Thanksgiving--Road trip to Pennsylvania

We drove 600 miles to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and her family. Eastward across Michigan, down through the northern edge of Ohio, past Pittsburgh and into central Pennsylvania. All the miles rolling past the car window. The dry fields of late autumn, tinged now and then with snow. Bare-limbed trees, and then groups of trees still clothed in warm, russet browns. All the rivers we crossed. Fog over the rivers. All the spaces of the Midwest. This is what I love being reminded of: all the bare space in America, the cities just isolated islands of population in a vast sea of fields and rivers and interconnecting highways.

Then fields giving way to rolling, russet-clad hills. Pennsylvania—what I’ve seen of it--is beautiful.

Travel is broadening, they say, and how is it that only on this trip did I learn that Pennsylvanians put French fries in their sandwiches? It’s a Pittsburgh thing, my sister explained. And I learned that gas stations in Pennsylvania are known for their food; the Turkey Hill gas station by my sister’s house has its own line of ice cream and other foods in the attached convenience store and a chain of gas stations called Sheetz is famous for its sandwiches (and yes, you can order those sandwiches with fries inside them. The meatball sandwich with fries is okay; the macaroni cheese platters are completely bizarre, and I do not recommend).

We had some of the best Chinese food of our lives in a place we would not have expected: a little working-class town in mid-Pennsylvania, in a restaurant housed in a historical turn-of-the-century home that was once a bed-and-breakfast. He in Middletown, PA caters to the Chinese students attending the local branch of Penn State University and it shows. The menu items are listed first in Chinese, then English; the English descriptions are minimal. You sit at the table but order by smart phone; the juxtaposition of high tech with the historical décor is amusing. “Moburgers” are a type of sandwich which consist of braised pork or cumin-spiced beef stuffed between pita-like flatbread. Both types were good, and the cumin beef version was very reminiscent of Middle Eastern food to me. Ants Go Marching was minced pork on slippery vermicelli noodles, savory and comforting. Husband ordered the homestyle comfort-food eggs-and-tomatoes for the table: the eggs were cooked as a single omelet rather than scrambled and doused with a deliciously sweet sauce of tomatoes. My sister ordered her favorite, the Spicy Noodle Soup. I tried it and can report that it is indeed spicy, and worth the sinus-clearing spoonfuls: delightfully complex, spicy and greasy and savory and good.

And then there were the hours spent just holed up in my sister’s lovely home, watching all our children tear through the house, giggling and shouting and playing their own mysterious, impenetrable games. Drinking tea, and watching her husband cook (a foodie like my own husband), eating and washing up and then eating more.

Roller skating in a little mom-and-pop old roller rink (which was actually all of us just shuffling around on skates near the walls, save Youngest Cousin who fearlessly just took off across the rink). Fresh cake doughnuts at Duck Doughnuts, made-to-order and glazed and topped with your choice of flavors. A trip to Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg, a wonderful, sprawling independent bookstore housed in a series of interconnected old buildings, one of which was once a cinema. My youngest daughter got the best souvenir of the trip there, when she came across the beautiful new omnibus edition of Ursula LeGuin’s entire Earthsea chronicles and stories, illustrated by Charles Vess. A true doorstopper of a book, the size and weight of an old-time dictionary. She had never read the Earthsea books before, although I’d mentioned them to her and her sister. She was drawn first by the red dragon on the cover. I bought it for her (and for myself, of course), and she devoured A Wizard of Earthsea and most of the Tombs of Atuan over the next two days. She is reading the last book of the first Earthsea chronicles, The Farthest Shore, even as I write this.

Just a few days to see and explore and be with family.

And then back again across that expanse of land, the open road. Service stations on the Ohio turnpike. Long lines for gas, the food courts crowded, long lines before the Starbucks and Quizno’s and other chain restaurants. All the mass of humanity on the move, returning from Thanksgiving celebrations far and wide. All colors, all ethnicities, even in the supposedly homogeneous “white” Midwest. All of us going home.


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