Catching the Christmas spirit on the way home from Florida was as easy as turning off I-95 North and driving to Fernandina Beach, Fla., near the Georgia line. The first surprise was that at 9 a.m. it was difficult to find a parking place, but an even bigger shock was finding almost everyone in night attire. Stately men were in bathrobes with pajama legs showing. For many of the women it was a fashion show of lovely housecoats, while others wore granny-style flannel nightgowns. The children were adorable in their "jammies" cradling stuffed animals in their arms.
It's an annual community event on shoppers' Black Friday in the city on Amelia Island in north Florida. Stores offered discounts and sales personnel also dressed appropriately for the occasion.
Yes, silly me and faithful Digby came home from our Florida adventure that covered four weeks, about 3,000 miles, and eight tanks of gas, give or take. When it's less than $2 a gallon, who's counting?
Ardent travelers have one rule. You have to come home to have time to make plans and pack for the next trip.
It took only a few miles on I-77 north in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia to confirm that my plan to return home in December was not good, perhaps even stupid. One slip of the car on black ice on a mountainous road shared with huge trucks in a pounding snowstorm told me it was foolish to continue. But who is going to welcome a woman and her dog? But we found a place.
By morning the weather had cleared for a 6 a.m. take-off. At that point in a trip that had included many motels, one more complimentary hot breakfast was not worth waiting for. "Hot" in such deals refers to coffee and do-it-yourself waffles that would be much improved by having a standard metal fork. You have to wonder where motel chains buy such flimsy plastic forks that break with the first bite.
Once over the bridge at Williamstown, W.Va., we were back in Ohio in Marietta and about five hours from home, thankfully. The house was warm and welcoming on the cold day and there were a few firsts. From a stack of mail, the first Christmas card was from Anne Galloway of Toledo and it was only Dec. 2. The first telephone call was a telemarketer still wanting to sell a warranty on a 2003 car with more than 100,000 miles. The first reason to turn on the stove was to make a big pot of homemade chicken noodle soup, and relaxation from the long drive was a hot bath in my own bathtub, which I know is clean. I am not so sure about motel tubs.
The complimentary hot breakfast was oatmeal made from scratch, crisp bacon, and high-fiber bread always toasted in the broiler so dark it is near the smoking point. I have a toaster collection, but broiled bread has a crunchy texture.
I can't disagree that home is where the heart is, but for me it is also where the cats are. Sullivan, Geranium, and Hemingway never hold back their feelings about my travel.
They know suitcases when they are taken to the car and when I return they all stay very close for a few days and take turns sitting on my lap. Pat and Mike, the kittens that were born under the porch and now live on it, grew a lot in my absence. Thanks to Lucy, who comes to the house three times a week to care for them, they are fine and keeping warm in Digby's house, which was moved onto the porch. Boxes are filled with towels and old rugs for Pat and Mike's friends that may want to sleep over.
The homeless animals need and deserve consideration during the harsh winter months. The reward is feeling good for having helped.