Posts Tagged ‘Washington & Lee University’

The Wine and Bread at Waffle House

08 Jan

Sometimes life conspires to put you in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. And you can call it the hand of God, or fate, or the vagaries of the universe, but for whatever reason, you have an experience that seems almost pre-ordained. This morning held one of those for me.

As mornings go, it had started off rather inauspiciously. Slept in, skipped walking the dog because of freezing temps, worked a little on my online ESOL course, and began packing away the Christmas ornaments. I had not yet eaten breakfast, nor dinner the night before, so I was feeling hungry. Mostly I began craving hash brown casserole from Cracker Barrel, a serious addiction of mine that I do not indulge as often as I would like. But it seemed ridiculous to drive 20+ minutes, one way, to eat breakfast alone at a crowded restaurant. Especially not when there is a Waffle House mere minutes away from my home! So, rather on a whim, I quickly exchanged my flannel pajama pants for jeans, shoved a W&L baseball cap over my bedhead, and headed out the door. Not surprisingly, it was crowded at the WH, and I ended up waiting a few minutes for a seat at the counter. When a couple finished up and left, the hostess wiped down their place settings, and offered me the stool at the far left end of the counter. I shed my jacket, and began perusing the menu. Within minutes, the seat to my right was filled by an older, white-haired gentleman, wearing wire-rim glasses and a bright blue jacket. He leans over, and asks, “Are you left-handed?” Seeing as my dear friend, Chris, is left-handed, and I am conscious of seating arrangements when with him, I assumed the man was asking because he himself was left-handed. I answered, “I’m not, but are you?” He smiled, and confirmed that he was, and proceeded to say, “We’ll just have to be careful.” I told him that was silly. That, of course, we should switch seats. He smiled, and said, “No, no, I don’t want to be a bother, we’ll just be careful.” I insisted that it was no trouble at all, that I didn’t mind, and I hadn’t even ordered yet, so it was the only thing that made sense. As I got up to switch to be on his right, he was more grateful that I felt necessary, as it was such a small gesture on my part. Cost me nothing, and made me feel good about being able to do something nice for another human being. He looked at me as he settled in to my left and said, “You’ve done a good deed on a Sunday.” I smiled, and said, “Well, I try to do good deeds every day of the week.”

After we ordered, he commented on my Harvard sweatshirt, and asked if I was a graduate. I said no, and then pointed to my hat, and said, “Actually, I’m a graduate of Washington & Lee University.” I was surprised when his face brightened, and he said, “Oh, what a beautiful campus! It’s really lovely there.” Gobsmacked, as I always am when someone knows Washington & Lee, especially random strangers sitting next to me at the Waffle House, I said something like, “You know Washington & Lee?” He laughed, and said, “Yes, of course! Wonderful history. I did not know that Lee had been president there after the war, and is now buried on the campus. Interesting to learn more about him, and his horse.” This started a short conversation about the campus, most specifically about the president’s home, and the tradition of always keeping the garage door open so the spirit of Traveller can get back to his stall any time he would like. At a break in the conversation I asked the gentleman if he was from this area, or just traveling through. He said that he was traveling through to join some friends to watch the National Championship game. (Actually, he said, “the game that Clemson is playing in,” which was kind of too cute for words.) He mentioned that usually he eats at Cracker Barrel, but had decided last minute to not fight the crowds at CB and just make a quick stop at Waffle House. I wondered, briefly, if we would have ended up at the same Cracker Barrel. What a shame that would have been, since we wouldn’t have been seated in such a communal way.

He then mentioned that he was originally form Buffalo, NY, but had been stationed in the Clemson area for many years in the service of campus ministry for the Catholic students. This clicked into place, because when his food had been placed in front of him, he did more than a casual blessing; it was far more ritualistic, including the sign of the cross, and I had immediately thought to myself: “This man is a priest.” He then mentions that he knew a lawyer in Anderson, SC, who went to Washington & Lee. When he mentioned Anderson I almost choked on my toast. I told him I knew Anderson, that my best friend from college was from there, and that my own family was from Honea Path, just down the road. When he mentioned that I must be busy in my profession in a large city like Jacksonville, I realized that having told him I was a graduate of W&L Law, he had naturally assumed I was a lawyer. I informed him that I was, in fact, not a practicing attorney, but had chosen to stay home with the child I was pregnant with when I took the Bar, and his succeeding siblings.  That I experienced a recent career change, and I was now a teacher. It was gratifying for him to respond, “That makes perfect sense. Of course, you are.” Our conversation turned to World History, and I explained that we were currently covering the origins of Judaism, to which he replied that he had recently had the opportunity to study in Jerusalem, and he highly recommended the experience. Naturally, this was the segue into a discussion about my time spent studying in Rome, practically in the shadow of Vatican City.

He had been to Rome several times, but was envious of my having lived there for an entire semester. We talked about a mutual love of just wandering the city, exploring. I told him about what easily qualifies as the most spiritual experience of my life, wandering blindly into a church and finding myself alone with Bernini’s “St. Teresa in Ecstasy.” And he said that he had found it the very same way. That his order has been assigned to the church just across the street, and he had been there several times without realizing that he had a Bernini as his next door neighbor until wandering in one day and discovering it. I was about to tell him that Bernini was my all-time favorite artist, but then Caravaggio flashed into my mind and I amended my statement to, “Bernini is easily my all-time favorite…well, sculptor, anyway.” The gentleman then went on to tell me that the last time he had been in Rome he spent some time wandering about to find Pope Francis’ favorite Caravaggio (The Calling of St. Matthew, in case you’re wondering). When he said that I literally threw my hands up in the air. For goodness sakes, never in my entire life would I have imagined having a meaningful discussion about my favorite painter with a random stranger in a Waffle House, and have that stranger be the one that mentioned Caravaggio by name! We proceeded to have a wonderful discussion about the symbolism of the painting, the potential meanings, the details of the figures, the composition, and Caravaggio’s use of light. (George Bent, it would have made you weep with happiness!)

We spoke a little more about life, Rome, art, the importance of travel and history, and the noble profession of teaching. It was by all measure, an intensely agreeable meeting, and a validation that goodness and kindness not only exist in the world around us, but that every human we encounter has something to offer us from their own story. As he finished eating, he told me that today was Epiphany. When I remarked that I thought it was yesterday, he said, “Well, technically, it was the 6th, but we changed it.” (I love that he said “we” and he meant the Catholic church!) “We changed it because more people will go to church on a Sunday, and therefore more people will celebrate and learn the true meaning of Epiphany.” I nodded that his explanation certainly made sense, as he continued, “And on Epiphany you are meant to get a gift, so this is my gift to you. You have made my new year.” He promptly scooped up my bill, stacked it with his, and took out cash to cover them both. As I protested that his generous gesture was completely unnecessary, that I had simply enjoyed meeting and speaking with him, he insisted. He said it was his gift to me. He then turned in his seat, and asked my first name. I told him, “Krista,” and he took my one hand in both of his as he said, “Mine is Jim.” He then got up, and walked to the restroom. As I sat there marveling about our lovely and truly serendipitous encounter, he emerged from the bathroom, and before walking out paused to place his hand lightly on my shoulder to say with a smile on his face, “It is delightful that your name is not just the icing on the cake, but rather the wine and bread. God bless.”

