Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Grand Arkansas Adventure

I've had a couple days to be home and snuggle my wee babykins and hubs, who I missed TERRIBLY while I was in Arkansas.  Now it's time to get down to business and give y'all a recap.  Bear with me b/c this will probably be long, especially when I add a few pictures.

First, there are so many people I need to thank for making this happen.  The fact of the matter is, this trip was a pipe dream until a group of incredibly caring people stepped in and made it a reality.  Through GoFundMe, cash donations, silver change donations, can donations, craft purchases, a hefty airline points donation, my besty doing some late-night babysitting, and my good friend opening her home to me & Trin, we were able to travel almost 3000 miles and spend priceless time with Trin's Nana & Papa.  Especially after seeing Trin's Papa in person, the urgency I felt in the beginning of my fundraising/begging was justified and the timing couldn't have been better.  

As you read this, you'll see many mentions of Rory the Raccoon.  If you aren't a regular reader of The Bloggess, you can read Rory's story here.  Because of the overwhelming generosity shown to us in our time of need, Trinity and I decided to bring Rory along and have him help us rename landmarks in honor of the folks who helped us out.  Unfortunately, as you read further, you'll find out there were several delays and things of the like that prevented us from taking enough Rory pictures with landmarks, so we just snapped pictures when we had the chance. It's stupid, but that was one of the most disappointing things about this trip for me. I had this grand plan to find these silly and amazing landmarks for Rory photos and failed miserably.  Not only that, but a few of the pictures were snapped so hastily that they turned out too blurry to use. Ah well. 

Now, let's get down to the nitty gritty, shall we?!

Due to the way airlines work their point system, the only way we could get connecting flights to and from Little Rock within a decent date range was to fly out of a town just over 2 hours away from home.  As luck would have it, that's the very town my Dad lives in, and he was gracious enough to drive us to and from the airport.  I went to work Friday morning, did the basic daily duties, then went home to spend as much time with Presley as possible and load the car up for our trip.  After a tearful goodbye on my part, Trinity and I hit the road shortly after noon.  We stopped a couple of times and I took a wrong turn just before my Dad's house, so we didn't reach him until about 3:30pm.  He took us out to dinner before dropping us off at the airport.  I could tell Trin's nerves were frazzled b/c she barely ate at dinner and kept complaining of a stomach ache.  

Once we were checked in and waiting to board our first flight, Rory came out and wanted some photos.  Just a little before 7pm, we boarded our flight bound for Seattle, WA.  The ride was uneventful, save for Trinity's constant nervous hand holding and "look at that, Mom!" declarations.  

Once in Seattle, our layover was just long enough to give us time to find our gate, quickly skype with my hubs & toddler, buy some water from a vending machine, then board the plane.  We were able to get one quick snap of Rory.  This ended up being his last photo op for awhile because Trin and I were starting to wear down from all the anticipation and late night traveling.

This particular flight was headed to Las Vegas, NV.  The excitement was still fresh enough that neither Trin nor I were tired yet.  It made me happy to watch Trinity light up as we made our descent into Las Vegas.  The strip was lit up and gorgeous!  This was another short layover, but Rory made an appearance before we boarded the next flight, making the long flight to the Dallas/Ft Worth airport.  Trinity fell asleep for the majority of this flight.  I tried to sleep, but woke up extremely nauseous.  It was all I could do not to pull out the complimentary barf bag.  Somehow, I held it together and the wave of nausea passed before we landed.
We made our way to our connecting flight, only to discover it had been delayed.  Long story short, the flight was delayed a total of 6 times, making us almost 4 hours late landing in Little Rock.  Thankfully I had linked my flight and my rental car, so after calling to ensure my car would be available, I discovered that every time the flight delayed, Enterprise would adjust my pick-up time on the car.  Trinity fell asleep on the floor of the Dallas airport for nearly 2 hours, until we were FINALLY able to board.  The airline never gave an explanation for the delay, but even after boarding, we sat at the terminal for over half an hour while they fueled the plane.

Finally, we made it to Little Rock!!  As soon as we arrived, we headed straight to Enterprise so we could get this show on the road.  Having lived in Arkansas during my teens, I had not-so-fond memories of the humidity in summertime.  However, I was still unprepared for it when it sucker punched me in the gut the second we stepped outside the airport doors.  The weight of the hot air took my breath away, but I maintained as best I could and before long we were driving away in the comfort of an air conditioned Elantra.  Our first stop was Cracker Barrel for a nice southern lunch.  I, of course, had to have a big glass (or 3) of sweet tea.  Trin must have been hungry b/c she ordered the country fried steak and ate the whole thing!  Once our tummies were nice and full, we hit the road for the hour drive into Clinton.

