Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A New Trip

We are on another trip west, and here we are in our ninth day and I haven't had a chance to post anything! We are in Holdrege, NE at the moment. We were stopped by a state trooper last evening because the right headlight is out, so we have to get that taken care of today. But we had a wonderful weekend at Cape Girardeau, MO where we saw my granddaughter, Katie Shay, in the opera Cosi fan Tutte. She was great! I'll eventually post more information and photos. But here is one.
Katie is Dorabella, on the right. It was a very enjoyable production and Katie not only sang well, but she also acted well and proved herself a very good comedienne. If you know the opera, it is very silly and very funny. We were so glad to be there to see it!

DAY ONE (Monday, 1/16): We left Vermont in the early afternoon, took the Mass Pike to the Taconic Parkway and on down over the Tappan Zee Bridge to New Jersey and on to Swarthmore, PA where we spent the night with our friend Wallace. Ellen and Wallace had a good “catching up” visit.

DAY TWO (Tuesday, 1/17): We were heading to Ann Arbor, MI this day, to visit Ellen’s goddaughter, Ruthie, whom she had not seen for at least a decade or so. So we decided to take the PA Turnpike and then head up to I-80. Neither of us had ever visited State College, PA, so we stopped for a quick visit there. We found the Berkey Creamery on the campus of Penn State, run by the Ag program there. Good ice cream! I picked up a campus newspaper and there were several articles concerning Joe Paterno and the whole sexual abuse scandal there. There were excerpts of an interview with Paterno in the Washington Post, in which he confessed that when he heard about Gary Sandusky’s behavior he “didn’t know what to do,” and turned it over to someone else. And then I guess he just forgot about it. Sort of amazing. The president of Penn State had been holding “town meetings” with alums all over the state. While a minority of alums expressed concern for the victims of the abuse, a majority seemed to be outraged - not over that, but over how Paterno was fired! They asked the president, “When are you going to honor Joe?” Little did they know that he would be dead within a week.

We went on from there to Ohio, stopped at one of our favorite restaurants, The Aladdin, in Oberlin, OH, and spent the night next to Toledo in Perryville, OH.

DAY THREE (Wednesday, 1/18): We drove up to Ann Arbor and met Ruthie, Ellen's goddaughter, at her workplace, NA Publishers. Her company is in a new field of publishing – they create bound collections of articles/readings for use in college courses. A recent development is preparing readings to be downloaded to an iPad. Just a few days later we read that Apple is entering the college textbook field – you will be able to download an entire textbook to your iPad for $14.99, a huge savings. Plus, it will be an interactive textbook with videos, etc. If this succeeds, it will make an iPad obligatory for college students. We went out to lunch at a Bagger Daves burger place with Ruthie, and she and Ellen “caught up.” We extended an invitation to Ruthie to visit us in Vermont.

From Ann Arbor we drove across MI to I-94 and down to Chicago and on to Elgin, IL where my brother lives.

DAY FOUR (Thursday, 1/19): We stayed with Stewart in his guest room in his new little apartment, which seems to be working out well. Maggie and Jerry Hochburger came by in the late morning with pastries and we were joined by my niece, Susie, and her husband, Dennis, for a “breakfast party.” Jerry has just started treatments for colon cancer, and so far is feeling ok. We learned that Susie and Dennis’ son Ryan and his partner, Alicia, will be getting married this summer and hope to move to Seattle where Ryan wants to enter U of Washington, get a degree in computer science, and work for Google! After the “party” Stewart drove us up to Algonquin to see my grandniece Rachael Costello’s new home – what a place! Really nice! And then we had lunch at a Richard Walker restaurant in Crystal Lake, which was very pleasant. After a little rest back at the apt., we went over to see Becky at Stew’s old house and see the improvements she’s made there, especially in the kitchen. Lots of changes! In the spaces between things, Stewart devoured the Crockett genealogy notebook that Betsey gave me for Christmas – lots of new information about our ancestors going back to Huguenots in 16th c. France!

DAY FIVE (Friday, 1/20): We left Elgin with the threat of snow and sure enough, it started to snow in south Chicago, but it did not affect the road surface and we eventually drove out of it as we headed south to Cape Girardeau, MO. So we dodged that bullet! Behind us in Elgin, they got 8 inches. We stopped in Tuscola, IL for lunch and ended up helping a woman jump start her car. We went into a huge “Amish Barn” which contained antiques and a restaurant – but although open for business, no one was there. It was eerie. We decided not to eat there (would the food be fresh?). On the radio we learned about a documentary film titled “Oka” which features a remarkable tribe in Africa which has astonishing musical ability. When we arrived in Cape G., Katie was involved in a rehearsal for her opera, so we went to our motel, a Drury Lodge Motel, where we learned that our reservation had erroneously been made by an internet agent (who was probably in India somewhere) for a Drury Lodge in Atlanta, GA! And in Cape G., they were booked for the night, as was everyone else, because of a big country music concert! No room at the inn! They were very nice and found us a room up the road about 11 miles at another Drury Motel. I had to spend an hour or so on the phone straightening all that out. We were able to come back to Cape G for Saturday night, and got a room next door to Betsey and Rob Shay (Katie’s parents).

