The Journey

The Journey

A Record.

For you, gentle reader, who did not know, this all started when my father passed away in February, and Charles and I took a train back for the funeral. I was doing better there, in Kentucky.  We didn’t realize that it’s because it was the winter time. We went to Kentucky and it didn’t work. Looking back at my emails, I believe we left Arizona somewhere around March 14th. One of my emails to my pastor in Arizona was talking about the fact that the van was overheating a few days later.  It got more interesting as we went along.  We arrived in Kentucky on April 12th, we found the property that we were renting on May 1st, and then the creek dried up! You can read a previous post called, Saying Goodbye, to see what happened there.

After we left Kentucky, we set out for Arlington, Virginia, and that was … interesting. Going to Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia, was actually very healing.  It was the trip getting there, that was downright interesting. We were at Gentry Auto in Corbin, Kentucky, which is a great auto shop if you ever need one. I think that all of the work was done on our vehicles by the 24th. Even now it’s becoming a blur, which is why I want this record of what happened! I think we actually left Corbin, Kentucky on July 25th and we did not get to Arlington until August 13th. 518 of the toughest miles we traveled. If we got in 60 or 70 miles a day, we were grateful, because I was not doing well, the van was not doing well, Charles was not doing well, and we were still fighting a mold/mildew issue in Charlie’s truck. We actually wound up going to a remote free campgrounds in Virginia, to take care of the issues with Charlie’s truck. The Pines campgrounds north of New Castle, Virginia. There were a couple of times when I wasn’t sure the van was going to get up the hills, or should I say mountains! This is the Appalachians were talking about. There were also times when I was smoking the brakes getting down the hills. But the campgrounds itself was beautiful, quiet, remote, with no cellular signal at all, and no electricity around for miles. I slept better the 3 days that we were there, than I have in a very long time.  They even had a totally cool, old fashioned, hand pumped, well, that had the most delicious water! 

We found this on our last day there. Here you can see Charles mugging it for the camera. He is such a pistol!

The situation was difficult at best. Mold is something both, Charlie and I, are extremely susceptible to. There was one bright shining spot in the middle of that madness. I actually got to meet a friend of mine, in person, for the first time! Someone who I have only known online. That was quite a surprise, but a wonderul one! Thanks to my friends good help, we were able to clean up, and paint the bed of Charlie’s Truck, and continue on our way to Arlington. For the record, my van does not like mountains, and Virginia has them everywhere! But we got to Arlington, and had a very special time together at my husband’s gravesite.

 We left Arlington, Virginia on August 13th, and limped our way down to the Rhea Campgrounds, near Spring City, Tennessee. It took 4 days of what seemed like very hard pushing to get through that 548 miles. By that time, the van was not running well during the day, and was starting to choke down going up hills. But when you consider how long it took for us to get to Arlington, we thought we were doing pretty dag gumb good! We were at Rhea Campgrounds for two weeks and had a chance to recover, from a lot of difficult issues. While we were at the campgrounds, there was one spectacular event!

We were also able to witness the total eclipse of the sun. We were right in the center of the zone!  Yes. That was a deliberate choice on our part. When we realized that we were going to be in the right part of the country, at just about the right time, we started looking for ways to get to a good spot so that we could see this incredible Heavenly event. When we first got to the campgrounds there were just a few campers. That number increased greatly that weekend, but on the day of the eclipse, it was crazy!   At least double the number of people came, from what they thought they were going to get there in Spring City, and they knew it was going to be packed. 

Here is Mr Photographer! Behind him you can see that there are people lined up on the boat dock. We had a Primo spot there at the campgrounds!

The total eclipse itself was awe-inspiring. I didn’t know it would be that way. I have seen partial eclipses, where the sky gets dim, and seems almost like an old black and white photo, but this was incredible. We had been watching, as the moon slowly crept over the face of the sun. Until there was just one tiny bit of golden sun, still shining out from behind the moon.   Then suddenly that disappeared, the sky got very dark, and you could see the stars, but it was the sun itself that caused the collective gasp, and then cheers, from the hundreds of people who were there. Incredible, long, silver, tongues of fire, came leaping out from behind the dark circle of the Moon. It was extraordinary! I did get one picture, which I have yet to download, but even if I showed you, it would not be enough.  If you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon, you know that seeing it in a photograph, or even seeing it in a movie, cannot compare to actually going there, to see it, with your own eyes. The eclipse was so far beyond my first awe inspired glimpse of the Grand Canyon, that it’s hard to describe the sense of wonder and awe that came over me!

The heavens do indeed declare the name of the Lord!

Most of our time at the campgrounds, was spent taking it easy.  It was certainly a great place to do that!

I did mention we had a primo spot! Can you believe it! This is a free campgrounds!

Beautiful, simply beautiful!

Here is The Boy, kicking back, while working on some photos!

Laughing with children as they put the rope swing in my camp to good use!  

That grin says it all!

Oh my! Hold on tight!


Yes! Those rocks made me very nervous too! But they all did well! Except for Charles! Ask about his swing off the rope! Okay, I will give you a hint on how it went. He is 6’2 tall!

It was there at Rhea Campgrounds, that Charlie came up with the concept we called The Mad Dash!

More on that next time!


