Saturday, May 8, Day 1: Angela took us to the airport for our flight to Norfolk. When she was backing out of her garage, she broke the driver's side mirror on her car. We figured this wasn't a good sign, but we didn't have any trouble at the airport. We checked our bags at the curb and went inside to go through security. I emptied my pockets into the little plastic bowl and put it in the plastic bin with my shoulder bag and my shoes. When we got to the other side and were retrieving out stuff, Judy pointed into the little bowl and shrieked, "Good grief, there's your pocketknife!" Whereupon ten security guards descended on us and beat me to a pulp with rubber truncheons. OK, that last part's a lie. But she did shriek. I grabbed the knife and stuck it in my pocket, secure in the knowledge that our airports are guarded by highly trained personnel who never miss a trick. Yes, we're all much safer now than we were before the events on 9/11, thanks to a government that privatized airport security to assure that only keenly alert, attentive workers were hired.
After getting through security unscathed, and with my pocketknife still in my possession, we left on our Continental flight, accompanied by that screaming kid the airlines always provide, and this time they'd thoughtfully seated him behind Judy and given him other wonderful super-powers, such as "seatback kicking." And to add to the fun, he was diseased. When he spit his Binky into the aisle, Judy picked it up and returned it to his mother. Then she used antiseptic cleanser on her hands, and it must have worked, as she didn't get his disease. I resisted the urge to use my pocketknife on him.
We landed in Norfolk without any further adventures and walked sixteen miles to the baggage claim. After we reclaimed out new Wal-Mart luggage, we took care of the paperwork for the rental car and sat down to wait for Loibeth and Kyle, who arrived about an hour later. The rental was a white Pontiac Bonneville, which was just barely big enough to hold our luggage. We crammed the Wal-Mart specials in the back, along with Loibeth's and Kyle's bags, and hit the road, Interstate 64 to be exact, and headed for Williamsburg.
We found Williamsburg with no trouble and checked into the Fairfield time-share condo behind the Ramada 1776 Inn. It was a really nice place, with separate living quarters for both couples, complete with full kitchen in one (not to mention a Jacuzzi) and a kitchette in the other. After we unpacked, we went to Food Lion for supplies. There was a brief controversy over the expense of coffee, as some people were opposed to the expensive decaffeinated brew, but we bought it anyway. On the way back we got lost briefly, but if we'd followed Loibeth's suggestion, we would have been on the right track. She later claimed that it was the first time ever she'd been right about a direction.
Kyle's agenda for the trip, which we followed religiously, said that we'd eat at The Jefferson that evening and have peanut soup, so that's what we did. The peanut soup was interesting. I had a chicken breast stuffed with crab meat for a main course, and that was very good. After dinner we went back to the condo for the first in a series of 42 lessons for Loibeth and Kyle. Lots of talking and fun, after which we went to bed.
Sunday, May 9, Day 2: Up at 7:40, since Kyle's agenda said that we had to be on the road to Richmond in time to attend services at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, built in 1843-45. We took off on Route 60 and found the church in downtown Richmond easily. It's an interesting building with great stained-glass windows, nine of which are the genuine Tiffany item. A man named John Taylor spotted us as visitors. He was about 77 years old and looked 20 years younger, very slim, with a military bearing and snow-white hair. He showed us the windows and also the very pew (marked with a plaque) where Jefferson Davis was sitting when a messenger came in to notify him that the Yankee army was marching on Richmond. We also saw Robert E. Lee's pew.
We had some time before church began, so we took a walk over to the capitol grounds. The old City Hall was the most impressive building there. After looking around, we went back to the church. The service itself was quite formal and dignified, church for grown-ups. The only drawback was the final prayer which asked intercession for every person in the U.S. by name.
When church let out, we went to The Tobacco Company for Mother's Day brunch. The building was a restored tobacco warehouse in the Shockoe Slip where the tobacco barons traded in the old days. Most of the area burned at the time of the evacuation of Richmond in the Civil War. The lunch was excellent. I had a southwestern omelet, and everyone else had palacscintas, which were a sort of fried pancake stuffed with bits of ham, cheese, and spices.
Kyle called a tour bus, and we were lucky enough to hook up with one not far from the parking lot where we had the car. Before the tour, Judy called Angela and found out that Lola (the cat) had been very sick and had gone to the cat emergency room to have two fangs removed. After that cheery news, Judy called Allen and found out that the Cornell Hurd Band's drummer had quit (Allen does sound for the band). It was great to make two upbeat calls to the kids on Mother's Day.
