When Rich and I left Rod and Trish, we headed east out of Missouri towards St. Louis. Rich wanted us to see the “Archway to the West” and as we rode I-64 I was able to get some decent shots of the archway and the St. Louis skyline. Then we crossed the state border into Illinois going almost halfway across to spend the night in Mount Vernon. We attended Mass in the lovely church of St. Mary’s on Saturday 27 August which left us free to have a small lie-in on the Sunday before making tracks for Louisville, KY and Richard’s family.
Like most of the days on this trip, God blessed us with perfect weather for riding as we finished crossing the state of Illinois, clipped the bottom of Indiana, and rode into the blue grass state of Kentucky. I could feel Richard’s excitement mounting as we rode closer to “home”. The plan was to head to his sister Rose’s home, unpack the bike, then head over to the Kentucky State Fair with Rose, her husband Ronnie, and their kids, Megan and Kalin, to meet up with another sister, Robin, and her daughter, Brittany, and his brother, Robert and his wife, Sylvie, and their son, Patrick. Wow, what a reunion!! I had not seen some of these folks since Thanksgiving 2004!
We spent several fun hours at the fair. I found some great HOT dip mixes and some wonderfully decadent fudge, while Richard ate a Krispy Kreme hamburger?????? (yes, that was a hamburger between two doughnuts!!), and later he could not resist trying some “fried Koolaid”. While some of the others went to a concert they had booked to see, Rich and I strolled around the rides for a while. We had fun tempting the “guess your age” guy who made my day and gave me a “prize” after guessing me to be 15 years younger than I am. Whether he was being truthful or gallant in his guessing I’m not sure, but I was happy. Then the tiredness of the ride hit in and we headed home to get a good night’s rest. We needed to get our beauty sleep because the next day we were putting on a Bar-b-q for the family and even more people were coming.
So on Monday we went shopping then got busy cooking and preparing food. By 4pm yet another sister, Rhonda, arrived with her daughter, Ginny, followed shortly afterward by Rich’s step-Mom Ruth, his step-brother Ryan and his step-sister Rachel and her husband Michael with his son in tow. The crowd was rounded out when Robin got there with her son Dustin, and finally we were able to tuck into all that good food. A little later, as we rested full tummies, Kalin took Dustin and they went to pick up Brittany and her girlfriend who had been attending a school sport meet-up. By that time we were ready for some dessert and enjoyed some wonderful concoction that Sylvie had made.
Our final day in Louisville, Rich went to get his (final?? who knows) tattoo in honor of his retirement. Of his eight tattoos, Lucky in Louisville has created 5 of them. This one he actually created around a small existing one of a dolphin that Rich had done in Washington, DC some years ago. Lucky extended the water/wave line under the dolphin , then added the letters USN over the top of everything with a sunrise and the year Rich entered the Navy at one end, and a sunset with his retirement year at the other. It’s really beautiful.
That evening we hooked up with Rose and Ronnie and the kids, Robin, and Richard’s old school friend and partner-in-crime, Fonda with his wife Sherry. We had a great meal and wonderful socializing at a very good Mexican restaurant, where we all ate a bit too much because the food was great!.
Next day, Wednesday 31 August, it was time to load up our faithful Harley, say our farewells, and hit the road again as we headed towards North Carolina. It had been a good visit with family and hopefully it won’t be so long before we see each other again.
On the second day of our retirement ride, Rich and I had a very unique experience. We were some where in Tennessee having left Marietta, GA on the Tuesday morning and we were headed toward Paducah, KY. Our norm each day was to ride for about one hundred and twenty miles, then take a rest stop and gas up if necessary. On that Tuesday morning we had taken a break at a rest stop somewhere in Tennessee. I had headed into the building to use the facilities while Rich took a stretch.
I was inside for a while because a bus had made a pit stop just minutes before we had arrived and there was quite a line for the ladies room. When I came out Rich was standing beside the bike deep in conversation with an older gentleman. I hung back a little giving them room for their discussion. Then Rich looked around and saw me there, motioned me forward and introduced me. I very much regret that I do not remember the gentleman’s name, but I can tell you some things about him.
