“It really just wrenches my heart,” he said to me. “This is my piece of heaven. I always want to share it with people. Now, with Covid, I have to say no and turn people away.”

It’s an out of the way little spot on a creek off of the Chesapeake Bay. My cousin’s piece of the American dream. His home reminds me of his mother’s, my Coci (aunt in Polish). A place of warmth, and food, and welcoming. My Coci’s home was in North Cape May, a nice walk to the bay. Her son’s is on the creek that leads to the bay, with a dock for his boat.

At my other cousin’s wedding, I gave a speech, talking about the Zborowski’s. The five of them, Mike, Ken, Doug, Dave and Dana, taught me what it means to be a man. Not by telling me what to do, but by showing me. You want something? Work hard. Plan. Own your mistakes. Move on. Oh, and learn how to take a joke.

Ken joined the navy after high school and then the Philadelphia Fire Department after that. 24 years ago, he bought a piece of land in Maryland and started building a house. He finally retired about a year and a half ago after 30 years and now the house is his piece of heaven, retirement. Ken and his wife Joyce live there full time now, with a daughter and son-in-law an hour away and a son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren making their way there from his son’s previous duty station—a move that has been held up by Covid.

What is a piece of heaven? What is home? For Ken and Joyce, it’s a little spot on the creek, complete now with a chicken coop and enough room for a lot of guests. He enjoys taking people out fishing. He enjoys sharing his piece of heaven with anybody and everybody that wants to stop by.

“It really does break my heart,” he said to me. “You know how my mom was. I always wanted people to stop by. Now that we are here full time, I can’t with Covid.”

Sleepy Little Towns

Every travel story I read talks about the “sleepy little towns” the writer passes through. I either have to come up with better phrases or this is going to get very repetitive. The drive from Wilmington, DE to Princess Anne and then to Norfolk is a long drive through small towns along Route 13. I just don’t know how sleepy they are?

Nicer people, a slower life style, a hello and a thank you. Many people awake at dawn to fish or go crabbing. Each town can fit into a suburb of Philadelphia, and is much like a suburb complete with the McDonald’s, Lowe’s, chain restaurants and chain gas stations. The differences are the life styles. And the people who enjoy this life style.

Bait and tackle shops line the roads. In Philly, you see the signs “donate your car for charity.” Along this stretch, it is “donate your boat.”

I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time.

They know about the tides and the seasons, about when what fish are running and where best to catch them. They talk shop with the older fishermen to learn. They know how to tie ropes in a certain way and how to string lines. And Ken is kind. He knows enough to know that I don’t know anything. I’m not big on fishing, but I enjoy spending time with Ken on his boat as he talks about fish, and tides and casting and lures. I enjoy spending time with Ken and Joyce as they talk about their piece of heaven. It’s calm and peaceful, with laughter and great food. It reminds me of my Coci.

And then there are the life tips, the “jewels” you pick up and take away from meetings. With me on the road, there were a bunch of things that I would have never have thought of. Why buy ice for the cooler? Use the hotel. That Hilton Honors thing? Yeah, go with Hotwire. Like a big brother, he’s giving me the inside tips on traveling light and traveling well.

While I was there, Ken’s big brother was texting me along with his wife. Dawn is a dear, so much so that sh is in my phone as Dawnie Dear. Mike wants more than updates—if I’m okay with it. Just in case. This is how you set up then iPhone to permanently share your location. Mike knows a lot of truckers. Just in case. They’re worried.

The baby brother and baby sister chimed in as well. Places to go. Do you know your new cousin is in Norfolk? Great stops here and there and everywhere. I’ll be looking into a lot of places.

But the bars? I just don’t know. No, I know. It’s a “no.”

“Covid is screwing up everything,” my new cousin said when I took her out to dinner. It kept her husband out to sea for an extra month, screwing up the timing of meeting her other cousins and a huge family that wants to meet her.

It’s the age of masks and staycations. Of not seeing family and friends. I still think they screwed up everything from the start with “social distancing.” No. It’s not “social distancing.” It’s “physical distancing.” And this is our reality. I need to keep that in mind or this trip will be cut short.

Away from the Bays

Maryland is definitely the south, but still more northern along the eastern shore. I now have a Delaware license. I think Delaware might confuse the southerners: is he a Yankee or not? Just in case, I made sure to get my “US Infantry” bumper sticker and hat. Aye: the deep south awaits me. I need all the help I can get. Then I wore the hat in the Navy land.

But now away from the known and the somewhat known. I’ve driven the stretch of 95 from Philly to Miami a few dozen times. Eventually, away from Norfolk, I’ll hit 95. I’ll be going over or under it for a change. West pulls at me.

Far, far to the west. Across a continent and then an ocean is the Big Island of Hawai’i.