The tour guide picked us up, and he knew a lot about Richmond, having been born there on June 27, 1941. We saw the spall streets of the Shockoe Bottom, an area that the James River flooded regularly until the building of a flood wall in 1994. We got a look at the famous three-level railroad trestle, the only one in the world, according to the guide. From there we drove by St. John's Church, where Patrick Henry made his "give me liberty" speech and the Poe museum. We saw plenty of old houses in various styles (Federal, Greek Revival Italianate. We saw John Marshall's home and the place where Robert E. Lee lived briefly in Richmond. Went by the old City Hall again, and the capitol grounds. Took a trip down Monument Avenue and saw the statues of Colonial and Confederate heroes and statesmen. Because we got on late, the driver dropped off the other passengers and took us to the James River to see the falls (which are really faults, if I understood correctly). Also saw the Tredegar Iron Works, the main engine of the Confederate war machine, but didn't get to go inside.
The guide told an interesting inter-faith story when we passed a Baptist Church. It was hit by lightning and burned to the ground. The members of a synagogue down the street told the preacher that he was welcome to use their building on Sundays, as they used it on Saturdays, and that arrangement worked perfectly for three years until the Baptist Church was rebuilt.
After we went back to Williamsburg, Kyle and I went to the Big K for more supplies. After much searching, we learned that in the Big K the Sweet 'n' Low is shelved in the logical place beside the Pepto-Bismol. When we checked out we encountered the first of several frustrating delays in the line at Big K. The checker, Keyonna, was having problems with the person checking out. The man in front of us said he'd never been there when there wasn't a delay in the line, and there were seldom more than two checkers. He was there only because he needed some pants, and Wal-Mart didn't carry his size. Eventually we got checked out and escaped to the condo, picked up Judy and Loibeth, and had dinner at Ruby Tuesday. Stuffed to the gills after that experience, we went back to the condo for another 42 lesson.
Monday, May 10, Day 3: Today's agenda called for Colonial Williamsburg at 9:00. We parked in the lot at about ten after the hour, walked to the Visitors' Center, and picked up the tickets we'd ordered on the Internet. A bus took us to the town, and we got a brief orientation. Then we were off on a self-guided tour. The first place we stopped was the magazine and guardhouse. In the magazine we heard a talk about colonial weapons and tactics. Outside a man was demonstrating the use of the bayonet to some little kids. From there we walked to a tent, where Judy bought a straw hat at the bargain price of $35. She says it saved her life, so I guess it was cheap enough.
The blacksmith shop in back of the Mary Stith house was fun. The smith was making a fro, a tool used for splitting wood. Judy said the shop smelled just like the one in Thornton when she was a kid.
We visited the Post Office and print shop, the milliner, the wig maker and Wetherman's Tavern. The tavern tour was interesting, and we saw the vegetable garden, kitchen, smokehouse, and slave's quarters in the rear of the building as well. We ate lunch at the bakery behind the Raleigh Tavern. Judy had a biscuit with ham, and I had gingerbread. Judy had ginger ale to drink, and I had root beer.
When we'd finished lunch, we went on to apothecary shop, where we learned a bit about colonial medicine, and then peeked at an archeological dig located on the site of a colonial coffeehouse.
The capitol (a reconstructed building) was next, and I got to perform a small role in a little debate about independence. I was Meriwether Smith, who favored breaking with Britain.
Not far from the capitol was a gunsmith's shop, and we got to handle a few weapons and see how the barrel of a rifle was bored.
Next we visited the gaol. Two of the cells are original, and they once held Blackbeard's pirates. The cells are furnished with a primitive toilet, which really does look kind of like a throne. It's not hard to imagine how bad the place must have smelled, what with six or eight prisoners crowded into the small room with the throne.
The cabinet maker's shop was busy, as the men were making a grandfather clock, the first they'd ever made there. We were shown how they did inlay work, and one man who was working on a harpsichord told us more than we wanted to know about the physics of music.
The brickmaker was out in the sun, and, as it was a very warm day, he was hoping to have a shade up by the next morning. He'd been stacking wood for the kiln part of the day, and he told us about the storeroom he'd been working on up at the Randolph House. They make all their own bricks and mortar.
Before going to the Randolph House, we stopped off for a Pepsi and sat for a while in the shade under an oak. (Judy wouldn't sit in the little covered rest area because pigeons were flying around under the roof.) An ant dropped off the oak tree and onto Loibeth's neck, then crawled into her blouse. After a few seconds of panic and clothing manipulation, Loibeth managed to dislodge the ant, which dropped out onto her pants and then disappeared forever.
