1644 miles. That’s how far I drove on my road trip to Tennessee and back last week. The trip had its genesis when I agreed to play in “America’s Favorite Regional Bridge Tournament” in Gatlinburg and quickly grew in scope when I realized I could visit family and do some genealogy nearby. Nearby being relative, since my trip would take me from Philadelphia through Bristol, Virginia, west into Lee County then south to Gatlinburg, but I’ve never minded driving or being alone. A solo road trip appeals to my only-child soul. Being alone, exploring new places, allows me to recharge mentally and yes, to pray.
I just read a blog post about one woman’s solo road trip–a trip conceived and born out of middle-age angst, out of a need to do something for herself after many years of caring for others. In it, Robin Murphy, the author, notes that “When you’re on the road alone, you have many conversations between you, yourself and God.” Alone time in the car is a great distraction-free time to pray with my audio rosary app, and the Catholic Channel is my go-to radio station. But driving Southern roads, I am reminded of God by things outside my car as well. I love seeing the three telephone-pole crosses Bernard Coffindaffer erected all over the South as a testament to Jesus’ suffering–sometimes on a hill, sometimes in a field surrounded by cattle or nestled along side a forest. And if those are too subtle, perhaps you’d prefer the 100-foot metal cross towering over 1-81 in Bristol.
God even has a place at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum.
But almost more than God, country music and maybe even college football, Southerners love family, so it’s no surprise that the highlight of my trip was a stop in Virginia to visit with my cousins and, most especially, my dear 80 year-old twin aunts. With my grandparents gone, these two are the old-timers keeping the family together, the matriarchs. But in my family, it seems matriarchs are more Ouiser than Melanie.
A couple of years ago, one Auntie came to visit us at a beach house we had rented. When I came out to her car to greet her, she exclaimed (nearly in tears), “I never thought I’d see you again!” No, neither of us suffered from a terminal illness. I hadn’t moved to another country that lacked reliable transportation. I hadn’t joined a cloistered order, never again to interact with the outside world. But Southern women of a certain age have earned their bouts of the vapors, so I hugged her and asked if she’d like a glass of wine. Auntie, not really a big drinker (it’s hard to be a big anything when you are less than five feet tall) but apparently needing refreshment after our emotional reunion, responded, “Just bring me the bottle and a straw!” I think she was only half joking . . .
It’s almost required that Southern women keep the family history and be able to explain, in detail, just how second-cousin Ellie Pearl is related to the Jefferson County branch on Daddy’s side. But when you are a Southern matriarch, at least in my family, you don’t necessarily have to obey the laws of time and space when telling stories. This visit the talk turned to the traveling Wild West tent show our family ran for the better part of three generations, into the 1940’s (yes, I come by my wanderlust honestly). Other Auntie, upon hearing of my trip to East Tennessee, brought up a memory of when the show performed there. “But you wouldn’t remember,” she said, looking over at her twin sister. “You were too young.”
Really, doesn’t everyone need a pair of these in their life? Unconditional love of family, a zest for life and a dash of craziness.
Wishing you the faith and love (and lots of laughs) that so sum up Virginia for me.