George “Mick” Leon Smith ~ Arlington National Cemetery

I didn’t take a single picture.  I brought my camera.  I even brought extra batteries.  I just could not take a single picture.  I am still not entirely sure why. A friend suggested that it could be because this trip was so grim.  I’ve thought about that.  Yes, my son and I were going to bury my husband and his father. But Grim? I don’t know that I looked at it that way.  My son and I were going to pay our final respects to Mick, in the best way we could.   Perhaps I knew instinctively that no photograph would ever be able to capture this journey.  I am not sure.  What I do know, is that this trip was as much for me, as it was for my husband.  I needed to know that I had done my best for him.  From things he has said and done, since Mick passed away, I believe my son felt the same way.  I did not even have a desire to write about this.  It seemed too personal.  Too hard to express in mere words.  Something that had to be experienced to be able to truly understand. But something happened that changed that.

I had been trying, all year, to find some one.  Anyone, who could come to the funeral to be there for my son and I.  We were traveling from Arizona and no one was going to be able to come to Washington D.C. with us.  I had called the Marine Corps, The Mickey Finn Group, even local Veteran centers to see if anyone could attend.  Everyone said they wished they could attend.  That they hoped it would go well.  That they were sorry for our loss. But no one was able to come. As it turns out, it was good no one could be there.  I realize now, it would have seemed like an intrusion. The people who were supposed to be there were able to come.  Pastor Walt and his friend, whose dad is buried at Arlington.  Mick’s daughter and her husband, who I am delighted to claim as family, and of course, Charles and I.

One of the Marines that had been trying so hard to find veterans who would be available to be there for my son and I, sent me an email a few hours after the funeral.  He had wanted to be there to support my son and I, since he too was a retired Marine who had been in Vietnam, but he was also unable to attend.  I received his email just after we got on the train to go home.

He said he hoped that it all went the way I wished it would.  He also mentioned that he had had a word with the Honor Guard that was going to be handling my husbands funeral.  Letting them know that my son and I were going to be there alone, and he wanted them to give us their very best.  He was writing me to make sure that they did okay. I remember thinking in disbelief, “Okay?” They were so far beyond ‘okay’. Below is what I wrote back to him. I wanted others to see this, out of gratitude.

Dear Mac,

They were the finest Honor Guard escort that I have ever seen. By far.

The burial detail. They were so precise, so measured, so careful. Each motion in its time and place, each performed with accuracy and grace. There was exquisite beauty in the exacting nature of their stately movements. The flag folded, with such attention to detail. Each fold and step given such care. I held it for hours after we left and it has not left my side yet. A case and a place of honor will be made for it at home.

The rifle detail. Standing, at attention, waiting, quietly waiting, to honor a fallen Marine. Fallen, but not forgotten.  It did not matter that he had not fallen in battle. Nor did it matter that he had retired from the Corps. What mattered is that he had served his country and served her well.
Semper Fidelis.

For the salute, they used the older rifles, that have that loud crack when they fire. The ones I hoped they would use. Again, precise, exact, together. In perfect timing. There was a comfort in that jolt, when they fired. Almost as though it was easing, or pulling out, the pain of our loss. Waiting as each volley rang out over the resting places of other military men and women. Then again, that crack, fired as one shot. You can hear it for miles.  That final volley. Twenty-one. The twenty-one gun salute of honor.

Taps. The bugler was excellent. Each note in perfect pitch. Full and rich in sound. Played slowly, solemn, as befitting the occasion but also with a feeling of pride. That last note held so long until it faded away. It reminded me of the words to that song. The sun fading from the sky, and yet, God is nigh.

The young marine in charge of the Honor Guard. The one who handed me the flag, was so touching in what he said, but moved me even more by the sincerity in his eyes when he thanked me for my husbands service. Then he surprised me with the shell casings. I had forgotten they were part of the ceremony.  I have given one to our son and one to Mick’s daughter, who I would gladly claim as my own. Something for them to hold onto, something to help them remember.

Pastor Walt.  He never ceases to amaze me.  He can capture exactly what needs to be said, but of course he is so in tune with the good Lord. I know that He was speaking through Pastor Walt today. The things that he said, the passage he read, they were exactly what I needed to hear. That while Mick did his best to be a good provider and protector, it is the Good Lord who does it right, every single time.

I will hold that service for my husband in a special place in my mind and my heart. I will remember and use it as a calming balm, when the pain of loss and regret tries, once again, to capture me.

I wish I could write or find some way to thank them all. To let them each know that the beauty touched my soul. That their care in doing it right, their dedication to duty, eased my pain. Perhaps I can send this to our cemetery representative. So that he can share it with each of them. Perhaps I can post it where others can read and appreciate the care and dedication we received.

I will not forget our cemetery representative.  Gracious, gentle, attentive. So focused, yet understanding and kind. Quiet, gentlemanly and knew just what to say. Walking us through each step of the way. Turning what seemed like a hard and unwanted fall, into a gentle journey of acceptance.

It was done right, Mac, it was done right. Dress right, dress.

Thank you.

A Marine’s wife,

Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the land,
From the sea,
From the sky.
All is well,
Rest in peace,
God is nigh.

Rest in peace Mick. I’ll see you by and by.