I'll never forget my first trip to Washington, D.C. For months, my 4-H club sold doughnuts at the four-way stop in town to raise money for a summer workshop in our Nation's Capital. When we rolled into town on a chartered bus, we toured the monuments, posed for pictures on the Capitol steps, and studied the lives of our Founding Fathers. At the age of 16, I was smitten with what to me seemed the most elegant, happening city on Earth.
My dearest friend, Linda Calfee Baird, had a similar experience. Throughout college and the ensuing years, we reminisced about our trips and often talked of returning, but our lives took different paths. I chose the vagabond life of a travel writer, while Linda settled down on an Indiana farm with her husband and their two boys.
It wasn't until I started covering the Mid-Atlantic for Southern Living that we seriously began to think of retracing our steps to D.C. We wanted to share our appreciation with Linda's sons, Michael and Jared, and her husband, Kevin, none of whom had visited Washington. "I want the boys to be very civic-minded and community-minded," she explained. "We enjoy so many freedoms in this country, and I want Michael and Jared to understand that, especially in light of what's going on in the world today."
On Capitol Hill
The boys embrace the news of a family trip with gusto. While the adults negotiate dates and plan around harvest, the younger Bairds study brochures and make lists of what they'd like to see.
Each of us discovers something different to admire. Michael, a 12-year-old with a bright mind and a tender heart, loves watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. Happy-go-lucky Jared, age 9, finds paradise in the rain forest exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Kevin, a World War II history buff, could have spent hours exploring the National Air and Space Museum. "The Star-Spangled Banner" exhibit at Smithsonian's National Museum of American History wins kudos from all, especially our patriotic Linda.
As for me, I simply enjoy sharing my favorite city with close friends. For three days, we walk until our feet howl in protest, laugh until we cry, and at the end of each day, stop to ponder what we've learned. "All through life you learn bits and pieces of Washington, D.C., and the history that transpired here," Kevin muses. "But it's almost like a myth until you see the city for yourself."
Linda views the vacation as part of the boys' education. "Seeing these things in person gives the kids a foundation to build on," she says. "This trip gives them some perspective on the world outside of where we live."
As for Michael and Jared, they eschew the in-depth analysis in favor of card games, swimming, and watching baseball on television. Still, when pressed about what he thinks of the city, Jared sums it up like this: "Nothing's as good as when we first got here." Translation: We've had fun, but there's nothing like seeing Washington, D.C., for the very first time.
Linda and I smile at each other. That's precisely the reaction we hoped this monumental city would inspire.
For more information: Contact the Washington, D.C. Convention and Tourism Association 1212 New York Avenue NW., Suite 600, Washington, DC 20005; (202) 789-7000 or www.washington.org.
This article is from the 2003 issue of Southern Living Favorites. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.