Megan and I travel back to my hometown of Jefferson City, Missouri every year, at least at Christmas and sometimes in the summer when we can, to see my family; most of them still live within an hour or so of where we grew up. Xmas get-togethers are always fun… with a family my size (I’m the youngest of twelve), we have to rent a hall, and the adults do a playing-card white elephant gift exchange (the kids do an open Kris Kringle).
Since Megan is in graduate school this year, and has a longer break than when she is working, and I can work from anywhere I have a Tube connection, we decided to make it a little longer than usual. En route, we visited a couple of friends and a few cities.
First stop was Maryland, where we stayed with my friend and former housemate Ben. Sadly, he can still kick my ass at Worms, our favorite Dreamcast game.
Then on to Pittsburgh, my first time there, to visit my high-school friend Jello (not her real name, and more innocent than it sounds), who just recently returned Stateside after years of teaching English in Japan and traveling the world. She lives in Little Italy, and we shopped around in old Italian groceries (delicious Amaretti cookies!), and drove around the city visiting a few sites. Our last night there, we visited the Warhol museum (he’s from Pittsburgh). I’m not a huge Warhol fan, but the museum is very good… we started at the top floor, and they have a Ronco/Popeil/advertising exhibit that establishes the context for Warhol’s emergence. It was nostalgic for me, seeing a lot of those old products and advertisements… they even had a Veg-o-Matic like we had when I was growing up! The other floors featured various selections from Warhol’s works (I didn’t know that he had TV shows, or that he founded Interview magazine), and it was all well done. I appreciate him more now, in the same way I appreciate Simulationist art from the 80s (which, frankly, he probably inspired); he clearly influenced American pop culture. I was a little disappointed that the bathrooms didn’t carry over any Warhol themes… maybe different primary colored water in all the toilets, or life-sized pictures of people on toilets pasted on the stall walls.
The next day, we drove three hours to Columbus, Ohio. Having grown up in an obscure state capitol, I have a fascination with them, and eventually I’d like to visit all the state capitols. We visited the capitol building there (quite nice), taunted some Scientologists a bit (at a local Scientology Org) while looking for a veggie-dog stand, and stumbled on an absolutely delicious vegan restaurant, Dragonfly Neo-V, where they grow their own ingredients in a small stacked garden out back. Next time we’re in the area, we will definitely take time to make a stop there.
Then on to Indianapolis, Indiana, where we stayed the night with a friendly soul we met through Couch Surfing, the Internet Age’s answer to hitchhiking. Karla was also a Vonnegut fan (and a voracious reader with a great bookshelf), and she showed us Vonnegut’s childhood home; it’s not preserved at all, and is rented out and in poor repair, sadly. We also wen to the capitol building (closed, unfortunately) and a war memorial, and the children’s museum where they had a Chihuly hanging tower. The weather was hellishly cold, with a sub-zero wind chill, but we had a good time anyway.
Then it was on to Jeff City, where we stayed a week and a half. Through the magic of Facebook (that horrible but useful site), we met up with some of my old high-school cohorts (many of whom I even remembered, and all of whom I was glad to see, and some of whom are now Megan’s Facebook friends… oh, Facebook…). We played board games with my friend Seth, and had pitched dart-gun battles.
In addition to all the normal family-and-friends stuff, my sister Cynthia and I arranged to interview my mom about family history. We used Garage Band’s podcast feature, for all the geeks out there… just set it on a TV tray in front of her while we asked her questions; it seemed to work fine. She told us about the cultural climate back when she was young (she was born in 1921), about her family and my dad’s, about the Depression and the War and the family fire, about her job as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse (the last throes of that part of history, dying out as rural kids were more and more being shipped into town to go to school, the final steps toward American urbanization), about how she met our Dad, and all the places she’d lived, and how they had bought a parcel of land in the early 50s from a farmer on the edge of town who was auctioning off his farmland as lots (the beginnings of suburbanization), and about how Dad (a WWII veteran) left the service just in time to avoid going to Korea, and about all Dad’s jobs. I wish we’d been able to do this with my dad.
And that farmer who sold his land, the land that I grew up on, that all my siblings had lived on, with the woods and the trails and the secret forts and rope swings… that farmer’s yellow house still stands, I’ve passed it by car and on foot hundreds of times, and never knew. Who will know a hundred years from now? To whom will it mean anything at all?
Leaving town with the Prius loaded down with another scad of books from my earlier days, stored now in Seth’s basement (his grandfather’s old shoe repair shop) until I can haul them back home, we drove to Megan’s uncle and aunt’s. (No thanks to Google Maps, which steered us wrong again and again in a way that seems to have gotten worse.) We stayed there over the weekend, and her uncle gave me a glassblowing lesson (that’s his trade); I made a horrible little shot glass, with his help. It’s ugly, but it worked well enough to drink moonshine from the next day when it had annealed. I doubt I would ever be any good at it, but it was fun to try, and I’d like to try again.