On the Road

When I was 2 and my sister Sara was 1, my mother joined the Army. This was late 1981, early 1982. It never occurred to me until recently how strange a choice it was for a mother of two babies to make, especially in the early 80s.

She went to boot camp in New Jersey and A school in Arizona. We lived with my grandmother for a bit, until that didn’t work out, and then with my dad who was squatting on his cousin’s couch. He planned to take us to Arizona to be near my mom. He built a trailer to haul behind his car so we’d have a place to sleep.

Me and Sara in my father’s arms at the VA/NC border.

He took pictures with us at every state line we crossed. I knew that story. I didn’t see any of the pictures until Sara died in June 2019. My grandmother had this one in a pile of old pictures she brought the week of the funeral.

That trip marked the start of what would be two and a half years of homelessness. Living in cars, motels, with random members of a church they joined. A brief stint back in Maryland, after my mother left the Army, with my grandmother when my second sister was born in mid 1983. The most stable we were during that time was in northern California in a motel called RJs. I have lots of memories of that place. I remember the layout of it. Our room was towards the back the motel complex, on the left. Bottom floor.

I don’t remember that road trip, I was a baby. I hadn’t really thought about it until I saw this picture. I never heard any stories about it except that he took pictures at the state lines. The trailer bit I heard from his cousin at his memorial lunch in June 2018. It was too late to ask my dad about it.

But I think I do remember something.

Willie Nelson’s album Always On My Mind came out in 1982. My mother told me, again recently, that he would play that song to her over the phone when she called from Maryland after my sister was born. Like a lovesick teenager. He loved Willie Nelson. I love Willie Nelson. Always have. He always reminded me of my dad and I could never figure out why. Yeah, they look a little similar. Mainly they are just skinny dudes that look like they’ve lived a rough life. Lots of strung out homeless dudes look like Willie Nelson, or my dad.

I think he must have played that album in the car. Or searched out country stations that played lots of Willie Nelson as we drove cross country. Something early on tied him to Willie and it has to be that trip. This epic road trip with two babies in the back (I hope), singing along with the Red Headed Stranger.

I wish I could remember. I wish I knew enough when he was alive to ask.

I saw Willie Nelson live the night before Sara died. It was an amazing show. His voice wasn’t what he was and he mainly talk-sang. I sang along with tears in my eyes to On the Road again and was so happy he saved his voice for Always On My Mind.

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