We left at noon on Friday with Benny, my youngest brother, driving. He pulled away from our blue-shuttered farmhouse–the shutters weathered and in need of paint–and started past the row of dusty, dark-leafed lilac bushes that line our gravel lane–and stopped.
“Do you have a bowl in your hands?” He cranked his head and glared at Chad, who sat beside me in the back, frantically chewing some last-minute food. “Take it back in.”
“Why?” “He can have a bowl.” “That’s stupid.” Voices tumbled across each other, all the voices at once. There were five of us siblings packed into Benny’s silver Scion, and we are not accustomed to waiting turns.
“Take it back.” Benny was emphatic. “I’m not going on a trip with a bowl in the car.”
“I don’t have a bowl,” Chad said. He gulped the last of the food in his mouth and held out empty hands.
“Okay, good.” The car lurched forward, wheels onto road.
“Stop!” Elizabeth said, and Benny stopped abruptly. “Didn’t you forget something? We always pray before we start.”
“Well, I was going to pray earlier, and then everyone was yelling at me, and then I forgot.”
We closed our eyes.
“Dear God, be with us and keep us safe on this trip, and help us to have a good time. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Benny pulled out onto the gravel road.
And so began our seven hour trip to Iowa. We were planning to spend the weekend, for a cousin’s wedding.
We drove through the nearby village of Conrath–consisting of two churches, two bars, and a post office–exclaiming over the leaves. Scarlet and orange, sun-soaked, brilliant against green.
“My hands still stink,” Jeffrey announced from the passengers’ seat, his nose burrowed into them. “Does anyone want to smell my hands?”
“Ewww,” I said. “Like what?”
“That’s not a very good pickup line,” Elizabeth said, and she and I cracked up laughing. “Why not try, ‘Hi, how are you, my name is Jeff?'” Her voice was thin and reedy with laughter. “Something old school.”
Goldenrod in the ditches. Purple flowers some places–like what I would imagine heather on the Scottish moors.
We slowed behind a row of cars, and the boys were tense and excited for the next five or ten miles, looking for an opportunity to pass.
“Go, go, go!”
“No, wait, there’s a car coming over that hill.”
“You could have made it!”
“That’s a bummer, you should have gone.”
One car passed the others, and, in a burst of speed, Benny passed the remaining two, his manner fittingly nonchalant. “Oh, that’s nothing. I’ve passed three before.”
We hit construction and waited champing, impatient minutes, commenting on the people in nearby cars.
“Look, that guy’s getting off his motorcycle.”
“Do you think those two are married? He looks way older.”
“He’s not older! You can tell that. She just dyes her hair.”
“Look at that ritzy couple over there.”
“No, I wouldn’t call them ritzy. I think of ritzy as more rich and conservative. They’re more…”
“Yeah, that’s right. They’re more cool.”
Elizabeth took face shots of Dave, her comical stuffed toy, and posted them online. Dave stole my cell phone and took a bunch of selfies.
I took her cell phone and flipped through the selfies and laughed. “You know,” I said, “I used to hang out with my older sisters, and now that all you younger ones grew up, I get to hang out with you. So I get the best of both worlds. If I’d gotten married right away, that wouldn’t have happened.”
It’s true. Elizabeth, my youngest sister, is seventeen, ten years younger than I. Five years ago, the ten years made a difference. Now she has grown up to be my age, and more mature, at that. And I never knew what it would be like to have big brothers until my little brothers grew up and started watching out for me and bossing me around. Now I know that big brothers are cool.
There are unexpected blessings that come with waiting.
Unless, of course, you are on the return trip from Iowa on Sunday afternoon, and anxious to get home. Then waiting doesn’t seem quite so attractive. Especially when you are watching the GPS numbers impatiently, and your brother insists on taking a different route, and home arrival time flips from 6:38 to 7:34.
I was upset, and showed it. “Who do you think knows more about the roads, Jeffrey? You or the satellites? Huh, Jeffrey?”
“That GPS is no good. You saw all the stupid little windy roads it was telling me to take.” He turned it off, frustrated, and, suction-cupped to the window, it sat black and useless.
“I can’t believe you’re being so stereotypically male. I mean, maybe I shouldn’t say male. That’s not nice for the guys.”
“If you want to act like a jerk, act like it at home!”
After such unexpectedly strong language, I sat meek and quiet in the back seat, looking pleasantly out the window at the autumn leaves, not saying anything. I had been reading a book called Let Me Be a Woman, all about the beauty of womanly graces and submission, and thought smugly that I knew how to handle men. One just acted all meek and gentle, and they were fine, and get over their stereotypically male problems. When Jeffrey stopped to get gas and asked if I wanted to drive, I was the art of diplomacy. “Well, I can drive if you tell me what roads to take. I don’t know how to get home from here.” Ha! Now how meek and gentle is that? That’ll fix him.
He told me the roads, and I drove. When we were well on our way, Chad wondered why the GPS was still off, and turned it on. We were set.
The woods along the road grew dusky.
I drove erratically–too fast, too slow, too sharp, too wide–like I am in the habit of doing when I am tired, and on a trip. Benny, beside me, warned me of coming curves and cars pulling out. I think he was nervous for his Scion. I put a CD in, played two songs. Switched it for another one. Turned it off. Turned it on.
Started a guessing game. “Okay, guys, I’m thinking of somebody…”
We played the guessing game the rest of the way home, and I remembered again just why it is that I love my siblings. They overlook my messy hair, my rude comments, my ungainly positions, my sighs, and my smells. They don’t mind when I lean up against them in the vehicle to sleep, and they don’t even say anything when I stretch my bare foot across the console. They ignore my complaints and heap comfort on my sorrows. They give great advice–naturally, since they are five or ten years younger than me and more mature. They are fun; they are easy; they are wise.
This is why I love them.
And why I like road trips.
And why waiting isn’t half bad, either.