Thanksgiving

I was finally able to go down to the beach this past Thanksgiving weekend, and it was very difficult to come back.  For Thanksgiving this year I made reservations for a traditional meal for my mom and myself at a restaurant.  She lives about an hour from the beach where I used to live, so I picked her up on the way down.  First thing I had to do when driving into North Carolina was to pick up a Cheerwine in a glass bottle.  It’s the good stuff!

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The dinner we ate was very good, and we had enough leftovers that we ate on for two days.  My aunt came down Thanksgiving night and stayed the weekend with us.  Per southern tradition, I drove the ladies to Belk to shop for Black Friday.

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After shopping, they wanted to relax and find NCIS on TV.  I met up with my friend, Dave, and headed to the beach.  It was perfect weather, and the entire time I’m questioning why I am still in WV.  The beach has always calmed me, and I am seriously planning on moving back.  These photos are from Pawley’s Island.

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Even though I grew up in the mountains, I am a beach girl at heart.  I convinced mom to have our Christmas at the beach house, just so I can go back sooner.

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Dave and I have been friends for ten years now.  It took a minute to figure it out, and I didn’t realize it had been so long.  It was really nice to see him over the weekend.  Later that night I took mom and my aunt to watch him play, and they really enjoyed it.  They wouldn’t go on their own to watch musicians play, but since they had such a good time that may change.  The venue had rocking chairs outside, and they sat out there to listen.  My aunt asked me if he knew the theme song for NCIS.  He probably does just from his mom watching marathons of it all the time.   She was serious when she asked me.  Two of her dogs are named after Ziva and Abby.

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I originally planned to leave SC on Saturday so I could have one day to relax before work on Monday.  I pack up mom and my aunt in her car for their trip an hour north.  I made lunch plans with Dave and Jacqui, so I packed everything up in my car and turned off stuff in the house before I left.  I fully expected to start my roadtrip back north after lunch.

Getting two best friends together who haven’t seen each other in a long time created a long lunch!  We all met at Murrells Inlet, and I finally made the decision that I was not going to be leaving SC that day.  Why would I leave if it wasn’t really necessary?

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I promise that Jacqui’s son was excited to see me!

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Murrells Inlet on Saturday.

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Dave took this picture at the Inlet.  It really turned out beautiful.  I really need to get a new phone.  His pictures turned out so much better than mine.

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It was wonderful catching up with my friends and having an afternoon/evening on the Inlet.  Later that night, Dave and I went to see another friend play with his band.  Getting up that next morning was rough though.  The last thing I wanted to do was drive 8 plus hours north in rain and holiday traffic.  Thankfully, I have satellite radio and I jam out (horribly) to the 90’s channel.  The 90’s were great!  One of my first songs, awesome!

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Yes, I get looks while I drive during my concert.  I sing all out, and I know it looks hilarious.  How else am I supposed to stay awake and alert for that long?  Sometimes I laugh at myself while I drive, because I know it is humorous.  Really I laugh at myself all the time, not only when driving.

I’m excited for Christmas now, since I will be heading back to the beach!

Growing up with a Vietnam Veteran as a Dad

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I became aware of what being a veteran meant at a very young age.  Coming from a big military family, I enjoyed listening to all their stories.  Even if some were a bit embellished, and they were winking at me while telling them.  The picture above is my dad while in Japan getting ready to return from Vietnam.  My father was drafted right out of high school by the US Army, and sent to Vietnam with the other young men at the time.

His father would talk with me for hours about his time overseas during WWII, and I did many school papers on his experiences.  I would plop down on the couch beside him, and we would immediately get started with the personalized history lesson.  Note: It never really happened as the school history books claim…history books have definitely been whitewashed.

The following story happened when I was in the third grade.

I vividly remember Dad poking the fire in the stove one night.  I leaned down and tried to give him a hug while I cheerfully said, “Happy Veteran’s Day”.  This is the exact moment I knew the Vietnam War was different than the others.

He looked up at me, and his eyes had this wide intense and scary look to them.  He then barked, “Don’t ever say that to me”.  Of course, the light from the fire on his face made it even scarier.  The look in his eyes, well…it is hard to explain exactly how they came across.  At that young age, I saw my father look straight through me with a fiery vacant and piercing hate.  My Dad was not behind those ice blue daggers, and I instantly knew it.  We were inches apart, and I started crying as I got back up.  He returned his gaze to the fire, and didn’t come back to the present for quite a while.

My mother immediately told him that I didn’t know, and that I was trying to be sweet.  He never responded back to her.  She then told me about the Vietnam War, and also how Dad was treated once he returned home.  Of course, she came in my room and told me this, not in front of him.  I have been on the receiving end of that look since, but I also have tried to avoid situations where it would come out.  I would just leave the situation when it would return- even if I got in trouble by walking off.  I wouldn’t say Happy Veteran’s Day to him again until 2009.

