Greetings one and all, friends, comrades, and very large moths!
Back in May, a Christian conference was being held in North Carolina with some of my family’s favorite speakers, like Paul Washer and Scott Brown and all those other fellows no one’s heard of before. Due to an insidious evil known as “work,” my dad wasn’t able to go, and since neither Mom nor I wanted to make the seventeen hour drive to North Carolina by ourselves, we decided to prey upon her sisters and talk them into coming with us.
My aunts can be convinced into almost anything if promised food. They were easy targets.
So, bright and early one spring morning (it was sleeting), Mom and I set off from Michigan for Maryland, where my aunts live. We spent several days resting and visiting with Mom’s family. Normal people on vacation tend to read books, sit in lawn chairs, or – if they’re feeling especially adventurous – go on a hike.
Meanwhile, this was me and Mom on vacation:
Highlights of this video are Mom screaming like a banshee and Sarah cackling like a bloated witch. If you’re starting to think we’d never been through an automatic car wash before, you’re absolutely correct. We definitely got the most out of that experience.
(Ten seconds before the water started, Mom somehow forgot how to shut her window. Huge shout-out to Randy the Helpful Service Attendant for patiently showing her how.)
(I must also mention that we went again the next day. Even though our car was spotless. Just because.)
(There were rainbow-colored lights, guys.)
Finally, the day came when we set off with two of my aunts for the bright and distant land of North Carolina. There are a few things you need to understand about my aunts. They seem fairly normal on an individual basis, but don’t let appearances fool you; get any of them together, and all brain cells exit the situation. Think Merry and Pippin. The company of Thorin Oakenshield. The wombats in Ant Man.
So with that in mind, here I was, in a car with two of them plus Mom. Three women above sixty and I felt like the oldest person present. We were not three minutes on the road when Aunt Wendy (who was in charge of navigation) piped up with the immortal question, “How do we get there?”
And Aunt Marcie, who was driving, “I don’t know. Where are we going?”
Meanwhile, Mom, who’d just eaten breakfast: “I’m hungry!”
We were off to a good start.
As with all things, we spent the first hour and twenty-seven minutes discussing food, while Mom signed up for dozens of mailing lists to obtain every free birthday meal from as many restaurants as she could find. Eventually, we settled on Chik-fil-A. In the brilliant words of Aunt Wendy, “I think Chik-fil-A is almost better than McDonalds.”
…what sacrilege is this.
Meanwhile, Mom: “I have to go to the bathroom!”
For me, the concept of “going on a trip” means you get in the car and drive directly to your intended geographic destination, looking neither to the right nor left and stopping for no one. For my family, “going on a trip” has completely different connotations:
I think we stopped at every single thrift store in the State of Maryland. Four hours later and we hadn’t even gotten to Virginia yet. But on the flip side, I found Anna’s birthday present!
If this isn’t the most hideous thing she’s ever seen, I’ll be disappointed.
Around midday we stopped in the sticks of Virginia at a podunk little restaurant renowned for its peanut soup. Until that moment, I didn’t know there was such a thing as peanut soup. A member of our party who shall remain nameless thought it would be a great idea to get peanut soup and eat it right in front of me.
I’m allergic to peanuts.
Suddenly it was a group effort. They were all eating the peanut soup. They were spilling the peanut soup everywhere. Our table was being overtaken by peanut soup.
I learned very quickly how to pray with your entire soul.
After the peanut soup debacle, they collectively ordered cottage cheese. I don’t know why. They were very proud of it. I was just thankful to be alive.
We headed on our merry way, and not ten miles later, happened upon a charming oddity.
A TELEPHONE BOOTH LIBRARY. WITH BOOKS. Not good books, mind you, but books all the same. I demanded we pull over to look at it and they were happy to oblige, though I soon realized their benevolence had sinister ulterior motives when someone promptly locked me in the library book box and all three stood on the sidewalk cackling at my plight.
Moving on from the library telephone booth (regretfully), the next stop was to find liquid balm for our weary souls.
Let it be known that Starbucks made my excessively expensive drink wrong and I’m still bitter about it.
At long last we reached our destination, in twice the time it would’ve taken had we forgone the multiple detours for thrift stores and superfluous sustenance. The conference center we were staying at was large and rambling with many little roads forking off into nothingness. We got lost several times. But at long last we found our building, and Mom took it upon herself to direct the Aunts to a parking spot.
We attempted to unpack.
Why it took so many of them to unpack one car has been added to the list of World’s Unsolved Mysteries.
“Why do you want the top bunk?” someone asked.
“Well you see,” I told them, “it’s so much easier to spring down upon some poor unsuspecting soul’s head.”
The next day, we discussed the pressing issue of breakfast. (At this point I discovered that no one had packed any food because they wanted the excuse to eat out as much as possible.) We found some hole-in-the-wall biscuit joint, and let me tell you, despite the restaurant’s somewhat nebulous exterior, they served the best biscuit I’ve ever been privileged to eat.
