Anniversaries and Hurricanes and Twisters, Oh My

Well, this blog is long overdue for an update again, so I’ll try to recap some recent adventures in digest form.

First up, Laura and I celebrated our 25th (!) wedding anniversary at the end of August with a trip to Boston, marking our first trip together away from the kids in 15 years.  (Thanks to Laura’s mom for minding the home front!).  We’d had vague plans to return to Nova Scotia, where we honeymooned way back in nineteenmumblemumble, but with all we’ve had going on this year, plans just never came together.   It’ll happen one day, though.

Anyway, Boston’s always been on our “someday” list, and it turned out to be a very enjoyable visit.  Of course, we took the Virginia heat with us: highs were in the 70s before we arrived and after we left, but the entire time we were there, the city suffered record heat (upper 90s). That seemed fitting, given that our wedding day was also a sweltering record-setter, but such was probably small consolation to the people of Boston.  (Sorry, folks).  The heat wave meant the Bunker Hill monument was closed to visitors out of safety concerns (it’s basically a giant chimney) but it was still an interesting place to see, especially since I’d just read James Nelson’s account of the battle, With Fire And Sword, earlier this year.  Other than that, we got to see all the historic sites on our list, including a walking tour of the Freedom Trail with a costumed guide and a visit to “Old Ironsides” herself, the USS Contitution.   Then we just concentrated on attractions that would keep us  indoors, like the truly remarkable Museum of Fine Arts (where I fell in love with Van Gogh’s Houses At Auvers) and the very impressive Public Library, where a free tour highlighted the architectural genius of Charles Follen McKim (who I was interested in from his designs of NY’s old Pennsylvania Station and the Agricultural Building at the 1890 Chicago World’s Fair, as featured in Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City) and murals by John Singer Sargent.   And of course we fit in a lot of great seafood, though we broke the rules a bit and skipped the Italian restaurants;  all that heavy fare just didn’t appeal in the heat.

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We skipped the rental car and used Lyft, which quickly started adding up, but once we got a gander at what passes for urban planning in Boston, we were happy not to have to navigate those byzantine streets, deal with the crazy drivers or try to find a place to park.  Between that and staying at an AirBnB, this was our “Internet Age” vacation.

On our return, we celebrated Grace’s 10th (!) birthday, another reminder of how fast life’s speeding by.  Grace continues to be a source of great joy in our lives, of course, and I think she had a good time on her big day, which she shares with her fish, Ballou (who’s only 1).

Then it was time to start fretting about Hurricane Florence, advertised as the worst weather event since Noah gathered the animals.  In the end, it bypassed us completely in favor of hammering the crap out of the Carolinas.  We spent one night camped out downstairs in the room furthest from any trees, but about 2AM I woke up to dead silence and a general feeling of foolishness.  VCU closed for two days out of an abundance of caution so I got a four-day weekend, but all we ended up with were intermittent showers.

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Just when we thought we were in the clear, though, what was left of the storm swung North and sparked seven tornadoes in the Richmond metro area, an unprecedented occurrence here. The most powerful of them touched down about two miles from our house in the parking lot in front of our favorite pizza shop, damaging a gym and flipping over a car before crossing all six lanes of Hull Street and demolishing a furniture store and a flooring warehouse, the latter sadly resulting in a fatality.  Good Minnesotan that she is, Laura’s twister radar was up and she crammed herself, the kids and several visitors into the laundry room until things died down, while I obeyed VCU’s (seemingly endless) alerts and stayed put in my office.  For once I was glad it’s in a basement.

Anyway, that should bring us more or less up to date.

If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Springfield

As I write this from a hotel in Springfield, Illinois, the Morefield family is nearly two weeks into a summer vacation that’s taken us halfway across the country in the family mini-van.

boys-greatgrandmaThe impetus for this epic sojourn was a 90th birthday celebration for Laura’s grandmother, Marie, in the small farming community of Mazeppa, Minnesota. Her actual birthday comes later this month, but Grandma wanted to time her celebration to coincide with the big event of the year, “Mazeppa Daze” (yes, that’s the correct spelling), which brings in not only the 700-odd residents of the town itself, but revelers from all over Wabasha County, neighboring Goodhue County and probably a good deal further out, including in this case Reuter family members from as far away as Ohio, Missouri, North Dakota and in our case, Virginia.

The self-mocking motto for the event and the town itself is “Where the Hell is Mazeppa?” which I guess means everyone else gets the same reaction I do whenever they state it as their destination. The answer I usually give is, “less than 10 miles from Zumbrota,” which sometimes gets a laugh but either way gets the idea across. Zumbrota actually might mean something to a handful of my fellow comic book history geeks as the home town of Captain Marvel’s co-creator and definitive artist C.C. Beck. Or then again, not.