During the drive, Trin would giggle or make some exclamation of disbelief every time the radio commercials would mention Arkansas.  She couldn't believe we were actually there, after 2 months of planning and talking about it.  The drive between Little Rock and Conway, AR. has a lot of hustle and bustle, but once you leave Conway and head toward Clinton, it's all country.  Trin would see things and ask about them as I drove.  For me, it was surreal making this trek that I had made so many times in my youth.  It was familiar and not, all at once.  I can't describe it, really.  It was just odd.  I pointed out some of the landmarks that I recalled from when I lived in the area.

Once in Clinton, we headed straight to my friend Heather's house.  I needed to see a familiar face and Trin's Nana had text and said that Papa was resting so we should take our time.  At Heather's, we unloaded the car and hung out for awhile.  Eventually I got the text that it was clear to go up to Trin's Grandparents' house, so that's where we headed.  The surreal feeling I had on the drive to Clinton was even more prominent as I made the drive up the road to my ex in-law's house.  I pulled in the driveway, parked, and we were greeted at the door by Trin's Papa.  I contained my shock at his appearance, having been warned that he was looking pretty sickly.  It was hard to see him so frail and a bright shade of yellow from liver failure.  When he hugged me, I could feel each and every bone in his tiny frame; the polar opposite of the mounds of fatty flesh he felt when he hugged me.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I have stayed in touch with my ex in-laws throughout the decade since their son & I got divorced.  I was very glad that there wasn't any awkwardness or discomfort, for me or for Trinity.  She made herself at home, as if she had always been there.  I took a seat in a chair by the door, closest to Papa.  Trin sat on the couch next to Nana.  This ended up being the spots we sat nearly the entire time we visited them.

The first night, we sat and chatted with Nana & Papa for over 3 hours.  Finally, Papa was getting tired and we were too, so we headed back to Heather's house, where she fed us a tasty dinner of chicken tacos.  Trin and Heather's daughter, Natalie, stayed at the house w/ Heather's Mom while I got a taste of the "wild" country nightlife.  Clinton is located in a dry county, so they don't sell or serve alcohol there.  However, somehow they are allowed to sell drinks at the VFW and at a couple of restaurants in the area.  There was talk of going to the VFW, but we ended up at a pizza place in the neighboring town of Fairfield Bay.  In true down south fashion, we made the trek in an old Jeep.  The wind blew us around like crazy and the stars were gorgeous! We got to the pizza joint and the place was bumping from a little local band playing cover songs.  We drank and talked and listened to the band.  At one point, two old boys were outside and sounded like they were about to throw down.  After a few loudly spoken, slurred sentences, we determined they were just talking about fishing.  It was the perfect "welcome back to the boondocks" moment, and Heather and I laughed forever about that.  We stayed at the pizza place for about an hour or so, then our DD took the top off his jeep-taxi (or "Jaxi" as we dubbed it), and drove us back to Heather's house.  Trinity was still awake, but she was exhausted, so her and I said our good-nights and went into our air conditioned room and fell fast asleep.

The next morning I got up and had a much needed shower.  Heather cooked us a yummy breakfast and I reached out to Trin's grandparents to see if they were ready for us to visit.  We headed up there for a couple hours and again just chatted awhile.  Nana & Papa's couple-friends stopped in to say hello, so we visited with them, too.  Papa got tired, so we all left so he could get some sleep.  Trin was tired, but was anxious to see some sights around Clinton.  I drove her up to show her my parents' old trailer, but when we finally made the 5 or 6 miles drive out there, I found out it was gone.  It was crazy seeing the land that we cleared just sitting there empty.  We had even shoveled all the gravel down the driveway and that was grown over with grass now, too.  I took a picture, then drove her up around the old dirt road some more so she could see where I spent my time as a teenager.  We left there and drove back to Heather's to hang out some more.  While we were gone, Heather had driven over to her friend Scooter's house and talked him into giving her one of my first love, Steve's old Marines jackets.  When we got back to Heather's house, the jacket was sitting on my bed.  I took a minute to sit with the jacket, the first physical thing of Steve's I had seen since he passed away 19 years ago.  I wanted to go out to Steve's grave, too, so Heather escorted me out there for a few minutes.  We didn't stay long, but it was important for me to see it again.  Who knows when I'll be out that way again and sometimes a girl just needs to reflect on her first love, even if they've been gone almost 2 decades. Around the time we got back from the cemetery, Nana let us know Papa was awake, so we went over and spent another 4 hours or so with them.  Nana was adamant that she wanted to take us to the local steakhouse for a buffet dinner, but Papa was not at all up to leaving the house.  Nana ordered pizza and we just stayed at their house to eat and visit some more.  Nana got into the habit of feeding a mama raccoon and her baby in recent months, and while we were eating, the raccoon family came up to the porch and ate.  Trinity was enthralled watching them eat, with just a glass door between her and the raccoons.  Around 9pm or so, Papa started getting tired, which was our cue to head back to Heather's house.

