Over the years, my husband Jim and I have taken many memorable vacations. When our four kids were growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, we took many trips to Southern California where we had family. Most notable were our visits to Disneyland since the kids’ Uncle John—Jim’s brother—was a draftsman and designer for Disney Studios. He helped design some of the rides and features that became iconic in representing the magic of Disney… the Matterhorn Bobsleds; Big Al of Country Bear Jamboree; and eventually, Space Mountain, among others. We were treated to free admission and fast passes each time we went.
Later, when our kids were grown and raising families of their own, we were fortunate enough to venture farther, experiencing DisneyWorld in Orlando, Florida, and later, Mexico, aboard a cruise ship with them. There were also car trips on which our families caravanned to Sunriver near Bend, Lake Pend Orielle in Northern Idaho, and San Diego to spend time with extended family.
Later, we joined Jim’s brother, John Edwards (the same one who worked for Disney), and his wife, Vicki, on an Alaskan cruise and land tour to the Denali, going back a second time a few years later with my sister, Barbara (B.J. to me) and her husband Dwight Isborn.
Just a few years ago, our whole family—children and grandchildren—went on a Thanksgiving Hawaiian “cruise” where we cruised at night and found ourselves, the next mornings, on different islands where we could spend one or two days exploring on our own.
Jim and I have found that traveling with family is not only fun and entertaining, we get to see and experience much more than if just the two of us go. You see, Jim is content to be a “follower” on our trips… he wants the plans and itinerary to be laid out so that he can just sit back and enjoy without making any of the decisions. Consequently, I’m not a fan of having the responsibility for all of the travel plans on my shoulders, so I love having others with us who can help contribute to the planning and the fun.
For many years, B.J. and I have talked about taking a trip to Washington, D.C… a place that neither of us had been on our travels with our own parents. The dream of going never seemed to materialize, however, even though Jim and Dwight also were interested, as were John and Vicki, too.
B.J. and I have always been patriots; it was instilled in us as children by a father who served as a Douglas Aircraft field representative in the U.S. Army Air Force aboard A-26 bombers over Europe during World War II.
We were eager to see the national monuments, the centers of government and the national treasures. We wanted to honor the veterans that the war memorials represent and see the battlegrounds on which they fought. We also wanted to experience some of the living history in the first settlements our predecessors established. I personally wished to immerse myself in the history that I’ve read, and even written about, even though some of that history was harsh and not always fair to all.
With the realization that we were all reaching an age where we might no longer be able to travel and experience these things, I talked with Jim, B.J. and Dwight, and John and Vicki to suggest that we begin making actual plans to go on a guided tour that would allow us to see and experience all of the things we had talked about for so long. We all agreed that the time was right.
I notified Laura Hatch, who has used her wonderful skills as travel agent on our Alaskan trips and other cruises, asking her help to put together something for the six of us. We were willing to wait the year that we felt we needed in order to save towards a trip that we felt we might only be able to make once. We decided to go in the late spring/early summer of 2019. We wanted to see everything we could, so we opted for an 11-day package.
The excitement grew as we rounded the corner on 2019, but as the time approached when our deposits would have to be made, John, who is paraplegic, had not been able to have a surgery he needed done in time to heal properly before we left, and he and Vicki decided that they would not be able to go. It was not only a huge let-down for them, but for the rest of us, as well.
To complicate things even further, in late March, Jim fell and broke his pelvis in three places. Fortunately, he was still able to walk since the bones had not shifted, but he had to be very careful not to fall again. I bought a mobility scooter for him as well as a walker that he could use on the trip, and in April and early May, he underwent extensive physical therapy treatments to help strengthen his balance and legs.
On May 22, 2019, we boarded our planes. Our adventure had begun!
When we got to Washington, D.C., our accommodations at the Capital Hilton were wonderful and were only two blocks from the White House.
We had signed up for an introductory D.C. tour for the next day. In retrospect, if I had it to do over again, we probably should have used the time to explore on our own because much of what we saw, we visited again when our official tour began on the 25th, and it didn’t include time to see at least part of the Smithsonian… our one disappointment on the trip.
Early the next morning, we joined the long line of people who had acquired complimentary tickets to a tour of the White House from their Congressional Representatives, as we did. Many, many school groups were also in line, being shepherded by school chaperones. The excited chatter of the young students and the calls of the teachers and chaperones to maintain positions in the line as we waited outside, added to our own excitement.
Being able to see the Red, Green, Blue and State Dining rooms that have hosted so many world leaders and where so much history has taken place was humbling. The furnishings in each were unlike any I’ve ever seen except in pictures. As we walked through the hallways, we looked outside to see the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden and photos on the wall showed President Reagan dancing with Princess Diana; Queen Elizabeth helping President George H.W. Bush plant a tree on the White House lawn; President Franklin D. Roosevelt meeting with some Girl Scouts; President Jimmy Carter visiting with Hank Aaron in the Oval Office; and President Richard Nixon shaking hands with Elvis Presley, among others.
After we left the White House, we walked to the National Archives to view, in its dimly-lit halls, the original documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the United States Constitution—that formed the amazing, if imperfect, nation that we are proud to pledge allegiance to.
That evening, we joined our tour group for the rest of our trip. Interestingly, there were two other couples from Oregon in our 44-member tour group—one from Cottage Grove!
