How I Spent My Summer Vacation Pt. 2
(or: 2800 miles in nine days with two kids in the backseat)

Adam at the site of Pickett's Charge

It was about 7 o'clock that evening when Adam approached his own highwater mark. The whole day had been a struggle of wills: our blue-clad parental wills and need to keep this a "family" vacation against his secessionist-gray teenage desire for the independence to roam the battlefield until exhaustion forced him to lay his head on the rocky Pennsylvania soil under the starry sky and the strains of "Dixie" lulled him to sleep. We had finally made our way to the site of Pickett's Charge, and the boy was champing at the bit. He could taste victory. But then things began to fall apart, not unlike the way the South had fallen apart 133 years earlier on this same spot.

First, I accidently hit Adam's sister, Becca, in the head with my car door. Then she managed to conk her head on a cannon less than ten-minutes later. Plus, the three of us in our little Union (my wife, my daughter and myself) were getting tired and hungry, and besides, "tomorrow's another day." Adam walking out to where Pickett's Charge began.Sensing another loss for Johnny Reb at the same spot as in 1863, Adam asked if he could just do the walk on his own while we sat in the car or walked around and looked at the many monuments erected on this most hallowed site. It wouldn't take him long. I was beginning to get crabby by this point, feeling guilty for bashing Becca with the car door and wanting to sit down in a nice, quiet air-conditioned restaurant and unwind. Knowing there could be casualties, but not possessing of many options for my troops, I told him "no." He pleaded. He begged. He argued. It was only a bit over a mile to Spangler's Woods, and then he'd come right back. Like the Regiment with the Reputation - the 1st Minnesota - on the second day of the battle, I held firm against a larger force.

He sulked through dinner at General Lee's but came completely back to life when I told him I could get up early in the morning with him and the two of us could walk Pickett's Charge. We did. I in my tourist shorts, t-shirt, cap and camera, and he in his authentic custom-tailored Confederate gray uniform, purchased piece by piece this summer with his own money for just this moment.

The view across the field where Pickett's Charge took place.

I took pictures of him marching through the field which separates monuments to both sides of this bloody battle. Pictures as he walked where miniballs, grapeshot, cannonballs and heat had felled young men his own age so long ago. Pictures as he looked out from Spangler's Woods toward the monuments which mark where the Union troops held fast against the Rebels, the spot where we needed to get back to, as the clouds overhead released their cargo. As we double-timed back toward the car, I pointed out how completely unprotected we were on that open field, and how unprotected the young soldiers were as they marched toward the same copse of trees we now approached. He told me he was thinking about the same thing. I'm glad he thought about it. He needed to think about the part of war which is not "glory."

The rain let up later that morning, and, back in dry clothes, we did lots of touristy things. The Civil War Wax Museum. The Jenny Wade house (the only civilian killed during the three day Battle of Gettysburg), various shops and tours. Incidental miles: 41.

Hershey's Kiss-shaped streetlights in Hershey, PA

Thursday we broke camp and began our return with a side-trip to Hershey, PA., mecca for my wife and daughter! The streetlights really are shaped like Hershey Kisses and the town really does smell like chocolate. We took the tour at Hershey's Chocolate World, and even took part in a taste-test they were conducting. The only low-light for us was in the souvenir area of this large chocolatey complex. They have essentially all the things Hershey's makes and markets, but the prices were higher than at Walmart. I figured since everything was so fresh, and there was no shipping... but no. We bought a bunch anyway. We're such tourists! That evening we bedded down in Upper Sandusky, OH., 487 miles after leaving Gettysburg. Total miles for the trip: 1901.

The Kidd Marshmallow Factory - Ligonier, Indiana

Friday was more driving, with Madison, WI. our stopping destination (476 miles). On the way we stopped in Ligonier, IN. to take a tour of the Kidd's Marshmallow Factory. If you're in the neighborhood sometime, be sure to stop in. It's a self-guided tour, and you can make your stay as long or as short as you like. They make 85-percent of the marshmallows in the world, so chances are you'll see your favorite brand being bagged. You get to see the entire process and you even get free samples at the end of the tour! Plus, they have souvenirs (what good tourist site doesn't?) including t-shirts that smell like marshmallows even after being washed! Total miles with one leg to go: 2377.

Saturday was uneventful. We drove the 453 miles from Madison to Grand Rapids, MN. without incident. We noticed the hills were much smaller than a week before, and the terrain nearest to home is very flat now that we've seen some mountains, small though they may have been. Total round trip miles: 2830. It sure was good to sleep in our own beds again.

So that's how I spent my summer vacation. And the best part was: after 2800 miles with two kids in the back seat, we all came out of the experience alive.


Copyright 1996 Mike Zimmerli

A Ramblings Special Edition in Three Parts:

How I Spent My Summer Vacation
(2800 miles in nine days with two kids in the backseat)

[Part One] [Part Two]

And don't miss Part Three:
Of Pillows and Continental Breakfasts
(Our Review of Our Lodgings)

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