Summer Road Trip Series: Part VII “You Have Arrived at Your Final Destination”

By Marianna Boyce

Our departure from Sedona took place on a beautiful, sunny day—quite a contrast from the turbulent weather we experienced the previous night. After driving 2,100 westward miles from the Palmetto State of South Carolina, it was time to turn south toward the U.S.- Mexico border. Phoenix and Tucson stood in the way of our anticipated destination.

The thriving metropolis of Phoenix covers about 519 square miles, making it physically one of the largest cities in the United States of America. The layout is incredible and easily navigated, but there’s no gentle transition when exiting this urban complex. One moment, the view is grandiose, architecturally interesting buildings. The next, it’s back to a vast, inhospitable desert. The abrupt contrast is startling. We were suddenly left with nothing to see but swirling dust devils in the distance as we continued our remaining three-hour sprint to the finish line.

Sierra Vista, our ultimate destination, lies seventy-five miles south of Tucson and about twenty miles north of Mexico. This little dot on the map was our prime location goal for one reason only: our precious family lived there.

Tiffany is my bonus daughter (I’m just not fond of the term, stepdaughter). She married Bill, an Army Major at the time, now a Lieutenant Colonel. In 2015, Bill received orders to report to Fort Huachuca (pronounced wah-CHOO-kah) for a two-year stint.

image 4Abby, Emma, and Avery are our precious granddaughters. We also have a beautiful Belgian Malinois (pronounced mal-un-WAH.) grand-puppy named Leo.

As we turned onto their street, the gorgeous mountain range behind their house majestically stood in the distance. Situated on the opposite side of the mountainous terrain lies Mexico.

Little Avery is three. When she spotted us entering their driveway, she rushed outside immediately. Her arms flailing with excitement, along with her pretty blonde hair bobbing up and down as she sprinted toward us, was a wonderful sight to see. Many amazing landmarks we’d seen on our road trip were extraordinary, but this little princess took the prize. This family reunion was sheer bliss.

After a tasty spaghetti supper, we enjoyed each other’s company as we caught up on everything going on in our lives. The girls were thrilled to have an extended bedtime that night.

The following day, we ate lunch in a small town about twenty miles northeast of Sierra Vista. You may have heard of it…

image 3Tombstone is pegged as “The Town Too Tough to Die.” About 450,000 tourists visit each year. Its dusty streets are lined with rustic buildings and landmarks from the 1880s. The infamous gunfight at the OK Corral is re-enacted daily. It’s quite a surreal experience wandering the streets where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday roamed—two of Arizona’s most popular “ghosts of North America.”

We spent one more night in Sierra Vista before embarking on our journey back to South Carolina. The most exciting news was all our girls were traveling back to the Palmetto State for a two-week stay. Bill remained in Arizona with Leo.

Tiffany drove her garnet-colored Explorer packed with enough stuff for a three-month vacation. Cody was in his comfort zone driving my light sage-colored Lincoln MKZ, so we let him drive. He’d passed the test a few nights earlier after driving in the monsoon weather from Flagstaff to Sedona.

I traveled with Tiffany, Abby, and Avery. Gerry and Emma rode with Cody. It was the perfect setup separating Abby and Emma. They were nine and seven at the time, so sibling rivalry was intense.

A year had passed since Tiffany had been home, so she was anxious to get there as quickly as possible. There would be no cool stops along this route, but the fun was just getting started.

Our travels took us about 1,050 miles that day, a little more than halfway. The decision to stop for the night on the outskirts of Houston was a good call. We were all exhausted, but I was one proud GiGi. We heard no complaints from any of the girls.

We departed the western edge of Houston early the following morning with the potential of being home by midnight. We had 1,000 more miles to go, but our aggressive plan just wasn’t meant to be. After an extended traffic delay, our plan simply fell apart. The back of an overturned poultry truck was on fire blocking all lanes on I-10. The driver was fine, but I’m sorry to report that many of the chickens didn’t make it.

image 1We exited the great state of Texas at mile-marker 880 later than we’d expected, and only traveled 400 additional miles after our long delay. Our sibling drivers, Tiffany and Cody, were both exhausted. Tensions mounted, but they merely needed to rest, stretch, and relax. Abby and Emma weren’t the only rivals in the bunch.

We stopped to eat supper in Slidell, Louisiana. We should’ve found a great Cajun restaurant, but Southern homecookin’ at Cracker Barrel is what we chose.

There was no need to push the envelope, so I devised a new plan. As I ate my chicken fried steak, rice and gravy, and fried okra, I made what my bonus daughter calls, a “Mama Bear” move. There was a newly built Hampton Inn and Suites directly across the road, so I asked Tiffany to book two rooms for us, and she did.

image 5The heated, salt-water swimming pool was calling our name. We basically all stepped into a nice, long, Epsom salt bath. This place was perfect, and exactly what “Mama Bear” ordered. Everyone loved each other again.

