November 20, 2009
Bernadette and I are two hours into a 12-hour road trip to visit my family in North Carolina and we’ve finally crossed the border into Pennsylvania. The trip slowed to a crawl from the start because Penelope is fascinated with fluorescent lighting, chrome and porcelain.
Outside the restroom at the Pennsylvania Welcome Center, Bern and I are snapping at each other. We’re frustrated, tired and know we have a grueling trip ahead. I’m not sure what specifically we’re bickering about, but I know it’s my fault because I’m smart enough to realize that someday Bern will read this blog.
The disagreement melts away quicker than a late April snow, and soon we’re chugging down Interstate 81. Since we have plenty of time on our wheels we try teaching Penelope how to pronounce her name.
Bern: “OK, let’s try this. Say Pe-“
Bern : “OK, now put it all together. Penelope, what is your name?”
Penelope clutches her hands to her chest and breaks out in a mile-wide grin: “MEEE!”
I suspect we would have had an easier time if we’d decided to name her “No” or “Ahhh” or even “Trick-or-Treat,” but we — perhaps foolishly — elected to pay homage to the ancient Greeks.
Our smartest move for the drive south was to pack two coolers with enough snacks to allow Penelope to graze her way across five states: dinner in New Jersey; a cheese stick and an apple in Pa., grapes in West Virginia, a cereal bar in Maryland, and crackers in Virginia.
We stop at a Motel 6 in Harrisonburg, Va. They were kind enough to leave the light on for us, as their old advertising slogan used to claim, but I should not have parked under it. The giant fluorescent light glares down on our car and wakes up Penelope and the dogs. By the time we swipe the room key and throw our bags on the floor, midnight is approaching, and the dogs and Penelope are wired and ready to explore every inch of the room. It takes 90 minutes, but feels like five hours, to get everyone settled and sleeping. We sleep for five hours, but it feels like 90 minutes when Bern’s phone alarm starts blaring The Pet Shop Boys.
Half asleep, we pile ourselves and our belongings back into the car. We’re eager to get to Charlotte so my parents can meet their granddaughter for the first time. The second leg of the trip takes six hours, but we’re surprisingly alert when we pull in my parents’ driveway. Knowing we’ve reached the journey’s end is revivifying.
We enter the house, and you can feel how special the occasion is. Penelope is tentative at first, but quickly warms up and hugs her grandparents. Moments later, A Yi (Auntie) Sue and Shu Shu (Uncle) Joe arrive, and Penelope is charging around the living room with toys and crayons and a few advertising circulars she found on the coffee table. My mother carries out a bowl of peanut-butter crackers for Penelope. She practically dives headfirst into the bowl.
Hey, she hasn’t had a snack since we crossed the North Carolina border.