Generally speaking I like to keep The Darcy Saga blog more about Regency/Austen related essays with the occasional fun, lighthearted stuff tossed in. I avoid getting too personal because aside from facts directly related to my novels, I don’t have all that fascinating of a life and don’t figure anyone would honestly care to hear about it! But I am going to break away from that standard and ramble on a little about my recent trip.
This excursion was supremely important to me. In a nutshell: My parents met while my dad was stationed in San Diego. He was in the Navy, all dashing in his uniform, and friends with my uncle. One thing lead to another and before long they were married with a baby, my sister Janis, and living in the Deep South of Mississippi. My dad is old family Southern and my mom a California Yankee. I think it was doomed from the start! By the time my sis was 7 and I just a baby, they were divorced and shortly thereafter dad returned to the land he loved and we girls grew up in California. I sincerely regret to say that neither Janis nor I returned to the place of our roots until this trip in February. If there is one lesson I learned in this, and will preach to you all, is the error in hesitation and delay.
Since I was traveling so far in the first place, I added several extra days to pop in on the family where they live in New Mexico. It was Jan’s idea to add the Road Trip! Everything went according to plan for the most part. That is always a relief, especially when planning such a complicated trip. My flight to Lubbock was delayed one hour, but otherwise went well and the pilots actually managed to make up some time, so I was not too late. The rental car was a Chevy Impala, which I ended up falling in love with. Very comfortable car that drove flawlessly across three States. I drive a Tahoe at home, but lately we have been thinking of going smaller now that the ‘kids’ do not need to be carted around as much as before. I will be remembering the Impala. Anyway, got into my sister’s home town of Hobbs, NM by 8pm. We met up and went to visit our mom.
I spent the next day visiting at length with mom. It was a day of getting ready for the long trip across Texas! We left on Saturday morning, car loaded with luggage and goodies to drink and munch on. The Thelma and Louise references were endless! It was pretty humorous but got a bit old. I mean, have there been no OTHER chick buddy road trip movies?! Guess not. We finally decided that I was Geena Davis and Jan Susan Sarandon, but no one could recall which actress played which character! Whatever the case, we encountered no craziness along the way and no one remotely resembling Brad Pitt asked for a ride! Jan had already stipulated that if he did appear she had dibs. I said that was fine, but if Matthew showed up he was MINE! Unfortunately neither of us was so lucky. Bummer.
North Texas was typically boring I am sure (sorry any of my Texas readers!), but we actually saw very little of the terrain as it literally rained the entire way! And I am talking bucket loads, cats and dogs, torrential downpour rain. It was horrible. Poor Jan was getting over a serious case of bronchitis and high on cold medicine, so not able to drive. We did manage to keep gabbing for the vast bulk of the drive, but by late afternoon I was exhausted from battling the water sprays in heavy traffic and she was having trouble breathing in the heavily humid air. Our plan was to go all the way to Monroe, LA, but we knew it was not going to happen. I called my husband Steve to find us a hotel on the internet, which he did, and we stopped in Longview, Texas. My sissy was fairly wiped out as was I, but we did manage to enjoy a fabulous dinner of crab with all the Texas fixins at a local restaurant! Early to bed and up shortly after dawn to stunning blue skies and glistening residual wetness. Almost the moment we crossed into Louisiana the terrain changed to lush and green with tall pines and enormous trees. It was simply gorgeous. We both felt terrific, Jan’s illness gradually improving, and the drive was wonderful.
We drove across northern Louisiana and then down the middle of Mississippi. It was amazing. No clouds. Just sun and warmth. Got into Pascagoula by 5pm. Our dad lives in the town of Moss Point, which abuts Pascagoula right on the water’s edge. The greeting was full of tears and happiness. Our dad has been through a horrible year with his wife of 23 years dying from a long bout of cancer. Jackie was an amazing lady, the quintessential Southern belle, and although we both wish we could have seen her again before her death, we feel incredibly blessed to have known her at all.
