Two Weeks of Travel: Part III, Staunton and Road Trip!

I like Staunton, VA. It’s got that old world charm, like I said before. It’s sort of like being in a period piece, except no one is wearing crappy costumes or pretending they don’t know what a cell phone is. The architecture and organization of the town is old style, but the people aren’t. They’re hospitable and kind and they have more activities going on there than I can figure out.

The week that I visited (last week now) was the week of the Staunton Music Festival, a world-class week of classical music performances. I only went to one of them, but I could tell just how amazing they were. The evening concerts were held at my dad’s church, Trinity, and so it seemed sort of like a family affair.

Besides being the host of evening concerts at a world-class music festival, this church has got the old style church campus thing going on. It’s several hundred years old, and it mirrors the same kind of parish style complexes that the churches in Europe or other old cities do. The church has an impressive door facing the main street of the town, on the edge of the downtown area. There’s a parish hall on the back of the yard, an equally impressive building that is built into a hill to accommodate the sudden swooping of the Virginia mountains. It was built later but they mimicked the old architecture, so it looks like it fits in.

My father’s house is on the other corner of the church yard, a civil-war era (or earlier? not sure) rectory with ridiculously high ceilings and an inner and outer parlor. These old southern rectories are beautiful, and feel very classic and wonderous to me. One year, my family stayed in another old school southern rectory in Sewanee, Tennessee. My brother and I used to dig through the remnants of old church bits in the basement and attic, and run around screaming through the seemingly endless rooms. My bedroom had a fireplace in it, and I would arrange dolls and other odd toys on the mantle for hours on end.

marywindowWhat I love especially about the Trinity church yard, though, is that it is a church yard in every sense of the word: it is also the grave yard. So, there is a playground between the parish hall and my dad’s barbecuing patio, and there are graves between the patio and the church–ancient graves whose names and dates have all but worn off. They’re sinking into the ground. The church serves lunch every day at noon, and so folks hang out in the church yard, smoking. Hanging out with the dead. My dad and I sat on the back patio to grill the last evening I was there, and that’s what we did too–sat around and drank a beer with the dead. It’s a magical sort of place.

I’ve mentioned the Mary window before at Trinity, but it is still something I always look forward to seeing. She is a queen in this image, dressed in red, and she glows in the morning–especially when I come in the winter. She is no demure girl in this picture, but a woman who has conquered something–perhaps a terrible shame, a terrible past. Who knows. But this woman is as resurrected as her son, that is for sure. So I love that window, and that image of Mary.

I like coming to Staunton and talking church with the people who are churchy there. It seems to have all this historical gravity to it. I learned little tidbits of information that I didn’t know before: like the senior warden is traditionally the “people’s warden”, and the junior warden is typically the “building and grounds warden”. Things I didn’t know. Hey. What fun. The words “Canon Law” come up in conversation, and sermon writing is a family affair.

However, I mostly vegetated in front of the television while I visited. There is this television show, from back when I was in 3rd and 4th grade or so. My dad really liked it back then, and so us kids got particularly attached to it. It’s called Babylon 5. Good scifi nerds will know it, but it doesn’t fit into any particular camps–it stands on its own in its own universe. It typically attracts the same kinds of people who are obsessive about Firefly. (Myself included.)

This show is sort of a reset button for me. I’ve gone to visit my dad in Staunton several times: after returning from a foreign country, after heartbreak, in the dead of winter for that usual “is the sun ever going to come back?” trip.

When I need a special sort of fixer-upper, I binge-watch the entire 3rd and 4th seasons of B5. It’s got everything–love and war–tragedy and joy–intensity and beautiful graphics (at least for 1996). Crazy scenarios that will make you go “WHUT?!” Mostly it’s got several strong female characters, one of whom is sort of a prophet. She holds her own in battle, saves the butt of her man on multiple occasions, and is in control of a great deal of things in the plotline. She holds her own. The writing in this show is amazing–sometimes the acting doesn’t always keep up, but the writing is amazing.

This show is essentially the basis of my imaginative world. I watched it for the first time during one of those formative periods in my life, when I was sort of starting to think more for myself. I loved stories, and characters, and the idea that we have to come into our own and take responsibility for our own actions. I loved the principals of cross-cultural care and teamwork to defeat the “ancient darkness.” It sort of smacks of World War II and Lord of the Rings, with a healthy dose of fundamentalism and American exceptionalism (the humans are supposed to represent the Americans, a new ‘race’ that enters into the battles of old races…etc).

Most of all, though, what I loved was that it got complicated toward the end. The “good guys” turned vicious, and the “bad guys” turned out to be sort of twisted and misguided, but not horrible–and it broke the barriers of a black and white narrative. I really hung onto that idea in my younger years–that the “good guys” were never really fully good, and the bad guys were probably just lost. But, there was always a clear “right thing” to do, and the woman-prophetess in the show usually knew what that was.

I spent most of my week there watching this show, and hitting that reset button. And that felt pretty good.

Then, to avoid another train disaster, and because it just sort of seemed like the right time, I decided to drive a car back to Chicago. My dad wanted a new one, and my job search has been particularly limited without one. So we worked out a plan for me to have one to aid in the search–in the hopes that it would give me more access to things that would require one.

That feeling is a little odd; finally having four wheels. My bike got stolen AGAIN about a month ago, and suddenly I was stuck back on my own two feet. But this is a different sort of feeling. It opens up so many doors that I didn’t have before. It’s a sort of identity crisis, even. I used to be so adamant about being a public transportation kind of girl. I still am, really–especially in Chicago. I don’t want to drive to the north side. That’s just asking for trouble. But suddenly all these barriers that were in front of me…and sort of immobile, now those barriers are gone. It’s a weird feeling. Like I haven’t quite figured it out yet.

The rest stop on I-64 when you enter West Virginia has a nice welcome center and a great view. I stopped about 9am to pause and take it in.
The rest stop on I-64 when you enter West Virginia has a nice welcome center and a great view. I stopped about 9am to pause and take it in.

The trip back from VA was pleasant. Except that Dayton, OH has a really messed up construction project in downtown, and it seems really impossible to drive through it. There was a little white-knucking there, on I-70. But, I handled the West Virginia mountains without any trouble. (Semis at hairpin turns on an interstate going down a mountain; this is not a pleasant concept.) All of Indiana appears to be under construction. I couldn’t figure out how to get onto the Chicago Skyway, I-90, but I’m told that I did myself a favor by taking the Dan Ryan in anyhow, because the tolls are so expensive. Rock on.

And now, for the rest of my life, I’m going to be thinking about how I can get a parking spot on the block. #yay

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