I’ve been through Arkansas before and was surprised again by its beauty, hilly around the small cliffs we call bluffs. We touched on that state just before entering Oklahoma and the highway corridor of stratified bluffs, red in the bright sunlight and covered with yellow flowers. I fail utterly as a cameraman because there’s nowhere good to pull over and Michelle is calm, always want to keep moving when she’s calm.
But now I take the “off highway” tip from one of my new friends at Natural Falls campground and go through the Illinois River valley. It’s stunning and many must think so because it’s clearly a hub of tourist camping, RVing, rafting, etc. Lush through rolling hills and ominous overhangs. Still, pre-Memorial Day, there are no crowds and the traffic is sparse.
If I have an image of Oklahoma it’s of flat plains, dust and semi-trucks in a hurry to get somewhere else. That is, perhaps, Western Oklahoma but this Eastern portion is gorgeous.
Seems I owe Oklahoma an apology as well.
We run the full height of the state southward to Texas, a couple hundred miles, and all along the way there isn’t a single rest stop, no picnic areas, no scenic turn outs. Seems Oklahoma doesn’t favor that sort of thing. This is a bit hard on Michelle, but we end up just stretching our legs in the very swanky gas station, pit stops provided by the Cherokee and Choctaw nations. I could even gamble if I felt like it, but I don’t.
Then, we arrive in the Fort Worth area and my nephew Jason’s house. This is David’s eldest son. It’s a big house, kind of a small mansion, maybe a dozen years old and it has a pool and comes complete with two young Aussie shepherds.
As Mo deals decisively with a somewhat amorous advance from one of the pups the humans also reintroduce ourselves. I haven’t seen Jason, his wife Cassie or their little kids who grew into teenagers, in a long time. So long I don’t really remember the last time we were together. I think something like 10 years.
Jason is all grown up now and radiate the easy confidence of a successful man. Cassie is as delightful as ever and takes excellent care of Michelle who instantly loves the place because, man, can she walk here! Lots and lots of opens spaces. Salmon, homemade bread, delicious adult beverages and easy conversation.
I’m very happy we made this stop. The two of their children who still live at home are in and out, teens who are about to set out on their own, alive with expectation and that sharp wildness that comes with taking the reins. We don’t see them much, but I like them both.
I’m really glad we made this stop and got reacquainted, feel like my family grew. Michelle and Mo—who doesn’t want to get off the couch—also really love it.
I get things all cleaned up and the lithium battery charged, check a couple of things in the Bus, all after a good night of sleep, and we head off to camp near my son Jesse’s house.
Jesse and his family live in Round Rock outside of Austin and the drive isn’t terribly long. We have a campsite all reserved but when we get there it’s a walk-in tent site which isn’t going to fly with Michelle and our equipment. I jump on the phone and just two miles away is a relatively new RV campground.
It’s hot, but we have the vestibule/tent and I get it set up with the help of a neighbor. Michelle is trilling, a bit of loudness drawing stares from kids and glances from their parents. We’re near the pool and rec area and there are lots of people in this nearly full campground, which is really cement slabs with hook ups and some nice landscaping between. Clean as a polished kitchen floor.
My neighbor tells me he was, at one time, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but a later doctor told him that was hogwash. I’m happy for him and can tell right away he doesn’t have “it.”
I wish I weren’t so versed in this subject; wish I knew nothing about it and could glance at some screaming lady and wonder what that guy was doing to her. In a way, I wish this, wish that this one part of my life had been defined in some other way.
But these are pointless reflections because who knows what would have happened. Would we still be together? Would we be richer or poorer, in greater sickness or health? These are simply the works of fiction in the mind, not speculation even, because life isn’t a butterfly effect, it’s an amalgamation of many factors and choices and serendipities and accidents of… fate? Or even God’s hand, though my mind does not tend in that direction. Mostly, I see these factors as the result of dreams I’ve created, though I hope I had no hand in the Alzheimer’s.
I get to take a shower once Michelle settles and then jump in the pool. Lots of kids are playing in the water, tossing corn hole bags on the grass, a family using the bbq. There are two couples, forties I would guess, sitting in the shade. One wants to poke fun at me, the boomer, and when I tell him I’ve lost 10 pounds on this journey he intimates it was from too much sex in the Bus.
“If that were happening, I would have lost 20 pounds,” I respond. The ladies love it. There is just a hint in his eyes that he doesn’t like being outplayed and he winks at me and makes the universal pot smoking motion, drawing in on an invisible joint and nodding at me knowingly. I don’t smoke pot any more, gave it up a long time ago.
I smile back and turn to the ladies, “This one must be the last one to go to bed every night.”
And they love this, and while they laugh and rib him, I take it as my exit line.
A hard rain descends that night with heavy lighting and bright thunder. It is a magic I never tire of. Michelle sleeps through it all.
After a good sleep Michelle walks the cement slab, this way and that, standing sometimes and staring. The passing kids stare at her with wonder. I watch her, feeling we’re doing okay, drawing near to the last stop on the family reunion tour.
The next day I will see my son, a son that at first I didn’t acknowledge, that I ran from as a young man of 20, that I hid from all responsibility, took that long motorcycle trip, all to avoid. That young man all those years ago would have been driven down by the teasing of the guy by the pool, would not have known what to say, he had no confidence.
I have some now, because, I suppose, what I was running from was just me and I had some troubling idea that all the answers were in there, in my own head and heart. Silly rabbit.