Sunday, March 6, 2011

Faded Pictures

Road trips rule! I can barely see so, sadly, I am not allowed to drive. Not even a little teeny weeny bit. This is very depressing for someone who likes to go see things because those things exist in her world. I like everything about road trips, including the miles and miles of lush forests lining the sides of highways. I like little towns and big cities and farms and hills and trees and woods. I like the act of getting where I am going as much as I like the actual arrival at my destination. In short, road trips rule. This I find to be highly ironic and slightly sadistic on the part of God or science or nature’s whimsy and the theory of chaos

I cannot remember a time when a road trip was not a wonderful thing. As children, my brothers and sisters and I were routinely packed into a giant station wagon or van with dogs, books, coolers and pillows and toted hither and yon by my parents. My first road trip happened before my memory came to life, leaving the state of my birth (Arizona) to go to Europe. Before we left our homeland we visited my mother and father’s families in Louisiana and Georgia. There are a few pictures from this trip that made me wish I could remember it. A shoe box holds a picture of me sitting under an inverted wooden playpen, surrounded by toys and looking for all the world like a two foot tall, curly headed, sticky faced, bottle toting prisoner of some crazy war. Pictures of my parents with their parents, everyone looking young and fit and headstrong and vibrant sit in the same box. My parents were beautiful people and when I look at these faded pictures I see that facet of them before wars, world travel, eight kids, marital and money problems, time and illness reduced their vibrant youth to the softly weathered visage- loving, echoing sadness -that I know best, their true selves shadowed by old age.

My sisters in too short hand me down dresses with sashes tied in crooked bows or flapping by their sides like calico flags rollick with my brothers and cousins in rolled up dungarees, striped Ts and tennis shoes. They are caught always moving; running, jumping, climbing, twirling, cart wheeling, skipping, diving, fighting, hiking, hugging, skating, holding hands. I want to run with those children now in the twilight. I want to catch lightening bugs while I listen to my happy parents talk softly on the screen porch with a sound track of katydids, baseball quietly on the radio and ice clinking in highball glasses.

I have wonderful, frightening pictures from Louisiana, huge snakes, lizards, spiders, evil warty toads lumbering across my grandparent’s small yard. My grandmother with a basket of eggs in one hand and blissfully ignorant chickens around her feet, pecking away at what would be their last meal before they were turned into one of our finest. My siblings are across the road, having disobeyed every adult around and braved the Mouton’s bull to cross the pasture and get to the barn where they leap and swing from the rafters into the hay mounded below. They walk into town with their young aunts and uncles and cousins galore, to buy Cokes in iced glass bottles and candy and Picayune cigarettes to smoke in the haunting, eerie privacy of the bayou. My grandfather sits in his chair by the fireplace, winter or summer, talking to my parents and my grandmother in a Cajun accent almost impossible to understand. He sits ramrod straight and strong, face weathered, his sweat salt stained grey Stetson hanging from his knee or the back of his chair, gravelly voiced from a lifetime of eating hot sauce and red pepper, somber and stern until he releases the most beatific smile ever seen on a human being. He lets me touch his soft face, he lets me slide up on his knee and lean against his farmers work worn body and I feel safe, lulled into a nap by the smells of chicken gumbo and chicory coffee and happy sounds of my father’s huge family’s loving and fighting.

We went to crawfish farms, and fishing on the gulf, eating huge pots of boiled crawfish and steamed clams and oyster sandwiches, waving cobs of corn dripping with butter as we raced around the beach. As night fell we became frightening, ragged apparitions in the exploding embers of a bonfire, dancing like little savages and whooping as the thunderheads gathered and billowed and put on a magnificent blue light show out at sea. A race homeward, the storms chasing us from our place as usurpers on the beach, lightening striking the road just feet behind the car while evil looking reptilian forms crawled out of the flooding ditches which lined the two lane shell topped road and made a rhythmic, percussive sound as they were flattened by the tires of our boat sized car. We fell exhausted into beds with corn husk mattresses, just two, girls in one, boys in the other, falling asleep looking at the water marks left by old floods during famous hurricanes on the ceiling above us. We dreamed of snakes falling out of the once inundated attic space and fait-do-dos and our (possibly imaginary) cousin the witch, Fawna Lee, whom we had never met but knew all about and could picture mixing potions in her crooked candle lit house on stilts among the cypress.

We took trips to Kansas City Missouri (more cousins!!) and West Point in New York state (and even more cousins!!), to Rock Creek Park and Lansing Michigan and Harper’s Ferry and the Erie Canal and New York City and Wichita Kansas and strip mines in Pennsylvania and Washington DC and Virginia Beach and Cape Hatteras.  My parents showed us family and history and beauty and joy.

As I grew older we traveled to Paris and Rome, to Venice and Amsterdam, to London and Bruges. We sailed around Europe in our big boat sized car, eight, ten twelve people on occasion rocketing along the tulip lined alleys or cobble stoned-trolley track cut streets, entertaining the locals who thought we were slightly crazy while we flitted through what amounted to pages in a child’s story book, Alps? I looked for Heidi and Hansel and Gretel. Venice? I searched for princesses hanging out tower windows and Marco Polo. Paris? Bonn? Amsterdam? I knew spies were around every corner, every mail box a dead drop, evil fascists held poor Jewish children captive in every attic we passed. The catacombs evoked chanting monks in grey sackcloth with incense and rope sandals, the coliseum was terrifying, lions and Christians still battled in my mind, rending flesh, slashing brute muscle, blood in the sand. Even though I was a kid, in fact, for most of these European trips I was a hormone obsessed teenager, I could not help but revel in the new-ness, the different-ness of what was around me. The flowers in their gardens, the look of their socks, the cut of their coats and the smell of their food all fascinated me. Although I was always very ready to be home, I waited anxiously for the next announcement of a vacation, a road trip, and adventure!!

We take trips now, as time and money permit, and I still feel myself getting worked up no matter if it is a trip to Stone Mountain an hour away of a trip across the country. Going places is always exciting, you always see something new, you learn something, and you change, even if just a tiny bit and hopefully you improve. I yearn to feel myself once again surrounded by sleeping humanity in a warm powerful car, snoring dogs and sleep talking babes curled into each other, crammed into the available square footage like grimy sardines as we cross thousands of miles through the star heavy skies of warm summer nights.