Friday, March 27, 2015

Among the Palmettos

Among the Palmettos 

By John W. Vander Velden


I would like to say a great deal of planning and prep had been used in the weeks and months prior our annual escape.  And yes, some internet work, hotel booking, and maps took shape, but with our minds wrapped up in so many things…well….  Jackie offered a list of possibilities.  I picked South Carolina.  I had never been to South Carolina before.  Seemed a good enough reason, don’t you think.  We usually fly on these long trips, but Jackie had a sight that called her, the Biltmore Estate, so a road trip.  The dip in gas prices took a bit of bite out of that cost, and so we left on a foggy Saturday morning in March’s mid.

Those that drive this broad country know just how large a piece of real estate it is, and first days come before a person has grown accustomed to long hours in the saddle.  I felt grateful to reach our first hotel in Morrisville, TN after ten hours behind the wheel.  We spent our Sunday in Asheville, NC, joined in the afternoon by Jackie’s nephew and his family that had driven some distance to meet us.  A great time of good weather, family fun, as we wandered Biltmore Village, and too much great food, made a time we will cherish.

Now if you haven’t been to the Biltmore…well…these words won’t really cover it.  We have all heard the phrase, “No expense spared”, in the case of the Biltmore Estate, it fits.  An example: the third room we were shown, the Biltmore has 255, could very nearly hold our house…three times.  That is set side by side, on the floor.  That room, a banquet hall, had a vaulted ceiling that towered seven stories overhead.  The space was beyond imagination.  But then everything about that house was bigger than life…or at least any life I ever hope to live. 

Now here was the rub.  We waked into this beautiful grand place, with me carrying a camera, of course, and were met by a sign that told us that photography in the building was prohibited…oooohhhh!!!  My mind was wrapped up with which angles I would use and how the light played, the magnificent architecture, windows, and art everywhere…and…oooohhhh!  How my fingers itched.  But I was good…frustrated but good.  I photographed outdoors, a lot.  

Now if you are going to the Biltmore, I offer two hints.  1:  buy your tickets before hand, and 2: plan to use the day.  This is one place you should not rush through.  You can wander around the house on your own, providing you move along the marked route going the marked direction.  No peaking in the closets here.  But the edifice is an amazing use of Indiana limestone, thousands upon thousands of tons of limestone.

We ate lunch in a horse barn.  Actually it was the Stable Restaurant, a nice place, situated in a building with gift shops, a book store, and a sweet shop.  We spent the remainder of our visit strolling the gardens and grounds on a beautiful afternoon.

Charleston was our next stop, as we officially roamed the Palmetto State.  The town was old
Charleston's Pineapple Fountain is a symbol of welcome
to visitors of the city.
and by and large the traffic was crazy.  We spent our day there wandering the historical district, seeing the old grand homes and stately churches.  An interesting place we intend to return one day.  A visit to Patriots Point nearby offered us the opportunity to move about the three warships there.  The USS Yorktown CV-10, an aircraft carrier, impressed us with its size.  The USS Laffey a destroyer was much smaller, but not nearly as compact as the submarine USS Clamagore whose crewmembers slept among the torpedoes.

Southward next to Beaufort, just across the water from Hilton Head Island.  Beaufort is the second oldest town in the state.  Like to guess which is older?  Well, Charleston of course.  Our hotel was downtown, in the historic section.  We found ourselves surrounded by large old homes on the waterfront.  A short drive south to Hunting Island brought us to the only lighthouse on this getaway.  The Hunting Island Light was built to be moved, which it was only fourteen years after its first construction.  The beach is shrinking even today and it might need to be moved again.  It was a rainy morning so the pictures will not be impressive, but I did climb to the top and braved the rain on the catwalk.

A drive up and around and over some bridges took us at last to Hilton Head Island.  For the most part Hilton Head is an exclusive area and we did not have the time to spend the money to become “included” in that corner of the world.  All the same it was fun to get just a “taste” of the place.

Our final destination in the Palmetto State was Myrtle Beach.  The weather had cleared…no, the weather was fantastic, in the seventies with blue skies and sun.  Our hotel on South Beach…I mean it was on the beach with a grand view of the Atlantic.  Walking on the beach made the perfect climax to our week away.  When we watched the sunrise Saturday morning, we knew, sadly, we must leave the palmettos behind and begin the long drive home to where winter might have left the calendar but not our world…entirely.