When we got there, Natalie had 2 friends sleeping over.  The girls all went out night swimming in the pool and Trin got another taste of Arkansas wildlife when a little frog hopped up on the side of the pool and let her hold it for awhile.  There's nothing that can compare to the sounds of living in the country.  In spite of the humidity, it makes you want to sit outside and just be still and listen to the various bugs and animals filling the night air with their music.  I hadn't realized how much I missed that until I was back in the thick of it.

Our last full day in Clinton arrived and Trin had stayed up so late with the other girls that she slept the morning away.  While she was sleeping, I got some girl time with Heather.  I knew we would be making it a point to spend as much time as humanly possible with Trin's grandparents, since it was our last day in town, so I relished my time with Heather.  Nana text and said Papa was up, but Trin was slow moving after her long night giggling with Nat and her friends.  Eventually we headed toward their house, but when we stopped at the store to grab something to drink, Nana text and said Papa was having a rough day and needed some extra rest.  We were already out and about, so I drove Trin down to the marina by the lake, then drove her along my old bus route.  She was morbidly excited to see roadkill along the way, and insisted on getting pictures of the poorly departed armadillo and bird lying dead in the road.  After all that excitement, we were still waiting for Papa to wake up, so we stopped into a place called The Pottery Shop.  here.)  The Pottery Shop not only had Beyonce's galore, they had a veritable metal farm full of goats, razorbacks, flamingos, peacocks, and even flying pigs.  We walked around the outside, admiring the metal animals, then made our way inside to find even more amazingly awesome treasures for sale.  Seriously, I could have easily spent thousands of dollars in there!  Sadly, I spent no money at all because I had accidentally left my camera bag and all my money up at Trin's grandparents' house the night before.
Once we got word that Papa was up and at 'em, we headed up there and spent almost 7 straight hours.  That was the day I took some pictures. I had snapped a couple little pictures on my cell, but hadn't pulled out my Canon at all.  We got a few good pictures out on their back deck, one of Nana & Papa's favorite spots around the house.  It was nearly 10pm before we said our goodbyes.  I was concerned that knowing we were leaving would be the hardest part for Trin and her grandparents, but they were all very stoic, grateful for the time they had, and no one got weepy.  Before we left, Trin's Papa went in for one last hug and said something about it being the last time he'll ever see her.  I could tell as soon as he said it that he regretted the wording and tried to back pedal a bit.  Trin didn't seem to notice the slip-up, or if she did, she didn't react.  She has known since shortly after the trip was booked that her Papa doesn't have much time left.  I have done my best to be transparent with her regarding his condition so that she has somewhat of an idea what to expect.  She was startled by how yellow his skin is, but he said many times during our visits that he's not scared and actually feels lucky to have the luxury of knowing a basic time frame.  I think his peace with his impending death helped a lot.  Had he been hyper emotional, she would have picked up on that.  Both her Nana and Papa were very open about the situation and what they were facing, without it being a frightening experience.  They talked about the final arrangements and plans for when Papa passes away.  
Again, if you know The Bloggess, you've inevitably heard about Beyonce, the giant metal chicken.  (If not, you can read about it

Trin bonded with her Nana over their mutual love of animals.  She bonded with her Papa over her drawings. Both her grandparents were free-flowing with their adoration and admiration and told Trin how talented she was and to use her talents wisely.  Her Papa especially doted on her, bragging about her drawing skills and telling her that he thought for sure the pictures she sent were traced.  He loved watching her sit and sketch in her notebook.  He thanked me multiple times for bringing her out to Arkansas and he talked a lot about his past and stories from when his family would travel.  I did my best to hang on every word, so that anything Trinity doesn't remember, I can fill her in on if she ever asks to know more about her Papa.

Monday night after we left Trin's grandparents' house, we stopped into the local Walmart to get Trin and Presley t-shirts and find a small souvenir for Justin.  Once our shopping was done, we went back to Heather's and stayed up past 1am packing and hanging out.  I woke up Tuesday morning at 5am to shower and load the car, then woke Heather up to say our goodbyes.  Trinity was a little quiet on the drive to Little Rock, but seemed to be in good enough spirits.  I wasn't sure how she would feel at that point, so I just sort of observed her moods and did my best to respond to her accordingly.

