Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Roads Traveled

At the start of my trip West, I had a bit of a drive. The truck was running smoothly, I had water and supplies on board, one travel mug with coffee, one with Scooby Snacks. No GPS. I drive the truck with simply pilotage and signs, finding the GPS voice a nagging I didn't want and the directions sometimes less then accurate (recalculate this!)  Certainly, I get off course once in a great while, but sometimes those are the adventures we remember.

I was in South Florida on a layover with a copilot years back. We'd heard there was a boat show, so with an old, borrowed airport car, we headed out to find it. What we found were miles and miles of small neighborhoods in which NO ONE spoke English and boats were somewhat scarce. My Spanish is limited, just enough to get myself more thoroughly lost. I finally told my partner that the next business I see, I AM stopping for directions, no matter what.

There, on the next corner was a small used car lot. But not just any used cars, they had all, for lack of a more politically correct term, been "pimped out".  Low riders, enough pink and glitter and chrome to take out an eye quicker than a laser. I couldn't imagine anyone driving one of these in daylight with a straight face.  The name of the place? "Get Down Motors".

I said I was stopping, and I did, garnering a little attention as I did so, there not being a plethora of natural redheads around. The sales manager couldn't have been nicer, drawing me a map as to where I was going, chatting for a bit about a couple classic cars, that in their prior life might have inhabited the garage of our parents (minus the fur covered dashboard).

Roads traveled.

I thought of this on the long drive to start vacation and smiled, one that did not last long as up ahead,  in the opposite direction, a sudden flash of emergency vehicles.  Fire trucks. All lanes Southbound were stopped and as I slowed and got over to the right lane, I could see the burned out shell of an SUV. There was nothing left but a charred husk, the fire so intense it started a grass fire on the side of the road 30 feet away.

There was no other vehicle, it had not been hit, and it was in the right lane, not pulled off to the side.  Something happened fast and the vehicle was abandoned where it could be stopped. There was no ambulance or wrecker, I'd have seen it continuing South as I headed North.  I could only imagine - engine fire? Fuel leak? Spare can of gas in the back, (why people do that is beyond comprehension), windows up tight against the heat, fumes building and then poof? Spontaneous human combustion after a life of pork rinds and Big Macs? Many scenarios, none ending as planned.

After Mom died, I spent time at Dad's going through drawers and cupboards.  In part it was to help my Dad give to charity those things he did not need, but also to gather photos and mementos in one place, for such a time where he could look at them with joy, not anguish.

As any child does, we always picture our parents as being "old", as a picture of staid authority and wisdom. Looking at the photos of my parents, growing up together, falling in love, I remember that, although they invested an incredible energy in raising a family, they also invested an incredible energy in the things that made the two of them happy, outside of that which was expected of them. What were they like, those two, before we came along? What dreams did they have that were denied, what dreams did they have that were unspoken?

Their lives certainly didn't travel as planned, a war interrupting their wedding plans for 5 years, the loss of a child followed by 11 childless years, then adoption. Then those children all traveling the world, family gatherings at best 2 or 3 times a year, Mom's health failing and Dad losing her so young.  It was likely not the life he planned on. Yet he kept on going, believing what he needed to believe, or rather, what was intolerable for him not to believe. He believed he would be happy again, and he was.

The traffic was moving along again but at a pace of three toed sloth, not a sprint car. Up ahead, another slow up, it looked like someone rear ended someone, a minor accident, given the speeds, but worth getting off the freeway to get around on side roads.

I known people through the years that have had every aspect of their lives planned out, mapped out. The journey from birth to death laid out like perfect roadway. Life, being something that refuses to cooperate with plans and possessing no map, usually throws them off on a different road, often without warning. It's how they respond to such detours that make the difference between someone who simply survives, and someone who sheds tears for the change but embraces the journey, finding happiness along the way.

I think back to more than one hunting trip, laying there on the cold ground, aching and sleepless under goose down as heavy as a lead apron as my companions slept around me.  I think back to those dreams that didn't go as planned. There, in the wilderness, where such senses are heightened, I pictured life, fate or whatever you call it, looming above like the dark canvas of tent,  musing downward on this small cluster of fragile human dreams.  I laid there thinking of all the times I hunted and came home empty handed, nothing to show for my exertions but unmarked solitude. Then I would think about all the times fate smiled on me, all the days the deer had fallen beneath my guns and how the fierce sunlight of Fall renewed me, even if I came home with nothing to show for my weariness but  blisters and virgin ammo.

I'd then sleep and wake up renewed, walking out into the fields, the land flattened and calm, dissolving away under a cold rain like the rivers themselves dissolve away, and though I knew that however the day ended, I was here, alive. Over the years, the ground may get harder and the blankets a little rougher and thinner, but I was free to carry my shotgun, on land I could own; I was loved without expectation and I was loved deeply. Those are gifts for which I am quite grateful.

