the crooked way home
we turned left, not right. we turned away from straight roads, roads that did the job, connected the dots, got you where you needed to be, did not dilly-dally.
we wanted none of that. we wanted to wiggle our way through the state that pretends it’s a mitten. we wanted nothing of straight angles, straight shots, sensible directions.
i’d waited a month, driven 366 miles, to get to the boy in the woods, the boy i’d been missing. but really, we’d waited for years, for it just to be him and me and a whole day in front of us. years past, all sorts of road blocks got in our way. surgery. a torn-apart kitchen. drivers who preferred the direct route.
not us. and not this time.
we wanted to soak up the joy of being together. and we chose to do that the slow way. we chose the gray squiggly lines on the map. the ones my co-pilot defined thusly: “it’s not gravel, and it’s not dirt, and that’s all i can say about it.”
so only a few times did the pebbles spin out from under our tires, and that was because, once again, we were, oops, getting un-lost, righting our wrongs, needing the side of the road.
nope, for the most part we stuck to two lanes, paved, with the occasional splash of yellow dashing the middle.
the whole point was to meander. to be not in a hurry. not racing toward anywhere or anything. to be driven only by intuition or a whiff in the air that someplace worth seeing might be just down that road over there.
it was to be reminded, more than a few times, that intuition takes you to the end of the road. exactly the opposite of where you thought you were going. but once there, hey, you met really nice folk who gave you a map, turned you around, and offered a big cup of water besides.
after a while we got to calling our route the pie way, for all the pies we seemed to be piling on the car seat behind us. we had cherry, of course. and blueberry too. lattice-top, sprinkled with big chunks of sugar. like the ice storms that swirl through these parts, come november through april some years.
oh, but that wasn’t all. we had tart cherry concentrate, cherry-berry preserves, cherry syrup and black cherry fudge. we had peaches and corn and real-thing tomatoes. blueberries we bought by the quart.
it got to be rather a moveable feast, but then we were, for a while, in hemingway country. hemingway summered at one of the lakes, a crooked old lake called walloon, that happened to be in our path. that’s where we picked up that sweet cherry pie.
with every stop, practically, came a story.
and that was the trip that we wanted.
we wanted nothing of interstates. nothing of billboards and drive-thru fast food.
we wanted, just this once, after years of pouting that we were going home the fast way, not the pretty way, to indulge in the fine art of meandering, a verb that carries some weight in my lexicon.
and, oh, the sights from the gray roads…
for every farm stand where we pulled onto the gravel, there were six others we passed. and one of us sighing, each time. why, we saw a field growing nothing but sunflowers. and, drat, that we didn’t turn back.
but when we came to the squat little joint with the white metal box and the huge hunk of fudge on the roof, well, we screeched and we spun that wheel hard.
if there’d been a show playing we would have turned, too, at the cherry bowl drive-in, where a six-foot aluminum hot dog, one dripping with all of the fixins, marked the concessions.
on our way out of one wrong turn, we rolled through a town where the one blinking light was, we were told, the only one in the county.
it was all the joy of the journey.
there aren’t many days that shake you from sleep, shout wake up, take all the time in the world today. sometimes you have to make those days happen.
you have to fight off the urge to do things the straight way. to get home at a sensible hour.
we came home the crooked way, me and the boy i so love. all in all we drove 455 miles. but that was really only 89 more than the straight way. if you measure in miles.
if you measure in joy, though, it was twice as long, and 10 times as deep. we squeezed hands once or twice and we cried, or at least i did, listening to stories. hearing the knowledge he picked up in the woods, on the trail that “humbled” him, his word. his wisdom.
long as i live i will never forget: taking wrong turns then righting them; meeting the fellow in the fix-it truck who pulled onto the gravel because he saw all the pointing of fingers there at the gas station where we’d stopped for directions, and he figured we were lost, thought he’d offer his part in getting us home.
i’ll not forget the pie lady who laughed, and then blushed, when i asked if she minded my taking a picture, the one up above, of her beautiful, beautiful pies.
i’ll not forget the sound of a car with no radio, no tunes, just the stories from camp from my co-pilot.
i’ll not forget the glow of the sun setting like copper as we drove through the stretch with the steel mills.
i’ll not forget the skip in my sweet boy’s heart when we rounded the bend, well past nightfall, and there at the curb were his papa and sweet baby brother.
i’ll not forget the long sweet embrace that came at the end of the crooked way home. sometimes you just need to get there the long way.
it’s true, and for real. my camper is home sweet home. a bit worn, a bit battered. but safe now. and wiser. lost 14 pounds there on the trails with the 40-pound pack on his back. called the trails “fickle.” wrote, on one page of his journal, that he’d realized “walking is just putting one foot in front of the next.” said, and he meant it, love–pure and simple–carried him home. said if he’d curled up and quit he never would have made it back to the ones he was missing so deeply, so he just kept walking, despite feet and knees that were throbbing. he’s home now, and ben gay is the scent of the day.
now for you: tell stories of times you, too, took the crooked way. what did you bring home from the journey?
just savoring your story of the long way home. so glad willie enjoyed the awakening experience of an amble in the woods. x0
so glad your dream finally came true, and just as good as you imagined it would be. save me a slice of pie, i’m coming over…
I love the crooked way. Somehow marriage and kids de-crookedify one’s way, and now we mostly take interstates. But back in the days when I had more time to travel as I like, I brought home a lot of treasures. On that crooked way you find a lot of farm stands and pies here in the midwest; in New Mexico you find a lot of home-roasting chiles in big wire bins turning on their sides like giant hamster wheels; on old Route 66 you find motels in the shape of teepees. In PA, corn out of the back of a truck, 12 ears for a dollar; a tiny outdoor community theater running a magical production of Oklahoma. In north central Illinois a town fair with a barbecue booth run by the Kiwanis that made for a great dinner. In Vermont, home-brew maple syrup from a house so full of cats that I was sure there’d be cat hair in the bottle (to my great relief there was not). On the Laguna reservation, at the end of many wrong turns, down a gravel road at that came to a stop at a trailer, I met a potter, a quiet and shy woman, an artist; I found her beautiful clay vessels painted in traditional, intricate black and terra-cotta designs. That lovely little pot will always remind me of my trip across the country with an old college pal, just weeks prior to my marriage. Off that beaten path is always where I want to be, even if the bed in the teepee motel is so uncomfortable you can barely sleep, but the real reason you can’t is not the bed, it’s the freight trains that rumble past every hour, forty feet beyond your window. Off the beaten path is far more adventuresome and filled with unexpected treasures. And when you take the long way, somehow home is all that much more precious when you finally arrive.Hurray for your boy, and for the two of you taking such a trip, and for the two waiting at home with hugs. I’m sure they appreciated the pies.
love your description of the long way home….reminds me of Blue Highways…as you savored each moment…..and the pies….you paint a such a picture of the patchwork that is life on the backroads….a slice of americana
Oh bam … next time I come down with a mean case of wanderlust, I’m calling YOU! I love the backroads, the lesser traveled gorgeous green countryside dotted with quaint farmhouses and those beautiful barn-red barns. Ahhhhhh ….Might I suggest you check out Alton Brown’s series “Feasting on Asphalt” currently running on the Food Network. He’s doing just as you described and you’ll surely enjoy his journey along America’s backroads and all that he encounters along the way.I can smell those pies now … make mine cherry please ….
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