In between the Utah-cations over the years, there were two big vacations. To celebrate my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary, our entire extended family went on a cruise to Mexico when I was 13, which I certainly considered the highlight of my life up to that point. I clearly remember the mounting anticipation as I counted down the days--and sometimes the hours--till the commencement of a vacation that grew to practically take on its own life form, not to mention its own title: "The Cruise." I would beg my mom every afternoon to let me fire up the dial-up and sign into AOL in hopes that a certain cousin would also be online so that we could I.M. each other back and forth, topics ranging from how very excited we were for The Cruise to how very, very, very excited we were for The Cruise. I can happily report that the cruise itself lived up to and even exceeded my expectations. The fact that I have a bajillion cousins or so on that side of the family only helped to multiply the fun.
The other big trip my family took happened when I was 18 and living in Provo pursuing a bachelor's degree, but I still count it as part of my childhood. My dad had enough frequent flyer miles racked up to fly all eight of us plus my grandparents to Hawaii and back for free (and he still had miles left over). After staying at Waikiki for a few days, we boarded a cruise ship and visited locations on Oahu, Maui, The Big Island, and Kawai. A Dream-cation if there ever was one. I still remember walking out of the plane when we first arrived and being immediately enveloped in humidity. I was carrying my two-year-old brother who had never encountered such thick air before. He kept waving his arm in front of his face until finally, he perplexedly asked, "It smoky, Brit? It smoky?" Smoke--the nearest thing to humidity Utah can produce. ;)
The paragraphs above turned out to be much more of a prelude to this post than I originally intended, but I suppose you now have an idea of how thoroughly I love vacationing and also how much of the world still lies in wait for me. So, when a friend called the other day with an invite to spend Memorial Day weekend in Fowler, Ohio, (a tiny farming town right on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania) I wasn't about to turn down the offer, especially since "Redneck-cation" was obviously something I had yet to check off my list.
Friday evening, eight of us met up, packed up a few vehicles, and off we went. The drive from Ann Arbor to Fowler takes approximately four hours under normal circumstances, those circumstances not accounting for becoming lost multiple times regardless (or perhaps because) of an in-car navigation system and two phones with GPS that may or may not have been present.
When we finally found State Route 7, which was the road on which our final destination was located, we noticed an enormous, looming cloud of fog ahead.We puzzled over it as we drove closer. We also puzzled over the high amount of traffic on the road for 11-o-clock at night, not to mention the fact that we were out in the middle of nowhere. As we entered the periphery of the fog cloud, we came to a four-way stop that was brightly lit by flashing lights. Six or seven police cars were lined up in a row, with a multitude of policemen standing outside their vehicles. They paid no attention to us, but seemed to be stopping only the cars on the opposite side of the road. The traffic grew thicker, as did the fog, as we continued onward. As our car's headlights struggled to penetrate the air, we began to realize that we were not driving through fog at all, but rather a giant dust cloud. Our suspicions were soon confirmed, when, to the right of the road, we spotted a giant clearing through the trees. Hundreds--maybe even a thousand--trucks were parked haphazardly in a dirt clearing. We could hear the sounds of racing motors, but couldn't quite make out through the trees what was in the area where the dust cloud was most concentrated.
When we arrived at our destination a couple of minutes later, our hosts--the parents of my friend, Lance--came out of the house to meet us.
Lance's dad, a wizened and weathered farmer who used to work for the Church as the curator of the John Johnson farm greeted us with a hearty, "Welcome to Redneck Country!" He told us we couldn't have had a better introduction to Fowler on a Friday night than the races we'd passed, which had been the cause of the giant dust cloud. Everybody and their dog from miles around brings their trucks every weekend to race around the track. We were informed that the policemen we'd seen had been lined up for sobriety checks to catch all of the traffic leaving the races.
We were invited inside the house to wait for the other four in our group who had arrived ahead of us but who had decided to take a quick spin on the 4-wheelers (yes, even though it was nearly midnight), and we made ourselves comfortable in the very 70s-themed basement, basking in the ample wood paneling and enjoying the comforts of a white, green, brown, and orange flowered couch. After waiting a while, we heard the missing party return, and one by one, they made their way down the stairs, being careful to duck so as to avoid the low overhang on the staircase. First came Lance, and then came two of the others, Angela and Rob, both of them sniffling and wiping tears from their eyes.
Though it seemed that Rob and Angela could have just come from a funeral, the tears were apparently due to a rather strong allergic reaction to the tall grass they had just ridden through out by the swamp next to the forest. I started feeling itchy and sneezy just looking at them. Before long, Rob began to break out in hives.