We enjoyed our time in South Carolina, the Palmetto State, and hope to return…soon!  

Could we go on vacation and not play a bit of Put-Put?

Friday, March 13, 2015



By John W. Vander Velden


The strengthening sun has not yet eliminated winter’s last snows from our memory.  Yet each day tells that a new season approaches.  The song of the Redwing verifies that the harshest days have passed.  Each day the Maple buds swell, soon the grand trees will have new attire -- dressed among other hardwoods in a thousand shades of green.  And we notice the tiny shoots along the roadsides that have forced their way through the brown mat of last year’s remnants, a certain sign that spring is near. 

Winter has released its last roar and the fullness of the lamb grows with each day.  Seasons come, this we know, but they are forced surrender to the next, the sequence continues.  Each day a stride in the year’s journey.  Each day a unique parcel of a week, a month, a season – of our lives.  The year’s snow may be in our past but those days have shaped our todays and made us, oh so ready, for the new season’s challenges. I will not deny that winter’s harshness brings burdens, but contend those burdens build strength, and make spring the delight we anticipate on those long frigid days.  

From where I stand, between drifting snow and daffodil’s glory, I remember dreary overcast skies, biting wind, and shoveling white stuff, but I can almost hear the robin’s morning herald, smell the apple blossoms fresh scent, and the taste fresh red strawberries sweetness.  Spring is barely beyond my grasp.   So it is difficult to remember that each day, winter’s cold, summer’s heat, fall’s colors or spring’s delights offer challenges and rewards.  That each day contains wonders worthy of our appreciation.  Today is always the best day we have – at the moment.  We should do more than simply hope for finer days, but take our “now” to its upmost. So I wish you, a happy today!

(311 Words)

Friday, March 6, 2015

How Do You Measure A Person?

How Do You Measure a Person?                 3-2-2015

By John W. Vander Velden
Some would say my father was a tall man.  I would not disagree.  But the trees of the wood do not seem as tall as the lonely oak, and my father found himself surrounded by a grove of those with height.  He grew up among the tall, the strong.  The clan that formed here in this country has many taller than even he.  But Jacob Vander Velden’s height could be measured in ways other than the ruler.  Only he could have predicted the heights he achieved in his eighty years, and yet they were heights he never fully realized what he had reached.  If he had the fear of failure, he never showed that side to his children, as time and again setbacks took his family to the brink.  My father thought larger than I -- dreamed bigger than most -- and worked harder than anyone except perhaps my mother.  He considered the family a team, each a player of importance.  Some accepted their place in that group, some, for a time, rebelled.  But each of us, as we matured, were given freedom, the same type of freedom he had set out in 1948 to find.  He placed upon us few demands other than integrity and a willingness to work for our own dreams.  You see my father understood dreams and the effort required.    Farming required a strong man.  Thousands of times I witnessed my father’s prowess, whether strength needed to roll over a downed cow, hang ballast weights on a tractor, or to handle thousands of hay bales.  The daily efforts demanded, made the tall man broad as well.

My father was a man of self-reliance, who believed in respect and fairness.  He stood by a code that seems fading in modern society.  He lived his values, and from watching, we learned lessons far beyond words.  Faith was as much a part of him as the air he breathed.  He did not wear his faith on his sleeve or some metal on a puffed chest, but those that knew him, really knew him, saw a man that understood God in ways few can, for his world was intertwined in life’s and death’s realities.  The recognition of beginnings and endings, of season’s arrivals and departures, of success and failures, of standing upright and being knocked prone, life’s lessons taught, and he saw God in it all.  

We may remember our parents in rosy views, to focus on the finest, which may be best.  But the honest recognize the failings as well.  My father was not a perfect man.  Times of anger and loud frustration are part of his history.  His lack of patience was obvious.  The inability to completely accept a changing world and the changes it brought to his family, haunted him.  The constant frustration with the disease that ate away the physical abilities, brought depression, and that depression burdened all near.  Though he fought MS constantly, he viewed each set back as a personal failure, a loss of field position in that life and death war.  No, Jacob J. Vander Velden was not perfect, he was but a man.

So how do you measure a person?  If you were to use a yardstick to measure my father by his height, six foot three would be a tall man.  But if you use that stick to measure him, the good and the bad, then you would find that he was tall in every way.  I only hope that one day, I will measure up…

(585 Words)