Long Island mystery: Who is Catherine M. Walsh?

LONG ISLAND, N.Y. — There were just two things I really wanted to do while stateside for March break: drive the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel again, and visit a few thrift shops. Here we are tripping through the tunnel:


Circumstance and bad timing kept me away from thrift stores in North Carolina and Virginia, where they are plentiful, but our host in Long Island had just the place for me. I spent a gleeful 45 minutes at Unique and unearthed a mystery.

Flipping through the handbags in my never-ending search for the perfect purse, my fingers lighted on a small leather billfold. It was structurally sound, the plastic envelopes for displaying photos just barely yellowed. And it was empty, except …

walsh wallet

I put the treasure in my basket.

I have since discovered just enough about Catherine M. Walsh to drive me mad. She was born in 1917 and died in 1982, and seems to have lived most of that time in Long Island. But what about the empty plastic envelopes? Whose pictures did she cut out and place in there?

I can only imagine. And so imagine I have.

* * *

My Catherine—never Kate, never Cathy—was the fourth of five children born to Irish immigrants who staked their claim to a potato farm on Long Island, back when potatoes were what grew there, rather than subdivisions. Her brothers were nearly grown when she arrived, followed two years later by sweet Alice.

What their father lacked in riches he made up for with a sense of adventure. When my Catherine was 10 and sweet Alice 8, he borrowed a friend’s truck (he was one of those people who, always the first to step up and help out, could ask a favour of anyone and be met with a slap on the back) and loaded the sisters into it for a drive to nearby Garden City. They parked on a dirt road near Roosevelt Airfield and he lifted them into the bed of the truck excitedly. He thrust a newspaper at my Catherine and said, “Read that, Baby. Read what that man there said.”

Their father could read, but he was slow at it, so it was my Catherine’s job to read aloud when he asked. She cleared her throat. “’What kind of man would live where there is no danger’—”

“Right enough!” their father interrupted, laughing, barely containing his excitement. “I face danger every day, sure ’nuff. Nearly split me ankle just yesterday on a stone big as me heart. And how big is that, Baby?”

“Big as Paris!” yelled sweet Alice.

“Big as Paris, Baby. Big as Paris.”

My Catherine gave him a stern look and continued reading. “’Nothing can be accomplished by not taking a chance at all,’ he said. Mr. Lindberg makes his attempt for the Orteig Prize on May 21’—papa, that’s today!—’aboard the Spirit of the St. Louis. Several lives have been lost already in pursuit of the $25,000 award offered to that airman who completes the first non-stop transatlantic flight’.”

“That’s right, Baby!” their father laughed, pointing at the airfield. “I got a good feeling about this guy. I got a good feeling about St. Louis.”


That was the day my Catherine fell in love with aerospace. Her passion for planes and the romance of the open skies would be her welcome shadow throughout her school and teaching-college years. She would become known for using flight analogies in her classrooms and she would—of course—fall in love with a pilot. How could she not?

He was a dashing test pilot for Republic Aviation and he dashed her heart into a million pieces when she caught him kissing a girl outside the robotics pavilion of the World’s Fair in New York City. His buddy Rory Walsh drove her home and didn’t say a word as she sat in the passenger seat and sobbed.

long island women library of congressBespectacled Rory Walsh had a name far more extravagant than his personality, which was cautious and whisper-quiet. My Catherine’s father and brothers were slightly suspicious of that deep stillness, but her mother and sister liked him right away. They were married within the year and would have honeymooned in Paris if it were not for the war.

It was sweet Alice, after all, who married a pilot, then stood helplessly by as he was called to war. Rory was blessedly not called up, because of his poor eyesight and because his position as a parts manufacturer at Republic made him valuable to the war effort on home soil. Sweet Alice came to live with them in their newly built Northport home so she wouldn’t be alone.

My Catherine and Rory were eager to start their family, but the first baby born in their little home was sweet Alice’s Colleen. Ah, how they loved her! The house was filled with sweet Alice’s singing. My Catherine sewed little pinafores, and though her stitches were atrocious—she never had any patience with needles—Colleen only cooed and eyed her adoringly. Rory fashioned her little airplanes from spare parts and bits of metal at Republic, and told her stories of faraway places. When letters from her father were delivered, my Catherine and Rory shared secret glances, guiltily hoping the war would last a little longer so they could keep Colleen just a few weeks more. They could not meet each other’s eyes at all when they learned he had been killed in action.

