It took most of two days, but we drove all 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, starting west of Charlottesville, VA and ending at the south entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. It was the most amazing drive. It follows the ridge line of the mountains and many times as we drove there were breathtaking views both to the left and right of the road. The turn-outs were plentiful, the rest stops clean and well marked. We ate dinner one night in Mount Airy, NC, where Andy Griffith was born--there was a vintage black-and-white police car a la Mayberry in front of every other business. We took a detour to visit Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, NC--the oldest general store in the country. It was all sloping floorboards and creaky stairs--loved it! We would have gone to the top of Mount Mitchell, the highest point on the Parkway, but by the time we got there the mountain was experiencing a very localized and rather fierce rainstorm, so we took a picture out of the car window and moved on. We spent two days on top of the world with very few other cars or people. It was so, so beautiful.
About a year ago I got it in my head that I HAD to see the Schills. If you read my last post, you know that I met the Schill family 15 years ago when I was a missionary in Seattle, Washington. They invited me into their home and their family, and I fell in love. I got to see them several times after my mission, but then they moved to Virginia and I was in Texas having kids, and suddenly it had been 8 years since we had been together. Their oldest daughter, Annilyn, returned home from her mission in Siberia (seriously, Siberia--and she TOTALLY wanted to got there) in December, and daughter #2, Erin, would be leaving on her mission over the summer, so I decided that Summer 2012 would be one last chance to see most, if not all, of the family together. It turned out that Lynnie stayed in Utah for the summer, so I didn't get to see her, but everyone else was home. And we had SO MUCH FUN!
The day before we were to drive from Knoxville to Crozet, VA (where the Schills live in an honest-to-goodness holler) I got a phone call from Mary Ann saying that due to a huge storm, they had no power and were not likely to get power for several days. Well, too bad, we were coming anyway. I did NOT drive all that way to NOT see the Schills--they were the whole reason for the trip! Luckily they were completely fine having guests in a no-power situation as long as were okay with it, and we were. It was hot for a few days, but Texas is worse. We had hats and deodorant--we were good.
Mike Schill is a professor at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, so our first stop was The Lawn. We were told that Thomas Jefferson (aka TJ) is alive and well in Charlottesville--he is referred to in present tense, and his wishes are consulted in all city and university planning. He did found, plan, and build the university, after all. Here we are standing in front of TJ's Rotunda: Erin, Emily, Mary Ann, Stuart, Mike, Katie, Greg, Ella, Aimee, and Natalie down front.
After a tour of the campus (we saw the room Edgar Allen Poe lived in, and also Katie Couric's room) and a yummy lunch at Bodo's Bagels we returned to the holler. (I kid not--they live on Sugar Hollow Road.) We were not a little hot and grimy, so we drove up the holler to the swimming hole. As we drove, Erin, Stuart, Emily, and Aimee tutored us on what, exactly, defines "sketch". It was something they talked about a lot, and we were intrigued. The word itself paints a pretty good picture, and it is applied to all things pertaining to redneck mountain culture--drinking, swearing, guns, you get the picture. Stuart said you have to be careful with the swimming holes closest to the road because, and I quote, "Sketch doesn't hike." When we reached the swimming hole the kids surveyed the area and declared it safe--there was only one car, and it appeared to be a family-type vehicle. We walked down to the water and Erin turned to me in half horror and half hilarity--there was a gun sitting on a rock right by the water. We cracked up and discussed, in hushed tones, what its purpose might be--to shoot fish, perhaps? Shooting fish is definitely sketch. We had a fine time at the hole, though, and nobody even got shot, though we were at one point visited by a sketchy old mountain man, wearing only swimming trunks and nursing a beer. Here are Ella, Natalie, and Aimee, searching for tadpoles:
One day we went for pulled pork sandwiches at Blue Ridge Pig, right at the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We're making piggy faces, see?
