A road through the past

I’m in favor of modern, paved roads, when it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg to drive on them (more on that later). Nine times out of 10 times, modern roads are helpful. But if you’re the fool who carries historical maps inside your head, modern roads can befuddle you occasionally.

On our summer vacation, we took a day to visit Gettysburg. This was a risky move, as the battlefield was an enticing attraction to only two members of our five-person family. I have always been a reader of American History. Big Brother has an interest in history as well. He took an 8th grade Civil War class last spring and was eager to see the field.

For the others, interest in Gettysburg was less acute. My wife likes to visit famous places, but once somebody tells her who won, she feels like she’s got all the info about the battle she needs. Buster believes when you go someplace with a cannon on every hill, you should be allowed to blow up something. Big Man just wants a hotel with a pool.

Sorry, Buster. All those guns are just for looking at.

It was a hot, humid day, but everyone bore it well. My wife was a trooper, driving us around and stopping wherever I asked so we could examine the monuments and walk the ground. I used the map in my head to answer Big Brother’s questions.

By the time we got to Little Round Top, it was the heat of the afternoon. We all climbed to the apex and took in the view. I wandered to the left, trying to locate the end of the Union battle line. Big Brother followed, and suddenly we were on a sacred quest to find the monument to the 20th Maine.

The beaten path ended, and we found ourselves exploring through underbrush. Now that the hunt had begun, the younger boys took up the chase, rushing downhill through the weeds to keep up. My wife followed out of concern for her wayward boys, issuing a constant bugle call of poison ivy warnings.

In the overgrowth, we discover the monument to the regiment in line next to the 20th. We must be close. Big Brother forged ahead, convinced he would soon be standing upon that hallowed spot.

He stopped short, clearly befuddled. When I came up to him, I understood why. He stood at a clearing with a paved road running through. We followed the road to an intersection, wondering how we could have missed the marker.

At the intersection we noticed a park ranger addressing a small group across the intersecting road. Then we knew our mistake. The modern roads had messed up the maps in our heads. The monument was just where it should have been, and just where we might have looked, had the Union line been bisected by asphalt in 1863.

No matter. We found our Holy Grail. A 13-year-old solidified his connection to the past. Even his tired and sweaty little brothers seemed satisfied. Their dad was happy about many things at that moment.

We didn’t see everything, but we couldn’t leave without finding this.

Mom had gone to get the car. When we felt the air conditioning inside, she became Gettysburg’s greatest hero.

EPILOGUE

A month later I got the Pay-by-Plate toll in the mail from the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  The toll for driving from the Ohio border to the Gettysburg exit, one way, was $67. Paved roads are getting to be trouble.

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What happens in Tennessee stays in the photo available in the gift shop at the end of the tour

Time flies when you’re not blogging. Last I checked, it was Christmastime, and now spring break has come and gone.

For spring break we piled into the minivan and headed south. We’d heard rumors of warmer weather and interesting attractions in Tennessee, and since it was within our spur-of-the-moment traveling range, why not?

Well, traffic for one thing. Every school district north of Kentucky had spring break the same week. I’ve never been in so many traffic jams in open country. I felt sorry for the families continuing to Florida during this temporary Midwestern diaspora.

Knoxville was a trip down a 30-year-old memory lane to the one semester I spent at the University of Tennessee before I became a graduate school dropout. UT does not seem to have suffered from our breakup. It remembered less of me than I did of it.

In Chattanooga, we played all over Lookout Mountain, taking the Incline Railway trolley up and down, then crisscrossing the mountain by car. We strayed momentarily into Georgia. Buster and Big Man had never been to Georgia, and since they didn’t leave the car, we debated if it counted. They never actually set foot there, but they did break the plane of Georgia, which counts in football. Since Georgia is a big football state, we’re counting it.

Pigeon Forge is an Appalachian Vegas, if you replace the casinos with moonshine and go-carts. We arrived with three intentions: Dollywood, Alpine Slide, and Titanic Museum (why there is an ocean disaster museum in the Smokey Mountains I’ll let you ponder). We did none of them. We got too distracted by other things, and the Alpine Slide was closed by high winds and a forest fire.

Still, we had fun discovering other adventures. We even spent hours visiting a bird sanctuary, which, Alfred Hitchcock notwithstanding, was not as horrible as it sounds. The boys loved it.

The kids decided they wanted to move to Tennessee. My wife was almost on board with them, but she didn’t see enough Target stores; when she drives too far without seeing Target, she starts to hear dueling banjos in her head. From there it’s a short mental leap to a Deliverance/The Hills Have Eyes situation.

It was not all fun and games. The minivan got progressively louder in the water pump area as the days passed. I grew apprehensive about the 500-mile trip home. During the drive back, I kept one eye on the road and one eye on the temperature gauge. She didn’t sound healthy, but our sick car soldiered through, delivering us safely, despite her nasty cough.