When it was time for kindergarten, my Catherine walked Colleen to her classroom each day. As time went on, Colleen helped with lesson planning and my Catherine helped with homework till they became one unit of education, teaching each other with every step.

Everyone commented on how alike they were. It was her greatest joy and deepest heartbreak.

republic aviationRory held her tighter on the nights she cried into her pillow, but they never spoke about the cradle that was empty but for Colleen’s dolls and metal airplanes.

They planned to go to Paris the year Colleen turned 10, but Rory was offered a golden opportunity with Grumman Corp. and he had a feeling they were going places. He couldn’t even imagine how far they would go, but that was years away and in the meantime he and my Catherine lived a blessed life, with Colleen and sweet Alice and a ginger cat named Moses.

Rory made a mark on Colleen’s doorframe for each of her birthdays and when he took her measure the day she turned 18, they all cried and wondered at what a lovely young lady she had become. To celebrate her coming of age, she and her mother took a two-week holiday in Paris, a gift from Rory and my Catherine.

Things were changing in the world and in Long Island, and Colleen was in the middle of it, bringing the future to the Walsh household via a record player and tales from the city, where she had a job answering phones in a lawyer’s office. If my Catherine wished she’d become a teacher rather than a switchboard operator, she kept her own council.

She wore short skirts and high boots and showed no interest in the patriarchal idea of marriage and motherhood. Rory clucked his tongue like a disapproving old woman, while her mother and aunt smiled behind their hands and did what they could to encourage her, secretly hoping they’d get to burn their damn bras in the back yard.


The day Kennedy was assassinated was already dark in the Walsh household, as Colleen had just announced she moving in to the city, sharing an apartment with her lover. For the rest of her life she would credit poor dear Kennedy with protecting her from an old-fashioned strapping from sweet Alice or my Catherine, who giggled at the prospect of bra-burnings but had to draw the line somewhere.

They said they would turn her room into an office or a sewing room or a library, but it was never changed. Everything remained as she had left it. Rory was too busy to start building a library or otherwise converting her room anyway, once Grumman won the contract to help build lunar modules. He came home late each night, tired but oh so excited about their progress.

long island home library of congress“The moon, ladies!” he would say, and they would look at each other and smile, and remember their father and his excitement. “We’re going to land men on the moon!”

My Catherine added space-themed projects to her curriculum and won an award for her ingenuity in teaching. She bought a dress for the awards ceremony that she would repurpose for the grand party Grumman put on for the lunar landing. Sheathed in silk but wearing practical black pumps, she stood close to Rory, holding his damp hand as they and dozens of others watched a blurry, monochrome Neil Armstrong descend the craft’s ladder and misspeak what would become one of the most famous sentences in human history.

One perfect tear escaped the corner of Rory’s eye—the enormity of the moment was too much to bear. My Catherine wiped the tear away before anyone noticed and thought about the Spirit of St. Louis, whose journey had seemed impossible 40 years before. And she smiled at Rory and thought about how impossibly deeply she loved him, to the moon and back.

armstrong moon nasaTheir friends became grandparents throughout the 1970s, but Colleen showed no interest in bringing a new baby into their lives. When their family changed again, it was a great surprise—sweet Alice announced her heart had at last softened and she was to marry. Her new love’s feet were firmly planted on the ground—he was the owner of a drive-in theatre in Nassau county.

It was the first time my Catherine and Rory had lived alone. While they giggled like newlyweds, they were of course completely thrown off and wandered about some nights marvelling at how quiet and empty their home had become. They ate their dinners on the couch while The Waltons and Quincy played in the background. They used the dining-room table to spread out travel brochures. Their long-overdue Parisian honeymoon was planned for the summer.

That was the spring she found the lump.

Rory was paralysed with terror, but my Catherine calmly put the brochures away and said they’d go the next summer instead and stop fretting darling, I’ll have to be better by the time school starts. She was back in class the following Christmas, though her doctors advised against it. She needed children to live, she told sweet Alice, who already knew.

highland school long island library of congressShe spent the next summer recovering from disfiguring surgery. My Catherine had never been in a hospital, had rarely visited her family doctor, and had never been away from home for more than a weekend. She hated the white walls and nurses’ soft footfalls. Hated them enough that she was back in her home weeks before her doctors predicted.

It’s not that the fight went out of her. It’s that when the cancer came for her a third time, her battlegrounds had changed. She had watched the landscapes of her loved ones’ faces change and she wanted peace for them. Her tiny family had given her more than a lifetime of joy. (If she had carried on just a few months, that joy would have doubled, but no one knew just then—not even Colleen—that the next generation was starting to develop.)

