Author Archives: denitalstevens

About denitalstevens

Denita Stevens, 41, is a former nanny, volunteer firefighter, a member of the Lake Whitney Rescue Association and a former CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate) for foster children, who writes in her spare time about her experience recovering from PTSD. And has recently started writing a blog "Texas Girl in Jersey" about her new adventure living in New Jersey. She is a 2003 graduate of Baylor University majoring in Journalism, with a minor in Business Administration. While a student at Baylor, she was the winner of the 2000 Academy of American Poets Prize & the 2000 Virginia S. Beall Poetry Prize for a villanelle she wrote titled, “Bright Light” & wrote a feature story about depression, “Feeling Blue” which appeared in the Spring 1998 edition of “Focus: the Baylor Magazine.” She was also a Sports Reporter for the “Baylor Lariat” & has worked in the Sports Dept at the “Waco-Tribune Herald.” She also spent a summer abroad studying at the Universidad de Salamanca in Spain.

Relaxing in the Poconos

When a dear friend invited me to spend the weekend at their cabin in the Pocono Mountains, I didn’t hesitate to accept. While I spent a few days in the Adirondacks last summer, this would be a far different experience. I wasn’t staying in a hotel across the street from a Dunkin Donuts. I was going to be staying in a cabin that wasn’t near some well-known franchise. I was going camping. In the mountains.

Can’t say I’m a big fan of camping. The only time I’ve slept in a tent, roughing it, was when I was 18 and in Mexico on a mission trip with my church. It was an eye-opening experience that was fulfilling and heartwarming, but it was also a long, hot and sweaty two weeks.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to let my past hangups deter me from what sounded like a welcome respite from my busy workweek. No traffic. No schedule. No deadlines. A time to slow down, which I just don’t do that often.

After getting off of work Friday night, I loaded up my Pomeranian, Lina into my SUV and we hit the road. She was dressed appropriately in her adorable “Happy Camper” dress.

An hour into our drive, we stopped in Buttzville at the infamous Hot Dog Johnny’s that my friend recommended we stop at on the way. Unfortunately, they only accepted cash, so we took a selfie and left. I’ll have to revisit the place sometime and sip on birch beer served in a frosted mug while I feast on a hot dog.


I was a little disappointed that we didn’t arrive until after dark since I was eager to soak it all in. But I was thrilled to stay up and visit with my friends for a bit before turning in for the night.

Best night of sleep I’ve had in a long time. I fell asleep within minutes. That never happens.

I woke up refreshed and ready for a 9am plyojam workout with my friend. But I did take a few minutes to appreciate the gorgeous view from the deck before heading out. The thin trees were like nature’s version of a filter overlaying the view of the lake.


We walked the trail along the lake to get to the fitness center. It was scenic and peaceful. Unlike our workout. I had no idea what plyojam was. Found out quickly. It was a cross between zumba and weighted exercises that made me think of the bootcamp I used to go to. But it was an abridged version with short reps of a set of exercises that cycled through a song until we moved on to the next set.


Afterwards we sat on the balcony, gazing over the water and drank the green juice that my friend and her husband blend and drink on a daily basis. Needless to say I was ready for a nap after that workout! But that would have to wait.

Lina and I took a long walk along the lake enjoying the scenery. She was just as happy as I was to have a new place to leisurely explore.


Later on we sat on the dock enjoying homemade margaritas while we waited for the rain to move in. It may have been the margaritas and Shiner Bock beer that prompted us to sit underneath the umbrella during the rainstorm, but it was well worth it. Once the storm began to pass, a vibrant rainbow appeared on the other side of the lake, with a second, more faint one framing it. It was breathtaking.



Sunday was even more low-key, with more time spent on the dock with an excursion out on the boat for a few hours. Such a quiet and tranquil place to drop the anchor, hang out, soak up the sun and play cards.



