Wanderlust

I asked The Grandmother the other day if she had ever had a desire to live in a different place.  She’s lived in West Virginia all of her life, not in the same place, but almost.  She said, pretty quickly, “No.”  Every place I mentioned–New England, The West Coast,  The South–she poo-pooed right away for one reason or another (too hot, too cold, too much rain, not enough rain, weird people, volcanoes, tornadoes–you get the picture.)

It occurs to me that she is probably telling the truth.  She is the type of person who likes routine, and the known.  I wonder, though, if when she was younger she might have felt differently.  I can remember when my dad moved away to southern Alabama (then Florida, then southern Alabama again, the Florida again, then southern………well, never mind) he made the comment, “I was due a change.”  At the time I just blew that comment off, but now I’m starting to think he might have been on to something.

I would love to live in a different place.  I don’t mean just a neighboring county, although at this point I’d take that.  I’m talking a different place, with different people, a different climate even.  I am suffering from an old-fashioned case of wanderlust.

Don’t scoff–our country wouldn’t exist without it, or at least not the country the way it is today.  Why did people keep pushing west?  Why did explorers ever set out in search of new lands in the first place? (I mean, besides to rape and pillage and plunder and destroy all of the native culture.)  It’s simple:  some people are happy to stay where they are forever, and some people want to move on, to see and try new things.  I definitely belong with the latter.

I would offer a warning: beware of the Pacific Ocean.  Once you see it, it will never let you go.  At least that’s the effect it had on me.  They say the Pacific has no memory, and maybe that’s true, but what they forgot to mention was though it has no memory, it will implant itself forever in yours.  Now all I want is to live close enough to be able to see it whenever I want, to smell it and hear it and see if it as beautiful as I remember.

I hope no one would read this and think I hate where I live. Not at all.  I’m not so blinded that I don’t realize the beauty of my home.  People come from all over the world to walk across a bridge I drive over at least three times a week.  They come to a park and photograph a grist mill that is five miles from my house, and that my husband once worked in as a tour guide.  They pay hundreds of dollars to raft on the rivers that are but a few miles from my house, and my friends are their guides.  I rake up and curse the leaves that the tourists drive for hours to see.  I’ve hiked and biked the trails, driven the roads, eaten in the restaurants, and visited the parks.  I know what’s here.  It’s my home, and I love it.  Here are some more reasons:

  1. We have no common natural disasters (The Grandmother had a good point, actually.)  We don’t have hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or volcanoes.  Although it’s fairly hot right now, we generally don’t have extreme temperatures.
  2. We really do have better manners than most people.  I didn’t notice this until a recent trip to New York.  Some people can make fun of us as hillbillies, but whatever–we say “excuse me,” you don’t, we’re smarter. So there.
  3. I have travelled to many, many, many different states, and here’s a news flash–there has been white trash in every single one.  I’m not sure why other people don’t realize this.  When I worked at the park a long time ago, a tourist (we called them tourons, but with great affection, I assure you) once asked me if we seriously had dirt floors in our houses.  Really.  I wanted to ask, “Do you have dirt floor in your house, dumbass?” Of course I didn’t, but I mean, come on!  I worked in the tourism industry for years, and I swear to you I have met some of the biggest idiots I have ever met in my entire life, bar none.  I’m talking people who couldn’t read maps, road signs, huge notices on walls, instructions on a toaster over, directions to their cabin, or instructions on how to fill out the camp-site reservation form, but we’re the hillbillies.  Yeesh!
  4. I’m getting off topic here, so I’m cutting off this list.

So anyway,  I’m not knocking my home.  I could make a list of faults for you, but you could probably make a similar one about where you live, too.  I think it’s just a desire to be somewhere different, but maybe that’s not all.  Maybe it’s a desire to be someone different.  It’s not that I want to take on a new personality (although there could be a good debate on that topic I bet) but the fact is, as long as I live here, I will always be perceived in a certain way.  That’s one thing I would put on the list of faults, by the way: when you live in a small community, your family history is public knowledge.  The people that surround me day after day will never allow me to change, or to be anything more than I am now.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go somewhere and define who I am by—-gasp!—–who I actually am, and not by what someone else expects me to be, or thinks I already am?

