July 8, 2022, Crossville, TN- Breakfast came, not long after the little girl had poked her head in the downstairs kitchen and hinted that she’d like some hot chocolate. “It’s there for your enjoyment, my love.”, I thought, and simply nodded, with a smile, towards the box of K-pods that had plenty of the delicious beverage. She helped herself, zip-zip, with the usual energy of an eleven-year-old, and was back out the door and up to her Sleepover room, in no time. Her aunt then brought my breakfast of avocado toast, granola and Bing cherries and mused about the challenges of raising three girls who had come from a challenging environment. Right now, they are in probably one of the safest environments they could ever want, looked after, nurtured and protected by a wealth of grounded, caring adults. I was, for a fleeting moment, one more.
I left the salubrious Oley Valley around 10:30, enjoyed the rolling hills and valleys of south central Pennsylvania for another two hours or so, before rolling down through the snippets of similar countryside in Maryland and West Virginia, before the long spine of Appalachian Virginia, itself a Heaven on Earth. The rain was with me, off and on, from Strasburg to just west of Knoxville, a series of gully washers that variously slowed traffic to a crawl or only mildly perturbed the stream of drivers, most of whom, it seemed, were headed from points along the Megalopolis to the Great Smokies. That perception was reinforced by seeing 90 % of my fellow travelers veer off onto I-77 South, at the fork in the highway, some fifteen miles north of Knoxville.
This trip has not seen me stop at three of my favourite eateries. D’s Diner and Rte. 220 (formerly Bedford) Diner, both in Pennsylvania, were simply not on the itinerary this time, with family meals being a priority. Neither, as it happened, was Dukes Bar and Grill, in Harrisonburg. That little spot will be a place for future visits, but today was a move-along steadily day. It was important to be in Crosstown, before my hosts were dead-to-the-world asleep, which would have led to my sleeping in the Saturn, in their driveway. (Complex situation short: Their schedule is full, from tomorrow morning until Sunday noon, and any sleep they get is golden.)
So, move-along it was, with gas-ups in Leesport, PA, Winchester and Wytheville, VA and a crispy chicken wrap as my second meal- enough to sustain this still ample frame. After a few knocks, my startled host opened the door, and here I sit, inside another cozy house. This is home, until sometime on Sunday, when we all head out the door, in two separate directions.