Shelia the Beast, North, and Serenity

i don’t how i came up with the name Shelia, but it fits.

i usually name special inanimate objects and pets with some connection, like pets with writers, actors, or singers. i named all of my gps devices, programs, or apps “Shirley” as in “Shirley, you didn’t want to take that turn you just made!”

But “Shelia” just popped into my head, and it sounded real good (to me) with “the Beast.” And so, Shelia the Beast and i just spent two rather amazing days after a short and awakening visit to Austin.

Sarah is going through a life change (i did that as well about her age), and we made a whirlwind trip to Austin in her car.  We powered out (i thought it was powering out, but found out on the return just what “powering out” was all about) with a Thursday jaunt to Van Horn, Texas (850 miles), slept for four hours and made it into Austin (456 miles) midday Friday.

We slept, got caught up with a great guy named George Lederer, and then dined at North Italia in the Domain with my family less Maureen.

Sarah worked there as a waitress, and Jason worked there as a manager. It was old time week. The obvious highlight for me was Sam. To my delight, we spent a great amount of time hugging. He also immediately recognized i no longer sported a mustache, one of the very few who have noticed since i shaved it off over six months ago. He then told me he really liked my mustache. i’m growing it back. There are very few things in my life which will make me euphoric . Sam is one of them.

As we ate, the sisters began talking like…well, like sisters. Blythe is seventeen years older than Sarah, so they would declare when Blythe was in the “mom” role. They were just…what? Together. Then Jason and i talked about his new job. Sounds like a perfect fit, long term, security, all that. Then Blythe talked of an impending promotion. She deserves it. They are in a good place. Blythe’s mother, who was not in attendance, is with them, part of the family unit.

Sam told me he wanted to be a comedian when he grew up. i told him about the original Papa, my great uncle, and how he would come to our home every Wednesday after the farmer’s market. How he would park his Model A Ford on and off the street in front of our house and how Martha, i, and eventually Joe would run out to meet him. How he would sweep us up in his arms. How then he would reach into his pocket and give Martha a Milky Way (Martha, i think i got this wrong before: correct me if i’m wrong) and the marvel of all marvels, give me a Three Musketeers candy bar. i told Sam Sarah would bring him a Three Musketeers from me when they got back from their weekend hiking. He smiled. i was about as happy as i could be.

For me, in that noisy, busy restaurant, things seemed to go quiet, like i was in another place watching. It felt as if it were in slow motion. i heard them talking about things the next generations talk about. It occurred to me i was out of it. Not part of the conversation. Looking on. i thought of my mother in her later years hard of hearing. She would listen intently and nod her head approvingly when she had no idea of what was being said.

i did not nod my head in approval. i felt a quietness inside of me. Serenity, peace coming over me. i was me, an old man. They did not need me anymore. What i do is not part of their world. What they do is okay because they are on their own. The Ganders are in a good place. They all will do all right. Blythe’s mother is there with them. This is good for everyone. i’m just removed, not just because i’m some 1300 miles away. Sarah is going to be fine. i changed from sportswriting to Navy officer, the sea-going time at 28. It worked out great. It will for her also. We just don’t know how yet. She is independent.

Yeh, there were a few tears welling up several times when we said our goodbyes and Sam and i reluctantly quit hugging each other. i hope it didn’t show, because they were not tears of sadness, but of joy for them.

It was somewhat startling to realize it was my life to live here on out. i’ve said for a long time “good, effective parenting is the art of letting go gently.” i have let go. i feel good. Peace. We will see them, talk to them, communicate as they see fit. And all is well.

The next day, Sarah, Shelia the Beast, and i loaded out the van. We were done just after midday. i said goodbye and left. Shelia and i forged ahead on the real power drive. Unlike most women i know, she had a governor. At seventy-five miles an hour. We sat on it. To Fort Stockton, a Texas cattle town if there has ever been a Texas cattle town. i looked around for Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, Lash Larue, or Bob Steele to show up on Trigger, Champion, and Topper — as far as i know Lash and Bob horses were named horse.

But i got my sleep and hit the road early. Sixteen hours, two stops: forty miles east of Deming, New Mexico, and of course, Gila Bend, Arizona. Power trip. Now for those of you who have not experienced driving a twelve-foot rental furniture van, you should know they are made for getting their thing done, not for comfort. When i first sat in the driver’s seat, i felt like i was in that old Johnson Dairy milk delivery truck, the one HM Byars required me to drive across town from the old Johnson Dairy east on West Main through the square and up East Main to Hankins, Byars & Jewell for Daddy to fix. It had a three-speed shift sticking out of the floor board. The seat was like a stool. Shelia the Beast wasn’t that bad but it was close.

The only available sound was a radio. i never turned it on. FM doesn’t do well on long drives across the barren wastelands. AM doesn’t exist, although you might pick up some Mexican music. No bluetooth, no “auxiliary.” Oh, there was a CD player, but i had no CD’s. Couldn’t use earbuds with my iPod because i should listen for highway sounds. Nothing but me and the wind whistling through the insulation on the back top of the driver’s door. That’s a long time for limited observance of the passing countryside and thinking, lots and lots of thinking.

