travelWhen we moved to the Blue Ridge, I had five kids under the age of ten. Finding a sitter, even for a dinner out with my husband, was nearly impossible. I had no family nearby, and was new in the area, so there were no friends to help. Most of our neighbors worked away from home or were retired.


Shopping with a bunch of little ones was a lesson in frustration, too. I would wait for my hubby to get home, make sure everyone was fed and changed as needed, and then make my escape to the cool quiet of a trip in the car to the grocery store.

But I wasn’t the only one who liked to get away.  The kids liked it, too! And they needed activities away from home. So we tried the library (great for the older kids, difficult for me keeping up with the little ones who had no use for books other than as chewing objects), and the playground (also frustrating for me).

A great outlet came from my aunt, who told me that my ancestors were settlers here in southwestern Virginia. She knew some details about the family tree, but not a lot.  That started me thinking about doing a geneology chart. Checking courthouse records proved to be difficult because the courthouses were only open the hours my husband was working. I could do some research at the library but I had to do that without the little ones on my lap. Ultimately we found a solution: church cemeteries!

On warm sunny days I would load the kids in the Suburban with big sheets of paper and crayons and my trusty spiral notebook, and we would go on an “explore” together down the back roads in search of churches with cemeteries.  The older kids would take their big paper and make rubbings of interesting gravestones, and we could push the younger ones in strollers around the grassy lots while I located any family surnames and recorded dates and names.  When the kids got bored, they could toss a frisbee back and forth in the open areas. And the beauty was that other than the cost of gas to drive around, it was pretty much free. The kids could run and yell and not disturb anyone, get exercise and fresh air, and I could pursue an interest I had as an adult. It worked for us.

I realized what an unusual pastime we had discovered when we were on a trip to my folks’ place, 6 hours north.  A couple of hours into the trip, my 4 year-old son spied a big cemetery along the interstate and piped up, “Mom, we haven’t been to that one yet! Let’s stop!”