Saturday, June 27, 2009

We Took the Scenic Route

Last week, Allyson, my sister Amy, and I drove 1165 miles to Indiana for a week of... eating. And lots of visiting. Bill couldn't understand why we would do such a thing--the driving, not the eating and visiting. He remarked dryly, "That's why they have airplanes." But it was fun. Really.

We left at 8:30 on Saturday morning, about three hours later than our family used to leave when we were children. Dad would force us out of bed and into the car long before first light, and we'd drowse on our pillows while Mom and Dad drank strong coffee from a thermos. This time, I figured if I was going to drive for eight or more hours, I was going to get a decent night's sleep first.

We'd planned to bring Ethan along, but he had received a last-minute invitation to go to New York with a cousin. It was a good thing because, even without him, my little Sentra was packed from top to bottom with snacks, books that I never read, journals that I never wrote in, videos, audio books, coloring books, dolls, pillows, blankets, Kleenexes, paper towels, feminine wipes that we used as moist towelettes, and anything else we could conceivably need or want.

Allyson in the Crowded Backseat

I took the first shift driving, and Amy's job was to entertain Allyson. I think I got the better end of the bargain. Allyson's main pastime was watching Amy load videos into the portable DVD player. It took at least five minutes to load each video and forward past all the previews, and then Allyson would request a different movie after about 10 minutes. To make matters worse, the car charger was very temperamental; one false move during the hand-off to Allyson could interrupt the power, and the whole process had to be repeated.

Allyson was an amazingly good traveler. She got a bit fussy in the late afternoon, but then she took a nice, long nap.

We stopped at the Super 8 in Rolla, Missouri, around 7:30 PM. Allyson wanted to head straight for the pool, but Amy and I were famished. We unloaded all our bags and then drove to Applebee's for dinner.

By the time we got into our bathing suits, it was 9:30, and we had only 30 minutes to swim in the tiny indoor pool. I dipped one toe in the water and decided it was not for me. I only like to swim in hot lakes and pools that feel like bathtubs. Allyson begged and begged me to get in, but I never made it past the third step.

For some reason, Allyson was afraid to get in the water without me, but finally Amy managed to coax her in. She clung to Amy's neck with a death grip, but at last she began to relax, and soon her giggles were reverberating off the low ceiling. When I tucked her in bed at 10:05, she fell asleep almost instantly.

Second Day of Driving
On the second day, the drive was endless, especially after the audio book that was supposed to keep us awake put Amy to sleep. She and Allyson were both snoring, but between the book and my 52 ounces of Diet Mountain Dew, I was able to keep my eyes open. The only problem was that my bladder is apparently about the size of a walnut, and we had to take a bathroom break about every hour and a half.

Dad would have been beside himself; he's always loved to "make time." He peed on the side of the highway more than once to avoid losing 15 minutes of precious road time. In fact, I remember one pit stop in an Arizona desert, miles and miles from civilization. There were no bushes, no cover of any kind, and Dad didn't want us girls to see him peeing, so he stood behind the car with his back to us. We hadn't seen any other cars in 30 minutes or so, but of course that was the moment when two white-haired ladies passed by from the rear. There was no question whether they'd seen IT; they looked positively scandalized! Everyone was mortified except for Dad, who just chuckled sheepishly.

We arrived at my Aunt Sue's right on schedule--7:30 local time. Many of our aunts, uncles, and cousins had gathered for their weekly family dinner, along with Mom and Dad, who had arrived the previous Wednesday. We went straight to the table and had Uncle Dan's ham and beans while we chatted with our aunts. They were anxious to see Allyson, who has become rather famous in our family through my blog.

Allyson couldn't be bothered with eating. She went straight out to play with all the kids. I loved the way they welcomed her into the group. It reminded me of how my siblings and I used to play with these children's parents whenever we'd come up for a visit. I could almost sense the dizzying passage of time. How can I be this old already?

We had the most wonderful stay with Aunt Sue and Uncle Jeff, with whom Allyson immediately fell in love. On the drive up, Allyson had been asking to return home to Daddy whenever she was tired, but for the rest of the trip she just wanted to go back to "Aunt Suze's."

