Effingham can wait
The summer solstice arrived in 2009 on the third Sunday of June, which was also Father’s Day. It felt appropriate, considering I spent that day flying east to Boston, preparing to help my daughter drive cross-country to spend the summer, and get married, in Santa Fe, N.M.
Here in 2013, my wife also left home on Father’s Day, also flying toward my daughter, although this time to San Antonio. But it’s no surprise that these things mingle a little and stay on my mind. I’m prone to lean that way, to try to make sense out of the calendar.
A little calculation, then, helped me note that it was June 24, 2009 when we left a rainy Boston and headed west.
So last week I was remembering our trip, and as I thought about that I checked in on Andrew Sullivan’s site, The Daily Dish, where among 50-odd other posts he always has a View From Your Window picture, a Dish staple. And the June 24 view was of Effingham, Ill.
Effingham is a tiny town, mostly notable for being a crossroads of sorts, but when I was playing with mapping alternatives for our road trip four years ago, I calculated a route that took us a bit north and then due west, and at the exact halfway point was Effingham.
A coincidence, then, one of those mysteries that we imagine can be solved when it can’t. There’s nothing there in a reality-based world, but that’s never stopped me before.
That road trip felt important. It was supposed to be serious parent-adult child time, stuck in a Volkswagen together for days, seeing new sights and having new conversations, but it wasn’t quite like that. It was tense and filled with stress, or much of it anyway.
The first day we at least nipped at eight different states, something a West Coaster can marvel at. Here, when we travel to another state an ice chest (at least) is in order.
We’re more spread out, more rooted in our own area with a broadband of culture and geography that changes but takes some driving. Four years ago, we left Boston at about 9 a.m. and had lunch in New Jersey, our fourth state of the day.
It was a blur, then, with lots of pressure and awkward conversation, ending with driving through sparsely populated West Virginia as we headed for a small town where a bed waited for us, dodging deer at twilight and not knowing exactly where we were.
The last day, on the other hand, involved mostly familiar territory, north and then west Texas and New Mexico, the true Southwest, recognizable and almost home in a way. We were mostly relieved, and quiet.
And you don’t want to know about the third day. Always planned to be the longest one, we added some hours with a flat tire in Alabama, and I don’t want to talk about it.
It was the second day that I choose to remember. I’d exercised my only prerogative for the trip, a little detour to Atlanta to see a couple of old friends, one from high school and the other a college roommate, and we woke up in the boonies of West Virginia preparing to see the South.
I’ve been there before, but only briefly, and there’s nothing like driving.
The beauty of West Virginia was still there in the daylight, and we quickly were in Virginia, imagining blue and gray soldiers coming over rolling hills in the Shenandoah Valley.
We hit the Carolinas in stride, and our jaws dropped occasionally as we watched the road.
I’m not embarrassed to be a Pacific Northwest chauvinist; I arrived here 30 years ago and should have dropped to my knees immediately, a pilgrim arriving in God’s country.
I had other stuff on my mind at the time, but I quickly understood that I was home, somehow.
So I’ll scoot my state across the table to match yours, anytime. I’m all in when it comes to understanding how fortunate I am to live in the middle of beauty, to celebrate the lushness and fecundity of this place in a corner of my country.
But the South was different, and I think because it felt older. There was a stately aura, almost regal, an established beauty that seemed solid and permanent, and it was just a lovely drive in the afternoon, finally reaching Atlanta around 5 p.m.
We met my high school friend for a quick hello at Starbuck’s, then headed over to my college buddy’s house, where they put us up and fed us ice cream, and gave my daughter enough hard lemonade to alleviate her stress for an evening.
I would take that trip again in a second, although under different circumstances (I would insist).
It would serve as one bookend to an eventful summer, the other one being the wedding in August, and while the relief was real at the end of all that, glad to have done it and to be done, nostalgia is a powerful force.
It muffles unpleasant details and misremembers others. Hey, it was just a flat tire.
Mostly I’m just grateful I got the chance, and if I’m a tiny bit sorry I missed Effingham, I can’t imagine it would have been as nice as what we got to see.
It’s a place, maybe, that is better glimpsed through a view from somebody else’s window. I had my own, I saw what I saw, and I still see it, sometimes.