The Randolph House was our last stop, and it was most impressive. It was begun in 1715 and added onto over the years. It was partially restored about 55 years ago, and restoration was completed in the 1960s. In the back of the house was a two-story kitchen, where we got a lecture on colonial food (the ox eyes sounded particularly appetizing). Then a jolly wench talked to us about the daily lives of slaves and masters. We were hot and tired and ready to leave, so we took the bus back to the Visitors' Center. We rested a while and then went to eat at a Chinese/Japanese buffet that had a huge selection, including American food and a Mongolian grill. We had ice cream for dessert, along with some little Japanese pastries that Loibeth liked a lot, after which we had another session of 42.
Tuesday, May 11, Day 4: The agenda again said Colonial Williamsburg at 9:00. We didn't quite make it that early, but we were close. Took the bus to the orientation point and lined up for the walking tour of the gardens. We didn't know we needed tickets for the tour, so they let us go anyway. (Only a few of the others knew about the tickets, so we weren't alone.) The garden tour was a highlight. We visited the gardens in back of the Govenor's Palace (another reconstructed building, though inventories of Governor Botetourt's furnishings enabled curators to replicate the interior decor of the 18th century precisely). The gardens include arbors, boxwood topiaries, a maze, and, of course, flowers. There was a vegetable garden, too, with peonies growing in the top row.
We trekked on to a private garden in back of Wythe House (the house itself was closed). The ironwood arbor was heavily braced, and there were carpenter bees, which the guide said didn't "bite." But we weren't as sure of that as she was. The tour ended in back of the Geddy House.
After the gardens we went to the Bruton Parish Church. Before we went in, Allen called on the cell phone to cheer us up by telling us that someone had stolen the tailgate from his pick-up truck. There's nothing like good news from the family to buck you up when you're on vacation. The church dates from 1715, and it still has many of the original window panes. Kyle met a fellow Aggie there. You can't get away from the Aggies.
We saw another garden on our own after the church visit, and then walked through a modern shopping area. Judy felt up a statue of Thomas Jefferson, and we have photographic proof. Then we went to see the William and Mary campus, which really looked like a college campus should. We took a brief self-guided tour of the Sir Christopher Wren Building, the oldest educational building in continuous use in this country. We stopped in the grammar school room, the chapel, and the great hall.
We walked around the campus and then had lunch at The Cheese Shop. Kyle had a disappointing Brunswick stew, while Judy and I had delicious Virginia ham sandwiches. From there we went to the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. There was lots of silver and china. Firearms, too. But I was most impressed with the original Peale full-length portrait of George Washington, which I'd seen in many schoolbooks, and the Stuart portrait of Thomas Jefferson, which I'd seen at least as often. Maybe even more often.
But best of all was a small child's gold ring (circa 1710) with an inscription reading, Fear God Mary Brodnax. Brother Bob informs me that Mary, whose father was a goldsmith and made the ring for her, is one of our Brodnax ancestors. The ring was excavated in back of Shields' Tavern, and researchers have discovered that Mary was a friend of the daughter of Marot, the original owner of the tavern building. Mary probably lost the ring while playing with her friend, and it was found hundreds of years later.
The museum building had once been a hospital for the mentally ill, and the tour of the hospital wing was also interesting.
We caught the tour bus back to the Governor's Palace and took a tour of that fine building. Afterwards we went back to the gardens. We didn't walk the maze, but we did go up on "The Mount," where people could observe their friends as they tried to escape the maze. We went down to the canal after that, but Judy had left her umbrella on The Mount. Guess who had to go back and get it. (If you guessed Judy, you'd be wrong.) We checked out the vegetable garden again, then took the bus back to the Visitors' Center and the car.
We had Mexican food for dinner, and Judy and Loibeth, after much persuasion, had margaritas. The Mexican food wasn't bad when you consider that we were in Williamsburg, VA.
Back at the condo, the 42 games continued until bedtime.