It was the most relaxing weekend I’ve had in quite some time.  I have to say, I totally fell in love with the mountains, which is something I never thought I’d say.  There’s a peace and serenity there I have never felt before.
Pure bliss y’all. ❤️

Celebrating in NYC

When my friend Maria let it slip that she was talking to her daughters about going to New York with me for my birthday, I was touched and beside myself with excitement. Since moving to Jersey I had been wanting to go to the city. After not making it there to celebrate Christmas, I resolved to spend my birthday there even if I had to do it alone.
My initial plans were to ride the train and sightsee, but those plans changed when my friend joined the celebratory adventure, which also included another one of my good friends, Paula. I met both of these women in the writing group that meets at the Hamilton Library and they’ve become near and dear to my heart.

Once again I was unsure of what to wear. I’m still adjusting to dressing for East Coast weather. I’ve learned that layering is the best option.  How many layers do I wear so that my insides don’t shake without feeling like I’m in a personal sauna once the day starts to warm up?

Once I settled on four light layers on top and two layers on bottom, I left the house before sunrise. Once I met up with my friends, which also included Maria’s daughter Diana, we headed to the train station in Hamilton.

While I’ve ridden trains in Europe, I had never travelled on one domestically, so I was excited that we were taking the train. I even started jumping up and down like I do when I get excited about seeing or doing something new. Can’t help myself. Much to my delight, Maria told me that her birthday gift to me was that I could jump up and down as much as I wanted and she wouldn’t get embarrassed.
Best gift ever!


Our first destination after arriving at Penn Station was the TKTS booth in Times Square to purchase discounted tickets for a Broadway show. I had hoped to see my all-time favorite musical “Phantom of the Opera,” but I was the only one that wanted to see it, so I decided to save that for another time. We narrowed it down to the top three that we could all decide on and from that list I chose “Kinky Boots.”



Being in Times Square, we (I) had to take some pictures before we ventured out into the city. After snapping a few photos, we stopped at Starbucks to get a quick caffeine boost.


Maria picked out a coffee cup with NYC skyline on it for my birthday while we waited in line. It was the longest line I’ve ever stood in at a Starbucks, but it was in Times Square.


Once we ordered I realized I no longer had my debit card, so Paula graciously bought both of our green tea lattes.

I searched through my bag and pockets to no avail. I jokingly told Diana that maybe we should have gotten tickets for “The Play That Goes Wrong” instead since it seemed things were already going wrong. After a quick laugh, I cancelled the card and we returned to Starbucks.

I realized it was going to be too noisy to Facetime with my sister and nephews, so we ducked into the M&M store. My nephews were far more impressed with the massive amount of M&M’s that they could choose from than they were of the view of the city that I showed them from the second floor.


With an hour and half before needing to be at the show, Maria, Paula and I jumped into a cab so we could go see the 9/11 Memorial site and the “Fearless Girl” statue. It was the perfect place to Facetime my parents and nieces.


I didn’t see the 9/11 Memorial Site, “Reflecting Absence” the last time I had been in NYC for my 39th birthday with my sister. It was absolutely surreal. Water continuously flowed into what seemed like an abyss. It was evocative of senseless and endless loss and grief. We paid our respects and headed to see “Fearless Girl.”


Along the way we stumbled upon a studio full of sculptures! It was the Carole Feuerman Sculpture Studio. Such a pleasant surprise since we weren’t going to have to go to a museum. Her work was centered around swimmers in various poses. Some of it was in the form of larger than life sculptures, while other pieces were pop artesque images. Needless to say, I loved it!


After our detour to appreciate art, we found the “Fearless Girl” statue and “Charging Bull”. There was quite a crowd there posing and taking photos. We jumped in and did the same.


Our ride back to Times Square via taxi was far more scenic. Even saw the Brooklyn Bridge as we rushed back to see “Kinky Boots.”


I was so excited to be seeing my first Broadway show AND on my birthday! While it wasn’t my first choice, I loved it! We laughed harder than I’ve laughed in a long time and teared up at some poignant moments. It was funny, but touched the heart in an unexpected way. And the boots were absolutely fabulous!


