“Mind if I add deer meat to the burger?”
Sitting out on the porch overlooking the large garden and the stunning Appalachian Mountains, I didn’t mind at all. I rocked back and forth absorbing the beauty of the life my friends had created. Their 7-year old entertained me with a story about a box car race which she had recently won. A large piece of metal sculpture fashioned by the artistic hands of her dad was just on the edge of my vision. The clouds and the mountains and the storm and the trees created a ever-changing, ever-the-same view.
From the mushrooms they planted in a stack of wood to the tractor seat that served as the swing set, I soaked in their life. We chatted with joy about the little one who was growing, still hidden in mommy’s tummy, and looked with reverence at the small momentos that give witness to the little ones they had lost along the way.
After dinner, we pulled the bed out of the sleeper sofa and knelt by the edge of their children’s bunkbed to say prayers. The cool mountain air coming in the window and the house creaking with quiet noises, I settled in to the peace of their small mountain home. In the morning, the sound of bread-making roused me from restful sleep.
A loving whisper gently filled the silence, “It’s time to get ready for school, sweetheart.”
I folded two dollar bills and slipped them into the tip can. “Can you do Danny’s Song?,” I asked. Just in case, I sang my favorite line at full voice, “Even though we ain’t got money…” He had a startled look for a moment, probably not a typical request.
“Yah. Absolutely.” He fiddled with a gadget, something that provided the words and the chords.
I had spent the afternoon rambling through Savannah, exploring and snapping photos of interesting patterns and angles. Where the strap met my sweaty skin, my sandals had rubbed large raw spots across the top of my feet. Every step was painful.
Hot, sweaty, and footsore, I became attuned to the couples. They were everywhere. I slipped into a mini-funk, a grumpster state. Sitting on a bench, I fiddled with my phone, not ready to go back to my hotel room but unable to keep walking. Nobody answered.
Casually dressed and with tousled hair, he was singing and playing guitar at the bar & grill on the corner of the square. It was the perfect blend of country and folk and soulful melodies. I sat and listened for over an hour, my heart slowly lulled into a happier state. Eventually, I mustered the courage to go and sit at a table. And with dinner ordered and a beer drank, I mustered the courage to make a song request.
“You bring a tear of joy to my eye and tell me everything is gonna be alright.”
When he sang the chorus, big, inexplicable tears rolled down my check. They were the tears of a beautiful moment, part of which I had created and part of which I had been given. Tears of gratitude and heartache, of goodness and beauty.
My heart, long asleep, stirred.
Although suffering the effects of a rotten cold, my joyful friend greeted the day with her typical morning vibrance, “DisneyWorld, here we come!”
I drug myself out of morning fog and with the enthusiasm that I could muster in the morning, replied, “Whoo-hoo!”
As I thought about completion of graduate school, I had gotten it my head that I wanted to see the Magic Kingdom on my way home. Florida is not really on the way to Arizona but I didn’t care. When we realized that she would be in Florida for a graduation, it sealed the deal. By temperament, she’s a planner and so, we made plans months in advance. I messed it up and arrived a day early. Whoops.
It could have been weird. I was on the pull-out couch in a large hotel room with my long-time friend and her newly-wed husband. But, it wasn’t. I was tempted to be weirded out by the the lack of weirdness but instead, accepted it in gratitude. As the two had become one at the altar, I had gained a new friend.
We arrived at the theme park, googling “How to Use a Fast Pass” as we made our way to the entrance. With cold symptoms at their peak, we knew we only had a few hours before exhaustion won out. We tapped into the efficiency skills at hand and came up with a plan. In between the plan, we had spontaneous moments, ducking into the less thrilling attractions which were flooded with childhood memories and children.
It was an easy day. A day of innocent entertainment, deep friendships, and celebration of happy things. A day where goodness triumphed.
My melancholic soul was light-hearted and unafraid.
I’m not sure the attraction of a rambling solo road trip but it definitely calls to me. Whenever I can, I choose the smaller scenic roads, marked by a dotted line on the old-school atlas lodged between the seats of my car. I would rather go slow and be bathed in nature–the Shenandoah Valley, the Ozarks, the open sky of my beloved Southwest. Or, go out of my way to have a quick visit with a friend.
The stretches of open road and the moments in between teach me. Home. Beauty. Lightness. On the road, there is just enough going on that you can be in your head without focusing on being in your head. You can look back on moments and see their depth. That’s a sweet spot for me.
Days ago, my road trip ended as I drove up the dirt driveway of my childhood place–the home that my father built around us as we grew. Now, in the rhythm of regular life, I am trying to build new habits, to remember new ways. I have returned home
…at least until another road opens up in front of me.
Mary, thank you for this wonderful piece. So well done.
Mary, I love so many things about this post, from the opening line to the spontaneous overflowing of tears down your cheeks. In the end, what I think I love most is how you’ve shown us a truth about a certain type of travel: that geographic meandering opens our hearts and minds to a type of meandering our day-to-day lives don’t usually leave room for.
Oh Mary, this is lovely.