‘Revisiting America’: A literary gem of a dream fulfilled

An 11-month journey on the road 'Kuralt-style'
Tue, 11/11/2014 - 7:30am

“Revisiting America” recounts the cross-country journey of two sisters, Inda Lou Lambert Schell and Janie Gass, using the Charles Kuralt's book “America” as their travel guide.

Written primarily by Schell, beginning in January of 2012 for a period of one year, the book was published July 11, 2014 by WriterSpace Publishing.

Schell is a natural when it comes to storytelling. She weaves the history of the places visited with the adventures had with Gass and solo, relating the tales as though she were speaking to the reader.

Schell knows how to draw you in to their story by making you feel like you're part of the story, perhaps sitting at the next table, in the next chalet or condo or farmhouse in the small towns they visit.

Originally, it was Schell and her husband, Fletcher, who had the dream to see the places and meet some of the people Kuralt had seen and met, after reading “America.” But, when Fletcher died in late 2004, that shared dream seemed to go with him.

But Schell couldn't shake the idea. She couldn't let go of the feeling that she was still meant to go.

“When I make up my mind to do something, I'm going to do it just the way I made up mind to do it,” Schell said from her home Chatom, Alabama.

Schell asked her sister Janie to join her on the adventure.

The two set off, Gass from Austin, Texas, and Schell from her home on January 3, 2011 bound for their first of 11 destinations, New Orleans.

The sisters decided early on not to research the places they were bound, save for making their month-long lodging arrangements, because they preferred to “enjoy the excitement of surprise.”

From New Orleans it was on to Key West, Charleston, South Carolina, Blowing Rock, North Carolina, New York City, Woodstock, Vermont, and Boothbay Harbor in July.

Due to health issues, Gass returned home from Boothbay. Schell vowed to complete the trip alone. Programming her Buick SUV’s OnStar she drove on to Ely, Minnesota, Twin Bridges, Montana, Ketchikan, Alaska, and Taos, New Mexico. Schell returned to her hometown on Nov. 22.

“We did things we never would have done,” Schell said. “I tried to do things he (Kuralt) would have done and patterned my trip with people he knew and he wrote about, which opened the door for people to talk about him. Everyone just thought the world of him.”

Some destinations the two had been to before, such as New York City, Charleston and New Orleans.

Doing things Kuralt would have or had done led them to be more adventurous. How adventurous? Together they crossed the 228-foot Mile High Swing Bridge in Blowing Rock.

“I'm not crazy about heights, but how could you not do that? It was not that windy or cool; maybe the Lord worked that out for us.”

During the solo part of the journey, Schell went on a float plane ride in Ketchikan.

“I really don't care to fly, but how could you not? To me, that was such an unusual (opportunity) to see the area from above. The guy piloting the plane called me the 'ride along.' It was spectacular.”

Schell and Gass also did one thing they doubt Kuralt would have done: They attended a fashion show while they were in Charleston.

Schell noted one of the featured designers in the show had 20 outfits inspired by cathedrals and graveyards. Writes Schell of the clothing line's inspiration in her book, “An idea that taxed the imagination!”

Another departure from Kuralt's trek: Schell, a devout Christian, vowed to attend a different church every Sunday. Gass, who wasn't a regular churchgoer, agreed to accompany her sister. From the grandeur of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City to the modest single story Baptist church in Taos Valley, New Mexico, Schell describes the places of worship from the architecture to the fellowship she felt and witnessed from within.

A self-professed foodie, Schell goes into great detail about the food they enjoyed along the way. Check this out about “Blue Heaven” in Key West: “Our lunch was excellent: shrimp sauteed in butter with squash, zucchini and onions; refried beans; brown rice; asparagus spears, diced tomatoes, and a huge slice of fresh-baked cornbread ... We shared a slice of key lime pie with a four-inch meringue. An incredible, edible meal.”

With regard for their love of food, Schell writes, “Janie said we are living proof that 'travel broadens the mind.' Though, in our case, it was also broadening something else due to all the delicious food we'd consumed.”

There are several pages of photos in the book and others, inspired by Schell's descriptive writing, readers will develop on their own, “Huge trees making a canopy that drips with Spanish moss and creates a shadowy path line the mostly two-lane roads in Charleston.”

She wrote of their cottage at Ocean Point during the month of July, “Ocean Point, where we were living, was idyllic. The landscape changes as the tides rise and fall.”

After worship services at Wilson Memorial Chapel, Schell and Gass were chatting with the Rev. Peter Panagore. As soon as he learned they were following Kuralt's “America,” he gave them the telephone number of Robert Mitchell. Thrilled to be speaking to the photographer who had taken the cover shot of “America,” the two sisters called Mitchell right away.

Long story short (you can read it in the Schell's book), at Schell's request, Mitchell's photo graces the cover of “Revisiting America” — in the same location as the original: Pemaquid Point Lighthouse.

“I couldn't think of anybody else to take the picture or of anything else for the cover of the book,” said Schell.

Schell recently ordered a second printing of the book on the advice of Mary Lou Teel of CBS “Sunday Morning.” Teel and her crew had traveled to Chatom to do a story on Schell and Gass's trip just three weeks ago. Schell's family and some friends all came over for the big event.

“Mary Lou reminded me ‘Sunday Morning’ has six million viewers and that I was probably going to need more books,” Schell said with a chuckle.

Schell wrote the book for three reasons: to encourage others to continue to see and want to learn about places and be active; to remind people how wonderful, good and kind people are everywhere; and to remind us how beautiful and wonderful our country is.

But, as far as planning another trip on the scale of “Revisiting America,” Schell said no, adding, “Who would want to read 'Revisiting Revisiting America'!”

“Revisiting America” is available in hardcover and Kindle versions on Amazon.com.

A feature on the sisters appeared in the July 29, 2011 edition of the Boothbay Register.