The following morning, June 16, 2016, was a Thursday I’ll not soon forget. Eight more hours would officially end our remarkable road trip. Unknown to me, at the end of this time span, I would begin my next journey deep into a dark, unfamiliar place that I often refer to as my alternate universe.

We quickly left Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia in our dust. We crossed the South Carolina state line about 3:00 p.m. About thirty miles from home, Avery began crying uncontrollably. She told me her tummy was hurting, so I cautiously removed her from the car seat and held her tightly in my arms. I know I shouldn’t have, but I did it anyway. Any great GiGi would’ve done the same.

As I silently prayed for her, a tingling sensation started in my feet. I thought they were asleep, just as Avery now was. As we got closer to home, a perplexing coldness began to overwhelm them. Trying not to disturb her as she slept, I haphazardly tossed my sweater over my feet. An odd gesture, given South Carolina in mid-June, is usually a hot, humid, 100-degrees.

Tiffany drove to her Mom’s house where they’d be staying for the next several days. She hadn’t seen her in a year, so it was reasonable for them to spend time together before heading back to Arizona in two short weeks. I jumped in the car with Gerry and Cody anticipating the arrival at our final destination. Bill selflessly planned to fly to the Palmetto State and drive back with them so they wouldn’t have to travel cross-country alone. I know—he’s great, right?

Four-thousand, six-hundred, and fourteen miles after our journey began, Gerry, Cody, and I pulled into our driveway and opened the garage door—home sweet home!

As soon as my feet touched the ground, the intense cold sensation in them immediately changed to insanely hot. It was as though a high fever spiked, but only in my feet. I stopped dead in my tracks not knowing exactly how to react. I’d never felt that type of pain.

My new journey had officially begun.

image 2I told my husband I couldn’t walk on my own, so he assisted as I hobbled along beside him. I literally watched my feet and ankles swell beyond recognition. Gerry instructed me to sit, relax, and prop up my throbbing, fiery-hot feet. I was horrified at the time, but we actually had a good chuckle about it later in the evening. In our infinite wisdom, we thought riding in the car for an extended period contributed to this unfortunate event. Were we ever wrong!

I am; however, thankful my symptoms stayed at bay until our arrival home. Leaving my driveway eight days earlier, I didn’t realize a life-altering illness was lurking inside my body. Stepping out of my car ignited a chain of events that maniacally unfolded and completely unraveled life as I knew it. Not only was coping with extraordinary pain physically debilitating, but it was also mentally grueling. I didn’t recognize myself after two short weeks.

My 2016 summer road trip served as the catalyst that ushered me from my normal life into an alternate universe. I straddled two worlds on a mission to control them both. Horrible symptoms relating to rheumatoid arthritis ruled my life for an extended period, but I was determined not to go down without a fight. I had a great life. I wasn’t willing to give it up to this vicious disease.

All our circumstances differ, but one thing is constant for everyone: change. Life adjustments are constantly transforming our lives. Many changes are subtle and can easily be absorbed with our fighting human spirit, but as in my case, significant negative transitions create utter chaos.

As I conclude my lengthy road trip series, I want to express my gratitude for those who chose to ride along with me. Enjoy your ride in life. What you don’t enjoy—endure. Remember who’s in control of it all. Come what may, God is good, all the time.

Front Porch and Kitchen Memories

By Chaunte McClure

By now, you know I love to reminisce about growing up with Grandma. I was scrolling Facebook on Sunday night and came across a meme with an image of peas in chipwood baskets, and of course, my mind traveled back to summer months sitting on the porch at Grandma’s.

On occasion, she’d shell peas or butter beans while we, the grandkids, frolicked in the yard. Some days I didn’t have that privilege or thought I was “too grown” to play with the others, but my time wouldn’t be idle because I’d have to get a bowl and help shell peas. Geez, if Grandma could’ve seen the eye roll I imagined upon her demand. Of course, she always knew whether or not I wanted to do what she asked. I’ve heard her say, “If you can eat ‘em, you can shell ‘em.” That meant get your fingernails ready to open the seams of 2,000 pods. (Clearly, I’m exaggerating.)

fresh-peas

It just seemed like it took forever to see the results of my labor, for I thought my bowl would never get full and the pile of unshelled beans always looked so large.

We snapped beans too. I’d much rather the snapping because it was much easier to break off the tips and snap the stems and that was easier on the fingernails, thumbs and index fingers.

Those are classic moments because today I don’t eat fresh vegetables often enough nor do I have a garden like many families did during my childhood. Food was better for you and oh, the memories we made just with food. Picking, peeling, cutting and bagging tomatoes. Canning peaches, apples, and beans. And making biscuits from scratch. I only watched Grandma knead biscuit dough and even at 42 years old, sadly, I’ve never made homemade biscuits nor have I canned fruits and vegetables. But some of my fondest memories were made on the porch and in the kitchen at Grandma’s House.

What are some of your fondest memories growing up in the South?

