Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Connie Dale Road Trip Experience

Its been a long, damn time since I was fortunate enough to embark on one of the long, strange trips that is The Connie Dale Road Trip Experience. Back in the day, we had but to grab a few and drink, our cameras and absolute certainty that we had no idea where we were headed. We don't need no stinking maps here! Just pile in Connie's van; be armed with a sense of adventure and openness and the sky's the limit.

Details might include a sip of cheap Champagne in North Bend State Park at 7 a.m.; Restless Heart or Dan Fogelberg crooning in the background or watching a sea of stars while listening to whispering pines in Canaan Valley. One time, when we both worked for the Greenhouse, Kaki even assigned us a road trip to photograph various bridges around the region for an Artsbridge project. By day's end, we had been on the roof of the Lafayette Hotel; stirred the ethereal mist at the Williamstown Viaduct while capturing images of its eerie Gothic-like architecture and simply lost in the wilderness, where Connie would crave such command over the elements that she would actually ask me to move the mud. Our ultimate Macdaddy road trip would involve motoring in the Greenhouse van to Boston with me sharing the space in the back of the van with antique furniture. Despite an acceleration at the Massaschusetts Turnpike that nearly left me a permanent part of said furniture, it was a sublime trip amongst the autumn blaze of New England color under the watchful eye of a bright harvest moon.

Many moons later, Connie and I would never fail to voice our dismay over the multitude of years that continued to roll by since we enjoyed a road trip. Now lo these many years later, we finally found our schedules open up and we managed to eke out a day to hit the road. Our means that we didn't roll down the highway with wild abandon like we used to, but we did agree to head north of St. Marys, which I hadn't done in over two decades. This trip was about to connect some childhood dots for me.

Connie plotted a basic outline of highlights and we soon hit the highway. One by one,various settings triggering childhood flashes of memory were visited and with each visit, it's as if a barely cracked door would either creep or swing wide open and it was completely exhilarating.

We stopped by the historic Wells Inn and had lunch in the Red Rose Tea Room which features many English specialties such as Cottage Pie and Bangers and Mash. We went with the Fish and Chips and chatted with the new owner who encouraged us to stroll a bit and check out some of their work. Seeing the old original sign, strange sliding "fireproof" door and the 1890's urinals was a kick for sure. The Wells Inn is a local treasure and it sounds as if the new owners have some big plans and it will be good to have the old girl looking like the showpiece it deserves to.

Connie took me through downtown Sistersville as there was a wisp of a memory that I had there and have been trying to fill in. That memory involved shopping with my Mom in a downtown department store across from Shouldis' that I couldn't remember. The good folks at Phillips Pharmacy there would remind us of G.C. Murphy's and its featured lunch counter and that filled in that nagging memory lapse. I suddenly remembered always wanting a hamburger and chocolate shake while spinning on the round soda fountain seats. What a startling flashback that instantly made me want a real chocolate shake...

We then traveled over to Ohio the best way around....the Sistersville Ferry. As Connie drove us onto the long boat, I remembered my parents taking me for rides on the Sistersville Ferry when I was a munchkin. We disembarked and drove up the Ohio side until we made a quick stop in Sardis to check out the Amish cheeses and sausages and soon, I was buying a hunk of their most awesome rye cheese. We crossed back over at New Martinsville, drove by classic Quinot's Court Restaurant and headed back south to Paden City. I was getting so touristy with the camera at this point that I took a pic of the Eagles Club because its where I ate my first (and last) pickled egg 25 years ago with my buddies Lee and RJ before we drove to Wheeling to watch what was then known as Georgia Championship Wrestling where Dusty Rhodes and Co. would take on the "Russians" live; fake blood and all. I digress....