DAY SIX (Saturday, 1/21): We met Katie in the late morning at her dorm and we had lunch at one of Cape G’s nicer restaurants, Bella Italiana. Then we drove around Cape G with Katie and she showed us the sights, including an apartment complex where she hopes she can live next year with some friends – sort of “off campus” but still all student housing. Very nice looking, with suites, private baths, etc. Betsey and Rob arrived later in the afternoon and we hung out with them for a while and then went to eat at Cape G’s most popular restaurant, Brussards, featuring Cajun. Good food! Later we watched the returns from the South Carolina primary and the Republican turmoil they created.

DAY SEVEN (Sunday, 1/22): The day of the opera! After a generous and yummy complimentary breakfast at Drury Lodge, we went for a drive with Rob and Betsey before the opera matinee. We drove down to Cairo, IL, (pronounced “Kay-ro”) about 30 miles south, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and that town is a story in itself. The downtown is a ghost town.
Abandoned downtown Cairo, IL

I’ve never seen anything quite like it. An historic section of town still has lovely old homes from a former era, but many are empty and the town as a whole must be endangered.
Magnolia Manor, a faded beauty in Cairo

Last fall, the Corps of Engineers opted to break levees on the Missouri side to flood farm land instead of Cairo, and some thought they would have done better to wash Cairo off the map. When you Google Cairo, you learn that some people, at least, believe that the demise of the town has its roots in an old and persistent racism; others suggest that local land owners blocked economic development. Whatever the reason, it is one of the most dramatically “dead” towns in the U.S. The comments about it on line are very interesting and worth reading.

We got back to Cape G just in time to get bouquets for Katie and get to the opera, held in the beautiful, new, performing arts center at the River Campus of Southeast Missouri State University. There was a good audience and wow! The opera was really enjoyable, Katie was outstanding as a singer and actor. The opera, Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, is very funny, a totally silly plot, but with gorgeous music of course. Katie is a real comedienne. She had never had a role this huge before, never had to sing this much before, never had to act this much, be on stage this much – it was quite an accomplishment for a sophomore. She didn’t miss any lines, she had great stage presence, we were so proud. All the students did a really good job and it was a very enjoyable performance. It was in English, which we questioned in advance, but the reality was that it unified the music, the words and the acting so that the comedic element was very effective. The staging was good, the orchestra was good – there was really nothing to criticize as a student production, and the audience loved it. We were so proud!

We hugged Katie after the show and then she joined her many friends – she clearly has sort of a fan club – to strike the set and we drove back to Columbia (through heavy rain) and stayed the night chez Shay. A good day!

Katie with her proud parents after the show

DAY EIGHT (Monday 1/23): We got off to a fairly good start (8:45a.m.) and took a back road route up to St. Joseph, MO and then continued on U.S. Route 36 across northern Kansas. That took us past the geographical center of the 48 states near Lebanon, KS, so we stopped there. It was interesting in an unexpected way. What is a “geographic center?” A postcard describes it in this way: “It is the point where a plane map of the 48 states would balance if it were of uniform thickness.” Another description has four persons starting to walk from four designated points on the U.S. boundary, N, S, E & W. If they walked at exactly at the same rate toward the center of the U.S., they would all meet at this point at exactly the same moment. This point is marked by a stone pyramid with a plaque, topped by a flagpole and flag. That has some interest just by itself.
But what is even more interesting is the history and culture surrounding this spot. First of all, it was a while before anyone thought to commemorate this center point. When it was identified, it turned out to be in the middle of a pig farm. The farmer wouldn’t give permission for the marker, so it is located a short distance away from the true “center.” The residents of Lebanon, plus some 2,000 others gathered one day in the summer of 1941 to dedicate the marker. There was band music, speeches and high hopes that this marker would put Lebanon “on the map” and make it a popular tourist destination. It seemed to be working for a while. A motel was built nearby the marker. On August 7, 1952, 20,000 people came to this place from all over Kansas and 18 other states, to build an entire dairy farm in one day! It was called “The Hub Dairy,” part of a Topeka, KS radio station promotion. But, the motel went bankrupt in 1970 and the farm is no longer in operation. The “boom” never happened. The motel is still there – owned by Texas hunters who come once a year to hunt pheasants. Christians who have melded their religion with patriotism have discovered this spot and built a tiny chapel. Inside are six tiny benches, with a lectern holding a Bible, behind which is a map of the U.S. with a cross planted on it, and above a carved wooden sign which reads “Pray America.”
A literature stand holds evangelical Christian tracts. There is a book where you can write names of persons for whom you want prayers, and a locked box for donations. The entire chapel was heavily vandalized in 2009, but local folks restored it. We learned that the town of Lebanon has lost its schools, but it still takes pride in its “Center.”
We took a little walk while we were there - you get pretty stiff driving long distances – and discovered that the road was “gumbo.” That’s what the folks in Iowa where I grew up called mud with a high clay content that sticks to your boots and dries into concrete. The farmers had to use a hammer to knock it off the feet of chickens so they could walk. We had to use a knife to clean our shoes before we got back into the car, and later, at the motel, it took a lot of hot water and more knife work to get them clean. Ellen commented, “Now we know what adobe is like.”

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