I did not get his last name. It is unlikely that I will ever encounter him again. But Father Jim has just become a part of my life. He is validation of the good in people, and in the world at large. Our encounter put a smile on my face, and in my heart. We were two strangers thrown together in the most unlikely circumstances, from different backgrounds, different religions, entirely different generations, who found a huge amount of common ground. What a joy. The universe, the hand of God, fate, or whatever you want to call it, put us both there at the same time, in the same place. Perhaps for nothing more than to remind us in this new year that peace and understanding are possible, that interactions with other people can be lovely, and that everyone has something to teach us.


Day Twenty-One: W&L Hospitality Wars

05 Jul

Sadly, our time at Chez Tison has come to a close, and it’s time to get back on the southbound trail. The Tisons were back to work & camp, and the Willims were back in the car. Our first stop? Westport, only a few miles down the road, to retrieve our dear Remy. Because of his “exit bath” he was fluffy and sweet smelling, though anxious as all get out, as we piled him back into the car. I cannot imagine the mental gymnastics this poor pooch has been going through these past few weeks. First I put him in the car for a four days sojourn northbound – including a stop in a home with a backyard like he’s used to, then a hotel room, then a jaunt into NYC and a night in a big city apartment, then arrival in absolute doggie nirvana, where we proceed to spend 2 full weeks. He was clearly under the impression that it was a relocation, not a vacation, and settled into his spoiled existence, where every day included hours of vigorous ball chasing along the edge of and into the water. Then, this halcyon time comes to a close with me packing the car, and driving several hours to drop him off at an unfamiliar kennel, and leave him there for 3 nights. To be fair, it came highly recommended, this kennel, and I did spring for the 3 play sessions a day package, where in addition to his indoor/outdoor run, he got to mingle with other dogs and have personal attention from kennel techs. But then, I pick him up and he realizes that I have not left him forever, just in time for him to go back into the car for another long day of driving. I think maybe we should have shared one of his Xanax.

As we are driving south, I am noticing my fuel range dip lower and lower. Deciding that it was probably best to fill the tank soon, I got off at the last exit before a long bridge, and started looking for a station. I’m in the groove, looking for the best place to stop when Avery pipes up from the back, “Are we still in New Jersey?” I had to think about it for a second, but did confirm that yes, in fact, we were still in New Jersey. When I asked her why, she responded simply, “Because that means you can’t pump your own gas. Someone else is going to do it for you.” For goodness sakes! Good thing I have her on this trip with me! I had totally forgotten that, and would have definitely been yelled at if I had exited my vehicle at the pumps. That was certainly some stress avoided. Who says the kids aren’t paying attention to my ceaseless prattling on with random facts?

Today, as we were hopping from one W&L home to another, the W&L Hospitality Wars were launched. A friendly competition, no doubt, but a fierce one. Well aware of the deluxe accommodations and generous hospitality provided at Chez Tison, there is a very high bar, but Pete, being the competitive sort that he is, was aiming to clear it. For those of you W&L alum following along, especially you class of ’95ers, I am here to tell you that Pete Tapley grew up good. Pete was always a super nice guy, fun to be around, smart, genuine, silly, funny. But I have to admit he was one I couldn’t picture grown up. It could have gone either way. He could have been stuck in immature frat guy mode eternally (you all know someone who fits that bill), or he could have turned into a fully functioning, productive member of society. I am happy to report that he is the latter, but still retains the joie de vivre that made him such a wonderful friend back in the day. Mr. Fitzwell still lives, but now he’s the husband to a beautiful, funny, intelligent and driven wife, and the father of two handsome, polite, funny, and talented teenage boys. And did I mention that he can cook? Wow. He can cook. So much so, that at dinner I was going back for seconds of his roasted broccoli, which is the single vegetable I have never been able to stomach. And his omelettes? To die for. He’s officially my omelette guy. (Don’t worry, Joe, you’re still my General Nostalgia guy. Always.)

Pete is the consummate host, and was gracious enough to take us all in, including Remy the fluffy beast; who promptly thanked him for his hospitality by vomiting on his kitchen rug. Embarrassing. And as I walked in the door, he had the first round of cocktails ready. In a glass emblazoned with the W&L Trident he poured a daiquiri over trident-shaped ice cubes. Off to a strong start. It’s always such fun catching up with an old friend. On a shaded, screened porch over a well-mixed cocktail or two, even better. Round two, was clearly meant to knock me over. Ever heard of a French 75? I probably should have been concerned when Pete asked, “Does gin offend you?” But I knew I was in good hands, and the resulting mix of gin & prosecco, with a little simple syrup and lemon juice was delightful and refreshing! Clearly, the W&L hospitality wars were about pacing. As the third and final round, which I nursed for quite a long time, was a mint julep, made with an abundance of fresh mint. (The Tisons had the multi-night advantage, where the Tapley residence was a single night stopover, so Pete was pulling out all the stops!) Dinner was delicious, and dessert was inspired. Why use marshmallows for s’mores when you can use stale Peeps?! The sugar coating caramelizes in the fire adding a unique and tasty flavor and texture addition. After dessert and some visiting out on the back patio, we headed inside for a little impromptu concert performed by their exceedingly talented 13 year old son, Wim. Remy was loving the attention being paid to him by their older son, Jack, and we all enjoyed listening to Wim play some of his original songs on the guitar. One of them Cherry even got up and sang along. It was truly delightful, and I fully intend to say things like “I went to school with his father,” and “I once had a private concert in his living room,” when Wim becomes famous. Holy cow, can that kid write a song.

It was such a short visit, partly because the drive that was supposed to take 6 hours took a little over 8. Blerg. But it was so pleasant just hanging out with Jack, who I’m hopeful will be playing lacrosse at W&L in another two years. I’d be happy to think of a young man like him being part of the next generation of Generals. And Cherry, who is funny and sardonic, just like me. And Wim, who is darling, and quirky, and soon to be the next huge singer-songwriter sensation (and he darn well better come through on those backstage passes he promised!) And Pete, who grew up good, and continues to be such pleasant and entertaining company.

And the winner of the W&L Hospitality Wars? ME. Me and mine. I feel so blessed to have such beautiful friendships that have spanned the decades with people who are so generous and gracious. I am definitely the winner in this scenario.


