July 1, 2002
The plans have been arranged. My suitcase is packed for a one week road trip across Pennsylvania to Philadelphia. I’ll celebrate my fiftieth birthday on July 4th in Philadelphia. Then travel along the Hudson River toward Albany, New York. I loaded my backpack with history articles and maps and a blank notebook to write my impressions and comments. Driving between locations, I have a voice-activated recorder to speak about my thoughts and impressions of what it means to stand in the same locations that are so historic to Americans in our times. And a handful of disposable 35mm cameras to capture in photographs what everything looks like when I’m there in person.
Before I started my journey, I was grateful to many people who made this trip possible. My employer who granted me a week’s vacation from work. Well, in reality, it was three and one half days of time off work, seeing that July fourth was a holiday. I worked until 1:00 pm on Monday, July 1st, so the payroll could be processed. Then I scurried home to prepare the car and head out of town.
I received assistance from the local AAA travel agency and a wonderful agent who arranged for a rental car and secured room reservations at hotels in Somerset, Gettysburg, Philadelphia, and Albany. I knew my adventure was ahead of me and I was eager to get behind the wheel of the car and head southeast.
The first mistake on the day I planned to drive off on my personal odyssey was working that half day at the office on Monday. It was an early wake up and drive to Medina to pick up the rental car. My son followed me home driving my twelve-year-old blue Cavalier station wagon. There’s no way that vehicle would make the long road trip without breaking down somewhere along the way. It was money well spent to drive a late model rental for the peace of mind on my journey.
Once I hurried home, I got nervous about the exact loacation and street directions to the hotels, so I was back on the Internet to print out several pages of maps and information. It delayed me longer than I planned. Then the phone rang and I took a few calls at home. Then I was hungry. By the time I packed the car and locked up the house, I backed out of my driveway at 3:30pm.
This concerned me as I faced a five hour drive across southeast Ohio, through West Virginia’s panhandle and into southwestern Pennsylvania. I wanted to arrive at the Somerset Knights’ Inn before dark.
I headed toward Ohio’s I-77 by cruising along blue ribbon two lane highways. Chippewa Lake to Lodi. Rt # 83 south to Wooster. Turn east on Rt #250 and travel along the road past small communities and Ohio’s lush, green farming landscapes. Gentle rolling hills and clusters of woodlands made me appreciate the peace and contentment that is felt driving through the heartland of the midwest. Beautiful scenery on a hot July afternoon.
Almost couldn’t believe I had my hands on the wheel! I was so excited. Weeks of planning this adventure and researching the places I wanted to visit as turning points in American History–and it was coming to pass. I was on my journey.
I merged onto the Interstate highway south near Dover/New Philadelphia. I grinned. Ohio may have the new one, but I’m on my way to visit the “old” Philadelphia in four days! The carefree and leisurely pace of Rt #250 was over when I caught up with the steady and fast traffic of I-77. I picked up my pace to make up some travel time.
The road trip began to get reflective as I drove. I was on a familiar highway. The highway junction that would turn my car east was I-70 near Cambridge, Ohio. I saw a green highway sign that pointed out the next few exits for Salt Fork State Park. My past life jumped into my thoughts.
Salt Fork State Park. Cambridge, Ohio. Talk about a turning point in my life–this is where my new husband and I began our married life together. We were married on an August afternoon in Medina and drove together to spend a few days and nights on our honeymoon at the Salt Fork Lodge. 1972. Just a couple of kids back then. He was twenty-one and I’d just turned twenty a month earlier. Too much in love to know any better.
We married too young. We were high school sweethearts and didn’t know a thing about life. Both of us lived at home with our parents until meeting at the church to become husband and wife. But we tried. Every marriage has good years and tough times. As the years passed, we built a house in the country. That was his dream. We had four children. Work and housekeeping and responsibilities of raising a family kept us busy and eventually we lost sight of what was important for each other. Passing years brought out the worst in each other. I spent years of my life closed up in a shuttered and dark bedroom in the midst of chronic depression. His solace was in having a few affairs.
I was divorced at forty-five and he remarried quickly. I struggled for the first few years, doing what I had to do to survive. As ex-husband, he still had a connection because of our children and we argued about everything. The tension continued on a weekly basis. The best revenge is success. In 2002, I earned enough money from my accounting job to pay all the bills and even have money left over to save up for my extraordinary dream of moving away after our son graduated from high school in one year. I didn’t need him in my life to take care of me anymore.
