Thursday, March 19, 2009

Don't forget the luggage.





Last week was a treat!  Dad (or Grampa to some)invited me, Aimee and Gretchen to Florida to visit.  It was a great long weekend, with lots of sun, time for sleeping late and taking naps, and a bonus trip to Dad’s friend Maxie’s house.


We had no formal plans for this trip, given that none of us was dying to go to an amusement park or anything.  We just wanted to relax and have a good time.  That left plenty of room for good books and contemplations on what’s happening on “Lost.”  Dad got into the mix too and offered up some folders of pictures and memorabilia.  Not only did we get stories of how Wynn’s Oil became a part of our lives, but we hit the jackpot:  the oral story of Grandpa Troyer’s plane crash backed up with a newspaper clipping from 1953.  In addition, Dad had the clipping from his (Grandpa was involved too) own plane crash in 1969.

I’ve spent the last 5 years studying History, and the value of oral history is significant.  It has one problem though.  It relies on the memory of the person telling the story and in more cases than not, that memory can be a little fuzzy.  To obtain the oral recollection and have a primary source to back it up is remarkable.  

In 1953, my grandfather was in the process of relocating his family back to New Jersey after a difficult year as a Wynn’s Friction Proof distributor in Huntington, West Virginia.  He had managed to obtain a distributorship in Northern New Jersey, and purchase a house only a block away from the last house they had lived in before the brief move to West Virginia.  The year in Huntington had not been particularly lucrative and my grandmother was miserable, most probably because she was separated from her large family and other familiarities.  I wouldn’t say she was an adventurous person anyway. 

No matter their economic status, my grandfather always managed to hang on to his airplane.  He had been a pilot since barnstorming days and loved flying the way my Dad loved driving cars on race courses.  At the time of the move back to New Jersey, the plane was actually useful, since many trips back and forth were necessary in order to finalize the transfer of the West Virginia distributorship to its new custodian.  By August, Grandma, Aunt Trish and Dad were comfortable in the new house at 12 Western Ave., Chatham, and Grandpa was on one of his last trips back to Huntington.  I can just imagine the conversation, “I’ll only be a few days…”

The weather on the return flight may have started out ok, but at some point, Grandpa needed to drop down below the clouds; most likely because he wasn’t really sure where he was.  It was an overcast day and suddenly Grandpa realized that he was too close to the ground, a ridge was looming ahead and he needed to land immediately, regardless of the lack of an airport.  I’m not sure whether he really knew it, but he was over rural Pennsylvania.  The topography was less than ideal and the only spot available was a field in New Bloomfield, Pa.  The area has rounded hills with flat spots where farmers have carved out farms.  It was that field or hit the ridge.

In the process of setting the plane down, Grandpa smashed his face into the dash and instrument panel of the small plane.  In addition he fractured 5 vertebras in his back.  The newspaper did not mention any other broken bones, though family mythology had mentioned possible damage to arms, legs, ribs, or collarbones in the past.  Either way, he was bloody and severely injured, and in a remote area.  Apparently staying with the now damaged airplane was not a good idea, because Grandpa proceeded to extricate himself and TWO SUITCASES from the plane.  (The suitcases will be a connecting theme later.) 

Now I don’t know about you, but if the majority of my facial bones are broken and my back is in tatters, I’m not so sure I could find the oomph to move, let alone worry about my luggage.  But it seems that those bags must have been very important, because Grandpa managed to crawl, or walk, or drag himself somehow to a farmhouse to ask for help.  No one was home, so he tried to hotwire some sort of vehicle (I do not have the clipping in my possession right now for reference), but was unable to do so.  After more laborious and I’m sure extremely painful effort, he found a farmhouse even further down the road where there were two women at home.  They drove him to a doctor’s office – I suppose that there was no hospital near – and then the doctor managed to call an ambulance to transport him to a real medical facility.  He was eventually transported back to Morristown Memorial Hospital in New Jersey…a place he would see the inside of way too much.  He eventually died in that hospital.

The result was that our Grandfather was never the same again.  He never let the extent of his injuries slow him down while we were young, but later in life a number of surgeries were necessary and some didn’t go well at all.  In the end he was felled by chronic pain and died when my son Alex was a baby.  I think his spirit lives on and was transferred in some supernatural way to my husband (or maybe that’s why I love him so), because I catch myself often thinking that things Gary does are very “grandpa-like.”


Fast forward to 1969.  Grandpa and Dad are in their plane, having just taken off from somewhere on some sort of business trip…(that part isn’t important right now).  Dad is the pilot and Grandpa occupies the right hand seat.  Dad realizes that the landing gear will not retract properly, which also means that it is likely stuck in some way and will also not go back down properly.  He asks Grandpa whether they should radio in and try to land where they are.  Here’s the very Grandpa answer:  “no, head for home…we have full fuel tanks and if something’s going to go wrong, let’s have it go wrong at home.”  So a few tense hours later they are on the approach to Morristown Memorial Airport and radio in their suspicions about the landing gear.  The tower says to make a slow pass to see if the controller can see anything with field glasses.  While this sounds a little primitive, it is effective.  They confirm that the landing gear is indeed not properly in place and that the nose gear will probably not support the plane properly.

So what should they do?  The tower instructs Dad and Grandpa to start circling the airport to burn off the remaining fuel.  They will notify fire and rescue personnel on the ground.  The fire trucks start arriving with lights and sirens, which attract lots of attention from people who are in the neighborhood of the airport.  People start lining up on the access road to the airport to see what’s going on!  Dad and Grandpa can see all of this from the air as they fly in circles.  Dad asks the tower if they are selling tickets?  Can he get a cut of that action?  In the mean time, some one has decided that it would be a good time to call my mother and grandmother and have them come to the airport.  Why?  What if something really bad happens?  Do they really want to see?  I suppose the reason was so they could authorize emergency medical treatment???  It didn't matter though because all the traffic made it impossible for them to get there before the landing.

It’s finally time to land the plane, and things go exceptionally well.  Yes, the gear does collapse, and there are some sparks and a few tiny flames that quickly go out on their own.  However, the overzealous firefighters start spraying water everywhere.  They soak the tail, inside the tail, the cockpit, and the very expensive instrument panel.  There was no fire in the cockpit or anywhere near the instruments.  There was no fire in the engine.  There was $25,000 of damage in 1969 dollars.  Dad was livid.  He climbed out of the plane right away unhurt with a stack of wet Oreo cookies and TWO SUITCASES.  He offered the cookies to the nearest fireman.  Not a very good day.  I can’t say whether this crash made Grandpa’s previous injuries worse, but I’m sure it didn’t help.  No particular connection to any of his future decline was blamed solely on this incident.

Troyers never leave their luggage behind.

We now have Dad’s narrative (which all three of us will expand on), the two newspaper clippings, the possibility of finding additional news reports, a letter Grandpa wrote to an insurance company about service he received in claiming damages, and we know when and where it all happened.

