Posted on September 3, 2015
When I was in Grade Ten, we moved suddenly from Alberta, Canada to Mississippi, driving the Merry Miler across wide, empty provinces, and traffic-filled states. There were six of us: my younger sister Nance and me, our parents, and two tiny new sisters.
My mother scouted out the next RV Park in a giant guidebook, while she and my father listened to serious music on the radio. They were both musicians.
At night Nance and I sauntered around the grounds, thinking we were brand new. When we found boys our age we skipped the shyness because even if you never saw him again, hitting it off was better than standing there, tongue-tied and wishing. The next morning Nance and I would beg for a later departure, another sortie, but our father would start the engine and we’d ride off like cowboys on fresh horses.
Our mother kept things up in The Merry Miler like she did at home. There were petunias in a vase she’d super glued to the Formica table, fluffy towels in the water closet, Irish linen curtains on the windows.
Every night she served stews or soups heated in small pots on the miniature stove. We’d thrown our own going-away party for our friends and not everyone came, so there were plastic forks and knives left over, stacks of turquoise plates, and yellow napkins that stunk of dye. She poured iced tea into party cups, set lemon slices on a plastic plate.
At first the Merry Miler felt magical and compact, like a dollhouse, and then it turned into a sardine can. Nance and I were tired of noticing the scenery. Instead, we prayed for the tiny sisters to sleep so we could take long, depressed naps on the narrow beds that pulled down from the ceiling, and wonder where we’d end up.
We stayed an extra night at an RV park in Tennessee called The Whispering Lake. My mother had talked my father into one more day because we had a front row view of the clear, still water.
“The air smells fresh here,” she said.
We barbecued in the pavilion, grilled hamburgers, steamed corn on the cob in tin foil. Nance convinced our father to rent a canoe and paddle with her even though he was afraid of water.
I walked up on my mother crying under a pine tree, drinking the scotch she stowed in her luggage.
In the morning my father disconnected us from the sewer line and unplugged us the electrical outlet that came with every parking space.
Driving through Georgia, my parents argued about Phillip Glass. Einstein On the Beach had just played on the radio.
“He keeps the chorus singing around the same notes,” my mother said.
“They aren’t the same notes,” my father said. He took his eyes off the road to explain. “The music is circular, a repeating cycle that delays resolution. He’s adding and subtracting, based on formulas, and you never hear the same phrase twice.” The motor home drifted right onto the shoulder but the death strips got his attention.
“His work is dour, restless,” my mother said. “He gets on my nerves.”
My father said, “That’s because you listen with your skin, not your brain.”
I walked to the front, crouching low to talk to them in their captain’s chairs. “Mississippi is a swamp,” I said to the side of my father’s face. “Whose decision is this to live here?”
“Ours,” my mother said, “Sit down, now. Eat some breakfast.”
“How about you find our music on the dial?” Nance piped in from the back. “That classical stuff is boring.”
“Classical is a period, not an adjective,” our father said.
“Read,” my mother said, over her shoulder. “A book, not a magazine.”
They drank coffee my mother had brewed in the espresso pot, and split the plate of buttered toast on the console between them.
Not hungry, Nance and I stared out the back window at the long line of cars behind us. They were waiting for the road to straighten out so they could pass.