"Mommy...how long til we get there?", and I looked in the rear view mirror to see Julia Belle, squirming in her car seat, her little bow lips wreathed in chocolate chip cookie crumbs; Julia Belle, the prettiest little four year old in a trillion miles. She was the curliest, girliest little thing; all blonde ringlets, and big, blue eyes!
We had been on a road trip to see her uncle Jeremy and his new wife Heather in Texas. Jeremy was in the states for his first Thanksgiving since 2006 having returned from Iraq.
I chose to drive from central Florida to Ft. Hood, Texas. This was to be the farthest I had ever driven in my life. My husband didn't drive due to health concerns, but was my able navigator on our adventure. It remained to be seen how Julia Belle would do on such a long trip.
This stunning little girl, my adopted daughter, was also my biological granddaughter, by way of her mother, my own daughter's death due to medical error, just eight days after Julia Belle was born, a wee 2 lbs and 29 weeks. Julia Belle had somehow survived by grace and sacrifice.
The week she was born, I lost a daughter, gained a grand daughter...and now, she was four, sunny, bright, energetic (she never stopped moving, except, thankfully, when we traveled). Even though, the very fact that Julia Belle looked, moved and sounded exactly like her mother, and that in itself was confusing and difficult, Julia, as a four year old, was her own self-possessed little person. I loved her curiousity and her willingness to try new things. With bittersweet poignancy, and with moderate trepidation, we set off on our road trip.
We passed many landmarks with ease; the Alabama border, Mississippi, Louisiana and then finally the great state of Texas. Because money was tight,we chose to travel "on the cheap". With amazing ease, Julia showed what a road-warrior she was, never complaining and curious about all there was to see, but the thing she liked best, something she inherited from her great grandmother, also named Julia, was her love of hotels and motels, which she called holy-tells. I still marvel how she came up with that, but the term seems to me a great metaphor for the entire trip, as this was a trip I could not have envisaged in late 2004, as I walked the earth, my soul prostrate in grief, a battle that I still wage within myself, more quietly than before, but still with an act of my will to turn to God for help so that I could keep going for Julia Belle.
Yes, we stayed at many "holy-tells" on our trip to Texas and back, and as I reflect on our road trip, I believe her shining sweetness in my rear-view mirror was a reflection of my past sadness being left behind on the road of life, my present acceptance with the path I was on, and a beam of hope on the boulevard of our future. Julia and I will have many "holy tells" to talk as we travel along together.
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