The Drive Home

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Dec 24, 2005 10:20 AM

I was in the car all day yesterday, driving from D.C. to N.C. for Christmas. I'm just recovering my voice. I love to drive. I love to sing when I drive. If you've ever caught a girl in traffic dancing and singing into a cellphone microphone, that's me. I'm that girl.

I used to worry about getting caught, but then I realized that when I got caught mid-Beyonce-lyric, it made the person in the car next to me laugh. Laugh. In traffic. And that's a pretty cool thing to see, so I don't worry about getting caught anymore. I did a cost-benefit analysis, and my slight embarrassment is worth seeing that.

I sat in traffic for a couple of hours out of D.C. It seems everyone was going South, because the other side of 95 was motoring. Not that I can blame them. I was wearing a tank top and riding with the windows down all day.

I listened to the radio. I almost always listen to the radio, which I know makes me so very early-20th century. I own CDs, but I like to be surprised.

Surprised by that Rascall Flatts song about a young girl with cancer, which makes me think of my young friend Amber who didn't make her 16th Christmas. Surprised by that Bob Seger song I heard the morning of my high-school graduation when I put my cap on my head and looked in the mirror at someone who was just a bit more grown-up than when the song began. Surprised by that moment when exactly the song you've been wanting to hear comes on.

I love those moments. You don't get them when you pick each CD, pick each song you hear. Maybe you can get that from putting your iPod on shuffle, but I don't know about that because I don't have an iPod...yet (please, Santa?).

The drive was beautiful. Rows of Loblolly pines line the highway. The late afternoon sun gets caught behind them. It reaches between the trunks as you drive past, flashing warm on your face, licking right up under the bottom rim of your sunglasses.

I stop at a little country gas station near the Virginia/North Carolina border, in one of those border towns that takes its status seriously by calling itself Virgilina or some other colorful hybrid.

They don't take credit cards on the pumps, but they do take them at the lunch counter inside, which, as is the case in many small towns, serves the best food around. Fresh fried chicken and collards behind greasy glass, warm on your palms.

But I don't eat there. I just stop for a Coke and say hi to the cheery, elderly woman at the cash register, who is as unconcerned about her cigarette smoke offending you as she is about her slightly raspy, "Merry Christmas, hon!" No Happy Holidays and non-smoking sections in this eatery.

I don't eat there because I wait until the first Bojangles. It's a regional chain fast-food restaurant-- chicken 'n biscuits. I buy fries and the biggest sweet tea I can get. It’s called a JumBO. Get it? A JumBO from Bojangles.

The fries are so unlike standard fast-food fries, it's not even fair to put them in the same group. But we haven't thought of a whole new name for Bo's fries yet-- we just call them Bo's fries and trust that everyone who's had them understands. It's the same thing with my mother's pancakes, which are soiled by the implication that other pancakes can hang with them. We'll have those otherworldly pancakes on Christmas morning.

After Bojangles, a few more memories, a few more surprising songs, and I'm home. A sign reads "Welcome" and "Pardon Our Construction." I've always liked that we have such polite street signs. Another of my favorites is, "You May Want To Think About Yielding Now, Darlin'." We have those, too.

I pull into my parents' driveway. My brothers' cars are on the back lawn, where they're unloading presents and dirty laundry from college. The sun is impossibly big, orange, setting behind the magnolia tree in our front yard, making the glossy leaves gleam-- almost glow-- as I walk inside to join my family.

I love driving home.

I pray all of you who are traveling get home safely this Christmas, and with as much fun as I had. I'll be back on politics later, but I wanted to tell y'all that first.