As soon as we got to the airport, we discovered our flight was delayed.  Our next stop was scheduled to be a 4 hour layover in Dallas/Ft. Worth, so the delay out of Little Rock wasn't too concerning and wouldn't prevent us from making our connecting flight.  We decided to sit and eat a small breakfast and look around the airport a bit.  Our flight ended up being delayed 3 times, pushing our departure all the way out to 12pm; giving us barely enough time to make our connecting flight from Dallas to Tucson.  Because it was a small plane, they took my small carry-on suitcase, put a tag on it, and stowed it in a compartment under the plane.  As soon as we boarded the plane, I noticed tears rolling down Trinity's cheeks.  She curled up against me and just cried.  She told me that she was just feeling sad about her Papa.  She didn't have any questions or need any more information from me, she just needed to feel her feelings.  So I hugged her close while she cried the whole way to Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Once in Dallas, we had about 20 minutes to make our flight to Tucson.  We waited impatiently as they delivered the carry-on items they had stowed in Little Rock.  One by one, people left with their items, and as my turn arrived, my heart dropped.  My bag wasn't there!  I asked an employee where it was, and she left to find out for me.  Several minutes later she returned and said that the tag was not on my suitcase, therefore they sent it to baggage claim and I'd have to retrieve it from there.  She didn't tell me which baggage claim area or anything else, so Trin and I rushed out to find my bag.  We ended up quite a way from where the baggage claim for our flight was located, grabbed my bag, and then had to go through security again.  By the time we were through security, we found our flight listed on the monitors and discovered it had already left.  I immediately started crying.  I found the gate information and we headed that way, hoping the employee there would be able to figure out what to do next.  As soon as we got there, the employee handed us new boarding passes and said they had re-booked us onto a flight directly into LAX, skipping Tucson altogether.  Relieved, we went to that gate and awaited our new flight.

The flight from Dallas to LAX was long and uneventful.  Due to the re-booking, Trin and I weren't seated together, but I could see her from where I was sitting, which made me feel better.  Given the craziness from our previous stop, Trin and I agreed that although we were starving, we would wait to get food until we were near the gate our next flight was set to depart from.  Little did we know, our gate was a whole building unto itself.  We had to be shuttled to the gate and the only food place was a little sandwich/bakery type place that sold me half a nasty tasting veggie wrap for $9.  Too hungry to care, I paid for mine and Trin's overpriced lunch and we found a spot to sit and eat and reflect on our adventure so far.

The flight from LAX was our last, and thankfully was fairly quick.  Trinity was happy because it was such a small flight that the flight attendant let her have a diet coke AND a cranberry juice later on.  (Normally you get your teensy cup filled with your beverage of choice and that is all they'll give you.)  I was just trying to keep my energy up in anticipation of the 2 and a half hour drive home.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by my Dad's girlfriend waving excitedly at us as we came down the escalator.  Dad was parked up front, so we loaded up and headed out.  We recounted the nightmare of Dallas/Ft Worth and told them a bit about our visit.  We took a quick potty break at my Dad's before getting into our car and beginning the trip down I-5 toward home.  Before hitting the freeway, I got myself a strong coffee from Dutch Bros (a luxury I DESPERATELY missed while in the South), and a burger for me and Trin at Burger King. We didn't make it 10 minutes out of town before Trinity was snoring in the seat next to me, exhausted by our whirlwind adventure.  About halfway home, I decided to stop to use the restroom and wake myself up a little more.  Back on the road, I was refreshed and determined to get back home as soon as humanly possible.  I pushed the speed limit slightly the rest of the way, singing loudly to Boyz II Men the while Trinity slept.  Pulling into my driveway was almost spiritual in it's intensity.  I was elated to see those slightly overgrown hedges greeting me as I pulled down the drive and parked in the carport.  Trinity got out of the car and headed straight to bed.  I stopped in to caress my sleeping toddler's cheek, then curled up next to my hubby, who woke up to ask how the trip was.  I sent the obligatory texts to let everyone know we made it, and I crashed out, absolutely depleted of energy by that point.

The whole experience that took place over the last week has been worth all the begging, pleading, and sleepless nights.  There's no question it needed to happen.  Trinity  needed to create memories with her Nana & Papa b/c Papa won't be around much longer and who knows when she'll see her Nana again.  Not only that, she really needed some one-on-one time with me b/c that is a rare thing these days.  At 12 years old, it was the biggest adventure she'd ever had, and one she will remember forever.  It feels good knowing that for all the mistakes I make on a daily basis, this is one thing I did right.  I'm so grateful to everyone who saw the importance of this trip and pushed until it became a reality.  Trinity is grateful, too, though she doesn't quite grasp the magnitude of it all just yet.  Her Nana and Papa don't know everything it took to pull this together, either, but they told me how much they appreciated seeing Trinity and I could see in their faces that they were deeply affected by it all.

If you're crazy enough to have made it through this ridiculously long post in one sitting, I salute you!  Thank you for taking the time to "ride along" on our trip.  And now, I'm going to just take a deep breath and prepare for the day ahead.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Template by | Header Image by Freepik