Our All-American Weekend

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Like most things in my life, I’ve had our July 4th plans mapped out for many months now. I’ve always been an intense planner and moving 6 hours away from our families has significantly intensified that. I enjoy being able to attend everything possible, and if it means we can group multiple celebrations/get-togethers into the same weekend, let’s do it! This 4th of July we planned to forego a “vacation” and travel back to Alabama for the long weekend. (This is where I note that, as much as we love spending time with everyone back home, it is NOT a vacation. We try to squeeze as much time as possible in with our loved ones, so that often means a strict itinerary in order to fit it all in.)

After (very unexpectedly) making the journey to Thomasville last weekend and considering Seth’s crazy work schedule right now, we seriously debated making this trip just days before we were to leave. Thankfully, we put aside our weariness and embraced some slight travel setbacks.

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Peanut packs a bag to travel, too!

FRIDAY

Though we were to originally travel on Thursday evening, Seth’s work schedule didn’t coincide, so our plans were postponed until Friday morning. This turned out to be a good thing, because Poodle Boy (aka Peanut- poor thing, he can barely keep up with all the names we give him) didn’t feel well and needed to make a stop by the Poodle Doctor on the way out of town Friday morning. As luck would have it, the doctor isn’t scheduled to arrive until 9 AM on Friday mornings, so we had some time to waste in town.

Breakfast is always a good idea between the two of us, so we went on the hunt for a fur-friend friendly establishment, but had no luck. Instead, we chose nearby Southfield Grill- one of our favorites. I shared a tidbit of this story on Instagram Friday morning, so I’ll spare the re-tells, but basically, Poodle Boy lives the life. Even though he had to sit in the car, he got to hang out with the AC and radio on while laying on his favorite car riding pillow. We sat at a window to watch him, and he just stared at the front door of the restaurant the entire time knowing that’s where he had seen us disappear last. In fear of his impending abandonment issues, we quickly scarfed down our omelets and French toast and scurried back to the car to console him. Good news- there was no lasting trauma to his psyche.

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I won’t go into his medical problems, because frankly no of you want to hear about little poodle hineys (How do you pluralize hiney??), but I will say that we are ever so thankful to the wonderful ladies at Wise Choice here in Shreveport! They were very understanding of our wish to continue on our journey and allowed him to skip the queue of other patients to shorten our wait. BLESS YOU, ALL!

Once we arrived in the big city of Thomasville, AL, we were reminded of two things:

  1. Clarke County drivers are THE WORST. I love you people, but GEEZ!
  2. There’s a little something to be said for doing business in town where most everybody knows you. We were able to walk in the bank and directly proceed with our business. Sweet Brittany knew who we were, what we were there for, and we even shared a little conversation about her upcoming trip through S’Port. It’s the little things.

Friday evening and night were reserved for time with our friends and one of the earliest planned events for this trip. This was the first time I was able to hold Baby Ella Lee Tucker, and I’m so mad I didn’t even get a picture! 😦 I guess I was so enthralled by her petite little self and trying not to break her that it completely slipped my mind.

We had dinner at Big Mike’s Steakhouse with “my girls” Friday night and poor Seth was the only guy at the table. Fortunately, sometimes I think my friends like him more than they do me, so he’s always a hit at our social gatherings. I mean, who can’t laugh at a guy who has nicknamed himself Heavy Spaghetti and insists on ordering chocolate cake AND MILK at a steak restaurant?! This was yet another event where I forgot to take a picture, but… I did manage to snap this one of the night’s special appetizer- Big Mike’s version of poutine in celebration of Canada Day!

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SATURDAY

No rest for the weary! Saturday morning arrived bright and early, and I kicked the morning off with the Firecracker 5K color run through downtown. Thankfully, I had several supporters, because it was HOT! I just kept thinking, “Must. Keep. Running. Can’t. Let. Them. See. Me. Walk.”

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Bailey Grace and Becca were so excited to “watch Jen race.” Bless their hearts… they just don’t know their poor Aunt Jen was just trying to survive.

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This was my first color run, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I definitely didn’t expect to walk away with sweat fading all my colors into a brown blob! Haha!

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After the race and a good ol’ Hardee’s biscuit (add that to the list of things we miss about Thomasville!), we headed for the pool to cool off!

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Poor little Peanut couldn’t go swimming in the pool, because of his “issues,” so his papa just walked him around a little, and he loved it!

Since Bailey Grace’s 9th birthday was on Monday, we celebrated Saturday evening. Celebrations in Clarke County now are likely to mean Sadie’s Sweet Dreams treats and that makes for a GLORIOUS celebration! Ashley, the talented artist behind the creations is truly gifted. (I could really go for some of that cake about now…)

As we were gearing up for the party, we had some very special guests drop by. Now, these are the moments that I love to photograph, but even that is not enough to capture the emotions I feel at the time.

