The last trip of the season is done. While I haven’t traveled quite as far as my partner (who added up the season’s travels at 22,000 miles) it seems as if there has been too little time to think or dream. Each moment when I wasn’t moving seems filled with nothing more than endless chains of pragmatic tactical decisions. On the road there are spaces for drifting off. But when you’re retracing the same miles, over and over, it seems more like you’re memorizing some sort of speech. Ft. Smith, Fayetteville, Rogers, Bentonville—St. Joseph, Lamar, Nevada, Kansas City—Des Moines, Ames, Story City, Clear Lake—and on and on and on.

Traveling south to north in the Midwest across a season gives you a certain perspective on seasons in general. The most consistent scenery is corn. When we began, the corn ranged from seedling state to adolescence. In the end, it changed from verdant green to dying gold.

While I was in Oklahoma, my mother told me one of her dreams. She was driving in a car alongside my dad when the traffic became congested. My father was always impatient behind the wheel, and in his later years a bit crazy. Dad got frustrated and started driving on the sidewalk. They were moving along pretty well, until they ended up on a dead-end street. At this point in the dream, dad (and the car) disappeared. Mom went into a store to call the police to try to locate dad. It took forever to convince them to let her use the phone, but eventually they did. A plain-clothes policemen (described as a good ol’ boy by my mother) arrived and sat on a bench with some other men, talking and paying little heed to her distress. When my mother realized that she would have to tell him that dad was dead, she became even more afraid. She was afraid the policeman would think that she killed him, so she wandered off. At this point, she woke up with severe leg cramps.

Mom asked me what I thought it meant, and I withheld any of the obvious metaphorical explanations. Sometimes it’s better not to overanalyze things. My mother feels so fragile now, and with each passing month, seems more fragile to me. What was once comfortable and familiar gradually gets put away. The reason for the last trip of the summer was to get new carpet installed in my mother’s house. She cleared the nick-knacks from her furniture so that we could move it easily, insisting that she probably wouldn’t put them back. I had little to talk about besides moving stories, and though she sympathized, she swore that the next time she moved she’d take nothing but her clothes. The morning after the dream (the first morning after the carpet was installed) she said that her house felt like a hotel.

We went shopping that day, and mom seemed so pleased to just casually take her time. She bought my cousin Kathy a big purple purse with a K on it. We visited Kathy the day after, and took her to KFC where she discovered the miracle of soap dispensers. She was thrilled that she could push the lever and soap would come out. Sometimes, it’s the little victories that matter. Of course, she was also the hit of the nursing home when she came back sporting a new purse.

Having new carpet installed should have been a sort of victory for my mom. She had argued with my father for years about it, but he kept insisting that they couldn’t afford it—mostly though, his reason for deferring was the idea of asking for help (or paying) to have the furniture moved. My father never asked for help from anyone. He stubbornly did everything for himself, and disliked it when anyone blamed others for their own failings. He felt like people should take care of their own problems. When his strength and flexibility began to fade, he dealt with it by avoiding anything that required abilities he no longer possessed.

Driving south on this trip I was listening to PJ Harvey. When “Hair” came on, I started thinking about Milton’s Samson Agonistes. Right after I started my Master’s program in rhetoric, I sat in on a Milton seminar and was allowed to present that poem. It was a labor of love—I was not compelled to do it, nor did I even receive any credit for it—I just wanted to. I remembered the long conversations I had with a minister friend of mine about Samson. It was his contention that Samson was only a small part of a larger story, leading through degrees of human imperfection to the kingdom of David. The story of Samson is not really about hair, but about having faith in one’s inner voice. As Milton puts it:

Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail
Or knock the breast, no weakness, no contempt,
Dispraise, or blame, nothing but well and fair,
And what may quiet us in a death so noble.
Let us go find the body where it lies
Sok’t in his enemies blood, and from the stream
With lavers pure and cleansing herbs wash off
The clotted gore. I with what speed the while
(Gaza is not in plight to say us nay)
Will send for all my kindred, all my friends
To fetch him hence and solemnly attend
With silent obsequie and funeral train
Home to his Fathers house: there will I build him
A Monument, and plant it round with shade
Of Laurel ever green, and branching Palm,
With all his Trophies hung, and Acts enroll’d
In copious Legend, or sweet Lyric Song. (1721-1737)

The trophies on the shelves of my mother’s house are mostly the evidences of family, of caring for others. Only the most immediate of these remain. There are pieces of dreams and struggles that cannot be reduced to lyric song. I could not help but think, as I listened to the PJ Harvey song, of how shallow we make our legends—reducing a search for faith to locks of hair and blindness.

Thither shall all the valiant youth resort,
And from his memory inflame thir breasts
To matchless valour, and adventures high:
The Virgins also shall on feastful days
Visit his Tomb with flowers, only bewailing
His lot unfortunate in nuptial choice,
From whence captivity and loss of eyes. (1738-1744)

1 thought on “Dreaming”

  1. it is GREAT to *hear* your voice again.
    i hope you all are getting settled and will be truly happy. (have you snow boots yet?)

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