Country Roads

Soon after our trip to Roanoke’s Big Lick ComicCon, Jim and I went (much) further afield to visit Costa Rica with our friends Gary and Tammy.

I won’t write much about it (because this is not a travel blog), but I will note that where we were, close to the west coast, featured rolling fields full of crops and cattle, with mountains in the distance.

Not too unlike our views at home!
We even took a ride behind a GINORMOUS tractor,
which looks a little like our local snow plow in a wholly different vibe.
Of course, you’re not going to see this guy in Franklin County (photo by Gary Reinhardt).

Let me tell you, though, the roads are better here.

I had a chance to appreciate good old Virginia infrastructure yesterday when I took some of those roads to the town of Blairs in Pittsylvania County, to visit Southside Elementary School and read a book with some second graders.

I love a captive audience.

This was part of a project that brought American Association of University Women members to read about inclusiveness to kids around Franklin, Bedford, and Pittsylvania Counties. I volunteered for a farther-flung school near Danville, Va., because I hadn’t had a chance to explore in that direction.

And explore I did! Blairs is about an hour from our home, and along the way I drove through Penhook, almost all the way to Gretna.

You’re not in a hurry when you’re behind the big truck.

Then headed south on Route 29 past Chatham…

(not Chatham, Massachusetts. Or Boston, Massachusetts, for that matter)

This is a Boston Globe picture of a sticker sold by enterprising Cape Codders.
Chatham, Virginia, does not have sharks to worry about.

…through the town of Tightsqueeze, almost all the way to North Carolina. Just short of Danville, I reached my destination.

Flowers blooming in Blairs!

The teachers and administration at the school were marvelous, and the kids were, of course, charming. It was a wonderful opportunity and a lot of fun to read with them.

On the way home, I took a meandering mountain road through Witt, Mount Hermon, and Henry Fork.

Soon after I took this picture I had to, ahem, put the phone down and focus on the driving,
because the roads got a little curvy and hilly.

Eventually, I reached the familiar four lanes of Route 220, cut through Rocky Mount, and made my way back home more than a little proud of myself that after all that exploring, I found my way back. We are through with our “major” traveling for the time being, and it’s nice that a trip so far away can be echoed by the beauty at home.

Charlotte, with a Twist

We were very proud and relieved that our girl had managed to find a great job for after graduation. In late January, she was set to go to work with a large company’s office in Charlotte, North Carolina, so we spent a long weekend getting her moved in.

She flew from Roanoke to Auburn to collect her things, as I’ve mentioned.

The next morning, we got up at the crack of dawn and picked up this streamlined vehicle…

And made our way through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and into Alabama. A long drive.

This is Fancy Gap, deep in SW VA. A very impressive view and sometimes, very impressive winds
Rolling into Gaffney, SC, of House of Cards fame
…where the skies are so blue.

The next morning, Cora and I drove her car and Jim drove the loaded-up van back up I-85 for five hours to Charlotte.

We were glad to have the next day free to visit Costco and Target, as well as other sites of interest around the city.

The train to Uptown is a quick walk from her new apartment
This is a converted factory that now houses yummy food stalls (very popular with Charlottians for Sunday brunch enjoyment)
A cool, literary-themed park in the middle of the city
The park was evidently an ideal spot for photo ops among the cheer teams in town for a competition
It’s me. All broken up

We left on Monday, MLK Day. I was feeling a little blue that our “baby” was now out on her own in the world, but overall glad that she was launching herself in a nice town.

And then the next day she called to tell us that her company was transferring her to New York City. She is moving in less than two weeks.

A Shocking Scene on the Road

I saw something today that reminded me how special this area is.

I had a little bit of business to attend to at one of the local marinas this afternoon (fun fact: there are marinas all around the lake, and some of them got their start 50+ years ago, when a family saw its farmland become covered in water from the Smith Mountain dam project and decide to pivot into a new line of work. These are resourceful folks around here).

I found myself traveling behind a Franklin County school bus, and when it got to a stop at one of the neighborhoods off Burnt Chimney road, two youngsters (both under 10, certainly) climbed out, and as the bus drove away, they jumped on their bikes which they had evidently left at the bus stop this morning to ride to their home.

To someone from the “mean streets” of Fairfax County (up in ultra suburban Northern Virginia), this was a shocker. I don’t know if that shock says more about Franklin County or me.

He Went By in a Flash

One morning when I was in eighth grade, I was waiting at the bus stop with my middle-school colleagues when a car sped by. We looked up in time to see that the back seat passenger had pressed his rear end up against the window to be admired by all.

We guffawed like eighth graders do, but I also made the mistake of telling my mom about the incident. By that evening, the Fairfax County Police had paid a visit to the house to jot down a description. My friends were disappointed that I had ruined the potential for continued spectacle (because the undercover police car joined us at the bus stop the next morning and very soon the mooning stopped).

Fast-forward forty years to this evening, when Jim came home with a story that brought back that middle-school adventure. It seems that a woman in his office was bringing her trash cans from the curb one evening when she heard the sound of a motorcycle approaching. She glanced up as he sped by and realized that he was either wearing white shorts or, well, no shorts.

She didn’t have to wonder long. As she made her way up her driveway she heard the motorcycle approaching again. This time, a little slower. And this time, the rider shouted, “Oh, NO! I’ve lost my SHORTS!” She looked over. And indeed, there were no shorts. The rider sped away.

As I had long ago, Jim’s colleague called her mom to share the story. But she got a different reaction. “Sweetie,” said her mom. “Make sure you tell me the next time he comes by. Because I want to see him.”

Cherry Blossoms, FraCo Style

This is our first spring in the southwestern part of Virginia, and for a couple of weeks, I found myself really missing the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC.

The cherry blossoms are famous. They ring the Tidal Basin near the Potomac River and draw crowds from around the world. Seriously large crowds, my friends, and the challenge of finding the right time to visit and avoid those crowds is a DC-area pastime in itself.

Beautiful, right? For awhile, it seemed like all of my northern VA friends were posting pictures just like this one, making me wistful for the old homeplace.

But then I noticed something along the roads.

This place is awash in redbuds.

We had a redbud in front of our house when I was growing up. We also had a crabapple, whose flowers mimicked those cherry trees and made the redbud look a little less, well, profuse by comparison. Sad to say, our redbud was not a major player in my childhood floral memories.

They definitely have a different flavor. In the past, I had only seen them as little glimpses of pink contrasting the sea of new green around them.

But when you get a lot of them together, it’s pretty impressive.

Franklin County has a lot of redbuds.

In fact, I was reading an old newspaper article about the initial filling of Smith Mountain Lake where the reporter bemoaned the loss of the redbud trees as the waters rose. And even better, when a friend posted a photo of his own (northern Virginia) redbud, I learned that he is a Franklin County native with stories to tell about growing up here.

So I (almost) quit missing the cherry blossoms because these buds have a beauty that is quite as nice.