Uncle Jeff and Allyson

Allyson loved all of my aunts and uncles, and she especially loved her great grandma.

Throughout the week, we made the rounds to all of my mother's sisters' houses, and each aunt fed us a delicious meal, complete with one or more decadent desserts. At Aunt Judy's, we sat around the fire after dinner and chatted until dusk. It was cool enough to wear a sweater (!), but the fire was blazing, and when the wind blew in the wrong direction, it made me sweat.

Dad, Mom, Aunt Judy

Allyson was ecstatic when she found a chair that was "just my size!". If you look closely at the picture below, you might spot the charcoal next to her nose. She had entertained herself endlessly by picking up charred chunks of wood and throwing them back into the fire.

We spent one afternoon with Aunt Mary and Uncle Dave, who now live in the house where my grandparents lived for decades. There are so many cherished memories associated with that house, and I'm very thankful that it's still in the family. When I sit in the living room, I can almost hear the muted voices of my aunts and uncles and grandparents, and I remember how I felt so contented while we children played with Lincoln Logs on the glassed-in front porch.

After lunch, Uncle Dave suggested that we take Allyson uptown to the old dime store for some candy. This brought back memories, too. Each time we came for a visit, Grandma would send us uptown at least once, our pockets filled with change. We loved the walk almost as much as the candy; Wakarusa's town square looks like a scene out of a movie.

With the current economic downturn, I expected to see some shuttered businesses, but everything looked as I remembered it. Cook's Pizza was still there, but we didn't have time to go in for a milkshake.

The dime store now specializes in fudges, nostalgic candies, and giant jelly beans. Allyson got to pick out her own candy--a lollipop and a single piece of purple taffy. I bought some Zotz for myself and Ethan. (Do you remember those hard candies with the fizzy, frothy center? They're not quite as good as I remembered.) For Bill, I bought a pound of red licorice jelly beans, his favorite.

On the way back to Aunt Mary's house, Allyson asked, "When will we see the dinosaurs?"

"What, honey?"

"The dinosaurs. When will we see them?"

"There are no dinosaurs here, sweetie."

"But Uncle David said we were going to the dino-saur."

It took me a moment to put it together. "Oh, honey! He said the dime store, not the dinosaur!"

"Oh," she said, crestfallen.

Almost as Good as Dinosaurs
Although we never saw any dinosaurs, we did get to pet some farm animals. We asked Aunt Sue if she knew of a farm we could visit, and after a few minutes of racking her brain, she said, "Of course! My friend Andy has cows, chickens, and pigs. I'll give her a call."

Within 15 minutes, we were on the road for her coworker's house. Andy and her husband welcomed us warmly and gave us a tour of their little farm. Allyson started by holding a chick, which was about six weeks old if I recall correctly.

Next, we got to pet a Frizzle chicken, which Andy referred to as her "fancy chicken." This unique breed has feathers that curl outward, and it feels delightfully soft and fluffy, kind of like a baby chick. We even got to pet the bright red comb, which felt floppier than I expected. The chicken seemed remarkably calm, but Andy said that it was actually paralyzed with fear because of the dogs, which like to terrorize the chickens. (The dogs followed us everywhere when they were not busy roughhousing with each other.)

Next on the list was a pair of calves. I was a little disappointed with them because I was picturing cute little babies, but they were actually more like adolescents. They were only about three months old, but they were probably two-thirds the size of an adult. They seemed shy, and Andy's husband had to muscle them over to the side of the pen so we could pet them.

Allyson wasn't very interested in the calves because she was anxious to see the pigs. The whole time we were petting the chickens and calves, she kept asking when we'd go over to the pigs. At last she got her wish. The pigs were cute, but shockingly smelly--though Allyson didn't seem to notice. She fed them long pieces of grass. I got past my aversion to pig slobber and fed them a couple blades myself. Their noses were soft and slippery and snuffly.

After the pigs came the three full-grown cows. Allyson seemed pretty fascinated with these, not at all intimidated as Ethan had been when he was her age. Andy and her husband remarked several times at how brave she was. She'd probably love growing up on a farm, but I can't see that happening.

