July 7, 2002
A Sunday drive. Mine happened to be west along I-90 from Albany, New York across the entire state to Buffalo. The highway loops around Buffalo and runs southwest along Lake Erie, then past Erie, Pennsylvania and toward the Ohio state border. The entire journey back to Ohio was traveled on I-90. One highway to follow for a smooth, swift transition back to the reality of my current life. I connected to I-271 east of the Cleveland suburbs and headed south on familiar roads–home stretch. I-271 merges into I-71 north of Medina, my home county. Finally, I exited the highway and a few right turns later I pulled back into my driveway.
The week seemed like one long dream–had it actually happened? I spent the money and had receipts to show that I stopped in Somerset and Gettysburg and Philadelphia and Albany. In a few days, I’d have photographs to review my trip to turning points in American History. I was there. I would replay my cassette tapes, over and over, and listen to my experience of walking on those hallowed grounds and the emotional impressions I felt in those moments.
One woman. I took a solitary vacation and traveled alone. As I noted in my daily journal, I enjoyed a week of perfect summer weather everywhere I stayed and visited as a tourist. The only rain I encountered was the frightening, severe thunderstorm during my drive through West Virginia. The heat wave covering Pennsylvania and New York? Sure it was high 90s and humid, close to 100 several days, but I didn’t mind the heat. AAA pointed out several highway construction and road delays on my maps so I was prepared and traffic was light when I drove throught those zones. Overall, I was pleased with my experience as a single woman traveling on the open roads.
Plenty of free time on the long drive home Sunday to reflect on my personal odyssey. I always intended the road trip to be about turning points. First of all, I saw my personal life at a crossroads. My decisions about how to live the rest of my life after fifty were the biggest turning points of my reality in 2002.
Had that fierce thunderstorm that scared me to tears on the highway in the West Virginia mountains been the foretelling of a disastrous vacation–my choices would have been different. A different outcome in Pennsylvania and/or New York most likely would have me rushing home again whimpering like a whipped puppy with it’s tail between its legs. Big-Bad-World. I’m just gonna stay in Ohio and not risk reaching for my extraodinary dreams. And God forbid had I run into real trouble on the trip and needed my ex-husband to rescue me from another state. He would have helped me, I know that. It would just prove to both of us that I can’t take care of myself.
I was very blessed that none of those scenarios happened the first week of July.
What I expected followed my basic outline and planning at first. The hotel room reservations booked a double for me and at each check-in, I was able to shift to a single room and get better rates. I got over being anxious lingering a few hours longer at Shanksville and the Gettysburg historical places when I still arrived at my destinations before dark. Everything was written on my checklist–organized in such a way that I wouldn’t panic or become confused with all the details of traveling.
My arrangements and times allocated during the visits to each place on my agenda didn’t exactly follow the plan. I got lost on back roads in Somerset County trying to find the small community of Shanksville. On the July 3rd anniversary of Pickett’s Charge over Gettysburg battlefields, a spontaneous adventure delayed my departure, yet I’m glad I walked across that mile wide field with Confederate reenactors.
My frustration with extreme security and confusing information at Independence Hall allowed me to wander into a portrait gallery in Philadelphia, which led the way to a delightful surprise on the grounds of the Van Schaick Mansion near Cohoes, New York the following afternoon. I had my hopes dashed when I learned I probably was not related to the Van Schaick ancestors who built the Dutch house I saw in my book. And later I was in the right place at the right time to share a museum tour with an actual family from the Netherlands.
I remarked on the tape during my long drive, with all the unexpected circumstances I encountered I wasn’t upset or agitated or “freaking out” when things didn’t go like I expected. Even the quest to find a birthday ring with a red stone proved successful because I didn’t give up. The closer I drove in the direction of Ohio and home, the stronger I felt about my capability to handle situations on my own.
That was my most important turning point on this journey. I accomplished something that would serve as a firm foundation as I prepared for major changes in my life during the next twelve months. I can take care of myself. After September 11, 2001–America is still a safe country. People in different communities far from home will go out of their way to show kindness and offer assistance to strangers visiting from out of state. Most people are good and can be trusted.
My journey to turning points in American History was a total success in my mind. I didn’t expect to be so emotionally invested by the outcome of actually standing in those significant locations.
The sense of grief at Shanksville when I gazed at a far off field where United Flight 93 crashed less than a year ago, had me rushing back to my car to cry privately. The collective sorrow of a nation was real and being there in person brought everything back as vividly as the day it happened on September 11, 2001. The memorials placed around the area show a grateful America who will never forget the courage of the passengers to stop a terrorist highjacking of a commerical airliner and the ultimate sacrifices each one gave to prevent another guided missile from crashing into a building in Washington, D.C.
The encounter I experienced in the field of meadow grass after Pickett’s Charge, I can only testify to my personal claim of it being a spiritual awareness of the historical event that happened on that date 139 years earlier. I had mental reasonings and an attitude of indifference to the massive casualties of the battles at Gettysburg over a three day period. My moment of knowing those men, those Confederate soldiers, gave their hearts and souls willingly for a cause they believed in–was the moment I finally “got it”. God didn’t choose sides during Pickett’s Charge on July 3, 1863. When blood ran into pools on the ground, He accepted their sacrifice–every one. Before I drove away from the battlefield, I honored those Civil War soldiers’ bravery in the face of certain death.