There was enough countryside. i never get tired of the expanse of our land from Fredericksburg, Texas to descending from Mount Laguna on the downward leg into San Diego and home. It is almost, almost like being at sea. Vastness. Not much of anything out there except a few cattle munching on sparse dry grass, a few scrub oaks at first, then mesas and jutting hills from the landscape with the wonder of how they got there riding in my thinking and then as i closed in on El Paso, then Yuma with mountains corralling the vastness, hemming in that vastness, eliminating the open horizon with the sky. Approaching Yuma, my thinking and the mist lying around the mountains like a sheer stole made me think of Gene Autry again. He took Hoagy Carmichael’s “Old Buttermilk Sky” and gave that vista to me in a song. Western.

Then there are the giant energy wind vanes jutting out at surprising places and miles and miles of solar panels, the new west. The wind vanes have coordinated aircraft warning lights that took me to some space station in an immense cave for a civilization. Star wars. And agriculture: miles and miles, not small plots, not acres, but miles of green. Truck farms. The smell of fertilizer can sensitize nostrils. Made me think of how we relied on smells when we all lived off the land, and how those selfsame odors are offensive to our delicate urbanized olfactory detectors.

And trains. Oh not the steam engines of the wild west or the passenger trains with gentle people peering out at the vastness and the wildness while sipping their morning coffee in the dining car. No. Working trains, containers from the shipping lanes piled high, two to a car, and literally miles. i saw several with at least three miles of cars behind (and in front; whatever happened to the caboose?). It seemed we were all invaders in the beautiful wild vastness.

But of course, there were the people. Few, yes, but people nonetheless, literally living off the land. You know, like we used to. And i wondered about those people: the ranch hands living in two-room huts in the heat of the desert with no trees to provide cooling shade; and the trainmen, brakemen, engineers, plowing through this explosive star sky with no heed of the beauty, getting to the next offload spot, and the agriculture workers tending the fields, pickups, shanties. i wondered how they got their news. The cellular phone did not work for probably more than half of that 1300-plus miles. Antennae on the mountains, sentinels of transponding, but not in the vastness, not where the huts housed these folks. And i wondered what they thought of all their countrymen pounding their fists, yelling about how unfair the other side was, how words have become more important than working, how those other folks out there where there is no vastness have become so small, like their surroundings.

A great deal of the trip was along the border. i mean literally along the border. From the rise on the hills along I-10 through fifty or more miles around El Paso and later on I-8 through the south vastness of Arizona desert, i could almost see in the open windows of shacks and shanties with the soiled cotton curtains blowing akimbo, seemingly never ending, as far as my eye could see. i thought of how the city folks are fearful of them hollering “don’t let ’em in” and not having a clue who they are and what they need, and i thought of the deathly sense of passionless killing. Death, drugs, money, corrupting and how these evils, this lack of humanity played on the lives of the shanty dwellers. No answer. Sad. i thought i would like to go to a shanty and meet these people.

But i’m powering out, Shelia the Beast and me, worrying about the next big rig or some fast driving automobile with no heed of my precarious governor-stretching Shelia the Beast hurtling down that ribbon of concrete westward, westward (as Mr. Cash once intoned).

Time to keep moving. Gila Bend. Last gas stop. Was it a converted Stuckey’s, the Mexican version? Colorful ceramics crammed into every nook and cranny. Chimereas lined up like the Chinese terra cotta army for Emperor Qin’s eternity. Life-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex (with a baby even), a Triceratops, and a Camarasaurus, all near actual size over by the side parking lot.

Then there was the sunset out of Gila Bend. Glorious pinks and grays and whites whispering against the westward mountains until the night took the hues away.

Then as i passed the last outpost with an inn for overnight they call El Centro. Home two hours away with Shelia the Beast climbing up the windswept hills carefully, ploddingly.

Then down, Sheila wished to let it out, but i could feel the load in the bed and braked her down tenderly. After all, we had been through a lot together. i had grown to like the old girl.

Somehow, all that thinking piled on top of itself. The family dinner at North, the vastness, the people in the vastness, me. Doing the right thing seemed to resonate through it all.

It was a cathartic experience, this five-day power trip. The old man is not likely to do it again.

But i sorted out a lot of things in my mind, and i am at peace. At least for a little while.


2 thoughts on “Shelia the Beast, North, and Serenity

  1. I really enjoyed reading about your trip to Austin. We have driven only as far as Big Bend on I-10. Long drive. We also enjoy North in the Domain as on of our Austin eating spots. Glad you are back home safely

  2. I realized while traveling 1300 miles with your words that this is the 2nd year in a row that you’ve gone on a retreat or sabbatical taking a scrub brush to your “inner barnacles”. So, even though we’re Ol’ folks we’re obviously not ready to let “this” time of our lives go. I mean I don’t know about you but I have a few more lessons left to learn. Thanks for sharing your journey, Jim.💕

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