The freeway took us through a number of interesting sites, such as the birthplace of Jesse James, the town of Lawson (which I appreciated for obvious reasons), and the home of J.C. Penny (as in, the actual guy). Before long we arrived in Chillicothe and were warmly greeted by Jamie's family. I instantly knew that this was a place where one could just be. Time didn't race by. There wasn't a schedule to keep. We could sip our sweet tea on the porch and linger and visit and reminisce.
I smiled over the stories that were shared, picturing Jamie as a little boy running through acres of grass, shooting bullfrogs and catching fireflies. We visited some of those places, too -- old homesteads, farmland, and the cemeteries that were an important reminder of the family heritage and ties to the past.
We discovered one of these ties while visiting the Chillicothe Museum. To begin with though, the whole of downtown Chillicothe is quite charming. An amazing artist has painted a number of murals, depicting the town's rich and unique history. One distinction is Chillicothe's claim to fame as the home of sliced bread. The slicing machine was even on loan from the Smithsonian, so we knew that a trip to the museum was definitely in order.
But the museum also featured a section devoted to the Chillicothe Business College, which Jamie's grandmother attended. We found a yearbook and thought, "Wouldn't it be neat if we could find her?" Jamie wasn't sure of the year, but we started looking and, sure enough, there she was -- in the first yearbook we opened, 1939. Something about that discovery made our Chillicothe roots reach just a bit deeper and cling just a bit more firmly to that place.
At one point in our conversation on the first night, I was distinctly aware of a loud buzzing around my head. Not wanting to offend the Chillicothe wildlife or draw unnecessary attention to myself, I attempted to discreetly brush it away. It wouldn't brush. I finally flicked it away and tuned in to the conversation once again. The buzzing resumed, and when Peggy jumped from her seat and started beating the thing away, I knew that it was okay to offend the Chillicothe wildlife. We batted at that thing until it landed on the ground, where Jamie dispatched the creature with a swift stomp of the foot. I cringed and asked, "What on earth was that?" I was casually informed that it was probably a June bug.
Friends, there are moments in life when one must face unexpected -- and sometimes unpleasant -- realities. This was one of those moments. You may know that one of my nicknames is Juni. This name lends itself to being turned into other nicknames. Such as June Bug. That night I learned that this endearing appellation does not refer to a dainty butterfly or a cute ladybug-type creature as I had always assumed. No, it refers to a hideous scarab beetle which makes a sickening crunch as its exoskeleton succumbs to the weight of a human shoe. I try to remind myself that my mother was probably unaware of this when she smiled upon her little June Bug skipping blissfully through childhood.
While reeling from the blow of this harsh reality, there was a balm on the horizon. A balm in the shape of another insect. A flash of light shone in the distance and I thought, "Could it be?" And before I could ask anyone to confirm my suspicions, it was gone. But I still like to tell myself that I saw my very first firefly that night in Chillicothe.
Another highlight was our visit to Jamie's cousin's home. (I think he's a second cousin. Or second cousin once removed. Or twice removed. We'll just stick with cousin.) The acres of beautiful land and the warm spring sunshine beckoned and we enjoyed four-wheeling while exploring the property. Jamie was also promptly put to work.
He later jumped at the chance to test the firearms. I was content to sit among the trees, sipping my tea while visiting with family.
Content, that is, until I passed Jamie firing a .22 as I was heading into the house. He called, "Wanna give it a try?" I hesitated. The thing was, I sure did wanna give it a try. I demurred. The family encouraged me and before I knew it I was grabbing earplugs and watching my husband load the gun for me. Turns out I can hit a target. And I like it.
Our last night was quite a treat as we enjoyed a special meal with the whole family: Lowcountry boil. The tantalizing ingredients boiled over the outdoor flames and, when cooked to perfection, were dumped onto the newspaper-covered table. We dove in and ate. And ate. And I discovered that not only do I enjoy target practice, but I also enjoy eating with my hands. Sometimes one must step beyond one's comfort zone to really appreciate the good things in life.
We visited late that night, about thunderstorms and haunted houses, bats on the loose and how the tomatoes were coming. Then Judy surprised us all with a childhood treat: Dilly Bars. We grinned and nibbled as quickly as we could, trying to catch the sweet ice cream before it traveled down our hands. Thunder rolled in the distance and a bunny scampered across the lawn, no doubt headed straight for Peggy's garden. The wind was picking up as we headed in for the night, and as we drifted off to sleep the skies overhead were filled with an eerie yet lulling torrent of wind and rain.
The morning came all too quickly and it was time to finalize our goodbyes, some of which we'd made the night before. Goodbye to Everett and Judy and their warm hospitality, entertaining stories and ever-ready supply of tea (Judy knows me well); goodbye to Peggy's engaging smile and the tenderloin sandwiches which Jamie remembers so fondly from childhood; goodbye to Mark and Shawn and their peaceful, welcoming acreage brimming with adventures and merry dogs; goodbye to Hilary and Blake and Greg and everyone else who made our stay so memorable.
Of course goodbye to one family meant hello to another. Our kids were eager for our return, eager to hear our stories. And we were eager to share. As Jamie wove his tales and I described this new-to-me part of the country, it didn't take long before they, too, had come to a unanimous conclusion: "We wanna go to Chillicothe!" And we know that, when that time comes, we'll be welcomed with open arms.