Archive for October, 2017

Wanna go to Walmart?

Scott had already decided that the thing to do would be to buy an initial amount groceries in Knoxville, and while I was in the restroom at the rest area, he had located and brought up on his phone a 24-hour Walmart that would only take us a few blocks off our planned route to Townsend. So while he drove us on into the night, Siri and I steered us toward 2501 University Commons Way, Knoxville.

We did as directed, but things started to look, well, odd. All the Walmarts I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a LOT of Walmarts) have been in “normal” shopping areas, but as we exited the freeway and twisted and turned to follow The Other Woman’s directions, we were clearly downtown. Downtown? Could there even be a Walmart downtown? Siri’s pretty smart, but she was clearly totally confused. We saw two really big, modern-looking, brick and glass buildings up ahead. The street Siri told us to turn onto, the one that ran alongside those buildings, was cobblestone – you know that ten year-old cobblestone stuff that was made to look quaint and like it’s been there since the 1780s? And the streetlamps were kind of ornate and looked like old-fashioned gas lights. Despite the curious décor, this was a dark, weird part of town, and we were obviously messed up. And hungry. And tired. And I was getting frustrated.

Doggone-it! All I wanted was a Walmart so I could buy some groceries, for crying out loud!

And then, shock and awe, we saw a Walmart sign on the nearer of the two buildings! How welcome, but how very bizarre. Here’s a link to some pictures. If you click through them – you can skip the interior ones that look like any Walmart anywhere – you’ll see several shots of the exterior and one of the parking garage and the escalator and the cart storage… The whole thing was like walking into another world! It actually made me think of Jessica. Maybe that’s what Walmarts are like in China or Hong Kong where land space is limited and they just keep building up?

We parked in a spacious, well-lit, clean garage, got out and followed the signs to Walmart. We also saw signs to Publix, which my memory said was a grocery chain. Tackling a new grocery store would definitely be an adventure, but at that hour of the night, we opted to stick with boring and familiar. We then rode a long escalator UP to… Walmart. Yes, Walmart was upstairs on the second floor. Inside, it looked pretty much like a regular Walmart, smaller than our super center at home and laid out strangely, but “normal” enough. So we wandered around trying to locate some breakfast stuff and lunch stuff for the next day, some milk, some juice, and maybe a bag meal or something for a supper. We also found a HUGE supreme pizza for $1.19!

Produce was a challenge. We finally found minimal freezer and refrigerator cases at the back of the store. If you shop at Walmart regularly, it would be like having a couple row of food stuff stuck back between sporting good and toys. Very odd. We were looking for fruit, but all I could find was a small display in the middle of an aisle, about half the size of the one they set up at home in the fall out in the middle of the main front-to-back aisle with all kinds of holiday baking goods. This never makes sense to me because all those baking goods are also in their normal places on the baking goods aisle, but whatever. This display was maybe eight feet long and four feet wide with a few plastic bins (about the size of those rectangular carry baskets some stores have if you want to use something smaller than a cart) that each contained four or five pieces of sad-looking fruit. I couldn’t find any employees, so I a customer, a young man, to ask if he knew where the full produce department was. He said that was it! He was very kind and respectful, a college student, as were all the other six so customers we saw. There’s evidently a college close by there. He said Walmart was good for cheap stuff for poor college students like him, but that if we really to do serious grocery shopping (we didn’t), we should go to Publix. We obviously weren’t going to mess with that, but we thanked him for the tip.

So we bought our few bags of essential edibles and checked out. And I was wondered how on earth we were going to haul our haul to the car. This was going to be a major challenge. We clearly couldn’t take the cart down the escalator, and it wasn’t going to be fun to carry several bags of groceries, some of which were heavy, down to our the escalator and across the garage to our car. Not to mention that two-foot-square pizza!

But not to worry. When you exit Walmart, you can either go back down the escalator… or… take a nice big, clean, speedy elevator! So we wheeled our cart into the elevator and then across the garage to our trusty Durango, unloaded our groceries with some difficulty because (well, we’ll skip the part about How. Much. Stuff. was already packed into said vehicle; let’s just remember that Scott likes options), parked the cart in its handy designated spot, and, still shaking our heads in consternation, drove off. Our whole Walmart-in-Knoxville experience was just surreal.

