Taking the opportunity to ride from Monmouth County to Columbia South Carolina as my daughter Tracie took my grandson Angus back to the University of South Carolina, I knew would mean a fun, exciting yet relaxing trip and an opportunity to spend some quality time with my youngest daughter. With Angus driving his own car down, and Chris his dad not able to get the time off work to make the trip last week, it was necessary for Tracie to drive the pick-up to transport all the accoutrements, clothes and furnishings which apparently are now necessary when a young man is off to for his second year at college. Keeping her company in the truck for the ten to 11 hour drive each way, and armed with junk food and drinks, games, puzzles, and novels to listen to, we were looking forward to the drive, stopping only for fuel or emergencies, and taking in the beauty of western Virginia, a far prettier way of making the trip than the busy, heavily trafficked 1-95.
What I didn’t realize was that this very wonderful, unforgettable trip, would in itself conjure up memories of three different time periods in my life, memories of happy times, exciting times, and, in this trip, hopes and dreams for the future of another generation.
It all started as we neared the Delaware Memorial Bridge and Tracie told me to search through the big of treasures she had brought and find the package marked #1. My eyes filled with tears as suddenly visions of 50 years and more ago flashed through my mind. I could suddenly see our station wagon, four kids sitting in the back …no seatbelts, of course….and a rag top trailer hitched on to the rear. That rag top magically transformed into a huge, (it seemed that way at the time!) double-sided tent where we six spent so many nights camping under the stars in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the desert around White Sands, New Mexico, the shores of the Atlantic through so many states as far south as Florida. In another year, the rag top was replaced with a large canvas tent, also with dual sides to make plenty of room for six sleeping bags at every campsite. They were wonderful memories, and those once little kids still talk about them today.
But every trip started with little numbered gifts. I’d wrap little mementoes for each of them, a coloring book, a comic book, a game, a toy. As we entered a state, I’d dole their gifts out so each could read the message on top: “open after you count five green cars and two trucks,” or “open after you see a dog in a car, or a diner on the side of the road…” Then for the next minutes, or sometimes half hour or more, the kids were cheerily calling out the things they had to find, then joyously opening the gifts and settling back to quietly enjoy them.
Wow, I thought. Tracie was going to have me count trucks, or cars, or wave to people in cars. She was treating me to what I knew my children loved when they were small.
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I was partially right. It the difference came in the things I had to know before I could open my gift! As I read my first direction, I knew it would be a fun trip, and a bit of challenge for my mind. The message read: “Open when you can name the man who settled Delaware in 1638!” Come on, Tracie! I know it was one of the 13 original colonies, I know the colony was name for Lord De LaWarr, the first governor of the Virginia Company, but I don’t know any other names! With a few hints, (Tracie had already done the research!) the information it was first settled by Swedes, and the first letter of the settler’s last name….M…I finally got it. Peter Minuit! The answer gave me the right to enjoy the package of Baby Ruth candy Bars neatly wrapped.
Maryland was easier. There are enough signs along the roadside to keep me informed that Larry Hogan was the state’s first Governor. A Republican. I answered that with ease and opened a LED cover lite she knew I wanted.
Virginia, one of my favorite states….eight different Presidents were born there… was the easiest. Or so it seemed. Name the state tree. Easy…the dogwood, it’s on their logo. The State Bird. Easy again, the Cardinal, again on every Virginia logo, sitting on a branch of the Dogwood tree. But the state flower? It threw me. I guessed all the spring blooms, determined with a hint from Tracie, it wasn’t a bulb flower, and finally accidentally hit on Dogwood, the right answer. Why would the tree and the flower be the same?
North Carolina caused a bit of controversy. Name all the US Presidents who came from North Carolina. Couldn’t think of one, let alone ‘all.” Narrowed it down with some hints from the all-knowing Tracie, and learned that Martin Van Buren, who I knew was the first President to be born an American citizen rather than a British subject, and James Polk, who I only knew was the 11th president, were both Tarheels by birth. The controversy came over Andrew Jackson, whom I was positive was from Tennessee…I’ve been to the Hermitage….but learned he wasn’t. The controversy is between the two Carolinas…he was born right on the border region and both states claim him. Research showed me that he himself claimed South Carolina as his birthplace.
I had a ‘gimmee’ if we had passed South of the B order, but since we since we had taken 81, I got to open a great little folding candle lighter without having to try to be smart.
But South Carolina was another tough one. “In 1954, Strom Thurmond was elected as a US Senator. What was so special about this particular election?” Really Tracie? I had just graduated from high school in 1954, I knew Thurmond was from South Carolina, and I knew he was a Democrat…isn’t that enough? What I didn’t know, but Tracie informed me, is in that election he became the only person elected to the Senate on a write-in ballot. And he did it with 63 per cent of the vote!
Even if I didn’t know it, my reward for opening the package was the best. A coin, similar to my collection of challenge coins I wear on neck chains; this new one recalls the honor, courage and commitment of a Naval officer or sailor.
The gifts had me come full circle. The times when we were a young family and enjoyed all our camping trips, the time in the 1980s when Tracie herself graduated from the University of South Carolina and was commissioned by the former Commandant of the Marine Corps as her parents stood so proudly (and tearfully) at her side. And now, the 21st century, and a reminder I was once again in South Carolina, this time with my youngest grandson, Angus, who, in three more years, will be commissioned at the same university where his mom was commissioned and carry on the Naval tradition of both his parents. They all make me so proud.
NEXT: University of South Carolina in 1980s and 2019