Halifax Redux

By Sarah White

I’m taking a four-part self-guided workshop with Creative Nonfiction this month, titled “Playing with Patterns: Crafting the Braided & Collage Essays.” The intent is to draw us into examining the creative potential of juxtaposing themes through collage and braided techniques. I’ve never experimented with anything like that. I’m having fun with it.

An exercise in Week #2 was, “Write a short collage piece that uses sensory image to draw us into either (1) a seed of life narrative about three different places you have been connected to; OR (2) three seeds of narrative about one place you’ve been connected to. (By “seed of narrative” instructor Sharia Yates mean a hint of a story, or a window into a story using a few suggestive images or one scene.)

I chose #2, and chose to use my past two years’ Big MFA Adventure as the subject of my creative experiments in this short course. Here goes.

Halifax, MFA residency #1, August 2017.

Starting at the base of Maslow’s Pyramid, my first graduate school residency in Halifax was bedeviled by uncertainty. The need for physiological safety and security was uppermost. I’d arrived from Wisconsin at 4 a.m. due to a flight delay. Where was my dorm room? Waking from a quick sleep, where to find food? Every sense was unsettled by neediness. Through the two-week residency I was always half-hungry, unsatisfied by the food I did find—stupid baby carrots, flavorless goat cheese, packaged crackers. I soon tired of to-go carton meals, developing a deep aversion to the bendy tines of plastic forks, the futility of plastic knives.

I walked around the campus feeling unsafe around all the construction barrels, tangling with the safety-orange webbed fencing strung across crumbling sidewalks. I learned to find my way like a spelunker, turn by hazardous turn, to the pub in the basement of the Dalhousie administration building, only to find it beer-smelling and humid, its foods the grubbiest of pub grub.

The days were hot for Canada, but comfortable enough for this Midwesterner. I laughed at the sandwich board outside the convenience store that said “24 C – air conditioned! Come in for respite!” (That’s 78 degrees Fahrenheit.)

 

Halifax MFA residency #2, August 2018

The return to Halifax placed me higher on Maslow’s pyramid. By this time I carried a nifty little plastic case containing a real metal fork, knife, and spoon. I’d learned to Google “groceries near me.” I’d thought all year about what to buy, to make my dorm picnics more palatable.

Belonging and esteem were now my needs. I greeted returning classmates, renewing friendships with my Canadian fellow students, but sensed I stood a little outside their circle. I was one of only two Americans in the program, and not the charismatic one.

But I remembered how I enjoyed the attention of the upper-classmates who befriended me the previous year, and I took some under-classmates under my wing, especially the dramatic J, who was having trouble fitting the experience of residency to what she had imagined since acceptance. I invited her to visit Africville with me, purposely filling the weekend between classes for both of us, which I remembered as particularly lonely my first year. I was the only second-year on a dorm floor with seven first-years, and I became their mama and coach.

Together we survived a year of record heat and humidity—85 degrees Fahrenheit at midnight in my room, no fans to be had. I’d wake to swab my naked self with a wet washcloth I kept in the fridge at the foot of my bed, thinking of the irony—this dorm wing was named “North Pole.”

 

Halifax #3: Graduation, May 2019

Attending graduation wasn’t strictly necessary and wasn’t in the budget, given what I’d already spent attaining my MFA-Creative Nonfiction from University of King’s College-Halifax, but I wanted to roll that phrase on my tongue a little longer, extend this exquisite stimulation for one more run at Maslow’s pyramid. Here was my chance to see the view from the pinnacle, self-actualization.

I cooked up a scheme to cover my costs by running a writing retreat at a Nova Scotia farmhouse in the days before graduation. I was able to recruit some of my writing students from Madison.

I didn’t anticipate how grateful I’d be for my entourage when we rolled in from the countryside on graduation day. Everyone, including the other American, had a posse of family. I would have had no one—my family vaguely supported my whim of enrolling in an MFA but not enough to hie them hither to Halifax.

Perfect weather rewarded us for our two years of study, a day of sun and breezy cool piercing a month of rain. My regalia marked me as one of the celebrated, even if my too-large tasseled cap made my face strangely chipmunk-like in the photos.

Graduates processed behind a bagpiper, my class falling so far behind I couldn’t hear him, out of solidarity with our classmate E, whose disability made walking slow. After the ceremony, my writing retreatants gave me a dozen yellow roses, which made me secretly peeved at the waste until googling told me I could bring them home on the plane.