As the day was winding down, we still needed to eat. Of course I was craving Mexican food like I always am. We found one place in Hell’s Kitchen, but it wasn’t open yet. While we waited, we stopped at Mickey Spillane’s to get a margarita and snacked on chips and guacamole.

It was worth the wait to get into Ponche Taqueria. We all ordered something different. I had their chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce with the Coronas that Paula and I were sharing.

The last destination I had planned for the day was to go to Serendipity to have cheesecake like my sister and I had done during our trip. Given the time and delays on the subway, we decided we should hop back on the train to Hamilton.



What a day y’all! I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate my birthday than to spend the day in NYC with my friends!


 

 

Running Philadelphia: Back on My Feet 5-Miler

     The Stroehmann Back on My Feet 5-Miler fell on the same day as the Bearathon in Waco, which is the half marathon I have ran for the past two years. I was a little disappointed to not be running it again this year. The race, known as the “Toughest Half in Texas,” raises money for student scholarships, which is a great cause to run for especially for alumni.
This BoMF 5-Miler raises money for a great cause as well. I had read about BoMF a few years ago when I started running. The basic premise for this non-profit is to utilize running to help transform the lives of people who are homeless. It all starts with running and then they progress to getting jobs, homes and a new life.

     I can certainly relate to the transformative power of running and fitness, which, as I’ve written in my first blog post, has been instrumental in my own recovery. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to give back in a small way to the local chapter. My friend Maria’s daughter is the Executive Director, so she is very supportive and encourages others, such as myself, to be as well.

     After attending the annual fundraising event Back on My Feet Bash with Maria in October, I signed up for the 5-Miler.


     As I usually do on race days, I woke up at 4:30am to have a small amount of caffeine and start my race day ritual. I’m not a morning person. I don’t even like running or practicing yoga in the mornings. I’m pretty sure these races are scheduled so early so participants aren’t thinking. They’re just running. I don’t start really thinking clearly until after the first mile or so, which is about the same time my body has really warmed up.

     Despite the early hour, I was filled with excitement and anxiety before the race.  I was excited to be running in a new city, but felt anxious not knowing what to wear. I didn’t want to get too hot while running, yet I didn’t want to be so cold that I had a hard time functioning before I warmed up. I decided at the last minute to go with three layers instead of two once I stepped out of the car and felt how cold it was.



     Most of the time when I run a race, I have two goals: 1) finish and 2) don’t be last. I run for the sake of running, which for me includes intervals of walking when it’s longer than a 5K. But after two years of running races, I decided that I wanted to push myself harder, which meant running the entire race and pick up my pace.

     I really had to dig deep to get through the last mile. My legs and feet were worn out from running so hard. I kept repeating to myself “finish strong” like my baby sister told me to when I first started running. I was thrilled and relieved to see the finish line!

     Running the streets of Philadelphia was interesting and felt like I was getting short tour of the historical city on foot. My favorite part of the route being the start/finish line was within view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I love that place inside and out!

     Once I had a banana and water and rested for a few minutes, I made my way over to run the Rocky Steps that lead up to the museum since I was so close. Thought that would be a perfect place to take a post-race photo!

     After running up the steps, which left me a little out of breath and even more fatigued, I gazed out to enjoy the view of the city and take a picture.


     Just as I finished taking another picture, my phone rang. It was my Maria.
“Denita, where are you? Your name is being called out right now! You got third place in your age group! Come get your medal!”

     “What? Okay. I’ll be there in a minute!”

     Getting a medal is not something I even remotely expected. So I ran down the steps and crossed a few roads faster than I ran the race to get to the award ceremony and picked up my medal.


     It was awesome getting a medal, espcially since this was my first time to run in Philly! I proudly wore it to The Bishop’s Collar, where we ate and I had my usual post-race mimosas! By this point my runner’s high had worn off and I was ready to crash.

