My family likes to take long road trips.
A couple of years ago, we drove up to Wisconsin and did the loop around Lake Michigan. Last year, we didn't have as much time, so we settled for St. Louis and Cincinnati.
But this year when school ended, Bess and I looked at our schedules and the kids' schedules and decided we had no time for a family road trip this summer.
This was, of course, depressing. What's summer without a family road trip?
Things can change fast.
Last week, Bess' Uncle Steve died after a long fight with cancer. The kids and I knew him well because nearly every time we visited Bess' extended family for a holiday or special event, Uncle Steve was there.
Uncle Steve lived in West Virginia. Bess' family lives in west Tennessee, near Memphis. This means that Uncle Steve, whom my children called "Uncle Grandpa" because of his long white ponytail, would drive 10 hours each way on his BMW motorcycle to see us several times a year.
He would always bring several tomahawks with him. Uncle Steve was a tomahawk-throwing champion and was always looking for young tomahawk-throwing talent. He'd drag a fallen tree out of the woods, line up his nieces and nephews, and give them a hands-on lesson.
Even after he became ill and lost his ponytail, Uncle Steve continued to make the trip from West Virginia, traveling the last few years in his old Cadillac.
Suddenly, he was gone.
When we heard the news, Bess and I thought the same thing: Uncle Steve thought nothing of driving more than a thousand miles to honor his loved ones.
Now we had the opportunity to do the same thing for him.
We left early Friday morning, opting to head for South Carolina and then break off toward Asheville, N.C. We drove through the mountains and then stopped for barbecue in Bristol, Tenn.
Then Virginia and West Virginia, where we switched our Pandora station to John Denver radio. You know: "West Virginia! Mountain Mama! Take me home, country roads."
Our big stop was at the New River Gorge Bridge, at 3,000 feet the longest steel single-span arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere. It soars 876 feet above the river, and when it was built in 1977 was the highest vehicular bridge in the world. Now there's a bridge in China that's nearly twice as high.
Still worth stopping for.
In Fairmont on Saturday, we said goodbye to Uncle Steve, which of course involved telling stories. In addition to being a tomahawk champion, he built his own flintlock rifle and played the role of legendary mountain man Zackquill Morgan in the summer musical at Prickett's Fort State Park.
He was a physics professor who was loved by his students, even the ones he flunked. Really, he was loved by everybody. I've never seen so many people crying at a funeral.
Then we were back on the road, heading home. We listened to the Belmont Stakes on the radio and then watched the distant mountains fade into the night.
On Sunday, we were home, and mighty glad we went. We'd honored a great guy, and we'd gotten to take a road trip after all.
Dimon Kendrick-Holmes, executive editor, firstname.lastname@example.org