By: Jeanne Charters
Don’t you hate it when a writer uses this “Y” chromosome issue to rave about the wonderful man she’s married to? (I know, I know—don’t end a sentence with a preposition. But “to whom she’s married” sounds yucky.)
So, grit your teeth and dive in. And if the sugar gets too syrupy, be sure to brush and floss immediately after reading.
As I told you in an earlier column, my daughter Stacia was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even now, it’s hard to write that—and unbelievable. She’s so healthy. But, that’s the deal she was dealt. Thanks to all of you who wrote me sweet, inspiring words and said prayers for my little girl. Your emails meant the world to me.
So, Matt and I piled in my little Toyota, dropped Sparky at the kennel, and headed West, arriving two days before her surgery. We opted to drive, not fly, because we’ve always wanted to do a cross-country drive, and this seemed to be an opportunity—plus last-minute tickets between Asheville and Grand Junction, Colorado, cost dollars roughly approximating the national debt.
Throughout the long trek out, the hospital, the surgery, the visits to the plastic surgeon and oncologist, and all the tension of being with me and my grown child during a really tough time, Matt remained calm, helpful, and supportive. He made sure the groceries were purchased and put away and kept us stocked in wine and laughter. I realized again that this guy is not only my husband of 28 years, but is also a one-in-a-million kind of friend. Thank you, my love. Now, back to our journey.
The trip out, in spite of our scary reason for traveling, was a blast. We took the Southern route, planning to stop our first night in Memphis. Oh boy, I thought. I’ve always wanted to see Memphis.
Enroute, we passed signs for some wonderful towns. One was called Mouse Tail, Tennessee. Our favorite, though, and one that we considered renaming our dog after, was BuckSnort. Think about it. At the doggie park, when someone asks his name and I say Sparky, I get a ho hum, “That’s cute.” If he were called BuckSnort, eyebrows would raise, mouths would gape, and the questioner would guess he/she’s dealing with a person who is deeply Southern or just might be certifiably insane. Since my accent is definitely not Tennesseean—well, you get it. I’d definitely get a seat on the bench, even on a crowded day.
Sparky still hasn’t taken to BuckSnort, but we’re working on it.
From its outskirts, Memphis looks like a great city. I couldn’t wait to get in there and explore. Alors, that was not meant to be. All the streets were blockaded because of some big basketball event happening at the civic center. N.C.A.A. mean anything to anybody?
Oh well, we reasoned, eating our take-out chicken in a motel room. The next day was St. Patrick’s Day and we’d be eating corned beef and drinking Guinness in Oklahoma City—another place we’ve never been and always been curious about.
Let me tell you something—Oklahoma is a very big state. We drove and drove and drove, not seeing anything. The wind was fierce, and I prayed my little Scion wouldn’t get picked up and whisked away to Oz. My favorite beverage is wine, but by five o’clock, my mouth was drooling for Guinness.
Suddenly, it appeared on the horizon—a city! It looked big, with skyscrapers and hotels and everything. Yay! When we reached it, again, BLOCKADES! Apparently, Oklahoma City is more Irish than Dublin. We drove its outskirts, trying to find entree to the town. There was green everywhere—people partying in the streets, dancing, drinking, and universally clad in emerald. But we couldn’t get in! I guess St. Paddy’s Day is like a major holiday in OK City, and they didn’t want any foreigners there to drink up their beer. I even showed them my pretty green shirt and shamrock earrings. No deal.
Finally, we gave up. Matt put Catholic Church in his GPS and we followed directions around the outskirts into a rundown neighborhood where we found a tiny chapel. The Mass was in Spanish, we didn’t understand a word, and we were the tallest people in the building. But the congregation loved us, hugged us, and welcomed us like relatives just arrived from Guadalupe.
Now, we were so tired we just wanted a motel and a glug from the jug of red rotgut in the trunk. We ordered a pizza and settled in. I figure all the rumors about St. Patrick really being Italian might be true anyway.
Next day, as we headed to Albuquerque, we hit winds of 60 MPH and a sand storm more blinding than any snow storm I ever encountered living around Chicago and the Northeast. On the median, we spotted two stalled tractor trailers whose massive beds had been blown off them and onto their sides.
When one of those behemoths pulled up next to us, I held my breath and prepared to be terminally squished.
This went on for the rest of Oklahoma and into Texas where it started to rain, turning our car into a mud-caked mess. It looked like we were driving an adobe hut. The rain finally abated as we gratefully stopped for the night in Albuquerque. Nice town, Albuquerque. Nicer still is Old Albuquerque, which we toured the following morning.
Our last night on the road was in Durango, Colorado. Wow—what a surprise! It’s way up in The Rockies, surrounded by snow-covered mountains, and is one of those cool jewels (like Asheville) that a weary traveler stumbles upon with unbridled gratitude at the end of a grueling trip.
We popped for the best hotel in town and had dinner in a fabulous restaurant and now felt well prepared to deal with what lay ahead. Thank you, Durango. Someday, I’ll be back.
So, our journey of fear turned out to be a gift of a trip, in many ways. Most of all, getting reacquainted with the guy I fell in love with lo, those many years ago.
Funny, isn’t it? Sometimes, it just takes two-thousand miles, snow, wind, hail, and sand storms to have a good time—if you’re with the right traveling companion.
Bring on the locusts!
Jeanne Charters, a transplant from New York, is a writer living in Asheville with her husband, Matt Restivo. Her collection of columns, “Funny, isn’t it?” is available at Malaprops, Mountain Made in the Grove Arcade, or at jeannecharters.com.
She has written three novels and has acquired an agent for her young adult novel, “Shanty Gold.” Jeanne is working on edits, per that agent, and hopes to have a publisher this year. She can be reached at email@example.com.