There is way more to tell – like the part about Morristown deciding they should invest in firefighting equipment specialized for aircraft emergencies after the 1969 incident, and I’ll tackle that after graduation in May, but we have been able to identify the likely location of the field where the 1953 crash happened and plan to visit the area in April…on my birthday.  It’s an appropriate birthday activity for a historian, don’t you think? 

Monday, November 3, 2008

Would you like fries with that, Senator Clinton?

It seems we are all bound to have our brush with fame.  This weekend, it was Alex's turn.

Alex got a job at George Mason working in the Johnson Center food court as a cashier.  We've been very proud, because he has had a very good attitude about going to work, saving some money, and appreciating what it's like to be a  "working stiff."  He works two days a week, Saturday and Sunday, from noon to seven.  Sometimes we give him a ride, and sometimes he rides his bike to work.  It's only two miles from our house.  He says he's saving money to buy a car, once he gets his license.

Lots of times he comes home on Sundays and tells us how slow it was, because a lot of students go home for the weekend or eat at the big dining hall instead of the food court.  The food court is just like the ones at the mall, with a central pay station  after you pick what you want from Burger King, the pizza place, chinese place, sub stop, or salad bar (I know - you're singing the Sesame Street song about what doesn't belong here...).  Occasionally he even gets sent home early if it is so dead that they can't think of things for him to do.  The cashiers have to restock the cups, napkins, straws, etc... when it's slow.

Yesterday, on Sunday, Gary and I were at home watching our DVR recorded Formula 1 race - (woo hoo congrats to Lewis Hamilton!) - and we noticed that it was 7 :30 and Alex wasn't home.  It really shouldn't take much more than 1/2 an hour to ride home...hmmm...what's up?  Around eight I was beginning to get a little more worried.  Gary and I ate our dinners and Gary said he would go out to see if he could find Alex after he finished.  Did he go to his new friend Ben's house without calling us??? Normally I'm not a worry wart, but he was running really late.  On top of that he had left his cell phone at home because it wasn't charged up.  Yes - he did get quite a talking to about that.

Well - around 8:15, in pops Alex more excited than I've ever seen him.  He can barely get the words out.  We manage to get him to calm down a little and find out that he worked late because it was unexpectedly busy and the other Sunday cashier was on break at 7 when Alex usually leaves.  Alex volunteered to stay a bit until the other guy came back.  While he was working that extra half hour, who decided to stop by the Johnson Center for a cheeseburger - but Hillary Clinton!  Now, I knew that she was going to be on campus on Sunday, but I hadn't mentioned it to anyone because I didn't know what time or exactly where she would be.  I didn't anticipate that she would want a cheeseburger from Burger King.  I only knew about it because my office assistant is a student who is very involved in the Obama campaign.

Alex said that there weren't many people around, but the staff were told not to ask for photos.  So I don't have a picture of my son selling Senator Clinton a cheeseburger, but he did tell me that she used a credit card and he did recognize her.

He said, "Thank you Mrs. Clinton, have a nice day."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bring a Towel

Last Saturday was Gary's birthday. He's 49 now. The good part is that he's not 50. There's just something about reaching that number which I'm sure will make him feel old. The best part about this birthday though was that I tried to plan something special and it worked out nicely. Now, I'm not usually very good at birthdays. Parties usually freak me out, I'm a wreck if there's more than 2 or 3 extra people for dinner. A busy season at work and the final six credits of my MA don't help either.

This time, I ordered his present (no surprise because he asked me specifically for a particular woodworking tool) as requested and planned ahead for it to be at the store on Saturday. In a last minute stroke of genius, I decided that the best present would really be to have some of his favorite people around. He recently had remarked that he missed his friend Chris from New York and that inspired me to call and invite the Youngs to come and visit. I was pleased with myself because I knew that we'd have a great time with Chris and also that they were the most likely friends who would be able to travel at the last minute. Chris is a contractor who makes his own hours and his wife Joanne is in school right now...taking a break from the working world.

On Friday, I arranged my day so I could leave the office early and try to get some cleaning done at home. Of course everyone saw right through me there, because its a well known fact that I only clean when people are coming over. I was able to keep the identity of the mystery guests secret though and Gary was suitably surprised. He thought it might be his sister Roz who was coming to visit. Roz often travels through Washington and manages to arrange to stop here, even if it's not a complete day. It was late though and other than a rather late trip to Wegmans, we didn't do anything Friday night. We were even too tired to play cards.

The big day, Saturday, arrived nice and sunny and not too hot. I planned a day on the boat since Chris also likes boats and Joanne and I go along for the ride easily. We got a reasonable start, and even got to have Jenny along with us but on the way to the marina traffic for one of the bridges over the Potomac is all backed up. [Alex was working at his new job...a story for another day...] In an effort to avoid the traffic, we ended up wandering through old town Alexandria , going the long way around to James Creek (and having to stop at CVS for tylenol). Oh, almost forgot - we had breakfast at Bob Evan's...something we hadn't done for quite a while!

Finally, we're at the marina, we unbutton the boat and head to the gas pumps. The price of filling up the boat is always shocking, but its a little better this week than last. I know that won't last though....but there's not much more time left to the boating season anyway. We leave the gas dock and start out toward the river. We're about 3/4 of the way to the main part of the Potomac, when a coast guard boat decides to power down a little past the appropriate buoy which means....you guessed it....big wave over the bow of our little boat. Jenny and Chris are soaked, Gary's standing behind the wheel, so he escapes except for wet feet, Joanne is protected by a seat, and I was looking for something near the glove box area and was able to minimize the amount of area which got completely drenched. Now would be a great time for towels wouldn't it? But of course, I have forgotten the towels for the boat. The reason for the oversight? They were getting washed at home. Why? Because the last time we were out here the same thing happened. Different boat made the big wave, but the result was the same. Somehow though when stuff goes home from the boat it has trouble making it back. Usually it takes at least twice before I remember everything.

Well, even though everyone was wet we all had a good time. We cruised down to the Occoquan, debated over ice cream or french fries and decided to try to get home in time to pick up Alex from work. We did, made supper (thanks Joanne for the help!), had birthday cake and played cards and drank till it was way past our bedtimes.

The best part was as Gary was falling asleep. He says to me, "best birthday in a really long time."

Too bad though that he had to go to Salt Lake City the next morning and Chris and Joanne had to go back to New York. We made plans to get together in January. My attic needs more insulation, and Gary needs a poker buddy.

Next time I'll be sure to remember the towels...I think.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

It's All Hollow, You Know

For this Labor Day, Gary and I took advantage of the “adult” age of our children and went on a day trip all by ourselves. Since we moved here, I’ve been scoping out various historic sites and other notable attractions in Virginia. One of the places on my list (for a long time) has been Natural Bridge. It is just what it sounds like it is. It’s a large geologic demonstration of the power of erosive water flow. I’ve seen pictures of it, as have many people, since it is a very popular thing to photograph and artists love to paint it as well. In this case, I wasn’t satisfied with pictures; I wanted to see it in person. Frankly, it would also function as a destination point for a very long cruise in the car. Everyone knows that I love an excuse for a car ride, and the area of Virginia where Natural Bridge lies is near the Blue Ridge Parkway – one of the more beautiful parts of the state.

