Evan Nichols: Gone to Carolina

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Sometimes the best you can do is belt out a few songs while driving the open road. Evan Nichols has this Perspective.

My 87-year-old mom and I drive the wide open fields outside of town. We can’t stop in at any restaurants because she might catch the deadly virus and die. We keep moving though we have nowhere to go.

Right on Road 99? Why not? We’ve got all day. Left on Road 45? Sure! We crane our necks for red barns, infinite fields and the sudden appearance of an almond orchard. She points at huge clouds forming over the mountains. “Wow, look at those!” She turns her head for a sheep or a cow and I supply the word. We pull over to watch the beauty of a horse.

We don’t talk much because she can’t find the words anymore. Words and memories are no longer kind to her, but one thing she has always loved is going for a drive. Cruising a road we’ve taken a hundred times, she’ll remark, “I don’t think I’ve ever been this way before.” Out of nowhere, she’ll suddenly blurt, “We’re really out in the country!”

Mainly, we listen to music, her old favorites. Maria Muldaur sings, “Hasn’t it been a long hard climb? / Everything taking its own sweet time …” and she nods and the fields give way to foothills. We wind through green hills, belting out “American Pie” and when Don McLean croons, “This will be the day that I die,” my mom remarks quietly, “Hopefully not.”

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We turn back toward town and James Taylor croons, “In my mind, I’ve gone to Carolina ...” My mom was born in Charleston and often mistakes my brother and me for her brothers. In some ways, she really has gone to Carolina in her mind.

If I yawn, she asks, “Tired?” and then offers to drive though she hasn’t in years. “I still can, you know,” she adds. I thank her and say I’m fine.

As the sun sets over the mountains, I ask her if she’s tired of sitting in the car.

“Actually,” she says with a laugh. “I’m happy to be out of the house.”

Evan Nichols teaches English and ESOL at Merritt College in Oakland.