     At one point Maria looked at me and said, “I know that this is probably like asking a a mother who just gave birth if she wants to have another child, but do you think you think you’ll run it again next year?”

     “Absolutely!”

     In the meantime, I’m already training and looking forward to my next adventure in running, which is the half-marathon portion of the Jersey Marathon on April 30th. Just hope it’s a little bit warmer this time!

Exploring Philadelphia: Love at First Sight

My first glimpse of Philadelphia was from an airplane as I flew into the airport this past April. Flying in to spend the weekend in Jersey. I was in awe of the massive sports complexes clustered together, the skyline, the naval shipyard… It was all pretty much a blur since I was seeing it so late at night and while in a moving vehicle. An unfamiliar place with unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells.

Unfortunately that weekend didn’t include any excursions to Philly, except for returning to the airport.  Little did I know then, Philadelphia would become a destination I would explore repeatedly and seemingly on a regular basis. While Philly is entrenched in American history, I’m also irresistibly drawn to its artistic side.

My 1st day excursion into Philly was a spur of the moment trip this summer. I had three objectives: see the Liberty Bell, the LOVE sculpture and eat a Philly Cheesesteak. Seeing the Liberty Bell was something I wanted to do for historical purposes and on a lighter, playful note, because Barney and Ted made a trip to lick the Liberty Bell in “How I Met Your Mother”, which is a series I loved watching.
And the LOVE sculpture, aside from being an iconic artistic piece for the City of Brotherly Love, it’s a piece that my baby sister and I have admired for years. During our trip to NYC for my 39th birthday, one of our stops was to see and pose with the LOVE sculpture there.
Of course there does not need to be a compelling reason for eating a Philly Cheesesteak. Tasting local food is all part of the experience.
Needless to say I didn’t accomplish anything that day other than what I considered a tourist hit and run. I had completely forgotten the DNC was being held in Philadelphia. Traffic and parking were more than I wanted to contend with. My exploration would have to wait for another day, which I would plan in advance. I settled for appreciating the city once again from a moving vehicle.
When I returned to Philly, I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art, since admission was free on Sunday (and every first Sunday of the month). I spent most of afternoon there soaking in all of the art. It was such a thrill to find pieces by my favorite artists like Picasso, Dali and Van Gogh that I’d never seen in person before. It’s such a visceral experience that permeates my soul and floods my being with an inexplicable joy when I see certain pieces of art.


I felt intoxicated from the art when I finally stumbled outdoors. The cherry on the top of my artistic experience at the museum was seeing the AMOR sculpture by Robert Indiana outside in front of the fountain. While it wasn’t his LOVE sculpture, I was still smitten.


Running the Rocky Steps at the entrance was more than a rite of passage and another thing to cross off of my bucket list. It helped reorient me back to reality considering the physical exertion involved in running what seemed like a never-ending supply of concrete steps. Midway through I started thinking that it was not nearly as fun as I thought it was going to be to run the steps. I did not feel empowered or accomplished, that is, until I completed the last step. Then, I did throw my arms up in the air. I had to.


After devouring a Balboa burger I purchased from the food truck at the top of the steps, I made my way to the Rodin Museum. Even before I stepped foot on the grounds, I was anticipating what it would be like to see the replicas of the sculptures that I had read about so many years ago and continued to appreciate over the years. “The Kiss” and the “The Thinker” were foremost on my mind. I’m in awe of how much emotion can be captured and evoked by a single work of art, much less a large body of work. The collection was breathtaking. Everything I expected and more.


Since that first trip this summer, I’ve made several trips back at least once a month. The list of sights to see and experiences continues to grow every time I’m there. I finally made it to Love Park and posed with the LOVE sculpture. Twice. Once this summer and then again during Christmas.