Yuck! Southern Foods I Just Can’t Get the Taste Of

By: Jeanne Reynolds

I love food.

I love to make it, plan it, read about it and think about it. The Food Network is practically the only TV station I watch. (Fortunately, I also love to run or I’d have a big problem … and I do mean big.)

But that doesn’t mean I love all foods. In fact, there are some I’d rather go hungry than eat. I’m not talking about the stuff hardly anybody likes. I mean, if you really like liver, that’s fine, but please just keep it to yourself. I’m talking about popular, traditional, mainstream dishes my family and friends profess to love. And they’re aghast that I don’t share their tastes.

So here, at the risk of starting a second civil war, is my list of foods I just can’t learn to love even after living more than 40 years below the Mason-Dixon Line:

  • Boiled peanuts. Mushy with little taste other than salt. Give me a paper sack of nice roasted peanuts any day. Or a jar of peanut butter (not so handy for tailgating, though).
  • Pimento cheese. What a waste of perfectly good cheddar. The only exception I’d make is DiPrato’s sharp white pimento cheese. The smoked gouda with bacon might be OK, too, but I haven’t tried it yet.
  • Pepper jelly. One word says it all: why? If you want something spicy, have a pepper. If you want something sweet, have some jelly. Don’t try to cram them together into one item. Even pouring it over cream cheese doesn’t cut it. Here again, you’ve ruined some perfectly good cheese.
  • Beets. Maybe it’s the color. Maybe it’s the texture. Maybe I’ll pass (make that definitely).
  • Rice Krispie treats. “Treat” is quite the misnomer. What’s in those things, marshmallow fluff and Karo syrup? Oh, no, I see online it’s butter instead of Karo. Still, there are tastier ways to remove your fillings.
  • Pecan pie. If you were getting all indignant that Rice Krispie treats aren’t Southern and don’t belong on this list, then this Bud’s for you. Too sticky, too sweet. Don’t bother trying to juice it up with bourbon or chocolate. Can I please just have a small dish of pecans? I’ll take the bourbon and chocolate on the side.

The list could go on, but I don’t want you to leave thinking I’m a hater. Fresh sweet corn, vine-ripened tomatoes, the occasional piece of super-crispy fried chicken, perfectly seasoned collards (on holidays), locally caught shrimp (in or out of a Beaufort stew), homemade peach ice cream … there’s lots to love in our neck of the woods. God willing, it keeps coming.

But please, God, keep the boiled peanuts.

Biscuits, Tea Cakes & Neck Bones

By: Chaunte McClure

I can already visualize my sister facepalming after reading the title of this blog post, but don’t worry, I’m not about to embarrass you.

biscuitsI was just thinking about Grandma as I do from time to time, reflecting on fond moments. I miss that lady and sometimes I wonder what life would be like if she were still here. I’m not sure what I’d love most – just having her around or enjoying her good cooking. Surely she’d be disappointed that I spend more time at restaurants than I do in my kitchen. I wonder if I would have developed that bad habit of eating out with her here? Probably so. I’m not sure if she could change that, but I could be wrong. That woman cooked two or three meals every day and loved doing so. What’s more, we loved it too. We, the grandkids and grand nieces and nephews, were guaranteed a meal when we got in from school. An aroma met us at the door every single day.

Fried chicken made everyone happy, but my favorite was neck bones. Yes, country I am; country to the bone. I know there’s hardly any meat on neck bones, but they are good. It was something about the way Grandma seasoned them and that gravy . . . oh my goodness! I try my best to cook them like Grandma used to, but mine aren’t quite the same. I usually cheat by cooking them in the Crockpot, but that shouldn’t affect the flavor, right? Anyway, I always wanted seconds with that good gravy covering my rice.

And those Saturday or Sunday morning homemade biscuits. Oowee! Many times I watched her sprinkle flour over the counter and knead, roll and cut biscuits. It’s a shame that I can’t make them. Okay, I haven’t tried. But back to Grandma’s biscuits. When they came out of the oven, all I needed was that bottle of Cane Patch Syrup and I would dip and chew, dip and chew. (I think that Cane Patch also came in a can.) As kids we’d do the I-want-some-more-dance while holding our plate or bowl, asking Grandma for another biscuit. Even when her children were adults she’d make them biscuits and they never turned them down.

And they never turned down those old-fashioned southern tea cakes. I don’t know who was most excited, the grandkids or the adults. I was never really into sweets so I didn’t react to tea cakes like I did to a pot of neck bones. If she happened to bake them on a day when I had a taste for something sweet, then great, but they were always a treat for everyone else. If I just say “tea cakes” around one relative, it brings a smile to her face because she loved Grandma’s tea cakes as much as she loved the fact that Grandma would make them when she asked.

Those were the good ol’ days, as we like to say. It seems like you don’t realize how good they were until they’re gone or the people who made them special are gone.

So who wants to make biscuits, tea cakes and neck bones just for me? Not everyone at once, please.