Who knew that two lemon pits and a piece of soap could cause such anguish but it doesn’t take much when you are older, like the dishwasher and I. Teetering close to the edge of center, we were saved by beloved Ali and Sinder. No need to call the Sunday plumber who would have drained our wallet along with the dishwasher outlet pipe.
A late afternoon errand walk is prescribed to clear the cobwebs of dusty tears. A few people are making their way home preparing for week-twelve of their new reality. Even this late, Parkway Greens is restocking produce, and soon my string shopping bag is full. Turning into Camden behind a group of young police officers walking ahead of us, I am anxious, but they stop in front of ‘Five Guys 5 star hamburgers’ and easily join the young people returning from the afternoon’s march all waiting together for their takeout. There is very little traffic. Camden has never looked so quiet since when – probably since the last war years. Most shops would be boarded up, while a few remained open. Then there would have been posters about safely and thrift. Today’s posters are of George Floyd and Sean Rigg. On the last cross street before the Canal a new mural is looking down on us of a young black woman with her hair swept up and the words.
Seems pretty simple really, a modern hip version of the Golden Rule.
Walking slowly home I am thinking back and remembering a road trip I took in 1996 searching for one story and finding another. A friend of a friend, David Grant, was caravanning around the world with his family: his wife Kate, three children, a dog and their horse Traceur. Overwintered in town, Traceur stayed at the farm and the family camped in the caravan up on the Mesa. Most mornings I would find their elder daughter, Ali, curled up in the hay barn asleep or reading. She reminded me of myself, sheltering in such a barn at such an age. Their trip gathered a certain amount of news interest and was good filler for when we were short a war or two. Doing some independent radio I was happy to follow along and record another moment of their journey.
So a few weeks after the Grants headed off I followed, up through Northern California, across Nevada and into bleak and desolate Idaho. Bleak became bare, bare became barren, and then the road the Grant’s had taken turned into ‘Unpaved for 12 miles over the pass.’ I turned the old Honda right onto ‘unpaved,’ driving slowly as the road twisted up a moderate incline for the first 5 miles. Soon the road became rockier, the climb steeper the sides closing into a high canyon and I began to feel nervous. How on earth had Traceur made it up this trail? This was truly tough territory and I began to wonder if I had lost my way.
But suddenly around another corner, just as I was really beginning to doubt myself, the rough road opened up and so did the rock face on my left. Beyond was a large meadow. And in the meadow there were people, and army trucks and what appeared to be a buzzing military camp. I stopped the car in the middle of the road and began, as one does in the middle of nowhere, to think, when suddenly a very fit khaki-clad middle-aged man came running towards me with a rifle over his shoulder. He lent forward and rapped sharply on the car window. I pressed the button and the window lowered. Breathing deeply I summoned my Mother.
“Good Afternoon. I wonder if you can help me.” Pure Home Counties with a smile. He stopped, pulled back a foot and touched his hat.
“Good afternoon, Mam.”
“I’m looking for a family in a horse drawn caravan. Have you seen them? Is this really the road to …”
All the time I was looking beyond him into the meadow trying to take it all in. This was a home-grown militia operation camp, practicing formation drills and target shooting and I had driven straight into it. There was even a visible archery range. If things went wrong I would not be the first or the last to go missing on this mountain pass. Luckily to him, I sounded more like an aspiration than a threat. He stood straighter still and courteously told me that yes I was indeed only six miles from the next town and that he had heard about this traveling family. If that town was where they were heading then they too would be on the road ahead. I thanked him and he touched his hat again. I didn’t ask him what they were doing. A question can become just an invitation to lie and I certainly didn’t want to hear his truth.
The Grant family did finally make it a back to Scotland. I got my story which aired on CBC in Canada. And those men in the Hills of Idaho? Some have grown old, some have died, but their sons still live. Life and a living is hard in Idaho and like many people who are isolated and feel left behind they are frightened. They were – and maybe still are – preparing with the only tools they have and know – calling out for their version of the American dream,
This has been A Letter from A. Broad
Written and read for you by Muriel Murch.