We got started as early as could be expected, given that this was the last weekend of the summer…and Gary was not as enthusiastic as I would like. He sometimes has to be prodded into motion for activities that are highly likely to turn into a boondoggle to a tourist trap. I say that tourist traps can be fun and educational if you head in with the right attitude. If it’s likely to be cheesy, embrace that, tease it, revel in the absurdity, and laugh at it. We can also learn from its mistakes and by recognizing those shortcomings, appreciate the value of our own education and remember how we can help to correct or fill in missing information when we bring someone with us to one of these places. So, after a quick stop to buy some necessary car care items (you can never have enough terry cloth rags- and they were ON SALE!) we headed southwest through the Manassas Battlefield toward the Blue Ridge.

Around Washington, Virginia, we were hungry for a late breakfast and decided to stop in this little sleepy town. It’s very sleepy, especially on a Sunday morning. Washington, Va., is the home of the Inn at Little Washington and is a highly regarded Inn and gourmet restaurant. Now, we weren’t really in the mood for something that fancy, and certainly not dressed for it. However, our wonderful GPS machine informed us that there was “country kitchen” type of diner in the same area and the historic sort of flavor to the town made it seem like an ideal spot to stop. It’s a beautiful little town, and the Inn looks beautiful. Remember though, the famous Inn is not our destination of choice at this point. Ultimately we were disappointed, because the small diner that was advertised as the “place where the locals eat,” was not open at 11am on Sunday morning. One lost sale for Washington, Virginia then. Back to the car.

GPS identifies Diana’s Country Diner in Luray. We’ve decided to take the turn southward at Luray since Gary’s former employer has a farm in Luray. No, we won’t see the famous caverns today – mostly because we’ve seen them about three times before and would love to show them to you if you visit us, but we don’t need to see them again today. As we enter Luray, we have a fun moment remembering all the trips there during the Grand Challenge years. Many, many weekends were spent in Luray while Gary was developing and testing David and Dexter for the DARPA challenges. It turns out that Diana’s is now the Southern Station Diner. It looks just right from the outside and we were not disappointed. Excellent breakfast…the home fries were particularly yummy. Now, hunger satisfied, we’re on our way to make a quick stop at Paul’s farm. I think Gary momentarily forgot about the rough driveway to the farmhouse, because certain sports cars just don’t belong on rutted gravel roads. After we gingerly made our way as close to the house as possible, we saw through the fence that there weren’t any cars in the yard, and this was a sure sign that no one was home. On to Natural Bridge!

Note here: I had thrown a small bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, and change of essential clothing items – so that if we got too tired, we could find a place to stop. It will take at least 4 hours to reach Natural Bridge, which means at least 4 hours to get home. GPS tells us that we could arrive in Natural Bridge by 2:30 or so, but we will have to take the highway to do that. The entrance to route 81 was nearby and we were quickly on our way south.

Here’s where the title of today’s post gets its meaning. We’ve already spent time in Luray, which is home to some famous caverns. These underground caverns are the result of underground water features wearing away softer parts of the limestone, leaving caves and eventually the interesting stalactites and stalagmites which make them attractive places to visit. Just down the road from Luray on state route 340 there are the Skyline Caverns, and as we drive toward Natural Bridge we pass at least 2 more caverns advertised on those highway signs that say “attractions at this exit.” Even Natural Bridge has caverns! As we are driving, Gary makes a very astute observation: Virginia seems to be full of caverns! That means that the whole place must be hollow – liable to cave in at any moment. We find this very funny and dissolve into childlike giggles. This is the sort of moment that I used to have with my mom – and hope that some readers will identify with this and others yet to come.

We pass though a small rain shower, which elicits a promise to help wash the car later, and arrive at the exit for Natural Bridge. The road is lined every so often with signs for other attractions, which have likely sprung up as a result of the popularity of the Bridge. There’s the dinosaur park, safari park, and “foamhenge.” The safari park is the only one of value in my opinion, because there are real animals there. You can get buckets of food and the giraffes and somewhat friendly animals will eat out of your car. Information from our friend Pindar though warns us that said animals might dent your car, so we stay away. The dinosaur park is basically prehistoric animals carved out of Styrofoam, painted a la movie sets. Since there are mandatory charges for all these things, we decide our money might be better spent at something a little more “real.” Foamhenge is a scale model of Stonehenge, made out of; you guessed it, stiff foam – like the dinosaurs. Who thinks up this stuff? Why does this need to be here? No way am I going to pay to see that. I have trouble imagining how they can possibly convince people to pay for this. Can you really make a living by creating stuff out of Styrofoam for people to look at? Well, the ride is beautiful anyway.

We see lots of signs for Natural Bridge and get to the turn where we are supposed to enter the parking lot, but miss it while we are trying to discern exactly where you are supposed to turn. Oh well, we’ll just go up the road a bit and turn around. OK! We’re here! There’s a very obvious building where you go in to buy tickets. Uh oh, the ticket counter is in the middle of a very tacky gift shop. I have never seen so much stuff which has nothing to do with the attraction you are actually there to visit. Gary heads in to check how much we are about to get soaked for. I need the restroom. Now, we have noticed big tour busses in the parking lot and this means that there are the potential for substantial numbers of people at this place. Do you think they could make a ladies room with more than two stalls? While there is a sign that there are more restrooms down one level – near the entrance to the path to the Bridge, I find that I would rather take my chances closer to the entrance, because it’s not clear when exactly you have to present your ticket to show you have paid. I’m in line for the bathroom so long that Gary looses track of me. He then asks, “Do you know how much this costs?” I do, but emphasize that this is not a national or state park, that it is private. He also wants to consider the other available sights. It seems that as well as the Bridge, you can also see the Caverns, the Wax Museum and Factory, or the Toy Museum. They have combination tickets. For $36, two adults can see two attractions. Ok, which two? Well, of course we are there to see the Natural Bridge and the nature walk is included with that. Caverns? Gary isn’t real excited by them, and I don’t relish the climb back up the advertised 34 stories. Sounds like too many steps to me. If Gary was more enthusiastic, I would have done that, but his lack of interest only fed my laziness. Toy Museum? Nah, nothing they have posted makes it look very interesting. Wax Museum and Factory? Ok, let’s do that. I have a special place in my heart for hokey wax museums, namely one in Harper’s Ferry. So we whip out the debit card and plunk down $36 to view Natural Bridge (the nature walk, Indian village, lost river, and waterfall), the Wax Museum and Factory…and the possibility of staying for the evening light show and “story of creation” presentation.

