I am back on my island.
I flew to Atlanta and stayed at my son’s house for a day before starting off on the long drive across the country.
We drove south from Georgia, through Alabama to the Florida panhandle, then west. The south was wintry brown, poor and sad. As we approached the Gulf of Mexico things began to green up.
We drove because Ben won’t fly. Because of that he hasn’t visited the island in 5 years. Now he is having something like a mid-life crisis. He wants to change professions. He is a chef but feels that the restaurant business is incompatible with a family life. He has a wife whom he has loved since he was 14 and she was 12 and they have 2 beautiful children. His wife, Katie, has just qualified as a nurse anesthetist. This is Ben’s chance to change direction, but he is fighting depression and is not sure what he wants to do in a new career. We all thought a trip and some time to think would do him good.
Ben is my youngest. I was 40 when he was born, and when he was 3 I drove him with his oldest sister (who was then 21) via almost same route from Florida, where I had finished my Ph. D. to California, where I had a post doctoral position at the University of Southern California.
On the present trip Ben didn’t let me drive at all. He said he couldn’t stand to be in a car with someone else driving. I worried that he would drive too fast for my old lady nerves, but it turned out that his driving was skillful and, though a little fast, was careful and safe. I worried that the car would break down or that we would have a flat tire. Those things did not happen. But here’s the rub. He said he couldn’t drive without music. He absolutely required loud rock and roll music most of the time.
When the music was not playing he talked to me animatedly about his interests. Ever since he was a small boy he has been fascinated with snakes and reptiles. He told me what sort of reptile life could be found in each region we passed through. Much of that I found interesting. We talked about geology, and I was surprised by how much he knew about the earth’s history.
He commented on passing cars: he has become an auto enthusiast. I was required to look at many sports cars, although they seemed a blur to me. I thought one looked pretty much like another, save for color. We talked a little about family, a little about cooking, a little about his future, but not as much as I had hoped. Then we talked about snakes. And as we passed from one landscape to another we talked again about snakes.
In Florida he took me on a detour along the gulf coast. It was in the region where the recent oil spill happened but I saw little evidence of oil. These are favorite haunts of Ben’s. We walked a board walk through a sand dune reserve where the indigenous flora in that delicate ecosystem is being preserved and protected.
The sand was soft yellow and white, with blue-green shrubs and rust red grasses. The undulations of sand and silhouettes of bushes and trees were accented with the long shadows of late afternoon sun.
That night we stayed at the edge of Florida and ate dinner at a sushi place. Not bad.
The next day we went from the bayous of Mississippi and Louisiana to the dry, live oak studded hills of east Texas.
When we stopped for the night we grocery shopped and Ben cooked an excellent dinner of chicken thighs, rice and chick peas. I think I have perfected easy cooking in almost any motel room. All you need (which fits into one grocery size bag) is an electric frying pan, a spatula, measuring cups, small cutting board and knife plus a couple of dishes, bowls for salad and eating utensils. Glasses are not really necessary unless you object to drinking wine out of the plastic cups the motel provides. It was good to relax with the TV news, a bottle of wine and my own traveling chef.
Next day we passed through Austin; I had hoped to stop for a visit with Ruth Pennebaker of The Fabulous Geezersisters, but it was her moving day (poor thing) and she couldn’t fit it in. We stopped for breakfast in Fredericksburg, which seemed to have a German theme, where I had a good breakfast of country ham and eggs. The rest of the day was Texas all the way. I remembered a ditty told to me years ago by a friend from Texas:
The sun has riz;
The sun has set.
And here I is
In Texas yet.
The next day we passed through southern New Mexico and into Arizona. The landscape was desert, dry and rocky. There was prickly pear and yucca and sage and tumbleweed.
The rocks were monumental.
We saw the new border fence, and we were stopped at a check point on the road where a well armed, uniformed guard looked us over and asked if we were citizens. Ben said “Yup” and the guard said, “Have a good day,“ and waved us on. It reminded me of crossing borders in Europe when I was a child before the second world war. It had a chilling feeling.
In Tucson I had arranged to meet Darlene of Darlene’s Hodgepodge. We stopped first at the Saguaro National Park. There you drive an 8 mile circuit through the Sonoran Desert where you see a wonderland of desert plants, dominated by the huge saguaro cactus.
Ben looked for snakes.
Later we sipped wine with Darlene, a charming, intelligent and articulate lady who lives independently and copes with serious deafness (though she converses easily with hearing aids and lip reading) and a damaged hip that limits mobility. The three of us had dinner at a Mexican restaurant. That visit was a highlight of the trip. Ben was full of admiration for this brave woman.
The next day we drove on to San Diego. My sister lives there, and I have spent many days there with my mother who lived in La Jolla until she was 97.
Ben and my sister’s husband David cooked dinner. We had roast chicken with a chicken liver gravy that Ben has invented. It was really good. My sister’s son John, my dear nephew, was there.
My sister and I have different fathers. She is 10 years younger than me, and sometimes there are tensions. We are very different. But I always find her to be a loveable person without guile or pretense. She has been married to the same man for 47 years. She has three children and has devoted her life to bringing them up. I, on the other hand, have had 4 husbands and 5 kids, and have gone to school or worked most of my adult life.
Things seemed to be going well between us, though I am always cautious. She unexpectedly started weeping and saying that I had offended her at some time in the past; she claimed I had said she was an underachiever. (At this point Ben raised his hand and said in a jolly sort of way, “I’m an underachiever!” — then John said, “Well, who isn’t”) I said I didn’t remember saying that but if I did all I meant was that she had more abilities than she had used. She said darkly that she was sure I had meant something worse. Then she told me to say I was proud of her for being so brave as to confess how I had hurt her after so many years. She cried some more and said that I always acted as if I knew more than her. I laughed and said, “Well, I do.” But then I hugged her (though Ben said he could tell I didn’t want to). We ended the visit affectionately and without more problems.
I had wanted to meet another blogger in San Diego, Mage of Postcards. But I was running out of energy and time. Ben and I left the next morning before the others were awake. North of Los Angeles we decided to take route 1 up the coast for one last dawdle to look at scenery.
Ben was enchanted. He said he felt as if he was driving through a painting. There was the rugged coast, blue water, white sands, rocky cliffs, yellow and orange flowers. There were sea otters and elephant seals and many birds.
There were mountains in the background. We cooked shrimp and rice and beans that night in the motel.
The next day, the 7th on the road we both felt the urgency to rest and to reach the island. I was missing Jerry, Ben was missing his wife and kids and knew that he wouldn’t get home to Georgia for a week or so more. We just drove, no lingering, for another day and a half.
We stopped for the night in Roseburg Oregon and had Chinese take-out for dinner. Ben really wanted Chinese, and I didn’t, but it turned out to be some of the best Chinese I have had in many years.
We stopped at Barlene’s fish market on the way to the island and bought 3 dozen huge luscious oysters. We had shrimp for Jerry who doesn’t eat oysters on the half shell.
It was a feast.