Monday, January 08, 2018

Remembering The Journey of 2,000 Smiles

Jessie Banks and her dad on the steps leading to the Dunker Church at Antietam.

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At 9:06 Sunday night, I finally pulled my grimy car into our driveway in the frozen state of Connecticut. A five-day, nine-state journey was over. A weary body rejoiced. Daughter Jessie was successfully delivered to her new home in Nashville, Tenn., where she will begin her first professional job.

My final tally:

Hotel stays: 4.
Towns visited: Many.
Side trips to Civil War sites: 5.
Arguments with daughter: 0. (Stunning!)
Speeding tickets: 0. (Amazing!)
Road miles traveled: 2,200.

But this trip was so much more than miles traveled or number of places visited. I’ll remember it as The Journey of 2,000 Smiles.

Dad, Elvis and Jessie on Broadway in Nashville.
On Leg 1, father and daughter bonded over music. We sang together (loudly) Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reasonand Pearl Jam's "Alive." Sunglasses hid my tears as we listened to Neil Young's “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” She educated me on the greatness of Spotify, and I showed her a sliver of my world. In Sharpsburg, Md., my favorite place of all, we shot a selfie on the steps leading to the Dunker Church at Antietam. Later, at an impromptu lunch with a new friend there, she looked like a little pixie in her light-gray toboggan. Is she really 23? Wasn't she holding a teddy bear yesterday?

As we traveled down I-81 in Virginia, we marveled at the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and in a diner in Harrisonburg, we discussed life. “I feel like I’m finally growing up,” she said. She cried over a text from her mom.

En route from Knoxville to Chattanooga, Jessie dickered on the phone with a rep from an Internet service provider.  As she grew frustrated, I restrained my urge to help. She did just fine. “Jessica,” the woman on the other end of the line said, “you’re going to do great.” She smiled and celebrated when the transaction was completed. I did, too. But letting go sure is hard.

Before a meal in a restaurant in Somewhere, USA, we held hands as we prayed for a friend of her friend. God, that was great.

After she picked up her car in Tuscaloosa, where she recently graduated from the U of Alabama, Jessie headed to the city of her dreams. Sheesh, she looked small behind that wheel. When we finally reached Nashville, we reveled in her great, new home. Trying to ignore the cold, we took a selfie with Elvis. And on Broadway that night, we enjoyed drinks and pizza, laughing much of the time.

When we parted the next morning, I cried a river.

A breathtaking view from Lookout Mountain.
There were plenty of tears -- and smiles -- on the return trip, too. At a barbecue restaurant on the backroads of Tennessee, the waitress -- she looked like a pixie, too -- looked at me funny when I told her I'd be just fine with the unsweetened tea. "I'm from the North," I said. "We'll just make it half and half," she replied with a smile.

On a frigid afternoon at Lookout Mountain, a chemistry student from China explained how to use an app to pay for my parking. Imagine that. And later, a biker wearing a sleeveless T-shirt -- imagine that -- and I admired the fabulous view.

On a deep-blue sky afternoon at New Market, Va., a docent kindly waived the battlefield entry fee. Too cold outside, she said with a smile. Later, at Fisher's Hill in Virginia, I climbed the hills, deftly avoiding clumps of cow patties, to see what the soldiers saw there on Sept. 22, 1864. The cows eyed me, warily.

On the long, last leg home, I had plenty of time to think -- about family, about life, about what's most important. Enjoy the journey, I concluded.

Enjoy the journey.


  1. John,
    I had the same experience last summer. My son Kyle, was offered and accepted a teaching position in Chattanooga. He has been my Civil War battlefield wingman/researcher the past 5-6 years, visiting well over 15 battlefields in the Eastern and Western theaters.
    As you did, moved him into a new apt, gave him my car, bought a new one, got him all set up and the tears flowed from Chattanooga to Long Island. Each time I drove past a battlefield or CW museum we visited together,the water works started. It gets easier as time goes on! Ron

  2. Nice story John.

  3. Over 30 years ago, my dad took a similar trip with me as I started my first real job in Dallas Texas. We drove down in my newly purchased Ford Escort, and he flew back after helping me rent an apartment, find some furniture (at a garage sale), and helping me to begin my adult life. Thanks for sharing your trip, so I could relive the memories.

  4. That is one wonderful tale, John. Thank you for sharing it with your fortunate readers. "What's important" -- yep!

  5. Jessie Banks8:31 AM

    This is my favorite story to read. The journey is always ten times better with you! I love ya!!!!