Today I wanted to continue on the topic from a previous post: memories.
I recently took the fam to do some diamond mining. Woo hoo! See, there’s a place in Arkansas called the Crater of Diamonds State Park. Because it sits atop an ancient volcano, diamonds can be found on the surface; hence, the name.
It is, according to advertisements, the only public diamond mine in the world. Heide learned of its existence years ago while watching Treasure Hunters. To her bucket list was thus added a diamond hunting trip in Arkansas, then, in addition to a sapphire hunting trip in Montana and others.
Hey, it’s just over four hours from our new home in Memphis. We had to go.
Heide’s birthday is in November, and the weekend after is one of the easiest to get into the park with short notice due to its location between the summer – “high” – season, and the winter season. Thus it was that a few weeks ago I put the plans together to enjoy a nice weekend away from the Internet and get our diamond-hunter mojo going.
That’s all worth its own post. This one’s about the drive there.
To get from Memphis, Tennessee, to Murfreesboro, Arkansas, you first take Interstate 40 west, driving across a tall bridge over the Mississippi River and then through Arkansas to Little Rock. From there you jump onto Interstate 30 toward Texarkana.
Somewhere between the Mississippi River and Little Rock it hit me: I’ve been on that route before. It was over three decades ago, mind you, but suddenly memories of that particular stretch of road came flooding back.
I was as excited by the trip back then as I was the more recent weekend. Oh, this weekend we were heading out to find diamonds, and hopefully lots of them, but that other journey long ago was in search of a whole different type of gem: a gem of a lifestyle, one where the days were always warm and the nights always cool, one set in a land of milk and honey (or some might say fruits and nuts), one where Mom could start over in life from the safety of her mother’s home.
Specifically, this Mississippi boy was moving to California. Technically, Mom was moving to California; I and my brother were along for the ride. But what a ride it was.
I’d kept vague memories of Mom talking to truckers on the CB radio as we crossed over a towering bridge, and now I know that it was the I-40 bridge over the Mississippi. That was one of the most exciting times on the journey. It was just the second hour, for one thing – you know, honeymoon phase and all. I hadn’t traveled much; I’d only been west of the Mississippi a few times, in fact.
A grand adventure awaited, we were all certain.
It had to wait a little longer, though. We pulled into Texarkana, which isn’t exactly a huge city, and smelled antifreeze. That was, matter of fact, the first time I found out what antifreeze smelled like when it was outside of the engine. We ended up overnighting there while waiting for a replacement water pump, but hey, nobody had included this teenage boy in the actual plans and so I had no idea it wasn’t a planned stop. It was actually a lot of fun for me; I don't recall the restaurant across the street from the mechanic, but I do remember the nachos platter we ate there. Similarly, I don't recall the hotel we stayed at that was also across the street from the mechanic, but I do remember how much fun it was to spend our first night of our grand adventure there.
New water pump in place, we went on to Dallas, where a set of cousins I'd never met awaited. Home movies--what a kick! They’d recently been to Hawaii, and we got to watch all the videos (done on VHS tapes, which were actually a very new thing, themselves, back then). At the same time I met my second cousin, who’d been some kind of runner-up in some sort of beauty pageant, and boy, was she beautiful. That led to a whole lot of conflicted agony as teenage hormones squared off against ingrained taboos: “but she’s beautiful",“but she’s my cousin.”
We stayed a blissful few days in Dallas and then headed on to El Paso. Again, I don’t remember much there but for the highlights, one of which was learning just how far you can see in the desert air. “Yay, we’re almost to El Paso!” I remember crooning, and my mother explained that the map said we were still nearly a hundred miles away, and then she told me how it is that the desert makes that illusion happen.
Oh, I also remember how we locked the keys in the car at the restaurant in El Paso – Denny’s, I think? I don’t remember the menu or the food so much, but I do remember how interesting it was that the first two people we asked for help happened to know how to break in to a car, both efficiently and effectively.
We made it to SoCal fairly straightaway after that incident. And then came the boiling over – not the car, but the driver. Ever watched somebody who’s used to cruise control follow somebody else who isn’t using it? It’s not something you’d think would be that funny until you’ve actually seen it happen. My mother nearly blew a gasket on the last leg of the trip. We’d stopped off at my uncle’s house, and he led us the last 100 miles or so through Riverside and on in to Upland, where my grandmother lived. Only, he didn’t have cruise control, and every time he sped up or slowed down my brother and I were treated to a few words that I don't recall knowing our mother was familiar with till then.
Funny, isn’t it, the things we remember and the things we don’t?