She let the illness take her quickly, for Rory’s sake. His heart was broken and it couldn’t heal while he hurt for her. Their love expanded, became a living, breathing thing over their home, a membrane that coated visitors when they crossed over their threshold.

Rory’s tears at the end were hot on my Catherine’s cheeks. “I never took you to Paris,” he apologized over and over. “I never took you to Paris.”

She held his hand as firmly as she could, more firmly than her illness should have allowed.

“My love,” she said to him, “You took me to the moon.”



Harriet Quimby and the theatrics of flight

The Wright Brothers didn't teach women, and so Harriet Quimby went to the Moisant School of Aviation.
The Wright Brothers didn’t teach women, and so Harriet Quimby went to the Moisant School of Aviation.

KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C. — Way back in 1903, just a short walk from here, Orville Wright made history when he flew the remarkable little plane he and brother Wilbur had designed in Ohio. The flight lasted 12 seconds. Sixty-six years later, man would land on the moon.

Everyone knows the Wright brothers’ names. Finding stories about them isn’t difficult, and I encourage you to do that if you’re very interested in the early history of flying.

But I’m going to tell you a different little story, that of a Michigan farm girl turned New York journalist, Harriet Quimby.

Harriet Quimby was a daredevil who raced cars as well as flying planes.
Harriet Quimby was a daredevil who raced cars as well as flying planes.

Quimby left her family’s failing farm first for San Francisco, then New York, and while she harboured a great love for the stage, it was words she fell into, becoming one of the world’s first female scriptwriters, but also writing, editing and taking award-winning photos for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.

According to the museum at the Wright Brothers’ memorial, she acquired her pilot’s licence in secret. But your average journalist is not going to keep quiet about such a thing, and Quimby was so much more than your average journalist.

In an article headlined How I Won My Aviator’s Licence, she wrote in 1911: “The thrill of pleasure with which the eager and anxious university student after years of patient endeavour secures his diploma has been mine. It takes four years of study to win a college diploma. It takes a much shorter time, if you have a competent instructor and if fate deals kindly with you, to secure your license to pilot an aeroplane.”

Harriet Quimbly climbs into her Moisant monoplane, wearing her trademark satin flying suit.
Harriet Quimbly climbs into her Moisant monoplane, wearing her trademark satin flying suit.

She was finally able to live in the world of theatre, where the sky was her stage. She designed for herself a unique purple satin flight suit and set off to conquer the hearts of the people with exhibition flights in Mexico and elsewhere. The English Channel was her next conquest. She turned down a friend’s offer to secretly pilot for her (because, really, could a woman accomplish such a thing?), making the flight in a borrowed plane with an unfamiliar compass. She wrote: “I only had to rise in my machine, fix my eyes upon the castle, fly over it and speed directly across to the French coast. It seemed so easy that it looked like a cross-country flight. I am glad I thought so and felt so, otherwise I might have had more hesitation about flying in the fog with an untried compass, in a new and untried machine, knowing that the treacherous North Sea stood ready to receive me if I drifted only five miles too far out of my course.”

She landed after an hour on a beach full of fishermen who, she said, cheered and congratulated themselves that the first woman to cross the Channel had landed in their back yard. It would have made a great story but for the timing—all journalistic resources were busy with the sinking a day earlier of the Titanic.

“It is easier than walking, driving or automobiling; easier than golf or tennis,” she wrote in Good Housekeeping in 1912. “Flying is a fine, dignified sport for women … and there is no reason to be afraid so long as one is careful.”

Careful she was. She advocated for safety and for the wearing of seat belts in aircraft. However, 11 months into her aviation career, during an exhibition flight, her plane jerked and she was thrown from it, falling to her death in front of hundreds of spectators. It was, perhaps, the theatrical death she might have wished for.

Baltimore and a day of almosts

This beautiful Ukrainian Catholic Church was across the street from Patterson Park.
This beautiful Ukrainian Catholic Church was across the street from Patterson Park.

BALTIMORE, Md. — Sunday was a day of almosts.

We almost went to the National Zoo, but it had taken us so long to get out of New York on Saturday that we slept in ridiculously and were still crazy exhausted.

I almost made it to Target without getting lost. I could see it, but it took me three U-turns to get there.

Borrowing from Friends' Central Perk, this little place is across the street from Patterson Park.
Borrowing from Friends’ Central Perk, this little place is across the street from Patterson Park.

We almost ate at the Papermoon Diner, but the lineup was so long and thick were couldn’t get close enough to find out how long the wait would be and we were already very hungry.

