Sunday, July 15, 2007

Drive Time

Leaving Memphis this afternoon, I find myself on TN-72 heading east for Alabama. The road unfurls before me, climbing hills and dipping into valleys, and I begin to wander in my mind. From Memphis to Corinth, Mississippi I listen to jazz and review today’s church sermon and Sunday school class. I love Christ United Methodist in Memphis – and know if I were ever to live there, it would be my church home.

Speeding down the road, I pray and talk to God, about JCL, BlueWingTeal, Frreenie and C.Horsey. Gray cotton-batting clouds provide the horizontal frame of my vision, while the two perpendicular boarders are comprised of the manicured fairway greens on either side of the two-lane road. In the audible background, escaping the car speakers, a trumpet wails plaintitive notes. Those notes match my conversation with God about JCL.

For some reason my mind returns again, and again, to the story of Job. I think God is trying to remind me that I must trust Him and I cannot make anything better by worrying. It is not my place to know His reasons and I must have faith that all will work the way He intends. It is easy to write these words, easy to recognize the truth they contain; but not so easy to shut off the valve in my brain.

Mile after mile I mull over the last 30 days. Each day without fail, I kept my promise to JCL, and sent him a word-a-day e-mail. We had many conversations centered around those words I used to describe him and what he'd be facing. I know it is from those e-mails I must find my comfort. I must believe the far ranging discussions we had about commitment, pride, killing, death, and finding our purpose in life, provided hope for both of us. He is on my mind constantly – and constantly I am reminding myself to turn this over to God.

As the jazz station fades, I push the radio-scan button to peruse the Tennessee musical spectrum. Next up is the Rolling Stones singing “Miss You”. The lyrics seem apropos of my chaotic mind.

“Well, I’ve been haunted in my sleep You’ve been starring in my dreams Lord I miss you I’ve been waiting in the hall Been waiting on your call When the phone rings Its just some friends of mine that say, Hey, what’s the matter man?

Aaah aaah aaah aaah aaah aaah aaah Aaah aaah aaah aaah aaah aaah aaah Aaah aaah aaah aaah”

Losing the frequency of that classic rock station my mind from JCL to thoughts of Josiah, and the story I am attempting to write. In the sky ahead of me a big bird circles lazily on the currents, like my mind circling plot problems and solutions. The car descends into a pre-historic flood plain just before arriving in Corinth, Mississippi. I've been expecting this dip in the road and realize how much I miss this county and how well I know certain landmarks. The big BP gas station is exposed, right on que, and a few miles later I am driving through the little town of Corinth. I pass the El Toro Restaurant with its fiber-glass bull corralled in the parking lot while reminscing over countless meals eaten there. I know just up ahead in Iuka I’ll find the Victorian Inn motel – which is in the middle of nowhere – and I wonder who stays there and why.

Fourteen miles further just across the state line and into Alabama I drive through Cherokee, the town of plaster animals. Now I’m thinking of BlueWingTeal and wish he were with me on this trip. Why, oh why, do people in this little community have plaster deer, lions, and elephants at their driveway entrances? What pictures would he take – and what stories could I write about these silent traffic witnesses on Hwy 72?

Of course – my mind, never able to stay occupied with one topic for long, begins another dialog with God about Blue and his family. I find myself praying for his oldest son’s sobriety, his daughter’s swift recovery from her knee surgery, and that his youngest son doesn’t feel lost in the shuffle. Blue occupies a large portion of my directives to God also. I beseech God to give him patience, endurance, calmness, and wisdom. Again I find myself wondering “why” – and remind myself of my earlier conclusion with JCL. “Just pray Mit”, I tell myself. “Let God handle it. Just listen for what you are to do and be obedient.”

Thus another tangent is begun with God about my obedience, or on-going lack thereof, for another 20 minutes of driving. The wooded fringes beyond the grassy side-strips on the highway are now replaced with limestone outcroppings. At Bear Creek I spot the train trestle to the north of the road, a few miles before entering the town of Tuscumbia, Alabama. This landscape wrenchs my thoughts away from myself and towards yet another friend.

I am not sure why the geology prompts me to think of Frreenie, but there he and his family are – in the forefront of my thoughts. I pray about his upcoming trip to China, about Kate left at home to care for the boys, and how she and Frreenie must have a great partnership. I ask God to make his trip a smooth one, to fix any lingering travel-visa problems, to watch out for the boys, to keep Kate’s health robust, and bring Frreenie back safe.

