I think I’ve mentioned that where we live is fairly rural.
As with some rural communities, there may be some sense of insulation from the effects of Covid-19 as it sweeps around the world. In fact, someone I know was teased a few weeks ago at a local gardening store when he told the cashier that he would load his own mulch in order to maintain some social distance. “A CUSTOMER IS COMING TO THE LOADING AREA,” she announced over the store’s loudspeaker. “BUT HE DOESN’T NEED HELP BECAUSE HE WANTS TO SOCIAL DISTANCE!” There was chuckling. This person now buys his mulch from the Lowe’s in Rocky Mount.
(About ten days after this interaction this same establishment went to curbside-only service. No more loitering in the garden store, y’all!)
And indeed, today’s Roanoke Times reports only 16 cases of Covid-19 in Franklin County, with 19 in Bedford County just across the lake.
However, a large population of our neighbors are retired and are very respectful of the threat that the coronavirus presents. You see some folks wearing masks in the stores, and appreciate businesses’ attempts to distance their customers.
We are supporting our small businesses with take-out orders and only venturing out when we need to. But if we went to our windows to bang pots at 7 pm in support of health care workers, I don’t think anyone would hear us.
When I talk to friends in the DC area or our daughter in New York, it is clear that they are living in a world that seems very different, even if I suspect strongly that it is not.
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.
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.
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.
Then headed south on Route 29 past Chatham…
(not Chatham, Massachusetts. Or Boston, Massachusetts, for that matter)
…through the town of Tightsqueeze, almost all the way to North Carolina. Just short of Danville, I reached my destination.
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.
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.
It may be no surprise that I’ve had New York on my mind lately.
And ironically enough, the week after we moved our girl from Alabama to North Carolina, we jumped on the train for a long-planned trip to the Big City itself.
The real drivers for the trip were our friends Colleen and Brett, who had taken the Amtrak from Roanoke to New York previously and were enthusiastic to do so again. And for someone who says he would never relish living there, Brett did an amazing job planning the trip, for which we are grateful.
Those guys started the day out early; the Amtrak leaves Roanoke at about 6:30 am. Jim and I joined them an hour up the road, in Lynchburg, and we picked up more friends, Michelle and Steve, just south of DC. A bloody Mary or two, and the attention of a fellow passenger — a bored and sassy nine-year-old traveling with her parents to go see Aladdin — made the hours zoom by.
In fact, the weekend zoomed by as we roamed around the island of Manhattan. We walked on the Highline and had lunch in Chelsea Market.
We saw a couple of shows!
We climbed all over the Vessel in Hudson Yards.
We checked out Little Italy, Chinatown (we were there during the Lunar New Year and it was fun seeing folks hustle around to get their supplies for the festivities), and the Housingworks Bookstore Café.
And, oh yes, Times Square, Top of the Rock, and even the M&Ms store.
It was a dizzying couple of days, made more fun by chatting with the many international visitors in our hotel and with the warm, funny, kind New Yorkers all around us. With the thought of our girl’s impending move (she found an apartment over the weekend!) looming in the back of my mind, the trip made me anticipate it — in a good way — even more intently.
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.
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.
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.
I have not been writing much here lately because the two Reynolds kids are home and I have been trying to squeeze in work writing in the early part of the day and kid activities in the afternoon and evening.
Alas, though, all good things (like college holiday breaks) come to an end and our boy is heading back to school tomorrow morning. He and Jim are driving out there together, leaving me and Cora with a quiet weekend. So we’re heading to Charlottesville!
Charlottesville is the home of the University of Virginia, of course, and the community sits geographically (and culturally, I think) in between busy Northern Virginia (whence many UVA students originate) and the rest of Virginia — with its tempestuous history and pretty mountains. I think that it has a cultivated country-cultured vibe.
Which is illustrated in our planned outings for the day. We are first heading to Blue Ridge Pottery, just north of the city. Then we’re going to have lunch at one of those shops that has bowls of superfoods and quinoa because that’s what the girl likes to eat and you really can’t find too much of that in our local vicinity.
And we both agree on our final stop:
We don’t have Trader Joe’s in Roanoke. Our nearest one is Charlottesville. It’s going to be a well-timed, really good day.
We bid Cape Cod farewell on December 27, driving off into a beautiful sunrise.
Though we considered breaking the trip in half, we found ourselves pretty lucky with the traffic and decided to plow through. This meant we had a 13½ hour drive but we split up the driving and were rewarded with a full weekend at home before Jim had to go back to work on Monday.
I have had an extra week off because my place of employment closes down for two weeks at the holidays, hooray! This meant that I got to enjoy more time with the Reynolds kids at various coffee shops around the area.
Besides determining that the nonstop Cape Cod – Wirtz trip is survivable, I learned (or was reminded of) at least four other notable things over this holiday break.
FIRST. That song gets it right. You know, the holiday song, “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” which is actually about traffic. That went through my head more than a few times in the course of the past few weeks. We were #blessed to travel between two homes and both felt pretty homey.
Having said that, though, I have drooled over pictures of some friends’ holiday vacations and I think I could work with that, too.