After doing some further admiring of the 80s workout videos lining the shelf, some well-worn farming "how-to" books, and Lance showing us a secret compartment behind the wood paneling, we all headed off to bed, the girls to the camper outside (much to the envy of Jonathan, another of our party who had a burning desire to sleep in it from the first moment he laid eyes on it as we pulled into the driveway), and the guys to various couches and beds around the house.
The next morning, we all awoke bright and early, the humidity already hanging so heavily in the air that suffocation seemed entirely possible. After a delicious breakfast of waffles and homemade cobbler, Lance and his dad commenced to bringing out a posse of 4-wheelers. And a posse I do mean. There were enough for all 8 of us to ride at the same time, and more left over. In addition to 4-wheelers, there was a mini dirt bike or two, not unlike those on Mario Kart (in fact, Lance said that when nieces and nephews come to visit, they set up an obstacle course in the giant backyard and play real-life Mario Kart).
After choosing a medium-sized 4-wheeler with fairly straightforward pedal gear-shifting, I was ready to go. Earlier that morning before breakfast, Lance's dad had looked me up and down and said, "You're going riding wearing that?" I wasn't sporting particularly nice clothes, but I wasn't wearing jeans and a t-shirt, either. After seeing the state of some of the 4-wheelers, the ridicule I'd heard in his voice earlier made a bit more sense as I realized that I might be in for a bit of a mud bath.
After everyone was outfitted with a 4-wheeler and drugged up with plenty of allergy medicine, off we went into the woods. It was incredible fun, to say the least. The forest was beautiful, and there was even a place right in the thick of it with a line of pine trees grown just far enough apart so as to form a sort of tunnel a few hundred yards long that you could race down and out into a swampy area near a pond.
Throughout the forest, there were pockets of mud, which some chose to hit more squarely than others. By afternoon, however, several of us had gotten properly stuck in the mire (a few of us more than once), and all of us were respectably splattered in mud.
|Angela, April, and I on our vehicles of choice.|
|The chain on my 4-wheeler came off during one of our rides, so April let me hop on behind her.|
That afternoon, we took out the guns and did some shooting. I shot a 22 for the first time, and I am quite proud to say that I knocked over three pop cans. After some shooting, we headed to a neighboring town to find a restaurant for a late lunch before heading to the beach at a park called "Mosquito Lake." After hearing the name of it, some of us weren't so keen on going, but Lance assured us the name was given just to keep tourists away. ;)
The lake turned out to be quite nice, and we basked on the sand (which was more like a mixture of sand and fine dirt) and waded for a while. At this point in the day, I was lathered in SPF 50 sunscreen, but my skin still managed to acquire a fairly alarming shade of red. Angela and I had maybe a little too much fun burying Rob's shorts in the sand while he was out wading (though he totally had it coming) and did quite a good job of covering it up, too, if I do say so myself. Upon returning to the beach, it took him several minutes to discover their whereabouts. Luckily for Rob, Lance's mom did some laundry that night, so all was forgiven.
On our way home, we made an impulse stop at a little shack called "Grumpy's" and enjoyed some shakes and cones. I tried peach ice cream. It was...peachy. After a quick detour to Wal-Mart (yep, rednecks have Wal-Marts) to purchase items for our Sunday meals, we were pretty beat by the time we made it home again. We lounged on the deck out back, chatting and doing some power-napping before we headed back out onto the 4-wheelers for another round of riding. By this point, people were starting to get sore, and some of us were even developing blisters on our hands...but we just couldn't help ourselves. I got much muddier this time around and finally gave up trying to hose myself off and just took a quick shower (and with ten people to one bathroom, the shower was quick indeed).
After dinner, I took a short trip to the gas station with April to fill the car with gas in preparation for our Sunday travels. The nearest gas station to Lance's parents' house was a couple of miles away, right on the state line, and after backtracking a wrong turn or two, we were able to find it. We pulled in on one side and were in Ohio, and after pumping gas, pulled out on the other side and were in Pennsylvania. After returning to Fowler, the group of us finished off the night with a few rounds of Scum, and then, nearing the point of absolute exhaustion, we headed to bed.
Sunday morning, we got up not quite so early as Saturday morning, had some leftover waffles, and headed to church. A couple people had forgotten to bring Sunday clothes, but Lance and his parents assured them that no matter what they wore, they'd fit right in. And yep, after arriving at the church building, we discovered they weren't joking. Redneck country. :) Our drive to and from church led us on a bunch of back-country roads, where we passed several horse-drawn buggies, Amish families, and unusual caution signs.
After church and a quick meal back at home, we headed out to see some historical church sites. Our first stop was the Kirtland Temple. We happened to have pretty good timing, so we only had to wait a few minutes for the next tour to begin. Since the Kirtland Temple is owned by Community of Christ (a branch formerly known as the RLDS church, which split from the LDS faith in the 1800s), it was interesting to note the differences between that tour and the tour we went on later in the day led by a senior missionary couple at an LDS church-owned visitor's center. Before touring the temple, the guide had us watch a movie (which Lance assured us was much better than some of the previous ones he's seen), which was interesting. I suppose it would suffice to say there were, as would be expected, noticeable differences between it and an LDS production.
