Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Happy Birthday, America. The Home Stretch.

Posted on | July 24, 2016 | 1 Comment

We had only 4 days left and, for the first time, the kids started asking when we were getting home.  Oh, it wasn’t all love and endearments until that time.  Some of them desperately needed some alone time.  And took drastic measures to get it.

But we still had some remnants of the wild west life to visit.  We stopped in Wichita, Kansas to visit the Old Cowtown Museum.  Wichita was an influential town that started out as a trading post between settlers and Plains Indians and by the 1800’s connected all the ranches and their cattle with the railroads that carried that beef north and east.  It was the birthplace of Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp spent a year as a deputy city marshall there.  The Old Cowtown Museum is filled with historic buildings including a general store, print shop, marshall’s office, meat market, saddle shop, and of course, a hall and saloon.  There are people dressed in period costume and horse drawn carriages.  There are also a variety of homes and cabins and an 1880 farm.

Luckily for us it was also hosting some kind of political event that involved free watermelon, kettle corn, and other treats.  We might have forgotten to mention that we weren’t registered to vote in Kansas.  I also got a really great free T-shirt from the Pure & Simple table.  I thought they were promoting organic cotton products.  Cool.  Only much later did I look closely at the logo on the shirt and realize they were promoting abstinence.  Since I had 4 kids with me I’m surprised the woman didn’t point out that it was too late for me.  Way too late.

Just down the street is the Keeper of the Plains.  I love public art but some of it is much more well-done than others.  The Keeper of the Plains was excellent!  It is a sculpture by Blackbear Bosin and sits in the middle of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas Rivers.  The sculpture is surrounded with displays of culture and artifacts from the Plains Indians and there is tribal music playing continuously.  There are rocks that allow you to climb down to the waters edge and at night there are 5 fire pits that are lit.  The sculpture is surrounded by a river walk and a park with picnic tables and other facilities.  It’s definitely worth the stop if you’re in the area.

The scary thing about the plains of Kansas is that you can see terrific storms approaching from miles away.  As we continued down I-35 we watched thunderheads fill the sky and huge streaks of lightning approaching us.  I was sure that at any minute a tornado would drop from the sky.  Since there were no bridges, buildings, or ditches to hide in I was beginning to think that death was going to be our free souvenir from Kansas.  Then there was this:

In what appeared to be a renovated (kind of) gas station in Tonkawa, Kansas we took shelter and played Blink while waiting for the worst of the storm to pass.  And we sampled a variety fried pies, of course.  Pecan, apple, and chocolate.  Best.  Storm.  Shelter.  Ever.

Right before the next round of thunderstorms we hit Oklahoma City Memorial and Museum.  The museum was closed for the day but the memorial is open to the public 24 hours a day and there are plaques throughout that explain the events.  Due to the darkened sky the lights of the memorial were beginning to come on, illuminating the Gates of Time and the Field of Empty Chairs.

As we walked around I was surprised that the kids knew anything about it, but they all had vague recollections from school about the Ryder truck filled with explosives and used to blow up a building.  They couldn’t remember why the bomber did it, and I didn’t really have an answer when they asked me.  Why?  Why? There may be reasons but there isn’t really an answer to that question.

The entire monument is moving, especially in the gloom of an approaching storm.

But it was the inclusion of the Survivor Tree that seemed so profound to me.

And Little was shocked by the Children’s Area.  Because he didn’t know that children were killed in the bombing.  And he didn’t understand why, in the face of those awful deaths, there was now a play space with chalk for the sidewalk and brightly painted handprints on the wall.  Reclaiming a space from tragedy isn’t something that 11 year olds contemplate in their spare time.  They shouldn’t have to.

