We always travelled the back roads. My Daddy never took the interstate, the obvious way, anywhere. I am like him in that.
In the 1960-70’s, he worked the entirely of our state and knew it intimately: every gas station, restaurant and hotel. He knew the clean and the tasty and the doors that let potential bedfellows enter unannounced, two-legged and eight. When we headed to his family’s hometown, of course, we went the back way. Our path avoided I-75 and I-85 and meandered through names I still see reflectively etched on Georgia’s green roadway signs: Madison, Eatonton, Forsyth, Jackson, Manchester and Columbus. Along this way lay a track of road that maintained a stretch of seven swift stomach drops, the best BBQ in Georgia – and Alabama: “Fresh Air Barbeque,” and our elementary-age insistence: a stop at the fish hatchery in Warm Springs. Never mind the Little White House, we went there a time or two-to see FDR’s portrait and the adorable little white house where Eleanor ably ran the country and the first polio center in the US: where my mama swam as a little girl because her adopted grandfather’s brother worked there.
We had to go see those fish, as in, we would willingly risk a switching and pitch a fit, if we didn’t get to go. Usually, my fisherman father could be easily cajoled by the cost – free, and the sights we’d see – trophy bass and bream, a few gar and crappie lumbering about just below us in a cement pond I’d pay a $500.00 to have at for an hour. So we stopped, nearly every time, in Warm Springs- at the hatchery.
When Trent got big enough to put words to his wails – he was an early angler like his mama, he’d holler to my parents packing him off to visit my Pop and Motnie – Daddy’s folks, “Fish, Fish!” For, let’s see he’s 18, for 18 years Trent has begged from the back seat for that break. He will be a jealous fella this weekend. Guess where I am going? Yep. Right dang near Warm Springs…and you better believe I will go see my ol’ bass buddies.
My best friend, probably ever, and I are meeting up at Callaway this weekend. We’ve seen each other rarely these last twenty years.
So, this week I started to entertain silly thoughts about how I had changed and all the mistakes I have made and remade since our days in school. I wondered if she, who gave me Madeleine in hardback and in the flesh, who knew me first, and called out my unknown to me name, would know me now? I wondered if time would make me be somehow new and foreign to her? And I thought of the years I stayed studying in Athens, my excuse the money and the more money the School of Business promised me. How I put off my plans to try to make my name at Literary School and plans to try to make another’s in D.C. I put them off, not truly for the money, but to stay in the best place I had ever found – living life near her.
She taught me all the things I stayed to gain: what it was to love long and hard, but not heavy, how to call out a name never before known and hear one instinctively answer and how to believe the best when it has not yet shown hint of itself.
Sometimes, I wonder if my failing to go on east made me miss what could have been. Sometimes, I wonder if my staying only precipitated all the suffering of my now more westward station. I didn’t write those speeches or hear those halls echo my footfalls. I surely didn’t pen anything that readable. All these years, I just did, best I knew how, what she did for me, and helped folks to hear their names and answer, “Here. amen.”
I know the roads I will travel to meet her. I know them turned backwards out a station wagon window. I know them my legs draping over the center rise in the floorboards, my eyes on the passing clouds. I know them enough to lift my weight in anticipation of every coming curve and stomach dropping dip; their twists and turns, have long been no mystery to me.
So, who the heck am I to imagine she will not know me?