Day Nineteen: General Nostalgia

03 Jul

There is frequently a gap in my travelogue once we are in residence at Chez Tison. Is that because nothing noteworthy occurs, or there is nothing to report? Far from it! It is because we keep ourselves so busy, with activities, but also with the pure pleasure of just hanging out together. There is little I love more on a summer night than just hanging out around the fire pit (or sitting on a park bench!) conversing with these two. And since we stay up well past our old people bedtimes, acting like our college selves, I quite happily fall behind on documentation. But I also want to be sure to get everything down, because I don’t want to forget a moment of this. To that end, I will revert for today to a less narrative and more bullet point style list of our exploits in the fair town of Fairfield…

Breakfast: How do you know when your college friend still knows and loves you? When she buys you a box of Lucky Charms, and then forbids the 5 children in the house to touch it. Cannot even begin to fathom how many bowls (pounds?) of Lucky Charms I consumed in the Letitia Pate Evans Dining Hall from 1991-1995. But for the kids, Joe stepped up behind the griddle and cranked out batches of pancakes. Their kids eat reasonably portioned meals, mine fall on the things they like like hungry wolverines. But he managed to make enough to satisfy them all. Pro tip: when replacing the egg in pancake batter, sweet potato baby food makes an excellent binder, that turns out slightly sweet pancakes. And when you run out of sweet potato baby food, applesauce makes an reasonable substitute as well. The mango peach kind made for a slightly tropical and delicious pancake.

Outdoor Activity: A hike around Lake Mohegan. It was nice to head into the woods. Only time I felt vaguely bad about not having Remy with us because not only were dogs permitted, but there don’t seem to be any leash laws in Connecticut. He would have loved this place. It was a fairly easy (only a few uphills), not overly technical hike through the woods, along a stream. Nice to be outside breathing some fresh air and getting some exercise. (Relevant side note: Holy crap am I woefully out of shape. Ironic side note: I was wearing my Krispy Kreme t-shirt.)

Indoor Activity: A field trip to a little slice of heaven called Bass Pro Shops. I’ve been in a BPS before, but it was nothing like this one. They have really come a long way in terms of decoration and design over the years. It was AMAZING. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get a chance to look around much because I got stuck at the indoor catch-and-release kiddie pool. Seriously. There was an indoor pool filled with an assortment of fish, and they were letting little kids fish for them on little rod and reels. There were a bunch of employees baiting hooks with worms, and while Beau and Harper, Sam and Trey, rapidly caught their fish and posed for their picture, Avery was having no luck at all. And it wasn’t because she was doing anything wrong at all, no, her form was perfect, and her patience was that of a saint. But the guy baiting her hook just wasn’t doing a good job of it, so these wily, been caught a million times before fish, were able to steal her worm without a single chance of her being able to set a hook. It was frustrating. At least to me. But she took it like a champ, just shrugging and saying, oh well, sometimes you don’t catch anything. Meanwhile I wanted to jump in the pool and catch one with my bare hands just to shove it on to her hook. This particular Bass Prop Shops, also happens to have the most insane underwater-themed bowling alley. We didn’t bowl, but we did partake of a late lunch at the attached restaurant. Which was surprisingly rather good – at least they didn’t mess up my bison burger, and they had delicious fries.

Dessert: How could it be a trip to Fairfield without a stop at Sunny Daes Ice Cream shop?

Backyard Fun: Joe dragged the small bouncy house out of the basement and the kids went crazy. Some were in and out of the hot tub. There was a corn hole smack down (See, Tony, you’re not the only one who falls to the champion.) A gorgeous afternoon – sunshine, decent temperature, a little overcast, but it kept it from being beastly hot.

Dinner: Taco Night!! Tina puts on a serious spread.

Dessert: S’mores over the fire pit. I became the beneficiary of the children who love to roast marshmallows, but were forbidden by their strict parents to eat too many of them. Can I roast another marshmallow and give it to you? Yes. Yes, you can.

Celebration: After forcing the children to bathe for the first time in days, it was time for the Tison Family Backyard Fireworks Display in Celebration of America and Tina’s Birthday. It started with running around with sparklers in the backyard, as the fireflies flashed. Then it was time for the main event. Joe had picked up an assortment of ground-based fireworks. He and Beau went halfway up the backyard to set up, and the girls set chairs up along the edge of the patio for a viewing station. They also worked hard earlier in the day to make scoresheets for everyone. The idea was that before every firework was lit, Beau would, with a pithy comment, announce the name of it. We, the viewing audience, would find the firework listed on our scoresheet, and mark a score from 1-10 for each individual firework. At the end, there was also a space for us to name our favorite firework shown. It was quite an extensive list. The full display had some really cool fireworks, some that looked exactly like the three before it, some that were surprisingly good, and only one that was a dud. Then the girls tallied the votes, taking longer to do this than the actual fireworks display, and reported back the rankings. The clear winners were Razzle Dazzle and Pyro Fire. Or rather, the clear winner was me. I mean, really. How lucky am I to have friends like this to spend the 4th of July weekend with?

Once the kids were finally shuffled off to bed, it was time for an annual tradition. A very exclusive W&L reunion at a very exclusive location. About 4 years ago I created a check-in location on Facebook called The Firepit at Chez Tison. (Tina suggested that we also need a check-in location for their new hot tub – I believe we’ve settled on The Hot Springs Spa at Chez Tison.) But anyway, sitting around the firepit, drinking, laughing, reminiscing, to me, it is one of the sweet spots of summer. And there are certain things that are quintessentially Washington & Lee University. If you went there, you know. One of those things is a perfectly mixed Beam & Coke. Sure, other people drink them, but they are, or at least used to be in the early 90s, the signature cocktail of W&L. As I had my first sip of the cocktail Joe had mixed me in a Class of 1995 20th Reunion Tervis mug, I thought to myself, this tastes like nostalgia. Taking a look at the Trident on the mug, I said, “That’s it. Henceforth, this simple cocktail (a perfect proportion of Jim Beam & Coca-Cola with a wedge of lime) shall be known as a General Nostalgia.” It’s going to be a thing. Just you wait.

A few hours later, the readily available wood was burned, a few General Nostalgias down the hatch, and laughter all the way around, it was into the wee early morning hours and time to retire. But not before wishing Tina a hearty Happy Birthday, and determining that, indeed, what every PTA needs is a dad who looks like Rob Lowe…



Days Seventeen & Eighteen: Old Home Week

25 Jun

This is always the portion of the trip where I fall behind in my blogging. Because staying with friends is not conducive to writing a recap at the end of the day. At the end of the day with friends it’s time to go to bed because you’ve likely stayed up late talking, and/or drinking, and possibly kicking someone’s tail at cornhole. But I’m going to give the brief recap of the past two days. Nothing fancy. And certainly not schmancy.

