We all have family stories that make us chuckle or weep. The following is one of ours that is a chuckling one. We need only say a few words and the picture comes back to us.
It was summer of 1985 and we were going to Washington, Charles and I and our two teenage children. William was an upcoming senior in high school and we knew this was probably the last big vacation we’d have with him. Julie was fourteen.
I bought a Mobil Travel Guide and we made plans. This was to be a really special trip. We’d go to Washington and to Williamsburg, Virginia. I found a bed-and-breakfast for us in Washington just a short walk from a Metro station. It was on Florida Street, an upstairs apartment. When we arrived we found milk, cereal, orange juice, coffee, bread and plenty of snacks in the refrigerator. Our host, a young single man, welcomed us as if we were family. He took us on a wonderful tour around the city, pointing out all the memorials, museums, the Capitol, the White House, the Mall. Some of us in the back seat turned pale with motion sickness because he drove very fast and turned corners like the Dukes of Hazard. But it really was a great bird’s eye view that prepared us for planning our week.
Though enjoying our nation’s capital, I was eagerly looking forward to our few days in Williamsburg. I couldn’t help mentioning every now and then the fun we could expect in that historic town. “The bed-and-breakfast there,” I elaborated, “is in walking distance of downtown Williamsburg where we can mingle with historic characters, eat in a pub, and even try our hand at weaving and things like that.” I described the bed-and-breakfast with romantic flair, always mentioning that it was “a cozy cottage nestled amongst beautiful trees and overlooking a wooded ravine.” Julie rolled her eyes thinking a wooded ravine didn’t sound like much fun.
We walked the Mall, went quiet in the presence of Abraham Lincoln, visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and tried to absorb quickly hundreds of years of life displayed in the museums. Charles and I could have spent all day in each museum. Our children were much more efficient. They could rush through a museum and be done in the time it took us to read our way through the first exhibit. We all, I think, agreed that our favorite of all the Smithsonian Museums was that of Natural History. Who was not to be amazed at that elephant!
We went to see a live performance of “The Count of Monte Cristo” at the Kennedy Center. We all enjoyed the awesome setting, the pageantry, the building itself. But William and I enjoyed the performance much more than did Charles and Julie who, tired from tramping through all those museums, went to sleep.
We went to Georgetown and ate in a fine restaurant where Charles and William ate their first escargot. Julie and I stuck with American dishes like spaghetti and chopped steak.
Every night as we convened around the kitchen table to talk about the day’s adventures and plan for the next day, I reminded them that when we got to Williamsburg we’d be staying in a cottage by a wooded ravine. William questioned me. “Just what do you expect in a wooded ravine?” It would be beautiful, I assured him, and the implication was that a little bubbling stream ran down the ravine.
We went by tour boat to Mount Vernon and became a part of the lives of George and Martha Washington. We waited in line to go up the Washington Monument and viewed the city with Charles pointing out historic sites. We visited our Georgia senator’s office and didn’t know that William would later serve as an intern for The Honorable Charles Hatcher.
We left our little apartment on Florida Street with a wistful goodby to a treasured time. But we were excited about heading to Williamsburg, at least I was. The cottage overlooking a wooded ravine!
Charles is very good at finding things, following directions. So when we pulled into the driveway of a square block building he was quite sure it was the right place. I was not. This didn’t look like a cottage at all, more like a closed-in carport. We unfolded ourselves from the car, verified the house number. No one came out to greet us from the house nearby.
In puzzlement, we turned to study our surroundings. Yes, there were a few non-significant trees. And, yes, there was a large ditch with a few scrappy trees growing in it. This couldn’t be the wooded ravine. Could it? The deep ditch was strewn liberally with disgusting trash. It was just plain ugly.
Both kids exclaimed in exasperation. “Mom! There’s not even a creek at all.”
Eventually, we found the key and let ourselves in. Charles, always the optimist, pointed out that it was a comfortable place, really quite all right for four people. We soon learned that the “short walk to downtown Colonial Williamsburg” was not really very short, especially for two tired teenagers who had already endured so much walking! But, in spite of misrepresentations, we really did enjoy Williamsburg, especially all the costumed folks who so readily responded to our questions in the blacksmith shop, the bakery and all the shops. And William greatly enjoyed having his picture made while in “the stocks” like a prisoner.
Ever since that vacation, if something sounds too good to be true, we look at each other and one says it: “Remember the wooded ravine.”