In Philadelphia, the two most important written documents in recorded history were available so that I could view them and marvel at the impact of words. I stared intently at a 1297 hand-lettered copy of England’s Magna Carta at the precise minute I turned fifty years old on July 4, 2002. Inside the Assembly Room at Independence Hall, I studied a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence proclaiming separation from the greatest empire in the world in 1776. And they were –WORDS. Words of ideas expressed in written form that changed the world. These documents have stood the test of time. I am so very grateful to these men who risked everything for ideals. America exists due to their courage and belief in a better way to rule a country.
Finding an island and Mansion that bears the same name of my great-great-grandfather, Garrett Van Schaick, in the middle of New York’s upper Hudson River caused more excitement than I anticipated when I arrived. I hoped to prove my family connection to the Van Schaick Dutch lineage and the initial discovery that I didn’t belong to that branch of the family tree was a deep disappointment. However, I felt I’d unburied something more precious than gold when I found a copy of the Last Will and Testament of William Van Schaick, Jr, who was Garrett Van Schaick’s older brother. I found proof that my great-grandmother’s genealogy list was accurate.
Imagine my surprise when I found out how important the Van Schaick Mansion was to the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War in 1777. The fact that General Horatio Gates planned the Saratoga Campaign in that house and the victory of the Battle of Saratoga turned the tide of the War was an incredible realization that I hadn’t traveled up to Albany in vain. The theme of my road trip is included in my brief stop here.
I planned a book. I would document every experience and detail of each location and write a memoir about my personal turning point–and how this journey to turning points in American History changed me. Traveling back in time to important dates: September 11, 2001 and July 2-3, 1863 and July 4, 1776 and 1777 was like placing myself inside the events and understanding the impact on America as a result.
Change is created in all life. All matter has to change. The rivers and mountains change over time. Farms and fields and forests become villages and cities and paved highways. Our forefathers left a far away land to risk a known way of life in exchange for a different and unknown settlement in North America. They married and raised children. Down through the ages, people changed too. To my generation–baby boomers–change is something we embraced and sometimes forced on a rigid society afraid of change.
America has changed so much in almost 400 years. My Dutch ancestors from the 1600s wouldn’t recognize anything of today’s world. I’d like to think they’d be amazed that from their union and offspring thousands of descendants now populate the land. Prominent and wealthy men who dared to commit treason upon signing the Declaration of Independence and later the Bill of Rights and Constitution would be justified knowing the nation they created from ideas and fought to have the right to establish still exists–flaws, warts and all since 1776.
For the carnage and horrors of engaging in fierce batttles over three days at Gettysburg, July 1-2-3, 1863, I believe the nation has healed and the United States of America is still the land of promise–because men fought during the Civil War for ideals and to preserve the Union at all costs. The soldiers are not forgotten. Many of their names are etched in stone on the battlefield.
And finally, our recent way of life is designated as BEFORE 9-11 and AFTER 9-11. September 11, 2001 was a wake up call to America. Unimaginable horror and destruction on American soil turned lives around in an instant. Barely one year later, the grief is still raw and sorrow too painful to speak about. Individual freedoms are curtailed in the name of security against terrorism. Suspicions leave everyone on high alert, waiting for “the other shoe to drop”.
Yet in the midst of sharing America’s recent national tragedy, this turning point in American History, individuals have looked deep within themselves and questioned what is most important in life. Lives are changing. Individuals realize there are no guarantees in life. Anything can happen. Even the unthinkable. I’ve heard inspirational stories of how September 11th was the catalyst that became the turning point for many Americans. People are pursuing lives with deeper meaning and achieving their dreams.
And that’s what I brought back with me. Turning my life around and taking the risk to pursue a better life I believe God intended. Live with a purpose to write and open my heart, bare my soul and speak my mind in my own unique voice. Writing to me is allowing my soul to soar free. I am enough–I am complete–I am fulfilled–when I write.
I still have one year to prepare to move to Maui in 2003. As soon as I open my front door when I’m home again, the reality of this current life kicks in. Responsibiliies at work, at home, with my son’s final year of high school–they didn’t magically disappear during my road trip. What did disappear on my journey were any doubts about my future. I left my driveway in Ohio to ruminate over possibilities to change my life, but I wasn’t sure I could actually do it.
I pulled back in my driveway after one week a stronger, more capable woman. I may live the second half of my life alone, no relationship with another person, and that’s all right. I learned on my odyssey I am never alone. I sensed the presence of God with me every step of the way. I am ready to take bigger risks to live an extraordianry dream and be guided into a life prepared with an intent and purpose to write and tell the stories that need to be told.
My son will graduate from high school next year. Right now, I feel like I’m graduating along with him. A new life awaits me. I suppose the journey to turning points of American History is a metaphor for my future. Fifty isn’t fatal. I have the rest of my life to live.
Approach it in a similar manner as I traveled on this road trip. What may look good and organized on paper turns into a practical vacation trip. The journey of discovery becomes a quest to seek answers to lifelong questions. And out of tragedy comes an odyssey to understand a deeper spiritual meaning. The ultimate result is a pilgrimage. A personal journey to the various stages of life and stopping to be grateful for the lessons learned.
This first week of July went by so quickly. It’s over and my current reality awaits. I have much more to share about each location. Turning points in American History will continue until the commemoration of the tenth anniversary on September 11, 2011.
For those interested in researching family trees and genealogy, I’m going to write about more details of my trip to Albany and the important influence of the Dutch who settled the area in the 1600s. I’ll then share some of the stories and history of Philadelphia in 1776 and the aftermath of signing the Declaration of Independence. I barely skimmed the surface of Gettysburg, so I plan to revisit the National Military Park in greater detail. As the nation turns its collective attention to September 11th, I will focus on the heroes and story of United Flight 93.
Back to my quest. Searching family roots——-