“O, the infinite value…”

Of a skilled Research Consultant.

A mere 20 minutes after I posted “Sunset in Somerset” in which I bemoaned our failure to locate Scott’s dad’s grave marker in Somerset, Kentucky, Katie sent me this link, which please do click. As you can see, the upright gravestone we so diligently sought does indeed exist (Whew!), and there’s a good reason why we never found it: We were scouring cemeteries in the city of Somerset in south central Kentucky, but Scott’s father’s U.S. headstone is not and never was in Somerset at all; it’s in Warsaw, a city on the Ohio River some two and-a-half hours (146 miles) north of Somerset!

I feel simultaneously both somewhat dumb (or at least ignorant) and very, VERY relieved.

To Katie I can truly say, “Yes, good has been done here. Thank you!”

Sunset in Somerset

Scott’s parents were missionaries in China. All I’m going to say at this point is that ministering the gospel in a closed country is definitely not for the faint of heart. Scott’s dad was very highly motivated and didn’t take much time off in the way of furlough, but with five kids, four kids-in-law, and something like 13 grandchildren Stateside  – especially with 13 grandchildren! – his mom did come back for visits from time to time, and in May of 2002, she happened to be in the States while Dad, in China, had a heart attack and died.

Through a truly amazing series of events, Scott “happened” to have a valid Chinese visa and was able to fly there with Mom to comfort her and help with all the final arrangements, cremation, funeral service, burial, etc. So Dad’s body was cremated and buried overseas, but Mom wanted there to also be a service here in the U.S. with a marker placed adjacent to the plot where his parents had been buried, in Somerset, Kentucky.

At the time, quite a bit of money had been spent on a very nice headstone and plot, and later that year (or was it in early 2003? I know it was cold…) Scott had met Mom there in Somerset for Dad’s Stateside memorial ceremony. However, neither of them (and as far as I know none of his siblings) had been back there ever since. But when Scott realized our vacation would take us through much of Kentucky, he thought it would be fitting and proper to go back to Somerset to locate his dad’s headstone and take some pictures, mainly for his mom who is now 83 and unlikely to travel to China or Somerset in the near future.

We assumed this would be a quick and straightforward visit. We’d go to the cemetery, look around, and find the headstone. I’d take some pictures of it, the surroundings, Scott by the headstone, etc., and we’d proceed on to our sweet cabin in Townsend, Tennessee. Once there, or maybe even on the way, Scott would send the pictures to his mom, she would be happy (and probably sad), and we would say, as does the narrator when the Peach exits the scene, “good has been done here.”

It wasn’t quite that simple.

For one thing, there are THREE cemeteries in Somerset.

For another thing, having slept some 5,475 times in the intervening 15 years, Scott no longer had in his mind a clear picture of the cemetery, the plot, or the headstone, although he did recall that the latter was upright and of a fair size. We prayed for God to grant us favor and help us find Dad’s headstone. We were sure he would! This was, after all, a very important mission.

I was driving and Scott was navigating on his phone. He found addresses for the three cemeteries (amazing thing, that Internet) and we followed Siri’s directions to the first one. Let’s call it Cemetery “A.” After many convoluted gyrations and navigational hiccups caused primarily by an extremely poorly positioned and crossing-less railroad track, Siri proudly announced that we had arrived at our destination: an extremely seedy house in a very run-down neighborhood. Hmm. Clearly not a cemetery. Frustrated, we drove around a few blocks and up a steep hill and did find one, but it was HUGE(!!!) and nothing about it looked familiar to Scott. Sigh. We drove back and forth and up and down its many driveways, scanning for an upright headstone of fair size but finding nothing promising. The place was so massive with so very many hundreds (thousands?) of markers that it would have literally taken us all day just to traipse through the whole thing. Hopefully Dad’s headstone was in Cemetery “B,” which would hopefully be a much smaller piece of real estate and which would hopefully look familiar to Scott. We were quite hopeful.

Unfortunately, after another 20 minutes of driving characterized by much turning and backtracking and re-turning and re-backtracking, we finally came to the conclusion that although Cemetery “B” may well have existed in Somerset at some time in the past, it no longer did. We found an apartment complex and a community college, but no cemetery.

