Our country is expansive. We have ridden over 5,500 miles in the last 7 months circuitously crossing it. Yet, our world is proving small. We crossed paths with people connected to our former military life in the last week, and beginning this weekend we will meet people related to our Seattle chapter of life. We have gotten to see first-hand places we had previously only seen in history books, with more historical destinations abounding in the coming week. We are blessed by these people and opportunities.
We began our recent ride through history with the Antietam National Battlefield. Antietam was the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. Even Lil’ Mo walked away from the detailed Visitor Center’s video struck by the magnitude of casualties that were inflicted near Dunker Church, frequently referencing ‘that place where the battle occurred with all those dead bodies.’ Now anytime the boys turn sticks into rifles, which is quite often these days, she asks who is playing the Union or Confederate soldier.
The following day we crossed the Potomac on Historic White’s Ferry, in operation since 1786, and now the last remaining ferry that crosses the river.
The ferry was our means of entrance into Virginia and put us in proximity to meeting the mother-in-law of a military friend. Maureen sought us out through the blog to offer us hospitality like none we have ever experienced. Her attention to detail was unparalleled. She scoured this blog to determine what would be useful and/or comfortable for us, and inferred other comforts and novelties for us based on her own experience as a mother and grandmother. She gave the kids pumpkins to decorate for Halloween, picked up library books for them on topics she thought would interest them (fighter jets, drones, women who break the rules, horses, etc.), had a puppy purse on hand for Lil’ Mo, a fuzzy blanket for me to snuggle up in, Legos for the boys, a writing basket for Sissy, local beer for Old Man, and fancy accessories for the girls to utilize while there. All the while, she works full-time with a long commute on both ends, trains for triathlons, and volunteers extensively to serve our veterans and their families. I have no doubt how much the veteran population benefits from her service given how thoughtfully and generously she gave to us, complete strangers to her (other than having read our blog). Much like Farmer Fred, Lucinda, and Mr. C., Maureen feels called and tasked by God to give and attend others, and she certainly glorifies God in her deeds. We stayed with her for two nights so we could explore the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum, to which she accompanied us. As expected, it was filled with a historical line-up of airplanes, but also had a great array of engines to examine and the Discovery space shuttle to see. The icing on the cake for the kids was the paper airplane contest hosted there. The boys have been training for a competition such as this for years! Otter won the contest. Since everyone was competing with the same model of airplane, he concluded his throwing technique was what earned him his victory. He was awarded a medal and beamed with pride. He wore that medal for days following his victory.
We left Maureen’s to head to our previous neighbors and remaining friends from West Point, now in Alexandria, Virginia. Unfortunately, Reggie was away for work, but Mina and their son were game to hosting our loud and high-energy bunch in his absence. Their house made for comfortable accommodations in space, relaxation, and conversation. We took the Metro downtown to tour the sites. In our hasty, two-day tour we visited the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, walked by the White House (which was unexpectedly decorated with Halloween spiders and webs!), viewed our nation’s founding documents at the National Archives, and checked out the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Museum.
The Air and Space Museum proved to be extra gratifying, despite having just gone to the annex near Dulles, because we got to see some original pieces of the Wright Brothers mechanical evolution. One of five remaining scorcher bicycles is housed there, as is the original 1903 flyer. We read about these very things in the kids’ history and reading books last year!
