I have done a few lameass Google searches for a stretch of highway in Ohio that seems to have claimed about a tenth of the highway fatalities in the US between the late fifties and 1973. They always come up empty, or overloaded with the staggering death toll from other winding rural roads from the dawn of the mass consumption automobile. This one, however, bore a locally made sign at its entrance that featured a skull and crossbones, a running tally of the deaths, and an ungentle reminder to commit one’s soul to Christ.
In the corner of the field where the sign was planted there was a disused harrow, and luxurious grass grew out of the black soil.
I have never, before or since, seen such beautiful earth.
You could smell it through the windows of the car my fourth grade teacher was driving us across the US, from Durham NC, to Olympia Washington. She cut on the radio in the red Volvo, and a stereo program made its way between the speakers in the doors. It was a production of Don Juan. I was twelve, so I couldn’t tell you if it was a spoken version of the opera or Casteneda. It was deliciously close to frightening as we drove through the fields the signs had promised would soon house our decomposing bodies, once they were ejected from the car due to a lack of Jesus? Highway funding? Radio overindulgence?
Marylin, my teacher, the driver, had just experienced the terrible, unexpected loss of her mother in a car accident. Her father had suffered a momentary synaptic blip, and proceeded through a stop sign after looking in one direction. It took his wife.
It also took her painstaking collection of eighteenth century Chinese laquerware, parodic English pub sculpture from the early twentieth century, and a substantial portion of his reason to live.
Almost every day, I thank Marylin for taking me up to visit her father in his grief, and thank her for having that oddly feminine sense of what is important, as opposed to what else I might have gotten up to: little bastard fucking league bastard football, maybe.
My own parents had resigned themselves to television, in exhaustion. They had four children that had appeared with the blessing of one of the various incarnations of Anabaptist Jesus, and the resulting crab bucket wrestling of the babies just about had them reaching for a gun.

When my teacher asked to borrow one of them, they were only superficially reluctant.

Advertisements