Anyway, Mazeppa’s a neat little town with a gas station, a couple of churches and a disproportionate number of bars. Also there’s a pretty cemetery on top of the hill, where Grandpa Peter was laid to rest in 1995. He’s safely tucked away on what used to be “the Catholic side,” back in the days when a wrought-iron fence made sure the Lutherans stayed in their place (I hope that fence extended as far underground, if it was to do the job right).

scott-belairMazeppa Daze itself was a fun throwback to the small town celebrations I grew up with, especially the Oyster Festival in Urbanna, Virginia. We got a parade with school bands, vintage cars and tractors, fire trucks, beauty queens and local notables. Plus of course the politicians crashed the party, shaking hands and passing out fliers. And in the time-honored tradition, everyone threw candy to the kids. Someone let Jason and Scott break through the lines to stand close to the action, so they could get their share, but of course they know they can’t eat about 90% of all candy, thanks to their plethora of allergies. It was actually knd of depressing watching them stand there, ignoring the steady rain of Tootsie Rolls, peppermints and Dum-Dums, in hopes that someone might eventually dispense some Smarties or Skittles. Every now and then something unfamiliar would land at their feet and they’d stoop to read the ingredients list before putting it down again. Wow, I’m depressing myself again just typing this.

Grandma’s event was a parade in itself, of old friends and family and well-wishers filing into the fellowship hall at St Peter and Paul church to catch up with Marie and each other and enjoy food and conversation. Again, the sort of thing I grew up with at church socials, revivals and homecomings in small towns all over Virginia, but it’s interesting to find myself delivering lines like, “I haven’t seen you since you were this tall” instead of receiving them. The sound of little feet running around folding tables, the clank and screech of metal chairs as kids push them aside or trip over them, the general murmur of conversation and even the conversations themselves…all just as I remember them from 40 years ago and probably as they’ll remain for 40 to come.

Also in Mazeppa the kids got to see their first fireworks display, and it was a doozie. Mazeppa’s annual show, occuring a week after Independence Day, is regarded as easily the best show put on by any MN small town, and for most it’s second only the Twin Cities 4th of July exhibition. We had great seats, not far from where the volunteer fire department — including Uncle Fran — sent the rockets up. Scott’s not at all a fan of loud sounds, but he enjoyed the visuals with his hands over his ears. Gracie had a huge grin throughout (and learned to say, “Fireworkshh!”) Jason declared it the coolest thing he’d ever seen outside (putting it on par, I guess, with indoor spectacles like “Wipeout” and the Wii) and told Grandma “I kept blinking my eyes to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.” So I guess you could say they were a hit.

gracie-poolAnyway, for this trip we’ve driven the Hyundai all the way from Richmond, a first for us as we usually fly. The furthest point out was St Cloud, MN, where we stayed with Laura’s cousins Nathan and Val and the kids got to play with their cousins Ben, Sara and Katie. Then it was down to the cities for, among other things, a visit to the Mall of America, where Scott got to see his Mecca, the fabled Lego Land. Then on to Rochester for the Mazeppa events and now Springfield Illinois, where we’re tanking up on Lincoln data and lore to bring the homeschool lessons to life. From here we’re possibly headed for a rendezvous with Laura’s cousin Toni and her husband Pete and kids, summering in the States between their last American School posting in Africa and their next in Syria. Then we’re back to Ohio for some more time with Grandma and Grandpa Jim and then home. I’m not missing work much, let alone the 100+ temperatures on the East Coast but I’ve had enough restaurant food to last me a lifetime.

Before we left, Jason said to me, “This is going to be an awesome vacation! This is going to be the greatest vacation ever!” and then, after a pause, “What are we going to do?”

Hopefully now that he’s got his answer he’s still flying as high. I think so. I hope this is one the kids remember for a while. Not least because I don’t know if I’m up to doing it again.

Beach Adventures – 2010

jp_sw_beach10_surf1The kids had a blast at Nags Head last week with Grandma and Grandpa, despite a lack of cooperation on the part of Mother Nature for the first three and a half days.  Overcast skies, cold winds and even colder water couldn’t keep the boys from wading waist-deep in the surf, though it did make for some whining on the way back to the beach house.

It continues to amaze me just how much energy those guys have.  Once the weather cleared up, we visited Jockey’s Ridge State Park (“largest natural dune on the East Coast”) and they ran the entire time…up the dunes, across the dunes, down the dunes.  Then we visited the Wright Brothers Memorial and they did it all over again…run, run, run.  I don’t know if it’s that they’re so full of energy or that I’m just getting old, but honestly I don’t see how they do it.

