Ozzie just finished a trip from Wichita, Kansas to High Point, North Carolina – and back. I am, of course, Ozzie, a pseudonym for my love of adventure and attachment to Kansas.
I had left my home to attend the Fall International Furniture Market which is held twice a year, in April and then in October. As I was born in North Carolina, I look at these biannual trips as a sort of homecoming, a trip from here and now to then and there.
I have been making these trips now for over 20 years. Normally I fly. But flying makes the ground seem surreal like viewing the moon from earth. Everything you see is ethereal. Driving you are at least attached to the earth; to use a cliche, you can stop and smell the flowers. In my case the flowers would be the autumn leaves now falling from the maples, linwoods, and oaks in the Smoky Mountains.
The trip was plotted out by my Garmin – a radial line due east for 1300 miles.
Traveling is now a matter of numbers. A trip is so many miles and so many hours. The several states I would be going through: Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and finally North Carolina became numbers – first Highway 54 in Kansas, then 71 and 60 across southern Missouri, I-24 quickly across the smallest part of Illinois and just a tad longer across western Kentucky, until joining up with I-40 at Nashville across most of Tennessee and all of North Carolina.
I still have cousins living in North Carolina. I should have looked them up, but didn’t. Funny how it is that we are afraid to look up long lost relatives. Cousins are the mirror-images of ourselves we see at the county fair. We have all aged and put on weight, but who wants to look in the mirror and see the change. Better to remember the good old days of youth.
Instead, what I did was to stop in Elizabethton, Tennessee, nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. There I would look up my wife’s long deceased family who had lived in these hills for three generations from 1795 until 1866, before coming out to homestead near Beaumont, Kansas.
From Valentine Vanhooser, through Mattias Van Huss, and then to Valentine Worley Van Huss, there were the scattered records in the Registrar of Deeds’ office and the Probate Clerk’s office.These records seemed more personal than the dry facts of names and ages that are inscribed in the Federal Censuses of 1840, 1850, and 1860. Earlier censuses were destroyed in a fire.
Danial Boone, unhappy with “civilization” blazed the route into Tennessee only 20 years before. Valentine Vanhooser would follow in his footsteps. Transfers of title recorded Valentine Vanhooser’s arrival in 1795, when his third wife, Elizbeth Worley, was pregnant with their third child, Matthias. Matthias prospered and bought more land. His first born son Valentine Worley Van Huss owned land, but for reasons lost in time, Valentine chose at the age of 48 to up and leave with his family of seven and come to Kansas. Valentine, at such an age, should have been thinking of retirement. Of sitting on the front porch watching the sunset, not starting all over again. Such is the spirit of man that he needs to see what is beyond the horizon. On a good day by wagon, their trip east would cover 20 miles of unpaved roads and ruts. The difficulty of terrain assured that the trip was one way.
There are no images of any of the ancient Van Husses. But, judging by the fact that my daughter, my wife and, more so, her father have the features of the Dutch, the face that one sees in any of Vermeer or Rembrandt’s paintings; these Van Husses must surely have had the same sharp noses, strong chins, and dark thick hair, that with age becomes white as snow.
2,936 miles – that’s what the odometer on my rental car read when I return the vehicle a week and three days later. When I got back, I looked up the distance from the California coast to North Carolina’s beaches and it was roughly the same distance as my round trip journey. Of course, the distance varies depending on the cities one chooses, but I choose Los Angeles and Nags Head. The total I got was 2,739 miles, one day 19 hours driving time. I had covered the distance with 200 miles to spare.
When you are young, traveling cross country is a feat of strength. When you are older, it is a feat of endurance. The passage of time, the repetition of travel give a different perspective to something that once was new and exciting, like Columbus crossing the Atlantic for the very first time.
What the trip very quickly becomes is a trip down memory lane. Endless miles and countless hours in the car provide all the time in the world to work out the difficult moments in one’s life. I can’t say at this point that my life has been difficult really. Rather, I would say interesting. Growing up, I was the son of an army officer and moved every year of my life. It wasn’t until I was 33, that I finally put down roots in Kansas.
Traveling along the highway, there is a steady stream of cities passing by with people who one can only imagine, whose lives will never touch your own unless you stop for gas or to stay the night in a hotel. But for the most part we all go on about or daily business not knowing, or caring, what others are doing. But this sense of isolation is only the backdrop for the larger question of how your life has brought you to this moment in time, alone in the universe, attached barely by a thread. The thread being the road you are driving on and the car that you are encapsulated in.
We are all observers of life. Ozzie, who is making this trip to North Carolina, is one of the now 7 billion observers who make up life on earth. And observations can cover not only the here and now, but also the past.
Traveling along the highways and by-ways, I remember my youth and the feeling that will never come back any more – the feeling that I would last forever. Age, as I said, gives one a distant perspective on life. The older you are the further from the action you seem to be. It is as if you got up from your seat on the 50 yard line at a football game and moved higher and higher in the stands.
Youth is deceitful. It is a feeling of joy, peril, love, and adventure that exhilarates the mind and soul. Not knowing what lies ahead makes life enjoyable.
Youth is also impatient. Moments fly by as quickly as the falling leaves of autumn or the towns and cities that dot the highways.
Yet, somewhere in youth stirs a sense of foreboding. In the heat of life, we know that autumn is not far away. And then comes winter. With every year that passes by, and with every trip that Ozzie makes comes the acknowledgement that the ardor of youth grows dim like the summer sun and expires too soon, too soon before life itself.