It is now around 3pm and the Indian Village on the nature walk closes at 5 while the Wax Museum stays open until 6. We decide that we will see the Bridge first along with the nature walk and Indian village and then return to see the Wax Museum. We are prepared for quite a climb down to see the Bridge since they tell you at every

corner how many steps there will be. There is a shuttle bus, but going downhill isn’t my problem – it’s the uphill part. I suggest that we walk down and return by bus. I’m really thinking that there’s going to be a lot of walking here…my imagination is remembering past experiences like Neuschwanstein in Germany. Well I’m glad I didn’t worry too much, because the trip down the stairs is relatively short. A nice gentleman who takes our first set of tickets meets us at the bottom. We see a sign ahead with some information and just pass that when…THERE IT IS! It sort of jumps out at you. Gee, I thought we would walk a little longer…


We take our required pictures and then start down the nature trail. It is a very easy walk. It was a little humid though, but it’s very nice. There are lots of tourists around but since it’s late in the day I’m sure it’s not as crowded as it could be. The distances to the remaining features of the nature trail are measured in feet, so nothing is very strenuous here. I highly recommend that if you are going to pay to see the Bridge, please go all the way to the end of the trail where the falls are. However, be warned that signage and accuracy are suspect here. The first stop after the bridge is at the Monocan Indian Village. Almost no signs indicating what you are seeing and only a very few re-enactors are present. The woman making baskets is doing authentic work, but she’s about as far from a Native American as you can get. Casting is not a priority here. There’s a younger woman telling about the rounded huts called Ati, but she seems unsure of herself and doesn’t give out very interesting information. There’s one more guy near the entrance/exit making tools out of bone (source of bone???) and he fits the bill as an Indian even less than the older woman weaving baskets. Dr. Stewart from my Museum Studies class would have a coronary instantly.

Ok, let’s move on to the Saltpeter Cave. This has a nice sign explaining how saltpeter is obtained by boiling bat guano and bird – well, you know – in water and then eventually ending up with a crystallized substance which gets mixed with – oh I can’t remember and could look it up – some stuff so you can make gunpowder. This is interesting, because the confederates used this source of saltpeter to make what they claim to be a significant amount of gunpowder to support the cause. Of note though is that the condition of the little bridge passing over the stream to get to the cave is less than up to date. If this were a publicly funded place, there would be more warning signs and things would be in better shape. But…how is my money being spent here to improve this experience…hmmm…never mind.


Next we see the little hidden spring (called lost river), which is just off to the side of the brook that eventually flows under the Natural Bridge. Now they call this a lost river because they can’t find the source of it. It’s obvious that it’s related to the stream

nearby and I’m not really sure why it would be important to know where the source is…but what is funny is that they call it a river. It’s a little spring, that’s it. It flows underground and looks and smells very clean and clear but you just can’t call it a river. It would be positively absurd to call it a river. Unless you were telling someone to “cry me a river.” Then maybe the descriptive volume would fit. It makes me wonder how big Spit Brook is in New Hampshire. If Spit Brook is bigger than this, I’ll never believe another tourist flier. Ok, yes I will, but what a lesson in exaggeration. I’m having lots of fun picking on this stuff and wishing I had my sisters to laugh with about this. We would be insufferable as a group here.

Ok, now we follow the path beside the stream/brook/creek (whatever) to the falls. Very pretty. Combined with the Bridge – it’s ok. Still, it’s a lot of money for something that really should be free. I wish that I had a better feeling about how they’re spending the money…not a non-profit I guess. Walking along side the water we see some fish and some tiny snakes in the water. The water is quite clear and probably pretty clean. It’s not very deep, but it flows over a lot of rocks that make it so there isn’t a lot of suspended sediment like you see in the rivers up near Fairfax. We took time to look at trees and try to identify them and really enjoyed being outside together. All in all, I guess it wasn’t too much to pay after all.

We arrive back to the base of the many steps just as the shuttle bus is getting ready to leave. Gary nicely agrees to ride back up to the top…humidity you know…and we head over to the Wax Museum. I’ve just realized that capitalizing that makes it sound like it’s a museum of wax, but no, it’s a museum with wax figures in it. Why is there a Wax Museum here? Well, they have a factory to make the figures here, so I guess they decided they needed to have some of the figures on display. They also let you see part of the factory. We go down to the factory level first and learn that wax museums don’t use wax anymore. They use some sort of plasticene. Well, there’s one mystery blown out of the water. Apparently this a fairly good factory for “wax” figures, because they have lots of pictures of places they have sent their figures. The factory tour takes about 15 minutes tops. It has some buttons you push so you can listen to a description of how they make the figures, but not much else. There are basically two rooms with lots of heads. Most of the faces are just generic male or female. This place does do a few “personalities” but mostly seems to provide stock figures for amusement parks and such. Fancy mannequins if you ask me. Ok, lets go see the “museum.”

Last time I checked, a museum is supposed to have some sort of basis to the information it provides you. Boy this one is taking liberties. Let’s start with the first major display. Adam and Eve are depicted in the remnants of the Garden of Eden (I say remnants because they are both wearing leaves and are covered up). I think we are supposed to gather that the snake/serpent has done his dirty work already. He’s there hanging from a branch along with a mountain lion type of thing and a stuffed deer. Apparently Eden was somewhere in Appalachia, because that’s what it looks like. Eve has long blonde perfectly coiffed hair. Adam looks like an Adonis, with perfect wavy light brown hair and a killer body. Scandinavians apparently populated the cradle of civilization in the Middle East.

The next few scenes are equally unbelievable, but harmless. We go to the Indians and Native legends about the Natural Bridge next, then to George Washington carving his initials in the wall of the bridge (can’t figure out how he did that by the way…it looks like it would be so hard to do – in the place they say he did it – why would he bother? I suspect a fake, but there’s no way to get close enough to the actual thing to tell) and finally we visit with Jefferson writing the Declaration of Independence. They nicely give credit to the other contributors (Adams, et. al), but Jefferson’s complexion bothers Gary. He thought they made TJ too dark. There’s a freedman’s cabin with not enough signage and a story about how he freed a woman who came to him as a slave, lived with her as her husband (or rather she was the wife), and then when he freed her she took off. No evidence to back up the story, but believable. No way to know whether the wax figures resemble the people or not. A mountain still is next. They could have spent a lot more time on this. An educational goldmine squandered. Oh my, we see a famous bear hunter now…who killed somewhere between 99 and 350+ bear. That’s a big difference. I’d like to see a more reliable

number or none at all. It’s like saying someone might be between 8 and 80 years old. More accuracy or facts, or something please! Now it’s time to get called up for the Confederacy. After a recruiting scene with one measly poster…no information of substance, we are lead into a parlor scene where Gen’l Lee is consulting with Jeff Davis and Stonewall Jackson. We are told what a statesman Lee was, but we aren’t provided with any biographical information or history at all. Since this place caters to foreign tourists, wouldn’t it be a good idea to at least pretend to teach them something? I’m not even suggesting that they include, say a Union soldier or something, but could they at least tell us when Lee lived? Which brings us to the next scene. A generic Civil War life size diorama with not a single sign or voice over to tell us why we are looking at it. There’s snow on the ground. Why? Is it winter? Why – please just tell us when and where we are! As you can see I’m quite worked up by now. We finish with the Civil War and head straight to the 20th century to see lots of Presidents. I no longer care. Bill Clinton looks almost a little larger than life, but this may be accurate since people did get bigger over time. It was nice to see that FDR was in a chair…that was nicely accurate. Not enough signs though, some had either their birth/death, or the years they served, but not everybody. But what’s this?! A door ahead at which we must wait until the sign says we can go in.

