In my last post,
Theophilus, friends, I left you with a semi-cryptic mark on our travel itinerary. While it is true that the fastest route from Kingston, ON to Lafayette, IN involves a drive through southern Ontario and a border crossing near Detroit; one can in fact travel between those two points by way of the Niagara crossing and then around the south side of Lake Erie. One would not travel that route, however, unless one were deranged. Or… unless one had an 8 year-old son.
Our boy Benedict read a book a few years ago about a sled dog named Balto. Balto gained fame by leading a team of sled dogs through the Alaskan wilderness in the 1920’s on a mission to deliver medicine to the sick residents of Nome. I think I got that right. Don’t question me, just go with it for now. That mission is commemorated today in the famous Iditarod Race run each year. We knew that there was a statue of Balto, the Siberian husky, in New York’s Central Park. We had visited it in December to the great joy of our son. While driving around the north side of Lake Ontario I looked online for some fun things to do. Somehow I came across the story of Balto. It turns out that our friend Balto had been feted around the country following his accomplishment. The Central Park statue was dedicated within a year of the first race and Balto was present. Of course it could have been any Siberian husky as they all look alike. Within a few years, however, Balto’s owner had fallen on hard times and the dog along with several others was sold to an exhibitor of novelties in California. A man from Ohio (an Ohian?) came across the dogs and bought them, bringing them to his native Cleveland. After Balto’s death he was stuffed – the dog, not the man – and displayed in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
And that is why we drove to Cleveland.
DAY 30/Event #12
We slept in a little longer than we would have liked. We had a very important errand to run before doing anything else. Our car has rain-sensing wipers. These are very cool and come in handy for the lazy among us who don’t like to turn knobs or push buttons. Yesterday while driving through Toronto my wife suggested we get the car washed. Some of you see where I’m going. We pulled into the automated carwash, put the car in neutral, and let go. Within seconds the light mist hitting the windshield prompted the wipers to spring into action. And almost immediately that mist became a deluge. The wipers went nuts. I started calling out obscenities as only a Jersey boy can, going through every touchscreen menu on the dashboard trying to turn them off. By the time I found the control those long felt strips that only seem to exist inside of carwashes had accosted my passenger-side wiper and ripped it clean off the car. In shock, Karla and I watched as the blade flew over our heads and disappeared. Fortunately it did not rain the rest of the night.
So we went to Napa and replaced it.
Then we drove to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, or so we thought.
Karla had put the address into our GPS. I blindly followed the pleasant voice. Turn left, now… Enter I-90, now… Ding ding… “Odd,” I thought. “It didn’t look like it was on the waterfront on my map.” That’s because it isn’t on the waterfront. She had put in an address for the Ohio Science Center some 10 miles past our destination. Time was running short. We corrected our mistake and arrived at the right museum. At the front desk we tried to explain our urgency to the docent. First he looked at our shirts. “Grill’n and Chill’n… Sounds like fun.” He began to tell us all about the artifacts and exhibits. “There’s a giant dinosaur and a meteorite and Lucy is here too!” he said. I replied calmly “Dinosaurs aren’t real; it’s probably a piece of rock from the garden; and the Peanuts character?!” At this point Karla stepped in. “Our son is obsessed with Balto and we have five minutes.”
He then took out a floor plan, circled a corner of the map, and shoved us away.
We approached the stuffed remains of a neutered Alaskan sled dog, covering our son’s eyes with the floor plan. This is what it’s come to.
“1 – 2 – 3… OPEN!”
He was speechless. That’s because he truly didn’t know what this was. We explained taxidermy to him. “Well son, sometimes when a man loses a pet he loved very much…” I realized that it must have sounded like I was explaining the birds and bees to him at this point and switched to “You know our friend Lanier and all her stuffed deer?” “OH! So that’s the real Balto?” You got it, young man. Now get in the car. We’ve got to hit Indiana.
We drove across the vast expanse of Ohio watching as the fields changed from potatoes to corn. We were very excited for this event as our hosts Andrew, ’01 and Sarah (Hatke) Antonio, ’03, had been trying to edge me out as king of social media of late. Believe me, that’s a tough thing to do. But try they had. Pictures had popped up on Instagram and Facebook of their working farm in Lafayette, IN and all the preparations they were making for this event. In fact, Andrew had mentioned to Karla a month ago that he would be smoking his own pig. I don’t know what that means. I imagine a hog sitting out on the back porch with a Marlboro dangling from his mouth.
Upon our arrival we were greeted by another wonderful Christendom family. I have really come to love these events. In each city, at each new gathering I am meeting for the first time people whom I feel like I’ve been friends with forever. I even said to Karla “I sort of wish I’d stuck it out longer” meaning I wish I’d stayed more than one semester. The Antonio’s toured us around their farm, introduced us to the pigs (none of whom could offer me a light), and grabbed us a beer.
Also joining us were Danny Schneible, ’01, and his wife and daughter. They had driven from Ohio as well and had left their other kids at home. That’s the spirit! What’s a three hour drive among friends? We also had the pleasure of chill’n with Jeremy Sheiko, ’05, Grant and Claire (Schafer) Freeman, both ’04, and Katie (Almeter) Schafer, ’02.
My poor Rita had been in the process of losing one of her incisors for about two weeks now. Like me, she has long roots and the darned thing just wouldn’t fully let go. Fortunately for her a Grill’n & Chill’n event is better than dentistry. After announcing to us that she was going for more food, she turned to walk away from our table and promptly faceplanted on the ground. The tooth came out. I mean it really came out. The funny thing is that the dad’s among us all immediately dropped to their hands and knees to search for this tooth. Granted I didn’t but that’s because I know the Tooth Fairy personally and he’s a pretty fair guy who doesn’t demand actual teeth from his little girl, I mean, from the children of the world. But Grant Freeman, now, he was a trooper! He searched on that ground for a good five minutes before I told him it was totally OK.
Danny Schneible entertained us with his guitar around the fire. The kids set off sparklers. The sangria came out. The whole thing was documented on a couple of Go-pro cameras mounted around the yard by Andrew and Danny not to mention my camera. Perhaps I should stop writing. This much evidence could be dangerous.
One of the funniest moments came when my son realized that Sarah Antonio is Ben Hatke’s sister. Ben Hatke writes and illustrates a few
children’s books comics graphic novels art-borne bound stories. My Ben is a huge fan and we’ve been hoping Hatke would be at one of these events but to no avail. Our son would like to meet him and get his autograph on one of the books he owns. Karla had a better idea. We simply had Sarah and her sister Annie, who was also on hand, sign it instead. Two Hatke’s are better than one, I suppose.
Much thanks to the Antonio’s and all who came out. We had a great time and it was nice to see alums coming together like this. Of course this group all knew each other already but it’s just as important to work on strengthening the bonds of friendship as it is establishing them.
Tonight it’s an hour’s drive north to get us closer to tomorrow’s event. Keep praying for us, particularly for our kids. They’ve been so wonderful but even they have their limits. We will continue to pray for each of you every day as we roll from town to town.