I watched as the mountains of western New Jersey gave way to the slope and rolling interstate of Pennsylvania. And as I drove west on I-80, Pennsylvania yielded to Ohio. Western Ohio still held the slight hills of the previous state but I knew, because I lived my younger years in northern Ohio, that the paths of the ancient glaciers would soon make their journey evident as we traveled into the flatest of flats.
I still find it strange to be an adult where I used to be a kid. And, for the record, I find it strange that I find this strange. Since my family moved so often when I was growing up, a different place is home now than it was when I was young. I moved five times before I was in Kindergarten. I moved in 7th, 9th and 11th grades. I went to college. I moved eight times since I graduated from college. I've so often craved a familiar, physical home--the place I can navigate with my eyes closed. But. Instead I have a cornucopia of homes, places I hold dear sprinkled with memories of living. I can see them like red push-pins dotted all over a map.
It's funny where some memories reside. Some live in expected places--for me, in the scent of garlic and onions sauteeing in butter. In the arms of my husband and in the sleeping bodies of my children. In the coolness of my mother's hand. Memories sit in the smell of chlorine and old photographs, boxed and filed in the basement.
But others reside in complex, unexpected places. As I drove through Ohio, I began to see the inky tails of memories, zipping by, their traces like car exhaust in the cold of January. Pungent. Nearly invisible. Daring me to see them.
These memories lurked under concrete underpasses. In the accordian fans of corn. In the flat expanse of black highway. They congregated on the low-hanging power lines, like black birds. Memories lived here. The ones that I don't often visit. It makes me wonder: are they really memories if they don't reside in my brain? Or are they blips, nascent experiences just waiting to be reclaimed, ready to graduate to memory status?
When I used to travel these roads, I rode as a passenger. In the back on a red, vinyl bench seat with a lap belt holding me safely in place. My parents consulted a map to determine their direction--I can still see my mom's hands and arms folding a map of Ohio into submission. Now, I drive. Airbags and car seats fill my minivan. I consult my phone and my navigation system for directions. Straw wrappers litter the floor mats. My kids watch movies and slightly scuffed DVDs join the wrappers on the floors. I send up a mother's wish that the little-finger smudges and scratches don't prevent the DVDs from playing. When I look down quickly at the steering wheel, I can see a pair of hands that would pass as my mother's. But they're mine.
Now what used to legitimately be called laugh-lines are well-deserved wrinkles covered in a shroud of SPF 70 trying to undo years of sun damage garnered in the 70s and 80s. When I used to live here. When these roads were home.
Now I'm driving my kids to my dear friends' and family's houses and I brief my kids before we arrive:
The last time you saw Myles you were both in diapers and you stole toys from him.
You last met this family two years ago. Remember--she was pregnant? Well, now that baby is
She was a bridesmaid at Daddy's and my wedding. Yes, I was one at hers, too.
We stop. Many times. At houses we've stopped at many times before. Familiar driveways and strong, safe, knowing arms greet us. These people know all my nooks and crannies because they lived a lot of them with me. At each predetermined stop, we gorge ourselves on hugs and kisses and so many stories. Told in person, instead of over the phone. Complete with live facial expressions and shiny eyes. We share stories of our families. Of challenges and triumphs. Of life. Of children's successes and, shall we say, quirks. And of ours.
I get to hold and squeeze the little bodies whose sweet faces fill my Christmas card stack.
I hear these words emerging from my mouth, directed lovingly toward my friend's children, just as I heard my mother say before me.
I remember when I held you in my arms and you were only this big
I remember the last time I saw you and you were a bump in your Mama's belly.
I kiss their sweet heads and enjoy highly fractured conversations with their moms.
Suddenly, hours and days have passed and it's time to go. Again. We exchange teary, long-held goodbyes with many repeats. We try to shove two years of living into days, hours, lunches.
Each time the kids and I walk into the driveways and climb back into the blue minivan, we hug our friends again.
Oh, take this kettle corn
Here are some snacks for the road
Do you need any other food
Text me when you get there
and they love through their outstretched offerings of food stuffs, through their outstretched arms, as women do by mothering and nurturing and caring. At each stop, we pull out of the driveway loaded with teary goodbyes, more food than we could possibly eat and a strong reserve of hugs. Physical reminders that friendship perseveres miles and 365-day-stretches-of-days.
My heart and stomach lurch. We pull out of the many driveways, windows open to the Midwestern summer air. Our tanned arms waving, tears regathering, horn honking.
We see their hands waving back, waving so many simultaneous wishes. Indentations of our memories bind us, holding us together, connected until we met again.
And we move on. Our four wheels carrying us to the next state, the next stop, the next set of welcoming arms. Home.