Thanksgiving with family in Birmingham, Alabama… A tragedy in three acts
Act 1: Saddle Up!
The first thing you need to know about Thanksgiving around our house is that Naomi was born in Kettering. Right up the freeway, just before you get to Dayton. If her family had remained in Kettering after she came bouncing into the world, then visiting the Grandparents would not be a Demillesque production number. It would be easy. We’d see them all the time. Perhaps too easy. Love him as we do, prolonged exposure to my Father-in-law has been clinically proven to drive me up the wall.
Instead, Tom Nelson took a job with Vulcan Materials in Birmingham, Alabama, whisked his young family there , found the right kind of Lutheran Church and settled down. Tom, an economist, still works for Vulcan in some way I do not for the life of me understand. And he still lives in the same house he and his late wife Carol raised their three brilliant children in. He remarried a few years ago to Maizie, the choir director at church and a delightfully cheerful woman who dotes on all of her grand-kids, even the ones she just got when she moved in with Tom. Together they form the team of “Oma and Papa” and the Hellions love them to death.
Now the Girl’s other siblings live out west, in Seattle and Boise respectively. This makes it really hard to get the whole family together for anything. Last year we all flew to Seattle for X-mas, so I got to do Thanksgiving here. No such luck this year. So we piled all three kids, 2 1/2 suitcases, a portable crib, a cooler, a bag of pretzel rods (the best car snack ever!), and 2 adults into the Blotzmobile and headed south on Tuesday.
Normally the trip to Birmingham takes about 8 hours. Before we were blessed with children we might be able to make 7. With kids figure closer to 9 1/2. We decided to get cute this time and cut the trip up into parts. On Tuesday Abby had school. Carolina had her Lil Lions and Munchkin Music classes at the YMCA. Linus had some serious drooling to do. So we leave Cincinnati around lunchtime. Which means we immediately stop for lunch. It’s fast food hamburgers, so I lobby for Wendy’s since they make the only fast food hamburger I feel is worth eating, The Baconator. the primary virtue of the Baconator, beyond the obvious bacon-ey goodness, is that it is the only fast food burger I can get that I can guarantee will not come with a fucking pickle. Because I hate fucking pickles. I don’t want any fucking pickles anywhere near my hamburgers. The Baconator fulfils this duty. Pay close attention… the pickle thing makes a return in act 3.
The plan was to drive down to Chattanooga, Tennessee. There we could get dinner, grab a hotel , entertain the kids the next day, and get into B-Ham by 6pm Wednesday. The trip down went off pretty well. The Girl did all the driving, because she’s a better driver than me of course. She does drive like a maniac, but she’s better at it so it evens out.
Girl and Boy had stopped in Chattanooga a few years ago and found its downtown riverfront to be quite charming. We were especially impressed with the Tennessee Aquarium, so I was really looking forward to taking the Hellions there. Good Idea, because not only was it still WAY COOL, but they have recently (within the last few years) doubled the aquarium’s size !!!
I was impressed initially with what they call “The River Journey”, pictured to the left. You enter and take an elevator to the top floor. The displays then follow a mountain stream from the Smoky Mountains, down to the Tennessee River, then out to the Gulf of Mexico. So you see Otters and Brook Trout, then the same tank goes down 2 floors so you can see all the different levels of the river. The Gulf of Mexico tank, also 2 stories tall, is just awesome.
The other building, the bigger building, is centered around one gint tank meant to replicate a reef off the Texas coast. It is also a top to bottom experience, starting you off with one of those cool new “touch” tanks where you can molest a shark or stingray. I’m ambivalent about these things, at least I will until I see someone fall in, then they will immediately become my favorite zoological displays ever.
The kids had a BLAST the whole time there. I give it 2 fins up. If you get a chance to stop there, do so. Next on my list… The Georgia Aquarium. (They have WHALE SHARKS!!!).
On the recommendation of my buddy Kevin, we ate at Sticky Fingers BBQ, which was really yummy, even though my Acid Reflux acted up and made me miserable for the rest of the day. We packed the kids back into the car after that, said good bye to Chatanooga (we’ll be back, we left a Creative Discovery Museum unexplored). Three more painful hours and we were in Birmingham… and ready for Act 2. (are you?)