Shock and Awe in Gettysburg

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gett...

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gettysburg

Our Nation’s Capitol   Part 2

I have loved Civil War History since I was a girl.  Every summer, as soon as school let out, I read Gone with the Wind.  Nerd you say?  Perhaps.  But, Scarlett and Rhett are the best and I will be the first in line should hoop skirts be brought back in fashion – just sayin’.  As an adult, I am awed by the terrible brutality of the Civil War and the way it shaped our nation.

I am particularly intrigued by the National Civil War Battlefields. Standing on the place where so many men fought and died is very humbling and it’s something I wanted my children to understand.  So, now that I’m in charge, I drag them through as many of these famous sites as I want. The kids roll their eyes as I mull over the museums, watch the films in the interpretive center and buy souvenirs.  They don’t put up much of a fight because I have the car keys.  Gettysburg was at the top of my list.

We arrived at the visitor center and decided to buy the guided auto tour CD.  As the desk volunteer scribbled a few arrows on a map, she explained how easy it was to follow and pointed us toward the door.  Nana and Grandpa said they would bring up the rear but got a late start out of the parking lot and we lost them on the first turn.  We circled back, came up behind him and tried to pass amid honks and glares from other auto tour patrons.  We got our vehicles back in line and made it to the first stop, which happened to be the only stop we followed in the order of the CD all day.

We were not the only vehicles having trouble navigating the tour.  On every street, cars driven by wide-eyed tourists were creeping along, driving on curbs, making abrupt stops and blocking traffic with three-point turns. People leaned and squinted out windows trying to read street signs. Most of Gettysburg’s homes had huge signs in their yards reading PRIVATE PROPERTY – NO TRESPASSING; definitely a wise move.

After listening to dramatized reenactments at the wrong sites, we eventually gave up on the CD and started pulling over wherever we saw groups of cars.  After questioning the other drivers about what they were looking at, we got back into our cars and listened to the corresponding audio track.  On a few stops we overheard tidbits from guided tours. That’s how we unintentionally found out that we were standing on the place where Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address – kinda cool; the kids were impressed.

We happened upon an observation deck, about 2 stories tall. I thought maybe from up there, we could figure out our map.  Nana doesn’t like heights so she and Grandpa stayed in the car.  The kids and I clambered up the stairway and joined a group of onlookers. Surveying the land, I was swept up in my grand love of Civil War history and forgot that I was traveling with 4 teenagers and an eleven-year old.  At the rail, I started saying something profound about the pivotal importance of the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War, when I heard my 13-year old gearing up to hawk a loogy off the deck.   In one of those moments that seemed to move to slow-motion, I heard myself saying “Nooooo Peterrrrrr….”   Too late – he launched the monster of all loogies.  This thing was huge and had a life of its own.  We watched in horror as it sailed out, was caught by a stiff back wind and returned, undulating and twisting, in our direction.  His older brothers ducked as it sailed over their heads for a direct hit on the shirt of the guy behind them. A stunned silence settled over the observation deck.  A woman awkwardly fumbled in her purse for a tissue. I broke the spell by lunging for the ear of the offender as the other kids sneaked toward the stairs.  I dragged the culprit over to make a shame-faced apology.  To glares and shaking heads, I backed my way off the deck nudging the spitter behind me.  We joined the other kids in their full-out sprint to the car, signaling Grandpa to start ‘er up. For once in their lives, my family entered a vehicle without a fight and we squealed away. The Loogy Guy wasn’t at our next stop – our disordered touring method turned out to be our salvation.

After conducting Loogy Guy surveillance, we hit a few more stops.  It happened to be Living History Day and we were treated with a blast from a real cannon, along with some amazing stories about the bravery of the 1st Minnesota Infantry. We sat on the top of Little Big Top and gazed down at the the Devils Den, listening to a tour guide describe the horror of the battle.  The kids were properly awed and I slowly recovered a few shreds of dignity.  With no further Loogy Guy sightings, we wrapped up a great day and set off for Washington D.C.  He’s probably written a blog about how some lousy kid ruined his day at Gettysburg.

Next up – “It’s Cherry Blossom Festival???”

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“Mom’s gonna kill you” Our Nation’s Capital Part 1

Those are not welcome words while trying to take a nap in the car on a cross-country road trip. Especially when followed by “Don’t do it!”, “You better not…” and “STOP, STOP!!”

After 40 road hours of driving four children for 10 days across 9 states, I needed a short nap. But before I get into that, I’ll back up a few months, to the planning stages of our family’s trek to Washington D.C.

School had just started in September and as I was reveling in my quiet house.  I had mucked out the kitchen from breakfast and shoved their exploding messes back into their rooms, and was enjoying a second cup of coffee.  The quiet was a glorious thing, but then my mind wandered to upcoming vacations and the return of the horde.  Thanksgiving and Christmas were not a problem as there are lots to do, but spring break lurked beyond the holidays.  Because Spring doesn’t arrive in Minnesota until May, spring break can be torturous. Christmas is over, everyone is sick of snow and the airlines jack up their rates to capitalize on our desperation.  The temptation to head south, south-west, south-east, or basically to any latitude below our own is irresistible.  So, being a forward thinker, I began plotting my escape six months in advance.

