If all goes well, I’ll set off today to drive from Florida to North Carolina to visit my sister. In this season of summer vacations, it’s the perfect time to go. Fort Lauderdale is sweltering. My sister tells me evening temperatures in the mountains drop to the 60s. Pack the jacket! Where I’m from, we call that winter.
I’m leaving with a clear conscience, because I just finished the manuscript for my fifth mystery, MAMA GETS TRASHED. I hope my brain uses the long drive to recharge. There’s nothing like staring at a highway center line for twelve hours to jolt the creative juices. I always have a pen and notepad in my truck’s console, just in case. I might just come up with an idea for the next great American novel at the five-hundred-and-seventh monotonous mile.
Because I spend most of my life in a fog of nostalgia, packing for this trip reminded me of another journey I took, a few years ago. My mother was 90. She wanted to go back home to Illinois one last time. Before we left Florida, I heard her on the phone with the childhood friend she’d arranged to visit. The friend asked if she was nervous about traveling at her age.
“I’m not worried at all,’’ my mom said. “My daughter takes care of everything.’’
Just like my mother did for us.
I was eight the summer my father died. Mom loaded my little brother and me into our family's battered Ford Fairlane. We took a long, meandering road trip between our Florida home and Chicago, where she was born. Driving, grieving, she’d hold her tears until after dark, when she thought we were asleep in the bed she made on the back seat. Lying there, I’d watch the reflections from oncoming headlights. I was terrified those cars would smash into ours, and my mother would die just like my father did. With each rectangle of light that passed over her face, fading harmlessly into the darkness, I breathed more easily.
My father was gone, but I felt a little safer after that summer with my mother behind the wheel.
One of Mon's favorite sayings was always, “One good turn deserves another.’’ So, on her last trip home, I took the driver’s seat. I packed her clothes, and lifted the suitcases. I studied the maps and found the hotels. I was happy to be able to “take care of everything’’ for her on that trip. But most of all, I was grateful that those many summers later, she felt safe with me behind the wheel.
How about you? Does your family take road trips? Do creative ideas pop into your head on long drives? Do you feel happy -- or sad – behind the wheel?