While beseeching God for all these favors, I try to not pin these requests to my actions and deeds. After passing over Bear Creek, my eyes register the sign for the “Coon Dog Cemetery”. I interrupt my chatter to God and laugh. I tell Him, “Yep, I can sure tell I’m not at home!”

A Coon Dog Cemetery …. Can you imagine? Well you don’t have to any longer, click here and you can read all about it.

It’s also about this point that I being to see the first cotton, corn, and soybean plants. It registers in my mind that the cotton is small and blooming at the top of the plant – but I push this thought aside. I see the Alabama Music Hall of Fame appear to my right. Don’t ask why, because I couldn’t tell you, but the mischievous C.Horsey leaps to mind. Indeed, if truth is revealed, in my mind he’s been sitting in the passenger seat for a good 80 miles now – cracking jokes about me, and God, and sharing his observations of the small, hopeless little towns we’ve been passing through.

At the big intersection (the ONLY INTERSECTION, I might add) in Muscle Shoals I know if I were to turn left, I’d cross the Tennessee River and be in Florence, Alabama. Home of Alfredo Dominguez, he who is afraid to drink with strangers, for fear they may be fat.

But keeping my course, I continue to the dog-leg of 72 at Leighton (pronounced Lee-ton), Alabama. I see stunted corn, pass a customer’s cotton gin – and the horror of the situation begins to register. There’s been no rain in this area since April 10th. Corn, at this time of year should be “as tall as an elephant’s eye on the 4th of July”, but it is no taller than me. I can see the wounded red dirt gaping in-between rows of cotton plants. Plants whose branches should be crowding the bed-rows, and hiding the blood colored earth.

For some reason, the image of an Emergency Room doctor enters my mind. Immediately I identify with him. It will be my job during the next few days to appear stoic and unaffected by this crop disaster. I don’t know if I can pull it off. Passing through Town Creek and headed towards Hillsboro I pass yet another two customer’s operations. I feel nervous and jittery. My heart constricts with pain in my chest. My eyes dart around rapidly. Over and over I remind myself what time of year this is. I check my visual calendar. Nope, only July 15th, just the middle of the month.

From the file cabinet in my mind, I retrieve past crop progress pictures. I compare them to what I’m seeing. “Maybe, really Mit, it’s not that bad”, I plead with my mind-recorder. But I see more and more stressed plants – blooming at the top. Plants which are only maybe 2 or 3 feet tall – and know the end is near. Those blooms indicated heat and water stress. The plant is pushing for reproduction – each bloom will turn into a cotton boll – but it’s too early and the plants are too short. They should be four or five feet tall now. Blooms shouldn’t be showing up until August – and then at the bottom of the plant – as the upper branches reach for the sky. Thinking of my customers – thinking of the meaning of what I’m seeing, I feel on the verge of tears. Silly, I know, but I love this industry and I love my customers. Yet again, I find myself asking God, “Why”. What’s in store for me, what’s in store for my customers?” I imagine He is very bored with this conversation and wishes I’d hurry up and get to Huntsville.

As if to settle my mind, I finally pass some cotton that has been irrigated. It’s taller, not blooming and looks more robust. Sailing past DOT’S Soul Food to the east of Hillsboro, I recall all the home cooking I’ve eaten there and a smile plays across my face. Hushpuppies, collards, fried chicken, and fried okra are frequently on the menu.

A few short miles further and I am entering Decatur. My next memory lane pullout occurs as I see the First Baptist Church, where I’ve spent more than one Mother’s Day while on the road.

About this time the Alabama A & M University’s radio station drifts into range. Jimmy Scott is singing “When Did You Leave Heaven?” and for some unearthly reason Diddy-bo-pimp-Daddy is on my mind. Searching around for the connection, I can only assume it’s because of his recent journal entry about listening to the blues.

With sixteen miles to go, I know I am near the end of today’s journey. This ride I’ve brought you on is like most of my car trips, with scenery affecting my recall; and memory colorizing the landscape that passes before my eyes. A lot of people hate to travel like this. The endless miles wear on them, but as you can see, a whole cast of characters accompanies me. I travel just as much in my mind, as I do physically across this earth, and I am never alone and never bored.

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