29th Zane Grey Convention – Part 2

EXPLORING COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG

Old church in Williamsburg

Wednesdays have traditionally been field trip days for the Zane Grey’s West Society – a time to explore places we might not otherwise see and experience were it not for opportunities such as these. Almost everyone signed up. Unlike most travel organizations and cruise ship lines, we keep the costs associated with our conventions down as low as possible. Our Wednesday field trip, for instance, costs attendees almost exactly what the Society pays for it. Lodging prices are also kept low.

Practicing writing with quills in Williamsburg

This year, since the Woodlands Hotel where we stayed (and held our meetings) adjoined Colonial Williamsburg, we needed no guided tour because our members were able to walk into it and back, or take the free shuttle. Most any time we weren’t in meetings, attendees would be exploring that wonderful old capital of Virginia. A good share of the buildings feature people in colonial costume who guide you through the period rooms and show you how different life was back then. No vehicle traffic is permitted in the Old Town – only horse-drawn carriages.

Carriage ride in Williamsburg

Williamsburg (originally named Middle Plantation) was first settled in 1633, 26 years after Jamestown. The College of William and Mary, third oldest college in America, was founded here in 1693. In 1699, after the burning of Jamestown, Williamsburg became the capital of Virginia. It soon became the political, social, and cultural center of the colony. Williamsburg thrived until the capital was moved to Richmond in 1782. After the center of Virginia government left it, Williamsburg was all but forgotten for almost 150 years. Most likely it would have been lost forever had it not been for the vision of the Rev. William A. R. Goodwin who originated the idea of restoring it. In 1926 things really began to happen when Goodwin persuaded the philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to sponsor the project. Since then, more than 3000 acres of land have been acquired and nearly 150 major buildings restored or reconstructed. The Capitol and Governor’s Palace are furnished as they were in the 18th century, and the entire area is landscaped as it was in colonial times. Hostesses, craftsmen, militiamen, and attendants are costumed in the style of the period. Today several million people a year come here to relive colonial days.

Basket weavers in Williamsburg

Next Wednesday we’ll explore Old Yorktown.

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29th Zane Grey Convention

 

WILLIAMSBURG, VA

Part 1

Every four or five conventions, we go east rather than west.  Williamsburg it was this year—with Jamestown and Yorktown making up the triangular cradle of the American nation.

Once upon a time, in the not very distant past, Zane Grey was a household name across America.  In fact, during the first half of the 20th century, Grey was the world’s most popular and highest-paid author.  He is generally considered to be the Creator of the Romantic West and the Father of the Western Novel.  But today, with reading in decline along with literacy in general, with young people literate in little other than popular culture and sports, with plunging national test scores in history, it should come as little surprise that few people under the age of 50 recognize either his name or his books.

We in the Zane Grey’s West Society seek to do our part to help reverse that sad state of affairs.  We don’t want the love of the West to die out when we step off the stage of life.

Four-hundred years ago, Virginia was the wild West; 250 years ago, the Ohio Valley wilderness was the frontier.  It was during this time period that one of Grey’s ancestors, Betty Zane, became a Revolutionary War heroine when she risked her life in order to race across a clearing, a sack of gun powder on her shoulder, as a desperate act to save Fort Henry (commanded by Col. Ebenezer Zane, her brother) and those settlers within who were being besieged by French and Indian forces.  Since those besieged were out of gunpowder, they were doomed unless by some miracle they could contrive to secure some gunpowder.  Not surprisingly, when Grey grew up and began to write, Betty Zane (a novel based partly on that heroic dash) would become his first published book.  Three more novels set in America’s second West followed: The Spirit of the Border, The Last Trail, and George Washington, Frontiersman.  George Washington was well acquainted with the Zane family.  In fact, after the Revolutionary War was over, George Washington and the Continental Congress authorized Ebenezer Zane and his brothers to blaze a trail into the wilderness, on the west side of the Mississippi.  That route was first known as “Zane’s Trace,” then the National Road, then Highway 40, and today Interstate 70.  All this family history was reason enough for us to meet in Williamsburg the third week of June this year.

I’m often asked the question, “What do you do in your conventions?” Let me walk you through to give you the answer: first of all, we drive to, take a train to, or fly to, wherever a given convention might take place.  Traditionally, the convention begins on a Monday evening, consequently you’d expect everyone to arrive sometime Monday.  NOT.  A number arrive by Friday, and fully half generally check in by Sunday.  Our Zanies so enjoy being together that they can’t wait to catch up on the intervening year.   Registration takes place Monday afternoon, as does the process of hauling books or memorabilia to the room chosen to house the auction items until Tuesday afternoon.  Most everyone brings items since without that annual transfusion of funds, we’d have to dramatically raise our dues (we’ve only raised them once in 29 years!).  The only way we’ve been able to pull that off is to all serve pro-bono.  There is no paid anyone in the entire Society.  For all of us, serving is a labor of love.

