Towards the end of what felt like a very long day, we came down the east side of a gradual mountainside in Virginia. Trees lined the highway, a sea of ash brown interspersed with the occasional drooping evergreen. The sun set behind us, pushing the bus’s shadow far in front of us, all the way into eternity.
North-facing banks held up a thick layer of snow – the south-facing banks looked soggy and water-logged. It was like driving the line between two seasons.
Sammy and Abra slept in their bunks. Cade and Lucy read quietly at the back of the bus. Maile wrote at the dining table just behind my right shoulder.
One of my favorite songs came on, Tom Petty singing a slow version of “King’s Highway”:
Oh I await the day
Good fortune comes our way
And we ride down the king’s highway
* * * * *
Off to the right side of the highway something came into view just under the drifting shadows of the evergreens and planted firmly in the midst of the snow. It was one of those roadside memorials, mounds of flowers lying in bunches and handwritten notes stapled or tacked to a white, handmade cross.
In an instant, was the thought that went through my mind. Those things happen in an instant.
But as the bus drew closer and then flew past the marker, my last glance caught sight of a hand-painted sign attached to the bottom of the cross. It was one word, in neatly painted black letters on a white background. Just a name.
* * * * *
Later during that drive, Sammy, my 2-year-old Sammy, came wandering up the aisle in the bus and sat with Maile at the table. He leaned over the back of the booth, looked forward through the bus’s huge windscreen, sucking his thumb and holding on to his blanket.
“You drive the bus?” he asked me. He always asks that.
“That’s right, buddy. I’m driving the bus.”