Another frustration was that it was by now about 5:00 PM on a Sunday afternoon, which meant that there was no way to call any human anywhere to find out anything. But just as despair threatened to descend, Yours Truly had what she thought might indeed be a brainstorm: with all the tech-y stuff nowadays, wouldn’t cemeteries have online lists of whose bodies were buried in them? Well, guess what? They do! So Scott began looking up his dad’s name, but could find it listed nowhere. And then we thought, “Well, his headstone is right where his parents were buried,” so Scott looked for either of their names. And found… nothing. The hours were ticking by, daylight would soon be fading, we were both tired and hungry, and we still had quite a drive to get to our digs in Townsend that night, BUT we are Robertses, as as we all know, Robertses don’t turn back and they don’t give up. Having come so far, were were DETERMINED not to leave Somerset without finding Dad’s grave and gaining photographic evidence thereof, even if we had to take the picture with flash!

Scott was just about ready to quit and go on, but I said that since we’d come so far, we might as well check out Cemetery “C.” Surely it would be there, but if not, at least we’d be able to say that we’d done all we could do, that we’d left no (head)stone unturned. Besides, I did NOT want to have to tell Mom that we couldn’t find it, that we didn’t know where Dad was buried. We even called her to see if she could describe the place or the cemetery or surrounding area or anything, but she could not.

Cemetery “C” was some ten miles out of town, out in the country. It was basically a field down in a valley, and as we approached I knew it could not be the right place. It was one of those cemeteries where there are no upright headstones. All the markers are flat on the ground (much easier for mowing and weed-eating, I’m sure) and each one has one of those identical metal cone-shaped holders for flowers. Now, I actually like exploring a good cemetery. I get into wandering around and reading the inscriptions and seeing when people lived and for how long and figuring out who was related to whom, etc. But “C” was a cemetery with absolutely no character; it was to cemetery what tract housing is to neighborhood. I was trying to not to cry as we drove away.

I gave up trying.

This whole thing was just about too sad for words! I cried so hard Scott offered to drive.

Of course, Dad’s body was long gone, but not his memory, and it just didn’t seem right. We were so terribly disappointed that we couldn’t find the place, and I think we both realized that what it meant was that NOBODY in our family – nobody who remembered Dad and cared – nobody would ever know where his headstone was. Whatever money had been spent to have it made and shipped and placed was basically wasted. There’s a big headstone where his ashes are buried in China, but Scott hasn’t been allowed back there.

While I cried, Scott called his mom and left a message saying that we had tried our best, but we couldn’t find it.

In addition to making me cry for quite a few miles, this situation also made me think. It made me think that I want to be sure to look up the information my parents prepared a lot of years ago about their wishes for what’s to be done with their bodies. It made me think that we need to find out what Scott’s mom wants done with hers. And if that is, “be buried next to my husband,” well, it looks like that can’t happen.  = {  It made me think about what Scott and I want our kids to do with our bodies, and where. And it especially made me think that I want to make sure that Scott’s and my names and our currently living parents’ names all get entered into some online cemetery registration(s), so that if somebody in the future wants to visit our/their grave(s), they can look it up and know where to go look. Sweet Georgia Peaches!

And if anybody’s reading this who happens to be around when I leave this earth, be it noted that I don’t give a flying rip how much weed-eating hassle my marker causes; I want a headstone that stands up and says something that matters! While I guess I can handle that business of grieving without a body, I think having a headstone firmly anchored to the earth at some known physical place – while it obviously matters not one iota to the deceased – is really important for the the living who remain and remember.

So, through my tears we left Somerset, probably forever, and turned southeast. It was about 7:30 PM and we still had 159 miles to go, but we’d be traveling through some truly gorgeous scenery. After all, eastern Kentucky is awfully close to West Virginia!

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?” Psalm 121:1

Brochures, BBQ, and billboards

We’ve been home from our nine-day, 30th anniversary trip-of-a-lifetime for 12 days now, and I have been absolutely itching to blog. However, as you know, I am never bored, there’s been quite a bit going on recently, and I’ve just not had made the time to write. But my reward for completing a certain part of today’s to-do list is to blog, so at long last here goes the next installment of our trip!

