The plan: the three of us in the Trailblazer; five days, one package of Fig Newtons; a jar of peanut butter, and a bag of mini-bagels; enough baby food and gear to stock a shoddy Babies R Us; and an urge to revisit old memories and make some new ones too.
We did it, and in high spirits and low style.
Here’s how an Ables’ family road trip is done:
We left home at 7:15 am, made possible by a babyman who likes to wake up at 6:30. Mr. Ables introduced me to the supposed glory that is a Bojangles BoBerry biscuit. (It was only bo-kay) I might have slept through Asheville and up the mountain to Knoxville, but so did Silas—we gave Mr. Ables some alone time. We decided the highway outskirts of Knoxville contain way too many self-storage places and hotels. People should stay at home more and stop hoarding.
Our first stop: lunch. Mr. Ables, being Mr. Thrifty and also Mr. Experienced RoadTripper, suggested we bring some food along. We turned off at an exit boasting two state parks only to find that they were both 10 miles off the highway. Here’s where we picnicked instead:
The only things odd about this place were that most of the headstones, even with various dates, all seemed to have been manufactured around the same time. We dined on bagels, peanut butter, Chex Mix, and water. Silas drank milk and ate some sweet potatoes.
Then our sights set on Nashville. I didn’t know if it’d work out or not, but Bonnie, one of my friends from my camp counselor days, lives and works at a hotel there now, and I thought this might be a one-time chance to re-connect. And it worked out! We decided it’s been 15 years since we saw each other and all I have to show for it is a sub par cameraphone picture:
Then Memphis became the target, and the entire reason we were taking a road trip anyway. Ten years ago, Mr. Ables spent a life changing summer with a group learning and then applying that knowledge ministering in Asia and back in the States.
Ten years later, they reunite!
I enjoy these types of moments because I glimpse the man he was before we met, and the people and events that shaped who he is today. After some good food and even better talks, I felt like I’d known some of these people for ten years myself!
We woke up early Sunday morning and set our sites more Southerly, but first: breakfast. In my family, at least, no road trip is complete without a trip to Cracker Barrel:
One of these guys ordered the Smokehouse breakfast and the other one yelled and ate the majority of my biscuits. (parenting note: naptime is not interchangeable with public eating time).
Breakfast complete…it was time to head to Oxford, Mississippi.
Did you know William Faulkner lived in Oxford? Did you know that we are nerds and just had to visit his home, Rowan Oak?
(did you know that we’ve also been to: Carl Sandburg, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Mark Twain’s homes too? now you know we’re nerds)
I plopped Silas into the trusty Ergo on a 98+ degree weather day because it was his nap time and I thought he’d snooze his way through our house tour.
…yeah, yeah— just like he’ll want to do every time his marmie and papa want to drag him through another writer’s house…
Instead, he was super pumped (genetics?), and celebrated by throwing his unwanted pacifier over the plexiglass barrier and into Faulkner’s library:
The kind, dreadlocked docent not only fetched the Soothie, but also rinsed and returned it to me in a Kleenex. I didn’t have the heart to tell the guy that we’d like it peppered with some original Faulkner dust…you know, just in case literary genius can be ingested.
Faulkner’s writing room is complete with (uncomfortable) Adirondack writing chair, vintage Vornado fan (the Ables are pretty loyal to their Vornados—Mr. Ables might have teared up a little at this point), and pencil-scrawled brainstorming for the novel The Fable all over the walls.
Faulkner and his wife often “discussed” adding air conditioning to the house, but the man wouldn’t budge—no noisy air conditioners! His wife’s painting studio upstairs is fitted with a window unit.
She had it installed the day after his funeral.
Then we were off to Birmingham, where I went to college, where I haven’t been back for 10 years!
With a pit stop in Tupelo to see The King’s birthplace:
Our first stop in Birmingham (after a quick clothes change, diaper change, and bottle guzzle all at a gas station) was Surin West—the first place I ever had pad Thai and sushi. It’s just so good.
Better than the food? Seeing my dear friends Chris and Amanda. Chris was a constant in my English classes, scribbling poetry in the margins of his notes and keeping me laughing with his under-breath commentary. I met Amanda my freshman year, and she’s ever been a kindred spirit. She’s got one of those laughs that sounds like it feels good. When they got together after graduation, it was just right.
They had more fun than it looks like here:
And Silas loved Amanda:
We started our next day with breakfast at a barbecue place, and though the whole restaurant smells of hickory smoke, I ate the best french toast of my life there. Crispy, golden brown perfection.
Our breakfast companions were Keith and Elaine Davis, Mr. Ables’ friends. Again, candid shots over meal tables don’t often capture the most joyous moments:
Elaine: “guys, admit it. That french toast was deep-fried.”
Dang it, she’s probably right.
From there, I drug Mr. Ables from place to place: pointing out significant hang-outs, stopping to taste treats, drink iced coffees, explore how Birmingham has changed. Ten years makes a difference, but I could still find my way around, could still find my college self in the seams.
Savage’s Bakery for meltaways (Mr. Ables loved them so much we ate them two days in a row):
And O. Henry’s coffee as well:
Samford University, the same as ever with a few multi-kabillion-dollar-but-still-the-same-brick-architecture new buildings thrown in. I don’t know where they’re getting all the cash, try and try as they might, I’ve never thrown them a dime.
I sound bitter.
Read it again, I just sound poor.
It’s a gorgeous campus, and it sure was surreal showing my husband and little boy around:
That evening, I stepped out of the shower to find Mr. Ables sprawled across the hotel room bed, brochures and maps strewn about him. He showed me a map where he’d circled points of interest he wanted to see. Though I spent four years in the city, I’d never been to any of them.
So the husband took over.
We visited the Vulcan, whose bare steel rear end moons Homewood:
Railroad Park (gorgeous, and in a section of Birmingham little college me never would’ve seen—so riddled with unsavory types and dark corners). Look at it now:
The Peanut Depot, roasting goober peas since 1912 in the same roasters:
And Sloss Furnaces. Yes, we toured the only standing steel mill in the world. A place I’d ventured to only once before…for a freshman dance party.
No lie, Mr. Ables took 58 pictures of that place. By that time I was feeling very pregnant: miserably hot, achy, head throbbing…I was done.
But we had one more stop: Atlanta!
Meeting our buddy Kyle for dinner and coffee was so great: we hadn’t seen him in a year, and it’s been a heavy, life-changing year for him and his wife. I’m thankful we got to spend time talking with him and marveling at the gargantuan size of the sandwich I ordered:
It was at least 7 inches high.
This post is about as big as that honking sandwich, but our first family road trip deserves thorough documentation. Silas was awesome: enduring too much car seat time, milk-drinking in gas stations, diaper changes in public places, sleeping in a different place almost every night…he did it all with joy and ease. I can’t wait to travel with him again.
Gosh, I love my family. Bring on the next adventure!