Monday, August 20, 2007


I'm late on blogging because I'm on a vacation trip to Tennessee to see my family. It takes 3-1/2 days to drive from our part of Maine to Memphis, and, of course, 3-1/2 days to drive back, which makes for a very long (and sometimes boring) drive. To pass the time, I read aloud books of mutual interest to us between my naps. This is sufficient to get us through Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. By the time we get to Tennessee, we celebrate the last leg of the long trip with various family traditions, some started when Joy and I were young, others when our kids were young, and faithfully repeated by us to this day.

There is a chain of stores across the South called Stuckey's. Part gas station, part refreshment stand, part candy shop, part restroom facilities, and part tacky souvenir store, Stuckey's businesses have always littered the highways and byways of our travels. When I was a teenager, I made up a silly poem as a tribute to the Stuckey's chain sung to the tune of "Cabaret." My sister and I sang it incessantly on family vacations, as the lyrics begin "Stuckey's, we love you, we always will whenever we see your sign," and for decades their billboards were posted hundreds of times on the interstate. As each sign came into view, we would take a deep breath and burst out in our ditty, testing our parents' patience (and now, Ed's patience). I only saw a couple of signs on this trip, so I fear that Stuckey's has gone out of business, bringing a disappointing end to our familiar routine.

Fortunately, even without the Stuckey's song, we have other trip markers to fill our time. When we pass a place called Bucksnort, we buck and snort, which, I assure you, is hard to do when you're laughing. When we cross the Buffalo River, we sing "Home on the Range," because the first verse contains the words "where the buffalo roam." When we cross the Tennessee River, we hold our breath over the entire bridge span. (This latter tradition has no logical basis as a marker, but since the USA has recently realized the decaying condition of its bridges, it might not be a bad idea to hold one's breath when crossing one.)

The marker that is the most fun to do begins at the Duck River bridge. All the occupants of the car quack until we reach the other side, then we say, still in our duck voices, "That was Duck River - quack, quack." We actually have this on video. (OK, we have a lot of strange things on video.)

Our fun is increased on the trip home, where each marker is dutifully reenacted with the usual precision and flawless technique. We have had many years in which to perfect them.

Each of these markers gives us a breather, a rest, a pause, along with a distinct feeling that we are marking pages in some kind of long, complicated novel. Each marking event lasts a short time, but if we count the pre-marker hours of excited anticipation and the post-marker moments of pure satisfaction, that pleasure stretches in duration. In fulfilling these little rituals, we feel in continuity with those who came before us and those who will come after us. Tradition is a wonderful thing, and so are life markers.

Birthdays are probably the most celebrated life markers. My uncle in Arkansas turned 80 this month, and my two nieces turned 13 and 16 this year. Next year our oldest child will be having her 30th birthday - a fact which truly boggles my mind.

On this trip, we are certainly celebrating markers, little but frequent moments of reflection that tell us where we are, remind us of where we have been, and giving us an idea of where we are headed. We aren't here totally for special birthdays (although we are appropriately noting them), we aren't here just to take a 2-week vacation, and we certainly didn't drive 3-1/2 days one way just to quack our hearts out on a Tennessee bridge. We are here on the highest priority mission - to be with loved ones - family and friends - just to celebrate life and love and laughter and the tight connection we have with each other - one which distance and the passage of time cannot destroy.

When we decided to move and downsize, one of our goals was to remind ourselves on a daily basis of our priorities, and one of those priorities is "people over things." This is our "people" week. Our markers have names like Jean, Tom, June, Timmy, Boo, Mike, Joy, Scott, Amelia, Kate, John, Joanne, Audrey, Zuleika, Gerrie, Malcolm, Claudia, Ray, Jackie, Rose, and others who have made our lives sweeter by their presence. We will head back home on Saturday, but the spirits of these people will go with us. They are the best kind of markers - reminders of love. We are forever grateful.

Our reasons for making the trip will have been accomplished. Our trip home will be full of memories of life, love, and laughter. Quacking over Duck River will be just icing on the cake.

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