Tuesday: Went to visit Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Perhaps that seems a random place to visit, especially when we had to kind of go out of our way to visit it. But, not every kid gets a town with her name in it, and seemed the least I could do to take my daughter, Harper, to visit Harpers Ferry. And I’m so incredibly glad I did! Because the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park was awesome. Truly. The old town (lower village?) is really cool. It’s a combination of an actual working town (shops, restaurants, lodgings), and restored buildings and museum exhibits. We also hiked up the old stone steps to see Jefferson’s Rock (Benjamin Latrobe, designer of the US Capitol building, took a trip with Thomas Jefferson to visit Harpers Ferry, and made a sketch of old TJ next to a double stacked, teetering rock. Since that time they have added supports to keep the rock in place, but still kind of cool to think that we’re seeing the same landscape that Thomas Jefferson saw on his visit. Then we continued up the hill to visit the Harper Cemetery. A beautiful, rolling green space, and strangely, part of the Appalachian Trail. Harper, of course, especially enjoyed the day, because what kid doesn’t enjoy a day where it’s easy to pretend that it’s all about them?

After leaving Harpers Ferry (and an obligatory photo op at the post office), we drove through some of the gorgeous Virginia wine country on our way to the Tapley’s house in Chantilly, VA. Nothing says adventure like staying with a college friend you haven’t seen in 20 years! Honestly. Pete was a dear friend in college, and I have enjoyed rekindling a friendship between the adult versions of ourselves via Facebook, but most of all I appreciate his delightful wife’s willingness to host a random (obviously crazy) woman and her three young children. It was so much fun. Pete’s home is lovely, his wife is delightful, his kids are great, and believe it or not, he is an amazing chef! Seriously. The omelette he made this morning, including leftover grilled veggies from last night, was bar none the best omelette I’ve ever eaten. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Yesterday afternoon, we stopped by their house and picked up their younger son, and I took the four kids to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Oh. My. I was in nerd heaven. The Discovery is there. The actual space shuttle. The last one to fly. It was amazing to see it up close, and I found myself getting strangely emotional about being in the same room with it. I tried to explain the significance of the space shuttle during my child hood, but they just couldn’t process the information. The hangar is packed full of other significant bits of aviation history. Such as the Enola Gay. That’s right, the plane that dropped the first atomic bomb. And an Air France Concorde. Might have been the very one that my own grandparents flew on across the Atlantic. Anyway, I was totally dorking out, and I loved this museum, even more than the kids.

The kids loved meeting and playing with the Tapley boys, who, despite being older, were gracious and kind to my younger children. We let them stay up crazy late while the grown-ups talked. It was nice. For all of us. Especially by this point in the trip I need a break from the kids. And let’s face it, they need a break from me. It was nice that a basement game room gave us both the separation we needed. It was fun to discover that Mr. Fitzwell is still up to some of his old shenanigans, and it was a blast meeting the woman that became his wife. They better be careful what they wish for, because Chantilly, Virginia, just became a spot in the permanent rotation for CMRT.

Today was a long driving day, but totally worth it. First, we got a chance to run around the campus of my beloved Washington & Lee University. Our route from Nova to Charlotte, NC took us down I-81 South. And there is absolutely no way I was going to be able to drive by the exits for Lexington and not stop. So, we made a quick stop in Lex Vegas – a brief hello to my friends, a quick snack at Sweet Things Ice Cream Shop, a spin around the bookstore so I could properly empty my wallet, and, of course, some photos on the lawn with Lee Chapel and the Colonnade in the background. Judging by the traffic we ran into later, we should have cut the visit even shorter than we did, but it was worth it. Lexington holds a strange sway over me – though I guess it’s not too strange since I spent 7 years of my life there – and I wouldn’t have been able to stand being so close and not visiting.

Unfortunately we did run into significant traffic in the late afternoon, but eventually we made it through and arrived at the Taylors’ Matthews, NC, home. We went straight to the pool, and despite our late arrival, the kids got a good long time to swim and play together. Which was awesome. The Willim 3 have been missing the Taylor boys since they moved from GCC, and the pool facility in their neighborhood is awesome – a win-win for everyone! Once again the kids got to stay up late playing as the grown-ups talked. Mine should be fairly wrecked for tomorrow, and probably pretty excited about just being lazy, and hanging around at the Taylors conserve energy for a swim meet. But eventually we did chase the kids off to bed – with very little push-back from the exhausted little ones. There may or may not have been an epic battle involving bean bags that ensued post childrens’ bedtimes, but as soldiers who fall valiantly on the field of battle deserve respect, I will report no further on the events that unfolded in the back yard.

And now, as my head is spinning from exhaustion, I will end by saying just this: I’ve had an amazing past two days. Reconnecting with an old college friend. Visiting said college campus. Being awash in nostalgia. Then visiting with friends who have been the cornerstone of my life with kids. It’s like old home week around here. And that is the very best kind of week.


** No editing. Perhaps I’ll catch the typos later, but I. Can’t. Keep. My. Eyes. Open.


Days Seventeen – Nineteen: Metro Lex and Tiny’s House

11 Jul

I haven’t been keeping up with the blog, and that is a very good thing. Because it means that I’ve been so busy, so engaged, so happy that at the end of the day when I fall into bed, frequently after midnight, my body is too tired, and my mind is too full to even attempt transcribing my thoughts. Boy howdy has a lot happened in the past three days. And yet, really not much at all has happened. I mean, not when compared to rocks falling off interstate overpasses, or being rear-ended in traffic, or having a public confrontation in a fast food restaurant. No, instead what we’ve had would best be described as most excellent, perfectly laid back vacation days. And this is not to say that on the northbound leg when I managed to write most every night I wasn’t also having fun, I wasn’t also making wonderful memories that will last a lifetime, no, that’s not it at all. But I think it fair to say that fatigue has caught up with me. And now after my friends and I part ways for the evening, I have less stamina to keep my eyes open and share my contentment. So, here’s a brief recap of how the past few days have gone.