I cut down a plastic water bottle for a vase, wrapped a washcloth around it for stability, and placed it on the sink-counter in our shared bathroom—we had taken over the same floor in the North Pole—where it doubled to two dozen in the mirror. For the flight home, I swaddled the stems in stolen washcloth, thinking of my midnight swabbings the previous August.

Will I see Halifax again? Having finished my climb up Maslow’s pyramid, would it only disappoint? The only way to know is to go.

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Cry Me A River

By Melodee Leven Currier

After having writers’ block for several months, while driving to an appointment I asked my angels to give me a sign about what I should write for my next article.  

My thoughts quickly darted to one of my pet peeves – the crazy number of people on television who cry about seemingly nothing.  By the time I arrived at my appointment, Roy Orbison’s “Crying” was playing on my car radio and I instantly knew that was the sign I was waiting for.  

It seems you can’t turn on the television any more without seeing someone cry.  I always wonder – why in the world are they crying??  Usually it’s something that wouldn’t make me cry. And often they aren’t even crying at all — wiping “dry” eyes, pretending they’re crying, trying to elicit sympathy. Three reality shows that seem to encourage pretend crying are Dr. Phil, Paternity Court and The Bachelor.  

According to the NY Post, the average woman will cry six times a month, twice as much as men.  The last time I remember crying was four years ago when I heard that Dr. Wayne Dyer died.  He had been my guru since the mid-70’s when I started reading his books.  I even met him twice — once he sat next to me in church.  When I told him he was my guru, he replied, “No, you’re your own guru.”  

The hardest I ever cried (Oprah’s “ugly cry”) was thirteen years ago when our 18 year old cat, Shibui, died.  And the most I ever cried was in high school during my first serious relationship.  I’m sure I cried a lot more than six times a month then, more like six times a day.  

People cry because of sadness, grief, frustration, nervousness and joy – even hormones play a part.  And some payoffs for criers are that people might feel sorry for them and they may get their support or sympathy, it can soothe and relieve stress, it aids sleep and you can feel better afterward.  When I’ve cried, it is usually without warning because of grief or frustration.  

Your unique perception of a situation will determine if you cry.  For example, often people cry at the thought of losing their job, but I see it as a new beginning, often as a blessing and an opportunity for a new adventure.   Finding another job can be a stepping stone to more money, meeting new people and learning something new.  

Hundreds of songs have been written about crying and I have even been known to cry, or be on the verge of tears, while listening to some of them – Tears in Heaven, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Cry Me A River, Crying in the Rain, Lonely Teardrops, Tears On My Pillow and Don’t Cry Outloud are just a few.  If we listen to Dr. Seuss who said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” the crying average per month would drop considerably.  

As for me, chances are I’m not going to cry as long as no one I know dies.  I guess I need to listen to Dr. Seuss and not cry because they died, but smile because I knew them.

© 2019 Melodee Currier

Melodee Currier left corporate America in 2008 where she was an intellectual
property paralegal.  Since then she has devoted her time to writing and has
had three eBooks (www.amazon.com/author/melodeecurrier) and numerous articles published on a wide variety of topics.   Her articles can be read on her website www.melodeecurrier.com.  Mel is an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told.

 

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Wallace Stegner’s “Crossing to Safety” and the Rolling Now

By Sarah White

While staying at Windhorse Farm leading a writing retreat in Nova Scotia in May, I ran into an old friend—Crossing to Safety,Wallace Stegner’s 1987 novel and one of my favorite books of all time.

I began reading it again, and noted the page on which I stopped when departure day came. I have the same edition on my bookshelf at home, and once home, I picked up where I left off.

I first discovered this book early in the early 1990s. I recall reading it three times over, in quick succession. This was just as I was returning to my childhood writing ambitions, and Crossing to Safety was the book I wished I were author enough to write, the book written in just the literary style I hoped someday to master.

It’s a novel about “a long, not-always-easy friendship between two couples,” the back jacket of my first-edition paperback states. Early chapters take place in Madison, Wisconsin, where I live, and perhaps that’s the “hello” it had me at on that first reading.

But more, it was that not-always-easy friendship that gripped me. This was the first time I noticed how character drives a story forward. Here were four people—six possible relationship dyads—and Stegner developed them all.

I wasn’t yet in the grip of creative nonfiction when I first read it, but even then I suspected it was more than a little autobiographical. These people just rang so true. About that: Stegner told VQR magazine in 1991 that he began the book as a memoir.

