Diary of a 7-Day Journey with my Daughter Morgan:
Morgan jounced along with me as I drove across the Continent from Virginia to Washington State in a moving truck crammed like an old-fashioned peddler’s wagon. My parents had died fairly recently, Daddy in late Autumn of 2004 and Momma about two years later in 2006. As a result of their passing, I inherited many of their possessions. The last time I’d driven a moving truck packed with so much heavy furniture and jangly stuff cross-country was back in 1993. This road trip also signaled a completion of a cycle of death-journeys back and forth from Seattle to rural Virginia around the deaths of both parents.
Morgan and I arrived with all belongings in the wee hours of Saturday morning, about 2:30 AM, on 14 April 2007. It was quite a trip. And it was a special trip, a long overdue opportunity for some father – daughter bonding. Morgan is my oldest daughter of three and my only biological offspring. She had turned 13 a month earlier. I love her dearly, and it was painful to stand aside and watch her grow up and apart. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon, but at 12 she started taking off.
As my eldest daughter, she was but a sprout compared to her grandparents who recently died in their mid-70s. Dad passed first, dying on the 1st of December 2004, the third anniversary of my partnership with Kristina. After a few false starts, Mom finally followed on my brother’s birthday, 15 November 2006. My sister Beth had successfully navigated between doctors, lawyers, accountants, funeral home directors, tax preparers, insurance agents, courts, gravediggers, bankers, and stressed out relatives. Beth performed difficult job with perseverance and excellence, all while working full-time, raising a daughter, and settling in from Arizona back into Virginia.
The closure of this entire mess o’ dying proved to be an adventure yet.
Saturday 7 April – First, flying from Seattle, WA to Richmond, VA via Chicago was uneventful and smooth, albeit we landed at 11:30 PM that night. Ray Hinde, my sister’s second husband, was generous to pick us up at the airport as our rental car plan fell through. He had just driven to the airport the night before to pick up his son and daughter by his first wife. They had buzzed in from Arizona.
On the plane I read David McCullough’s history book 1776 and was struck by the irony of me, a Virginian living in Washington, reading about George Washington, himself a native of Virginia and in whose honor my adopted state was named after. And Morgan is a native of Washington and is visiting Virginia. The events of that gripping narrative, however, describe a situation that changed history. If the American Revolution had failed there would be no “Virginians” living in “Washington.”
Even so, we paid my Aunt Helen a midnight visit down in the Fan, the Bohemian area of Richmond. Helen, my daddy’s Big Sister, had a box of gold-rimmed china from her mother to give Morgan, who is Mary Yeatts Bass’s great-granddaughter. Helen, a morning lark, was kind enough to stay up late for us to visit. It was stunning to walk into her home in the Fan. On every wall was beautiful and vibrant art. On the table was another project in process.
Helen excitedly led us into her basement art studio to show us a number of fun and expressive pieces she was crafting from a mélange of seashells, driftwood, stones, beads, and paints. And also where she tripped over a cord and smashed to the floor. Morgan was thrilled to see Helen again and it was her first visit to Helen’s organic and living in-home museum and studio. I wished we could all visit more often; tough to do when we lived 3000 miles away. Helen, thank you for being such a gracious host beyond the Witching Hour. And Morgan feels awe to receive her great-grandmother’s china.
Ray drove us on back to the old Bass farm outside Rice. He and Beth have a new home on a hill overlooking the lake formed by the Sandy River Reservoir. He took us to my deceased parents’ empty house. Morgan and I spent the remainder of the night there, wondering if we would see ghosts. I slept very poorly.
Sunday 8 April was Easter and a bit of rumble tumble family reunion. First we went to Sharon Baptist Church where we’re related to half the folks there. Morgan got to limp around with her broken foot and meet various distant relations. It was especially good to see Cousin Beverly Bass Hines and her husband John and their kids who just celebrated their wedding anniversary. One of her daughters, Jessie, was out in New Mexico riding horses and going to school. Beverly, it’s inspiring to meet others who jumped the broom a few times but finally got it right.
As usual I can’t sing a lick and stood awkwardly holding the hymnal and mumbling notes. Reminded me of why I shy away from church. That afternoon was a sibling reunion of Morgan and me with my sister Beth and her family, including her Arizona stepkids, and my brother Joe and his family. It soon morphed into Alli’s birthday party. She turned five. Alli, sort for Allison, is Beth and Ray’s daughter.
Easter was cold. Cold! It felt so white with clear Spring skies hijacked by Winter. There had been an extended heat wave prior to our visit with temperatures up in the 70s. Now frigid air blasted thru struggling trees and across the Sandy River Lake. We struggled to put up Alli’s trampoline she got for her birthday. But the drop in temperatures combined with that wind zipping off the lake made it too miserable to stay out long. We all wanted to see spring flowers and warm sunshine and animals coming out of the forest.
