It’s been a few years since I traveled any farther than Bangor, but a load-bearing branch of our family tree (my younger brother) has decided to plant himself in Dixie’s sunny shore – specifically, Virginia. We’ve tried to pull him back, but against the barbecue and the warm weather, our efforts have proved fruitless. So sometimes, south we go.

It was my first time traveling by bus or plane since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and I was pretty much the only person I saw wearing a mask. Most days, I’m the only person I see wearing a mask in a public place. It’s because I’ve come to the conclusion that the pros of wearing a mask (less chance of getting sick, opportunity to cover up my travel zits) outweigh the cons of wearing a mask (none; my face is perfectly shaped for wearing a mask comfortably, it is the only good thing about its shape).

My brother lives in Smithfield, a rural town about 40 minutes outside of Norfolk. From his living room, you can look out over acres and acres of corn and cotton. Tidewater Virginia looks a bit like Midcoast Maine, only larger in scale. Instead of one shipyard, there are three. Instead of a bridge spanning a river, it spans a whole bay. When we were kids, Spencer and I did everything together, so it makes sense to me that we’d end up settling in similar places. The weather is about three weeks ahead of ours; it was humid and almost 80 degrees during our visit. Not my natural habitat at all.

I’d like to say we spent our vacation out and about, exploring and doing lots of interesting things, but even as an opinion columnist, I’m not allowed to lie.

We did go to the Isle of Wight County Museum. If you ever get the chance to visit, you should. Admission was $2, which is unbeatable in this economy. It’s a small but well-designed museum, with all sorts of hands-on activities for children. Or for childish millennials. (For example.)

The displays of agricultural equipment from the early 1900s looked familiar to me; I’m fairly certain I’ve seen the same tools in my mom’s barn. The museum is also the home of the world’s oldest ham, cured in 1902, forgotten on a shelf for 20 years, and thereafter displayed publicly as testament to the power of the patented Smithfield ham curing methodology. The ham even has a livestreaming internet camera that you can watch from anywhere (lovingly known as the “Ham Cam”). Now that I know you can make a museum out of this sort of thing, I may be opening my own museum out of the back of my mom’s freezer.


As oddly delightful as I found the world’s oldest ham, it wasn’t why we went down south.

We went to see my brother’s girlfriend, Veronique, graduate from Tidewater Community College with a degree in respiratory therapy. She and my brother have been together for years, so my family has been lucky enough to watch her work her tail off for this moment.

For the past two years, every time we called or Zoomed with my brother, Veronique would pop in to say hello for a minute, and then she’d go back to studying. She’s not great at tooting her own horn and I’ve never once heard her brag, but I know she’s already been involved in a handful of hospital life-savings. And for the past several weeks, while going through the rush of high-stakes final exams, she has also been taking care of her mother, who had a stroke last month. Veronique’s mom has been improving day by day, but she’s still in the hospital. (Prayers welcome.)

Mrs. Cutler didn’t get to attend her daughter’s graduation. My family knows a thing or two about having a parent missing at graduation, so we tried to cheer extra loud.

Let me tell you, if you want to see joy and accomplishment, go to a community college graduation. In terms of age, this was undoubtedly the most diverse graduation I’ve ever attended. Most of the basketball stadium that we were in was full, and as each student’s name was called, a pocket of joy exploded from various corners of the arena; the best kind of emotional fireworks.

Grandparents, moms and dads, little kids, the occasional service dog. My mom works as an adjunct professor at a local community college. She always says, “Community colleges change lives.” It may sound a little treacly, but it’s true, and it was an honor to witness in Virginia.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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