Exits and Entrances . . .
The next morning was bright and warm. The younger Brother and I woke early, and stayed in his room for a while, talking about silly things. He was to be a freshman in high school after summer, so there still was some kid left in him. Somehow the topic of lighting farts came up, and he proceeded to show me how he had perfected the art.
A nice breakfast was served by the Mother. Marty was going to head off to work shortly. Not wanting to overstay my welcome, I cleaned up, packed up my gear, and then asked if there was anything I could do to help repay their kindness and warmth. They simply wouldn’t have it. The Father asked, “Is there anything we can do for you?” What a wonderful sentiment, to offer an almost perfect stranger assistance after having shown so much hospitality. He was just that kind of man, and it shone through his entire family.
During the time I was with them, I was taken by his range of contradictions, his bald head and his immensely thick full beard, his huge, strong size guided by his gentle heart. I must confess the beard fascinated me. It too was a contradiction, thick and bushy, yet tame. It may be one reason I wear a beard today. I said, “Just one thing. Could I have a snippet of your beard for my scrapbook?” He let out a deep, light-hearted chuckle, went to the bathroom and came back with a lock in his fingers, which I folded up in a piece of paper and stuffed in my pack.
Marty gave me a ride to Summerville proper. We said our goodbyes as she drove on to work. I had a feeling of finality in me. What more could I possibly do? What else was there to accomplish? I had seen parts of the country that few will ever see. Parts that must, by now, be dust. I had achieved an epiphany that had completely altered my world view. I had met the most untrusting people, as well as some of the most open and trustful folk ever. I sort of felt at a loss. Would anything make this better, or would it all be anticlimactic from here on?
I elected to try something different. Hitch. Not walk. Hitchhike. Cut out some of the distance. Meet a stranger. Take a different approach.
I walked from Summerville to the I-26 cloverleaf, which wasn’t much of a walk. Pedestrians aren’t allowed on the interstate, so I stood at the on-ramp with my thumb out. Much to my surprise, after a very short period of time, a big old, red semi-trailer truck pulled over. I climbed up into the cab.
The driver seemed like a nice guy. Clean, comfortable work dress. Probably in his 40’s, though a bit worn from years of physical labor. “Where ya headin’?” I explained that I was on a long trek, but my end goal was home. He pointed to the hood ornament on the front of the old truck, a chrome statue of a bulldog in a springing pose. “If this old dog gets where she’s going, we’ll go right by there. Settle back and enjoy the ride.”
I really hadn’t wanted a ride all the way back. But I had told the guy where I was going, and to change that now felt like bad manners. What would he think, that I thought he smelled or something? Besides, what was left to accomplish? I had proven myself, or at least, I had proven something to myself.
Within less than two hours, we were closing in on home territory. He was going to have to do some maneuvers to switch to the more northerly bound section of I-26, near a place the locals lovingly call, “Malfunction Junction.” He and I both calculated that the first interchange was going to be the best place for him to let me out.
When the time was right, he pulled off the interstate and I climbed out. He proceeded to work his way back onto the highway, using a frontage road to skip passed some of the nastier interchanges that take up about a mile of the area. I found myself on a very familiar road. A road that I had walked many times. One of the main drags that ran between my home and the local mall.
Looking back now, it all seems more of an adventure than I felt it was at the time. At the time, while walking those last miles, I wondered if it had been an adventure at all. There were no great laughs, and no deep tears. It seemed to fit into that dreaded life normality in an odd way. Yet it stuck out too. The adventure was more about the people. People I would never have run across otherwise. The old general store owner in Lobeco. The gruff Sheriff Taylor cop, and the codger clerk. Marty and her wonderful family.
Marty and Smed married several years later, which didn’t surprise me. Sometime after that, I taught Smed how to jump out of airplanes. And some time after that, he got a pilot’s license and let me fly a plane, though I didn’t take off or land. Still years after that, they adopted a little Taiwanese girl. I have never met her, but I know she has been surrounded with nothing but love.
I had been out for six days, and I was now five miles out from home. I walked this old beaten path with a new sight, and a new confidence. I had stories to tell. I had learned some things. I learned that we all live with a strange blend of old and new. I learned that my home southern state, in particular, defiantly clings to the past.
I survived, alone, on little. No, I had not killed a bear with my bare hands, like Daniel Boone. I had not saved Middle Earth from evil sorcerers. I had not tilted with windmills, or solved some universal paradox. But I had set myself a rather scarey task, and came out of it not only unscathed, but enlightened.
I opened the door.
“Mom! I’m home!”