This was my post from July 4, 2006. We were back from Italy for a visit to family and friends scattered around much of the eastern United States.
That was so much fun then and rereading it again after nine years reminds me just how good life can be. I hope you enjoy this stroll down memory lane.
Our first week back in the Midwestern US began quietly – after Stan’s birthday of course – and we started settling into a sort of routine at Susan’s mother’s home in Grand Rapids.
Wednesday we stopped by Martha’s Vineyard wine store in the Heritage Hill area of downtown Grand Rapids; our purpose was to thank Kameel and Peter for being so kind to us during Stan’s birthday celebration Tuesday evening. They seemed to make everyone feel as if we were all just sitting at home, enjoying good food and great wine – two men whose characters are defined by kindness and generosity. (photo: Susan and I sitting outside at Mary's home in Decatur.)
On Thursday we met up with old friends Peter and Cyndi on Thursday at their home. It had been two years at least since we had spent any time together so we had quite a lot of catching up to do – all of us have been undergoing major changes in our lives, changes brought on by fundamental shifts in priorities. It was time to talk.
Early Friday morning we left Grand Rapids and headed south and then west to Chicago to visit family near Elgin. We had checked online to see if we could get a spot on the high-speed ferry from Muskegon to Milwaukee but no luck; everything was booked for this Friday. So we hit the road and resigned ourselves to getting around Chicago as best as we could. We opted to skirt south of the city (south of Interstates 80, 90 and 94), which we did and actually found the traffic OK.
We arrived at Greg and Joyce's house near Huntley, just outside of Elgin and spent the evening catching up on that side of the family. On Saturday we drove to Springfield where we had lunch with my Aunt Barb and Uncle Bill – and had a blast listening to my Uncle Bill’s stories and eating aunt Barb’s great food.
We then drove to Decatur to have dinner with our friend Mary and her kids – Mary had been my Dad’s best friend when he passed away and we wanted to stop and say hello. We had a wonderful evening of more good food and wonderful company. We also had the opportunity to meet a neighbor, Heloise and her dog Miss Kitty. The evening was capped off by a visit to my nephew John’s house where we spent a couple of hours talking about why were are seemingly the only normal ones in our family.
We returned to Grand Rapids on Sunday and on Monday went to Stan and Margie’s for dinner –great food and even better company.
By Tuesday morning it had become clear to the two of us that there is nothing quite like good friends, something we sorely miss in Italy. But that is to be expected given the life style we've chosen for this time in our lives. As my Dad once told me you go through life with very few good friends and lots of close acquaintances. This trip has allowed us to renew friendships, at the same time renewing our spirits through contact with our close friends. Most importantly we have come to recognize how truly fortunate we are.
On Wednesday we headed up to Glen Lake to spend the day with one of Susan’s aunts and her husband, two of the most warm, gracious and generous pair of people it has ever been my pleasure to meet: Jack and Betsy. They are two people who simply enfold you into a world where hospitality, kindness and laughter are a package deal, where life is to be laughed at and enjoyed. These are two people who make you want to play along at the fun and simple pleasures of being alive. Their smiles alone make you want to spend the summer with them but we had to get back to Grand Rapids.
Thursday, our last night in western Michigan, we just hung out and fixed dinner for Susan’s mom and Susan’s older brother William.
Friday we left a little before 8 am and pointed the car eastward for Hagerstown, Maryland (“Hub City”).
Our plan was to spend a couple of days with Mannie and Virginia and so we did – sharing in their new lives in western Maryland. Mannie is now a National Park ranger at Antietam National Battlefield, something he has always wanted to be, proving to all who would pay attention that you can find your dream if you are willing to look hard enough and take the necessary risks. And Virginia has embraced the world of selling books – which frankly is something a lot of us wish we could do.
On Saturday Susan, Virginia and I drove out to Antietam where Mannie was working and got a chance to watch him give one of his presentations on the overview of the battle of September 17, 1862, when more American’s were killed in a single day of fighting in any war before or since.
