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Over Coffee Jan. 10, 2008
By Penny Fletcher
Jan 10, 2008 - 8:54:33 PM

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Maybe some of you noticed I didn’t have an Over Coffee column in last week’s edition. That’s because I was away for 15 days – visiting, and having (well) … lots of coffee.

It was the first actual (nonworking) vacation I’ve taken since 1992 when my late husband and I went to the Keys. People that think I don’t like to – or know how to – slow down didn’t see me while I was away.

While in Georgia, I sat on my son’s porch looking out over the 12 acres he recently purchased remembering what it was like in the 1970s when I lived in such a place: a long country road surrounded by miles of nothing but trees, shrubs and pasture land.

I, wrapped tightly in a blanket, went immediately to the porch upon getting out of bed simply to enjoy the sights. And of course, to drink my coffee. The funny thing is, I carry my own coffeemaker- because the coffee served at my son’s house is too weak for my taste. They expect it and always make room on the kitchen counter for my well-worn Mr. Coffee. Personally, I’m into Black Silk right now but I did occasionally add some of their pumpkin spice grounds to my brew.

We spent several days in Georgia first, visiting with my youngest son and daughter-in-law and their two boys and a girl. While there, my 10-year old Ellie explored the lake and pasture, climbed haystacks and trees, rolled around with the dogs- and of course, rode their horse and on the back of their motorcycle.

Then we trekked on to northwest Tennessee to visit my middle son and other daughter-in-law. They have three girls, two of which are within “playing age” of my 10-year old and the oldest one who was interested in teaching them things- like how to drive go-carts and make scrap-booking fun.

Ellie had a great time, which culminated with her 10th birthday, upon which I allowed her to sit on my lap and actually “drive” my Saturn (with some help from me.) Having a birthday right after Christmas is a pretty big downer, so I try to do at least one thing that will be memorable besides “just opening another present.” After what’s under a Christmas tree for a house full of kids on Christmas morning (even if restraint is used, which in my family, it usually is) a birthday gift is usually pretty anti-climactic.

I didn’t actually “do” anything while at either of their houses, which in itself, was a huge change from my regularly hectic life. I didn’t drink my coffee outdoors while in Tennessee, but I did walk the perimeter of my son’s property, which includes a large area covered by tall pines as well as go-cart trails, a tire-swing play yard and lots of pasture.

All in all, it was a very restful time during which I had promised myself before I left Florida I would go over the galleys of my new book, being published by Amazon in February, but the pages never left the briefcase hidden in the trunk of my car. Instead, we all talked about the kids; memories old and new; and in general, had a really great time.

The tough parts of the vacation included getting ready; driving the first 311 miles (to my son’s in Georgia) with our 68-pound beagle-basset – who we left there to play “on the farm” while we took the next 600 miles with the ability to actually eat in a restaurant and go into restrooms together- instead of in shifts while one of us walked the dog.

I got lost in Birmingham going up- and coming back. Because my youngest son lives in southwest Georgia, I don’t take Interstate 75 through Atlanta (another city in which I dislike driving enough to avoid it every chance I can), Chattanooga, Nashville and westward toward Memphis like most sane people do. I visit my youngest son both on the way up and on the way back, so I take I-75 only as far as the Florida Sunshine Parkway and pay to ride it to U.S. 19 just north of all the small towns on Florida’s West Coast. I can’t possibly get lost that way as 19 ends a simple three turns from the entrance to my son’s gravel-and-dirt road.

On the way between sons, I got off on the wrong exit of Birmingham’s “Beltway” and ended up in the industrial district. My map failed me, and so did my On Star since some of the roads it advised were closed for repairs or blocked by construction equipment.

Finally, I found a workman who was able to give me simple enough directions to get out of the city, heading northwest again. At that time, Milan, Tennessee seemed a million miles away. But once I realized I was indeed on the right road we found a Waffle House and chowed down on everything in sight. Wow- they have great coffee! Or maybe the smell of it and the hubbub of the restaurant gave my mind a signal it was finally okay to shut down for awhile.

By this time, I was confident that on the way back, I could ace Birmingham.

I was wrong. Going south, my Interstate 65 exit was closed due to an accident, but traffic was backed up so far I didn’t realize it was my exit that was closed until I had passed it. Three exits later, I pulled off and found that it was indeed where I should have turned off. Darn, I was making such good time too. In the wrong direction, of course.

This time, On Star directed me around all the problems, which were now legion as I was in the middle of Birmingham’s five-o’clock rush-hour traffic. But I didn’t get lost again until it was too late to care, so we got a motel room in a small town called Rolling Springs, halfway between Montgomery and Eufaula, where I never would have been in the first place had I gotten off at the correct exit and angled across Alabama to Columbus, Georgia like I did when I was going North.

Ellie was thrilled with the sights. She was amazed at the red clay and slate rocks that seemed to grow straight up on both sides of our road. She loved looking down mountains at lakes and antlike cars, until I explained what she thought was grass below us was really a line of tree tops.

It’s funny to have children in their late 30s and early 40s and at the same time a daughter who is 10;  younger than many of my grandkids. Looking back at our eventful Christmas, New Years and extremely scenic drive, I realize that having a grandmother for a mother can be both a blessing and a curse. When my “first batch” was her age, in the mid-1970s, I’d have ridden on the go-cart and horse with her, which health problems now prevent. But I’d never have agreed to take a dog, even as far as Georgia. I’d never have laughed at getting lost. I’d never have been able to sit still for days and just “talk, watch and think;” I’d never have had the courage to drive through strange cities and desolate country roads without another adult in the car at night; and I’d never have had the wisdom to start talking about how great it would be to get home and see our two cats again while still on the road, which I know eased her entrance to her “real” life again.

As a younger mom I was more uptight. Being so far off schedule – and direction – would have angered (or maybe) frightened me. Age has its benefits.

Now, I just stop for coffee (or at a motel) and laugh!

So we’re back, and I deeply thank the two people who stepped up and “babysat” our two cats, Jessica and Ninja. Without them, faith in God, the people who directed us, and the ability to laugh at ourselves, we’d never have made it home!

* Send me an e-mail so we can have coffee (or just talk) about what’s on your mind. It’s a good chance to talk about what local and national issues concern you; promote your favorite cause, or just sound off about your pet peeve. We can meet where ever you like, your place or the coffeehouse or restaurant of your choice. Over Coffee is always “in your ballpark.”

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