So the return to Vicksburg is over and done, and I’m drinking my first cup of home brewed coffee in five days, and I’ve slept with my beloved in my arms the last two nights. All is right with the world. That being the case, I figured I’d go ahead and give the promised summary. It may not be all that interesting, but such is life…
After getting only 4 hours of sleep, I met Mom over at her place and we set out. Mom, always prepared, had a cooler of drinks and a bag of road snacks ready to go. After loading up her car we went over to pick up Kim and Madison. Everyone was, obviously, a bit on the sleepy side. I drove for the first leg of the trip while the others slept. We managed to make it out of Tampa before any of the traffic started, and had a pretty sedate drive in general. We grabbed a quick breakfast at a gas station Hardees, and stopped again for lunch a few hours later at a Ryan’s near Tallahassee. At that point, I was pretty well wiped, and the food coma from the all you can eat buffet didn’t help. I drove for a little while after that, but I was starting to nod off, so I let Mom take over. Shortly after she did so, I fell dead asleep, and stayed that way for a good while. I woke up long enough to help Mom navigate through Mobile, and dozed off again after that. We stopped in Hattiesburg, Mississippi for a bathroom break and I took over driving again. Did so all the way until we hit Vicksburg.
All in all, it wasn’t too terribly bad of a drive. I inflicted some of my bizarre tunes on the family (the soundtrack to Avenue Q being the most notable of the bunch), and we had some nice conversations. Madison was amazingly well behaved for the situation. I think she had one serious outburst on the way up, that was largely brought on by the fact that she had found a way to start wiggling out of her car seat, only to be thwarted by her Mother. She was not a happy camper after that, and let us all know quite loudly. Between the three of us, though, we managed to keep her entertained most of the time when she was awake, and having her along wasn’t nearly the nightmare I was afraid it was going to be.
We rolled into the Battlefield Inn around 7:30 PM Central Time that night. It’s a cozy place that Mom and Dick used to stay at when they would come to visit Vicksburg. It definitely doesn’t have the shine and polish of a newer hotel, and some of the amenities are a bit on the dicey side (the “free wireless internet” really only worked in the lobby and the mattresses felt like they might have been leftovers from the Battle for Vicksburg during the civil war). The staff was really nice, though, and the free breakfast buffet and evening cocktails were a nice perk (my one and only free cocktail was obtained within 5 minutes after getting to the hotel). Kim’s Aunt Sherry came to pick her up at the hotel, then Mom and I went to Jacques Cafe (the hotel restaurant) for dinner. After being denied my first dinner choice (Bow tie and Grilled Salmon – Apparently they haven’t been able to get fresh Salmon since Hurricane Katrina. An odd thing, considering the fact that it is Atlantic Salmon), I opted to go with Linguine and Creole Shrimp. It was quite tasty, with just the right hint of fire. Apparently the bread pudding is quite good at Jacques, but at this point Mom and I were both stuffed and we decided to pass on dessert. Sweet, sweet slumber soon followed.
I woke up surprisingly early, considering how tired I was from the previous day, and got cleaned up. Mom followed shortly after, so we went and got our free breakfast buffet. Pretty decent spread for a free breakfast. Coffee, juice, toast, eggs, bacon, biscuits, sausage gravy and grits. Ate my fill there (plus some), and we set out to do some exploring. The first “must do” on Mom’s list was to go to the Vicksburg National Military Park to get some stamps and a new Passport to National Parks. It’s this nifty thing that government put together for folks who like visiting national parks. Like a real passport, you collect stamps from all the places you’ve visited. Mom and Dick used to visit a lot of them, and she wanted to get the stamps she needed to finish their last book together (2005) and get herself a new one for 2006. In an amusing side note, Mom took a small set of stamps that were several years old. She’d accidentally gotten an extra set, and had sat on them for a while. She took them to the counter and just gave them to the woman there “in case someone comes in and needs them.”
I love my Mother. Only she would carry 4 dollars worth of stamps thousands of miles (I believe she got them in Hawaii) just to give them away.
After she got her stuff we went for a drive through the park. She’s got a Golden Age Passport, and she can get her entire party into the parks for free. We’d both been there many times, so it wasn’t anything new for us, but we thought it would kill some time.
I haven’t decided if it was a good idea or not. See, we both have a LOT of memories in that park. I started going there when I would visit my Dad as a kid, and took Alex there with my ex-wife a few years before Dad died. Mom? As I said before, she and Dick used to go there quite frequently on their vacations. As we drove around the park, I couldn’t help but feel like it wasn’t a civil war memorial we were at, but one of our own memories. Everywhere I looked I saw something that brought back a memory, and I’m sure Mom was going through the same thing. We talked some, and she started telling me about other parks that she and Dick had gone to – including the Andersonville Civil War Prison. Apparently it’s a pretty hard core place to visit, and Mom got choked up talking about it. Then some country song came on the radio about missing someone and always carrying a piece of them with you. At this point, Mom completely broke down. To be honest, I pretty much expected it to happen at some point, and it’s one of the reasons I didn’t want her to be there without me.
