It was a long day’s journey that took me to Georgia for my grandson’s wedding. Though journey doesn’t seem like the right word for it. When I was packed into the middle seat of an airliner I remembered John Ruskin’s words, “Modern traveling is not traveling at all; it is merely being sent to a place, and very little different from becoming a parcel.” Ruskin died in 1900 – what could he possibly have experienced that would compare with what Economy ticket holders a hundred years later suffer?
I had even bought extra legroom, to help me cope with the middle seat stress, but the two men on either side of me had broad shoulders and muscular arms, and made me wish for extra elbow room. Still, I didn’t have much to complain about. I was not uncomfortable, my traveling companions did not smell bad, and I always love having all that time to read my book.
Before we had left the ground, the 20-something man by the window finished eating a hamburger, put away his wrapper and was asleep within a minute. I know he was out because he was jerking in his sleep and bumping my arm. I was amazed.
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. At seven that morning I’d taken the airport bus from my town, so that I could leave my car at home and thereby prevent a good bit of stress. On that first part of my trip I did not read my book, because I had a surprisingly agreeable seatmate. Ideally, I would have chosen to sit alone with my novel, but it appeared sharing was necessary, so I moved over and the gentle woman sat down.
She didn’t talk loudly or fast or constantly, but we had quite a bit of conversation over the next two hours — about how she travels with Habitat for Humanity building houses, what tomatoes we grow in our gardens, about beekeeping and raising worms. I learned many things from her, and she was a calming presence.
“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” ~Cesare Pavese
What makes me plan a trip these days is always the desire to be with family or friends. But in cases like this, in the process of getting to my people I have to spend many hours surrounded by and dependent on strangers. The people themselves I haven’t found to be brutal or untrustworthy; of course, many of them are employed specifically to be helpful to the traveler. But the system, the schedules, the invasions of privacy that are supposed to keep us safe — they are brutal for sure. This trip, I wore jeans so that I wouldn’t have to be patted down, but at the Atlanta airport I was thoroughly frisked anyway. Yes, there is a lot that feels dehumanizing. But can our humanity really be reduced so easily?
I won’t put off any longer telling you more about the wedding of “Roger and Izzy.” It was lovely, so simple and unfussy, you would have thought it was a 60’s wedding, if not for the many cameras and cell phones and even a drone! (But no professional photographer) In some ways it was an unusual and fun wedding, but the traditional service was performed solemnly in the name of the Holy Trinity by a white-haired preacher who might have come out of a storybook, the picture of a Southern Country Gentleman.
We were a small but joyful and festive group, and quite charmed by the setting, a family chapel in the middle of a vast green field. It was perfect for this event even though it has no electricity or plumbing!
A New Southern style restaurant dinner was our post-wedding celebration, and the food was excellent. Instead of cake the couple had decided to serve a southern favorite that I had never heard of: Fried Pies. They were bought elsewhere and the restaurant let us bring them in to eat for dessert.
It’s a rare dessert that I don’t finish eating, but I tried a peach pie, and the next day on my trip home a pecan pie, and I could not find one thing to enjoy about them. They were super sweet and bland, and the pastry was like thin cardboard. I have to ask you Southerners, Do you suppose these are truly like your grandma used to make?
After the wedding the guests along with the newlyweds enjoyed hanging out by the Chattahoochee River (don’t you love to say that?) for a few hours total, in the afternoon and again at dusk. The young people played an impromptu game of “Ninja,” which required no props and brought on lots of laughter. I didn’t try to understand the rules.
The groom’s sister, my granddaughter Maggie, had brought her ukulele across the country to play the processional for the wedding, and down by the river in the evening she plinked out some more tunes, which two of her brothers sang along with. She and her new sister in their sleeveless dresses had gotten chilly by this time and were wearing her brothers’ sport coats.
They were singing “Here Comes the Sun,” though the ball of fire had left the sky for the night. I could only think of the marriage of Roger and Izzy being like a warm sun that had just risen, to brighten and energize their lives from now on.
Sunday dawned much later than I woke up, evidently totally whacked-out in my inner clock. It was another day of bus-airport-airplane-airport-airplane-airport-bus — then home! That does sound like the schedule for a parcel, doesn’t it? But I had a sweet encounter at the Atlanta airport, which probably shored me up against the frisking that came after.
I had quite a bit of time before my flight, so I didn’t go through security right away. Instead, I sat in a rotunda that was filled with various groupings of chairs, ottomans and such. It was fairly crowded, but there were free chairs in one area where the occupiers looked fairly encamped, either sleeping or just sitting there people-watching. I wondered if they were loiterers who weren’t traveling anywhere. Before I chose a seat I made eye contact with one woman who seemed to be watching me, and she returned my smile. Later as I was reading my book I heard her snoring a little behind me.
When I got up to leave I glanced back at her and we smiled at each other again. I walked away and swung my backpack up on to my back — but it seemed to get hung up somehow on my sweater between my shoulder blades. I sat down somewhere else and tried to shift it this way and that but I couldn’t get it situated or unsnagged. When I tried to take it off I was afraid I was going to rip a hole in my sweater. Of course I couldn’t see what was going on back there.
Then I thought of the friendly woman in the rotunda, and I returned and approached her where she was slouched in her chair, and asked if she would help me straighten out my burden. I kneeled down with my back to her and she gladly fixed it. I still don’t understand what the problem was. When I took off my sweater later there was an odd stretched-out place but nothing was torn. The whole package of me was just fine.
“Most travel, and certainly the rewarding kind, involves depending on the kindness of strangers, putting yourself into the hands of people you don’t know and trusting them with your life.”
― Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star