We almost visited the gravestones of the inventor of the Ouija board and of Edgar Allan Poe, but the St. Patrick’s parade was just getting started and we couldn’t get close.

I almost lost my cool when we got stuck in the St. Pat’s traffic for the fifth time, but a cop diverted us down a neat little avenue where we discovered a roundhouse and dozens of big old train cars. We almost visited the attached railway museum, but it was exactly 4 p.m. when we found the entrance. The museum closes at 4.

Somewhere in behind the B&O Railroad Museum.
Somewhere in behind the B&O Railroad Museum.

I almost took a picture of the stunning, gigantic Chesapeake Detention Facility, but the correctional officer encouraged me not to. She almost slayed me with her glare.

Fortunately, although Baltimore has tons of fun-looking activities, it’s also a neat city to drive through.

There are beautiful old row houses and gorgeous but abandoned homes, boarded-up buildings next to lovely parks. It was a little like St. Louis and a little bit like Portland, a little bit like Chicago and a whole lot of something uniquely Baltimore (just add hipster wannabes and stir).

baltimore mckim community centre

Spring Break 2014: Road trips aren’t always what you plan

We spent two blissful hours chatting with friends in New York.
We spent two blissful hours chatting with friends in New York.

NEW YORK, N.Y. — I shouldn’t call this trip cursed. I mean, we’re only about 36 hours into it, and it’s not like we’re miserable.

It started when I picked up Joe the Truck from the garage early last week. I handed the nice man (Joey—no relation to Joe) my $400 and he said, “There’s a note on your file. We replaced one of the power-steering lines, but the others look pretty rusty. It’s just a matter of time. And your wheel bearings—those will last three or four months.”

“Three or four months. But I’m driving about 4,000 kilometres on Friday.”

He sucked in his breath, the way calm Joey rarely does. “Well, you know, driving on the highway will put a lot more pressure on them. But I think you’ll be okay.”

“What do I watch for? Like, a vibration?”

“Oh, you’ll know. It’ll be really loud. So when it gets really loud, you …”

“Get off the road?”

“Yeah, that would be best.”

 * * *

And then there are the little things: Melani’s stomach hates America this trip. I’m still getting over bronchitis and finding I’m far more tired than usual. One of our hosts has a sick child and it’s hard to balance really wanting to see her with not being a burden.

And the weather! March is testy no matter what, but snow in Maryland? Rain all week in Myrtle Beach. No, thank you. We could have stayed home for that.

But the thing is that we didn’t stay home. We hit the road anyway and we are having an adventure. We’re having an adventure like in the old days, where we don’t know where we’re going to be three or 24 hours from now, and y’know, those are the trips I love, where we just wing it and hope for the best.

Those are the trips that make stories happen.

The Gullah-Geechee people of South Carolina

Ironwork on a gate in Charleston, S.C.

In March 2008, Melani and I did something we hadn’t done since the summer of 1995: We took a vacation sans child.

Charleston, S.C., has everything I look for in a holiday: sun, beaches and a rich history. Of course, it has far too much history  to absorb in one week and so we narrowed our focus to the Gullah-Geechee people.

The Gullah are descendents of slaves who arrived during the 1700s and 1800s in the Lowcountry and developed their own language and traditions, the foundations of which are in west African nations. They are known for their ironwork, basket-making, cuisine and language.

I spent some time talking with Alphonso Brown of Gullah Tours and Gullah interpreter Alada Shinault-Small, and the result is this Montreal Gazette article, which was published Feb. 6, 2010:

Sullivan’s Island, at the mouth of Charleston Harbour, is often called the Ellis Island of the South.

It is estimated that more than 40 per cent of the nearly 700,000 slaves brought by ship to the United States arrived at Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina between the early 1700s and 1860. Many were bought to work in the state’s Lowcountry, or coastal counties. Their experience growing rice in their native Africa would help the burgeoning production of Carolina gold.

Transported from coastal areas of west Africa – where countries such as Gambia, Angola and Sierra Leone now stand – they brought a rich culture, rich voices and art that endures today, celebrated by their descendants, the Gullah-Geechee people. The U.S. National Park Service in 2007 recognized a Gullah corridor stretching 1,000 kilometres from Wilmington, N.C., to Jackson, Fla., and from the Atlantic Ocean to about 50 kilometres inland.