SECOND. Inspiration comes from unexpected places. Jim has a couple of cousins on Cape Cod, and they come to his parents’ house with their families for Christmas dinner. It is wonderful, because they are all very enjoyable folks and we don’t get to see them often enough. One of the cousins’ kids is working hard to apply for a selective position in the military, and he is seriously in tip-top shape. He runs daily, spends intentional time at the gym, and eats only things that are good for him. From the standpoint of someone (ahem, me) who has worked way too much baklava into her holiday life, this gentleman encouraged me to take a good look at my bad habits. And he’s only 24, people.
THIRD. Christmas lasts a little longer in Franklin County. I’ve talked in this blog about the solid waste sites in Franklin County, where you bring your household trash and converse for a moment with some of the nicest folks around: the fellas who tend the sites. I have also learned that if you’re tossing a particularly serviceable item, these gentlemen will encourage you to leave it on top of the dumpster/compactor in case someone else can use it. This practice goes into high gear at the holiday season, making the dumpsters look like a second Christmas, a veritable buffet of holiday gifts. At the dump site in Burnt Chimney, evidently a woman had discarded an entire box of angels, and the gentleman at the site there was offering angels to anyone who came through. That’s hard to beat.
FOURTH. The holidays end when your kids go back to school. When I was growing up, the holiday season started on October 23, with my mom’s birthday, followed by Halloween, my November birthday, Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas, and wrapping up with my dad’s birthday on January 10 (we then rested for a minute to regroup and celebrate my sister at the end of February). Now my dad and mom are gone, but our daughter’s birthday is in early January, so the holiday energy goes strong until then.
But the thing about having kids home from college is that you know they’re going to go back, and the house will become quiet again, and the cats will get depressed, and then, you know, it’s just winter. So even though we’ll celebrate that young lady this weekend and I need to get back to work on Monday, we’ll have one more week to savor with “kids” in the house, and that’s an even better gift than anything else this season.
This is one of those days when this blog becomes a travel blog because that’s what we’ve been doing.
Our trip to Jim’s parents’ house now takes us two days because we live that much further south. But the bonus is that instead of driving straight up I-95 through Baltimore, past Wilmington DE, and over the Jersey Turnpike, we now drive up I-81 through the wilderness of Pennsylvania.
Easton, PA, is a good halfway point. It’s a cute town right on the Delaware River.
On the second day of travel we roll through New Jersey, New York, Connecticut (not such bad traffic on Christmas Eve!), Rhode Island, and on into Massachusetts.
I hope that if you have travels this season they are safe and happy!
It’s funny how a dreadful event can refocus your perspective very quickly.
Our travel home from Alabama went a little bit sideways, leaving me grateful for everything that didn’t go wrong.
As background, the easiest way to get to Auburn, Alabama, is through Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. (It’s such a big airport that even Roanoke’s little airfield offers direct flights!) From there, you rent a car and drive straight down I-85 for an hour and a half. Once you cross the Chattahoochee River you know you’re almost there.
Jim, Cora, and I had managed to book our flights home separately but all ended up on the same flight home to Roanoke, an afternoon flight that allowed us to get out of town in a leisurely fashion. The rest of the family had earlier flights, so they scooted out of town with dispatch. As we finished up our breakfast, I got a call from an Atlanta number.
Was I ever surprised to hear one of my favorite voices on the other end: my sister, Sarah. She started the conversation with, “Anne? Everything is okay, but…”
And with those four words, your heart skips because you know that everything is not okay. And it wasn’t. She had stopped off of I-85 in Union City, just south of Atlanta, to refill her gas tank. While doing so, another car drove up to the pump next to hers (as they do). When she turned around to attend to the gas pump, someone got out of that car and into hers and sped off. With all of her possessions.
With a presence of mind that I can only aspire to, she ran into the gas station, called 9-1-1, borrowed a phone, and got in touch with her family, including me. Suddenly grateful to be packed up a little early, we jumped in the car and made our way to Union City. By the time we got there, Sarah had spoken with the police and made a report.
And we had formulated a plan. We picked her up and drove with her to Hartsfield-Jackson. Jim and Cora flew home, but Sarah and I stepped up to the National Rent-a-Car counter and drove ourselves to the airport in Roanoke (me: “Sarah, Sarah, look! It’s Fancy Gap!”). We were met there by her husband, who had spent the afternoon cancelling credit cards, acquiring a new phone for my sis (at the Apple store in mid-December), and driving the four hours from northern Virginia.
She wrote about the experience on social media, making the cautionary point that YOU SHOULD ALWAYS TAKE YOUR KEYS WITH YOU WHEN YOU FILL UP YOUR CAR, but also expressing her great relief that things worked out much better than they could have.
Today is a travel day so instead of writing much I’ll share the grand finale of Auburn’s graduation yesterday.
After the platform party processed out, the new grads stayed in their seats. The band launched into the fight song. Aubie, the finest mascot in SEC, bounded onto the stage and motioned for all of the graduates to toss their hats. It was the perfect end to the celebration.
This is Michael O’Neill (a pic I snagged from IMDB) — he’s an actor who’s been in lots of things, and he is also an Auburn alum. Notably, he will be the speaker at today’s graduation ceremony.
I didn’t realize any of this as he was just sitting at the table next to me in the lobby coffee shop of the Auburn University Hotel. Another coffee lover did recognize him, which gave me the intel to write this post.