I couldn't believe the size of the cows' tongues. Then again, I shouldn't have been surprised; I've shuddered over the packaged cow tongues at the grocery store plenty of times. Their tongues were quite rough and very slobbery.

The last stop on the tour was the ducks' pen. The ducks squawked at us indignantly. I think they would have charged us if the fence hadn't been in the way. I told Allyson they were saying, "Go away! This is our yard." I think she took that literally because she's still talking about those grouchy ducks two weeks later.

Barbies, Barbies Everywhere
I was relieved and proud that Allyson was able to entertain herself at every house we visited despite the complete absence of other children. The main reason was that everyone had a stash of Barbies, most of them antiques. (In fact, I probably played with some of those same Barbies years ago.)

It didn't matter that the Barbies' hair had seen better days, nor that their wardrobes were hopelessly out of style. Sorting through their clothes was like viewing a museum exhibit on the history of fashion. My favorite outfit was a metallic purple mini dress that was strapless on one side and had a white puffed sleeve on the other. I think my little sister Emily wore that same dress in blue for one of her proms.

Hopelessly Disheveled Bride and Brunette with Ridiculously Tight Shorts

These old dolls captured Allyson's imagination, and she entertained herself for hours by dressing and undressing them. At Aunt Cindi's house, she even got to drive them around in a Corvette. Occasionally she'd make up a bit of dialogue between the "mother" Barbie and the daughter, mostly a bunch of bossing: "Hurry and put your dress on! We'll be late for the party." (It's painfully obvious that she hears "hurry up!" way too often at home.)

I was really thankful for the Barbies most of the time, but the only problem was that Allyson often needed help dressing the tiny dolls. Over and over, I mindlessly stripped off the skin tight garments and forced the rigid plastic arms through impossibly tiny sleeve holes while I tried to keep up with the conversations around me.

By Thursday evening, I had wrestled those skin-tight blue shorts off Barbie's slim but rubbery hips one too many times. Suddenly, I had a brainstorm. "You know, Allyson," I said slyly, "Aunt Amy just loves to play with Barbies!"

In a flash, Allyson had carted the dolls and their wardrobe case across to Amy. "Hey!" Amy complained. "Your mama's being naughty." I laughed triumphantly as I watched Amy struggle to put the blue shorts--which I'd just removed--back onto the brunette Barbie.

A few days later, Allyson even charmed my brother's friend Marlin into playing with the Barbies. This is probably why she fell head over heels for him and drew him several pictures on the drive home.

Syracuse Lake
Allyson's favorite day was the Friday we went to the lake. The water there was even colder than the Super 8 pool, but none of the kids minded a bit. Allyson settled at the water's edge with a bucket and a shovel, and she filled and dumped that bucket over and over for about an hour. Occasionally, she played side by side with my cousins' children, but mostly she just stayed to herself.

Macy (or McKenna?), Allyson, Jayce

Allyson and Baby Jude

We left the lake when the thunder started sounding a bit too close, though I don't think it ever did rain. On the way back to Aunt Sue's, we decided to drop by the little Amish store called Rentown to buy some strawberries and some more whoopie pies. I'd bought some delectable chocolate whoopie pies there earlier in the week, but I'd been kicking myself all week for not buying the pumpkin ones, too. I am inordinately fond of whoopie pies; you might even classify it as an obsession. As it turned out, all the whoopie pies were sold out, and the girl behind the counter said, "Ach, those all sell when we put them out on Tuesdays." Now I'll probably never know what a pumpkin whoopie pie tastes like!

Just before we got to Rentown, we passed six adorable Amish girls riding a pony cart. Allyson had missed it, so Aunt Sue turned back around for another pass. "Should we take their picture?" she asked, and we just couldn't resist, though we knew the Amish are private people.

Giggling like teenagers, we drove up beside the girls, who ranged in age from maybe 18 months to about seven or eight, and I snapped a picture. They grinned broadly, seemingly happy to pose for us. The first picture didn't turn out to our satisfaction, so Aunt Sue drove by for yet another pass, and Amy took two more shots. Again, the girls all smiled sweetly. They seemed so proud, and I wondered if their parents worried about them out on their own--being stalked by the amateur papparazzi.

