Friday, June 10, 2016

In Search of the Square Ponds -- Day One

Yes, I’m going to be one of those guys. You know who I’m talking about -- the people who go on vacation and then force you to sit through boring stories and interminable photos of things you absolutely cannot relate to. To be fair, this column is less along those lines (although there will be just a little of that) and more to do with trying to drive 350 miles with four girls ages 12 and under. There are always adventures. At the time they’re not always funny, but in retrospect, they kind of are.

Our vacation this year was a little bit different from our normal vacations. Instead of planning out ahead of time and picking different places to visit while away, we knew we were committed to the high school and college graduation of our niece, Brianna, in Indiana. Typically a “Brown Sign” vacationer, we spent most of our time attending graduation related activities. We knew this going in, and have already thought about doing a long weekend later in the summer where we can do a bit more. I’m not exactly sure why because the girls are happy with living in the hotel pool.

My sister and her kids live in Indiana near Fort Wayne, where my sister works for GM. Brianna was in a special “early college” program where she earned an associate's degree through Vincennes University while completing her high school requirements. Starting at East Allen University in 9th grade, she is a member of the very first graduating class at EAU. She, and 76 other young men and women are stepping into the adult world with a little something extra. Given the auspicious occasion, we felt we needed to go to Indiana and congratulate her accomplishments in person.

According to their website and Wikipedia page, East Allen University will be the “wave of the future in education.” Principal Doug Hicks says, “The partnership between East Allen County Schools and Vincennes University will allow students to achieve a minimum of a Core 40 diploma and will give students an opportunity to earn an associate’s degree while still in high school. EAU has raised the bar in the field of education, as well as created a new culture of expectations for accountability through the development of a unique and innovative school.”

I think the girls liked the idea of going to the graduation almost as much for seeing Aunt Kristy and Bri and Dan as they liked the idea of missing two days of school. It’s not that they don’t like school. I think it’s because it gives them a little special status among their peers. They got to miss school to go away. Generally, the only time they miss school is for sickness. I’m not one for letting them skate on their education. In order to justify missing some school, we, of course, had to stop at some historical sites.

Before we got to any of those Brown Signs, we first had to get over the biggest hurdle of them all -- my mother-in-law. She’s the one who put the girls on the search for the square ponds. On a trip that she and I made to bring back Bri and Dan for a funeral, she pointed out that all the ponds in central Ohio were square or rectangular. She brought that up with the girls before we left; to be sure to look out for the square ponds in Ohio. We weren’t out of New York yet when they began asking about the ponds. They must have asked a dozen times before we even made it to Cleveland.

When we were planning the trip, I discovered that the prison where some of “Shawshank Redemption” was filmed was on our route. I wanted to go there, but we ran out of time due to their hours as well as the logistics of trying to get 4 pre-teen girls ready to go in a timely manner. Patience really wanted to go, but we’re saving it now for a later trip. Instead, we went on some Presidential history searches.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Presidential history. When were in Boston a couple years ago, we had to go to the United First Parish Church in Quincy so that we could visit the burial places of Presidents, John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Looking at Ohio, there are Presidential sites all over the place. I chose to visit the birthplace of Warren G. Harding, mostly because it looked like there were no hours to try to squeeze into.

The reason there are no hours at the birthplace of Harding is because it is simply a roadside marker on a backroad in Ohio. The GPS had us weaving and turning down various roads to get there. Suddenly, over a rise in the road is an American flag and a small marker and stone. We pulled off to the side of the road and took some pictures. That’s about all there was to do. The gentleman who lives in the house next to the site does an admirable job keeping the area maintained and clean.

Once we got back on the road, we were ready to meet up with our nephew, Jayson, who is going to the University of Northwestern Ohio. It was along Route 30, on our way to Lima that we saw the infamous square ponds. I’m not sure why all the ponds are square. I hypothesize that it has something to do with the gravitational pull of the “O’s” at each end of Ohio. At any rate, it seems that Ohioans have these ponds in place of pools. If there is anyone from Ohio who can shed light on these mysteries, please let me know.

These ponds are everywhere. Many have docks, and some have paddle boats just pulled up on the banks. In some places, it even looks like the waters are treated as if they were a swimming pool. They are obviously one of those mysteries of nature that are nearly inexplicable. At any rate, my kids loved them. We pointed them out each time we passed one. Simple pleasures still intrigue them at this age.

After having dinner in Lima, we finally completed our seven-hour journey in about eleven of those hours. Trust me. For us, that is great. No one ever seems to be on the same bathroom schedule, so there is a lot of stop and go for us. Amazingly, our hotel was about 5 minutes from my sister’s house. That made it very convenient for us.

Not to make fun of my sister, but I’ve been to Indiana four times to see her. Each time I’ve visited, she’s lived in a different house. This time, she was living in a trailer park. Her trailer is actually pretty nice, so all those times I made fun of her on the phone, or on Facebook, probably would be out of line if I weren’t the older brother. Older siblings have rules about this, you know.

It was a late night and the kids were ready to blow off sleep in order to take advantage of the hotel’s swimming pool. I rode with my sister to her house so that I knew where I was going in the morning, while Wendy let the girls frolic in the waters of the hotel pool. They closed the place down at 11pm, and I think they still wanted to swim more. It must have been all the hours sitting cooped up in the truck. They were full of energy.

I realize that many people have short attention spans, so I will break this off for the time being. I have plenty more to say (don’t I always?). However, as the page count climbs, our views seem to drop. I will be back shortly with Part 2, and probably Part 3. It wouldn’t be one of those annoying vacation recaps if I didn’t drag it out as long as possible.

Coming up in Part 2 will be the visit to the Fort Wayne Zoo. That was well worth the price of admission. Plus, I will recap the graduation ceremony for East Allen University. Spoiler alert: it was one of the most intriguing graduations I’ve ever been to. The administration and staff were wonderful, and you could tell that everyone involved was genuinely interested and proud of the accomplishments. Part 3 will detail our ride home. We did the actual vacation thing on the way home, with visits to a space museum and an old fort from the Revolution, War of 1812, and Frontier Skirmishes.

Stay tuned and watch out for square ponds.

Craig Bacon is a vacation junkie. Someday he will set up a travel route to visit all Presidential sites in the Continental United States.