The sad truth is that kids don’t get a free pass on adult conflict.  As the kids discovered the following day when we visited Little Rock High School National Historic Site. in Arkansas.  Little Rock High is still a functioning high school but the National Park Service offers guided tours for visitors and runs a visitor center across the street that talks about the Little Rock Nine.  We watched a couple documentaries before traveling about the Little Rock Nine including Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later which speaks to the gap that still remains between black and white access and achievement in education.  But the visitor center and tour focused on the events that occurred in 1957 during the forced integration of the school.

It was with great pride we discovered that the 101st Airborne, once my father’s regiment, was used to protect the students as they entered the school.   But the violence and the ignorance displayed so poignantly in black and white photographs and videos from those times was so shameful.  To see adults arrayed so ferociously against school children—-children!—was shocking.  One of the video monitors in the visitor center played interviews with media that were present at the time of the integration.  News reporters spoke about their own surprise at the vehemence of the mob surrounding the school and Mike Wallace remembered his experience at Little Rock sadly, shaking his head and saying, “Hate is easier to organize than understanding.”

I guess that’s a lesson we’re still learning today.

When we left the school we strolled across the Big Dam Bridge, which I added to our travel plans because it had picnic tables for lunch and  a place to stretch our legs before our next drive.  It’s the longest pedestrian bridge in North America, overlooking the Murray Lock and Dam and the Arkansas River.  Also, because of the name.  I couldn’t resist the name.  It sure is a Big Dam Bridge.

We arrived in Memphis, Tennessee that night and Pretty and I made plans for the next day while washing laundry at the laundromat.  After all, we needed an early start.  I wanted the kids to see Graceland since Elvis was one of the few icons of popular culture on this trip that they recognized.  However, since they weren’t die hard fans I didn’t want to pay $60 per person for an extended tour of the property.  So we settled for free admission between 7:30-8:30 am which allowed us to enter the famous main gates….

pass the main house….

and enter the meditation garden to see Elvis’ grave as well as those of his family members.

That’s how you do Graceland for free.  And the next best free attraction in Memphis has to be the ducks at the Peabody Hotel.  We made it to see the 10am march of the ducks out of the elevator, across the red carpet, and into the lobby fountain.  You can call it tacky if you want, but that was crazy cute and fun.

Since “free” was working out extremely well, we headed next for Hebe Fountain where Jimmy Ogle, a local historian, was hosting his free Tuesday Walking Tour.  He does these tours throughout Memphis in different areas of the city and we were treated to more info about the history, buildings, and residents of Court Square than it seemed possible for one person to know.  He conducted the entire tour without any notes, with lots of interesting anecdotes, and even introduced us to prominent Memphis residents as they passed through the square for work or pleasure.  Do not miss his walking tour if you are in Memphis!  It took us about an hour to circle historic Court Square but we started and stopped at the famous fountain from 1876.

From there we made it to Beale St….

and Memphis style BBQ at the Rum Boogie Cafe.  I’ve eaten vinegar-based Carolina BBQ for years but the time I spent living in Texas always left me with a taste for sweet smoky red sauce.  Rum Boogie provided that in style and it took a whole of napkins to clean our faces and hands after our pork plates.

Of course, in between bites we had to explain the names on the autographed guitars hanging from the ceiling.  The kids had never heard of Alice Cooper, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Greg Allman….sad really.  Really really sad.  They did know ZZ Top was the band with the beards.  And that was about it.  It’s so hard to parent.  You think you’re covering the important stuff—potty training, no biting,  please and thank you, STOP HITTING, daily teeth brushing—just to discover you forgot to teach them about rock’n roll.

Once we were fortified with BBQ we hit A. Schwab, the mercantile started  in 1876 and the only original remaining business on Beale St.

And stopped by the Center for Southern Folklore to brush up on the development of the blues on Beale St.  (Another Memphis experience with free admission.)

Before we crashed for the night we couldn’t resist the Pyramid.  A Bass Pro Shop which was quite a unique building on the outside….

with the usual entertainment on the inside.