At Boone Hall Plantation, 18 kilometres northeast of Charleston, Gullah interpreter Alada Shinault-Small speaks softly but with authority as she presents artifacts of a slave’s life: a squash, netted with beads, becomes an instrument, or it is carved into a bowl or scoop. She has indigo seeds and rice and raw cotton, which children, with their small hands, would be given the task of seeding. She opens a red-leather-bound Bible translated into Gullah.

Shinault-Small says the Creole-based language, heavily influenced by the vernacular of the coastal southern United States, Caribbean and west Africa, was developed by early slaves as a way to survive.

“These people were not allowed to learn to read and write and were ingenious enough, through their displacement and culture shock, to create a vehicle for oral expression,” she says.

Gullah-Geechee allowed themselves to be stigmatized or shamed by their “broken English” and customs, Shinault-Small says. People now might not even know they are speaking Gullah: the local patois is infused with Gullah words and other Southernisms.

“It has evolved – or devolved – with time and technology,” she explains. Shinault-Small is animated as she attributes the rejuvenation of the culture to a fresh appreciation of the history of black people. “In the spirit of inclusiveness, as contributions and involvement of African-Americans began to be taken more seriously, people began to celebrate and get rid of distortions of history. It is no longer ignored, deleted, distorted.”

Veteran storyteller Alphonso Brown, owner and operator of Gullah Tours, says that while the Gullah were ridiculed for their language, they learned English to fit in.

“Gullah was recognized as a language in 1939,” he says, “but no one told us. It was like we had a horse, but we’d rather have a tractor. Then you all keep messing up the language so bad, we don’t know what to do.”

Word for word, Gullah is a familiar language. Chicken is “poolet” and “hankuh” is a longing. Brown gives many more examples: If a girl’s granny says: “Where your frock tail goin’?” she can assume her skirt’s hemline is too high. If the granny accuses her of gossiping and the girl is sure she hasn’t, she might say: “I dinna crack my teet!”

The Gullah have also influenced Charleston’s architecture. Red roofs are said to offer God’s protection, and the city is filled with roofs a warm rust colour. Blue also is said to protect against evil, and Brown points out splashes on doorways or stairs, and says older ladies in the city can be seen wearing blue hats, especially on Sunday.

He notes the Circular Church – founded in 1681, burned and rebuilt in 1861 – has only soft edges “because the devil lives in corners.”

“People always ask me where they can see slave houses,” he goes on. “I say: You can see ’em everywhere. You gotta know where to look. The realtors don’t call them slave houses. They call them carriage houses.”

They are small homes between and behind the great columned houses of central Charleston. Their covered porches face southeast, away from the hottest glare of the sun. It is thought this design originated with the first black residents of the South.

“Who knows better about keeping outta the sun than them Africans?” Brown asks.

Some of the swankier, multimillion-dollar homes that overshadow the slave houses sport ornamental Simmons gates. Philip Simmons, who died in July at age 97, was an ironworker. His work can be seen at the Smithsonian. His gates – with their tight, close swirls and fish symbols representing Christ – are so finely crafted that one Charleston woman is said to have been loath to pass through hers. The snakes on it were too realistic.

As with Simmons’s gates, other functional items such as their fishing nets, quilts and baskets have come to be regarded as decorative art.

Gullah-Geechee baskets are based on a west African design, bound with local materials like sweetgrass and bulrushes. Artisans set up shop on street corners throughout Charleston, chatting with each other and sewing, their wares – from great wide baskets down to tiny wreaths with bright red bows – spread out around them.

The baskets are priced according to how many hours of work have gone into making them, Brown says. To get the best price, he advises buying in the evening, when the artisans are packing up to go home. The binding on the basket should be vertical and no part should sag when held with thumb and forefinger.

Brown recounts a cautionary tale told him by basketmaker Joseph Foreman: if a woman’s husband comes home late at night and he doesn’t have a good excuse, the story goes, she should pick up a basket and “hit him over the head, and if he don’t drop, you don’t got a good basket.”


Charleston will honour African-Americans throughout February, Black History Month. Go to explorecharleston.com for a complete list of special events, including Sweetgrass Baskets: Hands-On History at the Charleston Museum.

Alphonso Brown’s Gullah Tours takes visitors on a historical, hysterical ride through Charleston. Reservations are suggested. Details: gullahtours.com.

Boone Hall Plantation offers Gullah presentations and tours of the plantation house and slave quarters. Details: boonehallplantation.com.

The Old Slave Mart Museum, at 6 Chalmers St., is housed in a building where slaves were sold by auction. The museum’s focus is the interstate slave trade and the history of the building itself. Call 843-958-6467.