OK, I promise I won’t go through each day in fine detail! That would probably bore you to tears. The highlights only. One of the main reasons for this trip was to learn more of our roots, if you will. We are Southern girls by partial blood but always lived in the western part of the US, so it was important for us to see our family and learn more of them. Dad was a wealth of stories! He told us so many wonderful tales of his youth and the extended relatives, most of whom are sadly passed on. I have a cousin who several years ago did an extensive research into the family tree. I had seen part of her findings but not the whole of it. My dad has a ton of photos from as far back as the late 1800’s and the complete family tree that goes back 13 generations! We were floored and spent hours pouring over it and the numerous albums trying to get all the faces and names straight. In short, I have mostly French ancestry from both sides of my dad’s parentage, but also Choctaw Indian (my maternal great-grandmother was full blooded), German, English from Staffordshire, and Spanish (my paternal grandmother was full blooded). My dad is one of 5 children, all of whom are gone except for him and my Aunt Joyce. My grandmother was one of 9, all but 2 having passed on. My grandfather had 7 siblings, all of them now dead. All of them had a bunch of children, and so on, so you can imagine the number of cousins floating about!
We met our Great Aunt Tess, sister to our grandmother, who is 89 years old, about 4 feet tall, and sharp as a tack! It was fabulous. She was spry, witty, fully in charge of her faculties, added more stories to the ones dad told us, made us coffee the old Southern way with a tea pot and strainer, and in every way made us welcome. She birthed 11 children – ouch! – all but one of whom are alive and most still live in the area. Our visit to her was a highlight. We also met Uncle Tommy, who was married to my dad’s sister, now passed so Tommy has remarried. Nice guy about dad’s age and the two still are friends who take the fishing boats onto the river quite frequently. Then there was Aunt Annette who was married to Uncle Bobby, dad’s brother, who passed away 5 weeks after Katrina! Can you imagine?! Poor Annette, who is a delight, had to deal with his death while fixing up a house that was completely destroyed. It now looks gorgeous, but the tales of what it looked like after the storm are spine chilling indeed. Lastly, aside from a few second and third cousins, was Aunt Joyce, dad’s sister, who lives near Pensacola, Florida.
We drove over there one day, crossing Alabama at the tip, to visit not only Aunt Joyce but also our brother Gary. He is our younger brother and the product of our mom’s second marriage. Our step-dad died many years ago, when I was still in college. Anyway, Gary lives with his wife Melanie, daughter Crystal and new-adopted baby Lilly in Pensacola …..actually a small community called Cantonment just north of Pensacola. The really funny thing is that Aunt Joyce lives literally a handful of blocks away in the same town! Go figure!! We all got together and visited, drove to Pensacola Beach to walk on the glaring white sands, and capped the day with dinner. All one big happy family despite some of them not actually being blood relations! The graciousness of the South, we learned, as everyone embraced us with widely open arms. It was truly amazing. In fact, we learned on our last day that our Great Aunt Lu, who is Tess’s sister and lives in a retirement home in Mobile, was seriously bent out of shape that dad did not drop by to introduce us! We felt bad, but there just wasn’t the time to see everyone!
The weather was beautiful for the most part. Warm in the low 70s during the day, sun shining except for one day that rained buckets, but was still balmy and pleasant. We did a lot of hanging out with my dad, who made us Southern meals frequently. Nothing really weird, like alligator, but just interesting sausages and ways of cooking things. I learned that left over biscuits can be fried on a skillet and eaten like pancakes! We got breakfast every morning, even though neither Jan nor I are big on breakfast. We got our fill for the next year in this one visit. Dinner and supper (see, not lunch and dinner) were usually eaten out. We had our fill of seafood as well! That was divine as we both adore seafood! Living literally on the Gulf has its advantages with delicious, very fresh seafoods. Dad was very generous but we rapidly learned that asking to help pay for stuff was simply not allowed. He even insisted on buying the slushies we got at the convenience store! His quote: ‘That is what dad’s do.’ Of course, we both kindly thanked him but also asked him to be sure NOT to repeat that to our kids!!
I never saw a single bug. Just lucky I think as I am sure they were lurking about. Jan had a close encounter with a huge cockroach, but aside from a surprised curse handled it well! Glad it was her and not me. Dad took us all over the area, proudly showing off the sights including the original Pascagoula firehouse that our granddad was the chief of. It is now a restaurant and community assembly room, but all the original flooring and walls are intact. Dad had numerous stories to tell about that place. He, too, was a fireman and eventually the Chief just like his dad, only in Moss Point. We saw evidence of Katrina damage still in places, although most has been cleaned up and reconstructed. Lots of houses being rebuilt – those on the river banks at least 13 feet off the ground by City ordinance (see photo) – and many empty lots where the home owners are still arguing with insurance companies. My dad was lucky. Stubborn guy actually stayed during the storm, standing in the front door as the 35 foot tidal wave rushed from the Gulf, up the nearby river and to his house! I can’t even imagine. He kept all doors open so the water rushed right through, leaving behind just a couple inches. He was fortunate in that respect, only losing a few appliances and needing to replace all the flooring. His yard took lots of damage, the grass and most of the plants and trees swept away and killed from the salty water.