As the wheels of my truck hummed along with the music and the traffic thinned out, I took the time to really look around me, here on this side road I never expected to take. The landscape was warped and wrung in the heat into geometrical squares of wilted hope. The grass was dead, the trees bent down, limbs pulled against trunks, as if hoping the sun would not notice them, the skeleton stalks of corn seeming to serve as warning to next years plantings.  The creeks were dry, the rivers thick and slow, almost without current. Yet, in only months, they would run wild again, spreading out over this land, drowning the fertile soil and subsiding again, leaving it richer, even if it does not remain.

The trips to see my Dad are good ones.  The airfare back and forth eats a chunk out of my wallet, and almost all of my vacation, but it's money and time spent gladly. Each time I go though, I'm more and more aware that this could be the last visit, and I know Dad is as well. Yet it doesn't change how he looks at it. There are outings planned and board games dusted off, beer chilled and windows opened to the wind as if these summer days will go on forever.

He is just happy to have me home. He doesn't bemoan the fact I'm not showing up with husband and kids in tow, that I carry a bag with a "bodily fluid clean up kit" instead of diapers.  He doesn't judge that I often sit up late in the night, alone, reflecting back on roads taken, and how living this life, as opposed to one with someone for whom there was no affinity for me as an individual, only as a possession, is so much less lonely.

On such nights, he  doesn't expect conversation or explanations, he simply brings me a mug of tea, kisses me on the forehead and heads off to bed to dream those dreams that still are so alive to him.  I will sit up until I know he's resting comfortably, happy to hear the sound of his gentle snores, as he strides, as if young, through the fields of his youth, chasing immortal game that bounds ahead of soundless guns.

Before sleep, I make the rounds of the house, inside and out.  Out in the drive I place my hand on the hood of the truck, feeling the residual warmth there under the rain's whisper, happy for the journey, however it took me to get here.


  1. What a wonderful exposition of life, well-lived. I continue to revel in how well you put these words together, making the whole much greater than the sum of the parts.

  2. Thank you for putting into print those thoughts that often occupy my mind.

    Road trips, flights, phone calls that can never be again. They are both gone. I remember those last hugs from Mom, her speech taken by ALS and the last phone call from Dad after his first heart attack. We were cut off as I was in Kuwait and the connection was poor. He was gone two days later. Sure wish there was a phone that could make that connection again.

    Thank you Brigid, for everything you share with us.


  3. M'dear Miss B, I have several observations to make:

    1) My dad always said that he's never been lost, just like Daniel Boone. Also like Daniel Boone, he's been pretty badly bewildered a few times.

    2) I've always maintained that if you can ask ¿Donde está el baño? and ¿Donde está McDonald's? then you're pretty much set, but if you can't comprehend the rapid-fire response, I suppose you're just as bewildered as you were before you asked.

    3) I actually owned one of those, well, pimped-out type of cars. (Don't hold that against me. We were young, broke, and had lousy credit, and it was what we could afford.) It was gorilla-suit metallic pink. In fact, it was a custom paint job, as the taillights, directionals, bumpers, and the jazzily-bent antenna were all painted the same eye-searing glittery color. The directionals had appropriate arrow cut-outs so the light could be seen, and the taillights had circles cut out. Oh, it was an eyesore. We lived in Columbus, OH, at the time, and friends would wave at us on the outerbelt as we went one direction and they went the other (and then tell us about it later), because that car could NOT be missed, even on a massive, eight-lane, divided highway. I think only one photo survives to prove we had it. It's sort of family lore these days. I will say this about it, though: we never ONCE lost it in a parking lot.

    4) Girl, if you keep knocking 'em outta the park like this, you're going to make the rest of us look bad. ;) But I'll keep reading. You're too good not to.

  4. Well said, and yeah, life IS full of twists and turns, and it is up to us how well we 'navigate' it!

  5. You wouldn't happen to be passing through AZ on your way west, would you? I'd love to try your Scotch Eggs...

  6. Rev. Paul - a picture sparks the words and from there it just sort of comes out. I couldn't plan a post in my head for anything, but when the mood strikes it just flows. It helps me relax so I'm just glad you all enjoy.

    Scott - welcome! I'm sorry you weren't there when your Dad passed. I hope you have very good memories.

    Auntie J - oh, I would have loved to have seen that. I bought a 240 Z once, that when I went to paint it, found about 7 coats of paint including bright purple undernearth.

    Old NFO - yes indeed and biscuits help.

    TinCan - not this time, that's a bit far out of the way. I would like to get down there though, I've a couple good friends in the AZ area

  7. Brigid,

    As always, a wonderful post packed with wisdom and passion.


  8. Ours was a 1989 two-door Nissan Sentra. We ran that thing into the ground. I think we finally upgraded when we blew out the clutch.

    I'll have to see if I can find that picture....