We are instructed that we will see a depiction of the Last Supper and that if we do not want to see it we can leave through the exit before it begins. Now last time I thought about it, there wasn’t a lot of action at the Last Supper. Lots of talking I’m sure, but what are they going to show us that we need to sit in what appears to be pews? Well…I’ll tell ya. The spotlight focused on a figure that is supposed to be Leonardo DaVinci. I’ll take their word for it since I’m not sure what he looked like. We get a voiced description of DaVinci and the great man he was which leads to a reveal of Jesus and the disciples having the famous supper. They tell us about the mood of the disciples at the Last Supper when Jesus told them what was going to happen. Spotlights on each one as they describe the reaction they believe Leonardo was trying to portray. Amazingly this part is less offensive to me because the whole thing is wildly speculative to as far as how someone might be feeling or reacting. Of course there are the biblical accounts to use as a guideline, but since it’s mostly about faith, there’s no need to get all worked up about accuracy or authenticness. We get a bit of crucifixion legend accompanied by wind (from fans) and the sounds of thunder. I’m thinking here that small children might find this frightening. Kind of like the fire coming out of the guy’s head my nephew drew for Sunday school. While I got the whole power of the Holy Spirit thing, I thought it a rather violent and distasteful way to depict the Holy Spirit. Power doesn’t always have to mean fire. And even if you say “fiery spirit” I don’t think that necessarily means it should be drawn as actual fire. Maybe lightning bolts or something. But I digress. Fire coming out of the head of some guy in a drawing by a child is not like going to a MUSEUM that should have a higher standard of presentation. My biggest problem with the Last Supper was that it didn’t fit. It wasn’t historically relevant to the area, and really didn’t have anything to do with Natural Bridge. I couldn’t figure out why they needed any museum there at all. I would have been happy if they had better signs on the trail, less junk in the gift shop, and a better Indian exhibit. The Indians and the Civil War facts at least had ties to the area. Please though, it could be done so much better.

Now after all my complaining you might think I didn’t have a good time. Wrong. I had a great time. Gary and I spent the whole day together, rode in the sports car, didn’t have to take care of anyone but ourselves – and essentially had a mini vacation.

We decided against staying for the “Miracle of Creation” lightshow at 9pm and headed north in search of a nice restaurant to have dinner. Once on our way, Lexington seemed like the best place to look, and we did find something very nice. The GPS helped us find the Sheridan Livery Inn. Secretly I was hoping that we might decide to see if they had a room, but it still seemed early. The food was great and we met some interesting local characters. They were very talkative. We finished dinner rather late…it was dark by then but decided that we would try to make it home and save the money that a hotel/motel would cost. We consider that there will be the lodges on Skyline Drive, and at the entrances and exits to the Blue Ridge Parkway or Skyline Drive, there are usually places like Day’s Inn, etc…

Up into the mountains we go, in the dark, keeping very alert for deer or bear (oh my…). We don’t see any bear. One deer, a possum, and something that looks like it belongs to the cat family are all we saw. By the time we exit at route 211 east, I am exhausted and start to fall asleep but don’t stay that way for long. The hard style seats (good for racing, not good for fat butts), and the stiff suspension have ceased to be comfortable. I’m glad when we finally get home. We are pleased to see that the children made their own dinners and didn’t order out. All was quiet and off to sleep we go.

Monday (Labor Day) started with Gary and Alex going to the Clifton Car Show and looking at all the local guys’ cool cars…sorry no pictures of that…and then heading out for the boat. We brought some sandwiches but not many snacks, and drinks. Since we started late (due to the Car Show), our “lunch” was at about 4:30. No matter, we’re having a holiday here! We threw out the anchor just south of Fort Washington and ate and when we were done we moved on down the river towards Occoquan. After stopping at the Occoquan State Park we moseyed on over to the town dock for Occoquan and found an open ice cream parlor. My grandfather used to make a joke about the $100 hamburger you get when you take a plane ride just so you can go out and you stop at another little municipal airport and get a junk hamburger which in itself isn’t too badly priced, but when you add the cost of the fuel to get to the little airport you’ve racked up a big bill. Well getting ice cream in the boat is like that. Hey, what fun is it if you can’t get ice cream? It’s our last day of summer, and we’re going to enjoy it, yes siree!

We get back onto the boat and start back to Washington, knowing that

a good portion of the trip will be in the dark. I’ve brought food for Zach with me and we are feeding him in what we thought was a slow zone, when the slow zone changes to an ok to go fast zone and a big boat comes by and makes a big wave and then the wave splashes over the bow of the boat…. and well, yes, Jenny and I got soaked. Not just a little wet. Jenny’s pants were so wet she just gave up and took them off since her colored underwear looked just like bikini bottoms anyway and sat under a blanket for the rest of the ride. I had on shorts and wrapped myself in a towel and it wasn’t bad at all. In fact we all laughed about it. Gary kept teasing that if we had a bigger boat then no one would be wet. But what fun would that be? It certainly wouldn’t make as good a story.

We arrived back at our slip at James Creek well after dark, hence the pictures of lights and everyone – especially Zach – had to use the facilities (well Zach just likes a tree), but you get the picture. In the dark, Alex’s sunglasses got dropped in the water, but that was our only real casualty. Nobody fell in, those who got wet had a good attitude about it, nobody was hurt, the dog didn’t get loose or poop on the dock, and the boat ran as well as it usually does. No dead batteries. All in all a successful day if you ask me.

Perfect end to the day was that since we had sandwiches at 4:30 and ice cream significantly later than that, and it was almost 10 o’clock, no one asked me to cook. Too bad Gary had to go to Colorado the next morning.

I can’t believe summer is over. Well, that means that fall is here and I’m one step closer to finishing my master’s degree. Always emphasize the positive.






















Thursday, November 15, 2007

Life and MCM

Recently, a short clip of a performance I was in was found on YouTube. This got me to thinking…


Everything I needed to know I learned in…(not Kindergarten but…) the Morris County Militia.

There is a famous poem written by some equally famous guy, whose name I can’t remember, which says that all the important facts of life he needed to be a success were learned in Kindergarten. Well that’s great I suppose, and it probably is a good illustration of how the behaviors of most adults can be boiled down to examples of childish five year olds. Kindergarten however is a very short nine months of one year. I would argue that the nine years I spend in a competition level Fife and Drum Corps contributed much more than my first year of public school. “Of course,” you say – but, hey, I had to start this somewhere.