Terry Bolinger welcoming the convention

Monday evening is the barbecue or opening banquet.  Since there’d been a lot of rain, this time we held a banquet inside.  No one sits alone—our members make sure of that.  After being welcomed by our president, Terry Bolinger, dinner is served.  Afterwards, Terry had all the new attendees stand, introduce themselves, and tell where they’re from.  These introductions accelerate the getting-acquainted process.  Next came the introduction of James Perry, Public Affairs Officer for the three parks we were visiting this convention: Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown.  He welcomed us to the colonial triangle and filled us in on what we ought to look for.  Afterwards, Dr. Jim D’Arc, Director of Film archives for Brigham Young University, took us behind the scenes of the famous movie he’d brought along: Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, directed by John Ford, and in the cast: Henry Fonda, Claudette Colbert, and Edna May Oliver.  Sometimes the films Dr. D’Arc brings are shown on evenings other than Monday.

Tuesdays are always the longest days, perhaps because the members Memorial Breakfast begins at 7 a.m.  As soon as breakfast is over, we give members the opportunity to reminisce about those who are no longer with us.  For to live in the hearts of others is not to die.  Before we separate, always—for 29 unbroken conventions now—, I remind the members that before the Society was founded, the other Co-Founder (the Rev. G. M. Farley) and I promised each other that, in order to make sure no one would ever be lonely at a convention, Poet Laureate of America Edwin Markham’s “Outwitted” would be recited, then everyone would repeat it aloud.  We now did just that:

“He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout;
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.”

Joe Wheeler giving his 29th keynote address

After a short break, we reconvened.  After preliminaries, I was introduced, and I gave my 29th convention keynote address.  This one was titled, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” and had to do with that traumatic six-year period (1982 – 1988) when it appeared that the Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania home of Zane and Dolly Grey would be lost to the wrecking ball.  Few of our attendees had ever heard before the story of  how the miracle of it ended up in the National Park System took place.

Lackawaxen, PA Museum in 1982

This was followed by Dorothy Moon, head curator of the Lackawaxen Museum, who filled us in on all the fascinating things that were happening there.  She in turn was followed by two representatives (Joanne Duncan and Kathryn Miller) from the National Road/Zane Grey Museum in New Concord, Ohio, who also brought us up to date on that facility.  It has been mighty tough for them because the recession has hit Ohio so hard.

In the afternoon, a good share of the attendees gathered to participate in the annual auction.  Since so much is riding on the income derived from it, I encouraged everyone to get into the act.  Besides the regular auction, there was also the opportunity to bid on a large number of silent auction items.

Back side of Zane Grey House in Lackawaxen, Pa in 1982

In the evening, many returned for Huckster’s Night (an opportunity to hawk items you’d rather sell than have to haul home).  Others took the evening off, a number eating in colonial restaurants in Williamsburg—complete with staff in colonial costumes.

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we’ll explore Old Town, Williamsburg.

Caribbean Sea Days – Part One, Birthday at Sea

  “Go stand at night upon an ocean craft
And watch the folds of its imperial train
Catching in fleecy foam a thousand glows—
A miracle of fire unquenched by sea.
There in bewildering turbulence of change
Whirls the whole firmament, till as you gaze,
All unseen, it is as if heaven itself
Had lost its poise, and each unanchored star
In phantom haste flees to the horizon line.”
– Robert Underwood Johnson, “Ilusions”

The sea — 71% of this earth God entrusts to us is sea, so how could we possibly remain unaffected by its might, its ever-changing moods, its broad palette of colors, its spectrum of aromas and sounds—its indefinable mystery?

Always I have loved it.

Many people fear entrusting their lives to the open sea (out of sight of land), but for me, being released from the importunate demands of land-based civilization frees me to soar.  If a storm should conclude my life there—well, what a way to go!

* * * * *

Over a third of our two weeks was spent at sea.  And let’s face it: only at sea do you really get to know a ship.  When you look up and up and up from a gangplank, all you can see is a species of skyscraper.  But once the ship sails out of port and land slips away, the ship becomes a living person with its own unique personality and idiosyncracies, just as is true with flesh and blood human beings.

