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Margaret's Musings: Traveling times, 'They are a changing'

The crowd clapped vigorously for a long time. It wasn't a large crowd, 170 perhaps. The venue was not a typical performing arts center, gymnasium or school auditorium. It was a long, cylindrical climate-controlled tube with, at times, spectacular views.

We the "audience" were not in a position to exit the venue quickly but enthusiastically lauded the "performers." We were the passengers on a flight from Atlanta to Pensacola. Upon landing, the flight attendant announced that we had a group of active-duty military personnel on board and thanked them for their service; the crowd went wild in acknowledgement.

It has only been two years since I have flown, but I observed a lot has changed. Since the only thing I have ever been is a casual flyer going places infrequently to visit relatives, I have yet to get bored with the idea that flight is an ordinary event. I still enjoy watching the terrain pass by and, in the case of Monday's late-night flight home, watching a spectacular lightning show from above and through the clouds.

Interpersonal communication is nearly a thing of the past on board flights. The gates all have charging stations for electronic devices. People look at their devices instead of each other even while walking, head down as though their lives depended on the next message.

If you have ever flown on the 45-minute hop between Atlanta and Pensacola you know you barely reach altitude for all those devices to work before your descent begins.

The flight crew tried a little humor.

"Your choice for a complimentary snack is peanuts, peanuts or peanuts," said the flight attendant, who suggested people consider what beverage they may want ahead of time since the crew of three had 30 minutes to serve beverages to 170 people. "There are a lot of you and only three of us."

Since I was only two rows from the back end of the aircraft, a couple glances at the approaching cart told the story. The LAX (Los Angeles)-based flight crew was practically wiping their brows as the passengers first wanted ice, then no ice, then water, 'no, I really want a cola' and so it went down the aisle.

As to the destination, when we first started to talk about a visit to the Pensacola area, it came up that we would simply relax. The plan was to enjoy the Florida climate on my cousin's big wrap-around southern-style porch reading, relaxing etc.

I knew neither of us would actually sit still for long. Not long after my plane hit the tarmac late Friday afternoon, we were at the huge fresh fish market (right on the water), taking home enough fresh-made sushi to serve six, then it was off to visit my beloved aunt who is in a memory care center before heading out to the country.

The next day, the race was on to fit as much into three days as we could. It started with riding a wonderful 25-year-old thoroughbred named Bravo, who is calm enough for me. I was more or less born a horse person; my eyes still tear up at the wonder of these marvelous creatures that I grew up with, but largely exchanged for dogs after college. My cousin stayed committed to horses and has had them since he was in 4-H. So I normally ride at least once when I am visiting him. This time we got in two rides over the three days. I always know I will be in pain for a couple of days afterward but after all these years I am still comfortable in the saddle and my posture improves immediately, even if my posting leaves something to be desired. Ahhhh, wouldn't it be nice to have youthful core strength again.

Next, he planned a trip to a cheese "factory" lighthouse on the coast, a stop at Barrancas National Cemetery and then home and on to a game night party at a friend's house. At the end of the day, we laughed about the fact that I traveled from Wisconsin to Florida to visit a cheese-making operation and enjoy frozen custard at a one-of-a-kind shop not unlike Culver's.

Both were wonderful. It turned out The Sweet Home Farm, established over 25 years ago, makes artisan cheeses out of raw milk from their small herd of Golden Guernsey cows. As you arrive you can see the cows grazing on lush pastures. According to their brochure they use no herbicides, pesticides or growth hormones on the farm. The cheese varieties change with the seasons and we found in sampling that many tickled our taste buds, from the habanero to blue cheese that melted in your mouth to a signature cheese with fennel. All are aged for a minimum of 60 days. Along with the artisan cheeses they have a small selection of unique food products including syrups from Slovenia, with two ingredients: berries and sugar. If you are in the area it is worth a trip to Elberta, Ala. It is a small, entirely family-owned operation. Don't expect glitz; the shop will hold about six customers at a time, but since climate is generally never a problem, you can be outside if you happen to arrive when the shop is full.

When I mentioned that we lived close to the Bass Lake Cheese Factory, it was clear that the Ericksons' have a national reputation.

The day passed quickly and we gave up on the lighthouse and Barrancas but made it to the house party.

Since visiting my aunt was big priority, I went back twice to see her. She looks wonderful for her age, which will soon be 91. The last time, on Monday, I just sat by her as she slept in her chair holding her baby, a stuffed doll. It was peaceful and I didn't fret about the fact that she may no longer remember me nor can she clearly verbalize her thoughts. I just reveled in being able to be in her presence.

Our last day, we gathered at a waterside open air restaurant. It was there that I felt like I was actually in Florida, with a gentle breeze and seafood menu. There I exchanged brothers, my younger cousin going off to work while his older brother, my age, taking me to the airport. On the way we stopped at Barrancas National Cemetery to see his father, my uncle's "grave." There is something very powerful about visiting a National Cemetery, whether it is in Arlington, Va., Fort Snelling or at Barrancas, which is within the U.S. Naval Air Station in Pensacola. Originally the site of Fort Barrancas, the cemetery was expanded in 1838 and established as a naval cemetery. During the Civil War many casualties were interred there from both sides. In January of 1868 it officially became Barrancas National Cemetery. Its detailed history is more fascinating and too long to include here. Still the many rows of symmetrical white head stones are a reminder of the many thousands who sacrificed and served our country.

It wasn't a trip to the Magic Kingdom but reconnecting with family is always more enjoyable even if the ride of your life is on the back of a gentle giant instead of a complex commercially themed roller coaster.