Driving Back Home

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Sometimes you don't find the ghosts of your past. Sometimes they find you.

Submitted: July 25, 2008

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Submitted: July 25, 2008

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Driving back home is always a chore. Driving itself is no walk in the park. A walk in the park is no walk in the park either, especially if it’s the park you spent almost all of your waking childhood hours in, which is what I’m driving to/for/at - but it’s no drive down I74 East. Do I sound mixed-up and a little confused? Good. I am.

I’m heading for the park in which I basically grew up. The park’s name is MiddleRoadPark. A little ways away is Middle Park Lagoon. I’ll get to the Lagoon in a little bit. First I have to get to the park, which is right by my old house. Do I sound a bit rattled and distracted? I hope so, because I am.

It’s present-day, with the unreachable future just around the corner. I haven’t seen my parents’ gravestones. I saw them both last fall, in coffins. Mom passed in September of 07, Dad the following December. I’ve heard of this happening to other people, but you are in no way prepared when it happens to you. It was morbid until I got to the funeral home.

Not morbid, but sad. Sad beyond measure. That was last fall. This is late-summer. All these thoughts, and more, and less, and none, as I drone on down the long 300-mile road from Indy to Bettendorf, Iowa.

I pass people pulled over on the side of the Interstate, that hapless, helpless look in their eyes as I flash by in a sedate 72 mph. Is the limit 70 or 65? Is my right eye the one with the brown fleck in it, or the left? Should I use the A/C or drive with 3 windows down?

Driving sucks. I’ve had two tickets in 18 months and wow, I never, ever want to be pulled over again. Motorists pass me by, most angry, a few not. I avoid prolonged eye contact at excessive speeds. You never know. The world is a much crazier place now than it ever used to be, or at least I think it is. You just never know.

I’m halfway. 150 miles in. Rantoul, IL. The point of no return. Marilyn Monroe was in a movie by that title, with Robert Mitchum and this little kid I’d have killed to replace. She strummed a guitar and sang in her low, throaty voice while Robert piloted a raft down some ungodly river. Amazing movie and I discovered the tantalyzing allure of Ms. Monroe. Holy cow. Holy flippin’ cow. I think I was seven or eight when I found that movie on our old boxy TV down in the basement. Wow. Wish I could be more articulate but wow, I still think about that movie, and Marilyn, and good ole bug-eyed Robert Mitchum. For a long time I thought the deodorant of the same name was named after him.

Honk, glare, stare, helpless shrug on my part. Maybe a wave, maybe a finger on the other end. I’ve yet to have had a handgun pointed at me and I hope I never do. Not safe to interact. The world has regressed or repressed or re-something-essed. I have two holes in my heart that need filling in and maybe seeing Mom and Dad’s gravestones will do the job. Sigh. Grit teeth and keep the road between death and boredom.

200 miles in. Just short of Peoria, IL. Have you driven through Peoria? The 4th grade glaciers had much fun with the topography and geography and the downhill slide is amazing. Another 90 miles east is the Mississippi, with glaciers that were bigger, taller, and much meaner. These were 6th grade Bully Glaciers, muscular, grimy, dirty, chunks of rock, ice, and forcefulness that carved a huge dent in the Midwest and gave us amazingly rich topsoil, some say the richest on the planet. In Iowa, this stuff can reach down thirty feet, and that comes from the author Bill Bryson. I don’t know why that’s enormously comforting, but it is. It is.

Driving down that valley, not the Mississippi but the Illinois River Valley, provided I don’t get pulled over for speeding (which I am doing now, about 45 mph) I’ll be there in a little more than 70 minutes. Some things are inevitable, like the glaciers coming back and turning our cultural soil up and down and all-around.

The inevitable is now. Crap-a-DOODLE. Cop, behind me, flashing lights and a Smokey-Bear Hat. I sigh, signal, slow down, and pull over, but instead he zooms past me, on his way to net some bigger fish.

45? I saw ‘75’ when in reality I was going almost dangerously slow and the cop that should have given me a ticket probably gave me a ‘dumbass’ look and sped on.

I pulled over and. Stopped. All the way on the wayside of my life, I can hardly breathe. My knuckles are white on the padded steering wheel, bloodless. This has happened to me only once before, and I won’t relate that story to you, because it’s lost in the early 1980s, in beer, friends, and college. If I ever saw my college-self walking down the road, I’d put him out of my misery without hesitation.

Grimly, steeling my testicles like Rambo in a Thai Restaurant, I pull my car back on the highway of life and mark time to songs on my iPod. I maintain my speed and drive in the right-hand road and not drive 45 mph. when the speed limit is twenty-five over. Breathe in and out. Breathe out and in. All these songs suck large windage. Seventy miles until I’m back home again, even though you can’t go back, you can never go back. Go, Don Henley, sing it, baby. You can’t go home again. The place you were isn’t the place you see. I don’t know. Maybe your home can come back to you.

 

Bettendorf, Iowa.

