There was always a small split, somewhere, in the vinyl car seat and so I had to keep my leg skin from being sucked into the crevice, or sweating, or both--a futile attempt, seeing that it was summer and I was wearing shorts. So, I would hunker down, crouched low and small, my head resting on my bed pillow covered with the Peanuts Gang pillowcase and its smell of sleep. It wouldn't be until we were miles away, in other people's houses and in different states, that I would recognize that it also hid the smell of home.
Despite my excitement and percolating anticipation, I would inevitably doze off. There was the droning white noise of the radio and the rhythmical rocking of the car and my dreams would be spotty and confusing, narrated by the disembodied voices of my parents and a.m. traffic helicopters. It would be the rising of the sun, the snap of the newspaper's front page, and the smell of coffee poured from the red thermos with the Highland pattern on its side that would pull me back to consciousness. Peeking over the car window's ledge I would see that the landscape had changed and the sound of the tires on the pavement was different and we weren't in Missouri anymore.
There would come a point, somewhere in Tennessee, where we would decide to stop for lunch. We would find a rest stop with picnic tables and clean restrooms and maps. To the concrete table already covered in ants we would haul the mammoth green Coleman cooler and we would eat in the shade of the last hardwood trees we would see for awhile. I never felt rushed. Rather, I ruminated on the idea that this road we were traveling reached wide and deep, long and high and connected us to people who loved us.
I could smell that we were in Georgia long before I ever saw a sign with a peach on it. It was the swelling of pine pitch and the hard crusted red clay that now edged the roadside that did it. I would marvel at the interminable cascade of kudzu that enveloped trees and barns and whatever didn't move and I would wonder whether we would escape its death hold before we headed homeward in a week. Georgia was glad to see us, but it didn't want us to leave.
And then, just like that, we would be there. And we would be squeezed and kissed by folks with bright lipstick who wore Shalimar perfume and smoked Benson & Hedges in the gold box...folks whose voices curled and dropped in different places and always ended in laughter...folks with familiar lines to their faces and silver hair that glistened in the lamplight and twinkles in their eyes that were reserved only for us. And for a week, we belonged to them. We would listen to their stories and we would drink in their love and we would memorize their faces because no one wanted to forget anything.
We never left for home as early in the morning as we had that first day headed South. The parting was always difficult and dreaded and drawn out because how, exactly, do you say goodbye to yourself? And after the loud and wet farewells and that momentary suspension in time where one is caught between worlds, we would find ourselves sunk deep in our seats, quiet in a way that we hadn't been for days. It would be that bed of silence that would carry us the first hundred miles or so headed North. Then, a restroom break or a stop for peanut brittle would cut the tension and we would begin to accept that we were headed home. But as we continued to drive, passing mile marker after mile marker, we became more comfortable with the thought that all of it was home. For home is where you are loved and cherished and we were all of that.
"Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home."