Saturday, August 11, 2007

37; '69

I'm driving a particular stretch of highway with my father and he tells me the story he's told me at least a dozen times before, how he was coming down from the airport, degree in hand, for his first job interview after graduate school. He's driving a rented car, or someone else is driving him, or else he takes the shuttle. What's important is that he's young, a year older than I am now. What's important is that heretofore, his prospective home state has borne out every prejudice he's ever harbored. It is flat; it is anonymous; it is aggressively middle-of-the road.

He comes to a particular stretch of highway. There's a rise, only a gentle one, but the car noses upward and the trees break open and the green spreads, pooling on the shoulder and the verge and the asphalt and the pedals of the rented Chevrolet. My father crests the hill, considers accepting the job.

But we're already past the place where the road does its trick. We're past the story I've heard a dozen times before but could listen to thirteen more. My father accelerates through the wrap-up, barrels out the other end with another story, a new one. It's the kind with no weight, the kind that, if you rested it on your palm, would leave only the slightest of indentations. It is, in fact, the story of a story: two or three years after my father takes the job, his first and last, he goes out to the country to visit a friend of a friend. The man takes my father around his property, points to a spot of boggy ground. And that's where my uncle Hiram tripped, the man says. That's where he lay twitching until they found him.

The man goes on doing that, pointing out a place, pointing out the corresponding place in his personal topography, the one that overlays the ridges and the creek beds and the stretches where the land sags flat. It's a palimpsest, or a groove: layer over layer or touch after touch. He does that until my father leaves, divorces, marries, forgets, comes home.

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