I was just trying to get some friends of ours down where I could understand them. It turned out to be a novel because I invented a whole lot more than I intended. I was going to do this one right straight from life but I can’t do that. I’m not to be trusted with life; I keep inventing it.

It was more than the little thrill of reading about streets and buildings I know, the larger thrill of seeing the curtain pulled back on what goes on in adult relationships, that held me. It was the technique with which Crossing to Safety was written—the deft moving around in time that Stegner accomplished.

After last August’s MFA Residency, I started thinking about reading Crossing to Safety again, because Mentor Ken McGoogan had just introduced me to the “Rolling Now” literary technique. (See “The End” here on this blog, about that.)

Crossing to Safety comprises 341 pages of “Rolling Now.” After this latest reading, I was so intrigued by Stegner’s polished use of the technique (he leaps back and forth through four decades) that I started analyzing it from the beginning and mapped out exactly where/when he made those leaps.

My sticky-note time map of Crossing to Safety.

I finally saw the “why” of it all laid out before me. I saw how each flight back in time layered in details about the two couples whose friendships form the central theme of the book. I saw the skillful quickening of pace as the end approached. I was inspired by the roadmap for how I might approach some future piece of long-form writing. I’m playing with “The Rolling Now” in my writing and diving deeper into braided patterns in my writing studies (alas, now self-guided–farewell, U-King’s Big MFA Adventure!).

I admire what Stegner achieved with Crossing to Safety immensely. I hope someday a book I write can give as much satisfaction to a reader as Stegner has given me.

 

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Paris and Christmas Holidays

By Suzy Beal

This is the 12th episode of a travel memoir that is unfolding, one chapter each month, here on True Stories Well Told. Stay tuned for more of the adventure as teenage Suzy’s family moves to Europe, builds a sailboat, and takes up life on the high seas circa 1961. Click here to read the earlier episodes.

Dad, Grandma, Aunt Mim in France, 1923

Grandma and Jack made preparations to return to the States.  They wanted to be home for the Christmas holiday.  Dad wanted to take Grandma back to visit Hyeres, France where they had lived when he was just a child of seven.  Brother Tom and I went on this trip.  I think Dad took me along so I could accompany Grandma.

We flew to Marseille, where Dad rented a car and drove to Hyeres on the Mediterranean Coast.  On arriving in Hyeres, Dad purchased sweet dried fruits for Grandma, something they had treasured years ago.  He found the house where they lived and parked the car so Grandma could just look at it and eat her candies.  I looked over at her and she had tears streaming down her cheeks.  She said, “Oh Tom, Oh Tom,” and I knew her words were for Grandpa, who had died five years ago.  A sadness came over her that afternoon and even being in Paris the next day didn’t relieve her pain.  Dad stayed with her in the room during the days so Tom, Jack, and I could see Paris. I stayed with her in the evenings and at night when Tom, Jack, and Dad went bar hopping.

Tom’s idea of seeing Paris was to head down into the subway system and pop up where ever he chose.  Once we came up and spied the Eiffel Tower and Tom headed for it.  I hated heights and feared going up, but Tom insisted.  I stepped into the elevator, but huddled in fear on the floor.  We got out at the first stage.  Tom thought if I looked at the view I might change my mind about being up there.  I passed out and everything was a blank for a few seconds.  Jack came to my rescue and took me back down in the elevator.

Dad had purchased tickets for us to see “La Boheme” in the Paris Opera House the night before we were to leave, but Grandma’s depression and sadness was still keeping her to her room.  She just wanted to go home.   We took them to the airport a day earlier than their planned departure and parted with them.   Dad, Tom, and I changed our tickets to fly back to Mallorca, giving up our La Boheme Opera tickets.

Our first Christmas on Mallorca was approaching. We had a tree, but most other families didn’t.  In Spain, the Three Kings bring all the presents for the children on King’s day, January 6th.  They celebrate Christmas Eve with everyone going to midnight Mass.  There was only one church in Puerto.  It was Catholic and everyone attended.  They held Sunday services, weddings, and special services such as Easter and midnight Mass on Christmas Eve here.  We kids wanted to go to midnight Mass because all our friends would be there.  Mom came with us.  Dad was an atheist and wouldn’t have put his foot in a Catholic Church for anyone. Dad had never prevented us from going to church, but he had no place for organized religion in his life.

