In the blazing glare of July sun, those fine details which I recounted from this same road only a few months ago are washed away. Faded in a miasma of radiating blacktop and all-encompassing heat, the world tunnels into blinding haze. By the halfway point we’ve pulled off into a rare oasis of prairie shade. Under an ornamental tree in an aged but no doubt once stunning yard, before this gas station’s parking lot expanded up to near their door, we rested and I studied the Victorian era house with reverie, perhaps still road blinded, focus gone in too much of a good thing. My thoughts melted a few dozen miles ago.
The breeze in the shade is a relief, the summer plains wind hasn’t come as hot this year, but the afternoon heat is setting in and it’s time to move on. A crow across the road is being chased raucously from a sparrows nest, daring darting smaller birds rallying against him. He is ambivalent, unconcerned with whether his easy meal endeavor worked out or not. Obnoxious sparrows behind him, he suspends on a hot breeze in the white light, claws dangling, eyes slow darting, before landing above the gas pumps, watching us sideways, albeit no less impervious.
Back to the road and farther west a tanker truck in small-but-growing-town traffic fails to understand the importance of his turn signals. Roar passed in the narrow clear, bitter aged men in work trucks see us but no less attempt to cut us off at terrifying proximity, ever watching their rear views, bastards. Next time I will remember the backway and this town can burn, a bitter horrible place, it reflects from the barren soil and the acrimonious people and the once haughty now blank faced houses.
Open highway again and the air blasts hot off cars passed, reeling movement in an otherwise stagnant furnace. Late summer is here, but where has gone early summer? How did I miss it? Where are my priorities? Crops have been tilled back to dirt, tractors turn over plumes of dust, the hot dirty wind blows across flat earth, and the heat rises in waves from every motionless structure.
There ahead, a friendly hand reaching out of the blinding glare, a favorite island. Arrival and dismount as graceful as can be expected, unconcerned, and we sit in the shade of the awning briefly, adjusting before the air-cooled inside.
The fan clicks on as the door opens, blasting the heat out, a western novelty. I love this place, deeply, in the simplest way, for understanding it. The irony of my volume of tattoos and style gapping me at the outset from the proprietors loses nothing on me, but multiple trips and jovial visiting and a long series of genuine “yes ma’am” “no ma’am” (I was raised right) have garnered familiarity, never mind my husband’s ridiculous charm. The welcome is refreshing. Fried chicken (a whole bird, proper), fried okra, bread, pickles (bread n’ butter and dill), sliced onion, as things should be. All things done just right. Whether it’s your right, it’s just so.
All I’m missing is Tabasco as here it comes in packets and I’ve never quite adjusted to the idea of a chicken shack without Tabasco bottles around. Unacclimated, I laugh again at the packets, albeit this time knowing where to reach and find them.
Josh laughs at me, “They gave us those in MRE’s. I used to stock pile them.”
“I didn’t know you liked Tabasco so well or that it came in MRE’s but it makes sense. Did you know it’s an incidental byproduct of war?” A curious no and off I launched into a brief history of Tabasco’s link to the military, via the Civil War. In spite of initial interest, Josh had to chuckle not at his wife’s deep-seated love of hot sauce but her proud Southerner ability to tie all things within six degrees to the war of northern aggression.
Pausing for his chuckle I conclude “Look, all I’m saying is Tabasco should be in MRE’s, it’s a hard earned American right.”
“No, it’s the only thing that will cover the taste of MRE’s.”
Laughter and jovial back and forth and a favorite from the Boss came on. A flood of childhood memories always follow his haunting voice, down at the creek and riding in truck beds and once the best of friends who have faded into blurred ink nicknames on washed-out photographs. But one Springsteen song, or the smell of fried chicken and Tabasco, or that coca-cola menu sign just the same as the long ago drive-in had, or the corny clydesdale brewery advertisement clock equally as coated in five decades of nicotine as the one it sends me back too. It’s those glimmerings. Those familiar sounds and smells. That one familiar opening chord. I’m aging to the better part of life wherein “time” is a changed construct and a lone trigger isn’t just a memory but rather can flood the present in soft white haze of an instant that my younger self would have described as gone. Thanks Boss.