Having completed our two super tours of Mammoth Cave, having obtained our requisite “black bar” national park brochure (Katie, who lives in Virginia, a state FULL of national parks and monuments, started aggressively collecting these brochures a few years ago; I already had in our filing cabinet a handful of them I’d picked up in the Dark Ages, but I’ve just officially re-started the habit in the past couple years),

Mammoth Cave brochure.jpg

and having driven to and then walked the 0.4 mile loop boardwalk trail around Sloan’s Crossing Pond, we were hungry and more than ready for a tasty BBQ lunch at the Porky Pig Diner, which we had previously noted was open till 3:00 PM on Sundays. On the way, we once again saw those mysterious Cedar Sink Road Pig signs, one of which was in sight of the diner itself. We parked, stretched our legs, and walked to the door.

The Porky Pig Diner sits alone at a crossroads in rural Kentucky. It has a gravel parking lot, in which were several cars, and a glass door, through which we could see folks inside sitting and talking at several tables. It was 2:40 PM, and our mouths were watering. Scott reached to open the door for me, but even before he touched it, an older woman – she had to be at least 60 – pushed it open from inside and said loudly and firmly, “We’re CLOSED.” Scott said, “But it’s only 2:40, and…” and she cut him off with an even more emphatic “We’re CLOSED.” There was no arguing with the lady, so, disappointed, we turned and drove away. Clearly the Porky Pig Diner doesn’t need (or want?) any additional tourist dollars, care deeply about customer service, or feel an obligation to adhere to its stated hours of operation!

That said, I still have a soft spot in my heart for a small business owner who makes her own decisions and refuses to be controlled by others. Long live that independent, conservative spirit! That Sunday afternoon those folks in the diner were probably ready to go home and watch a football game or go fishing or play with their grandchildren or take a nap. Our luncheon loss, but more power to them.

We then took the scenic route back to the highway – VERY scenic and fun! – and at long last ended up in Glasgow, KY where, in desperation we ended up buying White Castles to go. This was a throw-back to my childhood; White Castles are called “sliders” now, and yes, I did eat and thoroughly enjoy not one, not two, not even three, but five of them. (They’re small.) From there we traveled the lovely Cumberland Parkway toward Somerset.

Scott and I do have a definite driving rhythm, developed some fifteen years ago when we were driving 45 minutes one way to church every Sunday. Scott likes to use his time in the car to accomplish something, be it reading the Bible (which is what he did back in the day), working/researching on his computer, keeping up with the Red Sox on his phone, planning ministry activities, or dealing with issues related to our vacation rental house business. I like to drive, and since I’m more comfortable in the driver’s seat than in the passenger’s, I do most of the long-distance driving while he does the in-town part. [I never have understood why he feels compelled to take over driving once we get into a town. Maybe he doesn’t trust me? He used to do this on the rare occasions when we ate lunch out after church in Springfield. He insisted on driving us from the church to the restaurant, but then wanted me to drive the 35 minutes home on the freeway.] In any case, these default settings worked really well for us on this trip, with the result that until we actually got where we were going, he was in the Bible or on a device and I was driving.

Oh, now I also remember this: Scott had gotten banged around playing basketball the week before, and he had a hip that was much happier in the passenger seat; that was another reason I was the one behind the wheel on the Cumberland Parkway.

Now, this particular highway was interesting to me. For one thing, although it looks and feels like an interstate, it didn’t seem to have a highway number. (?!?!?) I guessed at the time – and later confirmed my hunch – that although this is no longer the case, it was originally a toll road. And as is usually the case with toll roads, the Cumberland Parkway has NO billboards. I mean zero, zilcho, nada, not one. The rolling countryside is lovely, and it’s nice to not have a lot of junky signs all over (think Branson), but with some 80 miles of billboard-less pavement, I was beginning to get bored and sleepy. As I told Scott, you can’t play the alphabet game on the Cumberland Parkway!

And the Cumberland Parkway wasn’t even the most direct route from Mammoth Cave to Townsend, TN, but it was the best way to get to Somerset, KY, a city where we were determined to accomplish a special mission.

To be continued…

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