Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Carolina Adventure!

We intended to enjoy a leisurely trip to Columbia, South Carolina, help celebrate the 90th (!) birthday of our mother-in-law Betty, and take in some of the ambiance of the South. As it was, South Carolina was declared a disaster area, but at least we got to have a birthday celebration! With days to go before our trip, we were a little concerned about hurricane Joaquin threatening the Eastern Seaboard, but what can you do but take your trip. Midweek they had some good rains and when we arrived Friday, it started again in earnest. By the end of the weekend they collected 20+ inches of rain, which washed out hundreds of roads and bridges, and before we got out Tuesday, over 15 fatalities in the state. It truly was a disaster area, certainly if you watched the continuous coverage on local TV.

But in downtown Columbia where we stayed, less than 3 miles from Betty's house, we were on high enough ground we never saw flooding, or even any standing water in the streets. Certainly in low-lying areas there were boat and helicopter rescues, but from our part of town, it was just a rainy weekend. It got worse over the weekend as the water plant was overcome by flooding and the entire city was under a boil water order for any drinking or cooking. It worsened when the parts of town we were in had no water at all for 15 hours or so... You don't know how much you depend on the utilities until they go away! At least we always had electric power in our part of town.

We got in late on Friday and Saturday headed to Betty's house, where she and Mackie raised their 4 girls, and about the time the girls moved out, their granddaughter Shannon grew up there too. It is an unassuming 1930s two-story brick home. The girls lived up in the attic, the adults downstairs. Shown at left is an exterior shot, and at right the living room with a comfortably appointed screened in porch behind the double doors where, in drier weather, we would have spent much of the weekend. Simply furnished, it is a very pleasant place to gather and converse, or hold a pizza party, which is what we did on Saturday night.

Being that we first gathered on Saturday, the first order of business was to find coverage of the local and regional football games of interest. Betty's youngest daughter Susan managed to get her two boys to Columbia. Both attend Texas A&M, so were intent on finding the game on TV (they were not successful), but had to settle for watching the occasional score. By later in the day after a couple meals, most of the Texas contingent was snoozing in front of the TV (at left). The kitchen was similarly Spartan, but airy and easy to handle a crowd of people. Shown at left is a 6-frame panorama of the kitchen where the girls grew up. Unseen is a little breakfast nook just out of the frame at left.

There seemed a plethora of still-life possibilities. As with any grandmother's cabinet-top, grandchildren, and daughters who have passed populate picture frames. Seen at left are great-grandkids Hayes, Cort, Eric, Asher, Rhett and Brian, with daughters Vicki (who I was married to for 13 years) and Sharon. At right, in the picture window of the dining room, her normal angel collection is being displaced by the plethora of birthday cards she's been receiving! The careful observer might notice the puddles forming out the window in the driveway...

Of course, painters' still lives always seemed to involve fruit, so Betty's kitchen provided the view at left in the corner of her counter... Most of us looked through stacks of photos, with the momentous occasion at hand. I joined the family in 1990, so was around for the births of nearly all the male grandchildren. At right is an early photo of Betty, I suspect pre-children, which you can compare to the one of her post-children herding the girls on the beach in a post from a few years ago...

It wasn't raining continuously, almost stopping occasionally. In the front yard in the shade of a bush was a painted metal bench. It has likely seen better days, but in close-up showed interesting details with the macro lens... I knew there was some reason that I brought that lens along! I think it was the only time I used it, for the 2-frame mosaic shown here at right. What I really should have packed was a small tripod, as some of the flower pictures and other images I tried would have benefited.

Saturday drew to a close and we all adjourned to our respective hotels. All was still well with the party on Sunday, but the rain continued overnight. By Sunday with the steady downpour, the Arboretum finally called to cancel. The party was off. Most folks who had planned to attend by driving from nearby states were contacted and encouraged not to come to Columbia. One couple actually drove out to the arboretum but found the road actually washed out! So the family that had collected earlier reconvened back to Betty's. It was decided to have a low-key celebration at a local restaurant, Yesterday's that had enough room for our party of about 16. It was a fun time with a few other family members arriving. Grandson Asher is a professional soccer player and managed to cross 3 states to get to our abbreviated party. Granddaughter Shannon also joined us. At left are the 4 good-lookin' grandsons, from left are the A&M students Rhett and Brian, with Eric and Asher at right. Asher had the coveted seat next to Betty, and we got to meet his girlfriend Ashley for the first time, all shown at right.

Finally Shannon jumped in and Betty too for the official grandkids portrait at left. A good-looking bunch if you ask me!  To round out the official portraits, youngest daughter Susan poses with Betty at right.

As we dined and visited leisurely, it was revealed that the city of Columbia had called for a curfew to keep people off the streets after dark, mostly so they would not drive off roads or bridges that had washed out. Yesterday's locked the front door and hurried us out a couple hours before the 6pm curfew. Susan, Bill and the boys were to head back to Dallas that evening. They were concerned about getting to the airport 8 miles away, so with them driving Betty's car, Melinda and I followed. The trip was uneventful, but you could see the Congaree River, the biggest going through western Columbia, was a good 15 feet above normal. Looking back at our last visit to the area, the walk along the river that we posted about was far underwater! We made it to the airport fine, and Melinda drove back to Betty's. We arrived to find that her water had just stopped, and when we returned to the Marriot, it too was out of water for flushing or bathing. Bottled water was complimentary, though... We heard from Susan that the curfew had shut down the airport - they were unable to leave! Only medical and emergency vehicles allowed on the road.

By morning, I woke and took the elevator down to search for a toilet that flushed... Staff said the ground floor had water and the rest of the building soon would, for flushing and bathing only - no consumption. We had nothing better to do, so checked out, swung by and made our farewells to Betty and headed to the airport, 6 hours early for our flight. At 4pm, 3 hours to go we got the news - another curfew, shutting down the airport before our flight was to depart. American Airlines couldn't help us. No seats were available the next day. If we wanted to rent a car and pay the drop off fee we could drive to Charlotte, NC, but seemed an unnecessary expense for us. They finally handed us over to United Airlines, who had a 4pm flight the next day going through Houston to Tucson.

So Monday night we stayed in a motel that was actually nicer than the Marriot, complete with fridge and microwave, as well as jacuzzi! We were able to order out for Chinese before curfew and watched a little TV before catching up on our rest. The next morning we returned to the airport, observing a nice colorful ring around the sun (left)- a good-luck sign if I'd ever seen one. The sky cleared thru the day, and we spent another 4 hours at the airport (which we'd gotten to know pretty well after most of 2 days there!). In a bored daze, the image taken at right was of Melinda over a glass of water served in a beer glass. Ya gotta make your own fun when you are bored! Right on time, we finally boarded an airplane! It was a small plane - only 3 seats across, but made it to Houston fine, and after a 2 hour layover, boarded for Tucson, where, of course, it was raining Tuesday night when we landed at 9:45!

The plan is to reschedule the 90th birthday celebration for perhaps Betty's 90.5 year birthday! In the Spring the arboretum should be spectacularly beautiful, and well worth making the trip again. Consider this one a practice session for the next one, hopefully held before hurricane season starts!

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