Everything’s bigger in Texas.
Hairstyles. Speed limits. Greenhouse gases.
And this cutting board – a recent gift purchased there by my daughter, a born-and-bred Georgia girl with indigo eyes and a penchant for digging up rocks in strange places. A coffee cup bearing the legend Houston accompanies the wooden chopping block, carved to resemble the Great State of Texas and adorned with a rawhide hanger for display.
“Saw this adorable cutting board and instantly thought of you,” Bonnie proclaims in a seven-line communique, written on a spare sheet of company graph paper and dated a few days before its receipt. Now 27, she makes her home in Colorado, a state that gifted her legalized marijuana and a master’s degree in hydrogeology.
Other comments follow in the short missive about a weekend trip to visit her boyfriend’s family in their McMansion near the center of town.
“Tyler’s family is nice, but visiting Houston made me feel homesick. I miss you bunches every day and can’t wait to come home and visit.”
Then this, a declaration as large as the Lone Star State.
“You’re the best mother in the whole world and words could never express how much I cherish you, love you and miss you every day.”
Texas and mothers.
What a historic pair they make.
Mama’s bony left hand twitches against the steering wheel of our ‘66 Dodge Polara, a worn out teenage hotrod with chartreuse paint and a universal joint held in place by the Holy Ghost. Her right hand, fingers permanently crimped by injury, rests in her lap, not up to the challenges of Texas highway driving. Mother, me, and my older brother cross the country from Tennessee to Tucson in a trip reminiscent of the Spirit of St. Louis sputtering over the Atlantic.
We make it by the skin of our teeth.
Ahead lies the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike. The six-lane toll road bisects our two-day drive through the nation’s second-largest state and scares the bejesus out of us all. A series of bad marriages and ruinous affairs powers this trip; running from one man toward another, Mama shoots the juice to the car’s aging engine and propels us into rush-hour traffic.
The year is 1975. The season is summer and the windows are down. The speed limit is somewhere near cosmic.
This is a Longhorn Autobahn for sure.
We’re too slow for the middle lane we occupy. Fellow motorists and long-haul truckers hurtle past, horns blaring. Brake lights flash up ahead. Traffic squeals to a stop. Butt cheeks grip the leatherette seat as Mama’s bad hand reaches across to hold my body in place.
Bad wreck ahead. Ford Pinto meets Mack Truck in a mangled matchup destined to put the smaller vehicle permanently on the back hoof.
A repeated refrain on AM radio:
And someone saved my life tonight,
You almost had your hooks in me,
Didn’t you dear?
You nearly had me roped and tied
Altar bound, hypnotized …
We’re escaping Step Dad No. 4 on a route marked by cheap motels and fast-food dinners. Morning breakfasts of eggs, hash browns. Coffee. Toast. Sleep fast at night so we can get up quick and run. Run before the money’s gone, before the car breaks down, before Ric finds us.
We’re sprinting between Texas towns toward Tucson, with 940 miles behind us and about that many more to go.
Now nearly 300 miles from Odessa, where it’s hotter than Satan’s breath most of the year. Then on to El Paso, then cross the border into New Mexico, and finally, Arizona.
Step Dad No. 3, is there, and if we’re lucky, he might let us live with him again.
The Bob Newhart doppelganger in a navy blue Leisure Suit.
He’s rescued us once before, on our first move from Georgia to Arizona two years before. Brother and I lived with our maternal grandmother until Mama came back one day and transplanted us into the Southwestern soil. She’d married Dale in an Elvis-themed wedding chapel in Nevada where the soloist crooned “Love Me Tender” and the bride carried a Viva Las Vegas bouquet.
We drove on the maiden voyage to Tucson, too.
Different trip filled with excitement and anticipation. Before the fighting and her rampant manipulation. Before her multiple affairs. Before Mama left Dale for a ballet teacher with a Fosse complex who moved us to Kingsport, TN. Three months later, he got fired. Mama and Ric drank and fought. He slapped her. Knocked a tooth loose. Blackened an eye.
We loaded up the car late one night and left Twinkle Toes behind.
Which puts us back on this turnpike in Texas with a thousand miles to go before we reach our destination – and more uncertainty.
Asked just today about her impressions of Texas, Bonnie throws back: “Hot, dry and very crowded. Please don’t move to Texas lol.”
Slight chance of that. Georgia’s my home, and that won’t change at my advanced middle age.
Yet, there’s this cutting board here, and its proximate shape of Texas gives me pause. Makes me remember and wonder about the past, the present, and the future. About mothers and daughters, living and dead.
About the mistakes my mother made that I swore I wouldn’t repeat as a parent.
Yesterday. A rear view prompted by location and filled with nostalgia, longing, regret. Miles and miles on the Texas trail of highways that carried me from the Southwest to the South and back again.
May I never make that same trip in this lifetime.
There’s a footnote to all of this reminiscence, though, and it’s here – written near the bottom of the page beneath a hand-drawn heart and my baby’s familiar signature. She’s back in Colorado before the gift is mailed.
PS: I still feel homesick. I’m gonna try to visit sooner than October.
Mom will be right here when you arrive. No turnpikes allowed.