I felt it was about time for me to try again.  My brother convinced him to go to the VA Hospital for old war  injuries, and he surprisingly likes our VA.  You read that correctly, he finally went to take care of injuries decades after the war.

I called Dad up in 2009, and told him, “I don’t care if you get mad at me, I am telling you Happy Veteran’s Day”.  I told him how much I loved him, and how proud I was of his service.  He didn’t understand why I thought he would get mad at me, and I recalled that night back in the 80’s.  He apologized, and said he has no recollection of me even saying that to him – much less his reaction.  Why would he remember?

That wasn’t my Dad who responded back to the younger me.  He thanked me, and apologized once again.  I am crying at this moment, and told him he had no reason to say he was sorry.  Just writing this, I am tearing up because it was such an emotional conversation for both of us.

Looking back, I clearly see symptoms of PTSD throughout his life.  Things that I thought were normal, later to find not the case.  I won’t go into detail for my father’s privacy.  I still do not talk about the war with him, but my brother (also a veteran) says that he has started opening up to him.  Which makes me happy.  My mom told me what she knew of his service, and just that is brutal.

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Dad worked as a search and rescue paramedic and fireman when he came home.  He also went back to racing stock cars.  The above picture is what he had at the head of his bunk while in the service.  Family photos….and Richard Petty, Ralph Earnhardt, and others dirt track racing.

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He is definitely a wild mountain man, especially in his younger days.  As he has aged, he has become a wise mountain man.  Don’t get me wrong though, he still has the wild in him!  Maybe this is where I get my wild streak.

Growing up, my male friends would refer to him as Obi-Wan.  I think he secretly liked his nickname.  I wish I was able to get him to dress as Obi-Wan for Halloween.

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I love my father immensely.  It amuses me to see the fear in his eyes when he was holding me in my baby pictures.  He had no idea what to do with raising a daughter.  He was a strict father and pretty old school when it came to gender roles.  I couldn’t date until I was 16, never have a boy in my room under his roof, cutting my hair was frowned upon, wasn’t allowed to work on the tobacco farm, I did the inside chores (my brother did outside chores), and we all worked in the garden.  I think he wanted what most parents want for their kids- to do better than they did in life.  He always encouraged my love for family history.

He has taught me to always remember how I was raised.  In fact, he told me many times during my wild days to, “act how I was raised”.  It makes me laugh now, because he was way wilder than I was…I think.  He also told me many times to “stay in your lane, and your lane only” while trying to teach me to drive.

For a father who was lost on what a daughter would be interested in doing, he did a great job of teaching me a wide spectrum of things.  I spent many days at the airport, just watching aircraft take off and land; he would explain how to do any job that he was working on at the time.  When I would visit him at the race shop, he would take me around and explain everything to me about what was being built and why.  He would bring me to the shop to watch them test the engines.  He would just load me into the car whenever he did something.  It was fine with me, because he did some pretty cool stuff! 

It makes me laugh because he is so dated in his thinking of gender roles for women.  When I graduated college, he didn’t understand why I didn’t get a secretary or elementary teaching job.  In his mind, that is what females should do for employment.  Those are great professions for those who want to have those as careers, but not for me.  Plus, I despise the term secretary.

He showed me a world of adventure, outdoors, and service-orientated careers, like firemen, medics, and policemen.  It is amusing to me that the daughter he raised is still expected to be the stereotypical southern woman.  It used to aggravate me, but not anymore.  He isn’t going to change in his thinking, and I’m not either….so I just find the humor in it.

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Happy Veteran’s Day to my wonderful father, who really did a superb job raising an independent and intelligent daughter.  I am just as proud of his military service, his accomplishments, and his crazy life experiences as he is in mine.  I think the best qualities of him include his desire to always be kind to people, and to take up for those who can’t do it for themselves.

His experiences in, and after, Vietnam shaped the rest of his life.  It shaped my life, too.  Having him as a father has given me a lot of patience with veterans.  I know everyone experiences war differently, and it also attaches to each soul differently.  Yet saying that, I find similarities.  I would see these men who were the same age as my own father in the long term Community Living Center at the VA Hospital.  Some were cranky, some still dirty old men, and some so quiet that I never heard them speak- and I was there everyday.

I had confidence interacting with them due to my father.  The silence, unexplained anger and hatred, extreme mood swings, walking the perimeter of the house/campsite for hours after dark, alcoholism and the act of hiding it, waking up in the night from nightmares, intensity… the list could go on and on, but I would watch Dad experience all of these. I was able to be a better caregiver for those men and women, because of my unconditional love and compassion for my father.  I am not claiming to understand any of it, because I don’t.  Hopefully, I am explaining this to where it makes sense.  I am fully aware my attempt to write about this is probably a jibber jabbering mess.

