Never the Same River Twice

A year ago today, Rebecca were saying goodbye to Mag and Tim Patrick Alvis as they prepared to head to the Memphis airport for their flight home to England after a month with Rebecca’s aunt and uncle, Amy and Tim Alvis. Before they left, the England Alvises said again, as the couple of times we say them during their stay, that we should come and stay with them at their home outside London.
Saturday morning, we were saying goodbye to Mag and Tim as we prepared to head home on our flight back to the States after three weeks staying with them.
Tim and Mag happened into our lives completely randomly. He struck up an online friendship with Rebecca’s uncle after looking on Facebook to see who had the same name as he. When they found out last year that we were coming to London for the honeymoon, they offered to show us around one day, and gave us tickets to the Tower of London as a wedding present. A couple of months later, they were in the US visiting Rebecca’s family, and a year later we were staying with them in England. And their campsite in France.
We owe the trip entirely to them, both for hosting us and for encouraging us to do it; we would never have thought to undertake something like this on our own, but it was an amazing experience. So we’re incredibly grateful for those reasons that they happened into our lives. But we’re also grateful they happened into our lives because we’re so glad we have gotten to know them.
On the honeymoon, they were basically the first people we really spent any time with after the wedding, and we could not have asked for a better couple to be around as newlyweds. After half a century together, Tim and Mag seemed like newlyweds themselves. We got that impression immediately in that first day together last year, but staying with three weeks confirmed that not only was that first impression accurate, it was, if anything, understatement. I hope that we can age together so well.
They were incredibly gracious hosts to us, and did so much to make sure our trip was amazing. We loved getting to spend time with them (and the interesting folks they introduced us to).
Last year, on the honeymoon, we took a tour boat with them on the Thames as we were sightseeing. Two months later, we were on a boat with the same couple on the Mississippi, which seemed a rare and special thing. A couple of weeks ago, we were on a boat with them on the Seine.
I hope that someday we can find ourselves on a boat with them on some new river somewhere else in the world.

Walking The Great War

The first year I did the Maple Hill Cemetery Stroll, I portrayed the second governor of Alabama, Thomas Bibb. The second year, the regular Bibb portrayer returned, and so I was assigned a new character.
To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the change. Bibb was a more fun story than Turner Mayes, a local man who died in World War I, and I felt that I’m not the greatest fit for the character — I’m twice his age and twice his mass. But for the last three years, while I’ve occasionally checked on the availability of other characters, I’ve tried to do the best by Turner I could.
I was surprised by how immediate and present the Great War was during our trip, particularly the week we spent in France. I had an academic understanding of where and when and how the war was fought, but it did nothing to prepare me for how it had touched and scarred every where we went. There was perhaps more awareness in these centennial years, but the reminders and effects are permanent.
It had a particular impact visiting the site where the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” armistice that ended World War I was signed; at the museum there we saw images and artifacts of the war from throughout France. My travels did not take me to the places Turner walked, but here I saw where he had been. Between the places I visited and the things I saw there, and the stories of the family I stayed with, for whom the war had cost relatives only two generations back, Turner’s story became a little more real. A little more concrete. A little more visceral.
I won’t be asking about a different character for the Stroll this year. If I portray Turner Mayes for as long as I do the Stroll, it will still be the smallest token of deserved respect and gratitude.

Me and Rocket Engine 2059

Back in 2006, I drove down to Florida to watch the shuttle launch. It didn’t. A year and a half later, I drove back down again. The shuttle didn’t launch again. And this was in the wake of unsuccessful launch viewing attempts my dad took me to as a kid.
And then, back in 2009, I went down to see the launch of the STS-125 Hubble servicing mission. I had the best seat I ever had or would have for a shuttle launch attempt. And it flew! Like, right there, with me watching, the shuttle left Earth and headed into space. It was, too put it lightly, rather cool.
In the couple of years between then and the end of the program, I made several more trips down to Florida. I left without seeing a launch more times, and I saw more launches, including the final flight of the shuttle. But STS-125 was special for being the first.
Though I had no clue about such things at the time, one of the three engines that powered Atlantis that day was RS-25 number 2059. Honestly, to me, an engine was an engine until two years ago, when I had the opportunity to get within a foot of an engine that will fly on SLS during a tour of Stennis Space Center. I looked up which engine it was, and realized that we had history.
I was back at Stennis this week, and had an opportunity I’d never gotten before — to actually go up in the stand where the SLS engine tests are conducted. And the most-recently tested engine was still in the stand, and I got to stand right next to it again. And, of course, it was 2059, an old friend by now.
I don’t know when I’ll see 2059 again, but I hope to have as good a seat for its next launch as when I saw it seven years ago next week. The next time 2059 flies, it will be on the second launch of SLS, the first to carry astronauts; 2059 will help propel Orion’s first crew farther from Earth than anyone has ever traveled.
And I’ll be able to say I knew it back when…