On the Road, Jack: Jesse, Jesus, and Will Rogers

26 Jan

Waiting for me in her spotless, two-car garage in Delaware, Ohio was Sherry: petite, lovely Sherry, perfectly coiffed, wearing jeans and  a snazzy blue ruffled jacket.  She had been my high school English teacher, and one of my mother’s dearest friends. She looked very small in that garage, and I leaped out of the car to hug her. She looked a bit taken aback by  my wild-eyed wild-haired embrace.

If nothing else happens on this voyage  my evening and morning with Sherry will have made the trip a wonderful thing. From the first sip of the martini she made me to the last moment of the morning in her cozy kitchen with football roaring on the television, I felt a warm blast of  home, sweet  almost home. Sherry knew me from the time my mom started teaching at Urbana High School in the early 1970’s;  we all  traveled, along with a group of other teachers, to London  together when I was twelve; she  is the teacher who told me I had writing talent.  She is the person who found my mom dead after her heart attack.

Fifteen years ago I was flying into Urbana, aware that Mom was sick, but with no idea how serious her heart condition was.  When I landed I got a phone call (no cell phones, it came to the US Air desk) from Sherry. “Kir. I think. Audrey is dead.” (The EMT’s were still working on her.) Sherry picked me up in her maroon Taurus and drove me home. Mom was indeed dead. Two years later Sherry took me to Sonoma Valley where we talked,  ate, and drank our way though valley after gorgeous green valley. A few times I cried about Mom not being there.   A trip for grieving, a trip for moving forward.  Sherry, the guardian angel of both.

After I dragged in my bag and computer, she made me filet mignon, a twice- baked potato with bits of pancetta (“Do you know how hard it is to find pancetta  in Delaware, Ohio, Kir?”)  and blueberry cobbler. We talked until one in the morning.  Crawling into the impeccably-made twin bed I wondered why I would I ever want to leave Delaware, Ohio.  L.A. seemed further away than it had last week, and I wanted to stay and talk more to Sherry, who was in her own life transition.  Tom, her husband of twelve years, died  a year  ago. Now Sherry is in the house they shared, in the town where his children live.  It isn’t exactly home for Sherry, and she’s deciding what to do next.  I would have liked to help Sherry as she did me.

“Come  visit me in L.A?” I suggested.

“We’ll see,” she smiled her wry smile.

Driving away I felt sluggish and sad.  This soon turned to bored and bored.

To be fair, as Pat had told me, Southern Ohio does have its roadside points of interest.  “DON’T MISS THE WORLD’S lARGEST ROCKING CHAIR,” suggested one billboard. “JESUS IS REAL,” pointed out another. Both of these were matters to consider, but soon enough I was in Missouri where the Jesse James Wax Museum  and Jesse James Cave Hide Out were calling to me. A new billboard said simply “JESUS.”  His reality was no longer in question, I guess.  But what did it mean? Was this an exclamation? A marking of  sacred territory? A Jesus hide out (not very well hidden)?

I was listening to a radio commentary, a man discussing Obama’s ties to “Muslim terrorism.” The earth was becoming red. DO NOT DRIVE INTO SMOKE the signs kept telling me. Should  I push onward through this Armageddon-y territory or stop? There was nowhere to stop.  All around me was a moonless dusk, mild swales of the dust bowl rolling into nothingness. A few scraggly trees, ghostly cows haunted by ancestors ( I think).

And then, rising out of the abyss, a sign: WILL ROGERS MEMORIAL/ WILL ROGERS INN. An oasis in the doom of Joad territory! I pulled off Ol’ Route 66, and into the inn, where I paid fifty two bucks for the night.  Got a burger at Egbert’s next to the Inn,  brought it back to my room with the king bed and faux  cowhide lampshades.

I lay back on my bed, fingered the dry burger, and  turned on the TV.  House was playing.  Dousing the burger with ketchup, I was ready for a good hour of  medical miracle re-runs.

This was traveling alone across country. Will Rogers is real. Will Rogers.


7 Responses to “On the Road, Jack: Jesse, Jesus, and Will Rogers”

  1. sallyedithgreen January 26, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    Missouri is terrifying (we drive across it regularly). Did you see the cross the size of the Eiffel Tower on I-70 near the Illinois border? It blots out the sun.


    • kwasson2012 January 27, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

      How did I miss the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps I mistook it for The Kingdom of Heaven?


  2. nic January 26, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    Jesus. You’re really good! Sherry was on it!


  3. Mary Holland January 26, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

    Oh Kirsten, this entry is inspired. It is Don DeLillo, if he were on a road trip, alone, and were a woman, and much more emotionally astute than he often tends to be. The “Jesus is real” reduced like a sauce long on the stove to simply “Jesus” is wonderful. You passed through another world, for sure. I’m sorry I’m missing this road trip with you–god what trouble we’d get into; “age-inappropriate” would not begin–but also glad you’re alone on it because alone you are having a different kind of trip altogether and it’s fabulous. Love you.


  4. Tracy Hughes January 26, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

    Decided to start reading, and couldn’t stop- read backwards to the beginning. Bruce and I are in San Diego, having made the westward leap 11 years ago. We’d love to see you when you make it to the coast.


    • kwasson2012 January 27, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

      SO GREAT to hear from you! Yes, please, let’s get together when I make it out there. . .still feels like a dream. One that comes true, I hope.


  5. maw14747 February 4, 2013 at 6:54 am #

    There will always be a Sherry in our lives, I hope–the one who knows how to find pancetta in Delaware, Ohio; the one who knew us when but helps us get closer to where we want to be.
    I’d forgotten that part about your mom’s death–the scary, eery, wildly unsettling. “Kir. I think. Audrey is dead.” The scarier, eerier, forever unsettling fact of it is with us all still.
    Seeing a picture of her in the 1950s? 60s? again today – so thin she looked tall, but not as tall as your dad – made me see her once again as that other Audrey…Hepburn.
    Audrey. A name that should come back into fashion.


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