I’ve also tasted my first Philly cheesesteak from one of the most famous vendors, Pat’s King of Steaks.  Although it seemed like a no-brainer that a cheesesteak would come with cheese, that is not the case.  When ordering, you have to specify “wit wiz” or “wiz witout,” which threw me for a loop at first.  Wouldn’t that just make it a steak sandwich without the cheese?  So I waited in the typically long line and ordered my sandwich and fries “wiz wit, along with a birch beer.

According to locals I still need to try the cheesesteak from the rival across the street, Geno’s Steaks, so that I can make a fully informed decision about who makes the best one.  As far I’m concerned, anything “wiz wit” is going to be good!


It was also during Christmas when I had the opportunity to see the Liberty Bell, which I did not try to lick. But I did think about it. I wanted to taste freedom like Barney did. Because it would be. Wait for it. Legendary y’all!

Visiting Texas

When I left for Texas the day before Christmas Eve, I couldn’t bring myself to say that I was going home for the holidays or that I was visiting Texas… Using those phrases seemed as weird to me as not saying “y’all,” which all y’all know that I use that term countless times a day. Until I moved to New Jersey this past summer, Texas was my ONLY home and travelling meant visiting other places, but all that has changed.At times, I feel like Alice in Wonderland… I’m in a whole new world experiencing life in a whole new way. Every day is an adventure. And this past week was an adventure as big as Texas itself!

The chaos started when I was at the Philadelphia airport, on the busiest travel day of the year. In the hustle and bustle of the holiday crowd, I left my laptop at security. In a panic I ran back. Approached one of the agents in the line I had just been in and told him I had left my laptop. He asked what it looked like. I looked at him puzzled and said, “How many laptops do you have?” He wasn’t amused. Once I described it, he retrieved it and wanted me to verify that it was mine. I opened it up and showed him my picture on the locked screen, said, “that’s me!” and grabbed it. That didn’t amuse him either. But I didn’t get arrested or yelled at.

After picking up some Philadelphia Christmas ornaments for my family, headed to the gate, boarded a direct flight and everything went smoothly until I landed in Dallas. I texted my sisters to tell them the arrival gate for my flight. There was pause. The reply I received was “Oh no! You are at Dallas Love! We are so sorry.” I started looking around and realized it didn’t look like DFW airport at all. I laughed, called my sisters and said, “It’s fine. I’m not mad. I didn’t even realize I was flying into Dallas Love either! Just assumed it was DFW.” We all had a good laugh.

I jumped into my sister’s SUV and we headed straight to Mi Cocina for Mexican food! En route to the restaurant we didn’t skip a beat catching up on much needed sister time! It was so good to be with my sisters after six months of not seeing them or spending time with them.

It goes without saying that I devoured the beef enchiladas and beef taco. While I don’t care for chili sauce, it was still the best enchiladas I’ve had since leaving Texas! It occurred to me that I should’ve packed nothing but yoga pants and leggings since they were stretchy. Because I planned on eating as much Mexican food and brisket as I could during the week. And I did.


The next morning, my nephews woke me up bright and early with the biggest, tightest hugs they’ve ever given me. Even though it was Christmas Eve it felt like Christmas morning seeing their precious faces in person. Spent the morning with them playing, getting a tour of the house with the Christmas decorations and meeting Tommy Boy, their playful new cat.


Later in the day, after seeing my parents and setting the kids up to bake cookies, I went to Waco to shop with my sisters. Shopping in Waco is a time-honored tradition for us to do together. Besides picking up some last minute Christmas gifts, the three of us posed for a picture with Santa. Turns out his lap was not big enough for the three of us, not even two of us. I slid off to the side after trying to awkwardly and uncomfortably sit on his lap. It got even more awkward after he leaned in said, “Don’t make me tickle you.” My baby sister didn’t fare so well and ended up having to stay on his lap. Bless her heart, our picture will forever commemorate said awkwardness. Think Elf on a Shelf pose.


Being with my entire family on Christmas Eve was a gift within itself, especially after having not been with them on Thanksgiving. My mom was gracious enough to make all of my favorite dishes that I love and my brother in law brought a brisket that was the best one yet.