We would make our final stop at a place I didn't know existed.....Marble King, the local marble factory. Once more, a vague memory danced around my foggy brain....I barely remember the marble plant in St. Marys burning down and moving to Paden City, but I had no idea that it still operated. I remember Dad taking me to the factory site after; where we would climb the "mountains" of marbles and fill our plastic buckets full of those multi-colored glass beauties. That plastic bucket of marbles remains in my parent's garage....its like my Rosebud. As Connie and I walked on to the Marble King property, I saw them....tall, glistening piles of marbles and glass, just like in our childhood, reflective seas of sparkling white, deep pinks and striking cobalt blue. I felt my eyes brimming with tears as I stared at that glittering rainbow of marbles and remembered how happy that sight made me back then. My folks had a large piece of marble from the old factory that I photographed for the blog during the tough days of caring for them. I remember holding that piece up to the lamplight to try and trigger that happy memory to help me find a "happy place". On this day at Marble King, I found that happy place and it, like so many others, contained the precious memories of my parents that I have been seeking to expand on since Dad's death.

Connie introduced me to the gracious Beri Fox, third generation CEO of Marble King, who's become a much sought after voice for small manufacturing. I was fascinated with the photos on the wall...Beri pictured with Stephen Colbert, Martha Stewart and Hillary Clinton. She shared fantastic stories and treated us to a quick peek behind the scenes of the creation of the marbles. Beri is utterly rocked by the road her own life is taking and we all agreed that as much as we try to choose our journey, the journey chooses us.

We returned to Kak's where we sat on the deck and reflected on this most amazing day. I truly felt as if I'd relived some serious childhood and was dying to write about it. Connie would end up giving me some wonderful photography advice and I was reminded once again of the rare gift she has; one that makes her an irreplaceable friend and a marvelous human being. Connie is one of those folks who has an astounding connection with her surroundings that enables her to speak to the universe in a way that is so vivid and vital that you can actually feel the electricity around her. That may sound a tad New-Agey for some, but its the best way I know how to describe it. Connie has a rapport with nature and she communicates with photography; with writing and with music, to name a few. This gift enables her to also have a greater appreciation of our world and she makes us all better for sharing it.

Earlier in the week, Kristy and I visited Connie's lovely riverside property. Connie hangs with a delightfully eccentric and seriously talented group of friends and musicians named the Fuzzy Mothers. These folks get together when they can to share their musical gifts and friendship. After a hearty cookout lunch including fresh garden lettuce from Fred's garden, mustard potato salad and fresh watermelon, the gang gathered together to play a few songs. On what was termed a "Coal Country" number, a song began with Willie's voice, a fiddle and a mandolin were raised, voices joined in and harmonies floated above us. No cues to each other, just the universal language of music. Connie played the mandolin and sang, lost in those delicious harmonies, moved by an unseen spirit that seemed to carry them all.

I'm lucky to have her as a friend, sure, but I'm luckier still to be able to experience the Connie Dale Road Trip Experience. The road trip had become so much more this time....less ground covered but a soul-deep, heart-filling trip that opened that window of memories. One of my goals for this trip was to replace the recent painful memories of my folks and return to more vivid mental pictures of my folks in far happier days. Thanks to Connie, I achieved that last Thursday. She is my kindred spirit and I hope that unseen but clearly felt spirit continues to move her in her journey through life and that her already strong relationship with the universe continues to grow. Check out a snippet of the sweet harmonies of the Fuzzy Mothers below with Connie front and center, strumming the mandolin.


Kristy said...

Great times and fabulous memories. Although I'm still scarred by the fact that I was omitted from the Boston trip there were plenty of others. Glad you got to revisit some blasts from the past. Now, if only we could find an Astrovan LOL! Long live Coonwa!!!

Anonymous said...

Greg--this post is amazing and I find myself reading it again this morning. Such great memories and remarkably enough, so many in just one day. Sign me up for the next trip!!


Anonymous said...

Just so you know i found this on google, and murphs is opening up on October 1, 2012. We are operating under the same old style and same types of foods it offered before.

Questions? the name is steven

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