Sweet Tea, half and half

Hanging in my Aunt’s kitchen is a sign defining the South as “where the tea is sweet, and the accents are sweeter.”

My visit to Mt. Juliet couldn’t have been better. I was greeted with open arms and even a chocolate milkshake! Apparently having a love for chocolate tends to run with first-born Sizemore children. My Aunt and I stayed up very late Tuesday night catching up, talking about our family, and of course explaining my plans for this next year in San Francisco! I think for many families, you only get to see you extended members at holidays or funerals. In other words, when there is something else going on. This was truly the first time that someone from my half of the family (me) came to visit for the sole purpose of visiting, and it was so refreshing to not be in a rush. We even laughed at the past holidays and how my family would be the first to leave.

I spent a lot of time talking with my Aunt and Uncle, who despite their long work hours still find time to be the most amazing Grandparents to my two little second cousins. Many people’s financial futures are uncertain in these times, but in spite of everything, they were always positive and encouraging me to “go for it” with my dreams. But with our Tennessee MegaMillions tickets that my Aunt and I bought, we might just pack it all up and go on vacation for the rest of our lives! (Just kidding)

The only person I didn’t get to catch up with was with my cousin who works in Nashville. I didn’t realize that both the Country Music Awards and Bonnaroo were happening this week/weekend, so his work schedule and traffic were against us.

Snickers and Meeko loved Tennessee too! Snickers got lots of attention and rest on her Dora the Explorer kids couch while Meeko was excited to have another backyard to run around in, especially when there were little cousins to herd! The boys are very close in age, and watching them play reminded me a lot of all the make-believe games I would play with my sister. Right now the eldest is very into Bob the Builder, while the youngest is into doing whatever his older brother is doing. One afternoon I found myself looking over imaginary blue prints. “Jackie? Jackie you paint this side of the barn and I’ll paint this side, okay?” “Okay, what colour are we painting it?” “Blue!” “Blue! Won’t that be hard to see against the sky?” Alright maybe that last question was a bit too complex for him, but we had fun!

I arrived Tuesday not sure of how long I would stay, or how I would feel re-connecting with this side of my family. I ended up staying four nights, leaving Saturday morning after my Aunt and the boys played a game of Firetruck on the bed I’d been sleeping on. Firedog Meeko helped put out the fire too.

The past few days were some of the most relaxing and comfortable ones I have had in a long time. My Aunt, Uncle and cousins were so generous to me– they got me dinner every night and even sent me off with car snacks! It was sad to leave, but I have great memories and even greater pictures of all of us! I feel confident that this re-connection I have made with this side of my family will be permanent. Hopefully Meeko won’t chew anyone’s shoes next time!

Location: Mt. Juliet, Tennessee

The Smoky Mountains & I-40 West

We left Asheville midday Tuesday, June 5th after a delicious pear butter and toast breakfast and Snickers walking into that same pond again. I figured it would be about a 4 hour drive to my Aunt’s house in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.

While chatting with my Asheville hosts, I learned about the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is a National Scenic By-way that runs along the tops of the Appalachian Mountains. This same trail is popular among hikers, campers, bikers and a variety of road trip enthusiasts. Upon learning of it, I filed it away as a trip that I would likely travel someday and didn’t think anymore about it.

Traveling along I 40 West, the main highway running through North Carolina and across the state of Tennessee, I suddenly saw a sign for the Cherokee Reservation. I am somewhere between 1/8 and 1/16 Cherokee, and though I am unable to register as an official citizen (that’s a story in itself! Another time though…) I have great pride in this part of my ancestry and have a passion for First Peoples’ Rights. The main reservation is in Oklahoma, but my ancestry is from the North Carolina tribe who have their own reservation lands. Then I saw a sign for Smoky Mountain National Park. I took both signs as a sign that I should take an impromptu detour, not knowing where it would take me or even what direction I was heading!

After about 20 minutes on this other secondary highway, I saw a small brown sign for the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turning right off of the highway (I wouldn’t really call it an exit) I found myself on a windy one lane road heading up a mountain. I pulled over at the first “scenic view stop” I could. Getting out of the car I gasped at the view. The air was so quiet, even the birds seemed distant. Yellow wildflowers waived around my feet and I just stood there taking it all in.