Invariably, whenever one sails out of a harbor, we are exhausted by the trauma of completing all the thousand and one things that had to be done before we left home, packing (and hoping one didn’t forget anything), getting to the airport in time, making it through security and the check-in process, finding a seat, traveling in another airborn cattle car (with little elbow or knee room and nothing to eat but snacks), disembarking and getting to a lodge or hotel, making it to the dockyards, going through the endurance contest of security, checking in, finding your stateroom, and worrying that your luggage will fail to catch up with you; then unpacking your suitcase, and finding places for all that was in them, sailing out of the harbor, lifeboat drill, return to your stateroom—and crash!  You sleep—if you are not too exhausted to do.  Lucky are you if sea days separate you from your first port of call.  In our case, we were blessed with 60 hours at sea before we’d see land again.  During those hours, regeneration flowed in upon us, as soothing as the eternal sounds of the waves breaking against the ship.

 FIRST SEA DAY

Slept in until 8:00 a.m.  Connie, who’d not slept as well as I had, was reluctant to uncoccoon herself.  We had  a delicious breakfast in the San Marco Restaurant, all the while reveling in the sight of the sea outside the great windows.  Afterwards I found my way to the Excursion Desk and pumped a daytrip counselor about the pros and cons of the day-trips our group was considering taking.  It took some time before I’d decided which ones to take and booked them.  Later I shared my findings with the other five of our six-pack.

Later, I climbed up to the top deck so I could get my daily quota of exercise in.  For a number of years now, I have religiously maintained a daily exercise regime; never missing even one day (reason being I know myself too well to ever again miss so much as one day, for the pattern would then be broken, making it all too easy to miss the next, and the next).  This far north, it was still relatively cool, so making loop after loop on the jogging track was relatively easy.  But the further south we’d go, the higher heat and humidity would force all of us to exercise either in the early morning or late evening.  And if any of us failed to exercise, given the omnipresent food on the ship, we’d be blimps by the time we disembarked at Fort Lauderdale.

Then I napped. Afterwards, we gussied up for our first formal dinner.  A little over two hours later, we filed into the Celebrity Theater to take in a Hollywood variety show.  Fast-paced, well choreographed and performed, and relatively free of blue material.  Sadly, not true of some of the subsequent evening programs.

One thing I must compliment Celebrity on.  Now that cruise lines lure passengers on by heavily discounting the staterooms, management is forced to make it up in other ways—especially by pressuring passengers to purchase liquor.  We’ve been on some ships where you could hardly walk ten steps without being accosted by a liquor purveyor.  That was not true on the Constellation.

Back in the room, I caught up on my journaling, crawled in, then blissfully listened to the waves until those sounds segued with my dreams.

 SECOND SEA DAY

Ah bliss!  At 8:45 Tondi (our genial Philippine butler) brought in our pre-breakfast, on a silver tray, to the veranda, spread a crisp white tablecloth on the table, tucked us in with napkins, and artistically arranged the croissants, pastries, butter, jam, orange juice, and coffee pot on the table, poured our coffee, and slipped away.  As our son-in-law Duane would have said, Now this is living!”

We finished in time to make it downstairs for the real breakfast: a monstrous buffet!  With every kind of breakfast deliciosity imaginable.  Live easy-listening music was performed as we ate.  When we finally hoisted our bulk out of our chairs, we could hardly move.

Lucy's birthday cake

By 3 p.m., we were “hungry” enough to knock on the Earp’s stateroom door, there to join the Riffels for a surprise birthday party for Lucy. Actually, that’s what started the whole thing: Almost a year before, Bob had asked us if we’d like to join them for a special birthday celebration . . . on the Constellation.  Obviously, it turned out to be the most expensive birthday party we’ve ever attended!  Tondi knocked, and entered with a big cake and beverages on a silver tray, we sang Happy Birthday to Lucy, and we snarfed down enough cake to stave off starvation for a few more hours.  That was followed by a no-holds-barred game of Phase Ten, that lasted until dinner time.  After which it took me fifteen loops on the top deck to work off some of the day’s caloric intake!

Jo, Lucy and Connie ready for the birthday cake

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Lucy cutting her cake

* * *

Next Wednesday’s blog will continue the saga of our sea days.

Caribbean Sea Days – Part Two

THIRD SEA DAY

It would be five days before we were blessed with another sea day—reason being the distance between Grenada and the Netherlands Antilles.  It proved to be a quiet day in which to recuperate from getting up early in order to explore island after island: St. Maartin, Antigua, Saint Lucia, Barbados, and Grenada.  Needless to say, it was needed.

We did little but play a game of “O Henry” (also called “Aw Shucks,” and worse), a variation of dominoes.  Other than that, we loafed, strolled around, and watched the sea gulls lazily circling the ship.  In the evening, a second formal night.  By now our waiters (Lazaro from Honduras, and Michael from Serbia) were old friends.  Since our table is right next to a window, we’re able to watch the sunset, followed by immediate equatorial darkness.