Two 100-year floods in eighteen years. Saw the video of this on YouTube. A house a hundred yards from a relatively small body of water named Duck Creek, the waters in which I swam mightily. It rose and rose higher and rose higher and higher and turned a neighborhood into a flooded swamp. This happened last sometime in the early 1990s, a once-in-one-hundred year occurrence. It happened twice in a manner of months.

Or was it two eighteen-year floods in 200 years? The math doesn’t exactly add up. I’m perpetually confused. The valley slopes, courtesy of Mack and Bull, the twin Bully Glaciers of 10,000 years ago, carving, pushing, scraping, scraping, pushing, and carving, making the mighty Mississippi River more than two miles wide un-flood-stage, and a vast inland sea when it really floods. Giving us amazing hills to sled down in the winter and topsoil and great Midwestern scenery.

I have two out of six sisters living in Davenport, the next town over. Much of Davenport is ‘Riverfront’ which is great when the river behaves itself, and sucks giant hairballs when it doesn’t. My Dad, an All-American tight-end for the St. Ambrose Fighting Bees, played in the stadium I’m driving past. I stop and get out.

I hear the roar of a ghostly crowd, still dressed in whatever they wore back then. Flappers? Tweed? Bulrush coats and felt hats? I’m trying to fill in blanks that don’t even exist, using vapors of a past long gone. This is so incredibly sad. It was happy, joyful, exuberant, even dangerously rowdy, from the stories of my Dad’s surviving friends. I have my Dad’s college grad school ID in my wallet. He’s glaring at the camera, defying it, ready to kick its little Kodachromatic ass. This picture cracks me up and simultaneously frightens me. My Dad was no one to mess with, and I tiptoed on eggshells most of my teenage years. Oh, Pop, I miss you, I really miss your craggly butt, why’d you have to get old and die? Why?

I brush tears away, not ready for the salts to land somewhere and make the ground bitter with their residue. The stadium doesn’t at all look like it used to. From 1981 to 1983, it still looked like it did in the late 1940s and 1950s. It’s anachronistic. I’m an anachronism, I’ve discovered. Wow. You’re old when you discover this. Old, and tired. I walk around, searching, scanning. Nothing came to mind, or my mind wasn’t ready for whatever was hammering on its doors and prying open its windows.

Plenty comes to my heart, now, though. It used to be called John O’Donnell Stadium. I played there myself in college, in three years of largely frustrated, disarrayed football. Went to the Quad City Angels semi-pro baseballs and learned what true sports-related boredom is. I remember the boats and barges out on the river, and the hot Iowa sun, and not much else. These memories are mired in the alcoholic quick-mud of the 80s. They’re everywhere and nowhere.

It’s time to go. I walk back to my car and an old man, in his nineties, is seated inside on the passenger side.

 

“You look just like Mike Scheck,” he says. “He was my best friend.”

I’m not really surprised this old man is here. When your mind is a puzzle you look for pieces to fit, and sometimes the pieces look for a mind to fit into. “Uncle or Grandpa?” I asked, for my oldest son is named Michael Scheck, I have an Uncle Mike who died when I was seven or eight, and my Gramps was Mike Scheck.

He struggles with the question and I let him. “Oh. Your Uncle Mike, Michael Scheck, who died of brain cancer in ’72. Your Grand-father, Michael Scheck, who died in ’70. You were a little kid, no higher’n my belly button. Remember seein’ you and your fambly at the funeral. Little tow-headed rowdy scamp, you were. You didn’t look nuthin’ like yer Daddy or Uncle or Gramps but yer the spittin’ image now. Amazing.” He gasped from the effort of spitting out all those words. “Used to get drunk with your Gramps. I was pitchin’ shoes with’m the day he died.”

I drove away from the ghost stadium. “I don’t know if my memories are genuine or not,” I said. “All I have are fragments.”

“Memory is funny, I would know, I guess. Here, this is my stop, thanks fer the ride, sleep on it, they’ll come,” he said. He glided out and his feet didn’t seem to touch the hot cement. I thought I saw right through him, figuratively, literally, both, or neither. “Stay away from whisky.”

“What’s your name again?” I asked, as he walked into a place called “Fourth Street Tavern.” As far as I could remember, this place was torn down when I was sixteen, in 1979. If he were a ghost, it fit that he would frequent a joint like that. Gramps drank here throughout most of the years he flitted in and out of the fabric of our lives like a sewing needle.

“Riley,” he called. “Riley Townshend. I’ll tell your Gramps his grandson Teddy said hello.”

 

Digesting all this, or perhaps psychologically vomiting it into where stuff like that went, I headed out of sepulchral Davenport and uphill to Bettendorf.

MiddlePark Lagoon used to be an ordinary farm pond. Around the time Grampa Mike Scheck died, this pond was drained. What a sight it was to see the water pour out of the drainpipe, into the drain which ran beneath the road, and into Duck Creek. I remember spotting a bike of mine that had been stolen (I actually rode it into the pond and reported it stolen so as not to get into trouble).


© Copyright 2017 Jeff Eberline. All rights reserved.

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