North America | United States of America (USA) | Capital Region | Washington DC – Brakin’ the Law with Grandma’s Gun
Travelling to the US with a toddler was far more difficult than I imagined. Ever since Lucy was born weve travelled to Dorset, Devon, Berkshire, and even to Germany and Spain. Lucy loves looking out of train windows and smiling at people on buses. She knows where her bicycle helmet is, though were not quite up to any long baby-on-bicycle tours. At 15 months old shes only been riding pillion since late summer.
After an unexpected 5-hour overnight bus ride from Valencia to Barcelona in September and that was just me and the baby I thought we could do anything. But I had not bargained for a 5-hour time change or the winter germ season.
I dont know what was worse the 2 weeks it took Lucy to adjust to Eastern Standard Time, or the succession of colds and viruses that we distributed around the East Coast of my former homeland. Or maybe it was the mood of the country when Sexton and I were last there in May 2004 people had hope. Now they were all just keeping their heads down and trying to get on with their lives. Everyone was struggling. Web designers, blue-collar labourers, professors. It felt more like a foreign country than it ever has in the 15 years since I moved away. The richer are getting richer and the poor cant do a damn thing about it.
We landed in Washington DC, where we stayed with my brother and his wife in a cute but small house, in area where no one foxes broken sidewalks. No one walks in the USA. The next day we immediately drove 2 hours to Charlottesville to visit my aunt and meet my sisters new baby. All around family fun. But far more interesting is the story of my moms gun.
When my mom was still living in Ohio, she bought a carbine. She was planning a sailing trip through the Panama Canal and thought shed need protection. The boat trip never happened, though. Mom did no research on the countries she would visit, did not learn Spanish, did not know how to sail and could not find a travelling companion (though my old mate Victor from my Baltic bike trip nearly volunteered until he found out about Moms lack of research.)
Mom ended up doing several roads trips around the US with her cat in her van, until she settled in the Pacific Northwest for a couple of years. There she took up a sport called Biathlon, where you cross country ski with a gun on your back and then lie down and shoot targets (really, what will they think of next?). She attended target practice with the local border guards. On one of her many jaunts to Canada, she called out to one of the customs officers, see you at the shooting range! And then had her car thoroughly searched.
At that time, Mom would leave her gun at her rental condo when she went to Canada. But last summer she packed up to move east again. This time she left the gun in my brothers attic when she drove up to Canada. While on our way to Charlottesville I mentioned the weapon. My brother and his wife denied any knowledge of the firearm, and in fact were quite shocked, as guns are illegal in the District of Columbia. The next day we had a family dinner where my mom admitted her .22 was in my brothers attic. His wife hit the roof and then said lets not mention it again.
When I was alone with my brother I offered to take the gun to my friends house in Pennsylvania. They have many guns including an assault rifle, so one more wouldnt make any difference, but I didnt really want to handle a gun, not knowing if it was loaded or what. I dont think my brother would have wanted to drive around with it anyway. Plus Sister-in-Law seemed determined to give it up to the police.
The subject of firearms was swiftly swept under the carpet while we all went site seeing on Capitol Hill. We endured lengthy searches to get into the Smithsonians many wonderful and dont forget FREE museums. Lucy eyed up the Hope Diamond in the Natural History museum, trying to work our how to sneak it into her cousins stroller (shed shoplifted a toy in a friends buggy in London before we left.) Brother-in-Law admired the jewels while I yawned and followed my toddler around. The displays of agates, quartzes and malachites reminded me too much of my moms coffee table back in Ohio. Nana (as she is affectionately known by her English granddaughter) turned up too late for all the geology she loves; we were on to creepy crawlies when she finally appeared, dressed in the most lurid orange jacket imaginable. Youd think she was working on a construction site (or maybe it was her hunting gear?). Brother-in-Law tried his best to distance himself from our motley group, while everyone else took lots of photos of babies in front of cases full of deadly spiders, poisonous snakes and giant cockroaches.
Brother-in-Law decided he wanted to go to the Air and Space museum, across the street, which was in fact a 20 minute walk away. Not too good for someone with sciatica. We paused on the mall for family photos in front of the capitol building and that pointy thing.
Thats where Smiley will be working when she has Ws job, said Brother-in-Law, proudly looking at his 6-month-old daughter.
What job? The most hated person in the world? I said.
Bush isnt the most hated person in the world! What about Bin Laden?
Bin Laden doesnt exist, I said. He has no power…the Americans invented him… but its really best not to talk politics with in-laws, especially Republicans.
The tightest security of all was at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Just in case someone wanted to blow up exotic plants and model train sets. This was everyones favourite; mine because the warm, damp air did much to aid my congested sinuses; Brother and Sister-in-Law because they just love plants and Lucy because of the trains, flowers and kids. Oh, and Sexton liked it because he stayed in the car and slept. (Brother-in-Law, Sister and future President Smiley had all gone back to Florida by now tropical plants had no interest for them, and Nana went back to Maine, not knowing the fate of her carbine.)
While in DC we also visited the cement museum, where Sexton and I discussed which type of wet cement most resembled what was in Lucys nappy that morning. They even had a transparent slab of cement (I kid you not), and a fabulous gift shop full of toys. Another highlight for Sexton was the American Indian museum, where he ate 2 buffalo burgers.
Its all about the circle, said Sister-in-Law when we were home later. I thought she was talking about her coven. But she meant Lucys obsession with round things. Lucy will take anything round – a bracelet, roll of duct tape, plastic ring, rubber band and put her hand through and suck her thumb. Circles are her security blanket.
And somewhere in here I just have to mention the litter trained house rabbits. They sometimes hang out in a tray full of shredded paper, where pellets spill out on to the carpet of Brother and Sister-in-Laws bedroom. The bunnies hop around the house, much to the delight of the toddler, who never catches them but has fun trying to.