I don’t know if my wanderlust itch will ever be scratched.  It’s a scary prospect to just pick up a life and move along, especially when it isn’t just your life you’ll be moving.  But sometimes you have to do things, even if you are afraid.  Sometimes, you’re just due a change.

A Hillbilly in New York, Part 2

     Well, we made it back.

     I think the trip went remarkably well.  It’s taken me a few days to get this post up because I’ve been in recovery since we got home (at 4:30am!)  Also, I think I’ve spent some time digesting what all we saw, and fielding the questions that my son has fired off to me almost non-stop since our return. He didn’t have the time or energy to ask me while we were actually there.

     We saw some truly amazing things, one of the best being “The Lion King.” If you ever have a chance to see a Broadway show, do it. It’s worth the money.  There really aren’t any words that can adequately describe what it was like–just a long string of superlatives that make it sound cliché, which it certainly is NOT.  I saw what New York looks like at twilight from the top of the Empire State Building, ate lunch from Fluffy’s Cafe in Central Park, watched a performance in Carnegie Hall, walked through the immigrant registration station on Ellis Island, and stood at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. In short, I knocked about half the items off of my bucket list.

     Ellis Island was especially fascinating.  There was a quote on the wall there from a Lithuanian immigrant about how her mother said watching her get on the train to the coast was the same as watching her go into her casket. They never saw one another again. That young woman did that because of the golden opportunity she thought was waiting for her in America.  It’s an odd thought.  So many of us complain constantly about our government and our country, but some viewed it as the promised land–a place they would literally give up everything to come to. Interesting thought.

     Mostly, as usual, my son and I were both fascinated by the people.  We heard as much foreign language as we did English. And as for the New Yorkers themselves, well, I’m still undecided.  We hear that they are rude and overbearing, and upon first glance, you might take that as the truth–certainly upon entering a vehicle everyone in the city transforms into some sort of homicidal lunatic–but I’m not so sure. To me, it almost seems like something more, something different than what we “southerners” call rude.  They have become immune to tourists, and really to themselves as well. 

     When we were travelling, we wore matching tee shirts. So, we stood out.  Our commander-in-chief would ask some random person waiting on the train if we were picking the right one to get where we wanted to go, and immediately that person would become very helpful and courteous. They would sort of look around at us like they hadn’t noticed us before–which I fully believe to be the truth. It’s not so much that they are rude, it’s just that you have to penetrate beyond that cocoon that they have enveloped themselves in to find the real person underneath.

     I guess you’d have to be  a little immune to it–there are umpteen billion people there bustling about, tourists and locals alike, and at times you are literally squeezing through crowds. There’s no way you could say “excuse me” to each person you nudge or bump.  I’m reminded of Crocodile Dundee when he went to NYC, and he tried to greet everyone and be polite. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’ll give you the answer–it didn’t work. So everyone just goes along with their own lives, headed to wherever they are headed.  Another point–I don’t know where they are going, but boy are they in a hurry!

     Don’t get me wrong–there were rude people there just like there are everywhere, including right where we live. Business Bitch Barbie, for example, ran right over our friend Lucas, and rather than say sorry, she had an expression on her face like she stepped in something stinky. To add insult to injury, she ran over his foot with her Business Bitch Barbie rolling briefcase accessory.  I called “Excuse us!  Have a nice day!” after her, but I didn’t get a response, of course.

     So, there are rude people in New York, and there are nice people, and mostly there are just regular people doing what everyone does–working, shopping, going to school, just living.  It was an awesome trip–so much so that I want to go back on a private vacation so I can explore a little more. The city impressed me, and I can see why so many not only flock there, but thrive there.  I recommend it highly to anyone who is looking for a vacation destination, just listen to a little advice–take plenty of spending cash, wear your walking shoes, see “The Lion King,” and watch out for Business Bitch Barbie. She’s hell with that briefcase.