I thought the kids would get a kick out of the Wright Memorial, given their fascination with planes and history, and Jason’s had a very nice picture book on the Wright brothers for years.  Now I’m not so sure Jason even read it.  The first time I brought up a visit to the park, he asked, “Will we see where they crashed and what’s left of the plane?”  Then when we climbed up to the monument itself, and found a vault-like door at the base, he wanted to know, “Is this where they’re buried?”  When exactly did this kid get such a morbid streak?

jp_sw_ge_wrightflyerWe also made a trip to Roanoke Island Festival Park, where we toured a recreation of a Native American village and an early pioneer settlement.  Reenactors showed us around a replica of the sailing ship Elizabeth II and Jason even got to help turn the capstan on a “work detail” as everyone sang a shanty.  For her part, Grace got to push all kinds of buttons in the museum — always a favorite passtime — and modeled a new wardrobe of sun dresses hand-sewn by Grandma.  She wasn’t too into the beach, though; not really a “sand between your toes” fan, that girl.

We had to come back a bit early so I could help out with the recording/streaming of VCU’s commencement ceremonies, so Laura spent a big chunk of her birthday in the car, which was kind of a drag, but all in all it was nice getting out of town for a while and relaxing in a new environment.  The next planned trip will take us all the way to Minnesota by car, which promises to be not nearly so restful.

Fire Station Field Trip

firestation1-blogI’m way behind on this one, but what else is new?

On April 24, we took the kids on a homeschooling field trip down to Fort Eustis to visit the fire station, and it turned out to be really cool.  The kids were excited to meet real firefighters, and I got the distinct impression the feeling was mutual.

The fun started with a demonstration of the ladder truck in action.  They raised the ladder to its full 150-ft height and had one of the firefighters climb to the top to wave down to the kids.  Then the ladder was rotated 90 degrees and lowered to form a  “bridge” from the truck to the firehouse, for a firefighter to walk across.

Next came a rundown of the various firefighting tools and a 30-minute video on fire safety.  Jason was excited to acquire new facts for his trivia-drenched mind (at 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, everything in your house that can burn will burn).

The highlight of the day was, no doubt, the rides the kids were given in a firetruck.  Since we were on an Army base, which is more or less its own little self-contained world, it was possible to make several runs so everyone got a turn, and Laura even got to run the siren and blow the air horn to her hearts’ content.  One can only imagine what chaos would be caused by 7 or 8 runs like that in the city.

firetruck4-blogAfter that came a pizza lunch with the firefighters, and a chance to practice evacuation procedures from a “burning” trailer.  Also available for exploration were an ambulance and police car.

As an added bonus, the boys and I got to ride in an electric car, one of two provided for the fire station as part of the government’s efforts to “go green.”  This one was used by the fire chief to make his rounds and conduct inspections on base.  It was amazingly quiet, practically silent, and not too bad a ride despite having suspension as rudimentary as that of the average go-kart.

For her part, Grace enjoyed flirting with the firemen, with Mommy’s friend Miss Heather and her boy, Liam, and especially with “Patches,” a robot dalmation in a remote-control firetruck, operated by a fireman hidden away in an office, with a microphone that let him talk to Grace.  (“Hey, Grace…touch my nose!  Ah-Choo!”).

In all, it was a great way to spend a Saturday and certainly an outing the kids will remember for a long time.  So, a belated thanks to the guys at Ft Eustis Fire and Emergency Services.  We had a blast!

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Au Revoir, Daddy Bill

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I lost my grandfather on November 21st.  Actually, I lost a lot more than that.  I lost a friend, a mentor, a debate partner, an inspiration and one of the pillars of my world.

When my arrival made him a grandfather in 1965, William Allen Dayberry was only 44 years old, the same age I am now.  Understandably, he thought he was too young to be addressed as “Grandpa” or “Grandad,” so he asked to be called “Daddy Bill.”  I tried, but the best I could manage was “Dadda Bull.”  He didn’t complain, so that’s what I — and later my little brother — called him until at some point in our teen years it became “Granddaddy.”

Looking back, we were unusually blessed to have such a young grandfather, not only because we got to hold onto him so long but also because when we were small he was still fit enough to horse around with us, take us camping or take us along with him on his jobs, which were always fascinating.  He worked for many years as a painting contractor, honest physical labor often in the outdoors in all seasons.  It was hard work, really, but to a little boy it was almost glamorous, heading off to work in a noisy panel truck filled with paint cans, tarps and extension ladders, wearing a white “uniform” and getting to paint and climb.  The scraping wasn’t so much fun, though.  I’m still not sure what he got out of my “help” besides the company; to find an “assistant” less mechanically inclined than myself, he’d have had to recruit from a species lacking opposable thumbs.  But again, he didn’t complain.

