It's been a month since we returned to our Bountiful home. Our prior entry marked the closure to our mission. However, much will always be unsaid, and we want to include memories of our last day(s) in Georgia and our trip home.
Wednesday was the after-transfer New Missionary and Trainer followup meeting. We drove over to the Mission Office and spent an hour or so going over things with the Residoris. The mission experienced three vehicle accidents in the three days we were gone. Good timing or bad? We gave grateful, but cheerful goodbyes to our colleagues, some of whom were setting tables for the infamous post meeting formal luncheon. When we first began with the prep and table serving for this regular meeting, the participants numbered about 25. This day over 70 would have lunch! President and Sister Wolfert graciously invited us to step into the chapel to say goodbye to the missionaries during a break in the meeting. After some sweet words from the Wolferts, the missionaries stood and sang Called to Serve. Our tears flowed as we looked at those wonderful faces and smiles. What a sight to remember - always. I tried to memorize each face, but then remembered they were already embedded in my heart and mind from our personal interactions and the wonderful photo wall that I directly viewed everyday in the mission office.
We had hugs with the Wolferts and our senior counterparts, and we were then off to pack our car. After packing, the car ended up just a tiny bit less crowded than it was on our trip out from Utah. We enjoyed a lingering breakfast with Don and Zaza at nearby Metro Cafe. It was hard to say goodbye.
It had been a sweet morning. After a quick stop to pick up some last minute Georgia gifts (Atlanta Braves hats) for family, we made our final westbound drive on the Stone Mountain Highway, leaving the Georgia Atlanta North Mission behind. It was a bittersweet few miles! We had hoped to leave Lilburn by 11:00 a.m. since our destination for the night was Savannah, some four hours away. By the time we hit the Atlanta "perimeter" interstate, it was nearly 1 p.m. We had one last stop enroute to Savannah and before departing mission life. Because we had enjoyed frequent calls with the Georgia Atlanta Mission staff, we wanted to meet the Seelys and Huffakers in person. So we took a one hour detour to Fayetteville to shake their hands. They were as delightful and dedicated in person as we imagined, and we were glad we took the time to say hello and thank you. Over our months as office specialists, we had occasion to talk to other mission offices from time to time. We will always gratefully feel a bond with these wonderful saints who strengthened our love for the Lord and commitment to His work.
It was nearly dark when we arrived in Savannah, and we wandered a bit in the dark, driving through much of the town only return to our motel street to eat. We started the next day with a visit to Tybee Island and a sandal walk in the waters of the Atlantic.
The 2013 federal government shutdown had closed the National Monument at Fort Pulaski. We headed back to Savannah's riverfront to enjoy a stroll, some shopping, and a bistro lunch. Then we drove the historic streets to Lafayette Square to snap some photos and traveled out to Wormsloe, a state-run historic plantation with an amazing 1.5 mile lane arched by towering oaks. A last minute decision, it was a great end to our day in Savannah.
The next day we left the freeways and took old US highway routes to Birmingham, AL. We passed miles of cotton fields and abandoned agricultural countryside. We gave Elder William Sarniquet (now released) a call in Birmingham, hoping to take him to dinner, but he and his mother were driving to Atlanta for a birthday party with one of his converts. At his suggestion, we visited Vulcan Park to end our evening and shot some sunset photos of Birmingham from the tower.
We knew nothing about Birmingham, but found its hills and history interesting. We met William at Panera Bread the next day for breakfast and had a great visit. We consider his friendship, contagious smile, and positivity as one of the greatest blessings of our mission. After breakfast we headed to Little Rock, AK for our next night's stay. Don Clark had tipped us off that Tupelo (Elvis's birthplace) was along the way, so that short detour was a pleasant travel break. It was a great "checked off the list" for a couple of our generation.
I-40 through Mississippi had few highlights but led us to Memphis where we stopped for lunch and spent an hour or so walking the redeveloped riverfront. Unlike our visits to the Mississippi River in Illinois, the river here felt open, with few trees and more industrial shoreline. The landscape changed as we entered the Ozarks. We were pleasantly surprised to see the rolling hills that bank the Arkansas River and Little Rock.
Our next travel day was General Conference Sunday. Unable to catch a radio signal, we figured out how to listen to the broadcast on our cell phone. We've always found ourselves better at "hearing and feeling" the messages of Conference through sound rather than TV, so our travel across Oklahoma and Texas to Amarillo went by quickly, uneventfully, and pleasantly. We were again surprised by the size and prosperity of Amarillo. We considered a side trip the next day to the Canyon area, but after looking at the photos of what is called the "grand canyon" of Texas, we felt we have seen similar scenery in great quantity in Utah. It was time to choose routes back to Utah- either through New Mexico or Colorado. We picked New Mexico and ended up in Albuquerque for lunch. Our goal was to spend the night in Farmington, N.M. and take the Lees to dinner. Unfortunately, they were in Utah. We learned they had been traveling with family for nearly the entire month since they departed the GA Atlanta North Mission and Hartwell, GA. Tuesday took us to Cortez. As we headed to Blanding, Linda convinced Ray to take the back road to Moab through Naturita, CO. The drive was spectacular - through farmland, red rock, and high mountain passes south of the La Sal Mountains - on a pristine fall day. It helped us feel back home as we returned through country we loved.
What's ahead? A report at Church, putting home and yard back to normalcy, reconnecting with friends and family, and a new missionary opportunity. They are topics for our future posts. The time for writing and pressing forward as full-time missionaries in the Georgia Atlanta North Mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has come to an end.