Rule #1: Success will mean that you will have to leave friends behind.

(Caution lots of personal history in this section)

In February of 1972, I walked home from school to a friend’s house. While we were having the requisite milk and cookies in the kitchen, I noticed an odd musical instrument on the counter. How did I know it was a musical instrument? Well, it looked a lot like toy “flutes” I had seen except there was no end hole to blow in. I asked my friend what it was…she said, “That’s a fife.” Oh? Can you play it? She did. Not really great, but we’re talking second grade here. She told me about a group of kids who met in a local church hall and learned to play this thing. Did I want to come? Sure! An activity! Uh, oh…was it expensive? No, she said. Dues are a quarter a week and they give you the fife.

I have to be honest and say that I don’t remember how I convinced my mom to drive me to this meeting. I don’t remember her calling the friend’s mom to ask about safety, or cost, or anything at all. I just remember her driving me to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, dropping me off and saying she’d be back to pick me up later. I think I probably found my friend and followed her into the church hall. Wow – look, lots of kids I go to school with are here! How come I never heard of this? I obviously must live in the wrong neighborhood. I do remember that I was nervous the whole night about only being 8. Somewhere along the line someone said that you had to be 9 to join. I wasn’t going to be nine for another 2 months. Would they let me in???

The fifers were almost exclusively girls. Drummers were usually boys. This is just the way it was. It’s 1972, and gender roles in suburban New Jersey are still pretty conservative. No problem for me, I was way too small to play a drum anyway. No way could I carry the thing even if I wanted to. The fifers were set up in the hall with about 5 tables. There were 6 to 8 girls at each table and one instructor for each table. I remember two old (keep in mind that I’m 8 here) men and a few older teens who were the instructors. The tables served to group fifers in to learning groups. If you were at the back of the room you were in the lowest group. You probably didn’t know how to play and couldn’t read music. I was issued my first fife…engraved with “A51” on the end. What was that supposed to mean? I found out later that a bunch of black Bakelite plastic fifes all look the same if they’re left on chairs or tables and having that identifying mark was very important. What did the A mean? Maybe fifes are an A instrument. I’m not sure and it never really mattered. I just had to remember that I was number A51.

I really nice teenage girl was the teacher at my first table. She showed me how to hold the fife and told me not to worry about the fingers yet. Blow across the hole like you would a coke bottle, she said. Ok, I can do that. Do it all the time when the babysitter lets us have cokes on Friday nights when my parents are out. I spent the first night doing that – just trying to make a sound. At the end of the night, for about ½ an hour, they had us line up. Fifes in rows of four – gosh there were a lot of rows, maybe 8? I was put in the very back. The instructor told me just copy what everyone else does and don’t try to play. Just hold up the fife like everyone else. Wish she would have told me you start with your left leg. They ran through 6 songs and then sat down to hear announcements. The 25 cents was collected. Was I in? Wait a minute, I’m only 8. Nobody said anything. I didn’t volunteer information. My friend said to come back next Wednesday. Practice is every Wednesday at 7. My mom just started bringing me. I guess I was in….

I don’t know why, but I was really eager to learn how to do this. I would pick up the fife and play around with whatever I could do at the moment and found that over the next few months, I moved from table to table and was eventually placed ahead of my friend at Mr. Chiodo’s table. Head table. First and Second ranks. I don’t remember how long this took, but I do remember that I felt that she resented this in some way. We were never the same type of friends again. She later dropped out of MCM and eventually moved away from town. There were playground conflicts at school after I passed over her table to a higher one. MCM had become my place of success. I was able to get through the teasing, and childhood harassments of grade school because I was doing well at Fife and Drum Corps. There, doing your job (however it was defined) was rewarded. Even if you didn’t socialize with your corps members outside practice or performance…they had to respect your ability – as it was. If you did well enough to end up in the front rank…well, that was determined by how hard you practiced, and if you could “cut the mustard.” This was probably because if my next point, that the adults in charge made sure that no one suffered too terribly.

Thanks here to Mr. Hamm, who taught me the beginnings of how to read music. Reading music is like a foreign language. It takes time to learn, but can be very important down the road. Mr. Hamm’s table was the 3rd or so table on the way up the ladder. Honestly, he was kind of an odd guy but he did a great service by donating time to teach kids how to read music. I learned a skill for free that many have to pay for private music lessons to learn. And when I say free, you have look at that one little quarter we paid each week as a token of belonging. It surely didn’t pay for much.

Rule #2: Hierarchies are real world.

Once you’ve put in the effort to join a Fife and Drum Corps, and you’ve invested enough time to actually learn to play a little, you start to figure out that there’s a definite hierarchy. Really, this is very important, because real life will be like this. If you’re new, you’re not going to step in and be in the front rank. If you can’t play, you won’t be able to hide it for long. If you’re out of step, you’re going to get noticed for all the wrong reasons.

Morris County Militia didn’t have drum sergeants or fife sergeants who were assigned that position. There was a basic sort of seniority thing going on where the older kids helped the younger ones. The better players helped the lesser ones. Only the drum major and the color guard captain were identifiable. Those two positions were highly responsible and appointed by the director (as far as I could tell). There wasn’t any type of try-out. I also don’t have much knowledge of color guard, since I didn’t “hang” with them. They had different jobs and different things to learn. I sometimes wonder if people ever expressed a desire to be the drum major? How would that conversation go? "Hey, Mr. Flynn, I’d really like to be the drum major." I can’t imagine that. It’s just one of those things that happened. In the larger context of things, it didn’t matter, because I liked playing. I never wanted to be the drum major.

Within these sorts of performance based activities, there were the little hierarchies of seniority which really worked very well when there weren’t enough instructors to go around. What was really cool, was that the older kids looked out for the younger ones. Even if they wouldn’t have wanted to socialize with them outside of MCM, while they were with the group, everyone was treated like family. You might think your little brother is a complete screw up, and you wish he would go away…you might even razz on him quite a bit, but you wouldn’t let anything happen to him while you were on a trip. Between the older kids and the parent volunteers there was a definite atmosphere of guidance from afar. Most little things were decided among the kids without much adult involvement. I think though, that the major adult figures in the corps were very much aware of what was going on and making very astute decisions on when to step in. In this way kids felt that they were solving they’re own problems, with a safety net nearby. If you just couldn’t fit in, then you probably didn’t belong there. If you cared enough and wanted to be part of the group, you’d make changes in behavior to be accepted.

Rule #3: Don’t be late – EVER

This is really more about embarrassing yourself. So there should also be a sub title here that says, “Don’t forget anything – EVER.” When you’re part of a larger group – and we are all part of larger groups in the real world whether we like it or not – you can’t let your situation drag the group down. You also can’t think that you are more important than the group as a whole.