In his unique style of blending the simple facts with a storyteller’s feel for drama he had everyone in the room riveted for 30 minutes while he outlined the details of the battle. Afterwards we walked around – trying to keep cool after the heat – and eventually drove over to the Pry House where we witnessed a fascinating contrast with Mannie’s friendly, easy-going storytelling style in presenting Civil War history later in the afternoon.
Earlier we had read in a park brochure that at 3pm there would be a presentation on some aspect of Civil War medicine at the Pry House (where there is presently an excellent exhibit on Civil War medicine). So we headed over there, parked the car and walked into the big barn next to the house (where the presentation was set up). We found ourselves in a very warm space (notwithstanding the two large fans going in the corners) faced with a large screen directly in front of the chairs (rather like a classroom).
Soon after a man came up to the microphone and introduced himself (I make no mention of his name in order not to humiliate his family) and soon begin his “lecture” on something about amputees and a writing contest. Sad to say his Powerpoint presentation consisted mainly of him flashing one letter after another on the screen every one of which he proceeded to read, and after some 50 minutes he (and we) had lost sight of what the original theme of the talk had been about in the first place and thought that discretion was the better part of valor and so we three scooted out of there.
We had a wonderful dinner that evening – Mannie’s pizza in probably the best in Maryland – and of course the company couldn’t be beat.
On Sunday we left late in the morning driving from Hagerstown through the rain – a plague of late on the mid-Atlantic – and stopped for lunch outside of Lancaster to have lunch with Doug Adams and his wife Susie and their little girl. Doug and I talked nonstop about our respective Civil War projects and hoped to meet again in the next year or so and try and make headway in acquiring more Third Michigan pension files.
After we said goodbye to Doug and Susie we continued eastward and made a flying overnight visit to Dick and Kathy in Pennsylvania; the next day we pointed our car north for Massachusetts and made record time getting around NYC as we completed our “oval” around the eastern US.
We settled back into Dick and Dorothy’s house in Douglas, MA, and caught our breath for a couple of days.
On Thursday, 29 June we sold our car, the second to the last tangible “thing” we have remaining in the US. All we have left now is our furniture in storage in Vermont, and frankly we have no idea when we will see that next. Right now our plans go only as far as the end of Susan’s course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris; after that who knows? Anyway we had picked up a rental car (a Chevrolet Cobalt) at the Providence airport before completing the sale and so we had a car for the weekend, one last trip north.
Friday, 30 June we he hopped into our rental car and headed north to Vermont. We stopped for about two hours in Rutland where we ran a few last minute errands and then pointed ourselves westward toward the NY Catskills to spend the weekend with Don and Gloria – Don’s opening a show of his digital art in Windham, NY (just southeast of Albany) and we were invited to join in the opening festivities.
We arrived at Don and Gloria’s home a little after six in the evening and spent the rest of the night catching up on each other’s lives. The following morning I drove Don into Windham to the gallery where his show will be on exhibit through the month of July. (Don has been working in computer art for many years and is has focused primarily on fractal art since the early 1990s. He also manages the Museum of Computer Art.) I left Don at the gallery and returned to the house to help Gloria and Susan prep the food, etc. for the reception. Several of their kids (and grandkids) came in later that afternoon and we all drove to the gallery a little after 3 pm to set up.
We had a grand afternoon – quite a few people showed up, some invited and others just off the street – tourists in town for the holiday weekend. After the reception everyone drove back to the house and fixed hamburgers on the grill, talked and drank wine until ate into the evening. It certainly helped that Saturday was one of the most gorgeous days of the summer so far.
Sunday morning Don and I had a little time to talk about art and MOCA and the future but mostly we just had a great time all of us being together.
Susan and I said goodbye and a little before 9am were back on the road again, this time heading for Providence, RI to drop our car off at the airport there. We made good time – traffic was light – and soon we were rid of our car and officially without a vehicle in the land that Detroit built. And it was a good feeling too.
Dick picked us up at the airport and by early afternoon we were back in Massachusetts, ready to catch our breath and relax before the return flight to Florence on Wednesday.
I’d say we’re ready to go.