I have always wanted the kids to see Washington DC.  I love all the museums, monuments and government pomp and circumstance.  And best of all, most of the sites are free.  This particular year, finances were tight and I knew my husband would not want to leave work for a week or spend all that money.  Throwing out ideas for spring break excursions would really stress him out.  To skirt this potential road block, I proposed that I use my grocery money and any other funds I could manage to skim off the household budget and “give” him a week of peace and quiet.  He was skeptical but agreed not to stand in my way. My first victory was secured.

My next strategic maneuver was to invite my parents, who live in California, to join us on our trip.  I suggested that in lieu of Christmas gifts, they could help with the hotel rooms in Washington D.C.  They were thrilled and so were we, as we don’t get to see them as often as we would like.  My dad is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to traveling. Because of his work, he has been to Washington D.C. many times and enjoys acting as tour guide.  Everyone loves Nana and Grandpa and best of all, the kids are on their best behavior with them around.  Since my college daughter couldn’t come, I invited my niece, Megan, who also lives in California, to fill the female void for my 11-year-old daughter. Adding one more teenager to the mix is not that big of a deal for me, plus she would help to balance out the testosterone/estrogen levels.

Instead of flying ($$$) and renting a car large enough to hold all of us ($$$$), I decided to drive our own large vehicle and share the driving duties with my 17-year-old son. The total drive time from our home in Minnesota to Washington D.C. is 20 hours and 52 minutes.  I planned to have the car packed the night before and pick up the kids from school on Thursday,  arrive in South Bend, Indiana 9.5 hours later, and then on to Gettysburg, PA the next day.  My parents and niece would fly in from California to Washington D.C., rent a car and meet us at a predetermined hotel in Gettysburg, PA on Friday evening.  We planned on touring the Civil War battlefield all day on Saturday and then make the 2 hour drive into the city where we would see the sights and go on various tours for 5 days.  We would drive to Monticello, VA for a day at the home of Thomas Jefferson and then part ways, they to the airport and we back to Minnesota.  Simple, right?

The morning of our trip, I wrote the kids notes for early dismissal, planning to scoop them up 2:00pm, an hour before school was dismissed, to avoid the bus/minivan traffic. The kids were excited to get out of school and start their spring break before their friends and were all waiting eagerly at the curb. Entering a vehicle is never peaceful for my children, but the jostling for position and slap-fighting pretty much died down by the time we crossed the river into Wisconsin. I was excited about this awesome opportunity. Like the All-American family, we decided to play the license plate game with the goal of logging all 50 states before our return home in 10 days.  The mood was high and we were calling out states as we saw them and writing them in our little notebook.  I noticed that my 17-year-old co-captain was yelling out Illinois for Indiana and Iowa for Ohio. Knowing he was capable of reading, I suggested that he put on his glasses. He sighed, rolled his eyes and explained to me that after completing his mid-term exams, he really needed a break so he decided to leave his glasses in his locker at school. Apparently, his “break” also included freedom from seeing clearly enough to help Mom drive the 18 road hours to Gettysburg PA.  After a brief freak-out moment and  a few desperate evaluations of my Mario-playing 14 year-old as a potential back-up driver, I regained my senses, took a deep, resigning breath and embraced my new role as a long haul trucker.  Only 17 more hours to go.  We made it through the toll roads of Chicago and arrived unscathed to our hotel South Bend, Indiana.

I spent some time before our trip educating the kids about the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg.  We learned that before the famous battle, a common expression was “All roads lead to Gettysburg.”  Well, our road from Indiana lead us to Gettysburg, but I think we could’ve done without some of our new education.   I really like to use Google maps, but sometimes the most direct route is not the best route.  Our “road to Gettysburg” may have been the shortest, according to Google maps, but it lead us off the interstate and to a winding, two-lane highway with a little town every couple of miles.  There were no traffic lights in these towns, so to get travelers to slow down and spend their money, these good Pennsylvania mountain-folk decided to lower their speed limit to 40 mph and invest in lots, and I mean LOTS of entertainment diversions.  I have never seen so many “gentleman’s clubs”, retail stores with various paraphernalia to support “gentleman” activity accompanied by hundreds of lighted billboards making sure that travelers would be well-informed of their “gentlemanly” options.  After two hours of  “Hey, Mom, what’s an adult toy store?”,  “Did you see that ‘real live girl’ on that sign??” and “Mom, I’m a gentleman!” I forbid them to look out the windows leading to a car riot of monumental proportions.  I screamed, yelled and swatted my way into Gettysburg, PA and collapsed into the arms of my waiting parents.  The hotel had a pool so I dumped the scoundrels in for some therapeutic splashing and went to eat the candy in the lobby and to chat with the desk clerk.  As I whined to this unsuspecting girl about the length of time it took to get here, she informed me that no one takes that road and they all stay on the interstate and double back on the highway.   Locals are an excellent source of information. Someone needs to tell Google maps.

Next up –  Shock and Awe at the Battlefield   Our Nation’s Capital  Part 2,