Sometimes it pays to take the road less traveled.
I left off when we were full of hope, counting down the mile markers to the North Carolina state line. The traffic did not move faster, but we knew it would speed up soon. We crossed the line and stopped again at a rest stop full to capacity. The Floridians were still following us and they were joined by the Georgians and the South Carolinians. There wasn’t enough room for us all, so we sat on the highway watching our 4:30 ETA turn into 6pm and then 7:30. Years ago, we would sit there and wait not knowing how much time we were losing until we arrived at our destination. But in this time of constant connection and GPS’s, we watched every minute disappear.
I asked for an alternate route and we were given three. One was a detour toward the coast and Wilmington which was the equivalent of the traffic we were already in and the other was a back road through Cape Fear country, land of sandy soil, vineyards, and cotton fields. He was done with traffic, so we crossed our fingers and took the exit toward Elizabethtown.
“I’ve been there before,” he said, “on a firework run to South Carolina.”
“I know they have a Tractor Supply Co.”
“It’s too small for that, but you will love it.”
“They do, I promise.”
“We’ll see.” He looked at me with doubt in his eyes.
I might not be good at taking time off but work I know and that includes where my business partners are. I was beginning to doubt the GPS though as we took turn after turn. It was if a 4-year-old had connected the dots and sent the design to the highway department to number as county highways.
The ride was a peaceful one despite the GPS’s trustworthiness being in doubt. The scenery was beautiful and he was right when he said Elizabethtown would be one of my favorite spots of the trip. Most importantly we were finally making time. And yes there is a Tractor Supply.
“I wouldn’t look to your right if I were you,” came out of his mouth but I couldn’t hear what he said. The dull roar of the van had made me tone deaf. I leaned over for him to repeat what he said. “Don’t look to your right.” I stared at him confused. And so, in human nature, I turned and looked over my shoulder as a semi sped by just to our right. The only problem was we were in the right lane on a 4-lane highway. He laid his head on the steering wheel and took a deep breath, his shoulders falling in exhaustion. How did we get here, stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for 6 hours, creeping inches along with everyone else? It started at 3:30 in the morning.
Irma was already sending wind and surf into the Miami area. There were videos to prove it, and the recent pictures on the Caribbean hit a nerve with thousands of scared people who were on the move.
It was way too early to be awake, but the adrenaline was pumping. We were going to beat the traffic in Orlando, and we had gas for the trip. There were too many lines at the pumps the night before to not know that we were blessed to be able to fill up with no problem. Patrick made a friend, typical, at the pump who was on his way into work. He drove the hour into Orlando every morning, and Patrick was definitely impressed. The traffic was horrible the evening before, and we knew that it would be worse.
The radio announced the immediate evacuation of the Miami Dade area and the governor himself told his citizens that tap water was still safe to drink and to start filling plastic containers. “Do not risk your life for bottled water. Make your own, now.”
Orlando had normal heavy traffic. I say “normal” because on the Northern side of the city we came to a standstill. When we stopped at the first rest area, there was no parking left, and people were parking on the shoulder on the exit ramp and any empty grass available. Vehicles were waiting for tow trucks because they had pulled too far into the marshy lawn. It was a quick stop. The chaos was uncomfortable, and we knew we had a long journey ahead.
The stop and go traffic continued, and Patrick swore he would not be back unless he was supplied with a driver. As we crossed the Georgia state line, we thought we were on our way.
Because of the size of Irma, the Georgia Governor has placed a mandatory evacuation of the outlying islands of Georgia.
We decided to stop for lunch when we got gas. Patrick was on the lookout for a Waffle House. Anything that lifted his spirits was game. We found a Waffle House with a wonderful staff. They bent over hand and foot to make sure we had everything we needed. We were headed the gas station after our meal, and the gas was $2.59 a gallon across the way (not bad at all). After our meal, we emerged to see the price had risen to $2.69. I guess gas should have been first.
We were headed to the South Carolina line and smoother sailing.
Irma is on its way, and the South Carolina Governor has announced mandatory evacuations of the Outlying Islands and the Low Country.
And so, we sit in traffic, very slow traffic with no end in sight. Another rest stop and another merge into traffic when no one wants to give up their spot on the cursed I-95. A nice tractor trailer driver let us in, and we started to move almost at a steady 50 miles per hour when suddenly everyone slammed on their brakes.
And here we are, sitting on I-95, thanking God for watching out for us and keeping the semi-driver alert, and hoping that when we hit North Carolina, some sanity will exist.
How do you decide what to take? What do you choose to save when you have limited space?
Nap time was over, and it was time to pack. My sister called from South Florida. They have no gas, and she was trying to get to work. We started to ask ourselves, should we have filled up this evening? We packed quickly because we needed a good night sleep.
My mom announced, “Pick out what you want to take with you.”
So now it was decision time. There was no imminent danger. We had time to make the hard choices. We came for only three items. Now we had a whole house to choose from. Which items were the most important?
Irma was moving over Cuba tonight, and the Governor of Florida announced an evacuation of South Florida.
Grandmother’s (Nanny we called her) cedar chest filled with memories and some surprises including a picture of a Naval Officer at the very bottom. A face that is only important to someone who knows the story behind it, the fiancé that received a Dear John letter during WWII after she met and fell instantly in love with my Grandfather.
The Hinkle trunk passed through the generations. Its treasures included the wedding dress with a 14-inch waist that competed with Scarlet O’Hara’s. Bits of lace that have yellowed with age. A stack of bank receipts from 1908 that documented a striving businessman at the head of the household. And at the very bottom, a small bundle of love letters hidden from a family that provided proof of a forbidden love before a suitable match could be made.
The beloved wardrobe was slowly unpacked. It’s photos carefully placed in a box, while my father stacked the art books of my childhood education. The stack was as tall as me and decisions had to be made. Monet, Modern Art, Picasso, so many and some had to be left behind.
A set of butterfly coasters that was purchased in Chinatown, NY city. They were not special at the time they were bought, just a small souvenir of an amazing trip. But they will be part of a memory every time they are used.
A butter churn. Yes, I grabbed the farm’s butter churn. Patrick asked in his Campbell North Carolina accent, “You gonna make butter now?”
“No, I’m not going to make butter. But I can remember the taste of the fresh butter on the Hinkle farm table on fresh Hostess bread with my meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and green beans picked from the garden across the creek.”
You see these are all things and I know that. But each one brings a precious memory of the family I love. It will be hard to leave in the morning, not knowing how Irma will affect us as a family, but I’m in charge of the memories safety.
Irma will hit Miami soon, and we must get some sleep for the day of traveling that is coming.
All photos on the website are taken by Tammera Cooper and remain her property.