 

Noche Buena – Christmas Eve

Here we were, at midnight Mass, in a little country church in the town of Puerto Pollensa on the Island of Mallorca off the coast of Spain. All the Christmas carols were familiar because they were the same Christmas carols we sang back home, but we couldn’t sing them in Spanish.  Into the crowded church filed the little Spanish boys and girls, dressed as shepherds leading real sheep.  The three kings came in on real donkeys and Joseph and Mary carried a real baby. They formed a picture of the manger scene in real life.  The musicians played Silent Night, “Noche de Paz.”  I sang, under my breath, in English.  Tears welled up in my eyes.  I looked over at Mom and she, too, was crying and singing in English.  I wondered who and what she was thinking about.

The evening ended with us all going to Brisas Bar for a Spanish tradition called Chocolate y Churros.  They piped the churro dough through a tube into circles in a big vat of oil then cut it into pieces and sprinkled them with sugar.  It seemed like the entire crowd from the church walked into Brisas Bar with us, although I know Iru and Cactus bars were full, too.  We scurried to find a table and ordered our Chocolate y Churros.  It was a special evening because Mom joined us.  The waiters hurried from table to table with trays of steaming chocolate and plates piled high with churros.  I heard the swishing sound of the coffee machine heating the milk for the chocolate.  It was so thick when you dipped the pieces of churro in it, it came out almost like pudding. Sweet and warm, it filled us with a sense of solace in this new environment. Elbow to elbow in Brisas Bar we celebrated Christmas Eve, our first in Spain.

 

Feliz Año Nuevo – Happy New Year 1962!

The New Year’s celebrations included everyone going to a local bar or restaurant for dinner.  Then on to dancing in the streets, going from Brisas Bar to Iru Bar and Cactus Bar.   Young and old alike attended these festivities.  It was cold outside, but the hot Spanish chocolate and churros, which were available throughout the Christmas holidays, warmed us to the core. Since there was no age limit for drinking we even tried hot cognac that came flaming to our table.

 Puerto Pollensa – Brisas Bar, Iru Bar, Cactus Bar, 1961

 

El Dia de los Reyes – King’s Day

On King’s Day, the families wrapped and addressed the presents with the children’s names, then rushed them to the church where they loaded them into a truck.  On the evening of January 6th, the packages rode to the top of Formentor hill outside Puerto where the truck turned around and headed back to town with the torch lit. The procession made its way slowly down the hill with the Three Kings on horseback, trucks full of presents, and dozens of people dressed as Arab “slaves” to deliver the presents.  The children of Puerto could see the Three Kings coming from far away and their excitement grew as the Kings descended the long road and approached Puerto.  Conrad and Frank got caught up in the drama unfolding in the streets.  When the trucks passed our street, several “slaves” delivered packages to our house.  Conrad and Frank could hardly contain themselves with excitement.  It was such a wonderful way for the children to receive their gifts. It seemed real, compared to the way we did it back home, believing Santa Claus came down the chimney.

© 2019 Suzy Beal

Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 Suzy began studying with Sheila Bender at writingitreal.com.  Watch for new chapters of her travel memoir to be posted! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.

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Don’t Tempt Me

By Faith Ellestad

Faith at 2 years old

Don’t tempt me.  You will be disappointed.  I think I am immune.

Well, there were little things, like eating a caterpillar, sneaking down to the neighborhood deli, drinking Ripple with my brother, but I’m just not a Type A. More like a Type L.  I resist the big stuff.  I’m scared or maybe rigid. Or righteous. Think of all the fun I missed, and all the angst.  There’s enough of that without adding guilt.

So much for the great secret romance, or that heist I never got around to planning.  Not gonna eat that second cupcake, either.  Don’t tempt me with your cigarettes.  I quit and I’m not going back.

I know it takes two to tango. Does it take two to tempt?  A tempter and a temptee? I suppose I could tempt myself, but then I would have only me to blame.  What would be the point of that?

Surely I must be more daring than I seem. Oh, I know, once I was smitten with a friend’s boyfriend, and agreed to a date with him. We had a great time and I was reveling in a flush of guilty triumph, as we returned to my dorm whereupon we ran into my friend just back from a date with my boyfriend. Buzz kill. What I thought was unique and daring escapade turned out to be a common occurrence among my dorm mates. Giving in to temptation worked out better for her, since she and my boyfriend got married, and her boyfriend and I broke up. Lesson learned there.  I just don’t do sneaky well.  And I feel overwhelming guilt.

 

How I wish I were relaxed and spontaneous.  How I wish I could make decisions on impulse, black or white, instead of agonizing over every shade of grey, even moving toward sepia, before coming to a conclusion.  I imagine my loved ones wish so, too.