A Hillbilly in New York, Pt. 1

     Yep, you read that right–we are going to New York City.  A friend of mine is a music teacher, and she is taking a group of her kids to perform in Carnegie Hall (practice, practice, practice) and she invited us to go along! How cool is that?

     I am VERY excited.  Now, I’m not what you would call country.  (I’m actually coal camp.)  We’ve travelled a quite a bit–Philly, Atlanta, DC, Birmingham, Knoxville, Pittsburg, Charlotte, Baltimore, and a few others–but still…..this is New York City we are talking about people!  We are going to see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, just to name a few.  We’ll leave Tuesday evening and be home late Friday night.

     I am also VERY nervous.  Not about the trip–like I said, we have been to a place or two, and the only part that makes me nervous is the bus ride. What I am nervous about is walking away from my life for four days.  I’m sure to most people that sounds a bit drastic, but that may be because you don’t know how anal retentive I can be about certain things.

     Primarily, I’m nervous about leaving my daughter. My sister is in good hands, and she’d rather be where she’s going than with me anyway, so I’m not really worried about her, but Evelyn doesn’t really understand why we just sort of disappear for four days.  I don’t have any way to explain it to her.  She’ll be with her dad and The Grandparents, but I worry.  It makes me wonder if she is maybe a little bit more aware than I give her credit for, because now, to make me feel even better, she is sick.  Her teacher called from school today to inform me that she was running a fever and lying around. I picked her up early and she has slept in the chair ever since.

     Thanks, Evelyn.

     I know all of my guilt is self-inflicted, but that doesn’t make it any less.  No matter what, in my mind, no one can care for her the way I do.  No one.  No one can read her and understand what she wants the way I do.  I’m just going to hop on a bus and be hundreds of miles from her, which is bad enough, but now I’m going to do it while she is sick.

     Don’t get me wrong–I’m going anyway. I’m nervous, not stupid.  I have WAY more separation anxiety than Evelyn ever did (I still cry on the first day of school. Really.) I imagine every possible thing that could happen or go wrong, and I have a great imagination. I miss her so much that sometimes I lay in bed in night when I’m away from her and cry. I’m just a great big girl, right? (I miss my husband too, by the way, but I know he can feed and clothe himself with minimal assistance.)  I just have to suck it up and have a good time.  This will be the farthest I’ve been from her in a long, long, time, and the farthest I’ve ever been while she was mobile and able to get into a lot of trouble.  The last time I was far away from her, she was basically like a potted plant.  She couldn’t even crawl. Now she’s like a damn cat–just five minutes of not watching her and all hell could break loose. So you see how my mind works.

     But anyway, I’m very excited.  We will never have another opportunity like this again.  My OCD acts up a little when I pack, and I always remind myself a little of Melvin Udall in “As Good As It Gets” when he’s packing for the trip to Baltimore. I even have a list. (People think the fact I make lists and keep things organized is because I am organized, but really the opposite is true. If I didn’t keep things in order, I would never find anything again. Ever.) Anyway, we are all packed up and ready to go.  Evelyn and Matt will drop us off at the bus tomorrow afternoon, and I’ll laugh and joke and wave frantically as we pull away.  I’ll save the tears until everyone else is asleep. I do have my reputation to uphold, after all.

The Last Full Measure of Devotion

     We took a little mini vacation and spent two nights in Gettysburg. My son is a great history lover, particularly wars, and specifically the Civil War.  You can imagine the pull Gettysburg has for him. He recently memorized the Gettysburg Address, and he was itching to see the place where Lincoln gave the actual speech all of those years ago.

