The road wound endlessly through the grey, fuzzy mountains. I was curled up in the backseat of my parents’ Accord, shifting to avoid the tingling in my feet as they fell asleep ahead of my head.
It would be six more hours to go, and we were going to try to make it through the night. I’d put away my pitiful booklight, squeezing it into my Judy Blume novel in lieu of the bookmark I’d left at home. Exhausted from squinting at the barely-lit page, I tried to sleep by contorting my body around the seatbelt.
My parents were always impressed that I could even read in the car. They got nauseous if they tried it.
We made this trek from Georgia to Pennsylvania every year, usually staying at a Microtel or Hampton Inn in North Carolina or Virginia. I so strongly associated the Microtel logo with relief from the constraints of the car that years later, when it was shown at bar trivia, I was the only one on our team to correctly identify it.
We ate every meal on the road at Cracker Barrel, which meant I was horribly familiar with their battered catfish, fried apples, and warm biscuits. The Cracker Barrels traced the endless highways as the graceless Georgia Piedmont gave way to the gently sloping, then alarmingly dramatic, mountains.
When the “rocks falling” warning signs is always when I knew that we were almost home. Those country roads, as the John Denver song goes. Back to the mountains.
We passed my childhood home, set near the edge of a cliff, with the railroad-lined mountains in the background. The three stories of the house were each painted a different color.
It’s been many years since I’ve seen that house.
Years later, I was kneeling in dusty orange soil at the base of a mountain, combing the soil as tiny fossils spilled into my fingers. My inner paleontology geek was alight with glee as tears spilled from my eyes and sweat from my eyes.
“Those are crinoids,” said my professor, as I rolled the ridged remnants of an ancient organism between my fingers.