I had an attack of conscience afterward, and though I just have to share this picture, I did black out the girls' faces. You'll have to take my word for it that these little blonde girls were about the most adorable group of children I've ever encountered anywhere. If you click on the picture, you might be able to see the fancy black and pink leggings under one girl's skirt. In the background is one of the beautiful farms that are typical of this area.

On our last day in Indiana, we had a family reunion at the home of my dad's sister, Carol. We spent several hours eating and talking with Aunt Carol, Aunt Donna, and my cousins Rene, Joel, and Jenny (and their families). There were many other family members there, but I don't remember all of their names. One couple had brought their three-year-old grandson, and he and Allyson kept each other entertained and mostly stayed out of mischief.

Allyson, Aunt Carol, Babe

My brother Rick had driven up just for the weekend, and of course he was there, too. He laughed about our two-day journey; he had departed Texas in his Corvette at 3:00 in the morning and then drove for fourteen straight hours, arriving around 8:00 local time. He didn't even stop for meals, though he must have needed a few bathroom breaks since he kept himself hopped up on coffee and Red Bull.

Rick, In Red, with Several Cousins

Allyson was especially taken with Aunt Irma, who used to babysit me when we still lived in Indiana. Irma said that she did a double take when Allyson walked around the corner; she said it was like looking at me back when I was Allyson's age.

Allyson was in her element, often the center of attention. I strained to hear what cute little comment she was making at any given moment. Once, I saw her standing inside the back door and talking excitedly to a relative who was trying to walk into the house. Leaning forward to see what she was telling her, I suddenly sprang from my chair when I read her lips through the door: "I'm pee-peein'!" Oh no!!

It definitely could have been worse. This time I had remembered to bring extra clothes, and since she was wearing a dress, all she needed was a change of underwear and socks. She happened to be standing on a washable rug, so the carpet was unscathed. Whew!

We finished our enjoyable afternoon in the most delightful way--with Aunt Carol's homemade ice cream and her famous hot fudge sauce, which is literally good enough to eat on its own. Allyson and I each had two bowls, and Aunt Carol had at least that many. She's the only person I've ever met who can keep up with me when it comes to homemade ice cream. I once saw this petite woman put away three bowls in a row at my mom and dad's house. I did the same thing, and both of us were suffering for the rest of that evening. But did we learn? Of course not!

Taking the Scenic Route
All good things must come to an end, on Sunday morning, in our case. I got up at 6:30, planning to depart by 7:30. Instead, we sat down to a sumptuous breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and bacon which Aunt Sue had risen early to prepare. It was definitely worth staying for, and I was touched that she would get up so early for us.

So it was 8:30 when we said our last goodbyes and strapped on our seatbelts for the dreaded return trip. My belly was full, and I hadn't slept well the night before (too much homemade ice cream!), so I quickly dozed off while Amy drove. Amy kept remarking that she thought we should have hit 31 by now, but I muttered that it looked pretty far in the atlas. After 45 minutes, Amy woke me and made me consult the map. She really, really thought we had gone too far.

"Where are we?" I asked groggily. She told me the name of a small town, and I couldn't find it anywhere. I consulted the index at the back of the book, and as soon as I read the coordinates, I realized we'd made a big mistake. We were heading east instead of west, and we were nearly to the Ohio border!

"Oh no!" we both wailed. There was nothing to do but turn around, and that's what we did. At 10:00, we passed back through Nappannee, and I bemoaned the fact that I had gotten up at 6:30 for nothing! It took us quite awhile, but we finally shook off our foul moods and decided that we were just meant to take the scenic route.

Come to think of it, our whole vacation was like taking the scenic route. All we did was relax, eat, and visit for a solid week. Just looking at the farms and fields and Amish buggies instilled a sense of peace. We spent hours and hours together, and we never tired of each other's company. Hopefully I can remember to take the scenic route more often.

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