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When we moved to Shreveport, a portion of my excitement revolved around the idea that I would now be able to go to the grocery store and not know anyone. And no one would know me. And truthfully, that is still very relevant. I actually really like that concept. It’s not that I necessarily dislike knowing everyone like we do in Thomasville, but it has been great to live some where that relieves me of knowing everyone’s business and allows me to be my own person, as well. That being said, occasionally, I do find myself longing to run across someone I know. And in not knowing those around me on a daily basis, I’ve come to cherish moments like this even more.

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As we gathered on Jeremy’s front porch, I stepped back to get a couple of these shots and an immense appreciation for my upbringing washed over me.

Gratitude for having people like Roy and Dawn around all of my life. They were telling stories of their recent trips- travelling to move their son, Darryl, and his family to Montana to begin a life of church building then to Maine for their own missions. How lucky am I to know such wonderful people? Personally, I think any conversation had in a rocking chair is a conversation worth remembering.

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Add to the mix getting to spend time with my brother, Darren. Half-brother, true, but those are just titles, right? I always love to see his face, because he reminds me so much of our dad.

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Speaking of reminding me of our dad… I captured these later in the evening, and all I could think of was John Henson. Maybe it’s because the few memories I can still conjure of Deddy involve him and some old pickup truck- riding in it or working on it. And for Jeremy and Scott to be passing those same memories on to their children… priceless.

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I didn’t even notice they were wearing the matching caps we got them for Christmas!

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I thought this was funny, because later that night Becca tried to explain to Julie how to open a door handle like that! Ha!

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Kylee is just now reaching the age where playing is fun and boy, did those girls have fun with that bubble machine!

And, of course, there was more swimming!

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We finished the night off with one of the most American moments I’ve experienced in my 26 years (seriously, it was right up there close to visiting Pearl Harbor).

We drove into town in Jeremy’s “new” 1991 retired National Guard duty Chevrolet 3500 1 Ton, which we affectionately dubbed “The General”- Jeremy driving with Seth, Bailey Grace and Becca in the front seat, while Mama, April and myself held down the back seat. (The others were in separate cars, and I’d be willing to bet they didn’t have nearly as much fun as we did.) And as crowded as that may sound, I can assure you it was not. You know, they just don’t make them like they used to.

As we took a long slow turn onto Joe Davis Industrial Boulevard (seriously, that thing is like riding in a school bus), I leaned up and told the girls, “You know, kids, these are the moments you’ll remember when you grow up,” and I certainly hope that’s true.

We found the perfect viewing spot for the fireworks just below the water tower overlooking the shell of the building where Seth and I once worked. As we tuned in to 95.5 to join Mayor Day in the countdown to the fireworks show, I looked around me and beamed. It’s not often that we’re all together at the same time any more. We’ve scattered ourselves and lead busy lives. We’ve become our own people who think differently from each other and have greatly differing routines, but none of that mattered in that moment. The kids all standing on the back of The General, Mama on the tailgate, Jonathan with arm around Julie nearby… it was as if we had actually transported ourselves to Mayberry and in a way we had. We were “home” again.

As the fireworks lit up the sky and I leaned my head against Seth, I wanted nothing more than to freeze that moment. Johnny Cash spoke of that Ragged Old Flag in the background while fireworks exploded across the sky.

I walked through a county courthouse square
On a park bench, an old man was sittin’ there.
I said, “Your old court house is kinda run down,
He said, “Naw, it’ll do for our little town”.
I said, “Your old flag pole is leaned a little bit,
And that’s a ragged old flag you got hangin’ on it”.
He said, “Have a seat”, and I sat down,
“Is this the first time you’ve been to our little town”
I said, “I think it is”
He said “I don’t like to brag, but we’re kinda proud of
That Ragged Old Flag

The symphony of southern nightlife croaked and chirped nearby as lightening bugs flickered in our midst.

You see, we got a little hole in that flag there,
When Washington took it across the Delaware.
and It got powder burned the night Francis Scott Key sat watching it,
writing “Say Can You See”
It got a rip in New Orleans, with Packingham & Jackson
tugging at its seams.
and It almost fell at the Alamo
beside the Texas flag,
But she waved on though.
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville,
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.
There was Robert E. Lee and Beauregard and Bragg,
And the south wind blew hard on
That Ragged Old Flag

Our skin, peeking out from under blue jean shorts, tank tops, and caps- warm and damp in the balmy night air.

On Flanders Field in World War I,
She got a big hole from a Bertha Gun,
She turned blood red in World War II
She hung limp, and low, a time or two,
She was in Korea, Vietnam, She went where she was sent
by her Uncle Sam.
She waved from our ships upon the briny foam
and now they’ve about quit wavin’ back here at home
in her own good land here She’s been abused,
She’s been burned, dishonored, denied an’ refused,
And the government for which she stands
Has been scandalized throughout out the land.
And she’s getting thread bare, and she’s wearin’ thin,
But she’s in good shape, for the shape she’s in.
Cause she’s been through the fire before
and I believe she can take a whole lot more.

