We made Pennsylvania late Monday (Oct. 17), crossing into the state’s rural southwest corner after a quick pass through wild and wonderful West Virginia.
It’s curious the way the mystic cords of memory, to borrow one of Lincoln’s timeless phrases, tug the heartstrings when you return to the home country after a long absence. Cynical to the core, I can’t help but wonder whether this nostalgic rush of serotonin has any true currency or if it’s nothing more than a devious emotional fraud.
After all, Claysville, home of the Pennsylvania Welcome Center where we lodged on our first night in state, is still a good 300 miles from the suburban wonderland of stripmalls and SUVs where Becky and I spent our respective childhoods. It’s about the same distance to Boston, but I feel no kinship with people who can’t pronounce R’s. Geographically speaking, the Philadelphia area shares a greater propinquity with New York (110 miles) and Washington (135) than western Pennsylvania, yet I get no mysterious flutter of goodwill when nearing either of those metropolises.
Yet we’re in Pennsylvania. For better or worse, right or wrong. Meaningless geographical abstraction or heartfelt native soil, it’s our home. Now, a musical word on the subject from Berks County’s Frog Holler:
Asleep in his bed for hours, snoozing since before we hit Columbus, Max awoke and was quite giddy to hear we’re in Pennsylvania.
Our plans have taken a sober turn since we left Pierce County a month ago. My sister, Debbie, is engaged in a battle with head and neck cancer that is more serious than we had originally understood. With that news following us like a bilious cloud, we at last conquered our meandering ways and drove home with dispatch in order to provide moral and physical support.
We arrived in Spring City on Wednesday, a little before Debbie went in for the second half of a hellish, two-surgeries-in-six-days ordeal. First she had malignant cells removed from her right tonsil, then had neck surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes. Ahead lies a grueling regimen of radiation and, probably, chemotherapy. We’re here to do what we can to lighten the burden and assist in the fight.
The lexicon of the road has changed. McDonald’s wifi and Walmart lodging has given way to malignant neoplasm and squamous cell carcinoma. Frivolity has been upstaged by fear.
Max, more or less, remains the same. As the golden child in this dysfunctional little family, he represents the X-factor in his Aunt Didi’s cause.
O hushed October morning mild, Thy leaves have ripened to the fall; Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild, Should waste them all. – Robert Frost
It feels as if we have parachuted into the heart of autumn after spending a decade or more in exile. On Tuesday our eyes beheld a panaroma of pastoral splendor as we wandered east on the Pennsylvana Turnpike.
Rolling hills made way for red farmhouses. Green land rose and fell with voluptuous silence against a backdrop of autumnal brilliance. The landscape glowed gold and amber, bronze and burgundy, auburn and ochre.
I’m not sure if it’s home, but it sure is pretty.
It’s been a whirlwind week.
We loitered about Oklahoma for what seemed like forever. Then, passing in a blur, tumbling by one after another, came Tulsa, Chelsea, Joplin, St. Louis, Effington, Terre Haute, Indianapolis, Dayton, Columbus, Zanesville, Wheeling, Claysville, Harrisburg and home.
Rolling on through light and dark, trying to outrun the inclination to stop and talk and make sense of the world passing about us.
We saw a lot of each other, and not much else. Becky slept in the top bunk while Max and I sped through St. Louis at 5 on Monday morning, crossing the Mississippi into Illinois but still feeling as if we hadn’t escaped enemy territory.
Well Arn, I would’ve liked to pass through with my eyes closed, just so I wouldn’t have had to see that goddamn Gateway Arch and everything it symbolizes. I gritted my teeth and told Max he should check it out, that it was some kind of significant landmark or other.
Fucking border state. Fucking Pukes. Fucking Cardinals.
We crashed in Illinois, and by the afternoon we were driving around Indianapolis looking for a grocery store, looking for bagels.
We stumbled instead into poverty, and plight, and urban blight. The Safeway we visited had a “Wall of Values” and chitterlings, but no deli, no fresh seafood counter, no bakery, and most assuredly no goddamn bagels.
While it had none of the fine amenities of sprawling suburban stores, it could boast something that no supermarket in Gig Harbor, or Portland, or San Francisco, or Kingman, or Oklahoma City or anyplace else we’ve been could offer. Fliers on either side of the front doors announced news of great promise: The fabled Oscar Meyer wienermobile would be visiting this very Safeway in Indianapolis on Saturday.
Oh I wish.
I gave the keys over to Becky, and she plowed on through the rest of Indiana, on into Ohio and through Dayton, Columbus and finally Zanesville. Had we been there a day later, we might’ve been dodging grizzly bears and tigers on I-70. We dodged instead the unseen spectres of the night highway, the freakish misfortune waiting for unsuspecting travelers around the next curve. The world was one incoherent interstate haze. Lots of miles, lots of petroleum, no bagels.
We made the aforementioned stop in Claysville, then woke up and drove the turnpike to Harrisburg, stopped by the Capitol steps to commune with the 99 percent (more about that later, perhaps), then abandoned those fuckers for one of our favorite places in the world, the Lebos’ Legendary Beer Can Museum (more about that later, definitely) in York Haven.
We had an impromptu feast that couldn’t be beat and a convivial, wine-splattered time with our hosts and beloved friends the Lebos, as we always do.
Wednesday, it was back to the home country. For real this time.