I’m eating ice cream. There’s a train rolling beside my car while I drive through a bright green Southern Missouri. The highway runs alongside miles of railroad.
God, I love trains. Always have. As a boy, I used to imagine they were giant monsters.
My bloodhound, Thelma Lou, stands, staring out the window.
I hit the gas and race the train. It doesn’t take much to outrun it—the train isn’t moving fast. But when we overtake the engine, Thelma Lou goes crazy.
So this is our Great American Road Trip. For weeks, I’ve been seeing the best of the Lower Forty-Eight.
Missouri, for instance, is magnificent this time of year. I pass farmhouses, oaks, crooked creeks, and hayfields which stretch toward the horizon.
We eat lunch at a roadside place called Uncle Rooster’s in Seymour. There is a ten-foot tall chicken in the parking lot. The waitress calls my wife and me “Sugar.”
When I’m finished, I feel like I’m digesting a few bricks.
After lunch, an antique store. My wife and I walk the aisles and sift through trinkets, belt buckles, snuff tins, and model trains. A cat named Henry Ford brushes himself against my legs.
“Why’d you name him Henry?” I ask the old man behind the counter.
“Why the hell WOULDN’T I name him Henry?”
Welcome to Missouri.
I drive another hour. Then, pull over to play with my bloodhound in an alfalfa field. Hide and seek is our game. She barks while I chase her.
And we drive more.
We get carried through towns that have dried up. Mountain Grove is one such community. The town square is there, but most of the storefronts sit vacant.
I pull over to buy some more ice cream at a McDonald’s.
And suddenly we’re in Arkansas. I lift my legs when we cross the state line into Hawg Country.
Driving is all we’ve been doing these last weeks. I’ve driven the West, the Midwest, the South, and whatever Texas is. I’ve seen ten states altogether.
But this trip wasn’t a vacation, per se, it had reason. I wanted to see things from a childhood that doesn’t even feel like it was mine. It wasn’t a pretty childhood, I’ll admit, but it belongs to me, and I’m ready to own it.
I can hardly remember the train-loving, cowboy-obsessed child in my mother’s photo album. He’s a foreigner to me. I can only remember a child whose father did something morose and awful and stained many lives in his aftermath.
Sorry. I don’t mean to get poetic on you. I’m just trying to flower up the language instead of saying it outright.
I’m no poet—as you can tell. In fact, the best poem I ever wrote was about ice cream. It was more of a song, actually, written to the melody of “The Chicken Dance.”
“In the day I feel the need,
“To eat myself some cold ice cream,
“So I eat until I’m sick,”
(Clap, clap, clap, clap!)
“In the night I feel the urge,
“To have myself an ice cream splurge,
“So I eat until I’m sick,”
(Clap, clap, clap, clap!)
I was eight when I wrote that.
At that age, the whole world looked new. Trees were bigger, distances were greater, locomotives were pure magic, and adults were always right.
I got older. I learned that childhood trees aren’t tall. Locomotives aren’t that fast. And adults only pretend to be wise.
But I miss the little boy who wrote poems. I missed him so much I took this trip just to find him.
I visited his exact farmhouse. And I stood in front of the exact tree he used to climb, just behind the chicken coops. The same branches he used to sit on. The same place he used to cry his eyes out. And I said to him:
“Life gets better than this, son. Just wait. Sadness can’t last forever. It just can’t.
“There’ll come a day when you’ll be on a desolate Southern Missouri highway, and you’ll look out your window and realize, ‘HEY! LOOK! I’M RACING A TRAIN!’
“And no matter how powerful that train is; no matter how many tons it weighs; no matter how earthshaking the whistle; no matter how monstrous the steel wheels; no matter how big and mean it looks; you will outrun it.”
You will. And you already have.
Now take my advice, son. Come down from that tree.
And go get some ice cream.
Jack Quanstrum - June 14, 2018 6:19 am
Love your story and it’s culmination! Keep on trucking!
Nancy - June 14, 2018 9:45 am
Thank you Dear Sean for sharing this journey with us!
