I just have a lot to say.
April 16th, 2016 by

Life’s Not a Highway

“Life,” someone much wiser than I once declared, “is about the journey, not the destination.” For vacation, though, the opposite is now true.

Hurry up and get there!

Enjoy it until the last second!

Hurry home and back to real life!

While I certainly love the destination, I have recently decided about myself that for my whole life, I have preferred the trip.

When I was a little girl, my family sang on road trips, like the Brady Bunch when they drove to the Grand Canyon. We had the same car, the station wagon with the seat in the back, only without as many people. We sang church songs and camp songs and Girl Scout songs in rounds.

When my sisters turned into college students and I was still a girl, we traveled some in the summers, just Mama and Daddy and me. They would lay the back seat down and make me a pallet with a sleeping bag and pillow, since we didn’t have seat belt laws. I would read my library books and snack on packages of Toast Chee crackers and little jugs of Barber’s chocolate milk. Daddy liked to drive until the wee hours. I remember watching the street lamps go by until I fell asleep to the




of the old road, rocking me like it was my mama’s heartbeat.

I like car trips with my children, too. I like packing the snack bag and passing out Goldfish and Blow Pops. The kids holler, “BOAT RAMP!” when we pass a boat ramp and, “PENSKE!!!” when we pass a Penske. No one remembers when or why this started. They promise me that if one of us ever sees a Penske truck at a boat ramp, that person will be the Winner. We will take a picture and declare the game finally Over.

If Chuck is on the trip, we listen to classic country radio. At the beginning of every song, he asks, “Who wrote this?!” We all yell, “Kris Kristofferson!” as our first guess. Then, “Buddy Buie!” as our second. Since most songs were not written by either man, we are usually wrong, and he will tell us who wrote it, because he always knows.

If it’s just the kids and me, we listen to Wicked and Les Miserables and Hairspray. We defy gravity and ponder what our God in heaven has in store when tomorrow comes, while shaking and shimmying with the nicest kids in town.

I even like going “there and back” all in a day. I like driving to the beach for lunch. I like taking a kid to Atlanta to the airport. I am not offended that everyone is going somewhere besides me. I like smelling the adventure and wondering where they are off to, then kissing my baby good-bye and hopping into the car, excited for the solitude on the way home. Alone, I listen to hymns or audio books or the quiet.

Actually, I have a solo trip on my Bucket List. I’m really quite an introvert. When raise children is sufficiently marked off my To Do List, when the Deadlines have mostly been met, I’m going to saddle up a car one day and ride off by myself for a bit.  I’m not going to have a plan. I’m going to set the AC where I want it, a little warmer than everybody else likes it. I’m going to let the windows down or maybe leave them up. I’m going to drive until I decide to stop. I’m going take 10 hours to go 100 miles, if I want to.

I’ll take mostly back roads to wherever I’m going. I won’t venture too far off the highway, because I’m not foolish. I want to be able to get to a gas station and a rest room. I want AAA to be able to find me, if necessary. I’ll look for two-lane roads that dance with the interstate, like US 11 does with I-59 between Birmingham and Chattanooga. Maybe by then I’ll know how to work a GPS or talk to Siri, but maybe I won’t. I know how to read a map, and talking to strangers is one of the few things I’m good at.

When I get stuck behind a large piece of farm equipment moving from field to field, I will be glad that I’m not in a hurry.

I’ll stop to eat at local dives with the most cars parked nearby.

I’ll order the daily special and a side of okra at places called Mom’s or Pop’s or Granny’s. I’ll ask for my sweet tea to be cut in half. Sweet tea soothes my soul, but I don’t like syrup. “Forgive me, please, but top mine off with a little of the Yankee brew.”

I’ll eat supper at a BBQ joint owned by an old black man named Willie and an old white man named Bubba, who have been friends for 50 years, whose relationship began as cook and proprietor but now is a partnership. They will still laugh at their motto We Like Big Butts, because the word butt makes boys giggle, regardless of their age.

I’ll return to the BBQ joint for breakfast to have my eggs scrambled on the greasy griddle and to taste their biscuits. Willie and Bubba will have a long-standing argument over whose grandmama’s recipe it was.