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Granddaddy didn’t have a lot of formal schooling — he quit school at 14 to help support his family — but all his life he was in love with learning.  Over the years, he taught himself a lot about electronics, aviation and other subjects.  I remember how much he enjoyed The Towering Inferno, not because of the special effects or any of the A-list stars but because the whole conflagration came down to an entirely plausible wiring snafu.  Similarly, he liked John Frankenheimer’s film, The Train because freedom fighter Burt Lancaster kept thwarting Nazi Paul Scofield’s efforts to abscond with a train full of stolen French artworks through acts of sabotage that were not only ingenious but also totally credible.

But then, he loved just about anything to do with trains, poring over written histories of the great passenger and freight lines, reciting songs and poems about famous routes and wrecks, building model engines and cars and collecting vintage lanterns and spikes and other memorabilia.  From an old train station he once salvaged a telegraph device, rigging it up to send messages from his workshop in the basement to a receiver upstairs in the den, to the consternation of my grandmother.  I can still hear him singing “The Wreck of the Old ’97″…I guess it made impression because of the local references (“It’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville and a line on a three mile grade…”) or maybe the grisly ending (“He was found in the wreck with his hand on the throttle, scalded to death by the steam”).

Music was another of his passions; he had a phenomenal collection of swing-era jazz recordings and an encyclopedic knowledge of the songs and the men who wrote and performed them.  Growing up I couldn’t have named the Rolling Stones for you, but brother I knew who Fletcher Henderson was, and Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Bunny Berigan and Jack Teagarden.  His enthusiasm was infectious; to this day, I put Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” right up there with McCartney’s “Yesterday” as one of the most perfect feats of songwriting ever.

Granddaddy’s laughter was also infectious.  I remember how much fun it was to watch Laurel and Hardy, Pink Panther movies, Benny Hill or cartoons with him, because he’d laugh so hard it made me laugh, too.  He was the “life of the party” type, not only funny himself but genuinely appreciative of, even delighted with other people’s sense of humor, and possessing a general positivity that made people want to spend time around him.

He was also a fantastic whistler, and no matter how hard he was working I remember him whistling away like he didn’t have a care in the world.  That and the laughter convinced me as a kid that he must have been the happiest guy on Earth.

I’ll also remember our camping trips.  You could always tell our campsite because he’d hang a plastic dropcloth over the picnic table to protect our food and camp stove from, well, nature. I remember him driving his van up the winding roads of the Blue Ridge Parkway with my brother Tim in the back on a lawn chair as it slid to and fro (“Turning to the right! Lean to the left!”).  Once I asked about a sign on the side of the road that read, “Beware of Fallen Rock” and he was only too happy to “explain” it to me.  “Fallen Rock was an Indian brave,” he told us, “in love with the chief’s daughter.  To win her hand, the chief sent him on a dangerous mission to capture a bear.  The bear tore his head off and now his angry ghost wanders this mountain, looking for his head.”  I don’t think I slept much that night, convinced every sound I heard was old Fallen Rock skulking around our campsite.

This deadpan joshing is one of the few traits I know I inherited from Granddaddy.  Laura is forever calling me out for telling the kids some ridiculous tall tale or other, I guess just to amuse myself (“Don’t tell them that, David, they might believe you!”).  The week before Granddaddy died, we took the kids down for a visit and he was still at it.  Told that Jason had earned his Bobcat badge and was on his way to being a Tiger Scout, he said, “You’re a lucky boy.  When I was  young they didn’t have Tigers, so I had to be a Muskrat.  I was trying to work my way up to Possum, but I messed it up so bad they demoted me to Skunk.”  Jason looked at me with a “he’s kidding, right?” expression and I knew exactly how he felt.

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The kids knew him as “Big Daddy,” taking their cue from my nieces, who got here first.  Fair enough, as he was always a father figure and “Big Daddy” had a distinctly Southern quality to it, as he himself did.  I’m grateful they got to know him; he always had a way with kids, probably because they could always see the kid in him, no matter how old he got.

Granddaddy was 88 years old when he passed away, though you’d hardly have guessed it if you met him.  He was one of those larger-than-life people who’s just so full of life, so engaged that it’s hard to accept it when they’re gone, no matter how old they are.    I was going to write that it’s hard to let go, but then I realized there’s no real reason I should.  He may not be around physically for me to visit or talk to, and I’ll surely miss calling his number and hearing him answer, “Mmmmyyyellow?”, but in a very real sense he’ll always be with me; in my thoughts and memories, in the mannerisms, interests, values and sense of humor he passed down to me, in my genes and those of my children.  He’ll be there when I hear those old songs, or when I see a train or hear its whistle.  And as one of those old songs said, they can’t take that away from me.

So it’s au revoir, Grandaddy, but not goodbye.  Until we meet again, I promise to try — though it’s never been as easy for me as it seemed to be for you — to keep looking on the bright side, to make the most of every day and to always find something to be grateful for. Today it’s that you were my grandfather.