Saturday, April 19, 2008

You Can, Go Home Again

Photo Flickr-law_keven

If you want to go home again, it's best to start out on a sunny afternoon on a late Spring day. You'll need a starting point of course, and the best starting point is always the Champs-Elysees.

To get to the Champs-Elysees, go over the ten foot long bridge spanning the trickle of stream that separates Virginia and West Virginia on the long winding road dotted with hayfields, truck repair shops, and small houses, then turn right almost immediately into the new shiny Shell gas station with the Subway sandwich shop and convenience store all enclosed so nicely within it.

Here the journey begins.
It's best to be dressed right for this occasion of home-coming. Men: bandanas and motorcyle jackets with black sunglasses will do, or alternately overalls with a white T-shirt and workboots. Slouchy-jawed and unshaven is best. If you can't manage this then at least wear a feedcap that has seen better days. Women: jeans and any old top are fine. Makeup and hair are the important parts here. Hair should be long and frizzley with bangs pointing upwards in seeming delight, or short scarily spiked out. No makeup but for dark black all around your eyes with a liquid eyeliner, providing a clear unsmudged intense accent.

Drive north and turn onto Bozoo Road. Head up the road past the black cows that always seem to dance to the music on the car radio. Sometimes they ambulate to the beat, other times they wiggle their heads sideways and toss their tails. When the day is a bit chilly the younger ones might prance and butt heads, playing at a big fight. As boys sometimes look like puppies when they tussle and play, these young steer look like boys somehow, boys just stuck in the big leathery hides just pretending to be cows.

Go past the sparkling pond that fills an acre and a half in the front yard where the bass and bluegills are always ready to bite. Drive straight out to the little brick church that sits on the top of the hill on the edge of nowhere, where the hills and green and sky just lay beyond till they reach the river and the old ferry some miles past, which is there but which seems like the end of the known universe, looking past the tiny deserted church with its dirt parking lot edged with its broken-down wooden swingset and kiddie slide.

Stinking Lick Road is there on the left, the tiny dirt road heading straight back into the edge of the barren-looking woods. Someday someone might actually drive up that road and see what's there. Why would a place be called "Stinking Lick"?

The place to go to is the Dairy Bar, and the Ballard Food Store too. Here, the burgers taste like burgers did in 1965, at any Dairy Bar anywhere. They taste like home, like summer, like simplicity and innocence. The french fries are crinkle-cut, the ketchup cheap and vinegary. Let's be clear about this. This is a world away from "gourmet". This is a world away from any sort of pretension, here at the Dairy Bar. "Ice Milk Available" says the old hand-lettered sign on bent posterboard stuck to the wall with yellowing cellophane rectangles of tape. The small square workspace is where all the food is made by the lady that owns the place with an always-present teenage girl assisting, learning to fry oysters, grill burgers, make a perfect swirl of soft-serve.

When the order's ready it's squeezed out with a welcoming extended hand through the tiny glass window in small white sacks, while they call out names. And they do know your name. Be sure to keep your ear in good tune though, waiting to be called, for each syllable of your name will stretched into three, lilted into a song with high and low notes sounding through the air.

Across the street at the tiny food store, the dark interior is belied by bright toppled boxes of produce and seeds and plants out front. Things look like they have been saved for survival purposes from some past wartime inside the store. The chicken feed is more prominently displayed than almost anything else except for country ham in a large cluttered plastic-wrapped assortment of cuts, and there's the round of hoop cheese around the corner next to the six fifty-gallon plastic garbage containers filled with different kinds of dried beans. They're labelled "new crop" when they are, of course. Pintos rule, and new crop ain't old crop by any stretch of a cook's imagination.

Crossing the street, there's always the pickup truck driving by with too many people stuck together in the cab, lurching sideways with hay bales in the truckbed, sometimes followed by a battered horse trailer. They smile and wave through the open windows as they drive past. No, you don't really know them, they don't really know you, but you are here and they are here and that warrants a smile and a wave. You nod and smile and wave back and remember all this, this way of being.

There's always the guy that walks out of the store past you as you walk in. He might be tall and lanky, or short and skinny. He's never fat, for he works with his hands on a farm. He bales hay, fixes the vehicles that always break, handles the cattle and the crops and somehow he just never gets fat or pudgy or overfed. He's always there though he may not always be the exact same guy, but he looks right into your eyes, I mean right into your eyes, unashamedly, without hesitation or covertness of any sort whatsoever and he smiles the sweetest damn smile right into you. In that moment an internal breath is taken away along with a sweeping off of your feet even though you know that if you opened your mouth to talk you'd scare the guy half to death being, as you are, an "outsider". But that smile held the beauty of a simplicity that's rarely if ever seen outside these parts, outside places "like this", like the place you've come home to. No measurement, no conniving, no wondering, in that smile.

In that smile, you're the girl that sits on the haystack laughing, as the colt skitters sideways at the cat that jumps from the grass to surprise it. In that smile, his eyes say in a straightforward manner, without any twisting torturously around as if under a sharp pin: I'm a good man. His eyes say this without question for he knows he is, without question. The sun rises, the sun sets. The world is as it has been for some long time here and it won't change too quick, no needs to worry about this that the other thing and more. Hay grows and is cut, over and over. Calving season comes regular with reminders of life and death as some calves live and some die, some rise and grow, some falter, and each one is a small perfect thing of beauty. That smile says he's a man who likes you as a woman, without question. It says, "I'll cherish you." And you know he would, for it shows in that smile, without question. He'd cherish you, and how often does that happen.

Inside the dusky store a piece of hoop cheese is cut with the heavy battered knife from the huge black wax-edged round set out on the wooden table waiting to be cut by different hands, to be taken home to different homes, to be nibbled on by a hundred different people, each one devouring it crumble by slightly oily torn-off crumble. The plastic wrap is set right there next to it to wrap it.

Time to go now. Time to drive back up the other road past the battered sign for the Cashmere Coon Hunt Club, where the guys meet on Friday nights to drink beer and plan that someday soon they'll head out to the woods with their favorite huntin' dogs to hunt raccoons . . . someday soon . . . then past more hills, more green, more cows, more ponds. Time to drive back to where you live which is not here. Time to go back to where you belong a mite more closely than you belong here.

You can go home again, even if you don't really belong there, as each tangy crumble of warm orange hoop cheese will remind you. You can go home with the taste of each bite taken into your hungry mouth, touching your tongue as you nibble with little bites till bit by bit the hypnotic, acidic, dense buttery haunting taste is done with. Home is where the heart is, and sometimes you can even taste it. No matter how you're dressed.


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Roxanne said...

Stumbled across this while doing some research. Being a Bozoo native myself and a lover of Dinks Dairy Bar and explorer of Stinking Lick - I thoroughly enjoyed this little trip down memory lane!