Early on Sunday morning my cousin Debby texted me a Mother’s Day greeting. I appreciated it so much. I was happy she thought of me on Mother’s Day. As Mr. Rogers used to say, “There are many ways to say, ‘I love you.'” On Sunday I was thankful for the texting way.
Debby and her siblings grew up with my brother and me.
My Aunt Lavon and her children were frequent visitors at our house. Lavon and her two oldest children, Debby and Roger, even lived with our family while my Uncle Billy was “in the service” (the term we used for “serving in the military” back then). Here are we four cousins: Steve, Roger, Debby, and Charlene. It’s one of those fairly frequent double exposures that happened when the photographer forgot to manually move the film forward to the next frame and accidentally took two photos on the same portion of film.
In 1978 Ray and I were a young married couple with no children. Ray was a campus minister working with college students at Ole Miss and with a wonderful integrated and international church in Oxford, the scene of a major civil rights confrontation sixteen years before. I had quit working so I could be Ray’s assistant.
We both hoped we wouldn’t stay just a couple for very long. Debby was living outside of Washington, D.C. Ray and I asked her if we could stay with her while we saw the sights of D.C. She invited us to come, and we took off for what we saw as one last fling before we settled down to what we thought would be a happy, but restricted, life with children.
Our first child John was born the next February. Bethany came two years later and Mary Evelyn two years after that. We often made the four-hour trip home to see our folks in Tennessee. These visits included some sightseeing in Middle Tennessee, especially visits to the now-dismantled theme park called Opryland. For those of you who have visited the Opryland Hotel, now you know where it got its name. The theme park was first.
When Mary Evelyn was very small, some friends invited us to go tent camping with them. My family had enjoyed that many times when I was a child and teenager, but Ray had never experienced family camping. That one- or two-night trip taught the two of us that we could camp with our children.
When I wrote about our marbles tournament adventures recently, a reader asked if I would write about how Ray and I took our children to forty-eight states. Today is the first part of my answer.
The first breakthrough for us was that little camping trip a few miles from our house. I already knew that families could travel very cheaply because I had grown up that way. What I didn’t know was that Ray and I could do it with little kids. We had no idea what adventures lay ahead for us.
Knowledge is powerful. That little nugget of knowledge — we could camp with kids — was a seed that began to grow in us. I am not sure our children would have seen 48 states without it. Typing that sentence just now actually scared me a little. How sad, I thought. What adventures we would have missed. What family stories would never have been written.
By wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
And by knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.