My aunt had always dreamed of taking her beloved nieces and nephews on a trip across America. After being diagnosed with cancer, she was even more determined to make this dream a reality before her illness worsened. Months later, in a 15-passenger van, 12 of us set out on a 6 week journey which would ultimately become the trip of a lifetime.
Our first stop after leaving our hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, was New York City. Here a boat ferried us to The Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately we weren’t able to climb it because entrance tickets must be bought in advance, something we had neglected to realize. The rest of the day was spent getting lost and walking from one boat to another in an attempt to get back to the mainland. I wish I could say that at the end of the day we all bedded down in a comfy hotel. Despairingly, The hotel we had reservations for, was miles and miles away in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was long past midnight before we finally arrived.
The next day, we boarded a bus called the downtown “Phlash”. It proved to be false advertising because it definitely took it’s time transporting us to the Liberty Bell. Once there, however,I could not help but gaze in wonder at this famous piece of history! Afternoon found us on the road again, headed for Alexandria, Virginia. The hotel there was close to a subway, which we used the next day to travel into Washington D.C. If I learned anything from this trip, it was that Washington D.C. simply cannot be seen in one day. We left, promising ourselves to return someday.
As we continued toward Florida, dark clouds began to form and by the time we reached our campsite, it had begun to drizzle. We proceed to pitch the large two-room cabin tent in the pouring rain, fumbling with the complex poles. Despite the odds, the tent was eventually put up and we all piled into sleeping bags. Originally, in an effort to save money, we had planned on camping at night but after this escapade, we ended up spending nights at hotels. However, after passing through the Badlands of South Dakota, which were by far some of the most breathtaking scenery we encountered, we proceeded to try our luck at camping again, this time at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. The weather was perfect and the tent set up in no time. We figured out stay would be uneventfully peaceful but we hadn’t planned on visitors. Around dusk, we spied a herd of buffalo trampling down the road toward the stream. Following the Park Ranger’s advice, Aunt Rachelle ordered everyone to remain calm and silent. Our night, while highly exciting, proved sleepless. Buffalo surrounded out tent, braying and groaning in thunderous roars. We were even awarded a close-up view of a bull fight. Although frightening, that night was one of my favorite experiences and one I will never to forget.
We arrived home exhausted, but the experiences we shared together were priceless. In an astonishing 6 weeks we had managed to travel to Mount Rushmore, visit Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home, tour Mississippi plantations, and horseback ride through Montana prairies, truly a remarkable feat.
My aunt died two years later after succumbing to her battle with Colon cancer. I will always treasure that summer and all the sacrifices she made to make it happen. My aunt’s legacy to us all, is a legacy of love that lives on.
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