Ann (holding Thomas) Mom, Faith, Coby and Grandma watching TV in 1954

As a child, I wanted to please everyone, which frequently put me in uncomfortable situations. Temptation was everywhere.  I wanted to go out and play red light green light with my friends, but I promised Grandma we would watch My Three Sons together.  Score one for Grandma. Jeannie and Mary asked me to play house with them, but Jimmy wanted to build with Lincoln logs and his mom made delicious lunches. Lunch won. If I didn’t tell my mom I threw up, she would let me go on the Girl Scout field trip to Chicago.  That was a tough one.  But I told.

 

Edging into adolescence, I became more and more cautious, and avoided doing anything that would make me stand out.  I actually asked if I could attend parties, sleep-overs were just sleep-overs, and the most daring drinking I did with my friends was putting aspirin in Coke because someone said it would make you giddy.

Nowadays, I waffle between buying one or two pairs of jeans, the 300 or 600 thread sheets, having toaster waffles with syrup or Crispix for breakfast. I’d really like to grab my spouse and take a free-wheeling trip out west, or up north, but that would mean blowing off a lot of pressing family obligations.  Oh, get thee behind me, Satan.

If I could replay my life, would I be a different actor?  Would I indulge in risky business, or become less rigid? More daring?  Could I separate the two?  I’m not sure. I am trapped in my own damn chrysalis. No sign of a butterfly breaking through any time soon.

© Faith Ellestad

Faith describes herself as a serial under-achiever, now retired after many years as a hospital scheduling specialist.  When her plan to cultivate a gardening hobby resulted only in hives, she decided to get real and explore her long-time interest in creative writing. She’s so happy she did. Faith and her husband live in Madison, WI . They have two grown sons of whom they are very proud, and a wonderful daughter-in-law.

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Frank Dreams Big

By Sarah White

In 1998 I began taking Italian conversation classes at the Italian Workingman’s Club on Regent Street, on Madison’s near-west side. In the class I met Frank. He lived not far from me on the east side, so I offered to drive us both to class. Thus began several years of weekly conversations with Frank (in English) as we came and went.

Facts about Frank’s life gradually came out during those drives. He was taking Italian in hopes of contacting relatives in Sicily. His parents had immigrated before he was born. He had never seen the Old Country or talked to his relatives there, but he had the address of a cousin. If he could master enough Italian to write a letter, he could reach out. If he got a response, he needed enough Italian to talk to his cousin on the phone. That was the goal.

Frank was a retired mail carrier. He liked to garden. Like a good Italian peasant, he had a big vegetable garden in the fenced side yard in addition to the well-tended peonies and irises out front. I observed that he had planted a circle of hostas around a nice little birch tree and placed two metal lawn chairs, the old fashioned kind, in front of his house.

Frank had a wife who was disabled; I never met or even saw her. One time he said she had some ailment that forced her to sleep sitting up in a chair. I wondered what that meant for their love life, but of course I never asked. He was a slight little guy, and I worried about whether he could manage whatever assistance she needed.

Frank began to talk about fixing up his basement to create a guest suite. He had an idea that if he was able to contact his cousin in Sicily, at some point relatives might want to visit him in the U.S.

 

And you know what? It all came to pass. Frank learned to converse in Italian. He reached out to his cousin, got a response, went to Sicily, and found an extended family of likeable people. A niece wanted to study in the U.S. He helped her apply to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she came to live in his basement suite for several years while she completed school. I like to think about the cheery new life that must have brought into Frank’s household.

By that time I had dropped the Italian class, after about four years. I learned about Frank’s progress with his master plan when I’d run into him at the neighborhood grocery store.

Eventually, I saw a for-sale sign in front of Frank’s house. Maybe his wife died and he chose to downsize. Or maybe they moved to assisted living. I like to think they moved to Sicily to rejoin his family; I don’t know and probably never will.

Every time I wonder if it’s worth having big dreams, I think of Frank.

© 2019 Sarah White

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Traveling with Strangers

By “WanderN Wayne” Hammerstrom

He was drinking a beer, while driving.

This first ride on a hitchhiking adventure from Oregon to my home in Wisconsin was making me quite uncomfortable, if not also presenting unanticipated danger.

What a crazy impulse, to hitchhike over 2,000 miles. But what choice did I have? My summer job as an assistant leader with Outward Bound had ended in August. I hadn’t earned enough to consider flying or taking a bus.