I am sorry that Dad had to go though those experiences.  The scars my father carries created something good within me, and I truly thank him for this.

Thank you for your service, Dad.

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DC Trip-day four, Maryland on our 50-states map

This was our last day in DC, and a travel day.  Our drive back to WV goes through Maryland, so we made a few stops along the way.

We drove to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland, which was only about 30 minutes north of Washington, DC.  This museum was specifically for me.  They wanted no part of it, so they waited for me in the car.  Mom read her book, and Aunt Thelma worked on her knitting.  It was for the best.  It is really aggravating to constantly hear how gross everything is when you are thoroughly enchanted by it.  This is the building, and the words to the right of the door are really difficult to read.  Also, it was really cold in the museum, maybe colder than usual in museums.

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It is mostly Civil War medical treasures, which is cool to look over.

The part that made me stop and sit to reflect was the floor of Trauma Bay II from Balad, Iraq.  I sat and stared at that piece of flooring for quite a while.

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Once I was finished at the Health and Medicine museum we continued our road trip west, and took another stop in Frostburg, MD.

About a month ago, I went with the Swing Dancing Club to a show across the street from the hotel in the picture below.  The show was awesome, and swing dancing everywhere!  As we were leaving, a worker of the venue said for us to try to go to the basement of the hotel because they have a really cool “museum”.  Most of the artifacts were the owner’s personal items, and he passed away recently.  We walked across the street to go check it out, and were stopped by the front desk.  I guess midnight was after operating hours of the museum!  It didn’t even dawn on me that it would be closed, or that it was so late.  Swing dancing makes everything an awesome rose-colored reality.

I planned to make a trip just to see this basement, but since the DC road trip had us driving right past….I made it a stop!

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The Failingers Hotel Gunter basement didn’t disappoint at all!  It had some amazing vintage items, but they need to preserve and have them in climate controlled rooms.  I would hate to see see all these beautiful things become messed up due to humidity.  My camera on my phone is terrible in low lighting (HTC One, otherwise great phone), so my pictures always have a red tint to them.  Sorry about that.  Only a few pictures came out of the museum.

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The kind woman at the front desk told us a little about the history of the hotel, and let us go throughout the hotel.  The entire hotel is beautiful.  I would call the Hotel and the museum collection…”turn of the century vintage, heavily peppered with 1980’s grandmother”.  Also, if you collect dolls, you would enjoy a few rooms they have displaying the owner’s collection.

I failed to get a picture of us at the hotel.  We had to stop to get my aunt a Diet Coke before we hit the interstate, so here we are in the drive through getting her “Large Diet Coke with extra ice”.  Yes, I have told her many times about the extra ice making it less drink, but it doesn’t do any good.

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Another cool note about Frostburg, MD, the parking meters downtown are $0.25 for an hour!  I’m used to the same quarter only being good for 20 minutes.

DC trip- day three, Virginia in our 50-States Tour

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Day three of the Austin Ladies exploring Washington, DC.  Today, we visited Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.  We were looking forward to this, as our families are ones who served our country. Not just spout out “I support the troops”, with a yellow ribbon magnet on their SUV.  I get a bit irritated with people who are like that, as I want to say, “GREAT, When are you or your kids enlisting? Oh, just other families should send their loved ones, but yours are off limits?”

Before I go too far on that soapbox, I will get back to Arlington.   We took the trolley tour, of course.  The cemetery is very beautiful.  I have always felt calm in cemeteries, and never been one to be afraid of death.  We arrived at the Unknown Soldier’s Tomb, and I was happy to see an Honor Flight attending the changing of the guard.

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The Honor Flight members I met were from upstate New York, and they said 84 were on this flight.  They were adorable, and all reminded me of my grandfather.  The gentleman in the above picture (standing next to me taking the picture) was a Korean War veteran said he goes on the flight all the time, and he just bebop-ed around. Spunky little guy.

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Arlington Cemetery was just beautiful.  We didn’t get to see JFK’s grave, as the changing of the guard at the Unknown Soldier’s is only once an hour.  We wouldn’t have made the trolley stop, so we decided to see the Unknown Soldier’s Tomb.  My mom is a huge fan of President John F. Kennedy, even with his “charming and charismatic way with women”.

This will be on my list to visit again.  Mom and Thelma didn’t want to walk much, so I saved my on-foot exploring for another day.  Mom and Aunt Thelma really enjoy riding the trolleys while the tour guide gives facts over the speakers.

This trip will count for our visiting the state of Virginia for our 50-states tour.