The kids were also excited to see the Apollo to the Moon exhibit, which served as a topical continuation from the Gus Grissom Memorial in Indiana. Again, the pinnacle of the visit was a paper airplane contest. Otter proudly wore his medal and went in a bit puffed up that his victory was in the bag. Otter blushed sheepishly when the museum employee drew attention to his medal, but remained focused with his eye on the prize. Meanwhile, the Littles enthusiastically participated and Lil’ Mo reassured Tango that she thought for sure he was going to win. Tango agreed with her, he could feel his imminent success in his bones. Sissy quietly constructed her paper airplane and stood in line patiently for her turn. Unexpectedly, this contest was run differently than the previous one and the challenge was greater. Once the troubleshooting rounds were over the stakes rose and if you missed the target you were out. Otter approached the front of the line cool as a cucumber, confident that his throwing technique would earn him another medal. He missed. He took a deep breath and walked over to me, clearly disappointed, but mustering some big kid-ness to absorb the letdown. Tango was next in line and equally confident. He also missed the target. No big kid-ness to muster and his face crumpled in on itself in disappointment. Tears were streaming. He really wanted a medal to match Otter’s. A few more kids went through, none hit the target, and up came Lil’ Mo’s turn. She was ready to be the hero and poised to get that medal… and she missed. She was equally devastated. So I had a Little on either side of me in need of consolation when Sissy inconspicuously approached the front of the line. Her plane hit its target. Only one other kid in line succeeded, so it turned into a fly-off between the two. She won. She got the medal. Her victory consoled the Littles a smidgen—at least the day’s medal was in the family. When she and Otter realized how upset the Littles were they each offered to lend their medals to the Littles to wear for a bit. Spirits were fully restored and we all departed with a little spring in our steps (or air under our wings?! Ha!)! Otter asked if we could return the next day for another paper airplane contest. No.
We left Reggie and Mina’s the morning of Halloween. Our two days of riding the train and staying up late in their comfortable home, catching up on each other’s lives, softened us to the harsher reality of biking in the D.C. metropolitan area outside of a bike trail. However, to be fair, the drivers were much more patient and considerate than I expected in such a densely populated area known for its traffic. We made our way to Marine Corps Base Quantico, because we could not think of a more idyllic place for kids to trick-or-treat than a family-filled military base. We got there just in time to finish making our costumes. Anyone who knows me well, knows I am very excitable for a theme, and I briefly had grand visions of imposing a ‘history of air travel’ costume theme given our recent run of museums, travel through Ohio (birthplace of aviation), and North Carolina (first in flight) in our near future. The boys would be the Wright Brothers, Sissy would be Amelia Earhart, and Lil’ Mo would be an astronaut. I was scrounging my brain and the Internet for ways to execute this economically (I was a bit nostalgic for our Dillon, MT friends’ dress up closet, not to mention perfectly aged trick-or-treating buddies!), when our reality hit me. We are on bikes, with limited capacity for weight, volume, time, and means of hunting down supplies. What was I thinking?! There would be no Goodwill runs or Oriental Trading Post deliveries. We made do with a few craft supplies and paper plates to make disposable masks: brown horse, gray tabby cat, butterfly, and unicorn.
Quantico did not prove to be teeming with kids all along the sidewalk as West Point was (imagine images of trick-or-treating in the movie E.T.); but the housing area was well-decorated, more homes participated in candy distribution than not, and there was hardly any car traffic with which to contend. The kids better understood our circumstance than I and did not bat an eye at their limited costumes; they were simply happy just to get to trick-or-treat. They scored a rich bounty, that we have since been towing. Old Man has made a solid effort at reducing the towing burden through his parent-tax, and we all felt a sense of urgency to eat a bit more candy per day than most years to avoid the risk of it melting in this week’s 80-degree weather. Waste not, want not….
In the last few days we traversed two more Civil War Battlefields: Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania. While it was amazing to stand on ground that so profoundly shaped our country, it was hard to imagine such grisly scenes predominating a place currently decorated in beautiful fall colors.
The Innis House helped ground us to the area’s history with the interior bullet holes from the battle left untouched.
After reading about so much death and savagery, it was heartening to see the monument erected for Richard Rowland Kirkland, the Angel of Marye’s Heights, who saw past the political and social divisions of the time to offer water to suffering Union soldiers remaining in the field.
If only we could all be so selfless and unifying in our actions. So much learning, growing, and aspiring happening on this journey, with much more to come (God willing)!