On He Rode — Chapter three

Next morning I’m hacksawing the x-brace separating the back seat from

the trunk and measuring that space for an Army Surplus cot mattress, a

perfect fit. Then the Salvation Army for a skillet, cooking pot, and

pillow, which Carrie supplements with one of her own — goose down.

Whitey surprises by adding their Coleman lamp and stove to my growing

pile of gear, to which Carrie now adds two place settings of picnic

ware — all nice family heirloom things that I’d rather not take. But

she insists and I see it’s important, so I accept them as the minders,

reminders, and amulets they are intended to be.

Whatever they really think of my forthcoming adventure, it’s plain my

parents consider it somehow Important. Its open-endedness adds to that

sense. Can they feel its inherent fatalism, or do they just know I

feel it? What’s out there? Who knows? What’s next? Let’s see. They

worry that I am too unplanned, underprepared.

“So you don’t really know where you’ll be at any given time?” Whitey ventures.

“When I leave here I’ll be pointing south. After that, who knows?”

“Will you be camping at state parks?” Carrie wants to know.

“Probably. Sometimes.”

“Shouldn’t you have a tent?”

“Anything wrong with my car?”

“Still . . ..”

“How’re your tires?” Whitey inquires. “Got a decent spare?”

“Yup. Rubber’s all good. Full case of X-100 20w as well. I’m pretty

much good to go.”

“Tomorrow morning then?” he asks. “What time?”

“Early as I can. Might as well start with a full day.”

“You just be careful,” Carrie says.

“I’m always careful.”

“I don’t know . . ..”

There were good reasons for me to go somewhere, not the least being

yours truly himself, this divorced 28-year-old lout of a son hanging

around half-soused when friends drop by. Kind of hard to explain, the

college education and so on. You know what I mean: Loser!

Dyed-in-the-wool Ford man Whitey will be more than happy to clear his

yard of that embarrassing old shove-it-or-leave-it, his term for

Chevrolets. To Carrie it’s just another old car, and old cars are

never good. Of course anything that keeps me away from Evers will be

beneficial to the world at large. Troublemakers even apart, we always

seem to incite near-mayhem together. Evers’s parents would no doubt

agree. “Those guys,” his mom might say, shaking a troubled gray head.

It’s hard to tell from Whitey’s always-fresh flat-top just how much

gray has crept into his thick Nordic-blond ruff. Easier to see the

dramatic white straggles in Carrie’s black mane. Recently she’s taken

vocal responsibility for my own receding tresses, pointing to her

somewhat lofty brow. I assign no blame. Can she stop talking about it?

To her, the tragedy of my unfulfilled promise is driven by that shiny,

emblematic patch of dead and dying follicles. Whitey, feeling no

guilt, keeps quiet.

Should I insert here that I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t

smarter than both my parents put together? If you know what I mean?

They may know a few things, like how to get to work on time and how to

hold a family together. But about all kinds of other things, important

things, I’m just miles ahead. They know that, of course, know it so

well that they don’t have to say it to acknowledge it. They know. I’m

sure of it. Cocksure, you might say.

Next morning they wave bon voyage with unreadable smiles of

encouragement. Is it their golden boy son they’re seeing off or some

shirttail acquaintance who’s overstayed his welcome?

It’s that kind of Hood Canal summer morning that makes you question

reality. The gently lapping tide, half-in, half-out, licks quietly

over small stones beneath the shimmering inverse reflection of the

Olympic Mountains, bright and craggy and impossibly beautiful.

Beside the highway salmonberry and thimbleberry bushes fruit in neon

abundance. Thorny patches of Himalaya and Evergreen blackberries.

Azure-blue Canal and white-peaked Olympics to my right, Douglas fir,

hemlock, Western red cedar, and flat-needled white fir to my left.

Already-autumn-colored vine maple and burly big-leaf tree maple.

Pussywillows. Alders. Cascara. Huckleberry, both red and deep purple.

Oregon grape. Salal.

Is there something about this that I’m not supposed to be content

with? Or how about my other digs — the little grass shack in

Kealakukui, Hawaii? Arthur Godfrey recognized a good thing when he . .

.. Wait. You do remember Arthur Godfrey? You can look him up. Ring

Lardner, too. (And James Thurber? Why not?)

I’m rounding the southern tip of Hood Canal where Bunyan’s blue Babe

stopped plowing. It’s all Eden, not only Hood Canal and the Oahu

Leeward Coast, but the whole . . . save me from myself, O’Lord, and

spare also these poor innocents. We have abused, perverted, and

dishonored thy gifts, O’Lord. Mornings like this bear evidence to the

Eden we have lost and afford glimpses of that more permanent Eden,

Heaven itself. Don’t they?

Coward that I am, I rarely tell anyone that in spite of appearances to

the contrary, I believe in the literal truth of both Eden and Heaven

in all the ways it’s possible to believe — physically,

psychologically, mythically, spiritually. They perpetually coexist

here on Earth, along with their ever-netherland soulmates, Hades and

Hell. I believe in the power of prayer to change things both personal

and societal. I strongly believe there are many pathways to grace and

that all those pathways are booby-trapped and that we are all boobies

sharing this huge mystical, magical condition of existent circumstance

— this trap called life — and trying to make the most of it.

Life is a game. Life is a gamble. A cabaret. A bowl of cherries. A box

of chocolates. A stitch in time. Yeah, well. It’s what you make of it.

And what it makes of you. Etc.

Could my parents even have such thoughts? Deep. Know what I mean?

Talk story

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