The trip was to be a real marvel.
A road trip where the miles were spent each day as if they were pennies tossed into a wishing well: cheap hopes on the road to salvation or restitution.
The first night we drove around looking for a quiet place to crash, but finally, because you were asleep, your face jammed against the truck door, I pulled into a rest stop just outside of Othello. You barely woke up in the front seat, if you did at all. Scooping you up, I carried you to back of the truck where I tucked you into the platform bed.
I crawled in beside you and held you in my arms, close, while semi-trucks rumbled in and winked out their lights. Instead of a night on cots under the stars with coyote voices on the wind, we spent the night under the truck canopy with the smell of diesel in the air.
Just after dawn broke, on that late July morning, I woke up from my uneasy sleep to the sound of diesel engines idling and sprinklers spraying. The green grass of the rest stop was luxurious and delicate; a stark contrast to the brown and yellow sagebrush that spread out in all directions. While I waited for you to wake up, I sat in the truck listening on the radio to farm reports and ads for local stores I would never visit.
Later, we drove on listening to Beatles music as I told you about each song, their lives, and how, at the end of last ice age, a great flood sweep over this land and carved up the lava flows into coulees.
We stopped at the Cataldo Mission and parked in a field with all the other cars baking in the hot sun. We wandered around a cavalry camp, set up to show everyone what it was like to have been a young solider, lean and hard, when everything was still wild. Except now, the soldiers stood sweating in their wool uniforms with their bellies hanging over their belt buckles.
At the 10,000 Silver Dollar Bar we ate hamburgers, fingered rubber headed tomahawks and paid to have a couple of silver dollars placed on the wall with our names underneath them. Maybe, if we are lucky or wish long enough, we just might make it back there one day to see where they got placed.
From there we went on towards Missoula to spend the night in a motel with a pool. The following morning we were to head down to Big Hole, where those lean young soldiers, finally caught up with the entire Nez Perce tribe. On that August morning, the soldiers surrounded them and then killed them for being Nez Perce. Our next stop was to be Yellowstone, which is where the Nez Perce fled with their children after the ambush.
However, just as we pulled into Missoula, third gear went out on the truck, then second gear failed, and I knew pennies wouldn’t fix anything. So there we were, stuck in our own big hole, not able to go forward or back, though we did stay in a motel with a pool. All we could do was wait out not being able to get the parts, or having them reordered because the wrong ones came in.
We killed time.
We saw a movie, had ice cream, ate pizza where I offered you a sip of my beer, and went swimming until one in the morning. We a took a trip to Fort Missoula where the lean young soldiers were stationed before they left to go trap and kill the Nez Perce in Lolo pass at the hastily built Fort Fizzle. Later on, in 1918, different soldiers would die, not from fighting Nez Perce, but from influenza that brought back some balance.
And so it went, for four days, until I settled up that part of the bill that could be paid with dollars. After we got the truck back I was still hoping to complete our journey, but you declined and so we headed west, away from Big Hole and Yellowstone.
On the way back the land went on and by us, mile after mile. Near dusk you declined to camp out under the stars and go fishing the next morning. Soon after, you fell asleep, and I fiddled with the radio trying to pick up a talk station out of San Francisco while the stars shined in the black sky.
Later on, a Cle Elum cop pulled me over because of a burnt out tail light. I was surprised you didn’t wake up when he shined his flashlight in your face. Just outside of Issaquah you woke up. I guess you sensed we were getting close to home. Shortly afterwards you saw your first accident when a car flew by us and then slammed into another car, that was stopped on the freeway, because a semi-truck trailer had flipped over up ahead. And so it ended up with us in the dark without much else to say.
As soon as I parked in the driveway you went into the house. Alone I gathered up your things and placed them downstairs, including a postcard from the 10,000 Silver Dollar Bar that told us how we could find ours if somehow managed to headed that way again. Upstairs, I hear could some muffled laughter and muted conversation.
I waited a bit for you to return and when you didn’t I went out to the truck and left for a different rest stop where I soon fell asleep with nothing left to hold on to.
A real marvel everything had become.
Copyright 2012 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved.