"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Cedar Swamp and The Car Wreck

"With rebellion, awareness is born." ~ Albert Camus

Driving down a gravel road with the windows open, dust billows out behind me like a thunderstorm. The road is open and straight and the trees in the fencerows form a tunnel to drive through. Nobody is in front of me, the way I like it, and nobody is behind me to make me nervous. I hold tight to the raised center, like a gymnast on the highbar. Gravel sprays out behind me. I like to drive fast, but I take my foot off the gas because there's something I want to see.

I see you, America. You are musical with wild lilies in your ditches and flocks of sparrows in your tangled apple trees. You are out of tune, America, with your dilapidated farm houses, falling-down barns, and burned-out landscapes, the product of ruinous farm policy inflicted upon you.

With the windows open, I can see into the ditch and beyond, and with the wind rushing through the car, I am struck by a queer sense of nostalgia for these fading rural areas.

I turn down a road I've never had occasion to go down before and pass a group of mobile homes set up for migrant workers who labor in the fields with their long-sleeved shirts and baggy trousers and big hats.
.


A sign by the road says, "Coon Hunters Association",




and I wonder at the incongruity.

Down further, I pass another sign that strikes me as small. Sign, sign, everywhere a sign. . . Here in white, rural, flag-flying America, militia signs dot the landscape promoting freedom to do whatever one wants, but theirs is an insular rebellion. These self-proclaimed rebels are afraid to venture outside their township, their state, their country. They abhor migrants though they would not do the work they do. Packing heat, they're afraid of strangers, afraid of their own shadows that stretch out tall in winter and shrink to proper size in the heat of summer. Proper small, their America.

I put small in my rearview mirror and drive on, looking for the cedar swamps of my ancestors and an unfamiliar road. I am looking for the scene of a story.

When America was eighty years younger with untraveled areas, there was a boy who worked in the cedar swamp, cutting timber with his father. One day he was riding to the swamp in the back of a 1935 Chevy with a group of other lean, sharp-faced boys. They barreled down the gravel road, dust flying. It was a dry, hot summer and even the grasshoppers stirred up puffs of dust as they escaped into the ditch.

The boys got behind a pickup truck and were swallowed by dust. They couldn't see a thing, but the truck was going slower than they wanted to go, and they were young and in a hurry, and the driver took a chance. On a dare? With encouragement from the back seat? The details are fuzzy. We’ll never know. But this much we do—he pulled over on the left to get around the truck and ran head-on into the invisible oncoming vehicle. The collision crushed their steel bumper, smashed the hood, and broke the windshield. It killed the driver.

The boys in the back were struck silent and shaken. One of them is still alive to tell the tale, with a trace of nostalgia for that hot summer day and the boy that could swing an ax, and the cedar swamp that is no longer there, and the friend he'd forgotten about.

When you sit down with someone born on the cusp of the Roaring Twenties, you never know what you're going to learn, what forgotten story you might hear. Sometimes they surprise themselves with all that they know . . . with all that they’ve forgotten.

My dad has forgotten more than I'll ever know, and it’s funny how he has repeated so many stories over and over as we roll our eyes, but this one made us sit up in astonishment. This one he had never told before.

Today, I want to be irresponsible and rebel against the expectations that others have of me. I want to drive down a country road with the windows open, or jump a train, or learn to sail. I want to make a story.

19 comments:

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

You just wove a fine story that kept me riveted and made me see that rural world of today and yesterday. Mighty fine writing, Yvonne.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Tricia,
Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it.

Pet said...

It is a pleasure to read your stories. If only we could all get rid of the expectations that others have on us. Writing helps though.

Liza said...

If only we could save all of our fathers' stories. this was so well written. I could see it all...

Anthony Duce said...

What a great story. I feel I know these roads you were on. I think I have traveled them too, and even known some of the characters, enough to understand, and want to have a story to be part of too. (You do need to learn to sail, with so much water all around).

G-Man said...

I was riding with you Yvonne...

Yvonne Osborne said...

Pet,
Thank you! Writing does help.

Liza,
Thanks. He says he's working on a memoir but I think he mostly just sits in his office and daydreams.

Anthony,
Thank you so much. I've always wanted to sail. I think it'd be so different from a motor boat. Quiet and stealthy. Only wind and water.

G-Man,
I thought someone was.

Talli Roland said...

Yvonne, this is an absolutely beautiful piece of writing. Thank you.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Talli,
Hi! Thank you so much. I love having you here from lovely London.

Helen Ginger said...

Great story and a fabulous last line. Really capped the story. Really liked it.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Helen,
Thank you so much. Your comment means a lot to me.

Suzanne Casamento said...

This post is beautiful. I've reread it a couple times. You really made me feel it all.

Just beautiful.

Deborah said...

Great post - full of detail and connections.

Thank you too, Yvonne, for your very kinds words on my blog - they are much appreciated.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Suzanne,
Oh! Thank you so much. Your words are so kind and supportive and a great way to start the day.

Deborah,
Thank you! I'm so glad you liked it. The opinion of a soon-to-be-famous author means much!

J.L. Chasen said...

WoW! I got chill bumps Yvonne. I didn't know whether to cry for the glimpse of our America you shared seen through your father's eyes, or relish in the moment in time that had so long ago gone by.

Yvonne Osborne said...

J.L.
Hi! And thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment. It means lot to me. I'm glad you liked it. You're right about the conflicted emotion. It's what I feel.

Taryn Tyler said...

Hi :D I have an award up for you on my blog if you want it

G-Man said...

I got my car stuck one time in The Hadley Hills, and they really ain't that Hilly!!!
I need some Basil, I got The Pesto Jones!!!

Yvonne Osborne said...

Hi Taryn,
I'll check it out....of course I'll want it!

G-Man,
Ha ha. The Hadley Hills are NOT all that hilly! Boy do I have the basil. I gotta make some pesto...searching for nuts.