We left Route 81 and headed into the little town of Strasburg. The streets were much as I remembered them, but the Isis Theatre where I had once spent my leisure time was gone. A fast food place was on the corner where J. C. Hasty’s Café had stood. I could still taste those sage-flavored country sausage sandwiches that Hasty had fed me for fifteen cents after my long walk from Kenny’s Corner.
"I brought you here so you can see what real people are like," I told Jeanie. "Not at all like the I and Me yuppies we have to put up with up North."
She nodded, but said nothing. I could tell she was tired of hearing about the wonderful South.
The Mannerly Hotel loomed up ahead. I parked on the street and we went in.
"Something you should know about eating down here. Tourists all head for the flashy and expensive tourist traps just off the interstate. People who know head for the restaurant in the town’s best hotel. Ends up costing you less and the food and service are so much better."
Jeanie had a concerned look on her face.
"I left my purse on the car seat," she said. "I’ll go and get it."
"Don’t worry about it. Be perfectly safe. The doors are locked. Most people down here don’t lock the door to their house, much less to their car."
The meal wasn’t like I remembered, but it was passable. The bleached blonde waitress with the full speed ahead, chewing gum stance brought us our salads, although she forgot the dressing, but managed to remember the rolls and butter only after we had started on our meals.
I didn’t let disappointment in the meal faze me. After all, I was going to end it with a piece of homemade blackberry pie and vanilla ice cream. When the dessert came, my coffee was half finished and cold, the pie was in a cellophane packet with the name of a Richmond, VA. baker on it. The ice cream was beside the package on the plate. It was chocolate.
"Didn’t have vanilla," the gum-chewing champion offered. "Didn’t think you’d mind chocolate."
I minded. But I didn’t let on in front of Jeanie.
There were shards of broken window glass by the car when we went out. Of course, Jeanie’s purse was gone.
Leaving town I stayed off the better travelled roads so we could see the country.
"That’s where I used to live," I said, pointing to the white house at the top of the hill. "I’m sure the owner won’t mind if I drive up and let you see it close up."
"Doesn’t look as big as I remember it from your stories," Jeanie said.
A burly man in shorts and T-shirt held up his hand and stopped me as I headed into the drive.
"Private property. No trespassers," he growled.
"I lived here when I was a kid," I told him, certain that he would understand.
"You want tourist attractions, the Caverns are two miles up the road."
I backed out of the drive. Jeanie’s silence hurt more than if she had said what I knew was on her mind.
"There’s a turn-off down the road. Takes you to a short-cut over a small creek. I used to catch tadpoles there."
I made the turn onto what was hardly more than a lane. Hundred-year old oaks on either side of the road joined branches above the road and formed a long, green tunnel as far as we could see.
Honeysuckle vines clumped beside the road filled the air with a sweet fragrance. We saw a hummingbird thrusting his long beak into the blossoms to drain the nectar, all the while holding his place with his fast fluttering wings. A sign warned that the creek ahead was not always fordable, but I paid it no mind.
The creek look as I remembered it. I could see the hard pebble bottom of the shallow part of the stream ahead of me.
"I’m going through," I said.
"I wish you wouldn’t take the chance. What if we get stuck in the middle?"
"Never happens. Only time was in rainy season. Jim Green had a farm just over on the other side. When a car got stuck, he’d bring down his mules and pull it out. Tried to refuse the tip the driver offered. That’s the kind of folks live around here." Jeanie frowned, probably remembering the man in the driveway.
Suddenly the car lurched and the motor died. I tried to start it, to no avail.
"Let’s take off our shoes, roll up our jeans and wade out for help."
"You go. I’ll sit here until that man who won’t take a tip shows up."
"Y’all havin’ a bit of trouble?"
A tall grizzled man was on the other shore. He wore hip boots, bib overalls and had the top half of a pair of long-john underwear instead of a shirt.
"Cost you twenty bucks and I ain’t responsible for no damage."
"Twenty bucks? Take you twenty minutes."
"Maybe less. Still twenty bucks. Course you can jest set there and set there ‘til you plumb take root."
I gave in.
"Okay, pull us out."
He brought up a team of four sturdy mules and we were out and on our way.
Back on a real MacAdam road, I pulled into a gas station plastered with metal signs advertising Sweet Society snuff and Red Apple chewing tobacco.
"Fill her up."
"I see you took the shortcut. Will Gillis must’ve pulled you out. Got a hose over to the side. You can wash off the mud so you don’t look countrified. Cost you four bits."
"This Will Gillis. Must have a pretty big farm to support those four mules. I guess I’m lucky he was passing by."
"Ain’t got no farm. Wasn’t passing by. That’s what he does. Pulls four or five out-of-towners from the creek every day."
"That would take less than two hours. What does he do the rest of the time?"
"Works the middle of the creek with a pick-mattock to keep it soft and miry. That’ll be six dollars for gas and one dollar for the hosing."
"You said four bits for the hosing."
"Don’t you want to leave a tip?" he asked with a big grin.
Jeanie still wasn’t saying anything. I knew I had lost.
"You know," I told her, as I headed north at the maximum legal speed, "I’m beginning to like Yankee yuppies."