Karen - June 14, 2018 10:54 am
When my daughter was 34, her husband died suddenly, and unexpectedly. She was about 3 months pregnant with her second child, and her son was three. When I saw her running through a field, seven months pregnant, trying to get a kite in the air for her son, I knew she was going to make it. Your story reminds me of that time. I love your stories. They make me laugh and they make me cry, but mostly they ring true. Their authenticity is what makes them great. Thank you for that.
Jack Darnell - June 14, 2018 11:45 am
We moved to Missouri in 1959-60. I raced a train at night but it was running north and South. A boy ain’t much of a boy that don’t like trains or at least count cars….. Good stuff, I truly enjoy your writing!
Gary Jensen - June 14, 2018 12:12 pm
Poetry thru and thru! And so damn beautiful too! Thanks for taking us along. I love road trips, especially with windows down and grinning dogs…
Bobbie Lovell - June 14, 2018 12:22 pm
I think you are ready to heal
Congratulations. You have regurgitated the bad and can how live with the good.
Nancy Williams Laird - June 14, 2018 12:25 pm
I’ve wnjoyed your road trip, and I’ve been to rooster’s. But if you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you need to learn how to use pronouns.
The waitress calls my wife and I “Sugar.”
THIS IS WRONG.
You wouldn’t say “the waitress calls “i” ….
You would say ‘the waitress calls ME.
Therefore, you should say “my wife and me.” Always remove the other person’s name and see if the sentence sounds correct. If it dosnt, it’s wrong.
Melanie - June 15, 2018 2:32 am
Bless your heart.
LARRY WALL - June 16, 2018 3:46 pm
Nancy, didn’t your mother teach you not to criticize someone else until you are perfect yourself? Get real and learn to proofread your own work.
Celina Branton - August 11, 2018 8:02 am
Nancy Williams Laird: That is exactly the way I was taught in school in Rome, GA! My teachers gave examples to use in order to take the guesswork out of word usage, and your way is her way 100%. Thank you!
Aaron - August 11, 2018 12:21 pm
What about “wnjoyed”? Is that a correct useage of anything? Asking for a friend.
GeeGee Chandler - June 14, 2018 12:26 pm
Treat yourself when you come through Memphis. Go to the Peabody Hotel lobby, order a drink, and watch the people. It is a historic hotel full of personality. Then, walk across the street a short way down an alley and eat the best BBQ in the world at the world famous Rendezvous. I know you know we are the home of the Blues and the home of Elvis.
theholtgirls - June 14, 2018 8:44 pm
If you do come through Memphis, I’ll treat you to 2 other favorites here: Jerry’s Sno-cones and Gibson’s Donuts (Gibson’s is open 24/7 – ANY time is perfect for a donut!)
Thank you for allowing us to journey with you. You’ve come a long way, and many of us are proud of you, Sean. <3
Lylabeth King - June 14, 2018 12:36 pm
Sean, I have no words. Just want you to know that I’m proud of that little boy and who he became.
Laurie Ulrich - June 14, 2018 12:53 pm
Interesting that, in the writing in which you claim to not be a poet, you use the strongest metaphor I can recall. A poet in spite of yourself.
Jennifer Turner - June 14, 2018 1:05 pm
but did you go through mountain view? we went to the Bean Festival by mistake a couple of years back. the beans were alright (needed salt), but the mountain music was truly amazing. the whole.town turns into a jam session. you guys would love it.
Pat - June 14, 2018 1:24 pm
A childhood spent wondering the Midwest and South. An unspeakable darkness surrounding your father figure. My childhood was the same. My best friend was the long rows of corn fields wizzing by as I watched from the car window. I imagined the rows were long legs of the kind gentleman who followed me and watched over me wherever I went. I have often wanted to revisit all those roads and towns as you have, but thought that would bring more sadness than satisfaction.
Amy - June 14, 2018 1:28 pm
Thank you so much for taking us on this trip with you and Mrs. South and Thelma Lou. I feel like we’ve all learned things. It’s been an honor.
