I rolled into town on Friday, after a long day in the car with my little girl and our friend, Mr. Pepperidge Farm. Gotta love the goldfish. My philosophy on traveling with children is: I don't have one. I'm sort of an anything-goes mama if the trip is longer than three hours. Bring on the salty snacks and bags o'Skittles, litter the van with spent juice boxes, I don't care. I will endorse multiple screenings of the dread pirate Caillou, just please don't cry. Keep it down back there, because somebody up here's got a death grip on the steering wheel and there's no NPR affiliate in Appalachia, just lots of static and this positively belligerent preacher who, as part of his sermon, makes a noise like a karate chop about every three seconds. I don't know about you, but that is the kind of thing that can rattle a girl's nerves, especially when her horn doesn't work and there are semi-trucks encroaching from every possible angle. The karate cadence adds an element of impending doom I find totally unnecessary. NPR, though-it's soothing. Calm, non-confrontational...news I need to know delivered with a side of trivia. Yes, I know about the economy. I've heard about the swine and her flu, folks are dying on Craigslist, but please: tell me more about how climate change affects cheese. Seriously. That story was a driveway moment for me. A heaping-helping of what's going on. Just don't expect much from Carl Castle on the long haul between Knoxville and Lexington. I mean it.
But we got there-here. Another trip up I-75 with nary an accident. Good lookin' out, I say to God. Me and Randy Jackson. I am really thankful. It was a smooth ride. And the kid did okay a long as I interrupted whatever Roman Feast was going on in the back with the occasional round of I-Spy. I am always instructed to find something pink, which as you can imagine, is very difficult. I often spot a flamingo way in the distance, or a rogue Barbie doll in full princess attire by the side of the road, and of course she plays along so as not to hurt my feelings. I'm sure she'll grow up believing I'm either color-blind or insane, and let me tell you I-Spy is not the only reason.
Once we'd unloaded, there were hugs and bathroom breaks, then a decent Midwestern meal. I talked with my dad about not wanting to offend anyone with my blog, and whether or not I should report that after having been in town only five minutes, I could have sworn I'd seen Willie Nelson three times. And in each instance, it was a different person. What could this mean? He didn't have any thoughts on that-so I just went with it. The Midwest is an interesting place and I can't help but notice how it's different than anywhere I've been. Beautiful, stark, and so flat you can see for miles. People are transparent here-there are no layers of southern tradition to get in the way of seeing who they really are. For instance, if you're from Ohio, you don't go to the beach "just to get away", as is so often the case in the south. Granted, you can leave Atlanta at seven and be paying your cabana boy by noon, and families have second homes, etc. But still, it's just a sweep-of-the hand gesture down there, going to the beach. Just getting away. If you live in Ohio, you're pretty much land-locked and desperate. If you're beach-bound, you're going for the tan. In fact, I distinctly remember, in fourth grade, a girl I knew whose family had been planning a Florida trip for MONTHS. Maybe years. When Spring Break rolled around, they got together: aunts, uncles, cousins...all manner of relatives caravaned it down to the Sunshine State, and wouldn't you know, it rained. All week long. As each day passed, the tension of not having tanned grew in their hearts, until the hour of their departure was at last upon them. About three hours into their trek north, around lunchtime, the sun came out. And they were forced to strip down right there in the Long John Silvers parking lot and lay out. I mean lay out. My point is, somebody told that story with a straight face. An earnest face. That's transparency.
Anyway, here I am. I walked uptown to the Friday night auction about an hour before it closed. Stuff was going cheap, so I got a paddle and luxuriated, child-free, on the ancient folding chairs randomly outfitted with cushions someone was thoughtful enough to make about 25 years ago. The auction smells are pure decadence: freshly-popped popcorn and antiques. I love it. My grandmother sat beside me for a bit, and I was reprimanded by the auctioneer for gesturing with my paddle, which I guess I did several times, only not to bid, but to point out to my grandmother a hairdo that will live in infamy. It was like a wig, on top of a wig, with another hairdo made from real hair underneath. Styles like that are once in a lifetime. It made my evening. The auction ended, and it was dark when I made it home, and cool. Spring has not quite sprung here like it has in Georgia-the trees still look anxious, like maybe they won't be getting leaves this year-and there's got to be one last cold snap concealed somewhere in the forecast, I know it. But the grass is green, like Easter grass, and I can see every star.