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Vacation in a Rest Area

August 17, 2009

On Saturday morning, the bed of my little blue pickup truck was packed with an electric grill, hammocks, beach chairs, assorted baby equipment for our grandson; all the stuff we take for a week of family vacation at the beach. Comparisons to “Sanford and Son” would have been fitting.

I was locking up the house. Clare waited in the truck, arranging things in her nest on the passenger side of the extended cab for our five-hour trek to the beach. Tastefully attired as always, she even had on pearls.

Another blue pickup pulled into our driveway; a battered old Ford with fenders of varying colors. Both taillights and the left headlight were secured with duct tape.

The driver’s appearance matched that of his truck. Wearing a tattered grease-stained baseball cap and faded overalls, he approached Clare. His mouth was nearly concealed by his scraggly beard. His broad smile revealed only a few teeth. He was chewing tobacco. The man seemed excited. He motioned for Clare to lower the window. Cautiously, Clare lowered the window about an inch.

“Ya’ll goin’ to the dump?” he asked.

“I’m in the arn and med’l business. I’ll be glad to haul this stuff fer you ’ns.”

Clare answered, “Thank you. We have it loaded. We will be just fine.”

With a tip of the baseball cap, he released his matted, disheveled hair, and dismissed himself.

It was a hilarious beginning to our vacation. We are still laughing.

On Sunday morning I preached, as I do every year, at Pawley’s Island Chapel. The church is within walking distance of the house where we have stayed for twenty-seven vacations. The sanctuary has beautiful windows that look out onto the marsh.

On our family vacation, in recent years, I usually prepare the evening meal each night. Though my culinary skills are limited, my family enjoys food cooked on the grill.

On vacation, I take too much to read, too many projects to complete.

I always take some time by myself to sit under the stars and listen to the waves and breathe the salt air. I swam in the ocean a few times with my children. I walked on the beach some with Clare. But as the time to leave grew closer, I was tired.

On Saturday morning, I loaded the pickup with a lot of help from our children accompanied by their jokes about “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Clare and I enjoyed traveling the backroads for a while, but then we got on the interstate. As we were coming up I-26 just north of Newberry, traffic came to a virtual standstill. Eighteen-wheelers, recreational vehicles, and automobiles with racks on top and bicycles on back crept along at a snail’s pace.

Finally, I saw a sign: Rest Area One Mile. Thirty minutes later, we turned onto the ramp into the rest area.

The place was packed. Hordes of weary travelers crammed parking lot. Every picnic table was taken. Long lines led to crowded restrooms. Vending machines had run out of cold drinks. Busy attendants maintained both order and the facilities. Meanwhile on the interstate, traffic was barely moving.

“We are going to be here a while,” I said to Clare

I extracted two beach chairs from the crowded bed of the pickup. I grabbed two apples from the cooler, a library book Clare had been reading, and a new issue of Garden and Gun magazine. We sat in the shade, read, and enjoyed our apples. We had a ringside seat.

Some people were understandably frustrated, but I noticed an attitude of calm resignation among others.

A driver of an eighteen-wheeler pulled a football from the cab of his truck. He and his son tossed it back and forth. Four other boys gathered around, joining the game of pass and catch.

At a picnic table closest to us was a family with four energetic little girls who were just glad to be out of their minivan. The mother was clearly exhausted, but she was inventive. “Let’s see how many pinecones you can find.”

Together the dad and his daughters went on a scavenger hunt. They brought armloads of pinecones back to the table. The mother enjoyed a bottle of cold water, guarding the pile as the spiny treasures accumulated. For the children, it was as much fun as an Easter egg hunt.

Pet owners walked dogs of all varieties. The canines, all on leashes, stopped to sniff. People, holding the leashes, struck up conversations with each other.

An elderly couple sat under a covered shelter, drinking coffee from a thermos and eating cookies. They were holding hands and talking.

After an hour, interstate traffic started to move again. Some rushed to their vehicles. Drivers cranked up and moved down the ramp, back into the flow of traffic.

“Let’s wait here for a while until the congestion thins out,” Clare suggested.

Our time in the rest area was a refreshing hour, a relaxing ending to our vacation.
I was returning to a busy schedule. I still had to unload all that stuff off the truck. The guy who offered to take it to the dump before we left was not there to help when we got back home.

Two memorable parts of our vacation this year were the funny beginning and the much needed respite at the end. Both are treasured gifts.

Kirk H. Neely
© August 2009

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