This trip really began with three graduations and a retirement. That is not quite "Four Weddings and a Funeral", but perhaps close. The first graduation was my son Judson's last May. He graduated with a Ph.D. in physical chemistry and proceeded on to a nice job in a research lab in New York. Since he had a good salary and a very nice wife to keep him on track, I figured I didn't have to seriously worry about him anymore.
Last fall my son Martin finished up his Ph.D. in physics. He signed on for a post-doctoral research position at a government lab near Chicago. Since he had two cats and a girlfriend to keep him on track and was doing things I couldn't possibly understand but getting them published in physics journals, I figured I didn't have to seriously worry about him anymore. But I certainly wanted to attend his graduation, which was scheduled for mid May.
That fall I also decided to retire from the university and travel. The university gave me a leave, which allowed me to start traveling, but first I wanted to be sure that Jeff, my last doctoral student, completed his Ph.D. Jeff finished his final oral defense in early January and became a research scientist for the for a government research lab. Since he also had a nice wife to keep him on track, I figured I didn't have to seriously worry about him anymore either. That left me free to travel to Florida in the winter (see Wanderung 1) and Germany in the spring (see Wanderung 2), but my retirement party was scheduled at the end of the academic year on May 14. Naturally I had to come back for that and Jeff's hooding ceremony on May 15, and I also had to get to Martinís graduation on the following weekend.
I shared my retirement party with John, a colleague of over 25 years at the university, and we had a blast. Debbie, my research partner for many years, arranged a very nice fete that featured impromptu speeches by students and faculty about our careers. Ted, another of us old-timers, said that altho John and I were different in many ways, he had come to realize over the years that we were both basically storytellers, both in the classroom and out of it. Surely itís true that I always enjoyed putting things together and explaining how it all worked in the classroom or in seminars. Maybe thatís why I still feel compelled to write stories except now these are the stories of our travelsóhard to say.
In any case, the outpouring of affection from the students and expressions of respect from our colleagues was really heart-warming. It was a good way to say good-bye to everyone I had known and worked with for so long. John and I had somewhat different goals for retirement. John planned on moving down to North Carolina and enjoying some well-earned peace and quiet. I, on the other hand, planned on bouncing around the world seeing whatever is over the next hill, taking pictures of it all, and then writing stories to bore everyone with!
Hooding Jeff at the graduation convocation ceremony the next day was of course very poignant for me because it marked the last graduate student I would probably guide thru the Ph.D. process. I enjoyed meeting Jeff's wife and parents again and they expressed their appreciation of my efforts, but truly as with most Ph.D.s it represented a huge effort and investment by Jeff. So we all congratulated him and they went off to celebrate while I went home to finish packing for our trip. My haste was driven by the fact that the first leg was the drive to Illinois for Martin's graduation ceremony and we had to be there by Saturday. Basically our strategic plan was to start with Martinís graduation in Illinois and then loop out to the Rocky Mountains via the Missouri River and Yellowstone, catch a Volksmarch walking convention in Colorado, visit my brother in Albuquerque, and then return along the old Route 66 corridor to Chicago. Not knowing exactly how long this would be, we prepared for our departure by packing all our camping gear and as much food as we could into the truck.
We drove all day Friday and that allowed us to get to the central part of Illinois early enough on Saturday that we could stop off in Arcola, Illinois, for a Volksmarch. Little did we realize that by pure coincidence this was Arcola's big day to celebrate Raggedy Ann and Andy. We saw Raggedy Anns everywhere, including many tots dressed up like Raggedy Ann. They also provided Raggedy Ann plays and skits plus a variety of other entertainment such as an illusionist.
Martin came down from Champaign to join us for the walk, so we had a nice chance to chat with him while we wandered around Arcola. The total length of this Volksmarch was 10 kilometers and since Arcola is only a moderate-sized town we had to loop around first to the north side of town and then to the south side of town to walk the distance. Each time we circled back by Main Street the Raggedy Ann festival was still going full swing, and when we finally pulled out to drive up to our hotel in Bloomington, a minivan hovering nearby immediately claimed our parking spot!
Martin drove with us to Bloomington where we joined Judson and Sarah who had driven down from Midway Airport in Chicago. We were all hungry, so we chose Ned Kelly's Steakhouse for dinner, which provided large portions of everything and in particular any entrťe that featured beef! I'm afraid we got a bit rowdy, which often seems to happen when we get together as a family, but of course things quieted down when the food came and we were all busy eating. After dinner Martin returned to his old co-op in Urbana for the night while the rest of us stayed in hotel rooms that Sarah had booked in Bloomington. It was a nice place with really good decaffeinated coffee as well as nice rooms, and my only regret was not being able to try out the indoor pool or the hot tub. I have a soft spot for hot tubs as they have soothed many a sore muscle after a day of walking, so I always regard them with the warmest affection!
We slept in a bit Sunday morning but were up in time to have breakfast with Judson and Sarah before we all drove over to the co-op to join Martin. After a spot of lunch we dropped him off at the Assembly Hall, parked, and found some really good seats for taking pictures and movies--did I mention I had a movie camera this trip also? Altho some faculty become rather blasť about these things, I enjoyed sitting thru these last three graduation ceremonies. Watching Martin walk across the stage to get his degree was the culmination of his education. You just can't be prouder than I am of my sons!
Naturally afterwards we all went out to celebrate by having a nice dinner at Carlos O'Kelleys--something of a tradition for our family that just kind of grew over time. I think things like that often get established in family traditions, sometimes in rather surprising or quite coincidental ways. In any event, we had the centerpiece on the table, graduation balloons, a pen set and laser pointer for Martin, and the coup de grace, a singing hamster dressed in graduation garb. The battery-powered hamster sang some congratulatory song in a high, piping voice and shook its arms and swiveled its hips in time with the singing--you'd have to see it to believe it. We all dissolved into gales of laughter.
After dinner Martin had to drive home to finish up some work up at the lab, which was fortunately only a little over an hour's drive back to Chicago. We spent the rest of the evening chatting with Judson and Sarah, but we all turned in early so that they could drive up and see Martin's new apartment the next morning before catching their flight back home. Monika and I, of course, were enjoying one last night's sleep on a real, comfortable bed before taking off for our Rocky Mountain Ramble, which would involve many weeks in a flimsy nylon tent sleeping on an air mattress!Copyright 2004 by Robert W. Holt and Elsbeth Monika Holt