The mountains of Pennsylvania are damp in the mornings. Thankfully the camper is watertight and we awoke dry, much better than in a tent, but the gear left outside didn’t fare so well. Another road rule: “secure your gear if you don’t want it wet”. The sun came out and quickly dried my chair and screen tent. Homesickness crept in last night, the worst case so far, but I expected it before I left. Sheri posted pictures of the USA Cup soccer tournament on Instagram and it hurt not to be there, to be far away and not part of the family. But this journey was my choice and no one to blame for any misgivings but myself. I have a history of homesickness; leaving Sag Harbor for Basic Training, the two deployments, even before leaving on this trip I had that heavy feeling of sadness filling my stomach. Change isn’t something I handle well, it takes me forever to make a big decision, I have lengthy tenure at jobs, and there is constant self-doubt when I follow through. But that is what this trip is meant to conquer or change and after this trip, I hope to be more proactive rather than reactive. Take the bull by the horns as they say! The couple from Connecticut left early and a part of me wished I was heading home as well. But, back to telling people about your goals and being held accountable. No scurrying back to Hopkins and hiding under a trailer home like Jay-Rock.
The couple next to me were up and we chatted as both camps carried out our morning rituals. They have a son in the Air Force so take care of the grand-dogs, two big lovable basset hounds, when he is gone. The husband had prostate cancer, is doing well, but comes down from North Pennsylvania because he is in a medical study. Portions of his tumor are injected into his blood stream so the body can fight it, same principle as a flue shot. There is a hospital in Pittsburgh where the scheduled procedures take place so they use the KOA as a home base. He works at a dairy who have been very supportive during his illness and will be soon be going back to work. I was curious about his health insurance, especially with all that is happening in Washington but didn’t ask, I figured it was too personal. The radio reported that Senator McCain is undergoing medical treatment for an issue with his eye and wonder how his and this man’s insurance compare. I am thinking Senator McCain is not staying at a KOA when he has treatments and that is sad. Not because I wish Senator McCain any ill will, I just wish this man a better situation.
There is a portion of me that feels like I am still at work with deadlines that are now only imagined. It’s a drive-stop-unpack-sleep-pack up-drive type of schedule with anxious feelings at each step. I am enjoying the countryside but not experiencing it and the stops by the side of the road are not as often as I expected. Its feels like I am on a race, maybe an enduro race where I must get to a location within a certain timeframe or points will be lost for nonconformity. The city interstates are busier than the country interstates and the slower pace is comforting even though it does add to my anxiety. There are a lot of hills in this portion of the country and Mabel enjoys the ride as we go up and down on Hwy 219 towards Johnstown. The map showed the Flt 93 Memorial was close to our Northward path so we took the right as the sign commanded and proceeded to rollercoaster more hills.
Linda Gronland, A woman from Sag Harbor, my home town, was on that flight and I wanted to pay my respects. Her Mom owned SagaLund, a clothing store in the 1980’s Sag Harbor and I own a 34-year-old pair of Timberlands we bought from her.
The memorial is massive, rolling fields of grass broken by the asphalt road directing you to the tragedy. I pulled over with Mabel and we read the placard describing the events and showing the path of the flight as it passed over the hill behind us. We approached the memorial center, which commands our view, a stark contrast to more grassy fields and the crater where the plane crashed.
I was surprised to be greeted by a souvenir counter as I entered the memorial and didn’t think it was appropriate to sell t-shirts and other trinkets related to the flight. But maybe that’s what helps to fund the site. The imagery was painful, I don’t like watching video of the Towers burn and the cell phone recordings from the plane were too hard to listen to. I toured the museum rather quickly, saw Linda’s picture, and made my way back through the hot parking lot to Mabel.
We arrived in Saint Michael around 4:00 and found the house on the second pass because my cousin John was poking his head out the door. I had not been to Saint Michael in close to 40 years so it was surreal in that fact that my mindset was that of 40 years ago. I know that is a long time ago and anyone would realize that lots of changes had occurred over that time span but for some reason it surprised me. His mom Joyce came to the door, full of hospitality, and we quickly settled into that “welcome the family member” to our home type of relationship. Joyce’s grandson Chase loved Mabel and she spent a lot of time with him. He is a big kid, 6’ 3” at age 15 and I would hate to have to feed him. Joyce made a great meal and afterwards John and I went to visit my Grandfather’s sister, Aunt Jo, who is 100 years old. She lives by herself in an unassisted living apartment and is sharp for 100. She knew who I was after I explained the connection and we proceeded to have a nice visit.
The camper had cooled off by sleep time, it was hot when we arrived and we both slept soundly in the backyard under the shadows of the Pennsylvania coal mountains where my Grandfather spent his youth.