2018 Life Logs, Day 253—Aunt Ethel, An Amazing Woman
Date: Monday, September 10, 2018
Weather: Everything from Overcast to Fog to Sunshine; High 70, Low 66 F
Location: At Home with Aunt Ethel, Roanoke, Virginia

I just had the pleasure of spending the day with a truly amazing woman. My Aunt Ethel turned 103 years-old today and she went on a nine hour explore with me and never even hinted at being tired. As I drove into Roanoke this morning, an idea crept into my head. What if I took Aunt Ethel on a day long road trip to Monroe Country in West Virginia where she was born and spent the first quarter century of her life? When I arrived at her house, I ran the idea past her and she jumped at the chance. I got on the phone and made arrangements to meet one of her other nieces for lunch. That niece is married to a man that had Aunt Ethel as his first grade teacher. It was perfect. We picked up my cousin Sarah Jane and went to the café where her husband Richard runs his logging operation out back . . . only in West Virginia. Richard was truly surprised to see Aunt Ethel and the people in the little café couldn’t believe that 82 year-old Richard’s first grade teacher was still living. We had lunch, everyone sang happy birthday, and then we drove to see a nephew’s house that has a most amazing view. I knew he was not home as I had called him earlier in the day and found that he and his wife are on a road trip out west. But he loved the idea of getting a photo of Aunt Ethel in front of his house. We then took Sarah Jane home, marveled at the jars of canned green beans and tomatoes that she and Richard have put up this summer, and then drove up the mountain to Wikel where Aunt Ethel first lived with my Uncle Guy when they got married. So far the day had been great, but it was time to start our trek home. We were driving home a longer route so we could go through the part of Monroe County where Aunt Ethel grew up. Her teen years were spent living in the town of Gap Mills and we wanted to see the house where she lived. It was at this point that our perfect day became not so perfect. We saw the sign for Gap Mills but we saw no town. There was no phone service, so I had no Google Maps to help guide me, but when I saw the sign for the next town along the way, I knew I’d gone too far. How did we miss Gap Mills? The house Aunt Ethel lived in was right on the road, but sure didn’t see it or the school or the old country store. I was determined to find it, so we turned around. Was the old joke really true? Did we blink and miss the town? We drove back and coming from that direction, I did see the old school. I stopped and found a young local who was quite knowledgeable. He explained that in the 1990’s, the road was rerouted, just slightly, but many old homes were destroyed in the process. Bummer. We traveled on, but now taking the longer route home and not getting to see Aunt Ethel’s childhood home was a disappointment. We had to drive up and over the foggy mountains and finally got back to Roanoke. But instead of going home, Aunt Ethel insisted we go out to dinner at a restaurant that serves catfish that she highly recommended. I have never eaten catfish, so this was fun for me. And it was delicious. We then went to the grocery store to get things for breakfast and to buy an ice cream cake for our final birthday celebration. And after blowing out the candles and eating the cake, we spent two more hours reminiscing. While we were eating cake, I got a text from Justin with a video of Coco and Ziggy singing Happy Birthday to Aunt Ethel. She was thrilled and really looks forward to meeting them in the near future. Aunt Ethel was still going strong. Totally amazing.

Tomorrow I travel on to Philadelphia to see my friends Claire McKellar and Keven Russell and on Wednesday I head home to Cape Cod. My timing seems perfect as this part of the world could get hit quite hard by torrential rain when Hurricane Florence hits the coast on Thursday. But today was a weather gift from on high. It was forecast to be overcast all day and start raining mid-afternoon. But at the exact moment that we entered Monroe County this afternoon, the clouds parted and we had a beautiful sunny afternoon. We did have fog high in the mountains and it was overcast when we got back to Roanoke, but our entire time in Monroe County was sunny, living up to its family nickname as God’s Country.

2018 Life Logs, Day 254—September 11 . . . In Memory of Mark
2018 Life Logs, Day 252—Travel from West Virginia to Virginia