Reflections of red, white, blue and green explosions danced on the eyes of sweet Becca as she stood by me with intermittent “ooo’s” and “ahh’s.”

So we raise her up every morning
And we bring her down slow every night,
We don’t let her touch the ground,
And we fold her up right.
On second thought
I *do* like to brag
Cause I’m mighty proud of
That Ragged Old Flag

It is these moments that, no matter what differences or distances separate us, we feel the most like family. It is these moments that I wish could be bottled up and reopened when times get hard and the distance between Louisiana and Alabama seems like lightyears.

Sunday

Yet another early morning at the Henson household! We were up and at ’em bright and early to head out on the day’s adventures. A couple hours later and we found ourselves in Milton, Florida, for a day of canoeing!

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Passersby probably thought we were going on a weeklong excursion.

This was a first for Seth and me, as we are accustomed to our own boats, where we have complete control. Tandem canoeing took a little getting used to and greatly tested our communication skills. I think we may have finally got the hang of things by the end of the trip, so we should be set for the next one.

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This little princess had the perfect setup under the umbrella.

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She caught a minnow in a net she found in the water. This girl is afraid of NOTHING!

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Per our packed itinerary, we left from Milton, went back through Brewton, and headed to the big city of Chance, Alabama. We arrived just as Seth’s family finished dinner and began to light up the sky with their own firework show. (Thankfully, I’d like to report that fireworks don’t seem to bother Poodle Boy. He even sat at the door and watched them as they careened into the sky. Score!)

As the night progressed, the karaoke tunes began to flow. Dan, Seth’s step-dad, took the first turns at the mic, and, surprisingly, Seth took his turns at it, too. (Seth’s never been one to karaoke.) Willie Nelson, The Oak Ridge Boys, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard all brought to life on a homemade karaoke setup under the porch of a camp house near the banks of the Alabama River, accessible from a dirt road off another dirt road that can only be reached through various winding, narrow, two lane country roads. Spending time in Chance is almost like stepping back in time, and on this night, it felt especially true.

Seth’s Aunt Maudine has begun to lose her memory is recent years. She’s long forgotten who I am, and even has trouble with who Seth and his brothers are sometimes. It’s heartbreaking to witness, because ‘Dean has always been so lively and spirited. Sunday night, those tunes were able to bring the light back in her eyes, even if just for a bit. Anyone who knows ‘Dean, knows that she refuses to have her picture taken, so it was with great stealth that a few of us snapped her photo and captured video of her singing along and tapping her fingers to the Bradford/Ashcraft/Dozier rendition of Elvira. As each of the karaoke crooners noticed her enjoyment, they shifted their tunes toward old gospel hymns, and she really found her place. She sang along to “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with a smile on her face, and it was so bittersweet. For, I’m certain that on the day ‘Dean is called home, we’ll all feel a little like Johnny Cash sang about…

I said to the undertaker
Undertaker please drive slow
For this lady you are carrying
Lord I hate to see her go

Will the circle be unbroken
Bye and bye Lord, bye and bye
There’s a better home awaiting
In the sky Lord, in the sky

Oh, I followed close behind her
Tried to hold up and be brave
But I could not hide my sorrow
When they laid her in the grave

Will the circle be unbroken
Bye and bye Lord, bye and bye
There’s a better home awaiting
In the sky Lord, in the sky

But, as the lyrics say, there is a better home waiting for us all. ‘Dean has lived a loving life, and she’ll be the lucky one to reach that home when the time comes. Until then, we’ll be thankful for the time we still have with her and still keep sneaking those pictures.

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You can find video of Dozier Camp Karaoke here: https://youtu.be/v4clpC8XLpQ.

We wearily made our journey home Monday and vowed to do nothing but snuggle down once we reached our humble abode. It’s amazing how comfortable your bed is after a trip. Heavenly, I tell you. We opened the blinds and watched neighbors’ fireworks reflecting off the lake. After much debate, we gathered ourselves long enough to ride over to “our spot” (must be several other folks’ spot, as well, judging from the crowd there) overlooking Cross Lake to take in the firework show over the water. It was a beautiful ending to a memory filled, All American, southern rooted weekend. 🙂

Happy Travels, friends!

Jubilant Jennifer

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3 thoughts on “Our All-American Weekend

  1. Anna Bagley says:

    Could you just write a book on Thomasville memories!!! I felt like I was home just reading this!! Love it, I bet Chris would love it too!!

    • jenniferhbradford says:

      Oh, thank you so much! I’m just dipping my toes in the water of writing again, but I would to eventually write something a bit more concrete about our “raisin’s.” If nothing else, it helps me remember things, too.

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