Afterwards, I hit the upper deck for fifteen laps.  An unknown beauty passes me again and again in the half-lit track; in dramatic contrast are the obese walkers who can barely move, the smokers who can only sit, puff, and idly watch those of us walking or running off our calories.  Then back to the room.  Tomorrow will be a long day.

FOURTH SEA DAY

Once we bid good-bye to Bonaire, we’d not make landfall for two and a half days.  Dinner, dominoes, listening to Jasmine and her trio perform Latin classics, followed by a forgettable torchy singer and a comedian who managed to be funny without resorting to night club language, completed our day.

We woke the next morning to heavy seas.  So much so that pre-breakfast on the veranda was impossible.  Whenever the hallway door was opened, and the veranda sliding door was open, the wind would shriek through like it was a wind-tunnel; in the process smashing glasses.

After breakfast buffet, I headed down to the purser to settle accounts (I’ve learned to check out early in order to avoid having to stand in long lines on the last day).  Made sure that Tondi, Lazaro, and Michael received generous gratuities, along with support staff.  We’ve learned that most of those who work on cruise ships are paid precious little, consequently, unless passengers are generous with their tips, the room attendants and waiters are likely to return home after nine months at sea with very little to show for their work.

FIFTH SEA DAY

It’s always sad to wake up to your last day at sea.  As a writer, it is the time when I reflect most, watch people most, and devote the most time to my journal.

On this day, I was once again overwhelmed by the obesity epidemic (two-thirds of Americans being classified as obese, one-third already with diabetes).  The situation tends to be even worse on cruise ships.  On the decks, day after day you see the same obese people flopped out in lawn chairs like so many walruses (hour after hour, dawn to dusk, there they remain, when not eating).  Even on shore days, there they stay, unwilling to go ashore because there they’d have to walk.  On the ship, they line up in lines waiting for an elevator; almost never will they take the stairs.  I couldn’t help thinking: What a national tragedy: Two thirds of Americans now classified as obese, one-third of all Americans now diabetic.  Almost half a million dying every day—same as for smokers.  The two epidemics are killing almost a million every year.  What a waste!  How many bright futures blighted and snuffed out!  How many sorrowing families deprived of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.

And as I couldn’t help but notice how many stayed on the ship when in port, unable or unwilling to experience another country and its people, I wondered why they’d spent all this money to travel here in the first place.  I wished I could freeze the action on the ship and shout out, “STOP!  Wake up and save yourself before it’s too late!  From this moment on, monitor every bite you eat, count the carbs, and limit yourself to no more than twelve choices a day.  Vigorously exercise a minimum of 30 – 45 minutes a day.  Take the stairs instead of the elevators.  Never smoke another cigarette in your life!  Wake up and live so I can meet you again!”  But of course, I didn’t; I could only weep inwardly.

And I thought again about the incredible difference friends make in our lives.  Each one (noted by C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves) opening a door into our personality that no one else ever will; when that friend is gone, the key to that door goes too.  As John Donne put it long ago: each one that goes takes part of us with him, with her.  So as Bob and Lucy, Ed and Jo, and Connie and I explored the ship and the islands together, dined together, watched programs together, played games together, and shared memories together, I thought again about how very much friendships like these enrich our lives, and how much we treasure each one.

I thought too about what little money each of us had, and how some might consider travel to be a waste of money.  Yet it is said that when each of us comes to the end of our life’s journey, we may have many regrets—but none of us ever regrets the memories we made, the friends who enriched our lives, the insights we gained and the difference we made in the lives of the people we interacted with in our travels.  Always, in travel, we should give more than we take.

Our head-waiter Lazaro -- from Honduras

That last dinner was poignant as we looked at each other around the candlelit table.  At our ages especially, how many more times might we be privileged to travel like this with each other?  Our waiters who were not now mere waiters but friends we’d come to love and appreciate; same with Tondi and the support staff.  They’d come into our lives, and in fourteen short days, we’d left them.  Would we ever see them again?

Jo and Ed waving napkins as waiters brought in the Baked Alaska

At the conclusion of that last dinner, suddenly the waiters all disappeared, then in a long succession of bearers of Baked Alaska, they streamed down the stairs, and we clapped our appreciation as they came.  For each of them lived for more than meager pay and inadequate tips: each of them yearned to be appreciated, cherished, loved.

As did we.

Bob and Lucy at dining table

Next morning, we woke to the prosaic Fort Lauderdale dockyard.  It was over.  Our island in time—all cruises are that—was but a memory.  Yet, each of us, when life closes in on us, may  retreat through those memories into those all too short days and nights on the Caribbean Sea.

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we invite you to vicariously come along with us to Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, Virginia as we guide you through our 29th annual Zane Grey’s West Society convention.