RHETA GRIMSELY JOHNSON: Sad songs accompany ride with memories on Natchez Trace

ALONG THE NATCHEZ TRACE – I am near the place where intrepid explorer, bear-killer, soldier and presidential confidante Meriwether Lewis killed himself rather than face any more ruts in the long road called life.
He was rich, accomplished, celebrated. His name was synonymous with discovery. Then he was gone. Buried in the middle of nowhere. His gravesite a pit stop for traveling tourists.
Static from Nashville’s venerable WSM fights with a thunderstorm to entertain. The station plays the industrial-strength songs from a more honest era. First, there’s the heartbroken whine of Tammy Wynette, whose daughter, in this song at least, doesn’t want to play house.
Well, listen, honey, Willie follows in a musical second. “There’s nothing cold as ashes, after the fire is gone.”
Poor Meriwether wouldn’t have made it as long as he did if WSM had been on his dial.
Wild turkeys are marching up and down the grassy shoulders of the Trace, confused by the weather and the season. I watch for gobbling stragglers, all the while straining to hear on the hit-and-miss radio if there are any wrecks ahead of me in Nashville. There usually are.
In Franklin, Tenn., where I leave the peaceful Trace, the quaint streets are crowded with cheerful shoppers. Some are standing in line to pay $10 for a pimento cheese sandwich, others deciding whether to buy a torn classroom map of Spain for more than $100. Franklin is crowded. Franklin is out of my league.
The fierce rain begins on the interstate, where you lose control and just try to stay between the semis hauling bananas or recliners, and the ditches. Nashville is a literal blur, a confusion of ambulances and speeding cars and trucks not bothering to slow for the storm. At one point I lose WSM altogether and feel a metaphor coming on.
I have little patience with cities, and I’m headed into the middle of three the next three days. Help me make it through the night.
I miss my dogs. I miss my home. I even miss the things I detest when I’m there, like the quiet and the grass that won’t stop growing. A telephone the size of a piece of Dentyne chewing gum is my only connection with the Hollow, the place which seems to be the closest thing to normal I can summon these days.
I think about old Meriwether Lewis, crazy as a bug, traveling along the Trace with long stretches of nothingness between inns or human contact. Maybe he was missing something, or someone, feeling as if it was impossible to get to Point A from Point B.
Or maybe he was just nuts.
By the time I get through Nashville, the old van feels like home. Nothing lasts forever – Willie, again – but old Fords and natural stone. If this vehicle makes it to Washington, D.C., and home again I’m letting it have a long, long rest.
And I think I’ll sit on the porch and see if I can pick up WSM. You can some nights when the planets align and you hold your mouth just right.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.

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