Monday 9 April was a workday. Beth, Joe, and Ray in various ways helped me load up the 16-foot rental truck that cost me over $1,500. I am grateful for all your help. Thank you. It was hard, awkward, and clumsy work.
Last night, Sunday night that is, was the last night I slept in my parents’ house, and for Morgan, her paternal grandparents. It felt so strange. No one else was there, just my daughter and I. Morgan was quite brave and felt “kinda psychic.” She was glad I was there with her, too. The house I grew up in and spent much of my life my first two decades seemed an empty shell, forlorn and swept clean by grief, bereft of meaning. Without Bill and Dot’s aliveness sizzling with their mythic yelling matches it was just a house. Felt weird and spooky and yet purposeful. Chilly bumps and haunted imaginations made us jumpy.
I had a nostalgic recollection of when I was really young; the Old Bass Family Farmhouse up on the hill where 5 or 6 of my great-aunts & great-uncles lived was the center of family activity, not my own house. All full of hustle-bustle. Eventually, though, all of them died one by one and the once great house fell into disrepair and is now nothing more than a haunted shell where even the memories fade. I remember the homes of both sets of my grandparents being so full of life and energy, and also my own parents, especially that last special Christmas of 2005 when all of us siblings and our partners & kids where there to delightfully overwhelm Mom. Now nothing’s there but stirred-up dust and dead bugs in the windowsills.
Tuesday, April 10 – Morgan and I spent Monday night down at Joe and Sally’s. I stayed in their guest room while Morgan slept in Cousin Lydia’s room. She and Lydia apparently discussed a wide range of topics from the Bible to Harry Potter.
I’ve been spending a lot of time at Beth’s and wanted to give her a break and stay at my brother’s for a change. He lives back in the woods. Real pretty. But when we awoke, it was colder than ever! Below freezing!
Frost covered the ground and our breaths steamed the air. We pulled on hats and gloves, and went on down to my parents’ home to get the moving truck. Cranked ‘er up, turned on the heat, and scraped ice from the windows. Joe came down there to see us off before disappearing into the woods to hunt game. Morgan got a kick out of his Southern drawl and just how goofy weird my brother and I are.
Morgan and I pulled out in our Budget Rental Truck for Seattle. We said farewell to her grandparents’ empty home and rolled away at 7:30 AM EST. After a brief stop in Farmville to pull cash out the bank, we drove across Virginia and down into Tennessee on a wide detour to see the Harvins. It was a beautiful drive, and Morgan got to see the
Appalachian Mountains change from the Blue Ridge to the Roanoke Valley to the Alleghenies to the Cumberland Plateau. We stayed at Aunt Marianna’s and Uncle Laurence’s home in Murfreesboro, just SE of Nashville. Morgan and I pulled in at 5:30 PM Central.
We had a blast visiting with them, distracted Larry a little bit from his post-op discomfort, and got to see my cousin Debbie and her second hubby Tim and all their children. We had fun seeing the similarities between Morgan and Haley, Debbie’s oldest daughter. It’s remarkable how certain family traits jump family trees. Beth and Joe – y’all get yer behinds down to Tennessee. It’s a beautiful state and the Harvins are a joy to hang out with. Mary and Larry, I was so struck by your beautiful home with its new floors and polished furniture. And thank you for putting us up for the night. Hope Larry feels better.
Tennessee displayed an abundance of spring flowers and budding leaves, but like Virginia felt surprisingly cold. Mary and Larry fretted about the April freeze damaging all their lovely plants.
VA>TN & on to Seattle here we come!
Wednesday 11 April – we drove thru Nashville rushhour traffic and a torrential downpour. Weather is freaky. Everywhere we drove East to West it was unusually cold after unusual warm spells. Such wild oscillations in weather is associated with global warming’s volatility. As global warming confuses many folks who make the understandable mistake of collapsing “weather,” “temperature,” and “climate” with some areas getting cooler and others hotter but with increasing trends toward a hot planet that may in turn trigger an ice age, I like what one scientist proposed as a better name for climate change: global climate disruption.
Anyway, we drove northwest out of Tennessee, across Kentucky and parts of Illinois, all the way across Missouri, and not-quite halfway across Kansas, staying in a crowded Econo Lodge hotel in Junction Gap outside Salinas. It was interesting to see immigrants from India who managed the hotel run around in Kansas in thin clothes and flip flops complaining of the cold. The hotel was dingy and smelled of smoke. Morgan and I both hate that odor. But our room had TV and Internet service, so we indulged ourselves in a little technological euphoria before falling asleep.