  9. We saw an old 69 Charger painted "Dukes of Hazzard" style heading out of Medford to The Britt for a concert last week. I think I was more astonished that any of those survived production of the show than I was about seeing the paint scheme about 2500 miles from where Hazzard County would be located in GA if it really existed.

    My GPS broke before my second Florida to Oregon run in 2010. After getting lost for several hours in MO after taking the wrong freeway out of Kansas City, I navigated the rest of the trip using McDonald's free Wifi and an ancient iPod Touch -- no nagging voice and disturbingly accurate location data.

  10. Touching, as always. NEVER stop writing, Lady B.

  11. So many times I read what you offer and say to myself This needs to be gathered in a book!" Telling myself gets nothing done so I'm telling you! Even if you self-publish and only mail out copies after the check has cleared, I would certainly buy your collected works and I'm sure many others would as well. Just something else for you to think about.

  12. "He doesn't judge that I often sit up late in the night, alone, reflecting back on roads taken..."

    In this most competitve world, relationships are a very tough balance, Brigid, as many cannot resist the desire to dominate the other in one shape or form. For some, its seems almost alien to have a complete absence of competition with someone or something. Those types are lonely and they don't even know it - though, at times, they do seem quite receptive to kindness.

    I myself have had nearly no relationships for all of my life - too busy. But from what I have seen out there, I am content with my alone-ness for now.

    It sure beats the alternative.

    I keep thinking that my life will clear up and I could meet 'the group', but I keep getting buried in my labors. It would be nice to see you, Og, Joanna, Roberta and all the others at one of your blogmoots, someday, as some things are lost in translation over the internet.


  13. Enjoy the time you have visiting with your dad!
    Safe journeys when you head home. Welcome to the club of folks who find the GPS voice annoying. Mocking it works too, but only for a little while.

  14. Several years ago I started noticing an increasing number of what I call "fire blotches": areas on the paved shoulder or in some of the righthand lane where the pavement has plainly been messed up by fire, in an area the size of a car's underneath.

    I'm not sure whether this is more common than it used to be (perhaps due to maintenance neglected, and old clunkers kept on the road longer, in hard times?) or I just started noticing it (with a side order of how the population of the US has doubled in most of our lifetimes).

    I do know that of the three times I've used a fire extinguisher on a car, and the two other times I know of firsthand, the culprit was a pinhole in the high-pressure hose of the power steering. This fluid burns with a smoky underachieving flame, but burn it does, especially in an aerosol aimed at the hot exhaust manifold. When it's burned through critical wires or hoses, the car is going no further even if you put the fire out, and if it gets into the underhood insulation, things can get significantly worse.

    Two of those incidents involved Jaguars. One was a range buddy's XJ6. He was bemused by how they converted the car to left-hand drive, which included a terribly long high-pressure hose. The other incident was at work.

    I saw a nice old E-type and naturally went over for a closer look. I noticed that the interior was a weird maroon-and-yellow pattern. As I came up to it, I could see an access panel pulled open on the dash and a fire extinguisher lying on the passenger seat.

    Yep, he'd pulled over, discharged part of a fire extinguisher into his dashboard, and continued his commute. Using a vintage Jag to get your groceries requires a certain strength of character...

    After another incident, in which I samaritanized some people in the left lane of the freeway, a fire captain marveled that it was the only time he'd seen a civilian successfully use a hand extinguisher. That one left me gobsmacked. It isn't very hard, and the procedure is spelled out in pictograms in case you don't read English. Apparently, though, most people squander the contents on or above the top of the flames...

    Another time was on a Ford Taurus at a scenic overlook. My apologies for putting out a fire in a Taurus, but it seemed the thing to do at the time, as a family was stranded up there, and we were in the woods and all -- it wasn't as though we were in front of Ford headquarters and could have pounded on their door and demanded a refund.

    The father had tried to snuff the flames by throwing dirt on them, which did some good, but not enough, as the underhood insulation was burning. Neither he nor any of the half-dozen other cars at the scenic turnout had a fire extinguisher. Most people don't.

    What a silly thing not to have! It costs ten or fifteen bucks, doesn't take up much room, and could save a car or even a life.

  15. Roscoe - that would work for me.

    MoBro - as always, thank you.

    Murphy (AZ) - one of these days. I'n hesitant to do it before retirement as any books get cleared through Squirrel headquarters and I'd just as soon not ask until I'm ready to go off the grid For now, this works for me and I'm glad you all enjoy. I do have a publisher when I'm ready, a couple well published authors are regulars and have offered theirs. But I'd like to stay just quiet for now, I enjoy it.

    Mrs. S - I did have fun with one of them in Europe changing the accent of the little voice.

    Ad Absurdum - Good advice indeed.

    I'll be back tomorrow!


I started this blog for family that lives far away. Now that they are gone, it continues on to share those memories.

Comments are welcome,but if you have a fake name, no blog and only comment on the rare occasion to criticize or offer advertising for a business I've never heard of, you go straight to SPAM.