Family Travels on Education Trip to D.C.
By JOANNE WHITNEY
VISITING WITH PATRICK HENRY: Adrienne Kallweit, left, and her children, Ethan, Bella and Canaan, with Adrienne’s mother and author Joanne Whitney, as they meet an interpreter of Patrick Henry in Colonial Williamsburg, Va.
Editor’s Note: This is the first part in a series about a family’s educational venture to Washington, D.C. and the historical places found in between.
My daughter’s disappointment with her children’s American History curriculum inspired a road trip of a lifetime. For one month in May of the 2013-2014 school year, an RV was our home and classroom as we traveled 4,000 miles in five states to explore the country’s beginnings.
This saga, from Tulsa to Washington, D.C., and a multitude of historical sites in between, was conducted beyond the Interstate Highways and through the roads less traveled. The children, Canaan, Ethan and Bella, experienced U.S. history up close and personal in the classroom on wheels.
My daughter Adrienne and I, the official grandmother-journalist, traversed the country with three kids feeling like pioneer women, especially when I-40 potholes turned the RV into a buckboard wagon!
Our job was to seek and find places that held stories of our nation’s basic foundation. We wanted the children to conceptualize “textbook people” of American history books like the living patriots we sought to encounter on this trip, as real people who faced unbelievable sacrifices for freedom to live and work as they chose and to perform the master-planning of the nation they wanted to build.
Because of this educational vacation, these Americans who lived between 1607 and 1900 are the ones that now live in virtuality within my grandchildren’s minds.
Adrienne’s idea was to take American history courses for each child’s grade (7th, 5th and 3rd) and put them to practical application: The Constitution; Wars-Revolutionary and Civil; Colonists; Patriots, Presidents – these were to be the core targets of our learning journey.
Her unrestricted plan of travel allowed for side-trips, adding extra miles and more gas in the tank; but as a result, the surprise discoveries were worth it, like our encounter in Colonial Jamestown, Va., with “JANE”, an English woman of the first permanent English colony in North America. “Jane” had been cannibalized; her skeletal remains were found in 2012 in a 400-year-old cellar in James Fort.
We studied what was left of Jane and shuddered to think of the agony the first American settlers experienced in choosing between starvation and cannibalism; and like “JOHN” in Colonial Williamsburg, Va. “John” is a slave character dressed in 1770s clothing representing his role as a trusted manservant. He sat with us on a bench in front of the blacksmith shop, telling stories about his relationship with his master who started a revolution against the British; “John” was a great actor, like all Colonial Williamsburg interpreters, fascinating us with “firsthand” knowledge of the American Revolution, tricking us with riddles and being a wordsmith with factual stories of his virtual everyday existence.
Encounters like these events occurred almost every day in our RV tour through Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland and in our nation’s capitol where we had the privilege of touring the White House and House of Representatives, meeting Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma’s District 4. Hon. Cole’s gracious offering of our own personal tour of the Capitol Building by his assistants was an amazing opportunity of a lifetime, especially for me, as this entire trip’s experience was at the top of my bucket list.
Departure Day, May 19, on the Muskogee Turnpike, destination Memphis: ahead were heavy gray clouds looming on the horizon, too far away to matter…then without warning a deluge engulfed the RV with sheets of rain coming down sideways, pelting us with vengeance.
Was this the indoctrination into the lifestyle of RVing? Fierce wind hurled rain against the windshield. I feared not for myself but for Adrienne whose respect for Oklahoma thunderstorms raises every squall to a potential Category F5 regardless of whether no tornado watches or warnings have been issued.
RVs don’t come with storm shelters – and all Oklahomans know that the worst place you can be if a tornado is coming is inside a car, truck, mobile home….or RV! But the fear she had was for naught; the vehicle redeemed itself by commanding the road as if it were designed specifically for the stormy challenge, rolling through a drenching downpour without so much as a drop of water inside the cozy mobile sanctuary. We cheered for our driver and the vehicle’s performance.
The kids loved the drama and didn’t notice their mother’s hands gripping the wheel so tightly that her knuckles were white and the biceps on her arms bulged as if she were wrestling an unseen force for takeover and control of the RV.
The storm lasted no longer than a blink of an eye. We safely cruised the motorhome to our first stopover, Memphis, Tenn. And what a hoot Memphis was! Read more about this epic vacation in the next issue, including what happened in Memphis, trouble in Natural Bridge, up close and personal with Patrick Henry. RVing is an education unto itself.