     Me, I was a little worried. It is a Civil War buff’s playground, it’s true, but it’s a solemn place. Where we live we are surrounded by Civil War history. Literally. Somehow up there, it was different. Such a huge battle, so important, and so many lives lost in such a short time. Ian tends to be pretty tender-hearted, and I wasn’t sure what he would think. He did fine–he was shocked, I think, but like so many of us, it was such a long time ago, it tends to lose some of the heart-wrenching potency. It was in another time, and another world–a world that my eleven year old son, who thinks I’m old–can barely even fathom.

    On the way home today, we went to the Flight 93 National Memorial Site.  That tragedy, my friend, happened in a world that we can not only fathom, but that we live in still today.

     The site is still a temporary arrangement. The crash site is in a field at the foot of an old strip mine, and the metal building that was once part of the mine, which stopped producing in 1995, serves as an exhibit room now. At the time of the crash–a day which I’m sure I don’t need to name, but anyway, on September 11, 2001–it served as the base for the investigation and eventually the recovery. Also, the media crush gathered on the overlook that now serves as the visitor overlook.

     It’s not a very fancy memorial, but for all that, it says a lot.  There is ongoing construction, so it’s not peaceful, or beautiful. There is a makeshift chain link fence with two signs hanging on it that show where the site of the crash was on that day, and tells a little bit about what happened, and what the memorial will be like when it’s finished this September, which will of course be the ten year anniversary. Inside the exhibit, there are more details about both, and pictures of the 40 passengers and crew who died that day. There is a guest book, and a place to write a message and hang it on the message wall. I wanted to, but I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what NOT to say.

     What can anybody say? Forty people got on a plane that day, that’s all. At Gettysburg, so many thousands approached that battle, as so many of them had done before, and as some would do again, and what were they thinking?  At the National Military Museum, I heard a quote, which I can’t remember verbatim, but which basically said, any man who faces death and mutilation without fear is a lunatic, but one who fears death and mutilation, but faces them anyway because of duty and honor, is a hero. I’m sure not all of the boys at Gettysburg wanted to be there, some maybe didn’t choose to be there, but once they were there, they faced death, and fear, and they were heroes–blue or gray, black or white–they did give the last full measure of devotion.

     So, forty people got on a plane. Thousands of people do that every day. Do they think they might die? I doubt it. The truth is, any of us might die any time, but we don’t necessarily go around thinking about it.  Those forty people, they had plans, dreams, ideas–their whole lives planned out.  We know now, some very bad people had different plans, and things changed for those forty people on board Flight 93.  I sit here in my comfortable chair, with my family asleep in various parts of the house around me, and I don’t know if I would have done what those people did.

     But……

     Maybe they would have said that same thing, too.  They weren’t soldiers, after all.  They were just people on a plane.  Suddenly, they were confronted with the possibility of death, and fear, and what did they do?  They faced it.  They knew what had happened with the other planes.  They knew what was going to happen to their plane, too, I bet, but they faced it.  They didn’t set out to be heroes, and I know their families would rather have them here than have a million memorials dedicated to them–that’s how I’d feel–but it happened, and they lost their own lives in an attempt to keep others from dying. What is that but the last full measure of devotion? Maybe quoting the Gettysburg Address is cliché, but it’s a simple, beautiful speech, and those words meant something then, and they mean something now.  I think of the fear they faced, and the heartbreak of their families, and of that memorial, and of my son, and my daughter, and I am so glad that there are still heroes, still people who can face fear and death, and face it with a courage I can’t even imagine.

     We hear bad things so much. Our lives are inundated with the terrible things that people do.  But sometimes, people do things that aren’t terrible, but wonderful.  Sad, and awful, but wonderful. When people do terrible things, I’m so glad that there are other people who will stand up, even though they may not have volunteered for the job. Those people lived a hundred and fifty years ago, and ten years ago, and today.  If you pray, or meditate, or whatever you do, think about those forty people, and what they did, and the hard anniversary that’s coming up for their loved ones, and say thanks for all of the heroes, then and now. Then go give your kids a kiss. I think I’ll do that now, too.

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