We picked peaches at an orchard near the Schills' house and they were soooo delicious:
That night for dessert we had fresh peach ice cream:
We spent a whole day canoeing/kayaking down the James River, which was AMAZING. The water was warm and so clear that you could see the fish swimming by (I saw a gar) and the beer cans on the bottom (sketch). The Schills' boats are named Perrier, Frommage, and Baguette--Mike and Mary Ann both served French-speaking missions. We paddled upstream for a bit until we reached a nice rapid, which we went down a couple times in our life vests before taking the boats down. ON the first run, Ella somehow ended up being the first one through, and it was a wild ride. I came through to see her fighting tears, it was so scary for her. Then Natalie came down with Greg and immediately said, "I want to do that again!" So we did it one more time--even Ella! She was really brave. Then we paddled downriver to a big rock, perfect for jumping. It was a really, really great day.
We were all so sad to leave the Schills--we had SO much fun! I got to catch up with my dear friends, Greg got to really understand why I love them so much, and my daughters made some new heroes. (The Schill girls played ENDLESS games of "The Little Mermaid" with Natalie. Heaven!) It was well worth the drive. In fact, I am already planning another one in a couple years. Greg makes fun of me mercilessly, saying that this time we'll go by way of Seattle and return by way of the Florida keys. Very funny. Although, some of the country's best wooden roller coasters are ONLY in Indiana, which is basically on the way to Virginia...
We love you, Schills! Thank you SO MUCH for everything!
Before I continue posting about our trip, I need to pause to pay homage to the Schill family, as they are the reason I planned the trip to Virginia and back in the first place. As way of introduction, here are some actual journal entries from my actual mission journals, interspersed with photos that don't necessarily correspond, but it's the best I could do, okay?
Tuesday September 9, 1997
Schill paid me such a huge compliment the other night when we were at their
house for dinner.We had waffles.It was so fun!I love their girls (Annilyn, Erin, and
Emily).I read them Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
one night when we stopped by.Sister
Schill said that Brother Schill had been saying that he looks at me and sees
his own girls on missions.Could they
pay me a higher compliment?"
Tuesday September 23, 1997
"We visited Sister Schill and I don’t remember how we led into this, but she said that Brother Schill had said a couple days ago that Hna Childs and I are two of the best sisters he’s ever worked with, almost up there with sister so-and-so who apparently is the epitome of missionary work. That made my day! That’s an excellent compliment in and of itself, but coming from the Schills it means even that much more."
Monday September 29, 1997
"I got to read yet another bedtime story to the Schill girls tonight. They are so cool. We caught up with them as they were on an “adventure hike” in search of the Liahona (ie the pictures of the apostles in the high council room). Emily was clumping along on plastic high heels. She cracks me up."
Wednesday January 7, 1998 "It has been fun to surprise everyone. The first people we visited were the Schills. Brother Schill is off interviewing and having a hectic life, while Sister Schill is home with the girls, having a hectic life. It was nice to be back there, talking to her. She said I remind her of a companion of hers who was always sent to the armpits of the mission but was the best sister in the mission. The Schills have a way of catching me off guard with the most sincere compliments."
Sunday February 22, 1998
"The highlight of the fireside occurred after it was over, while standing and talking with the Schills and the Bakers. All of a sudden we looked down to see Emily with her diaper down around one knee. Sister Schill looked down and instead of being embarrassed, exclaimed, “Well, MIKE, this must be YOUR child taking off her diaper!” I was laughing so hard. Brother Schill removed the offending diaper and discreetly hid it in his coat, then picked Emily up and tried to keep her bum covered."
The Schills were my family while I was on my mission. They took care of me, fed me, made me the most fabulous Washington birthday cake (see above), taught me how to play The Great Dalmuti, lifted me up when I was down, let me be a part of their family, and loved me. After my mission, they introduced me to the wonderful world of Harry Potter, danced at my wedding, let me come visit multiple times, and even drove across the country to see me. I am having a hard time writing this without crying, I love them so much. Since I met them, I have aspired to be them when I grow up. I have always wanted my family to be just like theirs, and have adopted (okay, blatantly stolen) many of their family traditions. Now their oldest daughter, Anniliyn, has returned from her mission in Russia and their second daughter, Erin, is just starting her mission on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. It blows me away that they are now where I once was, and my fondest wish is that my own girls will someday be where the Schill girls are now. I love you, Schills!