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Olyer: Modern Thanksgiving trip has a familiarly comfortable feeling

| Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The classic trip to grandmother's house for Thanksgiving has certainly changed through the years. According to the old song, it was “Over the river and through the woods” in a horse-drawn sleigh. By the time my brother and I were growing up, it was “onto the turnpike and through the tunnels” in a '40 Ford to our father's home near Chambersburg.

Now everything has changed. Grandma and Grandpa go to their granddaughter's house for the holiday, and their chariot has become a Southwest Airlines jet. My wife and I left a snowy Pennsylvania countryside for a Thanksgiving visit with our daughter, Elizabeth, her husband, Mike, and our granddaughter, Rachael, in Champaign, Ill.

The flight to Midway Airport in Chicago was quite pleasant. Beth met us at the airport and very efficiently got us and our luggage into her car. After a stop for lunch, we proceeded down Interstate 57 to Champaign, arriving there just in time to pick up Rachael from school. Somewhere between Chicago and Champaign, we passed an impressive wind turbine farm. It is ironic that a century and a half ago every farm boasted a windmill, whose primary function was to pump water from underground wells.

Champaign and its neighboring community, Urbana, make up a modern, sophisticated university hub with all the associated cultural advantages. It appears to be surrounded by the world's largest cornfield, regardless of the direction from which you approach it. When Beth's family moved there, someone told them, “If you like flat and cornfields, this is heaven!”

While we were there we made several trips into the countryside, each time being on the lookout for old barns. Although most of my attempts at pen-and-ink sketching leave a lot to be desired, I have had some success with old barns. We didn't find any conventional barns worthy of being photographed as potential sketch material, but I was intrigued with a smaller farm building that seemed to be a part of each farm. I ended up with photographs of five or six such buildings, emphasizing those that looked as if they, too, were octogenarians. Our search of the Internet to identify them yielded the answer — they are corn cribs, though much different from those I remember here in Pennsylvania.

This visit was our first meeting with their new dog. Gunnar is about 18 months old, a rescued dog. He apparently was abandoned by his owners; when he was picked up by animal control he was badly undernourished. They think he is a mix between blue tick coon hound and German shorthair pointer. At any rate, he is a handsome animal, who is lucky to have found such a good home.

Thanksgiving dinner was magnificent. Beth is a fine cook and an even better baker. Knowing my fondness for pie, she produced excellent examples of three varieties — pumpkin, pecan, and apple. We had an 18-pound Amish free range turkey; it certainly was the best I have eaten in a while.

Beth's home is full of music. Rachael is taking lessons on both piano and violin and is quite accomplished when she is serious about it. Her piano teacher is working hard at music theory as well as technique and has required Rachael and her other pupils to compose simple pieces.

One day we drove into the country and had lunch at Curtis' Orchard. This is a family owned operation built around 5,000 apple trees producing 10 different varieties, available to the public on a “pick them yourself” basis. Pumpkin picking is equally popular. In addition they have a produce market, a bakery, a country store, a gift shop, and the Flying Monkey Café, which is where we had a delightful lunch — homemade chili and cornbread.

Another trip was to Monticello, a delightful old fashioned small town that is an oasis in the desert of cornfields. We have been there before to ride an historic train and to visit a lovely park. This time our destination was a pottery store featuring very colorful pottery produced in Poland.

Saturday, Beth and Rachael drove us back to Midway. A few minutes before the scheduled boarding time for our flight home, I received an email on my iPhone from the airline advising me the flight was delayed 90 minutes; this announcement was made in the waiting lounge 10 minutes later. Fortunately, that was the extent of the delay, and we comfortably made it home that evening.

Reminder — the final presentation in the “Bridgeville Remembered” series will be at 7 p.m. today, Thursday, at the Bridgeville Public Library.

John Oyler is a columnist for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-343- 1652 or

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