I learned he was a retired Navy man, a Veteran from World War II. He, too, had owned a bike back in the day and had met and married his wife shortly after joining the service. He said that they really enjoyed riding together back then. His wife came out of the building at this point and joined us and we learned that they were from Knoxville, TN. They were very committed to their church back in Knoxville and they told us they were in fact on a day trip with fellow church-goers. We asked where they were going and the gentleman, with a chuckle, said that they didn’t know. They were on a “mystery trip” and had no idea what their destination was!
At this point, reaching out his hand, Rich thanked him for his service to country and said we needed to get going as we had quite a few miles to cover that day. The gentleman grasped Rich’s hand and thanked him in return for his service to country too. Then, to our great surprise, he extended his left hand toward my right hand and asked permission to pray over us. With joy in my heart I reached out to take his hand and he connected with his wife on his other side, and she in turn clasped hands with Rich.
And right there, the middle of a rest stop parking lot somewhere in Tennessee we were blessed to receive prayers of gratitude and prayers for protection from two strangers. He asked the good Lord, our Father, to watch over us, to keep us safe from all harm. He asked for blessings upon us as we continued our trip and prayed that we would have a wonderful and enjoyable ride. With full hearts we said our goodbyes, mounted the bike, and rode off leaving our parking lot friends to enjoy their mystery tour.
Although I do not remember their names, I can picture them in my minds eye. I can see the four of us standing beside the bike, the big tour bus in the background, holding hands and praying together. It was beautiful and was most definitely a highlight of the ride for me. That memory will be with me in years to come, and I hope that Rich and I will be able to do the same for someone else one day as we ride our Harley around God’s creation.
She straddles her pink bike, feet planted firmly on the ground, and gazes at some undetermined point down the road. In her left hand she holds a sucker which she twists slowly round in her mouth, first one way, then the other, then back again. Her right hand rests loosely on the handlebars. The street stretches before her in the hot afternoon sun.
“Sheila”, another child shouts
Sheila’s head snaps around in the direction of the voice. She stops in middle twist, letting go of the sucker, and grips the handlebars firmly with two pudgy hands. Her lips pucker up around the stick of the sucker and her round cheeks are drawn in as she holds the candy in her mouth through sheer suction.
Honey-brown lashes fringe her piercing china blue eyes that dart to and fro searching for the owner of the voice. Curling tendrils of sun-bleached blond hair fly wispily about her plump face, escapees from the rest of her long thick hair which is swept back in a ponytail and held in place with a bright green ribbon.
As she stands there intently checking out the shadows around gateways and porches, some sticky-looking liquid trickles out of the corner of her mouth and starts to dribble down her chin. Sheila’s left hand reaches up to grab the sucker as her right hand tightens its grip on the handlebars and her legs stiffen to balance the bike. Noisily she sucks up the dribble and her pink tongue sneaks out to lick up the mess on her chin. Almost simultaneously, she lifts her left arm up to her face and drags the back of her long sleeve across her mouth and chin.
“Sheila!” The other voice is more insistent now.
Sheila returns the sucker to her mouth, clenching the stick between her teeth. She grips both handlebars firmly. She leans forward, puts her right foot on the pedal and pushes off with her left foot. As she wobbles along for the first few yards I notice a small hole in the right side of her green leggings. A tiny patch of yellow peeks through. Her white sneakers have green flashes on each side.
Although she is pedaling at a slow pace, her cheeks are quite red and she is already puffing from the exertion. Sheila is only ten years old but she stands as tall as any seventh grader. Her body frame is large and she moves awkwardly. After pedaling for just twenty to thirty yards, a sheen of sweat glistens on her forehead and on her upper lip. Her yellow tee-shirt sticks damply to her round upper torso.
“Boo!” A tousle-headed child jumps out laughing from a nearby garden gate then quickly disappears.
Sheila’s bike wobbles precariously as she starts to lose balance. Her eyes are wide open, nostrils flaring as she breathes heavily through her nose, the sucker still firmly gripped in her mouth. Frown lines crease her forehead as she focuses intently to keep the bike under control. Her left foot comes down, heel first, and scrapes noisily on the ground as the bike grinds to a halt.
Twisting around on the seat, Sheila glowers from beneath knitted eyebrows. Her right hand grabs the sucker and yanks it from her mouth. Gritting her teeth she hisses menacingly in the direction of the disappearing child.
“I’ll get you for this Rachel.”