August was insanely busy for me. In addition to taking the Magic Circle Summer Class with Diane Zinna each weekday from 9-10 a.m. and going to Table Rock Writers Workshop the final week of the month (when I missed the last three days of Magic Circle Summer), Russ and I made a road trip to the Great Lakes area. We traveled through seven states in six days, making stops for visits in four states.
We set out around 3:30 am. on Friday, August 11. On the way up the West Virginia Turnpike, we popped by to drop off some things for my friend Sharon Waters before 7:00 a.m. We drove the rest of the way to Michigan that day, arriving in Canton, near Detroit, around 2:30 that afternoon. Then we went to visit my Papaw Little’s younger brother Bill, over in Belleville, MI, a town where my mom’s family lived when she was in high school. Uncle Bill is 89 years young now. He and I spent a few hours going through part of a huge stack of family pictures that I took to him, because I have no one to pass them down to when something happens to me. He told me family stories galore. We had pizza for dinner with him and his youngest son, Ronald, who lives with him. I didn’t want our time together to end, but we decided that we would get together again on Sunday and do more of the same.
On Saturday morning, we left for the Toledo Lucas County Public Library in Toledo, OH. This marked my final event with the Women of Appalachia Project for now. I had learned the previous Sunday that my work was not accepted for the 2024 edition of the project, much to my disappointment. (Since then, I’ve bounced back, though, and choose to believe that there are things in the works that I don’t know about yet, things that are going to keep me so busy in 2024 that I wouldn’t have time to travel for WOAP. There is a reason for everything. I do hope to have work accepted in the project again at some point. If nothing else, I’m glad for some of my friends who made it in for their first time and will cheer them on in 2024.) I had the opportunity to read a poem that day that would go on to be accepted by Salvation South magazine entitled “What Johnny Left.” I wrote the piece in George Ella Lyon’s Many-Storied House Workshop in Abingdon, VA, the day after the Appalachian Writers Workshop ended in Hindman, KY. I can’t explain the intensity of this piece for me, but there is something about it that defines a part of my life that I’ve never really written about before. It is something I’m immensely proud of writing, in part because of the magic of George Ella herself. But also, because it is poetry, and that is something that I’ve been practicing a lot lately and can see improvements the more I work on it. It was a gorgeous afternoon spent in an awe-inspiring place, with beautiful people all around me.
After the speaking engagement in Toledo, we drove back to Michigan, this time to have dinner with one of my dear Duranie friends, Sandra Diaz. Sandra and I have been friends for several years but have never had the opportunity to meet. But while we were that close, she drove down from where she lives across the border in Canada, and Russ and I had dinner with her at Olive Garden in Dearborn. We talked and laughed and caught up like we had just seen each other the week before. It was so great getting to meet her face-to-face. We talked about the band some, but also about a lot of other things. We’re both seeing the band perform live this month and I’m hoping for great set lists for both of us!
The next morning, we got up early and went across the street from our hotel to Ikea. You know how The Mother Ship calls to me anytime I’m near one! We bought several pieces of furniture – a chair for Russ to sit in on the back porch, a shelf for Tasha, and a new desk chair for me for my birthday because mine was ready for retirement. As always, we had lunch in the restaurant. I had the kids’ plate with four meatballs, a spoonful of mashed potatoes, and some lingonberry preserves. I missed having lingonberry juice to drink, but sacrifices have to be made, sometimes. After our Ikea excursion, we went back to Uncle Bill’s and I was regaled with more stories about those Little men and their passion for cars, as well as other family stories. He looks and sounds so much like Papaw. There were times when I almost cried sitting there with him, but each moment was a gift to be treasured. I am so appreciative of those two afternoons with him. Ten years was too long to go without seeing him, for certain. I hope to do better in the future. We ended the evening at Cracker Barrel with him and Russ fighting over who would pick up the tab. Russ won, much to Uncle Bill’s dismay. Ronald and I just laughed and stayed out of the fray. I hugged him goodbye and cried all the way back to our hotel. You never have enough time to spend with loved ones during trips like that.
We left out early the next morning, around 5 a.m. on Monday, August 14, setting out for Chicago, about five hours away. It was an opportunity to visit Russ’ family for a couple of days. We got to spend time visiting his dad at the nursing home on Monday and Tuesday. Sandy and I went to see the Barbie Movie on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday, another Mother Ship beckoned me, so we heeded the call and went to the Ikea in Schaumberg, near where his parents live in Rolling Meadows, IL. No major purchases at that one, but we did stop at the restaurant for lunch. Lord, I love those meatballs! Russ’ Mom and I also went shopping at Michaels and we all spent time just hanging out and talking at the house. At the nursing home, his dad was in a big talking mood the second day – which rarely happens with Art – and he told family stories about his mom’s family for quite a while. I really enjoyed getting to hear about how they used to flip houses way before it was a “thing” to do so. We headed out around 5 a.m. on Wednesday morning again, this time heading home down through Indiana and Kentucky, into Tennessee, Virginia, and finally Tennessee, again.
Even though it was a bit rushed everywhere we went, it was so good to have some time with so many people we hold dear. I think I’m good on true road trips for a while, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of the time we spent on the way to or from to spend with any of the fine folks we got to visit with over those six days. Life is short, and I’m not getting any taller.