The road felt like my office this past week. Wednesday, the weather radar showed rain moving in from the south, so I tossed a tent-sized umbrella behind the seat before heading out. Meetings took me to the northern and western parts of Alabama. Some people dread the driving, but not me. I think I inherited a restless gene from my dad’s side of the family.
After the meetings, the rain had moved off to the east. The sun-heated cab of my truck caused me to shed my jacket and roll up my sleeves. Instead of flipping on the AC, I cranked down the window on the driver’s side. It was one of those days when it seemed like I had the Interstate to myself. Sticking a hand out the window, it darted up and down like a fleshy kite each time I changed the angle of my fingers. As I got lost in the sensation of the rushing wind against my skin, my mind began to wander back in time.
When I was still in grammar school, dad sometimes Drove our family to the edge of Walker County on Sunday. Piling into our old car, we would amble along the backroads through Sipsey and Piney Woods. The destination was the construction site where workers were building Lewis-Smith Dam. There was a place high on a hill that overlooked the area. People drove from all around to see the work in progress. From our lofty vantage point, the bulldozers and large trucks looked like toys. It didn’t take a great deal to entertain us in those days.
Thinking back, we didn’t have a lot of disposable income then, and gas was cheap. It didn’t cost much to take a fun ride. It was something our family enjoyed.
My dad also spent time driving alone. I’m sure there were days when he felt the walls closing in around him. His only respite was the time spent behind the wheel of his car. I asked him once why he drove around alone. He said, “Sometimes you just need to ride.” I didn’t understand then, but I do now.
While collecting my families’ oral history several years ago, my grandmother told me a story about my grandfather Pap. He loved riding around too, but they didn’t have a car back then. She said one summer, he hopped a train and headed north with no destination in mind. She had young kids at home and wasn’t sure when he’d be back, or IF he’d come back.
After a few days, Elmer, a boy that lived with my grandparents, decided to go looking for Pap. He walked to the depot in Dora, hopped on an empty boxcar, and headed out.
A day or so later, he jumped out of the boxcar somewhere in Kentucky in a hobo friendly Freight Yard. He wanted to find something to eat and try to figure out where to look for Pap. Just outside the freight yard was a trestle that spanned a creek. The hobos used the creek to bathe while waiting for their train to roll out. When Elmer headed down to the creek, he saw Pap standing “nakid’ as a jaybird” atop the trestle over the water. Cranked up on moonshine whiskey, Pap was fearless. Elmer watched as Pap jumped off the trestle into the creek. He fished Pap from the water, and the next morning they swayed back home on a southbound train.
It felt good being out on the road yesterday. The memory of these stories brought a smile to my face and made my ride home even more enjoyable.