We went to the place he and my mom lived after I was born. Unfortunately the house is no longer there, but we could see the area. Jan is older and has vague memories of playing with the cousins and rambling around the green yards. There were actually many pictures and old video tapes of her. I was born in the area, even saw the hospital that is now a retirement home, but have no memory of it. We also visited the cemetery where our grandparents and many other relatives are buried, bringing flowers to their graves. It was strangely moving for both of us. Neither of us have ever found cemeteries creepy (not that I would go out of my way to spend the night in one!), but rather like the history and sense of family and love that pervades such places. This, however, was the first time I had been in a cemetery where relatives are actually buried, so it was different. The whole place was very old with graves dating back to the 1600s or maybe even further. Many no longer had legible writing they were so old. We wandered around the grass and gigantic moss laden oaks and elms, discovering a number of relatives from both sides of the family, some that even dad did not recall.
The atmosphere and terrain was just breathtaking. I know we were there at a lovely time of the year, missing the humid heat of summer, but we both fell in love. It is just so green there and so steeped in history. Very different foliage and plants than either of us has at our homes. Everything grows well, is so lush and fertile. Little in the way of sculptured gardens with most folks just letting the grasses and bushes and trees grow as they freely want. Very few fences. Most yards just mesh into the one next to it and the lots are huge! Trees, rivers, and bayous are literally everywhere and undisturbed as the houses, roads, and bridges are built to accommodate the landscaping. That means it is very twisty and narrow with roads frequently going off into odd directions to bypass an ancient oak or meandering creek. Very different from the laid out grid like streets of my agriculture influenced open valley! I never knew exactly where we were and had no sense of direction! But dad was driving so no worries! Literally all the houses are made of brick, for obvious reasons! Hurricanes and heavy storms are a yearly occurrence on the Gulf of Mexico, although rarely of the intensity of Katrina. Still, my dad has weathered many storms and his house has gone through lots of remodeling and reconstruction over the years. It is just the way of life to a Southerner and my dad is utterly blasé about it! Drives me insane, but at 73 years of age, we doubt he is going to change!! I did check my emails from time to time, but my dad still has dial-up internet if you can believe that! It was frustrating to say the least, but perhaps just as well!! Ha!
The week went by too fast, but like all good things it must come to an end. We never made it to New Orleans. We would have liked to, but dragging my dad around to sight-see was not the intent of the trip. Rather we spent lots of time just sitting around and talking. On the way home, leaving after another treated breakfast and tears, Jan and I decided to drive through the southern portion of Louisiana and then up the middle to then hike across Texas. Jan was all well by then and I never did catch her illness, thank God, so we gabbed the whole way. Never did run out of stuff to say! Still no Brad Pitt or Matthew Macfadyen. This time we stayed in Shreveport for the night before trucking west across the expanse of Texas. No rain, just endless brown fields! Stopped in Lubbock to meet up with my nephew Seth and his family. Seth stole me for the ride into Hobbs, us chatting all the way. How I did not lose my voice is a mystery! Another brief visit with mom, then to Jan’s house to watch the recorded Oscars. Not much to say about that. Aside from ‘Atonement’ and ‘Michael Clayton’ and ‘ Elizabeth ’ – all of which were terrific – we had seen none of the other movies so had no real feelings on the subject. Still, it was fun to watch.
The very next day I said my final good-byes to sister and her hubby before heading home. This plane trip was uneventful, thank goodness, but I was exhausted. Very ready to be home! The kids missed me, calling upon occasion, and my Mr. Darcy was a borderline pest in the number of calls! But it was sweet. He had a huge bouquet of flowers waiting and a mushy card. Yes, my romantic Mr. Darcy!
So there is my travel log! I already want to go back, this time dragging the hubby and kids. I suppose I will always be more of a Westerner, but the Southern Belle in me did emerge to a degree. I hope I have not bored anyone to the point of drooling on the keyboard! Thanks for allowing me to share my adventure!