I’ll dine at girlie places with frou-frou names like The Hummingbird Café, where the specialties are chicken salad plates and mimosas, where the only males are the teenager who buses the tables and the preschool boy with his mama on her lunch date with her girlfriends. He will play in his own world with his toy truck and plastic dinosaur. He will mimic the noises that tiny pickups and miniature prehistoric beasts make when they battle. He will have his shirt tucked in.

I will go to church on Sundays. One week, I will attend the big box church where the dynamic preacher and the praise band lead a pep rally for Jesus. The next week, I’ll visit the little church with the large steeple, where the children sit on the pew beside their grandparents and their great-grandmother who was recently moved to an assisted living home, where the little girls wear long smocked dresses and the little boys have their hair slicked down in “church hair,” as Phillip used to call it. Each time, I will follow the crowd to the Sunday dinner buffet. I’ll pile my plate high with their version of chicken and rice. I will try the squash casserole and note that Angie’s tastes better. I’ll smile sneakily and superiorly that their butter beans are not as good as mine, because they didn’t cook them slow enough nor long enough. I’ll debate over lemon ice box or pecan pie, then I’ll get both because no one will be looking. I’ll spy the coconut cake and grin, knowing that if Chuck were with me he would say, “I wish I could have a piece of Aunt Josephine’s coconut cake just one more time.”

I’ll eat in places that used to be something else, like the old movie theater that wasn’t torn down or the T G & Y, that a young couple renovated when they returned to town after college and a few years in the big city.

I will taste French fries and homemade potato chips every chance I get.

I will whisper “God bless America” when I hear Kenny Rogers crooning, “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em” at the non-chain Chinese restaurant with Wall or Dragon in its name.

I’ll shop at junque stores named for attics and treasures. I’ll touch every dusty thing that reminds me of Granny’s and Mama King’s houses, but I won’t buy anything until I get to the front counter and see the self-published book printed locally, written by a friend of the owner. I will pick it up and thumb through it and pull a folded $10 bill out of my back pocket.

I will take a photo of every homemade sign that reads “Tanning and Tackle” or “Haircuts and Beer.”

I will complain out loud to no one in particular that there is a Dollar General on every corner in the USA. Then, I will stop at many of them, picking up what I need: lip balm, a phone charger, a package of Toast Chee and a jug of Barber’s chocolate milk. I will not need tampons, because this trip will not happen until I don’t need those.

I will most likely avoid local motels. On those late nights with my parents, Daddy frequently wanted a few more miles behind us. I remember getting stranded occasionally without reservations, when a convention was in town. I remember him banging on the doors of managers to wake them up to find a room in a sketchy motel, before we even said “sketchy motel.” I remember the quiet in the car the next day, when Mama wasn’t ready to let go of her fury from the night before.

I’ll be content to earn points at the Holiday Inn Express with a comfy mattress and wifi. I’ll stay at the hotel one day to do my laundry. I’ll take my recently purchased self-published book with me to the pool where I will doze in the sun and listen to a young family play. The kids will climb out and jump in and climb out and jump in. They will tattle to Mommy, “Daddy is playing too rough!!” Then, they will squeal, “Do it again, Daddy!!”

I will suddenly miss my own family and decide it’s time to go home. When I get home, folks will ask me, “What sites did you see on your trip?” I’ll reply, “None.”

“What did you buy?”


“Where did you go?”


Life's Not a Highway



5 Responses to “Life’s Not a Highway”
  1. Wayne Carter says

    I hope you do get to take such a trip. I hope you write about it, comparing this fantasy trip with the real one. And, I hope I’m still around to read it.

  2. This is so beautiful. It sounds like the most wonderful trip in the world – one I would love to take, too.

  3. This is one of my all time favorite posts, Celeste! I would love to take a road trip like this as well!

  4. Emily S. says

    Beautiful post & writing! I could travel with you by your descriptions!

  5. elaine ridgway says

    I’ve been trying to figure out a trip to take. This is the one. May I leave my dog with you while I go now?

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