Day Seventeen could separately be titled: Metro Lex, Lex Vegas, or whatever you will. Because that was a halcyon day spent in Lexington, Virginia. We managed to serendipitously see old friends who live in Atlanta, but were visiting Lexington. I wish we had more time to spend with them, but it had been years, so even a brief catch up with the Partletts, letting them marvel over how the children had grown, a chance for Harper to dote on their dear “Gruffey Dog”, well, it was an unexpected treat and I’m so happy it could happen. We also perused a few shops in town – Books & Co, ironically to play with toys, Shenandoah Attic for old-fashioned candy sticks, and Intimate U for underpants. Here’s where I have to mention Tracey Lackey at Intimate U, because I am a person who is terrible with names. And I truly wish I wasn’t. I want to remember people, and I do, I just have trouble with names. But Tracey, whom I see only once a year, who I talk to a grand total of maybe 15 minutes every year, from whom I purchase very plain, very boring, very nondescript underpants once a year, never fails to remember my name. And my hometown. And the exact style & size of underpants I wear. She is a marvel to me. And since she runs a lingerie store, in a very small town, a store that contains many, many beautiful, and some really exciting and racy things, I can only imagine what kinds of secrets she holds in her head. And trust me, she remembers them with starling specificity. Be fun to get her drunk and listen to her tales of sales past. We also headed up to the Hill, as the campus of Washington & Lee University is affectionately know. Mostly we just wanted to go to the bookstore. My kids have been on the W&L campus many, many times. They have already been forced to tour the library, and poke heads into buildings that contain many of my most beloved memories. So we just parked in the garage and headed straight to the (relatively new) student center. Of all my kids, Beau is the one who is most vocal about wanting to attend W&L when he’s older, and since I think this a fine idea, I love fostering that love. First stop, a new t-shirt for him, as the old one he was wearing rides a little high above his shorts. But, since W&L is a particular weakness of mine, I can’t leave the bookstore without something for myself as well. This year it’s a new t-shirt. And since W&L combined with Tervis is like kryptonite, from which I am clearly incapable of defending myself, there was a W&L Law Tervis thrown into our purchases for good measure. Actually my first Tervis purchase of CMRT: Summer 2013 Edition. I also managed to find Mike Young, W&L Head of Security, for the next 8 days until his retirement anyway, for a chat. Mike started working at W&L my freshman year, and we like to say that we started college togather. He is a father-figure to me, watched out for me during my college years in countless ways (probably some of them unseen), and I adore our annual chats. He’s a tell it like it is kind of guy – exactly my kind of people. And to round out our perfect downtown Lexington experience, lunch at The Palms. Not quite the same, but kind of fun to eat lunch with my kids in the bar/restaurant where I celebrated my 21st birthday with an unfortunately named shot or two. As lunch places go, it was mediocre at best, and ludicrously expensive. But the experience did nothing to tarnish my memories. And it was kind of nice that no one was throwing up. After lunch we headed out to Boxerwood Gardens and their most excellent play trail. It was a touch warm, and one of the kids spent more time in the port-o-let than I (or they!) would have cared for, but overall it was a fun adventure in the woods. I just sat at a picnic table reading while the kids explored the woods, threw rocks in the stream, and generally just ran around being kids. I love opportunities to let them do that, there seems to be so few in my world. Back at Jess & Eric’s house in time for showers before they arrived home, and we had another lovely evening with them. The kids watched a movie, and played together, so the grown-ups got some more quality time to chat. And it is such a wonderful thing being in the company of people you love.

And speaking of people I love, next stop, well, after picking up a breakfast biscuit at Hardee’s (because who would miss that opportunity!) and a 4.5 hour drive, the Matthews, NC, home of former Glenfield Crossing Courters Karen & Tony Taylor, and their sons, Cooper & Anderson. It’s been 7 months since they moved, but when they opened the door it felt like it had been only last week. The kids raced upstairs to fall easily back into their old rhythms of play, and Karen & I got to just sit around the kitchen table (and what a huge & beautiful table it is!) to talk. It suddenly felt a lot less like the tail end of a long, exhausting trip, and more like a nice day in the neighborhood. It was just so relaxing to be there, chatting in the kitchen, catching up, while the kids played. And, sure, Karen & I occasionally had to referee, or chastise, you can’t get 5 kids who are lifelong friends together and not have some drama, but it was the usual kind, the expected kind. And mostly they seemed really pleased to be together once again. And not to shortchange the recap, but honestly, it was uneventful in the most amazing way. So relaxing. So fun to be together there at “Tiny’s” House. The only thing missing was the Gray Family. Because that would have been the only thing to make it even more exceptional than it already was – having our entire Friday Night Pizza Night crew back together. But Tony and I have very similar personalities – meaning I’m not quite sure how Karen manages to put up with either one of us! We also share a love of beef jerky so profound, that I may have shed a little tear when Tony brought me a souvenir coozie from The Beef Jerky Outlet. (Though, to be clear, it’s really just a beef jerky store, they only call it an outlet to draw people in off the interstate.) Of course, no one can rival Tony’s, um, interesting taste in music. Really, dude? Late 80s – early 90s R&B? Yeah, that’s your jam. (Insert snickering laughter here) But, you can’t fault his intelligence, because the man figured out the only way to not rack up a loss against me in cornhole – we didn’t play. He’ll try to blame it on the weather, but their beautiful home has a hallway spacious enough for a regulation game. Tsk, tsk. Guess we’ll never know. (Except we do. I crush him pretty much 98% of the time. Of course there is that 2%…)

Anyway, our days in Charlotte were not eventful in a crazy wackadoo road trip kind of way, they were better. They were calm, relaxed, so very, very pleasant. We went to the pool and it was just like every other trip to the pool – where the kids spend the entire time gathered around the table begging snacks, until it starts to thunder and we have to pack everything up. Though we did get our free Slurpees for 7/11 Day, so that was a little out of the ordinary! I kind of want to tell you here that Karen & Tony are terrible hosts, that their guest room is completely uncomfortable. I kind of want to lie to you, because if I tell you how awesome they are, how oh-my-god I don’t ever want to rise out of bed comfortable their guest bed is, then maybe they’ll be booked with other guests the next time I want to visit. Theirs is a home where there is always laughter, always something good (and possibly regional) to drink, and always a warm welcome. But you check with me first before you go visit – I might just be on my way back there…

Tomorrow: Greenville. And a much anticipated visit with Auntie E, Uncle Russell, Charlie, Poppy, and Mary Hazel. There will be more laughter. Lots of ice cream. And hopefully a hallway jammie-jam or two.

Current odometer reading: 2641.6 miles. Phew! I’m developing one heck of a right leg…


Day Sixteen: Coming Home

08 Jul

I started the day by snapping awake at 6:30am. Nothing terribly unusual about that. Except the quiet. The absolute silence in the room. Because my children were still asleep. All of them. Sound asleep. It’s like opposite day up in here. And apparently I am so conditioned to sleep failure that I can’t even take advantage of an opportunity when one presents itself. Because as I laid there with my eyes open I realized that I was not falling back asleep. It was futile. And yet because I didn’t want to wake the slumbering children, I couldn’t even turn on a light to read. Sigh. Surely this is a sign of good things to come today, right?