Wednesday, May 12, Day 5: The agenda for the day said that we would hit the road for the James River Plantations. As it turned out, most of them are closed to the public these days, but the two best ones, the Berkeley and the Shirley, were open, and there was so much to see in them that we probably wouldn't have had time for any others. We took scenic Route 5 and stopped briefly at Sherwood Forest Plantation, the home of John Tyler and still owned by his family. It was closed, so we went on to the Berkeley Plantation, birthplace of both Benjamin Harrison and William Henry Harrison. The 1726 date stone is still over one of the doors. The woodwork in the house, loblolly pine, is all original and still in great shape. All ten of the first presidents of the U.S. visited Berkeley. There's a great view of the river below the terraces and boxwood gardens that lead down to the shore, and we walked down to see the place where "the first official Thanksgiving" was celebrated ("a praying Thanksgiving, not an eating one," we were told). Supposedly "Taps" was composed on the grounds of the building, but I'm not entirely convinced.
We had lunch at the Dockside Restaurant and then went on to the Shirley Plantation. A great place. We went through some of the outbuildings, but the main house impressed me a lot. The Carter family has lived there for over 300 years. We stood in the room where Light Horse Harry Lee married Anne Hill Carter, and their son, Robert E. Lee, received part of his schooling in one of the buildings there. The three-story "flying staircase" is the only one in the U.S. It was spared in the Civil War because of the kindness Mrs. Carter and her daughters showed to wounded Union soldiers, so most of the original furnishings remain.
In the back yard of the house there's a 350-year-old oak tree. We sat in the shade under the tree and looked at the James river for a good while. It was peaceful and cool and a very pleasant time.
Back in Williamsburg, Loibeth and Judy toured an off-price mall and checked out the Lennox china store, while Kyle and I sat in the car. I had pink lemonade, and afterwards we ate pizza at Uno, where I had a great dessert: vanilla ice cream with hot fudge, sitting on something like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. And then there was 42.
Thursday, May 13, Day 6: May 13 was the day the original settlers landed at Jamestown, so naturally Kyle's agenda called for us to visit Jamestown (or Jamestowne, take your pick). We drove down the Colonial Parkway to the original site, a National Park. Kyle had a pass that got us in free. Hurricane Isabel wrought havoc with the place last year. The glassworks was open, but there was no glassblowing. The kiln was being rebuilt.
Only the church tower remains of the original buildings, but we saw the Pocahontas monument and the Captain John Smith monument. A guide told us a bit about the reconstructed church, and another guide gave us a long talk (standing in the sun the whole time) about the original fort and about the discovery of the bones of one of the original settlers, maybe the captain of one of the three original ships. (DNA tests are still pending on a possible ancestor in England.) We sat for a while and looked at the ducks on the wide river, too. We took the island drive and saw many trees uprooted by the hurricane, but it was still a nice drive.
The recreated Jamestown village was next. First we bought tickets and then had lunch in an incredibly crowded cafeteria, filled mostly with "gifted" students who looked to me to be about junior high age. (Small world department: The kids at the table next to us turned up the next day in the Yorktown museum.)
After lunch we took a short guided tour and saw the Indian village, the three ships built to scale (Susan Constant, Discovery, Godspeed). We visited the Jamestown village and saw the musket firing (learned about muskets, too). We visited the church, the forge, and the guardhouse (learned more about weapons). We went back to the ships, still being swarmed over by the junior high crowd, and three of us went into the 'tween deck of the Susan Constant. (Judy refrained.) The thought of 54 people scuttling around down there for 4/1-2 months was pretty sobering. Loibeth and Kyle hung around for the firing of the artillery on one of the ships. Judy and I observed from the shade at a distance, as I was a little blistered from the long talk that morning. Leaving the villages, we had a Pepsi in the Visitors' Center and then went home, where we toured another mall but didn't get out.
We'd intended to eat at the Country Kitchen Cupboard, but there was a bus-load of junior high kids waiting in line out front, so we drove into the parking lot next door. It happened to be the parking lot of the Prime Rib House, and we knew it was meant to be that we eat there, which we did. Kyle was the only one who had prime rib, but I had chicken breast with black bean sauce that was very good. And then more 42. Kyle and Loibeth are getting good at the game by this time.
Friday, May 14, Day 7: The agenda has us in Yorktown, so it's up and at 'em again. We went first to the Victory Center museum (and saw our jr. high pals from Jamestown). The recreation of the sunken British ships was cool. Next we saw a short movie. There was also a recreated farm, with its own turkey. (Judy was not fond of the turkey.) And its own Muscovy ducks, too. (Judy was not impressed.) We got a nice tour of the vegetable garden (they water the vegetables with gourds) and a lecture on flax (they wear hand-made linen, too).
