Wednesday, November 26, 2008
This is the day before Thanksgiving, and I remember certain days before Thanksgiving more vividly than most iterations of the actual holiday. All of those recollections come from college days when I was a student at Whooping Jesus Bible College in the Indiana barrens, location as metaphor but also literally far away from my home in Old Virginny.
God, I was a homeboy. The notion of not going home for Thanksgiving was painful. Thus, I cut afternoon classes those long-ago Wednesdays and started hitchhiking.
The goal was Cincinnati, Ohio. At Cincinnati I picked up the midnight train that would take me across West Virginia and on into western Virginia -- between which wonderful place and the feuds and intermarriages of West Virginia we felt a great gulf existed -- where nestled my hometown, Roanoke, "the Star City of the South."
So they called it, and so I believed it.
The midnight train, you see, was free. My dad was a yard engineer for the Norfolk and Western Railway, and I had a pass. But the train rides are not the story, not today. It was the hitchhiking.
Do kids hitchhike today, what with murderers and perverts everywhere? I was much impressed and a little dismayed that my parents were so little concerned about my falling victim to murderers and perverts -- but if they weren't, who was I to worry?
Thinking back, I don't recall making a destination sign, you know, the ones on cardboard held chest high, garnished with a smile. I'm not saying I didn't, but I can't remember doing so.
What I do remember is that I always wore my three-piece corduroy suit. It seemed to me that suit made me look wholesome, benign, even conversational, that is, with something interesting to say. (I did not. But I was a good listener.)
I also carried a huge old brown striped suitcase that was either a gift from my Aunt Odell (who was a Depression pack rat) or something inherited from my Uncle Dumps (who whacked his head when he ran his car off the road and spent the next 20 years shuffling around the VA in Salem, Virginia).
I filled the suitcase with dirty laundry to take home to mama, convinced she would be glad to see it. I still remember that when someone stopped to give me a ride I felt it incumbent to run toward the car, thus showing gratitude and forestalling second thoughts on the part of the driver. How that clunky suitcase dragged through and bounced across the gravel.
All this was before the Interstate system was as widespread as it is now. One grabbed one's rides on the two-lanes that bridged the gaps in the interstates. Lots and lots of gravel.
I always got to Cincinnati in plenty of time, sometimes before dark even, and had one or two mild adventures, but none involved gorgeous widows twice my age -- the gold standard of hitchhiking fantasy for a good Christian boy back in the day -- and I will not talk of those mild adventures because the writerly energy has started to wane, and I have not yet expressed the point of undertaking this long and wandering furrow in the thin soil of this blog.
I am writing this because I canceled my Advanced Reporting class today and am still at home in my bathrobe with our crippled cat on my lap. I canceled my class because at WJBC afternoon classes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving were never canceled and, indeed, I think my chemistry teacher may well have carried out his threat to dock the grade of anyone cutting his class.
Such penalties were school policy.
Which reminds me of the semester the school said that all the top honor roll students did not have to go to class if they didn't want to, since the school figured that all the top honor roll students would go to class anyway. But we didn't. And the school reversed itself.
Well there you go.
Anyway, that's why I cancel afternoon classes on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. There it is, kids. Sometimes I really am looking at you. But a lot of the time I'm looking in the rear view mirror at my own past, holding onto it, refusing to give it up, refusing to let it go dim, reliving it, savoring it, all the pleasures and all the pains that -- it turned out -- were just the tip of the iceberg.