And it was. Because today was a perfectly lovely day. We started off by going to the Intercourse Pretzel Factory. It’s okay, go ahead, I’ll pause for snickering. I’m sure at least some of you are as immature as me, and need a moment to compose yourselves. (Side note to induce further laughter: there was a tourist guide for the region displayed on the counter that showed what appeared to be a cheesy couple from the 80s and it said: Intercourse, Pennsylvania – Slow Down the Hurry! Bwahh haa haa! Slow Down the Hurry. In Intercourse. Phew! Too much. Too much.) You have no idea how much I was hoping that they would sell t-shirts at the Intercourse Pretzel Factory. Alas, it was the souvenir that was not to be. Darn it. And the “factory” – yeah, it deserves quotes, especially after we toured the massive, highly automated Herr’s Snack Factory on the northbound leg – is actually just a single, large room. And wouldn’t you know it, they weren’t even making pretzels today! Apparently it was too hot and humid outside (the factory/room does not have air conditioning) and the yeast would not react properly with the dough. So, we stood and looked at a mostly bare room except for a large industrial mixer, and a single commercial oven, that was otherwise empty. But the girl giving the “tour” was well-spoken, and she gave us a very interesting and informative rundown on how the pretzels are made, even if we were mostly dependent upon our imaginations for visual representations. And then the fun began. She gave each of us a ball of pretzel dough, and taught us how to twist pretzels. It was actually really fun, and much harder than it would seem; at least doing it the factory worker way where they just hold the dough in the air, twist one hand quickly, and drop the dough to the table in a perfect pretzel shape. The kids all had a great time, and we each got our Official Pretzel Twister stickers as she gathered up our dough. (Clearly this dough was not actually for consumption. Bleech.)

After that short “factory tour” and snack opportunity, it was time to load up and head further south. I must say that this has been some of the loveliest driving I’ve done. These massive farms, with corn taller than our car, fields of it, as far as the eye can see. And all the Amish horse & buggies. Not to mention the opportunity to talk to the kids about how easy their lives are, and why I will not abide laziness – if they were Amish kids they would have been up with the sun doing chores, hard labor at times, not arguing over whose turn it was to chose a Netflix video on the iPad. And we got to see children no older than Avery working in the fields, and a boy who appeared to be maybe two years older than Beau driving a wagon with four plow horses. But it was all so lovely and bucolic. It was a nice reminder that not all of America is a fetid parking garage attached to a strip mall. America is still the beautiful…

Also beautiful, today’s destination: Lexington, Virginia, home of Washington & Lee University, my beloved alma mater. But there were 5 hours between here and there. Thankfully, the movie was selected, the kids were entertained, I was enjoying a great audio book by Harlan Coben, but I also spent a good portion of the time chatting pleasantly with a friend on the phone (no, not a law-breaking handheld cell phone, but via my earphone headset, thank you very much!) The time, and the miles, really did just fly by. So much so that we arrived in town a bit ahead of schedule. It was amazing rolling off I-81 South at exit 195. Driving past Lee-Hi (No, I’m never going to call it Berky’s Restaurant – sorry!) Seeing the changes – excuse me, is that a craft brewery? And how some things never change – like the fact the view of House Mountain tangibly shifts something within my physiology. Funny how the speed limit through town used to be such an annoyance, and yet now it is a blessing. I get to look around, soak it in, and 25 mph suddenly feels too fast.

First stop? Well, when Crazy Momma promises ice cream for dinner, she delivers. So we rolled right off of Main Street onto Washington, past the Dutch Inn, found a parking spot, and walked down the hill to Sweet Things. So happy to see it still open. I bought my kids ice cream at Sweet Things. Seems poignant somehow. It really is gratifying the way some things never change. And then we took our cups to go and walked across the street to the W&L campus. What a bizarre feeling it is to be on the Hill, to walk in plain sight of the Colonnade. I think the weirdest thing about it was that it didn’t feel weird at all. It felt natural. Right. I do so love this campus. Like I said, it shifts something tangible in my physiology. I am happy here. Calm. Relaxed. It just feels good to be home. And speaking of home, after we finished our ice cream and loaded back into the van. Before heading to our friends’ house, I had a slight detour to take up Borden Road. And there is was, looking so very much the same as it did 20 years ago, Disgraceland. My college house. And I couldn’t help thinking about Auntie E and Mrs. Adams (as my kids know them! That’s Erin McKinney Hinson, and Caroline Amason Adams, to you and me.) We had such wonderful, transformative years in that house. Glad to see it was still a student rental. A bit sorry to see that the back door was closed. Guess either the current residents made a deal with the ghost regarding keeping a window cracked, or the ghost has moved on. I sure hope it’s the former. But after a quick stop for nostalgia and photos, we were off to Jess & Eric’s house.

The kids jumped out of the car and immediately into playing with their kids, I helped Jess finish chopping some vegetables while she mixed us drinks. It was so nice to just fall into the comfort of an old friend, fall into the rhythm of her house. It all just seemed so easy. Chatting while dinner cooked, dinner itself (okay, maybe that part was easy because I had pre-fed my kids knowing them to be ridiculously picky eaters, to the point of it being painful for me, so they just played by themselves while the rest of us ate), getting them situated for bed (again, Jess & Eric doing the heavy lifting, if one can call air mattresses heavy, but children’s behavior wise, all was going well). But most of all it sure was nice sitting on their lovely screened porch after all the little ones were snug in their beds, chatting. I love the way Eric & Jess love one another; it is with simple grace, an easy intimacy. I always feel so happy and relaxed when I am around the two of them. And that is a very nice feeling indeed.

Up tomorrow: In the morning, meeting our dear friends who are randomly up from Atlanta, but on their way out tomorrow. Maybe head to Boxerwood for a bit. Definitely have to hit the university bookstore on campus – Beau has basically outgrown his W&L shirt and wants another. Perhaps the Admissions Office, as Beau is ready to drop off his application for the class of… (please don’t make me do the math!) The book store in town has been requested. And it wouldn’t be a trip to Lexington for me without a stop at Intimate U – I’m probably the only girl who lives in a big city yet only buys her underpants in a tiny town. (Hey, man, don’t judge. When you find what you like, you stick with it!) I imagine tomorrow will be another day that just sails by when all I really want it to do is slow down so I can savor the moment. But not if I don’t get to sleep soon. You ever feel so excited that it’s hard to sleep? Yeah, I know exactly what you mean…



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From The Sweetest Place on Earth to one of my favorite places on Earth

29 Jun

Hello again. It’s been too long. Alright, maybe not too long. Only a few days. Did you miss me? Did you? I’m not going to lie, I missed you. Seriously. On nights that I don’t post I miss doing it. I like recapping my day, playing back through the good times, the fun things, and even the frustrations and disappointments. It tempers everything. To write about it. Sets it into its place. And when I don’t write about my day, the days pile up. Makes it difficult to write about a day that isn’t fresh in my brain. Especially since I am typically doing something stupid like staying up past midnight to write. Sigh. And I just spent the day in Lexington, so my brain is especially full, what with all the nostalgia also crowding in. But I’ll see what I can do. It’s only been two days, but they feel so full…