In the world of MCM there was nothing worse than being late. If the bus leaves at 4am, you better be on it. The funny thing is that I remember tracking down late people quite often. In fact, I remember being hustled out of my own house for a muster in Connecticut at about 4am by Mrs. Flynn. I also remember the intense embarrassment of boarding a completely full bus… not a seat left, and knowing I was the reason the bus was not moving. That sort of thing usually only happened once for someone.

When it came to keeping track of stuff, no one did this for us. Everyone down to the youngest person was in charge of their own stuff. If you screwed up, and didn’t have part of your uniform, then you’d have to endure the yelling, and general wrath which would ensue. I’m glad my parents didn’t make any effort to keep my stuff in order. I learned really quickly that if you didn’t have your stuff in order, you wouldn’t last long in this outfit. That is to say that I don’t think anyone was ever “thrown out,” they just decided they couldn’t take it anymore.

What difference does this make? It is part of learning that a certain part of your life will be lived as part of the collective. Sure, we all want to be individuals. Sure, “stick it to the man” is a great catch phrase. In reality, the “man” is necessary. A little chaos is fun, too much is destructive.

Rule #4: Nobody cares how hot, cold, or tired you are.

It’s hard to get excited about getting up at say 6am on a Saturday, knowing that by 10am it will be like 95 degrees in the shade, and that you will be wearing 4 layers of polyester clothing and a wig performing for a bunch of elderly tourists in South Jersey. That doesn’t matter when you have a larger idea of your responsibility to a group. When you’re a teenager, you’d probably much rather sleep in on a Saturday. However, when you belong to MCM you don’t have that luxury.

There are always trade offs. By belonging to a well polished and in demand Fife and Drum Corps, the miles of hot (or cold) parades, the frantic rush to get to the parade line followed by hours of boredom waiting for it to begin, and the countless days on a cramped bus were rewarded by the very intense but few moments of intense pride for a job well done. In order to arrive at that successful point in time an awful lot of less than exciting things had to occur.

For all four years of high school, I dedicated every Friday night to MCM practice. If I went out, would be after 9:30. Until I had my driver’s license, I don’t thing anything much beyond a slumber party was possible. Did I miss something? I might have, but I gained so much more. All those practices (and the almost nightly ones in the summer as well) added up to producing a superior product which opened up other possibilities. By the time I graduated high school, I could read music, I could play memorized music and perform a memorized marching drill at the same time, and I traveled more than most because I was good at it.

In the real world, there are weeks, and months, and years of endless chores. There are babies who won’t sleep, teenagers who won’t get up, and bosses who won’t listen. There are endless loads of laundry, and franks and beans every Friday. Why bother? You’re working for that day when your daughter plays “Sleigh Ride” in the top ranked symphonic orchestra, and it makes you cry.

Rule #5: It won’t last

This was the hardest lesson of all. In 1981, I graduated high school in June. I already knew where I was going to college, and it wasn’t going to be close enough to make MCM practices or jobs anymore. I was going to have to let it go. I didn’t realize how completely. In August, when we were informed that we were going to do our very last official job as MCM, I was shocked. There were probably rumors going around about it, but I had no idea. I was na├»ve that way. When I listen to the final show on the CD that was made from someone’s hand held tape recorder, I remember that I was barely able to play. I had tears in my eyes the whole time.

This served to cut a tie. Thanks to the other lessons, I packed up and moved away to school. I had been away from home. I had done my own laundry. I wasn’t scared to ride the subway. I got to class on time. I filled out all my paperwork and submitted things on time. I kept track of my stuff. I graduated.

I tackled other things with the same commitment I had for MCM. I received a first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do in 2003. I also knew when it was time to move on. I enrolled in a Masters program for History in 2004. I’ll get my degree in 2009. Does that seem like a long time for an MA? Sure, but in the mean time, I’m keeping track of my stuff and doing all those things that no one notices until they aren’t done.

Seeing the clip made me think I might pick up the fife again. We’ll see, maybe I can try to teach Jenny or Alex.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Eeek! A Mouse!

Now, everyone will have to understand that there's no picture of this story. As you read, you'll see why...

First some background information:

1. About 15 years ago, when Nana and Grampy moved into their house in Merrimack, there was an incident with a mouse. It was fall, and the mouse decided that coming inside might be preferable to staying outside for the winter. It was noticed by Nana - with a characteristic, "OOH, OOH, I see a mouse!" The mouse was then corralled into the dining room with various family members placed strategically to keep it from escaping. What were we supposed to do??? Chase it toward one of us who had a cardboard box. I don't remember who that was - probably Grampy - and he was supposed to catch the mouse in the box so that it could then be removed from the house. Well much yelling and excitement ensued and despite 7 or 8 people all trying to catch the mouse, it escaped under a counter or somewhere to be caught later in a more conventional trap. What made this so very funny was watching these grown people try to catch the mouse. Everyone fell into a heap laughing, which then caused Nana to have to make a hasty retreat to the bathroom. Use your imagination - she's had 4 children, she's over 65, - you get the picture. If you know our family at all, you'll be laughing right now just picturing this to yourself.

2. When Alex was about 4, we were having a discussion on a Sunday night (we were probably at Nana's), about the roles we all play in the family. We asked Alex, "What do daddies do?" He answered with a very concise list of the duties necessary for fatherhood. Dads go to work, go to school (Gary was working on his Master's Degree), sit in their chair (ie.: Lazyboy recliner), and catch mice. The rodent control portion of this list was due to the same fall influx of field mice (see #1 above) who also found the Nashua house to be cozy. Every year we would have a few come in and try to take up residence in the dropped ceiling of the basement. Being the man that he is, Gary spent much effort at discouraging them, catching them (and making sure they were dead), and disposing of them. Since this task was surely not part of my realm, I always made sure to display my thankfulness that he was so good at this unpleasant job. Alex must have picked up on this and forever memorialized one of the true parts of male parenting. Men must catch mice.

Now for today's chapter about mice...

We all get up very early during the school year, since the kids have to be at school at 7:20 for their first class. I usually wake up first, and pop my head into the kids rooms to make sure they are at least thinking about getting up. I had done this and was sitting in my comfy chair in the family room with Zach. He was behaving very nicely and lying peacefully - which was surprising, because I hadn't fed him yet. If there's even one person up, he thinks it's time for breakfast.

All of a sudden, he jumped up and scrambled across the hardwood floor into the kitchen. At first I thought that he must be chasing a fly or a spider - because he does that all the time. Catches them sometimes too! This time though, he was very persistent about something under the kitchen table. I looked but couldn't see anything at first and thought he was just having a spell of idiocy. He does have a tendency to bark and get excited about stuff we can't see or hear. Very often he seems quite insane.

Closer inspection revealed that there was a tiny tiny mouse under the table, huddling close to the wall. Now it was my turn to say, "OOH OOH a mouse!" Zach was doing a good job of scaring it into not moving, and I was now trying to think of how I was going to catch this thing and get it out of the house by myself. All the commotion woke Alex up for good and he came into the kitchen understandably puzzled. We decided to see if we could catch the mouse in an upended plastic cup. Now here's where it gets funny.

