My family and I spent this past Memorial Day weekend up in the mountains – hiking, exploring, watching sunsets, and always on the lookout for bears. We even saw one! We had a really good time. Traveling on this weekend has been a little tradition for us for the past 10 years or so. For a while, it was my and my wife’s one little get away each year as a couple to NYC while our daughter was little. Here and there we brought her with us and the past few years it’s been an all family thing. Every year we try to go out of our way on Memorial Day to remember and be thankful for what we have. Early on all these trips were to New York City and these were the years after 9/11, so we always made our way to Ground Zero – watching it go from rubble to an empty hole to construction to finally a memorial and a Freedom Tower. One year in Washington DC we paid our respects at the Vietnam and WWII Memorials. This year was different with mountains and hiking and deer and bugs, but everywhere we went there were the ghosts of our past and living reminders of what we have to be thankful for:
- In Charlottesville it’s all about Thomas Jefferson. His presence is felt everywhere – from his home, Monticello, to the University he created, UVA. There are statues and street names and architecture that keeps our 3rd president living on. We have been to Monticello many times in the past, so this time we walked around the University of Virginia – checking out the lawn, the old dorm rooms that border it and the rotunda designed and built by Jefferson. Edgar Allen Poe once lived in one of the dorm rooms when he went there. The campus was empty, but confetti was still in the grass from their recent graduation ceremony – a remnant of all the joy and excitement that had taken place here amongst the ghost of the past couple hundred years.
- On the first day of our trip we ate lunch at Michie Tavern in Charlottesville. While touring the grounds we explored a small store and museum that had original civil war guns, currency, and bullets to buy. You could buy bullets that were either dropped, therefore still in their original shape, or all smashed up after being shot. It was a surreal feeling picking up and holding those bullets. Had the smashed up ones passed through someone? Had soldiers died from these bullets? Who held and dropped the other ones? They got heavier the longer I held them.
- We spent a few hours one day in this little town just down from Skyline Drive called Sperryville, VA. We had a nice lunch and then walked around some. We found ourselves in front of this old house with a history sign in front of it from the Civil War trail. A doctor once worked there during the war. In a field next to a brewery and a whisky distillery we visited were more signs. More Civil War stories. At a fruit stand we met Lester Deal. He proudly told us about his service in World War II and how he had been to Hiroshima in the years right after the war. We thanked him for his service and then bought a jar of honey from him.
- At the Big Meadows visitor center in Shenandoah National Park, we learned that the namesake big meadow was once used as a WWII troop training field in the 1940’s.
- On the way home we passed through the town of Gordonsville, with it’s a cute little Main Street lined with American flags. They past by old beautiful houses, little coffee shops, and their Civil War Museum.
- We stopped in Richmond before heading home to go to one of our favorite places for lunch and do some shopping in the Carytown area. While enjoying the simple pleasures we take for granted, it’s easy to forget Richmond’s role in our wartime past. Patrick Henry made his Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death speech in Richmond in 1775, and during the Revolutionary War the city was burned down by British troops. During the Civil War Richmond was the Confederate Capital and numerous battles took place around the city. In 1865 Richmond burned again after fleeing Confederate troops set fire to armories, bridges and warehouses which then burned out of control.
- And, of course, the Hampton Roads area that I live in is one of the largest military towns in the world. Riding home from our weekend we passed Langley Air Force Base, Fort Monroe, the Norfolk Naval Base, Newport News Shipyard, and Oceana Naval Air Station – all constant reminders of what has been sacrificed and what it takes to keep us safe.
Now back to the life of work and bills and music lessons which we have the freedom to enjoy because of what many have given up…