How could I have let this happen? Rembrandt had been hanging out (no pun intended) in Raleigh since October and I was about to let him slip out of town without saying hello. Rembrandt in America - the largest collection of authentic Rembrandts ever assembled and shown on American soil - was entering its final weekend at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.
So on Friday night I grabbed the phone and called my daughter to see if she and the baby were up for a good Saturday adventure. As luck would have it, she was giving a presentation on Saturday morning at the university where she works and it just happened to be an hour toward Raleigh - which is three hours away from us. We decided to bundle up the baby, pack the diaper bag and make a day of it.
We warned Miller when he was born that his Mama and his Bebe were prone to wild-hair adventures on the spur of the moment and that he would probably be pulled into the fray by virtue of having no other choice. His Daddy just shook his head and laughed, saying "Son, I can't help you with this one."
Translation: "Anyone up for a nice round of golf?"
Translation: "Anyone up for a nice round of golf?"
Saturday dawned rainy and foggy. Miller dozed in the car seat and we made it to campus with time to spare. The presentation went well, and after a quick dash through the rain back to the car, we headed toward Raleigh. We had barely given the rain a thought. Raleigh was two hours away, and without any meteorological data whatsoever to bolster our position, we were fairly confident that we would drive out of the rain before we ever got there.
And then, as babies will do, Miller decided to muddy his diaper just this side of Asheboro - probably in honor of all the rain, and probably just to make his Mama and me aware that we were exactly three weeks from anywhere remotely conducive to changing a muddy diaper. And just for the record (Miller, don't kill me when you grow up and read this) it was the muddiest diaper in the history of mankind. And we changed it in the rain, and the cold, in the parking lot of a gas station that looked like it had seen happier days. At that moment, so had we. His mother gamely said "Well at least he didn't do it in the presence of Rembrandt."
That little glitch behind us and with sunshine at least in our hearts if not in the skies, we forged ahead. We knew exactly where we were going for lunch, too. There is a burger joint in Siler City, NC - the stuff of legends - called Johnson's Drive-In. It was right on our way and neither of us had ever been there. They are famous for their Velveeta Cheeseburgers. Google them. You'll see.
They are only open for four hours on Tuesday through Saturday. They buy whole sides of fresh beef every morning before sunrise and grind it that day. They only buy enough for the day, too, and when the beef is gone, they are closed. We rolled toward Siler City thinking good thoughts - and sure enough, the parking lot was still full of cars when we arrived. After a half-hour wait which was worth every tick of the clock, we did enjoy the best cheeseburgers we had ever eaten.
Back on the road, however, we realized we had a long way to go and a short time to get there. And Jerry Reed wasn't driving the car and Burt Reynolds wasn't up ahead running interference. So it was that we arrived at Mr. Rembrandt's doorstep fairly late for the advance ticket time we had purchased. And contrary to our earlier prediction, we had not, after all, driven out of the rain.
Apparently, the residents of seven states and four foreign countries had all driven their cars to the North Carolina Museum of Art that afternoon for the exact same ticket time that we had purchased. We were directed to the parking lot on The Outer Reaches Of Muddy Hell, half a mile away from the front door, because that was the only parking lot with any vacancies. Now, all due respect to the fine folks who run the Museum, we know they were doing the best they could, given the fact that the whole world waited until the last weekend to come and see Rembrandt. That said, however, you haven't lived until you have plowed a baby stroller through an unpaved muddy parking lot in a January rainstorm. I highly recommend it for your next vacation. Once inside, though, we settled ourselves and joined the throngs in the East Building for an extraordinary look at some of the best art the world has ever seen.
We learned that not all Rembrandts are created equal. Not all Rembrandts are even Rembrandts, it turns out. Art historians are now of the opinion that some of the works bearing his signature were actually executed by other artists in his workshop, and only the most careful examination can determine whether a Rembrandt actually came from his hand. The exhibit fully embraced this and educated us beautifully along the way. Even the fakes were to die for.
And, in the midst of the masses in the galleries, we literally bumped into our friends, Rob and Lydia, who live just around the corner from us! Hopefully their journey had not been as fraught with drama as ours had been.
Little Miller, attending his first viewing of art masterpieces, took it all in stride. He flirted with the guards and gazed up at the paintings with the same awe he accords to Elmo every morning on TV. In fact, he can tell his grandchildren that he actually viewed Rembrandt in person while taking a bottle of formula. I do know this: after hanging with us all day like the little trouper he is, he had absolutely nothing left to give as we trudged back through the rain and the mud to the car for the drive home.
His t-shirt should read:
"Rembrandts, Cheeseburgers and Mudslides. I survived".