Edma B. - June 14, 2018 1:30 pm
You make me think back to the memories of my childhood. It makes me happy. That wonderful little boy has grown up into quite a remarkable man. Buy him another ice cream. And have a super day, hugs, Edna B.
Jeanie C. - June 14, 2018 1:35 pm
Closure is near. You are a good person and you are somebody. Never believe anything different. Jeanie C.
Sharron P - June 14, 2018 1:50 pm
I love the little boy you were but I am very proud of the man you have become. I know you are not my son but I feel the same pride as I do when my sons share their accomplishments. Your have learned lessons some of us take much longer to learn. I want to thank you for sharing your life, your perceptions, and your outlooks with all of us who don’t have the gift of gab or the ability to put words to paper as you do.
Barbara Pope - June 14, 2018 1:56 pm
Chuck Gerlach - June 14, 2018 1:56 pm
I once went on a side trip to “go back”. What an eye opener and a huge disappointment. “Going back” just didn’t work. I liked the childhood I remembered MUCH BETTER than the one I tried to revisit.
Clark Hining - June 14, 2018 2:09 pm
My father did something similar to what your father did. Only he did it with alcohol and it took a lot longer. I don’t really know when he succeeded, I just know one day I realized my father was gone and someone else had taken his place. I remember a dream I had when I was about 10 years old of him taking off in an airplane and leaving me on the runway.
Your writings of late have helped me somewhat and I’m thankful for your insight. I have returned to Colorado with you if only vicariously. Your Kansas trip could have been my Iowa trip. Floris, Iowa…don’t blink your eye though, you’ll miss it.
Keep on writing Sean and I’ll be right here with you.
Clark, Carrollton, Ga.
Connie Jones - June 14, 2018 2:21 pm
What a great journey you’ve had…you are awesome Sean!! You restore my faith in mankind every day. You are a blessing to me and many others! Hope you have some ice cream today!
beverly thomas - June 14, 2018 2:52 pm
So enjoy your posts! A good friend of mine shares them with me. Pls add me to your list.
Deborah - June 14, 2018 3:54 pm
You speak of the lands that I love. As always, you tell the story as it should be told. Thanks for your words.
Deborah Gibbs - June 14, 2018 6:08 pm
I love you’re stories, but your driven me crazy! Check out the correct use of “I” and “me”!!
The waitress called my wife and me “Sugar”.
Judy Luxton - June 15, 2018 2:13 am
“You’re driving me crazy.” ….. Just sayin’
LARRY WALL - June 16, 2018 3:58 pm
PLEASE!! What are you, the English teacher or just a wanna-be? Bless your heart!
Susan Bailey - August 11, 2018 8:03 am
Deborah Gibbs maybe you need to learn the difference in “you’re” and “your”. I love your stories, but you’re driven me crazy!
Pat - June 15, 2018 12:04 am
My mother died several years ago…she was 80 and I was devastated as most of us are. I got back into my rut quickly (still working) just trying to be like I was. 2 weeks later I was walking down the hallway at work and realized I was humming! I knew then I would be OK. Still think of her often and the impulse to call her still hits me. But I think of the good times, funny times, times that she did so much for others. It helps! Sean you can do this!
Judy Luxton - June 15, 2018 2:15 am
I JUST ate at Uncle Rooster’s for the first time last week. Best fried chicken!!!!
Debbie Anderson - August 11, 2018 1:02 pm
I loved reading this one! Just a little breeze ruffling that curtain, showing the healing that comes from looking on the other side.
On another note… It is never our job to correct someone’s grammar when we are neither the parent nor the teacher! But stay smug y’all!
Steve Winfield - August 11, 2018 3:23 pm
I liked it just the way you wrote it. So there.
Fran - August 12, 2018 12:35 am
My husband grew up.in Missouri
Char Upton - August 9, 2019 12:47 am
Uncle Rooster’s is closed now… sugar. But the good news is that’s only 30 mins from us and when y’all come for a visit you and Jamie (and Thelma Lou) can stay with us! Where in Missouri did you start out?