There are times, I will admit, that emotionally the old guy feels a bit conflicted about where home is or where it ought to be. The first 19 years of my life was lived here in Arkansas within a community of close knit family and friends extending out across the county. But alas, now the future was staring me square in the face, I was all “growed up” taking on the responsibilities and dreams of adulthood my soul possessions, five head of cattle and an acoustic Gibson guitar.
In an era of disadvantaged societies where access to higher education was virtually non-existent and the accumulation of property lethargic as a snails pace, a man’s labor was near worthless by today’s standard; the alternative was leaving home moving to a high wage state where the rewards of a mans sweat and grime was of more immediate value. Even at that the move to California was not intended to be the 55 years it turned out to be. Just hadn’t counted on meeting up with a young lady that would take such a liking to me.
‘Well I took $20 for to
build a fence
I took my money and
away I went
I sold my buggy and
I sold my plow
I wouldn’t take a dollar
for my journey now’
(Johnny Horton and
Sleepy Eyed John)
No, not much on regrets, for looking back wishing I could do it over again, If I had my druthers, or if I knew then what I know now’s. Sure there was more fate involved than actual planning, no template for life existed beyond the traditions of a hillside community off the mountain and across the river. A cultural/economic transformation had taken place ere the society realized the ground had shifted beneath its feet, leaving the rural culture ill equipped and ill prepared to deal with new societal constructions.
For certain the foundations of the only society I had ever known were undergoing significant changes and many of the generational were slow to the concept. Maybe its fitting that the kid fled the nest at about the same time Mad Magazine’s Alfred E Neuman appeared on the scene. (What, me worry?) Despite it all, life was an adventure the future was here it was now it must be lived. Standing now upon the promontory of time overlooking 65 years of history, either the kid had worlds of faith, didn’t know any better had no economic alternative - or perhaps moonstruck as Billy the Kid, marries “moves to town” finds a living wage, sells his vast herds and without regrets or misgivings delivers his earthly labors to the hand of fate.
A bit nomadic at the beginning, my four children, California natives all, were born in widely scattered towns, Exeter, Susanville, Eureka and Red Bluff; the latter, where each graduated school was central to the family for the last thirty seven years of the little ‘westerly’ escapade.
For the entirety, Arkansas remained home-to-the-heart and though economically impracticable there were sporadic musings of going back even as time passed and my children grew to adulthood. Two, like their father before them left home for more promising opportunities elsewhere.
Those two and I now share the same time zone, one in Arkansas and the other in Minnesota, while the others are still on Pacific Standard Time aren’t apt to move here anyways soon and are the primary reasons for my four visits there, since moving here in 2006.
As the lady and I arrive at our Northern California destination late afternoon eve of Easter, holiday traffic remains a pain, chariots continue “jostling” in the streets, side to side, forward and aft with little let-up from what we’ve experienced on the long days drive up Central; surely the weekend expectation but as we discover five days into the visit, not so much. The place has changed.
Highway engineers have been hard-put to alleviate the impact of a growing population, its accompanying commercial expansion and adverse geography. A small river village yet an exasperating experience just getting across town depending on the time of day or the occasion. After years of political bickering, Wal Mart has abandoned its original site and built a superstore in the cow pasture next plot over two blocks from the intersection where I had lived ere taking leave. A corner of that property has been ‘shaved away’ so the intersection might be enlarged to accommodate the extra traffic flowing to and from the Walmart digs.
After 11 years away, attachment to the town remains: Everywhere there are guideposts leading the memory - and the emotions - back to old times, to old ways places and faces. Over there, the house where I lived and raised my family, farther on, the church where my daughter met her husband and over there, the high school attended by each of my children. Down at the bend of the river is E’s locker room where my musical friends and I developed our country dance band circa 1980s and, where after 35 years, a large picture of the rowdy group still hangs from the wall.
On the floodplains adjacent the river, endless groves of almonds, olives and English walnuts, off the valley floor, rolling foothills and shallow valleys, east and west home to a scattering of ranches large and small and beyond that the tall timbered mountains of the Sierra’s to the east, and the Mendocino range to the west. Dominating landmarks are towering snow covered Mount. Shasta visible a hundred miles north and Lassen Peak, a dormant volcano 50 miles east of town, last erupting in the year 1917.
Despite long connection to the area and the fact that two of my young’uns yet reside, I cannot say that homesickness has ever been an issue. Oddly, there is more a feeling of abandonment. Not that I have abandoned my traditional society and culture but that it has abandoned me. Everything appears shifted or misplaced, caught up in the vices of time: family scattered, friends and acquaintances died or gone their way joining other societies or cultures, forming other associations; neighbors and co-workers bent to the will of the eternal winds. Even those special few who remain warm and engaged serve to remind of losses incurred by time and distance.
