“A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.” Moslih Eddin Saadi
The sky is a gray, gray, November gray. Even when it’s blue and sunny, the sky still casts a soft, gray shadow in November. Most of the leaves have fallen from the trees and the spectacular show of color has faded into crunchy, brown debris. Signs that all the growth from spring, and all the heat of summer, will soon quiet for a long winter’s rest. Even in North Carolina, where the weather is like a box of chocolates, “you never know what you’re going to get,” the warm, sunny days still feel gray in November.
Just as autumn is about to turn in, a gaggle of geese fly in their V fashion disrupting the lull of the season. Their squawking heard miles away, the gray and gaggle are a wondrous combination, comforting and sweet like a warm cup of cider. Cursed with a great reminiscence of the past, I recall the days on the Eastern Shore this time of year. As the kids, dog and I prepare for our nine hour trip north to be with family, I am reminded of the trips south taken so many years with my parents and siblings. Thanksgiving on the Eastern Shore of Maryland spent with all of our cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents set on Trippe Creek. Along the way, the geese would follow.
Every year for Thanksgiving we would pile into the car for the three hour journey. Early days Dad drove us in his beat up, green Volkswagen Beetle; seventeen years later that was the car that taught me how to drive. Some years we rode in a dull, tan AMC Hornet station wagon, perhaps ugliest car ever to hit the manufacturing line. Other years, during the energy crisis, we rode in a compact, four door, silver Honda Accord with cranberry clothe interior. Later years, shortly before the boom of the SUV, a pearlescent blue, mega three row Mercury Sable provided enough space for three growing teenagers.
Regardless the style and mode of transportation, three hours with three kids is a long trip. The time spent on the New Jersey Turnpike seemed eternal until we’d hit the toll booth that allowed us to pass over the Delaware Memorial Bridge. That was a milestone on the journey as the Delaware River is a connection to the Chesapeake, our final destination.
The landscape would turn from a highway of busy cars, to a bridge high above a river, and onward to seemingly endless fields of gold, the absence of corn, harvested just in time for the big feast. With three kids crammed in the back seat of the car, we didn’t have I Touches or laptops to occupy our minds. Instead we studied the landmarks and landscapes, played “Punch Buggy” and counted cars. Of course that grew old quickly so I would assume the role of the great entertainer.
I would start with a little pinch and poke to one of my brother’s sides, maybe a little kick. I would consistently perform this dance until I reached my goal of annoyance. Then the fun would begin. My brothers would whine at me to stop. Of course, I kept annoying them, and then they would start whining to my parents. I would say, “What, I’m not doing anything?” And the sound of our bickering escalated to the point Dad could no longer focus on driving. He would reach back and start swinging his arm in the air while trying to keep a straight line on the road.
I would then throw in a Wet Willy to really get the back seat party started. This put everyone over the edge. Dad would scream and threaten to pull over if we weren’t quiet. This, in turn, caused suppression of giggles until we exploded with laughter giving Dad no choice but to pull over. That was enough to show he meant business and settle us down. The sisterly tormenting drama subsided, for a moment, and then I’d start again until even I grew feeble of my antics.
Three hours with three kids is a long time. Poor Mom and Dad.
Along the way when Mom and Dad grew too weary from the drive and needed a rest we would stop at the midway point: The Dairy Queen surrounded by farmland in the middle of nowhere. Peanut Buster Parfait was my favorite treat.
After our pit stop, maybe a car nap or two, we knew we were getting closer as certain familiar landmarks gave away the closeness of the destination. Route 50 and 301 were barren back then but scattered with familiar landmarks such as the Black and Decker headquarters, the Talbot County airport, and Queen Anne Community College, the ice house where I first learned to skate, and the little shopping center with the only grocery store in Easton.