We spent two more days in Washington, D.C. with the tour group before heading out of the city. Scott, our tour guide, was knowledgeable and attentive. Our bus driver, John, navigated the heavy traffic and the tourist-filled streets with apparent ease. During the next 8 days, he gave Jim special care, always making sure that either his walker or scooter was ready and waiting for him as we stepped off of the bus. He good-naturedly cautioned Jim about not trying to run a marathon with his walker and to make sure he used the ramps instead of the stairs.
While we were in Washington, D.C., we were able to visit and immerse ourselves in our country’s heritage, its cultures and beginnings. Not only did we get to see many of the national monuments, memorials and buildings housing our national treasures. We quietly walked through Arlington Cemetery and visited the eternal flame and graves of John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy as well as the memorials of the veteran’s who gave their lives for our country in World War II, the Korean War and Viet Nam. In addition, we were able to see the beautiful new U.S. Marine Corps and the Martin Luther King memorials. Of course, Lincoln’s, Washington’s and Jefferson’s memorials were all must-sees as shining examples of our heritage, and the time we spent at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon is something we wouldn’t have wanted to miss.
While at the Jefferson memorial, before leaving D.C., the sunny skies turned dark and as our group left the building, we were hit by a violent storm—strong winds and horizontal rain—from a nearby tornado. It hit us unexpectedly and we had to run along tree-lined streets to our bus that was parked about a quarter of a mile away. We dodged flying limbs and were literally soaked to the skin by the time we made it to the bus. Jim, who had opted to stay on the bus, teased us about his foresight as the rest of us dripped our way to our seats. Instead of finishing our itinerary that day, we headed back to the hotel to dry out.
Before the storm…… And, after
Before leaving Washington, D.C., we also were able to tour the The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts located on the Potomac River, adjacent to the Watergate complex. It was built as a memorial for President John F. Kennedy.
We experienced new friendships from many of the 40 other people traveling with us. In addition, we were beneficiaries of the kindness, care and concern of the East Coast residents we encountered everywhere we went.
One example of that kindness was the concierge at our hotel in Washington, D.C., who, when asked where we could get a light lunch instead of the outrageously expensive ones at the hotel, walked the two blocks with us to show us where we could enjoy the equivalent of a Yumm bowl or Subway sandwich. He could have just given us the simple directions, but he went out of his way to make us feel welcome. Other staff members at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C., were equally as friendly for the four nights we spent there.
After leaving Washington, D.C., we visited Yorktown, Jamestown and spent the night and the next day at Williamsburg where Jim was able to see the sights and the living history in his mobility scooter.
The morning in Williamsburg brought one of the most memorable experiences of the whole trip for me. Our group was ushered into a rather small, intimate auditorium and seated in folding chairs as we waited for a program to begin. We had not been told what it was to be about, but only that it would be special. As we sat there, the door in the back opened and the refrains of a beautiful African-American spiritual filled the room, sung by a woman named Sylvia Tabb-Lee who slowly entered as she sang. She provided us with a living history experience I will never forget. This 62-year-old black woman was dressed as a slave and without obvious anger, she softly took us through what the life of a slave was during the 1800s before the Civil War. She had us mesmerized from that moment forward. She pulled people from our tour group up to the front with her and had them reenact different scenarios. One was chosen to represent a master; another was called up to represent a plantation overseer; and my brother-in-law, Dwight, was asked to represent a foreman on a plantation to show the hierarchy of plantation life.
She instructed the master to give orders to the overseer on what the slaves were supposed to do that day, and the overseer passed that information on to the foreman who was to make sure that the job got done.
It was then that Sylvia informed us that at the end of the day the job did not get done the way it was supposed to. She wanted her “volunteers” to demonstrate how the chain of command would have worked and how it would have affected the slaves. So, the master asked the overseer why the job was not done; the overseer asked the foreman and Dwight, now fully involved in the skit, looked out into the audience and pointed to Jim and I and said, “Those are the slackers!”
All of us, including Sylvia, got a good laugh from it, but the mood became somber again, as Sylvia talked about what would have happened to those “slackers” in the 1800s. She then led all of us in singing two spirituals— “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “Amazing Grace.”
It was one of the most touching experiences that I’ve ever been a part of. At the end, we all went up to Sylvia and offered our thanks. In return, she gave each of us a big hug and thanked us for coming. I found out later that she has been in the entertainment field for quite some time. She graduated from a New York theatrical school and has traveled around the United States giving her presentation.
Our itinerary then took us from Williamsburg to St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, where Patrick Henry delivered his “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech; Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello; the Shenandoah National Park; Harper’s Ferry; Gettysburg; Valley Forge; the Amish farm country of Pennsylvania; and finally, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
Another example of the kindness shown to us by people on the East Coast was demonstrated by the manager of the very nice Stonewall Jackson Hotel where we stayed in Staunton, Virginia. Jim had accidentally left his epi-pen at breakfast in Williamsburg that morning. When hearing of his mission, the manager offered to drive Dwight, who is a pharmacist, in her personal car to a local pharmacy to pick up an emergency prescription for Jim rather than have him take a taxi. It was something we would not have expected, but it was much appreciated.
Two days before we were scheduled to fly home from Philadelphia while we were spending the night in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Shenandoah National Park in the beautiful state of Virginia, Jim and I celebrated our 55th anniversary.
It was a wonderful way to spend our special day… with family and good friends in a beautiful setting.
To be honest, our adventures were exhausting, but none of us would have opted out on any of it. Even the tornado-caused wind and rain storm added a special dimension to our experience. The memories we made on those 11 days will remain with us for the rest of our lives. It was truly a dream worth sharing.