We’ll be starting out early tomorrow, traveling the Great River Road along the Mississippi from the Twin Cities to Galena, Illinois. The occasion is the 80th birthday of my mother’s twin siblings, my Uncle Bob and my Aunt Mary. You know you’re getting older, as my cousin said last year, when a family reunion sounds like fun. 🙂
The Great River Road is a National Scenic Byway that we’ve traveled before. The Mississippi Bluffs section in southeastern Minnesota provides opportunities to observe bald and golden eagles, ospreys and other majestic birds soaring in the headwinds. We’ve written about the National Eagle Center in our post “On the Wings of Eagles. ” If you look on Pete’s Facebook page, you’ll see this close-up he took of Harriet, one of the teaching eagles, at the Center. His Wildlife Forever group page also uses WF’s eagle logo. We just love our eagles!
We won’t be stopping in Wabasha or Winona, or any of the pretty river towns for long, though, because we are expected at Uncle Bob’s by mid-afternoon. My Uncle Bob is an interesting guy, to say the least. He is career Army, retired, after reaching the rank of Colonel.
Uncle Bob did two tours in Vietnam as a Registered Nurse, including work at the Long Binh Evacuation Hospital. One of the anesthesiologists stationed there during the Tet Offensive remembers: “We all went over to the OR area to wait for the initial influx of wounded. When they finally arrived we were almost overwhelmed. I remember deuce and a halfs arriving full of wounded VC and the MP’s with automatic weapons waving the drivers off and sending them over to the VC compound. They were stacked like cordwood in the trucks. We didn’t have anyone to go over there and administer any anesthesia or surgical care because we were all too busy with GI’s. I remember a lot of shit I wish I didn’t.” Uncle Bob doesn’t discuss Vietnam, but my mother knew where he had been and some of what he had seen.
Today, Uncle Bob and his partner, Hal, live in Galena for most of the year, and winter in Florida. Their 1853 Galena residence is situated on 3-1/2 acres in the middle of town, and the gardens and grounds are open to the public for tours and special occasions. Hal, an artist, purchased the neglected property in 1976, and then spent years in restoration. Now the site features waterfalls, pathways, meadows and statuary.
From their website: The crown jewel of Linmar is a sunken garden, the foundation of the Union Baptist Church, the first African American church in the region. Staying in context with the building’s origin, a baptismal font theme leads visitors to quiet reflection.
Pete hopes to do a lot of photography in the garden this weekend. 🙂
Tomorrow night Uncle Bob is treating everyone (party of 20) to dinner at his favorite restaurant, Pepper Sprout. And on Saturday, he and Hal have an old-fashioned barbeque planned at the house. They’ve decided the menu months ago, and we are not allowed to bring gifts or anything else. This is a rule we plan to break!
Galena is filled with interesting history. It is home to more than half a dozen Civil War generals, including U.S. Grant. Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass both spoke from a balcony of the DeSoto House hotel. General Grant returned triumphant to Galena after the Civil War, and awaited the results from his own election to the 18th Presidency in the home of his friend Elihu Washburne which is also open for viewing.
But the things that excite me most are the Cemetery Walk and Ghost tour. The cemetery walk features residents costumed like famous ghosts as you wander through the murky twilight and evening darkness. I’m hoping to convince one or more of my intrepid cousins to join in. 🙂
We’ll be back after all the fun is over this weekend with lots more to tell!