The overall purpose of this trip, or at least the inciting obligation (ooo fancy) is to check in with our scattered family units every couple of years. Despite the modern advances in communication and travel there has still been a visceral, emotional reaction to us moving across the Atlantic Ocean. The sensation is that we’ll be so far away, out of sight and out of communication range… as if we’re Irish immigrants on our way to pass through Ellis Island and into the New World. The truth is that the net increase in travel time between us and our family has only been a few hours, and the dawn of the Zoom Era has meant that people have never been more able to connect with one another over any distance, but the truth isn’t always the right answer. Sometimes the right answer is that you get your butts back to the United States and spend some quality time. And so, having indulged ourselves with an extended detour through Halifax and DC, we headed south while taking the time to indulge in one of the great American past times – the road trip.
We scooted back to the airport and picked up our rental car – we usually roll with compacts but this was a longer drive, hauling actual luggage, so we got a “standard” size. Don’t laugh, this qualifies as upgraded amenities for us! If we were going to drive straight to our final destination – Sumter, South Carolina – it would only take us 8 or so hours straight down I-95 with just a little dog leg at the end. We aren’t going straight, though. When John was but a wee bairn his father was in the military, and during John’s life his stations were mostly in the Southeast US. BuuUUUuuut all of the relatives were back in Tom and Wanda’s original stomping grounds in the hills surrounding Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. So, the Caskers made frequent drives up and down the coast for family visits. Often, they drove through the Blue Ridge mountains. Fast forward to this trip, and with no schedule but our own to keep we decided to head south through those mountains. It took a lot longer, but it really was beautiful. Face it, there’s no reason to go through West Virginia unless you have business there, so it’s easy to forget just how dang pretty it is there. We took most of a day just making a wide, swooping curve, west and south, just taking in the wooded mountains. (Alas, a little early for leaf peeping.) At one point John exclaimed “Hey! We’re in Breezewood!” This left Lisa nonplussed, and he realized that this was a landmark from those childhood drives. Breezewood is an on-ramp/off-ramp for the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and the Caskers often stopped there, either for the night if it was late or else for a burger lunch before making the final stretch of the drive to their ancestral home. Other than memories, though, there’s not much to recommend it (sorry, Breezewoodians, it’s lovely, really) and we pressed on.
Because of the extra miles we tacked on to the trip it would’ve been hellacious for a one-day journey, so we hit a waypoint in North Carolina with our friends Liz and Brett. Funnily enough, while most of our visits with friends were the first we’d seen each other in years, Liz we had seen less than a week earlier! She’s part of the same social circle as the people we met up with in Halifax, and that had turned into too tempting a gathering for her to miss and she made the trip up – Brett has family in Boston, so they made a whole thing out of it. Still, a second crack at hanging out with friends is never a bad thing, and we passed a lovely evening in their home. (Bonus – not the antiseptic hotel environment!) Refreshed, we legged it the last four hours or so to Sumter.
John’s folks recently transitioned into an assisted living facility after more than 30 years in their house there. For better or worse it was not a sudden thing and some amount of advanced planning was possible, which seems to have led to a fairly smooth transition for them. No matter how smooth, though, suddenly not keeping up with a two-story house with a big yard a pool… heck, suddenly not even cooking for yourself!… takes some getting used to. His folks seem to be doing really well, though. In fact, having three square meals a day provided like clockwork has actually put some meat back on his dad’s bones. We were there for a little more than four days. The centerpiece was an early celebration of the Caskers’s 65th wedding anniversary! His brother and sister came in for the weekend (they both live much closer than we ever did, even when we were in Seattle) and we all got gussied up for a nice meal in a local restaurant. The restaurant, by the way, fed into John’s Grand Unified Theory of Picking a Restaurant – it was the first family-owned joint we’d eaten at in the United States this trip, and was easily the best meal we had. It wasn’t all that fancy (mostly slightly jujed-up southern comfort food) but the food was good and the service was friendly without being cloying. Other than that meal, the whole visit was decidedly low-key; a few meals in the assisted living facility, a couple of meals out (John got to check “American Mexican food” off of his checklist of “food he misses”), and we had a nice time catching up with the extended Casker clan.
To every time there is a season, however, and we needed to hit the road. We actually called an audible at this point. The plan had been to stay a last night in Sumter, then get up early to make the drive to Atlanta, thence to drop off the car and jet to Seattle. The more we chewed on the math, though, the earlier we set our planned departure time and at a certain point it felt like too much of a grind in one day. So instead, we had dinner with the folks and then hit the road the night before. We killed the last night of our Sumter reservation and booked a night near Hartsfield-Jackson (the big Atlanta airport). John dropped the car off in the evening, and we were able to have a leisurely morning, catch breakfast, and meander to the airport via the hotel shuttle. All in all, part 1 of our North American tour, from Halifax to Sumter, was a series of pleasant successes. We weren’t feeling any drag from traveling yet, and so we happily pointed our noses northwest to return to the only other place we had ever, as a family, called home.