My one major disappointment of the day was in St. Louis. I wanted to tour the Gateway Arch and go up inside with Morgan, but were unable to find parking for the truck. After driving around in circles and not finding proper clearance we gave up and got back on the freeway. It was my third time to St. Louis and each time something weird happen that prevented me from going up inside this magnificent arch.
First it was an out-of-control tractor-trailer jackknifed across the exit ramp, the second time it was closed for repairs, and the third we couldn’t park our big ass truck. At least we got to cross the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, they surged with a primeval power, and Morgan tried to take digital
pictures of state signs as we rolled across one border after another. Most of the time, however, she photographed herself sitting in the cab of the truck making goofy faces.
Regardless of that particular disappointment, the lush green beauty of Tennessee and Kentucky struck Morgan in Springtime. She fell in love with the natural beauty of these two states. It was also a challenging drive as I hit gusty winds in mid-Illinois and battled winds all the way into Kansas with both hands gripping the wheel. At times I felt I would sail off beyond the guardrails. I had renewed respect for the truckers whose rigs were as sails in the wind.
TN > KY > IL > MO > KS, oh what a drive, what a drive. Quite an adventure, but oh I feel so tired. Morgan is a great traveler.
Thursday 12 April – It was bitter cold with subfreezing winds moaning across the plains as we left the hotel and drove through Salinas. Morgan and I barreled across the rest of Kansas, eastern Colorado, and up into Wyoming, and halfway across that state. We thought Kansas was beautiful with its rolling grassy hills and Great Plains. We were clearly in the West. And the high plains of Colorado are truly flat, flatter than Kansas. Both Morgan and I, accustomed to enclosed greenery where trees obstruct views, were enchanted by wide-open expansiveness and distant horizons.
Perhaps one of the more synchronous moments out there on the Great Plains occurred when I whimsically chose to answer my cell phone while driving. It was a business colleague back in Seattle.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“I’m way out in Kansas driving across beautiful country way out in the middle of nowhere,” I replied.
“Tsk, tsk,” he grunted. “There is no such thing as ‘the middle of nowhere.’”
It just so happened I was in Kansas halfway between Oakley, where his mother was from, and Colby, where his father was from and where he grew up. I reminded myself what I often tell people who either dis the locals or dis the outsiders that we’re all human beings from somewhere on the same planet and therefore we are both all locals and all outsiders one and the same.
Smack dab at the Kansas-Colorado border, however, we hit snow. Heavy snow. There was a car towing a U-Haul trailer from Georgia. “Just Married” was written all across the car. We both pulled over one behind the other as the famous log-cabin style border sign “Welcome to Colorado.”
I remember the first time I saw this sign, in one of Mary and Larry’s slide shows from the 1960s or 70s on their first trip to the Rockies before I finally saw it in person in June 1986. The young husband from Georgia got out stared all around him, standing there in shorts and flip flops, cuz hell its hot back yonder in Georgia, and says in a syrupy Southern accent that makes me proud to be Southern: “Lorda mighty, can yew believe all this heah snow?”
A State Trooper pulled off the side of the road behind us and told us all “to git.” What the hell were we gonna do? Blow up the flippin’ famous “Welcome to Colorado” sign? But we didn’t wanna argue. It was too cold. The Georgians were moving to Denver, and we had to get to Seattle.
The weather forecasts were of spring blizzards. The snow fell thick and furious. Should I stop or should I go? Stay and get buried, or risk running out of gas in a
snowdrift. Media images of monster blizzards danced in my tired imagination. I chose to get as far as I could, maybe outrun the storms, and kept a full tank of fuel.
We drove through two heavy snowstorms, all part of the same blizzard, which I heard later buried parts of Kansas & Colorado. We drove around the worst of the storms, there was nothing much around Denver and Fort Collins, avoided the highest mountains, hit more snow around Cheyenne, and slept scrunched up in a truck stop in Wyoming, where it got down to 15 degrees.
As I couldn’t really sleep, a few times I got up to wander around inside the truck stop. These interstate truck stops far out in the outlands are like small, self-contained mini-cities. One could wander around looking at endless rows of shot glasses, cowboy hats, baseball hats, makeup kits, cigarette lighters, knives, batteries, screwdrivers, wrenches, quarts of oil, boxes of condoms, cases of cheap beer, cases of Coca-Cola, cases of Gatorade, maps of every state, and Afro picks.
One of the clerks behind the counter was a beautiful woman, beautiful in a down-home, down-to-earth working on the ranch kind of way. No-nonsense but shy, she flirted with me and I fantasized about her. She was lonely, I listened to her with respect, and she got that I respected her. We made small talk, but I had no desire to go anywhere with this pretty lady so I wished her well and hit the road with Morgan. We headed west through a gap in the Wyoming Rockies, pulled over at another freezing cold rest stop to sleep awhile, then pulled out for Utah as the sun warmed the stormy skies behind us.