We would spot hunters coming out of the woods and fields with their camouflage and neon orange jackets, mesmerized by the freedom from which they carried around their shot guns. Pine trees lined the last leg of the journey, and we knew our destination was near. A quick cross over Peach Blossom Creek, a little turn in the highway, a quick cross over Trippe Creek where a tiny piece of my grandparent’s house could be spotted, and we were in the home stretch.
Oh, we were so close. Black Horse Farm and their two black and white ponies gave their contributory greeting as the stately red brick pillars of Harleigh permitted our entrance.
Ah, Harleigh Lane. Ask any of my family members, young and old, and I bet such a name will conjure up stories of walks along the lane, enjoying the quiet beauty of a simple stroll amid the company of a loved one. On bright, sunny mornings a bike ride with a destination of morning newspaper retrieval was in order. Maybe a flower picked along the way to show you cared. An outing for cousins to climb ancient trees, hiding for one to seek. Sightings of infamous ground hogs, a lost turtle or rare deer sighting; perchance a fox or snake? Wonders were abound on Harleigh Lane with memories weaved into shared experiences, etched as a keepsake of the past.
Harleigh was the portal to my grandparent’s home. Upon turning down the lane we’d sing with such sentimental, traditional enthusiasm, “We’re here, because we’re here, because we’re here, because we’re here.”
I never understood why we sang it, or what the song meant, other than “we were here.” To this day I still don’t understand the significance of the tune, but when my grandfather passed, we stopped singing it. I often asked why we stopped the music but in typical WASP fashion received silence as an answer or “We don’t talk about it.”
At the end of the lane stood a grand, white mansion, originally home to a Confederate plantation owner. Classic Eastern Shore railroad architecture, the house just kept getting bigger and bigger over the years, with wing after wing added to the north and south. A gorgeous Georgian window sat above the front entrance which provided, even in the distance, a vantage point straight through to the other side of the house, allowing Trippe Creek to filter through. Right before we met the mansion, we made a sharp right turn onto a gravel, narrow, winding road that led to “Point of View,” the name my grandparent’s gave their home.
Over the years the road leading to my grandparent’s house went through many transformations. Back in the day before their house was even built, the property was supposedly the plantation’s slave quarters. Signs of such history often washed up on the shore in the form of broken pottery or rusted, oven doors with a date of 1846 seared to the front. We cousins would explore the shoreline in search of such treasures.
Many years later, when we traveled down the road, sheep graced the property, which was a real treat for us grandkids. A few years later the sheep were replaced by pine trees, in a Christmas tree growing venture, and every year we marveled at how much the trees had grown. Eventually the perfectly shaped evergreens were replaced by natural growth on one side and tennis courts put in place by the new owners of the big white house. Today the lane is monitored by cameras, a grounds keeper lives on sight, and the gravel road that took us to “Point of View” now paved.
Still the sound of gravel harkens recollection to the warm greetings waiting for us, the crunch beneath the wheels a chorus of our arrival.
All my cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents would come running out with big hellos and hugs. Such excitement and a reunion of affection embraced us after the seemingly long journey. The smell of salt water lingering under the gray November sky, the creek in the backdrop with a small wake washing along the shoreline, to the tune of geese flying in the sky.
My cousin Jimmy, now grown with a family of his own, would draw attention to this sight, “Look I thee geeths!”
We would all pause and watch them fly above us on their annual Thanksgiving trek south. Too loud to even attempt to speak, we enjoyed their passage somehow feeling connected. Their annual traditions of traveling in a pack, and our annual family gatherings spoke of commitment and family ties that bind.
Every year thereafter the same ritualistic pattern was performed, ushering in the start of the bountiful weekend. Throughout the years, any time a flock flew over the creek and heralded their family song, we cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents would all shout, pointing to the sky, “I thee geeths!” a jovial reenactment of innocent youth.
Today we are all over the place; from east to west coast, with new families and new traditions. Some have passed. But I can tell you that never a gaggle of geese goes unnoticed without me remembering the journey and Thanksgivings spent on Trippe Creek.