Zach was watching from one end of the table, Alex was in the middle closest to the mouse, and I was at the other end with a broom. I didn't want to kill the thing, just shoo it back under the table to make it easier for Alex to catch it. Zach was definitely also doing his part by making sure the mouse wasn't going to get past him either. After two attempts, the mouse managed to make it past all of us and hide under Gary's chair. Alex then was able to catch it under the cup and take it outside.

Now this is potentially bad, because we have to find out where the mice are. We also have to guess that since this mouse was so tiny, that there must be a mommy and a daddy mouse around too...and probably lots of brothers and sisters who are not welcome guests. Most likely, they are wood mice or field mice who are anticipating the colder weather coming next week - but we will have to make a good examination this weekend to stop any more from coming in.

The good part is that Alex has now taken one more step towards manhood. He caught a mouse!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Labor Day, 2007







Here are the newly minted licensed boaters. We are especially proud of Alex, who passed his marine safety test with 100%. He was the only under-age person in the class of about eight. Gary and Alex attended four classes of two hours each, at the harbor patrol headquarters in DC. The instructor was suitably impressed, presenting Alex with a t-shirt, pin, and waterproof document box (it's what you keep the boat registration in) for getting only the second 100% score in the class. Who got the other perfect score??? Gary of course. Since Alex isn't 16 yet, he can't drive the boat by himself, but once he is...We don't anticipate that he would have the opportunity to drive the boat alone here in DC, since the marina is considerably far from our house. Even Jenny isn't interested in driving alone to the marina...since it's in southwest DC - and we all know that she's "directionally challenged."

On Saturday the 1st (Happy Birthday to my sisters by the way) we finally put the boat in the water, after last minute adjustments to the new engine. I also slowed things down by going to the grocery store too, but we did make it to Gravely Point by about 3 in the afternoon. It was quite a scene, since Gary's the only one with practical boat experience. I've not a clue about boats. We backed the trailer down the ramp...all's well until we unhook the boat from the trailer. We're (that's Gary too) all used to dealing with lakes, which don't have much of a current - or even waves most of the time. Here we are putting a boat into the Potomac River. Yeah, that's right a river. What do rivers have? Oh yeah, a current. If you don't start the boat, you don't just sort of float there while the person with the trailer goes and parks the car. You start to float away. So at this point Jenny and Alex are in the boat, I'm standing on the dock with no way to get to them and Gary's getting ready to drive the car and trailer to the parking area. They're floating away from the dock out towards the main river and Gary doesn't want anyone to start the engine (it's brand new and we're worried about how it will run anyway). Luckily, the kids are able to paddle and grab onto another boat. Thanks to the other friendly boaters, disaster is averted and we tie up so that we can test the engine. It starts wonderfully under Gary's watchful eye, and needs little tuning. The transmission will be the sticky point. In fact that's just the problem. This boat has always had a problem with shifting in and out of gear. It does go into gear, with a little difficulty, and we start to venture out to the main part of the river. Our luck is short-lived though. We can't power up, so Gary wants to anchor just outside of the channel to work on the problem. Easier said than done. We have no idea how deep it is (and we suspect it is very shallow). It is indeed too shallow, and we are floating downstream and too close to shore. Attempts at paddling are fruitless, and we finally must accept help from a local jet skier. He speaks no English, but is friendly and helpful. General shouts and hand signals ensue...and we manage to get back to the dock. This time we will use our 100 foot rope and try out the forward and reverse functions of the shifter while holding onto the rope.

Once we've adjusted and tested as much as we can, we venture out again. This time things work much better. We catch a nice view of the Washington Monument at dusk and visit our marina. The marina isn't open (because it's about 6:30 by now.) We've learned a few lessons but also want to do some more adjustments. In the end it's probably good we couldn't leave the boat at the marina after all.

On Sunday, the 2nd, the boat stayed in the driveway. Gary and Alex worked on it, Jenny went to a baseball game with Nick (Pretzel boy). I went shopping at the mall...okay peanut gallery - my close friends and relatives know that I'm usually way to busy to shop the mall very much. I did get a new pair of sneakers (to replace the ones with holes), and new lenses for a pair of glasses. My broken watch will have to wait until the repair guy is in during the week. I find out that my broken watch will be cheaper to fix than to buy a new one, which I'm actually happy about. Gary bought it for me a few years ago and I love it. I broke the stem on it so it won't set properly. It's a solar "eco-watch" which never needs winding or a battery. Perfect for me...just have to get the stem replaced though.

For Monday, we've planned to spend the whole day on the water. We're going to put the boat in at Gravely Point again, and try to leave the boat at the marina if we can. Launching goes much better this time, with ropes properly in place to keep drifting under control. The engine starts and runs well, and Gary's shifter adjustments make everything work much better. We determine that we will try to burn through a full tank of gas and see what we can. Mistake for today is that we don't have any charts or maps. We're relying on our knowledge of the land, and know not much about what's in the water. Lucky for us, Gary's good at guessing and has experience with rocks and other likely things which might be in our way. We watch the other boats on the river carefully and only go where they go. We figure that if boats the same size or bigger than us can go somewhere, so can we.

We go up river to Georgetown, and then back toward the marina. We stop at the marina (a pit stop is in order) and try to get them let us leave the boat there. They aren't fooled by our attempts to act like we don't know what we're supposed to do. Calls to the boat surveyor and the insurance company aren't fruitful since it is Labor Day you know. We'll just have to pull the boat out one more time at the end of the day.

Next we decide to try to go to Hoffmaster's on the Occoquan. We know that the Potomac and the Occoquan are connected before you get out to the Chesapeake, but we're not completely sure where we're going. We pass beautiful scenery and Mount Vernon on the Virginia side of the river.

Just south of Mount Vernon, we check the gas and realize that if we don't really know where we are going we will have to turn around so as to have enough gas to get back to where the trailer is. If we knew for sure how far Hoffmaster's was, we would go there and buy more gas. In the end, we've made a nice round trip, had a picnic lunch on the boat, got a little sunburned (hey, we're getting our vitamin D here!), and were home around 5:30 for a nice end of summer dinner. I had some corn on the cob, and we even got the dishes done in time for ice cream at Peterson's.

Why do we always leave the most fund day to be the last one of summer? Lucky for us the weather will stay warm enough to use the boat into October, and depending on how fast it gets cold, maybe even into November. That's one small advantage to the south....in New England we'd be done with boating by the end of September, mid October at the latest.

We'll get the boat survey and inspections done, get the insurance straightened out and have the boat at the marina on Saturday....I hope. Then we don't have to monkey around with the trailer each time. We just have to drive to James Creek, park, and go.

Don't worry neighbors, the boat won't be in the yard much longer!

PS: Last picture, of a large brick building on the water, is Fort McNair. It's right near the marina and used to be a Naval College. It's just a neat building I like. (MLC)