KS > CO > WY = one long day.
Friday 13 April – Drove across the rest of beautiful Wyoming into Utah where the weather was clear and sunny and cold with reports of folks skiing up in the mountains. We skirted the Great Salt Lake, had a scary near-miss with a tractor-trailer in a construction zone outside Ogden. I mowed down some orange cones to get out of the way as that truck and mine were funneled together in a confusing, poorly marked tangle. We stopped in Ogden at some local burger joint, burned out on McDoos.
I ordered a big, fat, juicy burger jammed with cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, everything. Morgan and I called it a “Mormon burger” because everywhere we turned around there were Mormon slogans and tabernacles. Well that Mormon burger got back at me by bursting apart in my hands when it bit into it. Saucy goop blew all over my shirt, jacket, and sleeves. Morgan started howling, I started laughing with a mouth full of Mormon burger, and that shook the remainder loose upon my belly and lap. Morgan dove for her camera.
After I cleaned up, we headed north into Idaho. There we drove across the longest expanse of emptiness and I came close to running out of gas. It was nowhere to run out of gas, either. Spied a faded green dinosaur off in the distance. An old but still functioning gas station that used the brontosaurus emblem set smack in the middle of a barren no-man’s land like a derelict starbase on some alien planet in a faraway solar system.
Everyone in there was fat, smoked cigarettes, glared at us through horned rimmed glasses, and shuffled around in gosh dang house slippers or work boots. Cost me $81 to fill up. Damn! But I am grateful to gas up the truck. Then we drove across the Snake River plains of Idaho up into the mountains of Oregon, crossed the Columbia River Gorge into Washington State, and on home on the 4th day of this Big Drive.
Drove WY > UT>ID>OR>WA, another long ass day. Whew!
Saturday 14 April –Morgan and I actually got home at 2:30 in the morning. I had started hallucinating from sleep deprivation. As I entered the outskirts of Seattle I saw an enormous purple snake, big as smokestacks, curled up on an overpass. OK. No prob. Very matter of fact, like I encounter big purple pythons every day, right? Then on the next overpass stood a gigantic golden Easter bunny. Wow. Check out that big ass bunny rabbit. Enormous like a gigantic golden statue of Buddha. Then the giant Easter Buddha Bunny dissolved into trees and streetlights, and I realized I was hallucinating.
“Dad, pull over and take a nap!” ordered Morgan.
And I did. For about a half hour. Later that afternoon and again on Sunday Kristina and I spent hours and hours unloading furniture both into our Seattle home and into a storage unit for our river cabin, which we plan to close on the purchase of this May 4 and soon start spending lots of time at. We’re grateful for my parents for leaving us such nice stuff. Really beautiful stuff as well as practical stuff (I even brought back a grain shovel to shovel snow with and a pitchfork to poke fokes in the arse with).
It was a special trip for me in other ways, too. Morgan is entering adolescence I feel us drifting apart already. So it was a really good bonding experience for my daughter and me to fly out to Virginia together and drive back. She’s done this once before, at about age 3 or 4, but hardly remembers that wild trip.
Morgan is a great travel buddy, never complained, and appreciates just being able to see the changing landscapes. We knew it had to be this way for this particular trip, as she was out for Spring Break and needed to get back in time for school and me to work, so we didn’t do much site-seeing and exploration of points of interest other than what we could see from the road. I also wanted Morgan to experience the enormous size of our nation and our continent and see the changing landscapes, different vegetation, shifting weather, grow sick of McDonald’s, and hear different accents.
Gotta go get me some sleep!
P.S. Almost all of these belongings trucked out at such great expense were destroyed in a catastrophic house fire in Edmonds, Washington on March 10, 2010. These treasured possessions had been divided between the Yellow Dragonfly House in North Seattle and the River House outside Plain near Lake Wenatchee, in the Central Cascades near Leavenworth. After Kristina and I lost our homes in the Great Recession, we moved into a lovely home designed by the deceased parents of the then-current owners. We’d hoped to buy it someday, and faulty wiring in the walls generated the sparks that set the home ablaze.
So, yes, many things came to an end then, as all things eventually do and must.
William Dudley Bass
3 March 2012
NOTE: Originally published as “Barreling Across America with my Daughter,” on my earliest website, Cultivate and Harvest, on Wednesday 19 November 2008, at http://cultivateandharvest.blogspot.com/2008/11/barreling-across-america-with-my.html, then revised & republished here this February 2012 with my permission as the Author. Thank you.
Copyright © 2007, 2008, 2012, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.