We walked out to the car Friday afternoon and, as V buckled herself in her car seat, I went around to the other side and put all the stuff I was bringing in the backseat. When I closed the door to go sit in the front passenger's seat, V started to cry - she thought I was going to sit back there with her. So I did.
I was hoping to knit in the car on the way to the botanical gardens, but I get dreadfully carsick, especially in the backseat. So eventually I resorted to one of the few things that work for me - I rolled the window down a bit and breathed in the fresh air. The other things that work involve copious amounts of chocolate and/or fried foods.
It was cold; my cheeks were immediately numb. Cold never bothers me, so I closed my eyes and watched the lights change colors from behind my eyelids as we passed by alternating trees and open spaces. It was then that I started to remember.
When I was 6, the neighbors said they would start taking me to church with them to leave my mom and dad only one child to deal with for a few hours. The Thompsons were an elderly couple who went to church on Saturday and were out to evangelize us. The Perrys were the neighbors on the other side of us who would occasionally take me on Sunday so we wouldn't be evangelized by that crazy Saturday church.
The Thompsons took a woman to church with them too, Miss Ruby Love, and we'd have to drive to her apartment and then to the church. I was miserable sitting in the backseat of that pea green Chevy Nova with no air conditioning and not allowed to roll down the window. I would remove the small metal ashtray from the handle of the door and stick my mouth down into the hole to breathe in the tiny bit of air I could get. I did this all the way to Ruby Love's place and then would spend the rest of the trip sitting up properly, trying to keep from turning the same color as the car so that Ruby wouldn't think I was a bad child.
Back in the present, we passed the church that the Perrys used to take me to on Sundays. Up high on a hill, the church has one of those Jesus Saves crosses out front. I remember Mrs. Perry discussing with the preacher that I had never been "saved." I was eager for their help once I found out that I couldn't go to heaven unless I was saved. I thought it was going to be some sort of elaborate ritual, and I was excited to be let in on the secret. It was disappointing when all it involved was the preacher putting his hand on my forehead and praying for my precious soul. When I told my mom that I'd been saved at church that day, she wouldn't let me go back.
Our route to the gardens also takes us past one the mills where my grandfather worked and his father as well. This was the mill where he started out sweeping the floors because that was the job an 11-year-old could get when his parents told him it was time to quit school and go to work to help out the family. The mill is abandoned, but the little mill houses are so very cute now, each painted in a different bright color. I'm fairly sure university students live in most of them now.
Finally, just as I think I'm going to have to request that R and I switch places, we turn onto what my brother and I always called Puney Road. That rank smell in the air is the cows and horses the university keeps for agricultural study. I remember Saturday afternoons at 10 years old, riding home the long way after church to avoid the gameday crowds with the car windows rolled down in the orange Ford Maverick, keeping my carsickness at bay while we three yelled, "Puney Road!" from one end to the other.
And then there's the botanical gardens, just where I remember it, midway down Puney Road. These days, whenever we want to get somewhere, I have to picture the end of the journey and follow the road backwards to our starting point. Often I'll remember a shortcut along the way and yell, "Turn here!" Or I'll narrate the whole way - here's the skating rink where Sarah broke her arm except I wasn't there that day, here's where Roses used to be where Leanne put Nair into a bottle of shampoo and a lady bought it! Very probably the same stories over and over again. But I can't help it because the rose garden isn't where it used to be.
When my grandmother was alive, she loved going to the gardens. We went all the time. This was back before they built the conservatory and the only things they had to look at were lots of trees, a trail that ran into a swamp area halfway through, and the rose garden. But I'm living here now, a stone's throw from this town I hate, where I can't bear to take pictures, where I can hardly stand to write about it, but with a million pictures to take, a million stories to tell, and they moved the gd rose garden.
In the light of day, I had the most wonderful time there at the gardens. It was something different for us to do and there are nice trails now and pretty new landscaping. We spent two hours there, letting sweet V run all her energy out. We loved it, can't wait to go back. As we walked to the car to go home, an employee passed us in the parking lot. When he noticed our Tennessee licence plate he said, "A long way from home, aren't y'all?" I have a hard time lining all that up with how I feel tonight, writing this at 11:30pm. How sad and frustrating it is to be home when I can't go back to the people and places I love most. I can only ride through a city that feels so empty to me, the window down and the wind tangling my hair as I try to keep from feeling sick, because the people and the places I love are gone.