By Vicki Hughes Posted July 31, 2013
I recently spent my day off, culling the clutter and various flotsam and jetsam that was rendering John’s “office” un-useable. I’m not really sure why we call it an office, because it’s main purpose is to house his Bowflex, surfboard, inversion table and a giant dog bed. It does have a table that could serve as a desk, and the obligatory bills, invoices and random warranty paperwork to things we no longer own. So, sure, we’ll call it an office. Why not?
One reason I’m not especially good at this sort of thing is my tendency to become distracted and absorbed in the family artifacts I discover. I found, among other things: keys to cars we no longer own, Christmas cards bearing photographs of people I don’t recognize, (but clearly cannot throw away,) a grocery bag containing newspaper headlines from the day the Japanese surrendered at the end of WWII, saved by my great-grandfather (why I was entrusted with these, I have no idea) and a few pictures that took me back to the year John and I married and moved to Georgia.
He proposed to me in 1985, the night before we left on a Hawaiian vacation, two months after we began dating. You could call it a whirlwind romance, except we’d known each other for six years, him being my best friend’s older brother. Older, wilder brother. Older, wilder brother with fast cars and an Australian accent. What girl could resist, really?
Two months after the Vegas wedding, we loaded up his Chevy pickup, hauling a questionably road worthy travel trailer. The plan was for me to follow in my extremely adorable Pontiac Fiero. These vehicles contained all of our worldly possessions, which I can summarize here: A rocking chair, a ceiling fan, an extremely neurotic cat, a cornucopia of my Mom’s old pots, pans and dishes, forty-nine plastic trash bags filled with my clothes and shoes, and one bag of John’s clothes which entailed one or two pairs of underwear, several terry cloth polo shirts, which we must never speak of again, and his “cruel shoes.” Clearly, we were ready to storm the castle.
With his friends humming the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies, and two full tanks of gas, we set off. We had our AAA map with the route from Tehachapi, CA all the way to Peachtree City, GA clearly marked with a highlighter. We were Louis and Clark, going backwards, cluelessly, without cellphones. What could go wrong?
The full details of this trip are a story for another day, but here are the highlights: It took us four harrowing days, with stops in many fun and educational places including Albuquerque, where the only hotel room available had a waterbed set to 110 degrees, Oklahoma City, where I continually got myself lost, and the frighteningly narrow bridges of Mississippi, where I first laid eyes on kudzu, and immediately imagined it covering many corpses of people who “Ain’t from around here, are ya?” We had to disengage the air conditioning in the truck, to prevent it from overheating, which really does very little to keep the occupants from overheating.
Rural Mississippi in June also made us aware of the fact that it can rain so hard that you will begin to wonder if you have inadvertently driven into a lake. After helplessly following behind John over a bridge built for covered wagons, I could only say “ogod, ogod ogod,” as the trailer behind his truck did a herky-jerky fishtail, as a semi truck blew by us going about 110mph in the opposite direction. My mouth and eyes all formed perfect O‘s as our trailer came within a redneck’s whisker of flinging a cyclist who was out for a lovely bike ride, off of the Bridge of Doom.
At the next available roadside shoulder, the truck and trailer pulled over in a dramatic cloud of red dirt and gravel. Pre-cell phone, remember? I cautiously parked behind him, and waited for him to approach my car with a much needed cigarette, thinking it might be wise to allow a bit of the drama to fade before making conversation. After a minute or two, when he didn’t appear, I turned off my car, got out and approached the driver’s side of his truck. And he wasn’t in the truck. But he hadn’t gotten out of the truck. I blinked, and looked again, and there I saw him laying on the front seat of the truck with his eyes closed.
Leaning through the window, I put on my most encouraging, newlywed smile, and said, “Hey Babe. You okay? That was insane.”
With eyes calmly closed he replied, “I go no further.”
We then had a more lengthy discussion about the complications of setting up our new household on the roadside in Mississippi, the fact that this was no place to raise a family, how he was the best driver since Mario Andretti and for the love of Mike, is that a banjo I hear? After several shaky smokes, and the promise of air conditioning at our final destination, we continued.
Upon our arrival in the veritable civilization of Peachtree City, Georgia, we set about finding a place to rent. We chose a townhouse in Twiggs Corner. I should explain that “townhouse” was the technical real estate term for, “Front door at ground level, and then carry all your crap up a huge flight of stairs, where the rest of the apartment is.” We were so young, so in love, so naïve. So not prepared to meet the herd of Malathion-resistant roaches who were waiting in the empty unit next to ours to welcome us to the neighborhood. Roaches are very hospitable in the South. They kindly wait until you are unpacked to come a callin’.
John had a distinct advantage over me, in understanding the locals. His Australian upbringing had trained his ear for the twang-y, deep south dialect that left me straining forward with furrowed brows. He’d talk to a cluster of guys in overalls, and they’d carry on, and he’d smile and laugh and then say, “No shit!” I’d politely smile, and then wait till we got home to flip through my copy of “How to Speak Southern,” searching in vain for the term, “Dern de dern dern dern.”
I slowly began to keep a mental list of the vernacular, so I wasn’t always asking people what they were talking about. Buggies were grocery carts. Cranking the car was starting it. Cutting on the lights meant turning them on. I was catching on! Your Mama and them, was the sum total of everyone you were related to, and ’midity was the air you could see, feel, breathe and wear as a protective coating. Fried was the state that all food must be converted to in order to make it edible, banana puddin’ was health food, water was the second main ingredient in sweet tea, and sweet tea was the reason God made water. For etiquette’s sake, lest you speak out of turn, liquor stores were the place where Baptists suffer from both blindness and amnesia. And my all time, favorite southern term ever was, “Get up out the floor,” which translates to, “Get your tiny, three year old ass up off that floor and act like you have some sense before I beat you!” I kept notes.