The house on the corner of Jackson and Luther home to my family for so many years stands warm and inviting as if nothing has changed but now, on the street outside stands a stranger looking in.
By Thursday it has run its course, a great time with the young’uns, old friends, warm reunions, revisiting old haunts but a side trip to the coastal redwoods for a walk through still earlier memories is canceled because storms developing out over the Pacific will soon be moving ashore; heavy rains forecast with a threat of snow in the high mountain passes of Oregon’s Siskiyou Range. We shorten the schedule by two days in hopes of beating the storm ere it cuts the route to our ultimate destination, Mt. Vernon Washington State, a day and a half north 40 miles from the Canadian border. Right now I’m feeling a long way from home.
Sprinkles at dawn have turned to rain by 7:30 Friday morning yet despite misgivings, come hell or high water, or snow in the Siskiyou’s high mountain passes, we’re off and running.
Thankfully the drive northward fails to meet dire expectations, rainy wet highways yes, but Siskiyou Summit at 4,130 feet has no snow and there’s not a flake a flying. Ahead, Radar Weather indicates Medford, Ore., some 200 miles into the trip is on the outermost edge of the storm, tensions ease a bit, weather/driving conditions improve and we’re out of it by time we reach Portland.
It’s late in the day and Interstate 5 becomes a bottleneck for Portland rush hour traffic. Rather than chariots jostling in the streets, it’s a contest betwixt snails and tortoises. An hour and a half later, trusting “Sally” to guide us through, we cross the Fremont Bridge high over the Willamette and head for a nights lodging at Longview, Wash. The weather is clear and so we anticipate for the next day. Next morning in the predawn hour I peek from the window of our hotel at rain pounding and water running in the streets.
For the final leg of our northward amble there is a continuing parade of intense rainsqualls, driving is extremely nerve-racking but Seattle, down from the peak morning traffic, proves no big a deal.
Eventually the travelers reach the outermost perimeter of their harried little amble but now the question: how to get safely back to the original point of embarkation? Weather-wise, Monday is the only good day promised, after that another series of storms will move inland, rain with possible snow especially at the higher elevations. Becoming weather-stranded for days is not a choice option. Tuesday with early morning mist again turning to rain we’re south on 1-5 to 405 at Lynnwood circling Seattle to 1-90 east.
The Devils Thoroughfare is undoubtedly the most complimentary thing that can be said of 1-405 in rain and the morning rush; a roadway already filled to capacity with “streaking chariots” periodically slows to accommodate large inflows of merging traffic. Again “Sally” keeps us on track and eventually it’s over. The lady, a bit torn by the stress, relinquishes the wheel and the old road warrior long accustomed to the deal, confronts the challenges of the high mountain passes to the east.
Snoqualmie Pass at 3015 feet elevation is no walk-in-the-park; stormy wet roads but only one momentary snow flurry bird nest on the ground, yet there is other high country ahead.
Day’s end finds us lodged at Missoula, Mont., amidst hopes and indications we’re ahead of the storm; in fact, we arise of the morning to find ourselves in a race against time as rains to the west will soon turn to snow in the east.
The Southern edge of the storm parallels our route along 1-90 east and we’re in and out of it the day long: Storms to the north while yonder to the south, broken clouds and sunshine. At Gillette, Wyo., we go to bed with sunshine and awaken to rain. Breaking for fuel in Chamberlin, S.D., locals tell us to “keep going” nigh onto three feet of snow expected overnight. Hopefully we’re out of this as our route takes us south from Sioux Falls, S.D. The third night will be spent at Sioux City free from the worry of it all.
But the day isn’t done: Advertised lodging at Sue City is off-road, highway construction results in a series of misdirection’s we’re south of town and what the heck? Council Bluffs, Iowa, is only 94.9 miles and an hour and 28 minutes down the road, all the more distant from the storm.
While I joust the blustery prairie winds, the lady contacts Holiday Inn Express at Council Bluffs, and “Yes we have a room and that will be 111 bucks all.” Good deal Lucille, but somewhere between then and there the cost has jumped to $178 and we’re on the third floor. Fortunately my traveling companion makes an excellent secretary, the contracted price is soon back at $111, we’re in a comfortable room on the first floor with a large picture window looking out onto the great Missouri River flowing peacefully on its way only a few feet removed. At the end of the hall a covered ramp leads up to the Ameristar Casino and three restaurants.
Our plans are to spend Friday night with family at Kansas City, stay through Saturday and drive home Sunday. One might think. Saturday morning the local weather forecast is snow of the evening through Sunday morning. Sunday morning we arise from our own bed, tune in the weather and learn the road out of Kansas City is closed due to snow. It’s good to be home. And no, I’m not confused as to its geographical or spiritual location.