Driving south from northern Virginia, as I begin the third phase of my home leave, I feel, I don’t know… The word that comes to me is decadent. It has been nearly four weeks since I departed Ciudad Juarez. Four weeks since I stopped adjudicating visas and, well, let’s be frank, since I have not been working. I have had the fabulous opportunity to travel for weeks, even months, at a time in the past. For example, after I finished my three years teaching in Japan and before starting grad school or during breaks in graduate school. But I have not taken this kind of time to travel in the United States. I sort of feel, well, guilty.
I have to remind myself I earned this time off. This time off is mandated by CONGRESS. It is OK.
Yet, I still find myself thinking more about the fall, the language class that awaits me. The language class I am sort of dreading. I think about how home leave is not exactly easy. I know, I know. How many other people will have eight weeks of paid leave this year? Not many. I do not mean it is hard in the sense that I am having a miserable time. Gosh, no. However, it does, at least to me, feel a bit strange. I am itinerant, roving, nomadic. I almost want to be in language class, moving into my temporary quarters for five months, because it is for five whole months! It is easier to buy groceries when you are in one place for five months instead of five days. C is a champion. I could not be more proud that my daughter is taking this in such stride, that she is such a good traveler. But yeah, sometimes I feel guilty about that too.
Our drive destination: New Bern, North Carolina. Before I started plotting out my home leave I had never heard of New Bern. However, my long-time friend CZ had moved to the town about six months before. She was due to have her first child in May and I wanted to spend a week hanging out with her. As I looked online for things to see and do on our visit, I discovered there is quite a lot to New Bern.
New Bern was settled in 1710 by Swiss and German Palatine immigrants and is named for Bern, Switzerland. It is the second oldest European-American colony in North Carolina and served as both the capital of the colony (from 1747) and the state (from 1789) until it was moved to Raleigh in 1794. The 1770 Tyron Palace that served as the governor’s residence was reconstructed in 1959 and is the historic center of the town. Having attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, I felt an affinity for New Bern. Williamsburg too was one of the first settlements in the state and also served as both the colony and, briefly, the state capital. Williamsburg too has a governor’s palace.
New Bern is also the birthplace of Pepsi, first invented as “Brad’s Drink” in 1893, the inventor renamed it Pepsi Cola in 1898. The original pharmacy where Caleb Bradham sold his digestion drink still stands at the corner of Middle and Pollock Streets downtown.
Additionally New Bern is also the location of the state’s oldest chartered fire department, which is also one of the nation’s oldest.
Turns out Nicholas Sparks is also a long time New Bern resident and set several of his books in or around the town, including The Notebook.
I could hardly believe I had never heard of this town! This is the beauty of home leave – the opportunity to spend time in some of the unique, beautiful, and historical places in our large and diverse country.
We visited Tryon Palace, the North Carolina History Center, the Firemen’s Museum, took the historic trolley tour and visited the Birthplace of Pepsi. Do not give me too much credit; these were toddler-driven tours. So for example, I would have loved to visit the inside of Tryon Palace. Unfortunately that is only by guided tour, lasting 45 minutes. Yeah… The woman at the North Carolina History Center ticket counter suggested we watch the eight minute long orientation video first, as many people decide if they will get the interior palace tour after watching the film. C and I walked into the film room and in less than a minute C began repeating “No movie, no movie, no movie…” So I had my answer. If I could not watch an eight minute film with her, then there was no way we would survive a 45 minute guided tour! So instead C allowed me approximately 30 minutes to circle the palace via the gardens. The 90 minute trolley tour was only possible through the magic of iPad videos. And still I missed the two stops at the historic Cedar Grove Cemetery and Christ Episcopal Church as a certain toddler in my care wanted nothing to do with them.
Yet we easily spent 45 minutes to an hour at the Birthplace of Pepsi, which is a small space including a soda fountain area where Bradham’s original pharmacy once stood and an area with Pepsi souvenirs. This is no World of Coke. But C savored her first ice cream float, one spoonful at a time.
We also went to the Aquatic Center to swim and spent the day at Atlantic Beach. We hung out with CZ at her home, C playing in the backyard pool with another friend’s son. We went out on the Trent River in CZ’s sister’s boat with her sister, brother in law, nephew, and boyfriend and saw Nicholas Spark’s home while snacking and swimming. Well, CZ swam with C as I am not keen on swimming places where the water is not clear.
It was a fantastic week.
And now I am preparing for Home Leave Phase Four. One month down and still a month to go!