LOOK AT IT. LOOK AT THE BISCUITY GLORIOUSNESS.
If you’re ever in Black Mountain, North Carolina, do yourself a favor and go to the Blue Ridge Biscuit Company. You’ll thank me later.
Meanwhile, Mom bought herself a bag of coffee and was pursuing her new passion of Coffee Sniffing.
The conference didn’t start for several hours yet, so we had time to spare. Did we spend it going on grand and glorious adventures, finding exciting locations and committing daring deeds?
Nope. More thrift-shopping. This was the back of our car after only an hour. If you zoom in, you can see the life leaving my eyes.
We finally headed back to the conference center for the beginning of the seminar. At this point, I realized it was actually a singles’ conference. As the only single in our party, I felt very called out.
I found us a nice discreet table near the edge of the room, and Mom’s inner two-year-old decided to make an appearance.
“We won’t be able to see,” she fussed. “My favorite speaker is here and I want to be able to see him. I think we should move somewhere else.”
As she was speaking, Mom’s favorite speaker ambled his way to our side of the room and sat down at the table directly next to ours. And then, not a minute later, ALL the conference speakers sat down at the table directly next to ours. Their families too.
Mom had a silent existential crisis of internalized fangirling, and I felt vindicated.
Once the seminar was over for the night, we returned to our room. I hadn’t had anything to eat since the Holy Biscuit that morning, and my stomach was protesting its situation. We had some leftover mac-n-cheese, but nothing to heat it with. Aunt Wendy mentioned she’d seen a microwave in the conference center’s little coffee shop – which, for the record, was on the other side of the retreat – so off Mom and I went, trotting purposefully through the retreat grounds at 10 o’clock at night, me clutching a heaping bowl of cold macaroni to my chest like it was the holy grail.
We received a few odd looks.
I decided to try being discreet. Every time we passed someone, I would pretend I was lost and hold my map up to shield the offending victuals.
“You’re making it worse,” said Mom, forgoing the two-year-old and momentarily assuming the role of an embarrassed teen. She suspiciously chose the darkest, least frequented paths to get to the coffee shop.
Once the mac was sufficiently heated, we returned to our room (still choosing the loneliest paths) and marveled at the complete disaster four people had rendered upon it.
We’d only been there one day. How did we do that.
I’m still puzzling over why I chose to plant myself directly in the center of the room to eat my mac-n-cheese when there are at least three chairs behind me.
The Legendary Baran Family Photo-Bomb lives on.
We were up early the next morning for the last few sessions of the conference. (Which was amazing, by the way, singles or not.) Once it was over, Mom saw her favorite speaker walking away, and, desiring photographic evidence that she had, in fact, existed in the same space as him for approximately three hours and forty-two minutes, whipped out her camera. At this precise moment, he walked out the door.
“I don’t think this is legal,” I wailed, trailing after her as she followed him out. She ignored my objections and shoved her camera at me.
“Get a good picture!”
Not entirely sure how I ended up with maternal approval to be a creepy stalker, I took a few casual pictures of the scenery. Just nice, touristy stuff, aaaaand…
Oh my, what’s that in the bottom corner?
(Yes, I blurred out their faces. I’m not completely without scruples.)
Having satisfied the Supreme Mother, we embarked on the long journey home, once again beset by Goodwill and food breaks at every exit. Jesse, meanwhile, weighed in with his opinions.
He’s still hoping that if he marries me off, I’ll torment my husband instead of him. He’s so naïve.
We made a pit stop (one of many) at Starbucks. Normal people go to Starbucks, order a drink, and leave. My people order drinks with seventeen modifications and then stand in the lobby for forty-five minutes shuffling their drinks between four different cups in the hopes of creating the “perfect blend.”
“Here Sarah.” Mom handed me what was supposedly an iced coffee. “I ordered it without milk, espresso, or sweetener, so you can add your own!!”
I wondered what was even in it, if not milk and espresso.
And in that moment, Aunt Wendy was me and I was Aunt Wendy. At last, solidarity.
We made it back to Maryland in the wee hours of the night. The next day was spent Porch-Sittin’ with my grandparents, which is a high-energy activity mainly involving sitting on a porch. A pipe beneath the sink burst while we were there, and pandemonium ensued. We cleaned it up amidst much screaming, and afterward, Mom, in her attempts to fix the pipe (having no clue how to do anything other than get wet), reached under the sink and accidentally touched a dead mouse.
My natural bullying instincts are thinly suppressed at best. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to document her pain.
Truly, she suffers.
At long last we bid our family a reluctant farewell and returned to the frozen wastelands of Michigan, where poor Dad had been living off of a huge pot of refrigerated soup for the last week. He was glad to see us. Probably more for the change in his meal plan than anything else.
And that was the end of the Great North Carolina Adventure of 2021. Thrift stores, stalkers, mice, and all.