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January 23, 2023

Pilgrimage

By Dan Mulhollen

A cool, rainy morning had turned to a sunny late October day. It was now mid-afternoon, and I was riding down a road I hadn't seen in nearly 30 years. Yet County Line Road would cross my mind every few weeks. I still remembered the many times I'd ridden down County Line Road, and was not ready for the changes brought on by years of progress.

Subdivisions with prim, identical houses were built where farms once stood. The old grain and feed store, and John Deere distributor were gone, replaced by strip malls. I felt a little sadness as we passed through a small wooded area. The trees were the right shades of red and yellow, but this was not the nostalgic scene I was hoping for.

We arrived at my aunt and uncle's old house, passing the split-rail fence and entering a circular driveway that surrounded a huge weeping willow . Andrea and I walked from the car to the house. I had told the agent that I was interested in buying the place. Truthfully, there was no way I could afford the property, but wanted just one last look around.

I took Andrea around back to the two ponds. The first was small, a little larger than the house. There were still moss-covered posts sticking from the water; the ruins of a bridge my uncle had built over forty years earlier. Andrea laughed when I mentioned the time I fell into the cold, algae-filled pond.

A small stream, no more than a foot across, trickled along to a much larger pond. I looked into the shallow part and could see a few bluegill swimming around. I could still remember the taste of those small tasty fish, and the delicious aroma coming from the frying pan. It was nice to see the pond still supporting life.

As we walked around the pond, I looked around, at the woods and the short sandy area between them and the pond. "I should have brought my camera," I said, regretting that oversight.

"It is a lovely place," Andrea said, looking around the property.

"Maybe," I said, grinning, "we could finally take some of those nudies we've been talking about."

Andrea chuckled. "You know I'm not 20 any more," she said, putting her arm around my shoulder.

"And I am?" I asked. I looked at Andrea, true, she was no longer the model-thin beauty of her high school and college yearbook photographs. But at 45, she was still a very attractive woman. I had nearly five years on her but neither of us had acquired the modesty that supposedly comes with age. The notion of those pictures was not idle chatter.

"Remember what Molly said her daughter's reaction was to seeing your picture on the club website?" Andrea asked.

"'Who's that old hippy with the cigar?'" I replied.

"'Who's that old hippy with the cigar, and why is he flirting with me?'" Andrea said, correcting my omission. Then she broke out laughing. "You did have a thing for younger women."

I slowly nodded. "I still can't believe there are people younger than me whose kids have graduated college," I said, looking glumly at the pond; the waves gently hitting the shore.

"It took me ages to get used to being called 'Aunt Andi'. Now my nephews and nieces are ready to start families."

"I always heard there was a moment you knew you were an adult," I said looking up at a flock of geese. "I still feel like that moment has yet to happen."

"It happened for me." Andrea said, watching the V-shaped formation flying Southward. "Way too soon; I could have used another good ten years of childhood."

We came to the edge of the woods, and a dilapidated outhouse. "Wow," Andrea said, shaking her head. "That has to go back a way; I"m sure your aunt and uncle had indoor plumbing.

I pointed to a garage maybe thirty feet away. "My uncle converted the garage into an office and workshop. He built this further off so it couldn't be seen from the road -- even back then outhouses were illegal. Personally, I think he just liked doing his business in the woods."

"Interesting family," Andrea said, grinning, kicking around some fallen leaves.

"They were the most sociable of my aunts and uncles," I replied, remembering sitting out on the patio eating barbecued chicken. We passed a little indentation in the side of a hill. "My uncle used to keep bees here. One day my grandmother came running from here screaming; it seemed the bees liked the scent of her hairspray."

"Hairspray," Andrea said, giggling. That was one of several products she'd abandoned since leaving her office job. She also had a corps of stodgy family members she was resisting turning into. "Was she hurt?"

"Just her pride," I replied. "Although she did avoid walking around here after that."

Another five minutes and we had gone all the way around the pond and were standing by the house. Andrea looked at me. "So, do you want to go inside?" she asked.

My mind flashed back to the many Christmas Eves I'd spent inside that house. The many hours I'd spent there talking to people who were no longer living. "No," I said, shaking my head, and walking towards the car. "The only memories I care about anymore are the ones you and I are yet to make."

"Sorry we came here?" Andrea asked.

"Nah," I replied. "I guess this was a bit of a pilgrimage -- something I needed to do."

She nodded her had as she opened the car door. "Thank you for bringing me along," she said, smiling.

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-04-07
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