Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: ROAD TRIP (vacation) (07/02/15)
- TITLE: Spirit of America
By Christina Drexler
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In the summer of 1988, Granddaddy signed our family up for a wagon train through the North Carolina Mountains. My parents and sister joined my grandparents, my aunt and uncle, their friends, and several cousins for the week long Daniel Boone Wagon Train, which would culminate in an Independence Day parade in Boone, North Carolina. Since I lived hours away from my grandparents and had always envied the country life of my extended family, I knew this vacation would be extraordinary.
Extraordinary, it was! We viewed breath taking scenery each day, as we rode horses and wagons around the narrow Blue Ridge Mountain backroads. Like the early pioneers who travelled in wagon trains centuries before, we camped near creeks and slept in wagons and tents under the stars. We took baths in the frigid, clear mountain streams and played in the wild, untamed waterfalls. Each evening, we cooked and ate our meals outside by a blazing campfire, as we listened to adults share old stories. We even had hoedowns, complete with fiddlers and Two-Step dancing.
I got to know Granddaddy, whom I adored, a little better that week. He had an easy-going, joyous personality, and all of us grandkids loved being around him. Although he relished picking on Grandma and getting her “all riled up,” I had never seen him truly upset until a couple of days before our vacation ended. Many of the wagon train veterans had told him his big wagon would not make it over the mountain we were to travel the next day. This wagon, pulled by a Belgian horse, a Quarter Horse and a mule, was a converted cotton trailer complete with school bus seats. It was by far the biggest wagon in the wagon train. The veterans were most concerned about a particular narrow, steep, dirt road with a sharp curve the horses and mule would have to pull the massive wagon up and around. They explained how it would be dangerous for the animals and the driver and advised Granddaddy to leave the big wagon behind for the last day. After hearing the experts’ warnings, various members of my family, including me, attempted to convince Granddaddy to heed the advice. I clearly remember Granddaddy sitting in a metal folding chair next to the horse trailer yelling at us, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do! We brought this wagon and these horses and mule all the way up here, and I’m going to finish this trail. If I don’t make it, then I’ll just unhook the team and pull that wagon back down the hill myself! But I’m gonna try!”
The next day the fatigued horses and mule pulled with all their might up the mountain. None of us rode with Granddaddy on the big wagon. The animals did not need extra weight to pull, and if they did not die first from exhaustion, we were all terrified they would slip or get spooked and plummet off the mountain taking the wagon over the cliff with them. Even Granddaddy was nervous. I remember him saying, “I’m not worried about the mule. Mules are smart and sure footed, but horses get spooked easy.” However, Granddaddy would not be diverted. He had started something, and he was resolved to finish it. Our ride that day was a few hours longer than the other days’ rides had been. The animals had to take more rest breaks, and we eventually had to swap one of the horses for a small mule to try to get the wagon around the curve. Several riders dismounted their horses and wagons and walked from the front of the train to where we were in the back to offer a hand. No one left us behind. They may have thought Granddaddy was stubborn and crazy, but they also respected his grit. Finesse, patience, and sheer will finally got us over that mountain. Reflecting back, I believe Granddaddy would have chosen to die on the mountain with his horses rather than to submit to defeat.
Riding in the Independence Day parade the next day, with everyone dressed up as settlers of the past, I had a much clearer picture of the ideals upon which America was founded than before this journey. For I had witnessed Granddaddy demonstrate the same determination, courage, and perseverance of Daniel Boone and the early pioneers. Granddaddy embodied the American Spirit that we were celebrating.
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