by J.D. Roth
It’s a beautiful mid-morning in March. The sun is out, filling the world with warmth. The roads and the fields are wet from the overnight rain. Freeway traffic is nonchalant; nobody is racing, nobody is crowding. A strong breeze blows the branches of the trees by the side of the road.
I exit and wind through the Salem parkway. I look at the old familiar places — the Fred Meyer, the industrial park, the gas station — and the new — the Starbucks, the Applebee’s, the new school. I cross the bridge to West Salem, cruise down the highway to Independence.
And as I drive through this lovely stretch of road, I am swept away by the tides of nostalgia. This was never my home, but it feels like my home: the fields, the farm houses, the orchards. That house looks like the house Kim and Ron grew up in (and that Ron is buying from his parents). That field looks like the one next to our house, the one where we used to ride horses and have dirt clod fights. That orchard is like the one that used to stand by the Knopp’s, the one where all the kids would ride bikes and tell stories about Mr. Knopp, who was said to shoot at kids on bikes with his shotgun (loaded with salt).
The entire countryside looks sleepy. It seems slower paced. Since we’ve moved from Canby to Oak Grove, I don’t see this sort of thing much anymore. I miss it.
I stop at my client’s warehouse. We talk about packaging his bottles of fertilizer: two per box or four? With a dividing partition or without? Doublewall boxes or singlewall? Layer pad or no?
When I’m done, I spy a used book store along Main Street. I duck inside. There’s nobody here. The place is filled to the gills with romance novels, carefully categorized: historical romance, futuristic romance (?!?), modern romance, etc. I’m in the science fiction section when a tall red-faced man bursts through the door. He sees me and says, “Can I help you?”
“No thanks,” I say. “I’m just looking.”
“Okay,” he says. He’s breathing hard, as if he had just been running. “I’ll be across the street if you need me. I’ve got to get change.”
I wander back through the shelves. This is an old building. From the outside, it looks as if it were part of the original Main Street, built maybe a century ago. Inside, it doesn’t look much different, except in spots the old floors have been torn up and new floors of particle board have been nailed in place. I wander through the stacks. All of the books are meticulously categorized: cooking, Asian cooking, French cooking, Mexican cooking. Sports-baseball, sports-basketball, sports-football. Within each category, the books are filed alphabetically by author. The person who organized these is a man after my own heart. I’m dying to find something I can’t live without, but I come up empty. I thank the man (who has returned, and is now muttering to himself while looking through a phone book at the front counter) and leave.
I drive across the wide, tall bridge that crosses the Willamette. I used to take this road — River Road — from Salem to Independence on Sunday mornings when I was at college, just for fun. (Here’s a guilty admission: sometimes I would steal a Sunday paper at random from somebody’s mailbox along the drive.) Just over the bridge, on a whim, I take a right onto Riverside Drive. I’ve never been on this road before, but I love it immediately.
The road only follows the side of the river for a short distance before winding away through farm country. Tall oaks tower to my left, on the edge of a blueberry farm. (And what a blueberry farm! Hundreds — perhaps thousands — of blueberry bushes!) This farm gives way to another farm, this one growing some sort of bramble. Blackberries? Raspberries? Beyond that is an orchard, but not a filbert orchard. Cherries? Each tree has many thin trunks growing from a common root.
The road curves next to the base of some hills and I think to myself, “I must be close to Mac and Pam‘s house.” Suddenly there on the left is Skyline Road. I am close to Mac and Pam’s. I take a detour, head up into the hills. In five minutes, I’m at their door, ringing the bell. Nobody’s home, but Dante is looking at me through the windows on the other side of the house — he’s outside the kitchen wanting in.
I leave a note for Mac: “I came to see you, but you weren’t home, so I pissed in your pasture.” I walk down and piss in his pasture.
I drive off, still under the thrall of the warm March sun, still in a reverie. I thrill to the roller-coaster nature of the aptly named Hylo Road. I consider taking back roads all the way to Portland. I opt against it, though, because I have to be home on time today. We have somebody coming to pick up our sod.
Joy arrives on schedule. She’s wearing a yellow Minnie Mouse parka and a smile. “Thanks so much for doing this,” she says. “I’ve got a guy coming with a truck, but he’s coming from Hillsboro, so I don’t know what time he’ll be here.”
We make pleasant chatter as we load the sod into the wheelbarrow and roll it to the curb. There we stack the sod neatly. “If I have to,” she tells me, “I’ll haul it in my car.”
I frown. She has a brand new shiny Toyota sedan. Not only would hauling sod make a mess of her car, but it would also take eight or ten trips. “It’s okay,” I say. “If we haul the stuff to the curb and your guy doesn’t show up, I don’t mind leaving it here until you can come back with a different truck.”
We haul load after load. Joy works willingly, and keeps up a polite series of questions. I’m too focused on the job to ask questions in return, but I answer her amiably. We talk about craigslist (where she found both the sod and the hypothetical truck driver), about gardening, about the weather. We talk about cats. Oliver, a neighborhood cat, comes to say hello.
It begins to rain.
Now we’re working in the cold and the wet. Water streams down our faces. The wheelbarrow is difficult to handle because the ground is slick and because my gloves are slick. The long job begins to wear me down. We’re quieter now, our chatting less frequent. “I sure hope he comes soon,” says Joy.
We’re wheeling the last load to the curb when the fellow shows up. He’s all apologies: rain and traffic. An invisible cloud of cigarette smoke clings to him. He’s a nice guy, too, and the three of us work mostly in silence to load the sod onto his trailer. When the job is done, I unwind the garden hose from its winter home and spray down the tarps and the wheelbarrow.
I am cold. I am hungry. I am exhausted.
When Kris gets home, I tell her that she must take me out to dinner. She calls Andrew and Courtney, and we meet them at Mike’s for burgers and shakes. When we get home, I run a hot bath and then fall asleep in the tub. As I’m getting ready for bed, Kris says, “Well, that was nice of her.” She’s sitting at the computer, checking e-mail. Joy has sent us some gift certificates as a thank you for the free sod. A kind gesture.
I sleep long and hard.
Updated: 08 March 2006