Short Stories

 Last week, after church, starting around 3PM, I drove from Plano to Amarillo. It’s about a 6 hour drive, but I made it in 5 and a half. Driving alone always helps you make better time. I drove and listened to music, letting the songs and the scenery suggest things to think about. One of my father’s many jobs was truck driver. I believe I inherited something from him that makes highway driving a comfort.

Along the way, between Quanah and Childress, the sun began to set. It was not one of those majestic, cloud and color infused sunsets. The sky was clear. I was headed west, very aware of the entire process as the sun slid down behind the A-pillar on the windshield. Once it started it didn’t take long. The mostly flat terrain put the horizon at the limit of my sight and I realized that light from the sunset could be seen for 180 degrees, growing fainter at each end. The glow was in front of me. The horizon in my rear view mirror was much darker. I have noticed that phenomena many times, always while driving, and almost always while heading home.

Late Monday afternoon I started the drive back. This time I had company; Elizabeth hitched a ride back. Instead of taking the most direct route, we went a bit out of our way and stopped in Alanreed. My parents are buried there, well, their ashes are, and when I get the chance  I like to stop, pay my respects, say a quick prayer of thanks and simply absorb the time and place. It calms me. It helps me remember who I am.

The cemetery in Alanreed is just off of Interstate 40. I have yet to visit without hearing semis rumble past. It sits on the slope of a hill. Overlooking the interstate I see rolling ranch lands, some scrub brush, some tough old cedars, wash outs and draws and barbed wire fences. The trucks and other highway sounds never bother me because they belong, and besides, the scenery transports me back in time to pickup rides with the windows down along dusty roads, and horseback riding while watching out for soapweed and prickly pear, smelling horse sweat and leather. I taste the dust, feel the heat and sweat or the cold and chills and smell the grass, the dirt, the always sharp and dry air.

We didn’t stay long, just long enough for a review of family members by marker and my short time traveling experience. And then we were on the road, joining the traffic parade, for a short while on I-40, formerly known as Route 66, and then a jog south on Highway 83 at Shamrock to catch Highway 287 in Childress. Two eighty seven is a highway I know well, including all the places where speeding tickets are likely, where to find reasonably clean restrooms and where to change lanes to get ready to exit.

The sun seemed to set early on us, going down for good somewhere between Shamrock and Childress. On the dark drive back, instead of music and scenery pushing my thoughts, this time, with company, they were pulled from me as Elizabeth asked questions, prompting me for stories that she knows I love to tell. The good ones, of course, she’d already heard and I had to catch myself a few times, to stop the re-telling. Elizabeth and I have traded stories before, and it seemed a waste to tell an old one. This seemed to be a time for new stories, for exploring, for reflecting and searching for an understanding of the past as preparation for the future.

I’m always careful in the telling, searching my memory for details, feeling around for the right emphasis, aiming for the right mood and tone. The listener? Well, they are on their own to glean what they might.

The driving was, in the everyday sense, an unremarkable 12 or so hours, there and back. In the grand scheme, in the bigger picture, it was a wonder, like so many common things are and yet, we rarely recognize it. I’ve known for a long time that there are always more questions than answers. It’s trips and times like this one that help me understand that we don’t have answers to the biggest questions, we only have stories, approximations of answers, and they, sometimes, for a discerning listener, will point to the truth.

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