Waking up Christmas morning with my nephews running in saying, “Nita, it’s Christmas! Get up!” was priceless. Their enthusiasm and excitement opening their gifts and stockings was endearing. And I loved that they included a stocking for me (that they picked out and decorated) on the mantle, which was filled with drawings and gifts from them. While I missed getting to spend the rest of the day with them, I enjoyed breakfast at my other sister’s house and then having dinner at my brothers house with his family and my parents.


The rest of the week flew by with my nephews waking me up every morning at 7am to play with them. And then excursions to spend time with family and as many of my friends as possible, whom I have missed dearly!  Of course I didn’t get even pics with them!  Didn’t seem like there was enough time to spend with everyone and catch up, which makes me grateful for technology since I can keep in contact with everyone via phone and social media.



My sister thought it was funny when I said that I felt like I got to see all of the sights of Texas that I needed to see… wide open spaces, The Texas flag, Baylor campus and stadium, the skyline of Dallas, Ft Worth Stockyards, Arlington, the Hill County Courthouse lit up in Christmas lights… (The list is long).




While I treasured my time in Texas with my many loved ones, when I flew back to Jersey, I felt like I was going home too (which may be the topic for another post at a later date). But that didn’t stop me from picking up a few items at the Dallas airport so that I could take a few pieces of Texas home with me (like a Texas-themed Starbucks cup and a Dallas Cowboys baseball cap.) I am still a Texas girl in Jersey.


Love and miss all of y’all in Texas; and Iook forward to seeing y’all next time I visit!

Thanking Jersey

It’s that time of year where so many posts, tweets, articles, pictures are all about “Thankful for…” What am I thankful for? To answer such a seemingly commercialized sentiment, yet edibly relevant given that I’m spending this Thanksgiving in Jersey makes me feel like I’m about to dive into a chick-flickesque monologue. One that would end with the ever stereotypical dramatic surround sound that cues the audience to applaud.   
But this is real life and real life doesn’t really come with a soundtrack (unless of course you count wearing earbuds listening to Pandora, or as I’ve learned since living up here that the honking of horns starts to sound like a chaotic symphony while driving in daily traffic, but oddly hypnotic).

Remarkably for me this will be the first Thanksgiving (after 41 years) that I won’t be spending with my family in Texas, which feels foreign. While I have largely assimilated and settled into life up here on the East Coast (winter weather withstanding that statement, although I have started accumulating the necessary gear for the cold, like a warm coat).

The idea of not being in Texas eating my mom’s cornbread dressing, mustardy potato salad, pumpkin bread surrounded by my family makes me feel like I’m an alien displaced from my homeland. (“E.T. phone home” comes to mind.) Needless to say I’m looking forward to all of those special people, moments and recipes (and definitely some brisket) during Christmas! I’m sending a list of special requests before I even fly out, which I’m sure mom will appreciate.

I won’t even mention the annual Black Friday shopping with my sisters where we wear matching shirts and live on caffeine… It seems impossible that so many shenanigans, adventures, adrenaline rushes and laughter happen. Sober. In one night. But they do. How often can you pass out on the benches (from pulling an all-nighter) in the indoor playground at the mall and not get arrested? Or at least get a stern talking to? But I am still getting a matching shirt this year, which is a super cute “Black Friday Shopping Team” baseball T. Although mine this year should say, “My sisters went Black Friday shopping and all I got was this T-shirt.”

While I make light of it, I was incredibly touched that they’re still including me (and I will probably Facetime them while they’re out and about like Sheldon did on the “Big Bang Theory”, although I won’t be doing it for scientific purposes). It was very heartwarming to read the messages from them about how they were getting me one and having dad ship it to me.

 That being said, I’m thankful.