Yesterday – was it really only yesterday? – we started our morning in The Sweetest Place on Earth. Where’s that, you ask? Why, it’s Hershey, Pennsylvania. And yes, that descriptive phrase is trademarked. Despite my deep & abiding love for roller coasters, my little ones are just too little for Hershey Park, an amusement park of many varied coasters, so we chose a tamer and sweeter attraction: Hershey’s World of Chocolate. And boy howdy were we there within minutes of them opening the gates. This was important because we had a 5 hour drive to get to our Wednesday overnight destination. Turns out that was a fantastic decision, because we got a parking place on the front row, and were able to plow through several activities inside with no waiting. The first thing the kids did was get their picture taken with a man-sized Reese’s peanut butter cup two-pack. Yes, that is every bit as weird as it sounds. But I guess as chocolate-themed costumed mascots go, the bar-sized packaging would go over better than say a huge Hershey’s kiss with legs. Idk. But we did it anyway. Then immediately to the kisses packaging experience. I have to say, this was hyped as a big deal, a very exciting deal on their website, but it was a bit of a let down. The experience lasted for like a minute, and we definitely took more time to take a digital photo for the kids’ official factory worker id badges (which of course like a sucker I purchased for them at $7.95 a pop!) They stood at a little conveyor belt, and as the Hershey’s kisses came down the line they were basically funneled directly into the container the kids had placed beneath the proper spout. There was really very little effort involved. Then they send the closed boxes on a different conveyor belt into “packaging” and out pops a container of the same color as theirs with a sticker on it. Was it even the same one they filled? Doubt it. And we’re encouraged to buy that container of kisses for $6.95 each. Um, yeah, no. First of all, there’s only like 20 kisses in that container. And it wasn’t even that cute of a container! But they loved their badges and their paper hats, so it was good for something. Then we rode the Great American Chocolate Tour ride. It was a simulated factory tour and was really very informative about the chocolate making process. I found it to be very interesting. And the kids just seemed to love the ride aspect of it. Not that we were moving fast, because we weren’t, just the fact that we were moving. And, well, the chocolate-covered almonds given as free samples at the end, well, those didn’t suck.

The very next thing we did was get tickets for the Hershey Trolley Works tour. These I definitely had to pay for. But luckily the very next trolley departure was available, so we had just enough time for potty stops and to purchase an outrageously over-priced bottle of water. We also purchased a decent sized package of Twizzlers for only 99 cents. This my friends would be the most economical thing I purchased all day. Scratch that, probably all trip. We were first in line for the trolley and did exactly what the conductor told us to do – went all the way to the back of the trolley so we could make sure that everyone got a seat. Then every single person who boarded after us sat in seats closest to the front. This annoyed me for a moment, that we were basically being punished for following the rules, but in reality it was a good thing because it meant we got the huge bench across the back of the trolley to ourselves, and it was probably best that we weren’t sitting right up front where all the activity was taking place. I have to say that I loved the Trolley tour. It was a 45 minute ride around some of the notable Hershey company sights in town. From Chocolate World, past the factory, the Milton Hershey School, Milton Hershey’s birthplace, etc. There were two conductors – one who played the straight man and gave a plethora of really fascinating historical information about the man who started the Hershey company (I was so fascinated it inspired me to buy a book about his life), and the other conductor played a silly collection of characters to move along the narrative and introduce other facets of Mr. Hershey’s life. He also passed out samples. While my kids enjoyed the silliness of the play-acting, they also thought it was pretty darn cool that they got to eat a kiss, a mini Reese’s cup, and a mini-milk chocolate bar before 11:00am. It really was an interesting tour. I thought the two guys did a great job, and it was truly interesting information about a man I had never really given any thought to before. I’m eager to read the book I bought: Built on Chocolate – The Story of the Hershey Chocolate Company.

After the trolley tour, we were back at the main building and the clock was ticking. See, not only did I have that long drive I mentioned, but also, people visiting Hershey’s World of Chocolate were given three hours of free parking. Anything over that cost you $15+. Yeah, I was so not paying for parking that day. So with my eye on the clock, I told the kids we could do one more thing quickly, and then take a quick spin through the gift shop. And when I say gift shop, I mean the actual gift shop where they sold all manner of Hershey’s branded apparel and tchotchke, but also the candy supermarket on site. It was a lot to take in. First thing the kids said they wanted to do was ride the Great American Chocolate Tour ride again. And I was amenable to that because it was kind of fun, and I figured I might pick up some info I missed the last time. Of course now, two hours after opening, the place was packed and we had to wait to get on the ride. Once we exited the ride I told the kids we had to move. Decisions in the gift shop had to be made quickly. And of course the irony being that I probably spent more in gift shop crap, just because I was rushing to get out of there and everybody wanted a souvenir that involved candy, than I would have spent just taking my time and paying the $15 parking fee. Oh well, for some stupid reason it felt like a win to get out of there in exactly 2 hours & 58 minutes. But I would definitely go back to Hershey’s Chocolate World again. This time to also do the Chocolate Tasting Adventure. I doubt I’d bother with the Big 3-D show because, well, I can’t stand 3-D movies. And to be honest, I’d like to go back and spend a long day or two in the town of Hershey itself. Apparently there are a lot of historical attractions related to Milton Hershey and the Hershey Chocolate Company. And here’s my admission, I don’t actually like chocolate all that much. (This seems like an especially stupid thing to say since I ate a handful of semi-sweet chocolate chips for dessert.) But, I mean, it’s not something I crave. I don’t love chocolate. I don’t want to eat it every day. I could, quite frankly, take it or leave it. But this man, his story, this town in general, it fascinated me. And I will make it a point to go back.

Luckily for me our drive to Virginia was smooth and uneventful. It really was an easy drive. I made great time, the kids were good, it was just one of those afternoons where it came together nicely. Of course, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t happy to get to Lexington and enjoy a cocktail with one of my dearest friends, a cocktail expertly mixed by her lovely husband (whom I also adore). It’s always a strange experience for me to drive into Lexington. I spent such a significant and formative chunk of time in this town. The 4 years of college from 1991-1995 (yes, I’m telling you exactly how old I am!) And then after 5 years in the “real world” returning for law school 2000-2003. Lexington, Virginia, in general, and Washington & Lee University in particular are such a big part of who I am. And while the university continues to grow, their physical plant changes with practically every visit, the town itself really has not changed that much over the years. Yes, I saw the new courthouse, and the new bank on the corner of Main & Nelson. I am always amused by the way the restaurants change – Sushi? A Greek restaurant? But for the most part, the buildings of Main, Nelson, and Washington Streets, remain basically the same. And it always feels like coming home.

I would be remiss if I didn’t immediately stop and thank Jessica & Eric for welcoming us into their home. Their gorgeous, renovated home. Because they have three kids of their own. And between us, that makes six kids aged 8-4.5. Yeah, we currently have three 6 year olds under the roof right now. That is just bananas. Crazytown, I tell ya. But bless our collective children, they have really done an amazing job of playing well together. And they are right now sleeping – the 3 boys in one room, the 3 girls in another. And me, in my very own room. Funny how I’m wasting an opportunity to sleep in a bed all by myself to stay up writing to you. Especially since it’s a boat bed. Yep. I’m on a boat! Bed! But I kept Jess & Eric up talking way too late. Can’t help myself. I love spending time with them. You know those friends that truly know you and like you anyway? That’s them. And I couldn’t be more grateful.

