Thirty years after my mother’s California journey I took the same bus line toward Colorado’s Rockies. Past giant grain elevators of Enid where nearly half of Oklahoma’s harvested wheat is kept. We passed towns with romantic, historic, sometimes fanciful, names. Stillwater. Fort Supply. Slapout. At seventeen I had never travelled alone nor with strangers beyond about six miles of my home.
Melancholy. Adventure. Tension. The feelings mingled with others. Back home at Preston High my twenty-or-so classmates navigated two modest hallways. I, meanwhile, moved with each passing fence-post, toward a high school larger than I’d ever seen. Greater Denver’s population numbered more than half my state. What’s a big school like anyway? For an outsider entering twelfth grade?
I suspect my father’s stringent measure in sending me here rose largely from fear. Tensions, frustrations, awareness of his own short fuse. He couldn’t risk distancing me more. Ironically, this distance may be a safer, more promising, choice. He could take comfort, too, that I’d be in good hands with his daughter, my sister. Betty. One he knew to be responsible. Neither dad nor the rest of us knew of her struggles in a tough marriage. She and her four little ones – even as I approached Englewood, Colorado. She met me at the arrival depot. We were en route home.
In 1962 fewer than 500 McDonalds restaurants dotted our nation. I entered school right away and took a weekend job at the Golden Arches. I served up fifteen-cent burgers and fifteen-cent fries. Colorado introduced me to stock car racing, pepperoni pizza, moisture-starved nasal passages from the mile-high climate’s dry air. And, to the Cuban Missile Crisis. T.V. anchors drilled viewers with contingency plans. Looping announcements to run through each day. All traffic lanes will become one-way. Taking commuters outward – away from the metro area should evacuation sirens sound.
Somewhere in the mix, my dear sis was there for me. Supplying perspective in nonthreatening ways to her kid brother. Cutting through, patiently, confused tangles of my unsound thinking.
Months in, I somehow received word that my dream-girl had left Oklahoma. I traced a number to Sue and, through an operator, dialed it.
A flat male voice answered. I was standing – my back grazing Betty’s kitchen wall. For a moment I was quiet. I found my voice.
May I speak with Sue?
The male voice went silent. After some seconds she took up the phone.
Sue have you gone back to your home – in your own state?
Are you with him?
Does this mean things are over now?
Yes. (a pause). I need to go now. Goodbye.
Concise. Surgical. Indeed, the raw announcement severed. As with a swift amputation. And minus anesthetic.
I began unraveling. I was, to a degree, unaware of surroundings. Not caring to mask emotion, what followed likely seemed melodrama. Still, I was a wreck – a heap of pre-twenties hormones and misapplied affections. Undone. The wreck slid down the wall. Not having really sorrowed for a good while – mark of my callousing heart – I let flow a torrent. After minutes, when the sobs waned, I was spent. I breathed a long sigh. I took in my surroundings and was relieved that I was still alone.
A clearness of thinking emerged. Slowly at first. The fog of misplaced affections, of contrivances, faded. Giving way to clarity. Tears resumed. But washing tears this time. Truth – deep and rich – seemed to find its footing inside me. Truth – like a homesick reject returning after a long absence. Unresisted. What irony. I softened further and my eyes lifted.
I am so sorry. Tears again.
Added words didn’t seem needed, or expected. I sensed that God wasn’t after a homily, a prayer as such. Just my heart. Responding to grace. To Him.
A deep quiet followed. I savored it a while. Thankfully. So thankful.
Home. The word came as a silent whisper inside. Then repeating itself.
My lame foot had gone to sleep from my position on the floor. I rotated it a little. It stirred. I drew myself up and reached again for the wall-mounted green phone. Yes operator. I need to make a call. Soon a familiar voice was on the line.
I’d like to come home.
Your mother and I are here, son.
It was my best Oklahoma Christmas.
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children,
and the heart of the children to their fathers
– Malachi 4, the Bible
©2015 Jerry Lout