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We had originally planned to visit a nearby asylum for a tour, but turns out they only give tours on special occasions :P So to console ourselves we visited Fruit Bowl instead!

(photo courtesy Gary H. on Yelp)

As you can see, it's a store full of candy with some fruits and veggies around the edges to make you feel bad for buying nothing but candy. They have other goods too, including canned jams and pickled fruits/veggies, locally baked bread, and a large variety of professional baking supplies including flavored oils, unique cookie cutters, and notably a 10lb bar of chocolate!

We filled a big plastic bag with candy ($4.95/lb!) and picked up a few other specialties as well (I can never resist locally-made apple butter!) then hit the road with our loot. I'm going to be eating that for weeks!

We found a hotel nestled in the WV mountains, with virtually no wifi or phone service. Otherwise a good hotel though. The next morning after a nice breakfast we drove out to Wilkes-Barre (pronounced "Berry" you guys). But we didn't stay in town. A few minutes outside Wilkes-Barre is Scranton. This is the town where I was born. It's a depressed coal/steel town, not much to look at, and most people know it as "the place where The Office takes place". But there is a lot of great history here. We pulled up to our hotel.

(photo courtesy Sanden M., TripAdvisor)

This is the Lackawanna Train Station, now a Radisson hotel, and it has special significance to me and my family. Back when Scranton had mined most of its steel and was turning to coal as its next major export, my great grandfather got a job working in the coal mines. The miners had just unionized and conditions in the mines were incredibly bad. I'm told my great grandpa had a mule to help him carry the coal out and not much else. When DL&W Railroad decided to build a new train station in Scranton, offering better pay and conditions, my great granddad got on board. He started out as a coal shoveler, feeding the engines and such. But he worked his way up the ranks and eventually became a dispatcher in the station. My grandfather, too, worked at the station, although his primary job was still in the mines.

In other words, this town and this station are where my family got its start in America. So when I walked through the doors of the station-turned-hotel as a guest, the significance was not lost on me. It made me feel humble, and proud.

The hotel lobby is almost entirely preserved from the original construction in 1908. The pillars and main entryway are Formosa marble, the walls are rare Siena marble. The skylight is Tiffany glass. Around the edges of the ceiling there are tile murals depicting scenes along the railroad's route. It's a really beautiful building, and I hope it will be preserved for ages to come.

After checking in we found dinner at Ale Mary's near the Steamtown Mall. We were surprised to find such a nice place in the area (no offense Scranton) and the unique offerings on the menu had us wanting to try everything! I had the Monte Cristo, a buttermilk-battered chicken breast on a toasted Belgian waffle with bacon, Swiss cheese, and raspberry jam, along with the house fries. Absolutely delicious.

After our meal we got back to the hotel and had a nice sleep.

The next day we found the train easily, even though it's a new yard for all of us. It was parked right next to an intersection with some fast food restaurants and a thrift store. I would have loved to explore, but had to prepare for the craziness of opening day! I packed, cleaned, and did laundry.

The next morning I went in early to scope out the arena, which our unit hasn't played in at least five years, probably more. I set up all of my equipment for Ben, my trombone sub who'd be filling in while I was home for my sister's wedding. He arrived in time for rehearsal, so I just stood by and watched while he played through everything. He did a great job! I felt very confident leaving things in his hands :) It was weird to not be playing. I used the time to walk around and bother everyone :P

When it was time for preshow, I went to the arena floor to meet several friends and family who were coming to the show: my Aunt Nicole, her friend and kids; my friend Rhi, a local tattoo artist and her friend; my friend Sarah and her man; and my dad's boss Carl and his wife and kids. Once everyone was gathered around I took them all on a brief tour backstage. Fortunately the elephants were waiting right in the portal when we came back! It was everyone's last chance to see these beautiful animals, so I hope they got a good look and some great pictures.

(photo courtesy Rhi W.)

After the tour I grabbed my suitcase and my bridesmaid's dress and ran outside to find my dad, who was waiting to pick me up (he enjoyed watching the elephants while he waited!). We drove back to my hometown, where my sister Kayle and her fiancee were already at the house unpacking.

