A rekindled love for the land of liberty

Jennifer Cohron
Posted 7/1/16

I called it our all-American couple’s road trip.

Zac and I traveled 1,300 miles through five states in three days, crossed three major rivers, visited two state capitals and toured two presidential libraries.

The latter was the inspiration …

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A rekindled love for the land of liberty

Posted

I called it our all-American couple’s road trip.

Zac and I traveled 1,300 miles through five states in three days, crossed three major rivers, visited two state capitals and toured two presidential libraries.

The latter was the inspiration for our summer vacation.

Last year, Zac and I took a day trip to the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta, the closest of the 13 presidential libraries administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.

I was hooked from the first exhibit about the Carter family peanut farm and almost immediately started lobbying for a trip to Dallas, home of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

When we were mapping out the route, we decided to go a little out of the way to see the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock.

I was only 6 when Clinton was elected, but for some reason I remember the “Weekly Reader” covering his inauguration that my first grade teacher posted in our classroom. That was the first time that I recall knowing that I had a president.

The drive to Arkansas took us across the Mississippi River. Zac and I stopped for a selfie and accidentally sank knee-deep in Mississippi mud.

Clinton’s museum is located in a beautiful spot on the Arkansas River. The Clinton Foundation also helped fund LED lighting for three bridges that connect downtown Little Rock on one side of the river to North Little Rock on the other side.

Zac and I spent our evening watching the bridges change colors from a walking path in Riverfront Park.

One fun fact about the Clinton Presidential Center is that it is one of 11 sites in the United States to receive a sapling from the chestnut tree that was outside Anne Frank’s window in the Secret Annex. Anne’s beloved tree was over 170 years old when it succumbed to disease and a windstorm in 2010. The saplings are all that remain.

The highlight of the Bush library was the exhibit of two beams from the World Trade Center.

The beams are surrounded by a series of panels bearing the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

As I approached the beams, the docent assured me that the beams were not a sculpture, a mistake that several visitors had apparently made earlier in the day.

“This first panel here is the names of all the first responders who died,” she continued.

I stopped her before she could finish her prepared speech.

“Wait, where are the first responders?” I asked.

I was in high school on 9/11. I’ve seen the footage and read the figures countless times. Until I was staring at a wall engraved with hundreds of names and tried to wrap my mind around the idea that those were just the men and women in uniform who didn’t make it home that day, I couldn’t comprehend the loss of life.

The Bush library also got my vote for the best special exhibit, which typically are only loosely connected to the president whose name is on the building and that change several times during the course of the year.

Right now, the Bush library is hosting “Path to the Presidency.”

Zac and I got to make our own campaign posters and learn fun facts, such as that the record for most handshakes in a day — 13,392 — was set by Bill Richardson in the 2002 New Mexico gubernatorial race.

The exhibit also featured a little game called “Who Can Vote?” As we entered, Zac and I each picked up a card that assigned us an identity. He was a free but poor white man who didn’t own property, and I was a female from Pennsylvania.

Several ballot boxes for significant presidential elections were situated around the room, and you could cast your vote for the candidate of choice but only if the person you were representing had been granted the right to vote.

Zac cast his vote for Andrew Jackson in 1828, but I had to walk by several ballot boxes before I could show my support for the Cox-Roosevelt ticket in 1920.

As an American female born in the late 20th century, I have never had to justify my right to participate in America’s political process. Walking down that row of ballot boxes and knowing that my husband’s voice would be heard but mine wouldn’t made my blood boil.

I’ve voted in nearly every primary and general election since I turned 18, but I will admit that I have sat out one or two. After my experience that day, I will never do so again.

While the presidential libraries were our destination, the road trip also gave us a chance to see America. We took back roads instead of the interstate as much as possible so we could get a better feel for each area.

In addition to the two rivers I have already mentioned, we stopped at the Red River, made famous in our house by “Lonesome Dove.”

We also saw rows of crops, most of which we couldn’t identify, in northern Mississippi and Arkansas. I took a photo of a cornfield in Oklahoma and a crop duster just outside Little Rock.

When we passed through the tiny town of Foreman, Arkansas, home of country singer Tracy Lawrence, we played “Texas Tornado,” our favorite of his songlist from the 1990s.

When we drove home from Dallas on our final day, we got off the interstate in Jackson and found a hot meal and some respite at Two Sister’s Kitchen near the capitol.

We arrived so close to closing time that I was afraid that they wouldn’t serve us. Instead, we were greeted like hometown folk and directed to the buffet as soon as we walked through the door — “Grab you a plate. Somebody will be by to get your drink order in a minute.”

One of the best things about the trip was that we were so busy that I lost touch with events going on back home and around the country.

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that this campaign season has been disheartening. There seem to be at least two Americas. No matter which one you live in, there seems to be little hope of ever living peacefully beside those in the other camp.

Last week, I was reminded that America isn’t found in a 30-second sound bite.

America is a dream that has been coming true for the last 240 years, and it’s a privilege to be part of it.

Jennifer Cohron is the news editor at the Daily Mountain Eagle. She can be reached by calling (205) 221-2840 or by email at jennifer.cohron@mountaineagle.com