You are not going to believe this.
I had been feeling a bit peaky before setting out on my journey to Gettysburg, but I was determined. I went ahead and made the trip.
Since Jenni, my usual traveling partner, was away in Europe, I was forced to rise to the occasion (okay, I admit it, I’m spoiled), getting the rental car in Baltimore, calculating the route to Gettysburg (God bless Google Maps), making the relatively short drive to my favorite Pennsylvania town. I spent the first night at the Gettysburg Hotel, a favorite place to stay when I visit, and had supper at the Pub, which is just across the street. So far, so good. I slept well and, the next morning, headed for Gettysburg College to register for the Civil War Institute. I was given paper work and keys to the dorm–ah, the dorm. Therein, my friends, lies a tale.
In my younger years, I was an adventurous traveler. I once flew to Bangkok, checked into a hotel, and flew on to Chang Mai bright and early the next morning, to ride elephants–pretty good, when you consider that a year before that, I had never driven myself to an airport OR to the local mall. I have hauled luggage up and down stairs in Rome’s train station, sailed on the Sea of Galilee, caught a glimpse of Princess Diana on a London street, ridden battered buses up (and down) narrow, winding mountain roads in Costa Rica, seen prostitutes dance in the storefront windows of Amsterdam. Those were the days.
It often escapes me that I have aged. That being the case, I didn’t give a second thought to the word ‘dorm’ in the Institute’s materials. How bad could it be? I paid a little extra for a ‘private room’ in a suite with a kitchen. Since I graduated from high school, I have been what you might call self-educated. I didn’t get around to going to college for a variety of reasons.
I found my dorm room and, okay, I was a little taken aback by how small it was. I figured most prison cells are probably more spacious, but what the heck. I was on an adventure. There was no elevator, it was hot and humid, and if there is air-conditioning in the dorm, I could not detect it. The bed was low and narrow, with a foam mattress about six inches thick. I had a closet and a desk and ONE electrical outlet. (I must admit, this surprised me, given that today’s college student typically arrives with a wide range of electronic equipment in need of regular recharging.) I brought up one suitcase, as my larger one was so heavy, I couldn’t wrap my brain around the concept of getting it up those stairs. I decided I would leave it in the car and get fresh clothes as needed. (What? No bellmen? No room service? No coffeepot? Hey, I told you I’m spoiled!)
I made up the little bed with its ill-fitting sheets and dashed to Walmart for the other things that are implied by the term ‘dorm’–towels, a private supply of Kleenex, etc. I purchased two pairs of shorts as well, knowing I would not survive the Pennsylvania heat in my ranch-wear–jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers. At 4 o’clock, I attended the orientation program. Afterward, I went to dinner with my dear friends, Joe and Janet Wahl and Sandy Pennesse. It was after I’d crawled into bed that the malaise kicked in in earnest. I tossed and turned, coughing, my chest aching, unable to breathe well when I was lying flat. I woke after a (very) fitful night lying on the bare plastic mattress cover, with the sheets twisted every which way. (Did I mention that, for five women, there was one toilet and one shower stall?) And that is when it hit me: Cowgirl, you are definitely sick.
I grabbed what might have been the last available hotel room in Gettysburg, this being the high season for tourists. Then I packed up and left the dorm, heading back downtown. It was too early to check into the new room, and I needed breakfast, sick or not. After eating, I texted Sandy, who immediately came and gathered me up, took me to Urgent Care, sat with me throughout the two-hour wait to be seen. I was given meds and told what I already knew: if I tried to attend the classes I’d planned on, I risked 1) infecting the several hundred other participants and 2) getting much, much sicker than I already was. I was too ill to make the long trip home, even if I could have changed my tickets. Sandy and I picked up my prescriptions and met Janet and Joe for lunch. I was really flagging by then, but I enjoyed the food and the company. Do you know what those kind people did for me? Sandy and Janet drove me straight to the hotel, made sure I got checked in, and told me to REST and text them if I needed anything at all. Joe, meanwhile, God bless him forever, fetched my car from a lot on the other side of town, drove it to the hotel, AND carried all my baggage upstairs. Just more proof of my belief that God looks after us in every situation, if we ask. I had my own crew of guardian angels: Sandy, Janet and Joe.
After a night in a real bed, with sheets that stayed put, not to mention a nice bath, I felt a bit better. Yes, I would miss my classes, but I was still in Gettysburg, after all, and that is a place I love to be. Sometimes, you just have to ‘cut your losses and run’, as my old daddy used to say.
In the days to come, I made short forays into the surrounding area with Sandy, who, as a resident of Gettysburg, showed me a side of the place I had never seen, even after many visits. We would spend 3 or 4 hours out, then I would go back to my room and rest. I shopped, of course–Gettysburg has a great outlet mall, and it happened to be just down the road from my hotel. I love to visit the Chico’s outlet especially, and this year I bought summer shoes to replace the ones Mowgli had chewed to bits. I even sprang for new bras–I realized I didn’t own a single white one, and there were doggy-teeth marks in some of the old favorites. (Ah, yes, I lead such a glamorous life!) Janet returned from her home in New Jersey, and the three of us had a ball, lunching at outdoor cafes, checking out shops, and talking about the books and writers we love.
The meds did their work, and I was feeling pretty much back to normal when it was time to retrace my path to the rental car place, with the robot woman on Google Maps giving me turn-by-turn directions. I dreaded this drive, to be truthful, but except for one near-miss, when I almost sideswiped a van changing lanes in all that Baltimore-Washington traffic, the trip went just fine. (Thank you, angels. I’m sure the driver of that van is grateful, too.)
At each point, there was someone to offer help when I needed it. Polite young men hoisted my suitcases on and off the shuttle bus, for instance.
I had quite a long wait at the airport, so I decided to make good use of the time. I had a much-needed manicure/pedicure, read, window-shopped and looked back over my adventure that almost wasn’t.
You know what they say about the best laid plans. In this life, we have to be adaptable.
What did I learn? Many things. Most notably, that good friends are the best possible blessing.
Thank you, Sandy, Janet and Joe.
And thank you, my angels, visible and invisible. For all the unexpected twists and turns, it was a wonderful trip.