The next day we had a wedding rehearsal in the morning. It went very well, the instructions were quite simple and the venue was easy to navigate.

After the rehearsal we had lunch and went to Kate's house to visit and do girly stuff like paint each others' nails. For the rehearsal dinner we met Kate's soon-to-be husband's family at a local restaurant for some great eats and good conversation. Kate's husband Pat Yorks comes from a rather rowdy family, while us O'Malleys are a bit more reserved. But I loved being around such a social family, it was a lot of fun!

The next day was The Big Day. We ladies got up early to hit the salon, getting our hair and makeup done. I've never been in a wedding party before so this was a new experience for me! It was very exciting, and the stylists knew just what to do with me thankfully. My sisters looked BEAUTIFUL. I was too nervous to take many photos, but the stylist kindly took this one of my hair (I haven't had it curled since elementary school):

Next we went to the hotel to eat some muffins, drink some mimosas, and get changed into our dresses for the photoshoot. We were all pretty nervous at this point, but we managed to get our dressed tied properly and get out the door on time. A shuttle took us to the wedding venue, where we took some photos with the bride, bride's family, groom, groom's family, etc. I hope to have pictures of that to share later.

Then it was time to wait for the guests to arrive. We were sent to a "dungeon"...ok not really, but because it was in the bottom of a stone farmhouse it felt kinda like that :)...where we waited very, very nervously.

(aren't my sisters gorgeous??)

Finally it was time! We processed to the starting point and went outside one by one. The sky was overcast, but fortunately it did not rain. The ceremony took place under an awning outside, while a string duet played lovely music.

(photos courtesy Tracy B.)

Before beginning the ceremony, a moment was taken to remember those who could not be present...especially our mom, Joanne. I couldn't see my sisters' faces, but I had to fight back tears just thinking about the fact that she couldn't be present for this beautiful event. If she'd been alive, I know she would've been just as nervous and excited as us. She would have cried. She would have drank with us. She would have been so proud of Kate.

The ceremony was brief but seemed to take forever for those of us in it! It was beautiful and definitely "Kate-style"! Afterward we went to the waiting area again, but got tired of waiting and soon ran upstairs to be with the other guests! It was amazing to see so many friends and family in one room. Kate was the perfect hostess, saying hello to everyone and spending time at each table.

Before the meal was served there were three speeches: one from my dad, one from Pat's brother, and one from my sister Raven. All three did an amazing job! Here is my dad giving his speech:

The meal was delicious! There were several options...I had the flank steak, potatoes and green beans. Perfectly cooked and seasoned. Afterward the tables were cleared and the dance floor was opened for Kate's first dance with her husband.

(photo courtesy Tracy B.)

Then she danced with our dad, who spun her around quite a few times!! It was so cute! I didn't get any footage but I'm sure there will be photos later. After that the cake was cut, and then it was a free-for-all. Everyone enjoyed dancing and socializing on this amazing day. There were lawn games outside, a deck to enjoy the view, and tables for us to sit and converse. I got to see family from all sides, a real pleasure.

Over the course of the evening, there was one thing that both amazed me and made me really happy. I saw my dad talking to my mom's sister (my deceased mom, who divorced my dad when I was five). I saw my stepdad--a recovering drug addict and someone we've all avoided these past few years--dancing with my sisters. I saw my sister Kayle's fiancee included in a Nearhoof-family photo. I saw my dad, aunt, stepdad, sisters, and brother all dancing at the same time, in the same space.

Let me be honest, my family is broken. There have been divorces, remarriages, deaths, bitter divides, long silences. Rarely do I ever see these people, much less see them in the same room, MUCH less see them interacting. It was magical, and it was a big deal. I'm sure this doesn't mean we're all going to sit down and sing kumbaya together. But it's something. It was a moment that will stick with me.

Thank you Kate and Pat, for being beautiful in so many ways.

(photo courtesy Kayle M.)

The next morning everyone had to get back to their lives. Raven and Jonah left for work and school. Kayle and her fiancee had to fly back to California. I had to get to Wilkes-Barre in time for the last show on Sunday...and the last show with elephants.