Now, $800 later, she’s sounds good as new, almost. Add that to the cost of vacation. It kind of makes me wish we didn’t buy a family photo at every ride and sideshow we visited. Oh well, those family photos will be a minute of pleasure when we stumble across them in basement shoe boxes every 15 years or so. So I guess that’s worth it.

School on Screens

Well, it’s happening. God only knows how it will play out, but this train won’t stop now.

Online schooling begins tomorrow.

Even though I haven’t been a real Catholic for 30 years, I have an impulse to cross myself when I make that statement, or even when I think about it.

The emails have been coming fast and furious from the middle and elementary school administrations as well as individual teachers. We’re drowning in informational attachments.

The boys have all gotten their schedules. Big Brother’s 7th grade schedule contains an elective called “The Great Outdoors,” which was not one of his top choices. The schedule was silent about the irony of learning all about the outdoors from a computer screen inside his house. His schedule is the most detailed, which is good, because he’s going to have to manage his responsibilities largely on his own.

The Great Outdoors, transformed into screen time for educational purposes.

His little brothers will need lots of help.

It used to be that 3rd grade and 1st grade schedules looked like this:

Morning: Drop them off at school

Afternoon: Pick them up from school

This year we have a day-long schedule of live and taped events the children must access on the computer every day. I am happy to see there is a break each day at 10:15 for the students to have a snack and the parents to crack open a bottle of wine. We weren’t in the habit of drinking in the morning, but as they say, welcome to the new normal.

Lunch is at 11:45, which is just about the time we will be realizing that wine is insufficient to our needs. A couple shots of something a little more robust should help us prepare for the afternoon sessions

Preparing our learning devices for the big day.

I think whoever made up the schedule gave up on it once they hit noon. The afternoon is a hodge-podge of pre-recorded sessions, which seem like they could be done in any order, but also seem to leave the administration entirely in the parents’ hands.

As daunting as this is, it may not turn out to be a bad thing. Parents have been lulled by our system into believing they are not ultimately responsible for their children’s educations. Some have leapt onto that slippery slope to the point where they don’t feel responsible for their kids’ emotional development.

Maybe this experiment will bring some parents back to their responsibilities. It won’t be fair to all parents, but nothing ever is. How fair it is to my family is not our top concern right now. Our top concern is that ourchildren progress, in all the facets of their lives. This, we are determined to see them do.

Maybe there’s a silver lining in online schooling, if it gets parents more involved in their children’s development. Or, maybe it’s just a train wreck in the making. Maybe it’s both. I was always partial to D: All of the above on multiple choice tests when I didn’t have a clue what was going on.

Snow day: use it or lose it

Yesterday was our first school snow day of the year. I’m not sure why it was a snow day. There wasn’t a particularly large volume of snow. Maybe the school system needed to use up the days before they were lost to spring weather.

This meant I had to take a vacation day from work to stay home with the boys. I don’t like having to spend my vacation days in this manner. I prefer to save them up to use when everybody is in school and I can stay home alone. So far, I’ve only been able to do this once; it was pure bliss.

After breakfast, and a break for some light roughhousing, we used the morning to catch up on our reading and do some homework. Buster lags a little bit in reading. That’s why it amazed me how willing he was to help his little brother do his homework. Buster helped Big Man sound out words on his list like a professional tutor. He showed more patience than I did when Big Man hit a difficult patch. Maybe he’s supposed to be the teacher instead of the student.

In spite of all the attempted murders, they do care for each other.

After lunch, we went out and played in the snow. By this, I mean I shoveled while the boys frolicked. It was the least amount of snow I’ve know to close a school, so the shoveling wasn’t bad. I didn’t even get sore or feel the need to swear when the snowplow went by later and pushed the street snow back into our driveway. It just wasn’t swearing snow.

Pulling little brother.

The tables turned: Pulling is not a fun as big kids make it look.

In the end, it wasn’t a bad vacation day spent.

Today was worse. School was closed again. This was a mind-boggler to me. There was hardly any new snow, and the roads seemed fine.

Today was fort-building day, which keeps kids from murdering each other, but is kind of messy for a living room.

Fort Living Room. Established to protect the TV from marauding parents.

It helps that none of the garrison of this fort is very tall.

Meanwhile, I worked on our washing machine, which decided not to run at all. I got it to work, but not quite the way it’s supposed to work. I’m not sure how my wife will like my cobbling job. She may press for a new machine. This is going to be a hard battle to lose. It’s one of the those where you know the exact problem, but the machine was manufactured to prevent you from getting to it without breaking more parts.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings. The school still has a few snow days in the bank, so it might turn out to be too sunny for school in the morning.