Dharma Remembered (Thanks Kerouac)
by Jade Leone Blackwater
The summer of ’56 my folks packed me and stuff Ma deemed critical into our woodie for the long ride south to our new home in California. Pa drove quietly with one sun-scaled hand on the wheel while the other dangled its habitual cigarette, the adjoining arm’s elbow planted firmly out the window, calluses cutting the wind.
Ma ground her teeth while engaged in her favorite pastime of merciless-stranger-speculation: “See how she’s limping? Drunk! That child she’s carrying? Gonna meet a sorry fate with the business-end of a trailer truck!” “Look at that toothless old fool. Bet he had it comin’ with an ugly face like that!”
Occasionally Ma would punctuate her hypotheses with a swift and penetrating jab of her index finger, usually into Pa’s steering arm or one of my hapless legs. With each poke I would retreat to consider my five-year-old’s-eye-view speculations of the roadside specters: “That lady looks determined. Maybe she got away from somethin’ sad. She’s marching with her baby to a new life.” “That old man looks happy. Maybe he’s a silly granpa who teases kids with crazy stories.”
Twenty miles inside California we spotted a leather-skinned man thumbing opposite traffic along the shoulder, his left hand hooked around a poorboy of red wine, his gaze empty, knowing. Pa slowed; maybe he was curious about the stranger. Ma receded into silence; we coasted past the man walking stiff as a mountain as he babbled like a river, his mouth twisting in a saintly smile.