The next day we went to the National Civil Rights Museum which follows the fight for civil rights from the beginnings of slavery in America all the way to human rights movements occurring throughout the world.  The museum is constructed around the Lorraine Motel….

and visitors can still walk through its halls, look out over the balcony where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot, and the room where he died.

Another exhibit across the street allows visitors to stand where James Earl Ray was standing when he took that fatal shot.

These are the exhibits that make it real.  Make it human.  Make history a part of our lives, not just a story from the past.

Before we left Memphis we stopped at the Burkle Estate or Slave Haven, where Jacob Burkle operated a stop on the Underground Railroad and we stood huddled in the basement listening to the tales of the slaves’ travels north to freedom.

When we finally left Memphis behind, the kids agreed it was one of the best cities on the trip, coming close to bumping Chicago from the top spot.  I was surprised myself since I mainly added Memphis to the trip because it had the Civil Rights Museum and it was conveniently on I-40, the highway taking us home.  That’s what I love about travel.  The way a place reaches up and grabs your attention, steals your affection when you weren’t expecting anything except a pit stop.  How could we have known if we hadn’t shown up, wandered the streets, picked up the tourist guides, tried the tacky?  How much more is waiting for us in how many more places?

In Nashville we drove along Music Row (boring) and stopped at the full size replica of the Partheon, made for the 1897 Centennial Explosion.

I’d  like to claim my kids wanted to go there because they were interested in ancient Greece or classical architecture or even art.  But the Nashville Parthenon was used in a battle scene in the movie Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief—a book and movie series that all my kids have read.  That’s why they wanted to see it.  Although we were all a bit appalled at the huge statue of Athena.  She was not so much goddess as just, well, gaudy.

With that, we finally crossed over into our home state and the mountains that we call our own–the Appalachians.  In Asheville, I made the kids tour the Basilica of St Lawrence with me.  The Other Half and the kids were born and raised as Baptists so they are baffled by the ornateness of Catholic churches.  And the concept of Holy Water.

But the Basilica is famous for its beautiful architecture and stained glass and the Catholic church always reminds me of attending early morning mass with my grandmother during summer vacations.  When the kneelers and the candles were the best part of church.  Since the rest of it was in Latin anyway.  In any case, there is a pamphlet for a self-guided tour if you decided to visit.

We walked the streets of Asheville, checking out the cafes and art stores, and stopped at Lexington Glassworks to watch them blowing glass for the fantastic variety of bowels, vases, and light fixtures sold in the store.  Their business has large doors open to the street so passerbys can wander in and the workers keep up a running dialogue with observers, explaining the process as they go along.  I really wanted to purchase a lovely (expensive) dappled vase for the downstairs windowsill.  But I still have 4 kids and 2 dogs at home so I decided to save myself the time and heartache spent sweeping up the broken pieces of the vase to put in the recycling bin and passed on buying it.

Then I sat and sipped coffee and read my book while everyone else gorged themselves on games at the Pinball Museum.  $10 per person gets you unlimited access to all the pinball games in the place for as long as you want to play.  No tokens or coins needed.   They even have rooms full of old school arcade video games like Centipede and Pac-Man and Galaga.  For the record, there were more adults than kids there and they had a full service bar.  Everyone loved it and I had to drag them out of there.

Because that was it, except for the last 200 miles to our driveway.   It was over.  3 full weeks of vacation.  5 National Parks and more historic sites than I can count.  Almost 6,000 miles.  Stopped in 20 states and drove through a few more.


Or part of it.

Because, believe it or not, we didn’t have the time to cover California or the Southwest or the Gulf states.

Guess that’s for next year’s vacation.

When we got home the month of June was over and it was only a couple days until the 4th of July.

Happy Birthday, America.

See you next summer. 🙂


One Response to “Happy Birthday, America. The Home Stretch.”

  1. Jill
    July 25th, 2016 @ 8:52 am

    All of these blog entries are treasures! Thanks for sharing!!

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