We drove to the town of Yorktown (first getting slightly lost) and had lunch at a restaurant right on the beachfront. Judy, Kyle, and Loibeth had softshell crab sandwiches. The crabs were brought in that morning from the Bay, according to the waitress, but I was not persuaded. I had a Virginia ham and cheese sandwich. After ogling the women in their bikinis (OK, maybe I was the only ogler), we went to the National Park, where a guide named Matt took us on a tour of some of the battle sites. He gave a quite dramatic presentation, to say the least. He knew a lot about the battle there, and when we saw the movie afterward, we got most of the same information.
Instead of walking to the colonial houses of Yorktown, we drove and parked as close as we could, near the Victory Monument. We strolled by the Nelson house, the Pate house, the Customhouse (where there was a garden, not very well kept), and Grace Church, which was built in 1697. By this time everyone was tired, so I went to get the car and drove to pick them up at the Swan Tavern (which was really a shop).
Back in Williamsburg we had dinner at the Chinese buffet again. Since you could eat all you wanted, we figured nobody would go home hungry, and nobody did. Then before bedtime we had the last 42 games. Loibeth and Kyle are now on their own when they play with friends.
Saturday, May 15, Day 8: This was our last day. We got up at about the same time as we did every other day, packed, and cleaned up the condo. Because we had some extra time, we drove to the Virginia Ham Shoppe. I'm planning to order one of the hams for next Thanksgiving, for sure.
We still had some time, so we decided to hit Virginia Beach. The driver got lost a time or two, but we got there. It was impossible to see the beach, as the whole beachfront is lined with giant hotels. We parked and managed to find a little alleyway between two hotels, and there was the beach. It was beautiful. Fine white sand and the Atlantic stretching out behind. We ate lunch at the Abbey Road Pub, and I had a really great, spicy chicken and sausage jambalaya.
The driver got lost again on the way to the airport, so we were cutting things a little close. I turned in the rental car, and we said good-bye to Loibeth and Kyle before we checked in. Judy and I were flying Continental again, and they were on Delta, so we didn't see them again. We had just a few minutes to wait before we were told that we'd be boarding on the tarmac. We did that, and then discovered that when we landed in Houston, we'd be disembarking on the tarmac, where a bus would meet us and take us to the terminal. The flight was relatively smooth, though, and the bus trip was a short one, so we got home with a minimum of hassle. Angela picked us up, and we drove back to Alvin, where the cats nearly trampled us in their eagerness to get outside when we opened the door. We knew then that we were home again.
As for Kyle and Loibeth, their trip home was a bit more exciting. As Kyle tells it:
The excitement started shortly after we parted company. We went up to the counter to get our boarding passes and encountered the kiosk. I deftly inserted my credit card to identify myself and retrieve our boarding passes and the machine said it had never heard of me! I had a moment's anxiety until I remembered I had my confirmation number in my bag. After I tried to enter the 22 numbers correctly several times, it finally started buzzing and started printing out the passes. I grabbed them and checked our two bags and dashed toward the airline gates. About a mile later we encountered the first security check point. The lady said, "Both of these passes are for Kyle Pettit. Where are the ones for the lady?" "Hell if I know," I said. Then I realized that we had two legs on the trip and needed two gate passes each. I realized I must have not waited for them to print out at the kiosk. While Loibeth gave me that look that said "how could I have married such a dumb ass?" I realized that I must retrace the mile walk back to the ticket kiosk and hope that some honest soul had turned them in. As I breathlessly reached the kiosk, fate smiled and I found them still in the slot where they had printed and I had not retrieved them.
Another mile walk back to the first security check point where Loibeth was patiently waiting for her dumbass husband to arrive with her gate passes. After trying to show the security person my AAA card for identification, I finally found my driver's license and we proceeded another 1/2 mile to the next security check. As I confidently went through the X-ray machine, the security guy asked me if that was my bag. I said yes and I didn't mind if he inspected it. As I smiled patiently while he rummaged through my personal belongings, I suddenly felt a tinge of apprehesion. He unzipped my Dopp kit and started taking out each item of personal hygiene. When he reached the cork puller that I had absent-mindedly pitched in there as I packed, he held it up like he had discovered a long lost diamond! He dramatically pulled out the six inch knife blade which I didn't even know it had. The whole terminal suddenly went ominously silent. He looked accusingly at me, and I expected the handcuffs to be clamped on me immediately. I guess he realized that I was just a dumbass and not a terrorist, so he informed me of my rights and told me he was confiscating my weapon. I pleaded guilty to being a dumbass and begged him to let me go. After conferring with his supervisor, he said I could continue to the gate but minus my coveted wine cork puller. We eventually got to DFW and boy was I glad to be home, a free man!