I decided to climb a bit higher up the Blue Ridge Parkway and see what the next scenic stop would bring. Well the next one was completely blocked by overgrown trees, so we headed up to the third stop. Pulling over, I once again admired the view and decided it wasn’t worth getting the doggies out of their crate for just one picture. I stretched a little, and then slowly came to the realization that I had no idea where I was and my phone wasn’t getting any signal. Luckily, Ashwin had a stash of AAA maps in the driver’s side door and one of the was for Kentucky/Tennessee. I found my approximate location, far South of 40 West. I had two options– continue climbing up several thousand feet with the Blue Ridge Parkway going over at least 10 mountains before connecting back up with 40 West, or, go back the way I came.

My brain knew that the way I came would make this an hour and a half long detour total, with 4 hours still do go before arriving at my Aunt’s house. But my heart thought driving through the mountains at 35 mph and going directly through the Cherokee Reservation was an adventure to good to be true. I started up the car, about to turn back onto the road heading up. Then it hit me. Am I crazy? Do I want this car to die on me with only a quarter of my cross country journey completed? Ethel was working so hard already that I couldn’t even make her go the speed limit of 45 mph. I admitted defeat, and the possibility of a slight smoky smell coming from the car, and headed back down the mountain.

I’m still sad that I couldn’t take the road less traveled, but when your car is not in mint condition I think it’s better to play it safe and do what is best for the car. Which is not trying to drive along the tops of the Smoky Mountains. Who knows, if I end up in a graduate school in the South, perhaps I will get another chance at the Blue Ridge Parkway and visiting Cherokee Nation.

Location: Tennessee

Cross country road trip: The Plan

I’ve given a lot of thought into how to approach this road trip. My conclusion is that this is a perfect opportunity for me to explore the Southern states that I have never been to before, and to really take my time. I realize that cross country road trips are usually “once in a lifetime” ordeals, but this is actually my second cross country road trip.

The first one was the Summer of 2009, driving San Francisco to Pittsburgh with my boyfriend, with the express purpose of getting his car to Pittsburgh and going to Lollapalooza. With limited time and money, and no doggies, we took the Northern route, camping at the Grand Canyon without a tent and arguing over who had to drive through Nebraska. This time around, I’ll still have money in mind, but with no job to get to (or concert to be at) I can take all the time I want. I also know that driving by myself from Raleigh to San Francisco, I have to be realistic about how many hours I can do each day.

There are a few places that I know I will be staying longer than one night. The first is my boyfriend’s sister’s wedding in Raleigh– I’ll be there from May 30th until June 4th.  We are staying at a family friend’s house, who I’ve heard also has a dog. Maybe Meeko and Snickers will make a friend?

From there, I am heading to Mt. Juliet, Tennessee to visit my Aunt and Uncle and my cousins. One of my cousins has started a family, but I have never met either of her little boys. I’m very excited to meet my new second cousins! I haven’t seen this side of my family in about six years, but with the potential of being in the South for grad school, perhaps I will get to see them more often.

After that, I’ll be on my own for a bit, going through Arkansas and Mississippi. I’ve driven over the Mississippi river once, but this time, I’m going to find a place to stop and hang out by it. Maybe there is a state park along it so I can dip my feet in? If it’s not too out of the way, I plan to drive through the campuses  of Ole Miss (University of Mississippi in Oxford) and University of Central Arkansas as they are potential MFA programs for me. In my head, living in these places for three years would be a grand adventures, but the realistic side of me says you’d better go check these towns out before you sign any leases!

I’ve never been to Louisiana, and being a huge Anne Rice/Vampire Chronicles fan, I have this image of Louisiana that a mix of the forest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and James Bond’s Live and Let Die. I’m very curious to see New Orleans, to see how reconstruction is going and to find Lousiana State University, one of my dream MFA programs, and University of New Orleans. Continuing west, I’ll stop and see McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

After a few days in Louisiana I’ll drive further south to Corpus Christi, Texas where my sister lives. She’s just finished one part of her schooling to become a Navy Pilot! They are deciding which of the planes they want her to fly, which will determine her next step of more specialized training. By this point, I will probably be sick of driving, so staying at my sister’s for a week will be a fun mini-vacation for all of us!

Driving through the rest of Texas, I’ll head up to the University of New Mexico then west through Arizona. I love the landscapes of the Southwest, especially all of the rock deserts.

What happens next is still undecided. Do I drive along the coast of California along the famous Route 1? Or do I avoid any traffic jams by driving through Nevada? Ashwin votes for California, but I know it would be cheaper and less congested to go the other way.

I plan to make posts each night, and there will be lots of picture taking for each of my stops. I’m very curious to see how this trip will go, especially with two doggies with me, but at this point I’ve done all of the planning that I can!

Next stop, West Virginia!