Elephant crew brought all of the elephants down the hill during preshow, and there they waited while local paparazzi swarmed them and circus workers stood by, staring, trying to burn their memory into our brains. Never again. It was such a horrible inevitableness, everyone feeling the time heavy on their shoulders. I wanted one more picture, one more touch, one more moment. But no amount of pictures and no amount of staring could ever keep them here, with us. They had to go...and so they did.

We played the show. When it came time for the elephant act, I kept it together. I thought, "I will be a rock, I will not cry." But then it was time for the spindle turns, and there was Asia, looking right at me and nodding, and then I was watching the elephants spin through blurry eyes, looking away in despair as the bull tubs were rolled away for the last time, and finally shutting my eyes to keep from crying as the elephants did their final long mount and exited the arena. As Asia's tail disappeared through the curtain, I wanted to scream, "STOP!!" Stop. You can't go. You're the magic here. You're what I look forward to every day. It's selfish...but I'll miss you. We all will.

I saw people cry that day that I've never seen shed a tear. Maybe it's hard to understand why this is such a big deal. After all, we knew it was coming, right? But these are more than just animals. They're our coworkers, our friends. And unlike our human coworkers, We cannot send them messages, or see them whenever we like. We may never see them again, and we certainly won't see them backstage, giving their handlers a hard time, stealing things out of peoples' pockets, staring at us with huge, deep, intelligent eyes. They were here for over a hundred years, for generations of circus workers and performers. And for the first time, they are gone.

To be honest, along with all the other emotions I'm feeling right now, I feel shame. Shame that our show, from now on, will be less because they will not be in it. Shame that I couldn't protect my friends, these animals and their handlers, trainers, and veterinary staff, all of whom worked so hard to keep their elephants safe and happy while facing horrible, unjust attacks from people who know not a single thing about what elephants need or want. I wanted to do more. I wanted to stop this from happening. I know it's what the company decided, and I think we all understand the reasons why. But there is a part of me that wishes there had been another way.

The members of elephant crew will find other work in time. The elephants will be fine, well cared-for and happy. We can still hope to have the chance to visit them someday. In the meantime, we have to move on. It's very hard, even for those of us who never worked directly with the elephants. But at the end of the day we still have something to offer, and a magic of our own. It will be harder without our elephant friends, but we will find it, and we will bring it forth.

Next week, Manchester NH. No elephants.

Other stuff:

In the midst of the elephants leaving, the Blue Unit's closing shows have been all but overlooked! Congratulations on completing an incredible, beautiful, heart-wrenching journey. "Heroes Get Remembered, but Legends Never Die".

(photo courtesy JLI)

And safe travels as you begin your journey...into SpaaaAAAAAAaaaace!!!!

CLICK HERE to see some of the amazing concept designs for Ringling's innovative 146th edition!

Here are all of the major news articles I could find about the retirement of the elephants
(many news outlets are rehashing the same story so I left repetitive sources out)

NPR (audio and transcript)
Washington Times
CBSNews (video)
WallStreetJournal (video)

Mable bowling during her last preshow.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 3rd, 2016 09:43 pm (UTC)
Beautiful story, Megan!
May. 8th, 2016 01:05 am (UTC)
Re: Beautiful
Thanks. It was an emotional week <3
May. 4th, 2016 05:13 pm (UTC)
Well written Megan. A bitter sweet weekend for you. Beging with your sister taking her vowels to the love of her life.... To the love of family, that is intertwined in so many people conected to you, your sisters and your brother... Your mom was there close to you, she is in the way you walk, the way talk, the smile you place on your face every time you see your Dad. I see it... Amd so does anyone that knew her. She would be proud of you for watching over Asia and her elephant siblings. This weekend you where blessed to be part of the end of a great love affair that over 100 years people have had with a charmibg animal. With such grace, you tell these stories well. Thank you.
May. 4th, 2016 08:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much. I'm so proud of my sister and happy for our family...our new extended family-in-law too!!!

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )