The distance between Greenville, South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina stretched the way time and miles so often do when you want to compress it. The first half hour, the occupants of the Carnes van passed in relative silence with the exception of Millie and that confounded cell phone. Amanda, the runaway child, had been found alive. Ryan sighed in unison with the others, but resented the child’s interference into his parents’ lives. He still bristled remembering her attitude and lack of truthful communication during their single phone conversation.
He noticed Millie sniffled a few times when she relayed the good news to Sharon. Ryan watched the road from the passenger side next to Barry, who drove. He felt somewhat more connected to Barry simply because neither of them had been responsible for letting their feeble elderly parents take off on a joy ride across the southeast. The guilty parties rode behind their elder siblings.
Ryan hated symbolism—a major point in the demise of his late but not yet buried marriage—but at the present could not help but relish the fact that the sane Carnes offspring were at the helm. Barry was pilot and he was co-pilot though he wished that those roles were reversed since Barry drove like—what was it his mother had always said when they’d get stuck behind a slow driver—like a little old lady out for a Sunday afternoon drive.
Momma had a bit of a lead foot, Ryan remembered. She hated wasting time getting from one point to the next. The thought brought a half smile to his mouth. Barry obviously hadn’t gotten his driving preferences from Momma. An unplanned chortle escaped.
“What’s funny?” Barry asked. Ryan glanced his way. There he sat perfectly erect, hands at ten and two, eyes straight ahead. Ryan’s chuckle swelled to a hoot, which thanks to years of university classrooms he managed to reel in quickly.
“Momma didn’t teach you to drive, did she?”
“No, I was one of the first students in Driver’s Ed classes, why?”
“Because you drive like a little old lady on a Sunday afternoon and Momma never did.”
Barry started to sputter in his defense but Andrew broke in from the far back.
“That’s for sure and she didn’t slow down as she got older either. She about scared me to death one time about 8 or 9 years ago. She insisted on driving herself into town to a doctor’s appointment, but Millie insisted that one of us needed to go with her, because even then she was having some trouble remembering things.”
“I offered to go,” Millie interjected.
“Well, anyway, I went. I got into the car and before I hardly had my foot inside and the door closed, she hit the accelerator. We bounded backwards so fast that I barely had my seatbelt on when she whipped out of the driveway onto the road and I swear to you never checked over her shoulder or in the rearview mirror.
Soon as we hit the road, she dropped it from reverse to drive and hit the gas again. I remember saying something like ‘Momma, slow down, we’ve got plenty of time.’ She gave me one of her ‘Momma looks’ straight from childhood memories. You all know the one—‘be quiet or you’ll be out walking, young man.’”
The van erupted with laughter and “Momma-isms” from the four siblings, Peggy’s husband, Davis and Millie. The convergence of memories from childhood to the present produced the strongest ambiance of family they had experienced in years. With the atmosphere relaxed, even Ryan sensed a change of his own attitude. His years at Princeton served as a buffer between who he had been as a child and the person he pretended to be on a daily basis.