We are back from a long, slow vacation in the upper Midwest. Ah, how I so resonate with being a Midwest girl, so much more than the Wyoming tough girl of my childhood. Here in the Midwest, the summers are long. The heat soars and, like a witch, I melt when the humidity starts inching up. But who can beat the humming orchestra of crickets late into a hot summer’s night, the cool water of a Minnesota lake when the sun is out and the mosquitoes are at full boar, the talk of cornfields being low this year, not even knee-high?
On Sunday, deep into the night after we had returned home and my husband and boys were asleep, I sat propped up in bed with an open journal, trying desperately to recount some of the richest moments of our trip north. We had planned the grand road trip around the wedding of a dear friend, one of my roommates from college. We drove through five states (you have to count our spontaneous cut into Illinois to avoid the bridge construction and horrific traffic backup across the Mississippi) to arrive in eastern Wisconsin, a state we barely knew, for the wedding.
But back to my journal. I knew what it was I wanted to recount, but I couldn’t quite grasp the language, the longing to capture specific moments that I so wanted to remember. Snippets of conversation from our travels descended on me like sweet summer cotton. At a roadside diner in Osceola, Iowa, a band of browned and burly truckers sat around a Formica table with pitchers of coffee and lemonade. They talked about the cows up at so-and-so’s place, the diner spaghetti that tasted good as always, the wives.
One guy – we’ll call him Al – came into the pack late, walked up behind another guy – say, Earl – and slapped an enormous hand on his shoulder.
“Do you know who I am?” Al said in a low voice. Earl was sitting down, his back facing Al so that he could only hear the voice and not see the face. There was a pause, and then Earl said, in a drawn-out voice, “No …”
“Ha!” laughed Al. “You’d know me if ya saw me. You’d absolutely know who I was.”
Says Earl, without a hitch: “You’re a sow.”
There was so much more dialogue at that ornery table, and how I wished I’d had that little pocket notebook that should be a staple of every writer tucked into my back pocket. But I was busy along with my husband trying to get food down two little boys who were tired of travel and not much interested in eating.
Then there was Anita, the owner of Thunder Valley Inn, a Swedish bed and breakfast in the Wisconsin Dells. She makes killer Norwegian pancakes, can stir up a mean polka with her piano playing and makes all her guests do Norwegian exercises every morning before breakfast. On our last day in the Dells, she sat for a spell in the nearly empty dining room after breakfast to visit with us and a couple from Madison – two of her “regulars.”
“Do you know what I order at McDonald’s?” she said in an animated voice. “The old-lady coffee for sixty cents. And an ice cream cone.”
This is the stuff of the road. The true human spirit doesn’t get any better than this. What draws me to human interest stories? That profound yet simple fact that we are all human and all trying to make our way in a colorful and chaotic world. Some of us try to shine. Others just try to survive. But the tapestry of character that we weave together – like the rise of the mountains, the dry stretches of dessert, pearly strings of beach and waves of cornfields – makes this a nation and a world that is totally worth watching.
I have been irregular on the blog since summer has kicked in. Thank you for being patient, and many many thanks to my followers for your terrific support, insight and dialogue. With any luck, some exciting changes will be coming to this site soon. But for now, this summer season is in full swing. Back home, the pool is teeming with kids and bright-colored water gear. Lemonade is a staple for the little boys in my house. The sun takes its sweet time to sink low, and in this neck of the woods, the sunsets are phenomenal. I intend to eat it up, one rich moment at a time.
*If you’re in the Louisburg area (hello, Kansas City!) this weekend, please consider joining me at The Louisburg Library, where I’ll read from my book, Tough Love: A Wyoming Childhood and talk about the writing process. Sunday (7/14), at 1:30 p.m. I will read, along with local author Norm Ledgin.