I’ve always wanted to write and typed poems and worked on a novel manuscript when I was married. He didn’t support me in my creative desire to become more than just a wife, mother and woman who expressed herself in a greater purpose of living. I know now (in 2011) that suppression of my talents was a major cause of being depressed. I planned to attend Kent State University in 1970 as a freshman–Drama Major. My childhood dream was to become a trained actress. After the May 4, 1970 shootings on campus, I stayed home. I chose security and love and a safe life as a married woman. Who knows what I could have been had I taken the risk and faced the unknown future as a student at Kent State after that tragedy?
I wanted to share that background because with my life and the experiences of heartbreak and loss and shattered dreams, I came face to face with the memories of a once married woman when I saw the green highway sign that stated the next exits ahead were turnoffs for Salt Fork State Park.
And my gut reaction when I remembered our honeymoon drive down this highway on a late Saturday night to begin a marriage?
“What a waste—”
That’s what I said out loud in the car. My first thoughts were, “what a waste.” The past thirty years of my life could have been something–more. Something better. If only I had gone to college. I loved acting. Who knows what I could have become? Broadway, Hollywood, who knows? Writing poetry and composing songs, telling my stories as novels–where would I be now after these thirty years if I’d chosen a different path for my young life? The reality of my life now is I can’t get those thirty years back for a do-over. I made my choices, right or wrong, and lived with the consequences.
I wouldn’t know the experience of having my four wonderful babies and watch them grow into the remarkable adults they became. And I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.
Those choices led me down a path, perhaps a long detour, but I felt as I approached my fiftieth birthday, I could change what no longer satisfied me and seek to make better choices that would make the rest of my days meaningful. This odyssey was my personal quest to see if I could believe in my inner desire to live God’s purpose as a creative woman.
I aimed my car onto the I-77 and I-70 interchange and exited on a new highway that brought me closer to my first destination. The highway was a winding ribbon that stretched between rocky hills and green-covered slopes. This was the edge of the Appalachian Mountains I traveled through now. The road began to curve and the hills declined toward the Ohio River just ahead. On the other side was West Virginia.
I-70 crosses near Wheeling in West Virginia’s northern panhandle and I was only in the state a brief time. It was after 6:00pm when I crossed the Ohio River bridge. As soon as I drove on West Virgina soil, I saw the blackest storm clouds gathering behind those steep hills. “oh, oh” I told myself, “I don’t think that storm is headed the other way.” Up the hill and around a curve the skies opened with a vengeance. The rain pounded so hard I couldn’t see the cars in front of me, let alone the road itself. There are two driving conditions where I am an anxious driver: dense fog and blinding downpours. I slowed to a crawl. Before too long traffic ahead of me stopped. Unfortunately, the sudden cloudburst and hazardous driving conditions caused a car to flip off the lane and roll into the oncoming highway on the other side of the narrow median. While I stopped, jagged lightning flashed close by and booming thunder crashed overhead. The wind shook my car. Not a welcome reception from West Virginia. Heavy rain followed me across the state until I reached the Pennsylvania line.
Skies cleared and I drove into Pennsylvania under a manageable drizzle toward Washington. This road trip was like watching a movie of my own life as I traveled back in time. The Salt Fork State Park signs had me reflecting on the past thirty years of my life and the marriage that failed. Heading toward Washington was going back to my childhood. Memories were of my father and visits here with his family. He was from the area. My grandparents are buried in a Washington cemetary. Right now, I’m passing by cousins who still live in the area between Pittsburgh and Washington.
This isn’t on my trip agenda of visiting turning points. Yes, this is a personal place for me. I have family ties on my father’s side here. The last time I stopped for a visit was for my uncle’s funeral. I had two aunts who lived in Washington. They are long gone. If I had more time, I might take a side trip to reconnect with my relatives, but not this week.
After an hour, I turned on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and headed east toward Somerset. Approaching Somerset County, I marveled at the high hills of the Allegheny Mountains and the stone cliffs carved along the highway. Thick, green forests covered rolling hills. I looked behind, over my shoulder, at the valley opening up and hills stacked away into the distance. Beautiful scenery–God’s country.
When I saw the sign-Somerset County-at the side of the road, I remembered why I was coming to this area. I felt an emotional tightness inside. I experienced a mixture of anger and sadness knowing on September 11th of last year, the drama of United Flight 93 happened in this area. It was a sobering moment.
My exit for the Knight’s Inn approached and I turned into the hotel parking lot at 8:30pm, just before the evening sun dropped over the horizon. I traveled 250 miles with one food and restroom stop in five hours. I was tired, but exhilarated to be here.
In my hotel room, I settled down for the night with all the papers, maps and website articles pertaining to United Flight 93 and Shanksville. Before I slept, I reread about the events of September 11th and the lives of the people who died when the airplane crashed in the rural countryside of Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
This small community is a vivid reminder of the current turning point in American History. In the morning, I was driving to the crash site memorial and pay my respects—–