When my children were in elementary school, we set a family goal to visit all 50 states by the time our oldest son graduated from high school in 2011.
In 2009, we reached 49 states when we traveled to Alaska. Then with only Hawaii left, we hit a bump in the road called a “job layoff,” and we had to alter our travel ambitions. It’s now "Hawaii or Bust" by 2013, the year our youngest son graduates from Royal Oak High School.
While we save our pennies for the Aloha State, we decided to revisit North Carolina this summer. We’d always felt uneasy saying we’d been there. It was the only state we had ever spent less than an hour in, and it just never felt right having it on our list. Therefore, this year we set our sights on the Tar Heel State — by minivan.
Here is what I learned on my summer vacation.
America the Beautiful
It occurred to me as we were driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, how breathtakingly beautiful our entire country is. I thought I had seen it all — canyons, oceans, deserts, geysers and water falls. Yet here we were driving through the back roads of Virginia, in little towns I’d never heard of, and I was blown away. This trip reminded me that in our travels it has always been the places we’ve expected the least that we have experienced the most. Such as:
- Hannibal, MO: The birthplace of Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, is a wonderful place for an adventure. McDougal’s Cave (now known as Mark Twain Cave) is filled with criss-crossed passages that spark a child’s imagination.
- Montgomery, AL: The city is full of history. The Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, which served as home to Martin Luther King, is just steps away from the Alabama State Capitol. This is the city that would transform a seamstress named Rosa Parks into the Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement.
- Oatman, AZ: On Route 66, it’s a nail-biting drive to this former mining town atop the Black Mountains of Mohave County. Friendly burros freely roam the streets and gunfights are staged on the weekends. It doesn’t sound very romantic, but Clark Gable and Carole Lombard honeymooned at the Oatman Hotel in 1939.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
My husband, John, and I named our first son Dylan Thomas Jefferson Davids, because we wanted him to grow up to be the President or an architect—or better yet, both like Jefferson.
Ever since Dylan was a baby, we dreamed of taking him to Monticello, the home of our third president and principal author of the Declaration of Independence. This trip, we finally made it to the 5,000-acre plantation in Charlottesville, VA.
Before we went on a tour of the historic house we watched a movie on Jefferson’s life. It made me burst with patriotism. I cried.
I learned Jefferson died on the Fourth of July, 1826 at the age of 83. The epitaph on his tomb reads “Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.” His friend President John Adams, another signer of the Declaration of Independence, outlived him by only a few hours. Both men died on the 50th anniversary of the signing.
Jefferson’s life and death moved me, and I felt proud to be an American.
Bye Bye Miss American Pie
As we were leaving the Jefferson movie, my 18-year-old son turned to me and said “that fake American history stuff makes me sick to my stomach,” to which my smart-aleck husband cracked, “Would you have preferred we named you Dylan Fidel Castro Davids?”
Dylan pointed out that Jefferson was a slave owner, and the hypocrisy of him writing “all men are created equal.”
My son’s words, though uncomfortable, didn’t stop me from feeling patriotic, but they made me hold this truth to be self-evident: My little boy is an adult now. He’ll be heading off to college in the fall, where he’ll no doubt become smarter than me, if he doesn’t already think he is.
The tables have turned. My husband and I no longer tell him what to do and think. He tells us. It is only a matter of time before we are asking him for an allowance.
But seriously, something touched me deep inside that day at Monticello. I discovered my little boy had become a man right under my nose.
On this Fourth of July vacation I learned quite a bit about country, patriotism and family. As we were driving home I said to my husband “I feel like we have shown our kids America” — from sea to shining sea. He agreed.
I think we've given our sons a priceless gift. It’s nice to know in this bad economy that memories are for keeps.