I’m thankful for the little things like random “I love you” text messages from my little nephew, conversations via phone or text message, special packages (of a baseball T, pics my nephews have drawn for me or an inspirational book from my sister) from my family in Texas that are big things and make me feel connected to them. Because even though I’m far away, they’re never far from my thoughts or heart.

I’m thankful for my friends in Texas who have stayed connected and supportive, especially one who listens to all of my ups and downs and has been a constant source of support and encouragement while I’ve experienced more changes than I thought possible in such a short period of time.

I’m thankful for my lil pom who always wags her tail when I come home even after long days. She is a constant source of love, comfort and at times, amusement because of her quirky little personality. 

I’m thankful for the numerous people of all ages (too many to list individually, but they’re significant nonetheless) that I’ve met up here who have welcomed and accepted me with open arms and enveloped me in warmth and kindness. My family here.

I’ve thankful for the extraordinary experiences and adventures I’ve had, sights I’ve seen and memories I’ve made through exploring this area, which was terra incognita before I moved here. The camera on my phone has been well used and my storage is bursting with beautiful and captivating images of all kinds. I love capturing these moments and sharing them!

I’m thankful for the unexpected opportunities that I’ve been blessed with. While my life up here isn’t at all what I envisioned it to be when I left Texas 6 month ago, I am still in awe at times at what I am fortunate to be a part of and do personally and professionally. There’s a quote displayed in large font on the top of the wall at the yoga studio where I practice that sums it all up: “Until you spread your wings, you have no idea how far you can fly.”

Thank you Jersey for letting this Texas girl spread my wings and fly!

Happy Thanksgiving y’all!
❤️

Exploring Gettysburg 

Visiting Gettysburg is not something I ever expected to do. I remember reading about it in school, but quite frankly, it never seemed real to me. Like a lot of other historical places that I’ve seen and visited since I moved to the east coast, it never felt tangible. Just words, stories and pictures… I never connected to history the way I did with English. Words are tangible. I can touch them on a page and directly connect to them; or I create them when I write.

The opportunity to visit Gettysburg came up when I was invited by my dear friend (and former EMS mentor) who serves as a family escort to attend the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Memorial Weekend in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Once the service ended on Sunday, we dropped off luggage, changed and headed to Gettysburg, which was only about 30 minutes away from where we were staying the night. Since my friend was driving, I googled the battlefield and tour information.

As we made our way into Gettysburg, I started to feel uneasy and a sense of eeriness enveloped me. I had the same visceral reaction that I had when I visited Pearl Harbor back in my 20’s. There was this unexpected aura and sorrow that lingered in the air the entire time we were there.

The first place we stopped had just sent out its last tour for the day, but suggested another place that did a sunset tour. We thought that would be perfect! We’d see the sunset on the battlefield that would surely offset the tragic events and loss of thousands of lives that had occurred on this land during the Civil War.

While we waited for the tour to begin, I couldn’t help but pose with the Abraham Lincoln statue that was outside of the building, along with a placard of his famous speech that he gave from Gettysburg.

Despite the cold, we decided to ride on the top of the double-decker tour bus so we’d have the best possible view.  This was my first experience on one of these buses.  Felt like any minute it could turn into something out of National Lampoon’s.  

We sat across the aisle from two members of the Atlanta Pipes & Drums who were also in town for the Memorial Weekend and conversed with them for a bit until we left the visitors center.
Can’t say enough about the tour guide, who presented a program that was insightful, interesting and provided comic relief at different intervals. As we drove along we roughly followed the progress of the 3 days of gruesome and treacherous battle that occurred July 1-3, 1863.

It was startling to see how many of the original buildings and homes that were still standing and being utilized. Our guide would periodically point out the holes in buildings that were from the battle. There has been a resurgence in efforts to preserve the history and reclaim the land of the battlefield.

Our “tour” ended when we stopped at the top of Little Round Top to gaze upon the vast battlefield as the sun was setting. Provided a beautiful and enchanting image of the landscape where so much life was lost that lingered in the memory long after we departed from Gettysburg.