We had a marvellous kitchen with everything, but we hardly needed to use it except for breakfasts. We were invited out for breakfast several times and had pancakes and maple syrup and unlimited coffee. The first evening meal out was to Bugtussle Steakhouse. It was off the beaten track and looked pretty ramshackle inside and out, but they served huge steaks which surpassed any we’d ever had in tenderness and flavour. Our hosts ate all theirs, but we three each took half of ours home in doggy bags, but not for a doggy! It was at Bugtussle we met our first Sheriff and his gun. There is a photo of John being handcuffed but it’s a bit of a blur!
Betty looked after us and arranged our main programme. When Tom heard about all the great stuff John had arranged for them in Newcastle, with transport and many invitations to homes, he rang Betty who sprang into action. Elspeth hung around with Betty’s daughter and her friends, but came with us on most of our outings. Several of the things we three did together stand out. The World Fair was on in Knoxville, Tennessee, that year and we travelled up there on a bus tour and spent two days at the Fair. Elspeth was the guide, she got the plan of the Fair and worked out how we could explore the most Pavilions possible. She did a great job. I still have the red Passport with our picture inside. It was a great experience. On the bus tour we also visited Gatlinburg, gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Appalachians).
Another unaccompanied trip was also planned by Elspeth. This time we took the car and John drove us west down to Vicksburg, by the Mississippi, a historic town with ante bellum estates. We visited one, built in 1840, called Cedar Grove Plantation Home. In 1863 it was targeted by Federal gunboats and damaged. Another was McRaven, still lived in as a family home, but also open for visitors. (However, the one I liked best was in Birmingham, Arlington House, built in 1842 and beautifully furnished in period furniture worth a fortune, which I could well believe.) Vicksburg was right by the river and it was a thrill to see the Mississippi calmly flowing along. Some years later we saw it from the air in very different circumstances. After Vicksburg we visited the Natchez Trace Parkway north of Natchez. For a hundred years or more the Old Trail, an Indian Path, was constantly walked on and as a result became a sunken road shaded by trees and Spanish moss which hangs down like pennants from the branches. We saw this moss in many places. The tree roots in the picture show how deeply the path has been worn down. Then we headed towards New Orleans.
We didn’t have to hurry, Elspeth was a great guide and we didn’t get lost. The varied scenery was fascinating although a lot of the journey was on the highways. We had come to think that maybe around four hundred years ago the country was completely forested. Betty and Dan’s ‘back garden’ bore this out as did the Parsonage. (See previous post). We got near to New Orleans just before six pm and suddenly the rain began. It was so heavy we followed the example of other cars and pulled over. It soon stopped and we heard later it happened every evening because Lake Pontchartrain is twenty-four miles across and shallow, so a lot is evaporated by the sun and condenses later in the day. The bridge is the longest in the world.
Our friends in Cahaba Heights weren’t too keen on us going to New Orleans, presumably fearful we might be shocked or corrupted or something! We loved it: it was colourful, cheerful, lively and picturesque and we saw nothing to bring a blush to a maiden’s cheek, even late in the evening. We did the bus tour, the driving and commentary done by a real nice friendly young woman. We sailed in the steamship Natchez a sternwheeler, with a jazz quintet and a calliope organ, great fun! We looked in at Preservation Hall to see the Kid Thomas Band playing real jazz. No liquor or food were served and children were welcome. Just good old jazz! No shock there! There was music all around and the houses and balconies were very attractive. Our only wish was that we could have had more time there.
A relative of Betty worked in State Administration and she took us to the capital, Montgomery, to meet the Governor in his office. Betty had already asked him if he could fix up a visit to the Huntsville Space Centre which was up near the Tennessee border. He arranged for us to have an official car and driver who took us all around and answered all the questions we asked. We saw fragments of the moon kept under glass and the clothes the astronauts wore when they walked on the moon plus the shuttles they travelled in. We experienced the gravity force they had felt. We wondered how they had had the courage to trust themselves to a rocket, leaving their world behind them and knowing there was no turning back. But they got to the moon and they came back and a new era began.
Neil Armstrong was first to step out the shuttle and as he put his foot down on the moon’s surface he said, ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’. Buzz Aldrin followed and they walked around for quite a while gathering samples and information. It was quite weird to watch the little bits of film on TV; believing it was the moon was hard enough to start with, but now we had to worry about them getting back. But they did come home and I doubt if anyone who watched it on TV or in the cinema will have forgotten the relief and pride with which they were greeted. Now ‘spacemen’ are going back and forward to stations high above the Earth and staying for months at a time. Just last week I read in the newspaper that someone has suggested that before this century is near its end this world will have a Colony on Mars as Earth is becoming overcrowded. I find it hard to believe that could happen; but if anyone had told me when I was a girl that, before I was fifty, men would travel to the moon and walk about and send pictures of it, I wouldn’t have believed that either! So who knows what might happen in my granddaughters’ time……
To be concluded….