Touring the temple itself was really neat. Though we didn't get to see the third/attic floor because of structural issues due to age, we did get to see the first and second floors. It was awe-inspiring to see first-hand how much the pioneers sacrificed to build such an edifice. Some of the pulley/curtain systems they developed to split the large upper room into smaller classrooms were quite ingenious, too.
|Kirtland Temple in Kirtland, Ohio, built 1833-36|
|Standing in front of one of the two 500 lb. front doors to the Kirtland Temple. (L-R: April, Rob, Angela, Jonathan, Britny, Dave)|
After visiting the Kirtland Temple, we headed not far away to the location of the Newell K. Whitney store. The only original surviving structures are the Whitney store and the Whitney home, but the Church has reconstructed the group of buildings that used to stand around this area, as well as a visitor's center. Brother and Sister Farr, a wonderful senior missionary couple, gave us a two-hour tour of the area. We started first by watching another movie (this time one that was produced by the Church) to learn about some of the history and stories behind the things we were about to see. We were then led to the Whitney store. Almost everything about the building is original, including even some of the floors. Because the Whitneys kept such detailed logs and records, the Church has also been able to restock the store to look exactly as it did when it was run by the Whitneys themselves. Some furniture is authentic, but all of it is at least period. After touring the main store area and the trading room off to the side (where most of the bartering took place--the Whitneys did sales more through trade than with money), we went upstairs and saw the area where Joseph and Emma were housed for a while. At the top of the stairs is what is called the "Revelation Room," where Joseph received several of the revelations that are now in the Doctrine and Covenants. The well-worn table in the parlor is the original table he sat at when he received some of these, as well as the table at which Emma would serve their guests. Behind the parlor is the School of the Prophets--a rather cramped room filled with several benches, a desk, and a fireplace. It was directly due to the School of the Prophets that Joseph Smith received D&C 89, the revelation about the Word of Wisdom. It is interesting to note that Emma had every right to be disgusted by the smoke and tobacco juice the men would leave behind--not only did she have to clean it all up, but the floorboards had large enough cracks between them that the tobacco juice could seep through and drip down into the room below, which happened to be Emma's kitchen!
After seeing the School of the Prophets, the bedroom where Joseph and Emma slept, and the hired man's room, we headed down a different staircase to the back of the house, and visited Emma's kitchen. Sister Farr showed us where Emma used to cook and told us that in the days of the pioneers, the leading cause of death among women was infection that they would get from their skirts catching fire and burning their skin. She showed us the little metal contraption that Emma had hooked to the side of the fireplace (literally called a "lifesaver") so that she could swing her kettle in and out without having to directly hunch over the fire. Sister Farr showed us Emma's oven next to the fireplace (basically, a hole in the bricks) in which Emma could cook more than a dozen loaves of bread at a time! The way she would tell whether the temperature was hot enough to cook certain items was to stick her hand in this hole. If she could count to 24, the oven was hot enough to cook bread. If she could only count to 12, the oven was hot enough to cook pie crusts. Very interesting!
After touring the Whitney store, we also toured the Whitney house, and then saw the reconstruction of the inn, the saw mill, and the ashery. By the end of the tour, we were all pretty tired out, so we decided to hit one more site and then call it a day. We headed to the quarry where the saints had cut sandstones out for the temple. Though the deeper places they cut from have long since filled with water, we could still see where they cut the stones from the creek beds. We were lucky to have Lance with us, because he warned us not to go off the dirt path, as there was rampant poison ivy growing absolutely everywhere. I wonder how many people have been sorry they wandered off the trail...
Sunday night was filled with more Scum, as well as a huge thunder/rainstorm. After the storm, we went outside and built a fire and cooked some s'mores. It was a wonderful night, and even the sounds of the racing trucks stopped (they apparently race every weekend at night), probably because the track was too muddy and dangerous to drive.
Monday morning, I think we were all so exhausted that we slept in a little longer than usual. Lance's brother had arrived from Utah on Sunday night with his wife and three kids, so the house was becoming a bit crowded. While some people did more 4-wheeling, reveling in muddy glory,
others of us more refined folk (haha) relaxed on the deck and had a Connect Four tournament with 7-year-old Roman.
After devouring fried chicken for lunch, we said a fond farewell to our hosts and headed back to Ann Arbor. Before leaving Fowler, we took a drive through the tiny town cemetery. As if to round off our trip, we spotted a headstone painted green, shaped like a cross, and stamped with the John Deere insignia.
(Thanks to Angela and Jonathan for letting me steal some pictures.)