Some days driving home is an absolute mind numbing horror. I grind through traffic setting I-90 ablaze with my hatred for the commute and everyone involved. I can’t push the car fast enough. The cattle in front of me can’t get out of my way fast enough. Thoughts of mounting 50 caliber machine guns onto my domestic blue Toyota Camry sedan ricochet in my mind. Delmar O’Donnell reprimanding me, “Oh, George… not the livestock.” Left lane is for the living. The right lane is for the dying. I am Imperator Furiosa. I am Max Rockatansky. WITNESS ME.
But lately – in the soft dusty blue of last light, I find myself thinking about the past. Growing up in Winona. The swirl of memories real and imagined. Flashes of fresh muddy spring air blowing over the Mississippi River as I would reel in fish that my Dad would catch for me high atop of the Wagon Bridge. Summer afternoons spent wasting the day away with my cousins at my Aunt Kathy’s pink house in town, waiting for our favorite MTV video to air. Typically we had SpaghettiOs for lunch. Other times we fried the sunfish we caught earlier in the morning from the lake. My job was to scale them. My brother cut the heads off and gutted them while my sister fried them for us. I can hear our child voices echo and the smoky smell of fried Bluegills in my aunt’s old house, now filled with college renters, hunched over mobile devices. Winters growing up were epic in scale and heavy with large amounts of snow. Images of our kitchen glowing orange in late winter light spending my time sledding before dinner, endlessly tromping up the hill in front of our house. Coming inside when my mom would get home and smelling goulash stewing while my dad would sing snippets of verse from old country legends – Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, and Charlie Pride to name of few.
These visions slide along with the peeling landscape before me as I dumbly pass through traffic on I-90. I’m less annoyed in this reverie than when I’m present, listening to music, and thinking about the mundane details of the day. I stop myself when my heart begins to ache. It’s a real feeling. I chide myself for being sentimental and nostalgic. A narcissistic exercise in futility. I keep telling myself that these are reflections from radiation emanating out of a nearby black hole. The Flat Earthers were right. That the matrix is simply playing out on a screen that we are watching. I quietly sing the chorus to Willie Nelson’s On the road again.
When I start to come down West Burn’s Valley and into Winona (all manner of mythical and woodland creatures following my car trumpeting my return to this beautiful river town, you tell me what is real) I decide that I don’t care about the reality of it. It doesn’t matter. These are memories of a good childhood, a past full of love. Things that we should never forget no matter how long the drive.