My dad and I started road-tripping together when I was in high school. We were really good at it too – traveled the same way and were great road companions. Not a whole lot of focus on the intended destination, whatever it was. We were far more interested in turning off the road to go investigate something we drove by that looked interesting. This would drive some people crazy I’m sure, but we loved it. We always had AAA books with us and while Dad drove I’d read out loud about towns or sites we were passing. Learned a lot that way. Our first road trip was out west – from Wisconsin to Calgary & Banff in Alberta, Canada. We saw an indoor water slide in the hotel in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, watched the building frenzy in anticipation of the Calgary Olympics, and trekked out to see “beautiful Lake Louise” which was entirely covered in snow and therefore indistinguishable from an empty parking lot. We also saw Wind Cave, a big bunch of buffalo, had a groovy meal in Anadarko, OK, and somewhere in Montana Dad pulled over and without saying a word we both got out and just looked around 360 degrees, in awe of just how far we could see. If you get me drunk enough I might tell you about the wild mountain pigs…maybe.
Second trip was to Nova Scotia & New Brunswick where we were looking for info about my great-great-great grandfather, Bartholomew McConaghy who landed at St. John when he came over on the boat from Ireland. The lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove was pretty bitching. We didn’t have much luck in the ancestor hunting department but we did discover that “Lyle is Lord”, at least over a particular section of New Brunswick according to several graffiti postings. We of course thought that was almost as hilarious as the fact that all the gas stations were named Irving. Just a few weeks ago I saw that Dad still has at least one Irving hat – awesome! Nothing was as epic, however, as me getting my first migraine in Quebec City. I went from lying on the floor of the place we’d just ordered crepes to puking in the car just as we’d pulled up to the same hotel we’d checked out of an hour earlier. Dad was wishing I could have waited just 30 more seconds until we got into the room before zorking like crazy but it was only fair after he’d had the audacity to take a picture while we were on our way back there. True, there was nowhere we could go, red light and all, but didn’t he know I was dying in the passenger seat and shouldn’t he be calling Le 911 or something and not “taking a picture at a time like this???!?” Horrifying then, but utterly hilarious ever since.
I am reminded of these trips and the others we took as Bryan and I travel around. Am I saying I married my father? Truthfully the jury’s still out as to whether I married my father or Bryan’s father but that’s a whole other blog and I’m so not going there. Bryan definitely married his mother if that counts for anything. I digress – I know – shocking.
Here’s the real reason I’m having road trip flashbacks… the AAA books have been replaced by the iPhone. As Bryan drives I’m googling merrily all the way. Pretty sure it started as we were leaving Fredericksburg, VA one day last year and drove through a bunch of Civil War battlefield sites. I started reading and we were both totally riveted reading about Lee’s “perfect battle” at Chancellorsville while we drove through where it all happened. This past weekend en route to Lynchburg, VA we read up on Appomattox, which was the site of General Lee’s meeting with Lt. General Grant to discuss terms of surrender. We were moved by the humanity, dignity, honor and grace with which the whole experience was handled - on both parts - at least as it was described in what we read. Here’s a link to the page:
We were floored by the beauty of a passage written by Brig. General Joshua L. Chamberlain, who was the Union officer selected to lead the formal surrender ceremony. The words he wrote after taking part in that event were elegant and powerful:
The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier's salutation, from the "order arms" to the old "carry"—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!
– Joshua L. Chamberlain, Passing of the Armies, pp. 260-61
My great-great grandfather on my mom’s side was a soldier in the Union Army at age 16. His unit (64th Illinois Sharpshooters) was part of the group that captured Atlanta in 1864. (Um…sorry about that, Atlanta…no hard feelings? We’d still like to play some gigs there if that’s cool…) With brief exception, I’ve lived in the south for a long time now. It’s bizarre to think of my teenaged ancestor shooting the place up.
Why am I talking about all this? I guess just because I felt pulled by the history and my varied and random connections to it. On one hand it seems silly that a couple of hippie musicians rolling between house concerts in a minivan or a teenager and her dad escaping Wisconsin in March in a Saab would be connected to such things…but then I hear Woody Guthrie’s words and it makes perfect sense. It makes me sad to think about how many people in this country haven’t seen even half of it. That could just be the Midwesterner in me defending “flyover country”…but I think there’s more to it.
I think my point may have finally dawned on me! (I know - somebody ring me a fricking bell...What's more impressive is that this post might actually HAVE a point. Make a note in the log.) Here it is: TAKE A ROAD TRIP!!Go somewhere you’ve never been. Better yet, just point the car and drive. Bring a traveling companion (preferably one who can read...no offense, Fluffy...) and a smart phone - or some AAA books – and just go see some stuff. There’s an awful lot out there to see.