She-Crab soup, gator tails and grilled or fried catfish are just some of the traditional dishes at Gullah Cuisine. The small, homey restaurant is filled with Gullah art. Details: gullahcuisine.com.

Using public transit affords travellers a citizens’-eye view of Charleston and surrounding area. The CARTA system of large and small buses and trolleys is affordable ($1.50 to $2.50 a ride) and, with the Flex-route plan, travellers can arrange for pickup and dropoff at their hotels outside Charleston centre. Large city buses have bike racks on the front. Detailed schedules are available for every route, but buses often run late. Details: ridecarta.com.


A strictly oral language until relatively recently, Gullah (pronounced GULL-uh) is spelled phonetically and there is some room for interpretation. Here are some examples of the language.

bad mout’ – a spell, a form of curse.

bauk’up – breaking, broken; “brukfoot man” is a man with a broken leg.

Chaa’stun – Charleston, also called Town.

crack ‘e teet – cracking his or her teeth, meaning opened their mouth to speak.

flabuh – flavour. “Da’ buckruh’ hogmeat flabuh me mout’ ‘tell uh done fuhgit uh hab sin fuhkill’um” can be translated as “That white man’s pork flavoured my mouth so that I forgot the sin I committed in killing the hog.”

hitch – hitch, also for marrying

‘miration – wonder, astonishment

Nyankee – Yankee

please kin – Please can, a redundancy, as: “please kin gimme”

shout – Frenzied outcries of a religious devotee; a plantation dancing festival frequently accompanied by beating sticks on the floor

From The Black Border: Gullah Stories of the Carolina Coast,

by Ambrose E. Gonzales

Wild ponies, then dragging us away

On every trip, I discover a place I hate. When we drove east two years ago, it was St. Basile, N.B. (our car broke down and we were trapped in the centre of Hades for two days). When we drove West last summer, it was Idaho (twisty mountain roads in the dark; no coffee). This time, it was Virginia Beach. All the tacky with none of the charm. A hateful, soulless place with the dirtiest, crummiest hotel I’ve ever stayed in – and I’ve stayed in some pretty ghetto places. We couldn’t leave there fast enough, especially since it was Adventure Day.

A lack of cussing doesn't make Virginia Beach any classier.
A lack of cussing doesn’t make Virginia Beach any classier.

We set Hester the GPS to take us north, on the understanding that we would sometimes ignore her, if something shiny caught our eye. She knows us pretty well by now, though, and we were soon on our first adventure – crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. A bridge tunnel, you say? Yes. Seventeen miles across the bay on a bridge that twice dives into the ocean, becoming a tunnel, putting so much pressure on our ears we had to break out all the car gum. It was gorgeous, and really neat. Apparently you can hire a guy to drive your car across the bridge if you’re nervous about these things, and I considered it, but it’s actually a smoother, less terrifying ride than going across Confederation Bridge. It was a breeze.

We found an honest-to-goodness hillbilly flea market. It had church-hall-type folding tables stretched along the edges of a dusty parking lot. Beyond, there was nothing but peanut fields. Sellers hawked books and used clothes and old Barbies — $1 each or 50 cents for the naked ones, clothes sold separately. We had to listen carefully because the sellers’ drawls were so thick. Most everyone was in a pickup, except the guy and his dad who drove up in a blue Camaro. Their dirty blonde curls were barely reined in by their ball caps. Another guy walked around in mirror shades.

Outside the NASA education centre at Wallops flight centre.
Outside the NASA education centre at Wallops flight centre.

Just outside Wallops, Va., we turned a corner and discovered dozens of the largest satellite dishes I’d ever seen. We’d stumbled upon a NASA flight facility, out there in the middle of nowhere. The facility itself is protected by high wire fences, but we spent some time in the education centre, pleasing Trev to no end.

Our plan was to go to a wild horses refuge on the island of Chincoteague. Hester the GPS decided we ought to take a shortcut, which was an adventure in itself, as we navigated a narrow, barely paved one-and-a-half-car-width, two-lane road. She has a weird sense of humour, our Hester, but in the end she did get us to the reserve, and to a strip of beach where the kids could play in the surf and run off some of their energy. And we did get to see two wild ponies – pintos, grazing away as about a dozen carloads of tourists pulled up very quietly and took thousands of pictures.

We now find ourself in the very hotel we were in nearly a week ago. We’re an hour or so south of New York and that much closer to home. Tomorrow will be a hard drive with no adventures and no touristing. We’ve had a pretty good time, but it’s time to be home now.