Outward Bound Schools are an international program teaching wilderness survival. I’d spent three months in the mountains of Oregon teaching older teens an outdoor curriculum of wilderness hiking, mountain climbing, cliff repelling, and how to endure a 3-day solo retreat beside a mountain stream. We created experiences to “maximize apparent danger with a minimal actual risk.” We wanted them to embrace the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

“3-Finger Jack” in the Cascade region of Oregon

My beer-drinking driver let me out near Portland, Oregon. The Interstate route towards home was clearly eastward now, but I still had to get other drivers to pick me up. In the summer of 1968, hefting a large pack on your back may have conveyed to others that you were a draft dodger, a wily vagabond, even a homeless person of questionable intentions. I was none of these, but first impressions count when thumbing rides. I tried to look presentable: young, clean and not desperate. These traits, of course, fatigued after long lengths of time waiting for kindness to stop and give you a lift. That is, a ride to some distant destination.

Three young airmen picked me up somewhere on America’s rocky spine in Oregon. They were returning to their Air Force base adjacent to Mountain Home, Idaho. To hitchhike is to travel by obtaining free rides from passing vehicles. Thus, hitching a ride removes choice from your options; drivers select you, not you them. Daisy-chaining a succession of rides as a passenger means you lose some control as to when you might eat, sleep, or use a restroom. Luckily, I was about the same age as these guys. We passed over miles of highway talking about cars, girls, and sports. Before dropping me off outside their base entrance, they even bought me lunch, a last taste of hitchhiker’s good luck for a while.

My next state, Wyoming, was the worst place to catch a ride. In a state with few people, no one wants to remain long in its wind abraded landscape. Cold winds of the western highlands chilled me as cars flew past. My extended arm was as useless as the motionless arm of an abandoned oil pump. I stood outside a highway restaurant. Brazenly, I asked people as they exited if I could have a ride anywhere east of this place. No one accepted my plea. Walking back to the highway, I waited hours, hoping for my next ride.

The request was unusual and possibly conditional. He’d drive me as far as central Iowa. Would I be willing to help pay for gas and occasionally drive? Hell, yes! Foreign born, he didn’t talk much as we tag-teamed driving and sleeping. He told me I was hitchhiking poorly by standing on highway shoulders. At his suggestion, I made a sign, “Need Ride East,” to hold up to a side window whenever we passed a vehicle with license plates of a state east of the Mississippi River. I got a nibble from a driver of a van with Illinois license plates. Our vehicles slowed together to a stop on the highway shoulder.

My transfer to the van came easily, though I was shocked to see that the driver was a mother traveling alone with her two young daughters. Any possible threat I might have displayed vanished quickly when I fell into a deep sleep, remaining oblivious to motion, sounds, and where I was. Her family lived in Highland Park, a wealthy residential community north of Chicago. This ride alleviated all worry I had about how I would hitchhike around or through Chicago.

I spent the night in the dormer of their home after meeting her husband when we arrived in darkness after midnight. As a guest I would be taken back to the highway following breakfast the next morning.

Too excited by my nearness to home, I awoke before my host family and quietly explored downstairs. In a corner of the huge living room rested a grand piano. Centered between a couch and sitting chairs was a large circular table covered with stacks of social and political magazines, books, and papers. Surrounding me and the contents of this room were walls of hewn logs. I had spent the night in a log home.

My overnight happened only a week following the riotous 1968 Democratic Party Convention in downtown Chicago. My host family was politically active, and they provided lodging for several of the protestors. Contentious discussions had been held nightly around the table I now stood next to. During my breakfast with the family, conversation covered similar topics of government, military, social and moral arguments; although my comments were weakly positioned compared to theirs.

A last ride to my parent’s home came from a man who was one of “Shirley’s boys.” I knew him from a group of men who dined every Friday with Shirley, a waitress in the restaurant where my mother and I also worked. Opening the door at home completed my hitchhiker’s journey from a tent in Oregon 2,000 miles away.

I never hitched a ride again after this adventure. Maybe it was some of the frustrations I had, or the uncertainty of waiting alongside busy highways, or never knowing what the driver might be like.

Of course, these are the experiences that made my hitchhiking a storied memory. Each ride carried me over varied landscapes, mile by mile, inspiring my sense of places with wonder. Shared stories during hours of riding together drew me from the expansive outdoors to interior lives of people I hadn’t known.

Because of my decision to hitchhike cross-country, my life was enriched through the random kindness of traveling with strangers.

© 2019 Wayne Hammerstrom

Wayne Hammerstrom (WanderNWayne) lives in Madison, Wisconsin. He wanders through life as a verb, many times directionless in travel and becoming.

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