visit our grandparents and Aunt Carolyn, Uncle Howie and cousins in Cincinnati. In first grade, I even lived with them. They were very good to me, sat and pretended to listen while I read books as slowly as the next first grader. Aunt Carolyn always packed a Little Debbie oatmeal creme pie in my lunch. My cousin told the bus driver that I died after I moved back to WV, because he didn’t know how to explain it!
Suddenly, Eric spotted a sign to Shawnee State Park! Eric and I both are obsessed with brown road signs. This was a park our parents had frequented, and later, Daddy would stop by there often with us. Eric and I were so excited to take our families there! We played ball, ran around on the deserted road, checked out the creek and threatened Arron and Nikolas to not go in it. It was a wonderful break!
Back to the car, and wow did Elizabeth get to me! We were arguing non-stop all the way to visit our mother’s grave in Milford, OH. Just before we made it to the cemetery, I was crying, Elizabeth was crying, everyone else hated us, and I told Eric to just pull over because I didn’t want to go to the cemetery as a hot mess. I was crying and despising my teenager at that moment, feeling like a crappy mom, and not worthy of visiting my mother. Nikos said if our mother had raised me, we would have fought too, and she understands how annoying Elizabeth is. Well, that got Elizabeth all worked up again and another verbal battle ensued.
We piled-some of us fell out of the car, and became instantaneously somber as we approached our mother’s grave site. Here Eric and I stood with our children, their sweet hopeful and young hearts only know their grandmother through our stories, and we’ve so little. How tragic that this beautiful woman hadn’t the chance to raise her children and live a long full life, in which she was entirely deserving. We all prayed, some silently, and hoped our mom knew that she was still very much loved, a piece of our hearts reserved forever for her.
As a Frisch’s neared, I suggested that we stop for some pie and coffee, hot chocolate for the kids. Eric and I remembered our sweet Grandma Sharp. Frisch’s and Grandma Sharp are synonymous, as Grandma loved her fish sandwiches and crinkle-cut fries. Grandma would fold her remaining three or so fries in a napkin, tuck it in her well-cared for purse, never allowing anything to go to waste. Grandma was the epitome of a grandmother, simply perfect.
Some of the kids had ice cream, I had apple pie and it was just about the best time I’d had the entire trip, All it had taken was a piece of warm pie, a dollop of ice cream swiped from Katerina, and a coffee with cream to make the world right again.
Trust me, we had plenty of dysfunction left, those stupid Ram Dass and Tim Ferris pod-casts about did me in. I couldn’t read my book because I felt car sick, but we chugged on down the road.
Evening came and Eric convinced us to stay at a Holiday Inn Express. We like our Hampton Inns, so it took some persuading. We checked in and then ate at a Cracker Barrel for supper.
Again, it was so late that the kids were too tired to swim. Nikos and I really liked the Holiday Inn Express, as did the kids, and that was before the pancake machine.
I was fanatically determined to beat Eric down to the breakfast room and we did it. There it was, a freaking pancake machine, that spit out pancakes! I want to go today and stay at a Holiday Inn Express, just to see that machine again. I don’t even really like pancakes, but that’s beside the point. The five of us ooohed and ahhed at that super cool pancake machine! We were now fans for life of the Holiday Inn Express-thanks bub!
Being that we were somewhere in Illinois meant that we had seven hours left-yuck! The weather grew considerably colder each mile we drove. Elizabeth was still impossible, I was freezing, Sophia and I agreed on putting the heat/air knob midway, even though I often secretly moved it with my big toe when she wasn’t looking. Sophia is very smart, and she caught on quickly.
It was lunchtime and we’d made it to Wisconsin Dells, an area that every mid-westerner is familiar. Half of us wanted Culver’s and the other, Subway. We left the kids with Elizabeth in the car, and the rest of us filed into the Subway to realize that an entire bus had arrived just before. While I had gone to the restroom, one of the kids had set off the car alarm, so all of Subway were glued to the window staring at our car.
Everyone ended up getting Culver’s, and I tried their cheese soup. It wasn’t very good.
Nikos drove and the absolute best part of the worst drive ever suddenly happened-Eric and I both managed to take a nap! We awoke thirty plus minutes later and all was quiet, blessedly peaceful.
We returned to snow-covered everything, minus ten temperatures, the kids all went sledding, and Eric made his now infamous (at our house) tai green curry for supper. It was good to be home. We were all friends again.
The way to sum up this road trip from you know where…I’m still married, we didn’t beat any kids or leave them at a rest area, and I’m still claiming that I’m related to my brother. And you know what, I’d do that trip all over again.
Thinking back, it was uncomfortable to say the least, but somehow, it was also a beautiful memory, despite its dysfunction. Growing up, Eric was a better at everything brother, who chopped my Barbie’s heads off, convinced me there was no Santa when I was twelve, shot arrows at my doll house and called me “ugly sea hag.” We grew up and he turned into one of my very favorite people I’ve ever known. Eric has grown to be a contemplative, even sentimental person, a deeply devoted and loving father, generous, and kind-hearted, without the need for acknowledgment. I am grateful for the time we had during my brother’s visit, and also for the bond we share, growing up under different circumstances, in which Eric understands.