Thursday, September 15, 2005

Back in Cracker Barrel Country

“There’s a storm across the valley, clouds are rollin’ in,
The afternoon is heavy on your shoulders.
There’s a truck out on the four lane, a mile or more away,
The whining of his wheels just makes it colder.”

“He’s an hour away from riding on your prayers up in the sky
And ten days on the road are barely gone.
There’s a fire softly burning, supper’s on the stove,
But it’s the light in your eyes that makes him warm.”

“Hey it’s good to be back home again.
Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend.
Yes, and hey, it’s good to be back home again.”

From “Back Home Again” – John Denver (1974)

After two weeks and over three thousand miles we’re home from a long vacation. It really is good to be back in Cracker Barrel country.

It’s been an eventful half month. We’ve had the opportunity to visit with friends in North Carolina we haven’t seen for years. We spent a solemn, but necessary day at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. There were four exquisite days with my brother and his family in Gloucester, Massachusetts. There was a planned two day stay in Niagara Falls that became one. The falls themselves were no disappointment, but just about everything else in that part of the world was. To describe it as tacky would be very diplomatic indeed. Our final stop before home was in Indianapolis, which turned out to be a very pleasant alternative to the streets of Niagara Falls. Our room at the Crowne Plaza was a converted train car, the Winston Churchill. And, we capped the trip off with an incredible anniversary meal two nights ago at St.Elmo’s Restaurant.

In between the overnight stays were long days on the road, with Cracker Barrel restaurants used as oasis points along the way. At each stop we’d eat a bit, the browse the books on DVD section for listening material. In all we rented four books, Tim Russert’s “Big Russ and Me,” Jimmy Carter’s “Sharing Good Times,” a biography of Benjamin Franklin that turned out to be a real dud, and a self improvement book by some new age woman with a PhD who saw marriage and stable relationships as impediments to the “human paradigm.” The only real good piece was Russert’s homage to his father’s wisdom. I was hoping that Jimmy Carter’s would also be worth listening to, but it wasn’t. About the only good thing about it was the title. Once that was dispensed with it was an exercise in pure narcissism. “I’m Jimmy Carter and I’m famous.” “I get to do things that the rest of you peasants don’t.” “I’ve had dinner with the dictator of North Korea.” The only thing worse than the words was the ex-president’s delivery. It brought back old memories of leadership failure, long gas lines, twenty percent inflation, annoying lectures about “malaise,” the Iran hostage crisis, and America’s diminished role in the world, and the worst vote I’ve ever cast in any election.

I guess one of four wasn’t bad, all things considered.

In the days ahead I’ll be recounting things that occurred to me during the two weeks. The memories are catalogued in my mind in the form of titles. As we’d drive along something would occur to me and I’d ask Nancy to write it down, so that I could later use it as a starting point. As I listened to Tim Russert recount a conversation he had with a priest, a one-liner the cleric delivered to the young Russert seemed absolutely inspired. When Russert tried to lean on the priest to get him to do the impossible, the cleric responded, “There is a God and I’m Not Him.” It seemed then, and now, to be a wonderful title for a post. Between Louisville and Asheville, North Carolina it was “The ‘Real’ Perfect Storm,” which came on the heels of hearing reports on NPR about Hurricane Katrina. As we were traveling south on Interstate 65 to Nashville we were caught in a massive convoy of trucks carrying generators, MRE’s, water, and other provisions for the victims of Katrina. Hence the title “Convoys” was added to the list. In a restaurant in Asheville it was “Acquainted with Grief,” which came to me as Nancy and I were observing a young, tattooed man sitting across from us in a restaurant. I think it was also in Asheville that a stray thought occurred to me, again coming in the form of a title with memories and ideas wrapped around it. Some time in the next week or so you’ll hopefully be reading “The Gift of Mortality” based on those thoughts. While visiting with our friends in Lewisville, North Carolina I was able to catalogue three titles, “Rivers of Grace,” “Your Gift Will Make a Way for You,” and “Joe and Rita’s Miracle.” In Gloucester there were two – “Sea Glass” and “The Parade of the Children.” And, I think that somewhere between Gloucester and Niagara Falls “Oprah’s Chump Change” occurred to me.

There are other memories and other titles that are lurking just beneath the surface of my consciousness as well. I have plenty of grist for my mill. But, for right now it’s enough for me to say that it really is good to be back home. I’ll dig out the hand written list, shake out the road cobwebs, and launch in tomorrow. See you then.


-E said...

Glad that your travels went safely and you made some new memories- even if tacky is the word to describe some of them.

Stacey said...

Eagerly awaiting the new posts. Welcome back!

Anonymous said...

Cracker Barrel Country! That is so funny! I live in non Cracker Barrel Country, otherwise known as California. Crapy state with no Cracker Barrels! It's always a stop I have to hit when I visit my family and friends!


Jay said...

Amazes me that somebody would badmouth Carter's character while praising Bush's.

Oh well.

I like Cracker Barrel too. It's a bit overboard in all the fake country folksy stuff, but they serve a good biscuits 'n gravy breakfast.

natalie said...

I LOOOOOOOVE Cracker Barrel! I'm from California, so it's a really cool treat for me.

Jersey Joe said...

Phil & Nancy - Thanks for the visit, thanks for the fellowship, thanks for remaining true friends and thanks for not taking Dewey or Parker with you! Next time it'll be us in Emporia.

Jude said...

I really enjoyed your vacation narrative, but I have no idea where Cracker Barrel Country is. I'm Canadian, so you'll have to forgive me. LOL

I love the layout of your blog, it's easy to read and you seem to put in a great deal of thought in your postings. I really enjoyed my visit.


Michael said...

Glad you had a safe trip and also glad you are back. We need to get together soon, Mel and i would like to see you guys.

dog1net said...

Good to see you so inspired. Enjoyed reading this personal narrative on your vacation adventure . . . Cracker Barrel? Funny, but I've never eaten there, but I sure have seen plenty. I've stopped at a couple of Bob Evan's and Shoney's, but I think my best breakfast experience was at the "Eat and Park Restaurant" in Ohio. Although the waitress wasn't very helpful. When I explained I was puzzeled by the name, she curtly replied, "Everyone else gets it. You must not be from around from here." I still don't get it, because when I go out, I still park first, and then eat.
Sounds like you had a great time. Good to see you back.

--josh-- said...

Let me get this straight. You're a Christian... AND a Democrat???

Really? Because I watch cable news all day and night, and I've never seen a Christian Democrat.

Do you believe in evolution too? That would be wicked cool.

I don't mean to be flip. It seems that most of the devoted Christians I know (and I am not one BTW) are indeed Democrats, and I keep wondering why the Religious left is essentially non-existent as a political force. Why is our political landscape such God and country has become a priori right wing? Why does "God Hate Liberals?" Any ideas?

Because it seems obvious to me that if Christ was alive today he would be a liberal, no?

Douglas said...

Glad your back and that the trip went well.