The moment passed, though, and we finished our tour through the park without any further incidents. After leaving there, we decided to hit the Ameristar Casino. Mom gave me $20 to gamble with, and we sat at the poker machines for a few hours. I walked away with a whopping $21.90, while Mom came out with a big fat goose egg! Ha ha! My gaming skillz reign supreme! What I won covered the tip I gave for my free drink, so all in all a good way to kill a few hours. We left there and went to have lunch at a place called Walnut Hills. They have this amazing lunch deal, where you sit at a big round table and the put a metric ton of food on a Lazy Susan in the middle of it. Normally you’d share this meal with a bunch of other folks, but Mom and I got there right before they finished for the afternoon so it was just us at the table. I filled up on some of the best fried catfish I’ve ever had, along with sausage, BBQ pork, cornbread, homemade macaroni and cheese, and lots of other southern staples.
Yes, I’m fully expecting a significant weight gain this week.
After yet another gorge fest, we went back to the hotel and caught a nap. Woke up a few hours later to head over to Kim’s grandmothers house and see the family.
This was the part of the trip
that was the hardest – seeing all of them, and the whole circumstances around it. I’ve got very mixed feelings about all of them, really. I’ve got some great memories of Vicksburg and the Miles family, but there’s also a lot of drama and bad blood there. Pam was in rough shape that night. She’d had a PET scan and radiation therapy, so she was in a good deal of pain and completely exhausted. She spent all of about 20 minutes visiting with us, and the rest of the time asleep. I wouldn’t wish Cancer on my worst enemy, and despite anything that happened between my family and her Pam is certainly not that. From that I can tell, she and Kim and a good heart to heart while she was there and cleared a lot of the issues that were hanging between them as well.
She wants to fight her disease. She has a long road ahead of her, and it isn’t going to be helped by the fact that her finances aren’t in the best shape.
So while it was a bit uncomfortable at first, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. I really enjoyed seeing Lady (Kim’s grandmother), and getting to know her Aunt Diane (we’d never really spent much time together, but Dad always spoke highly of her).
We didn’t get back to the hotel in time for free drinks, so we watched some TV and drifted off to sleep.
Woke up early again, but decided not to wake up Mom if I could avoid it. Took the laptop out to the pool and had a few smokes. Mom finally woke up, so we got showered and hit the breakfast buffet again. I tried not to pig out as much as I had the day before, and limited myself to one plate (a very stacked one, but still just one). We tried to go to the Vicksburg Outlet Mall, but it wasn’t open yet. Instead we went down to the Horizon Casino. I wasn’t quite so lucky this time, and lost $15. Again, though, it occupied us for a few hours and I got fee coffee. All was well. The outlet mall was open when we left, so we did a little shopping then got lunch at Cracker Barrel. I had a tasty meatloaf sandwich and mom got a BLT. Back to the hotel again after that for naps and laying around. Watched some TV, including an A&E Biography on Ozzy Osbourne and some reality show like the Osbournes starring Gene Simmons and his family (Gene Simmons Family Jewels). I really liked the latter, and have to say that Gene and Shannon have some seemingly cool kids.
Went over to the Miles’ household again for a BBQ that night with the rest of Kim’s family. Pam was much better that day, and able to hang out pretty much the whole time we were there. Diane made me a few killer (and quite potent) White Russians, and we dined on classic BBQ hits like burgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and melted Velveeta with Rot-Tel.
We knew we had a long day of driving ahead of us, and Mom wanted to catch some of the Bucs game, so we left relatively early to go back to the hotel. Still didn’t get there in time for free drinks, though. I went to sleep while Mom had fits over the fact that the Bucs started getting their asses kicked as soon as she started watching.
Woke up way early again, but this time I had a full nights sleep behind me. We knew we were losing an hour on the way back, so we decided to be much more aggressive in our driving. No long stops for food or anything like that. We ate in the car, and only stopped for Gas or bathroom breaks. Again, Madison was largely well behaved. There was one serious freak out, but it was mostly due to the fact that she was tired and had thrown her pacifier somewhere in the car. This was right around lunch time, so we pulled into an Arby’s near Pensacola and I managed to find where it had vanished to. I drove most of the way back, giving up the wheel about 80 miles west of Lake City on I-10. We made good time (13 hours), and because of the fact that I was driving I got to control most of the music.
Hey, at least it wasn’t 13 hours of Luau music.
We got home around 8:30. We were tired and sore, but the trip could have been much worse. Kim got the resolution she was looking for from her Mother, and I think is better prepared now if her health makes a turn for the worse. Mom and I got to spend some time relaxing together, and I got to bond a lot more with my niece. So all in all, a positive experience.
But, I’ll be honest, If I never go back to Vicksburg again it will be too soon. There are too many ghosts there.