This morning as Jess & E were off to work, and their kids were off to camp, I found myself wondering what I was going to do with my crew in Lexington. I was really hoping not to spend any more money. (Seriously, I’m thinking of changing the name to Broke Momma’s Road Trip, or BMRT for short) Anyway, Jess suggested I check out Boxerwood Gardens. She told me about their Play Trail there and I could not be more thankful that she did. This place was awesome. The Play Trail is a perfect play space for kids. It is imagination-fueled. Non-electronic. Outdoors, in nature, get dirty fun. The “rules” of the trail? They are: “Make noise, Move things around, Touch anything, Make friends, Get dirty, Be safe, and Have fun.” Oh how fervently I wish there were more places that my kids could roam with rules like these. I think if I was a stay-at-home mother in Lexington, I might be at the Play Trail several days a week. It was amazing. I can’t adequately describe the experience, but there was a tiny creek to play in, trails of all different varieties, a boneyard with amazing animal bones to examine, a “mud kitchen” with a pump faucet & tons of battered old metal bowls & pans to play with, more trails, rocks & sticks to play with, a “digging to China” area with a big pit of dirt and child-ssized digging and raking tools. So. Awesome. And I wish we could have stayed longer. But we had a date to pick up Ainsely from camp at 3pm, and I was not leaving Lexington without visiting the W&L bookstore. Especially since the W&L medallion I had on the back of my van fell off today. Can you believe that? Somewhere in Lexington, VA, my W&L auto medallion detached itself from the back of my van. Sigh. Irony. But can you believe the bookstore doesn’t sell those anymore? Grrrrrrrr.

I was also a little disappointed to not get to see Mike Young. The current director of security and I started at W&L together. My freshman year was his first year at the university, and I’ve always liked him. Could it be that parking ticket he forgave freshman year? Our Florida connection? Anyway, I like him immensely and always try to visit when I’m in Lexington. Has to be cool for people like profs and other university employees to see us in our grown up states. I am positive that Mike Young has a clear image of me as a 17 year old freshman. He has now known me for over 20 years. My life has changed immeasurably. And I also feel a jolt of pride when I sit in his office and my children behave themselves nicely. But I missed him this visit. Just plain ran out of time, so I had to settle for leaving him a note. And I didn’t even wander the shops downtown, which was another thing that made this trip different. Usually I make it a point to stop into the Shenandoah Attic, a little gift shop where I worked for a few months after graduation, to see the owner, Sgt. Major Al Hockaday, USMC (Ret.) I think about him every time I use Windex. When a retired Sgt. Maj. in the Marine Corps tells you how to clean, you take it to heart. The last two times I’ve visited he’s taken a polaroid picture of me with my kids. One from 2.5 years ago is still over my visor today. So I was sorry to miss Sgt. Maj. Hockaday as well, but it was kind of nice to have a different kind of day. Maybe it’s good to take a break from the shops, from wandering the Colonnade, the Hill. Because our afternoon was a different kind of nice. Made me feel even more like a local, as we went out to the home of one of my former law professors. Bob & his lovely wife, Lee-Anne, are wonderful people, and I feel lucky that my law school experience was the kind where I really befriended some of my professors. Heck, I still consider myself an honorary member of the former dean’s family. And I love W&L, and Lexington, for that. But Bob, Lee-Anne, and their kids live way out in the country with room to roam and a pool in the backyard. So all of us loaded up two cars and headed out for the evening. The kids were in the swimming pool for hours, we ate dinner off the grill, and the kids pulled out chess boards while they were drying off before the drive home. It was one of those classic summer evenings. As if I, we, belonged here. Like I said, Lexington will always feel like home.




Dr. Pamela H. Simpson, 1946-2011

05 Oct

Once again I’m having one of those weird out of body experiences. I’ve had too many of those lately. It goes a little like this: I hear shocking news, my thought processes jump to action, my heart rate accelerates, tears spring to my eyes, I feel that flood of what-can-I-do? adrenaline. And yet somewhere in the unfolding process of shock I hit a wall. What I’ve just heard or read can’t possibly be true. Because the world I live in doesn’t make sense if the news is true.

The world shouldn’t lose kind, capable, big-hearted caregivers like Carole Shorter.

Sweet, soft, innocent babies shouldn’t have cancer.

And the world shouldn’t lose intelligent, compassionate educators like Pam Simpson.

It just doesn’t make sense.


It was only a few short weeks ago that I received the letter from Washington & Lee University that was apparently sent to all alumni with connections to the Department of Art. It started off by saying, “As many of you know, Pam Simpson was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer.” No. NO. I most certainly did NOT know. And that letter rocked me back on my heels. It was such a shock to me. I remember reading that letter and thinking about the many times I had sat in my academic advisor’s office. Across the desk from a woman with a huge personality, an easy smile, and a nimble, challenging mind. No. Sick is not a word I can relate to Pam Simpson. Vibrant is the word to describe her. She can’t be sick. She’s full of life. And an iron will. No. It doesn’t make sense. The letter went on to give her personal contact information and suggested that we might want to contact her, say a few words of support to her and her family. But I balked. What could I possibly say? How could I find the right words to comfort or support a woman that to me seemed indestructible? It wasn’t necessarily denial, it was more an understanding of my own inadequacies that kept me from picking up a pen. I thought about sending her a card, a short note to let her know how much she meant to me, but what could I possibly say? How could I possibly put into words my sorrow and disbelief that one of the strongest women I knew was about to die?

And now it’s too late. Too late for those words. Or any words. Because yesterday Dr. Pamela H. Simpson succumbed to cancer, dying at her home in Lexington at the age of 65. And I am bereft. I think of the many classes I took from her. The way she could, based on merit, be both stingy and generous with praise. The way both her joy, at a shared passion for architecture, and her disappointment, when a student just phoned it in, showed on her face. The way she never accepted my college-aged bullshit rhetoric as my best work, always pushing me to try harder, dig deeper, achieve more. And I think of her husband, Henry, and his ubiquitous golden retrievers. Such a kind and friendly and open man. It always brought a smile to my face to see him around town. I can only image the depths of his grief at losing his remarkable wife. Because she truly was remarkable. And Washington & Lee University as a whole, and the Department of Art most specifically, are lesser places today for her having gone. I feel privileged and honored to have known Pam Simpson as well as I did. To have benefitted from her scholarship, her advice, her friendship. She will be sorely missed, but lovingly remembered.


© 2010 Krista Lindsey Willim