I recall asking only one question: "You sure you know how to get there?" I asked not only because of Mother's recent tendency to forget where she was, but because she had driven to the cottage by herself just once before, the previous winter, to put camellias on her mother's grave. Though it was only an hour and a half's drive to Kechotan, it was a much longer trip than my mother was used to taking. She had learned to drive only four years before.
"Would you get in the car, Miss Smart Aleck!" She swatted at me with her straw hat. I dropped my book bag inside the front door and did as she said. There was nothing in her manner that made me uneasy. I do recall that she seemed especially happy. I suppose because she suddenly had a purpose, a job, a mission. Though I didn't realize it at the time, the voices that had at first told her to drop my father's shirts off at the cleaners were now telling her that she had been chosen to help serve her country in a secret war. Her mission was to set up a field hospital at the cottage. Hundreds of orphaned children would travel to our cottage at night. We were to treat their injuries and evacuate them to safety.
But right then, getting into the car, I knew none of that. I just sang along with the songs on the radio as we drove out of Virginia Beach. Our dog, Ralph, hung his huge gray head out of the passenger's side window, his drool streaking across the back window of the Beetle. His tail thumped up and down and Emma tried to grab it in her little hands. Our cat, Oliver, dug in under my mother's seat and yowled.
"Good-bye, Oyster Pointe Village," my mother called as we left our townhouse court. "Good-bye, pool. Good-bye, Be-Lo. Good-bye, Tammie Sugarman's house." Good-bye, good-bye. She was ecstatic. I became caught up in my mother's farewell litany and shouted out good-bye to every billboard and hitchhiker and seagull until I was giddy beyond calling.
When we hit the Hampton Roads Tunnel, John Denver was singing "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" and my mother sang louder and harder than I had ever seen, waving her head in the wind, laughing so hard tears squeezed out of the corners of her eyes. Emma was in the backseat, clapping her hands and growling, her latest trick. She sounded like a puppy.
"Here we go, Gingie," my mother announced as we descended into the mouth of the tunnel. I held my breath and began to count to see how long I could last. The car went dark, the radio signal disappeared, and we went under.
Copyright © 2003 by Virginia Holman
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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