I broke down around 7:30 in the morning in the middle of Iowa. It wasn’t my car that broke. It was me. All of me came crashing down like the heaps of barn wood in the middle of vast cornfields, which once stood tall and proud. I don’t know what brought it on–it was bound to happen, right? The stress of moving, saying goodbye to friends, to a community, to employment, to comfort. It was more than processing all of that. It was more than recognizing I was halfway to my future home and worlds away from where I once called home.
It was watching a sun rise over the endless grids of cornfields, their dried stalks crumpled by the sun. It was seeing the old farmhouses and barns along the road, structures which made me feel grounded. It was seeing the open road, through a cracked windshield, in front of me and realizing I was taking yet another highway to a different life in a new place. That night, it was being in a place I’d been before, watching a full moon rise over fields in Indiana, its bald head burning bright and fierce in the darkest of skies, unpolluted by city lights. I was overcome.
My mom and I left Washington with a plan to drive 10 hours a day. We were planning to complete the trip in 5 days. After the Alcan, I told her I would much prefer to take our time and drive until we got tired. So, we chipped away at the geography, state by state, and made our way east. It took eight days total, the last being one major push to the finish.
I was so consumed, initially, with the to-dos of moving that I hadn’t thought about the gift it was going to be to have days-uninterrupted-to spend with my mom. We’ve spent time together since I’ve been in Alaska, but never like this. I think it’s safe to say it’s rare for adult children to spend that much time with a healthy parent. My advice to you: do it. Maybe you don’t drive across the country but take a weekend, just the two of you, and get to know each other again, as adults, while you both are healthy. So often, you hear of adults finally taking time out of their busy lives to spend with those they love…when someone gets sick. Or worse, opportunities are missed completely when a loved one passes away. Time is just as valuable now as it will be in the future; time’s worth is defined by how it’s spent.
As my mom and I talked about, I will always be her “baby”, and she will always be “mom” but that’s just a fraction of who we are as people, though the fraction still seems pretty significant at times, more than I’d care to admit. Tears streamed down my face on more than one occasion on this trip and my mom comforted me as she would have when I was a kid, with words of consolation and a pat on the arm. I’d like to say the roles reversed at some point, but that didn’t happen. It will one day, I’m sure.
We drove through apple orchards, deserts, prairies, seas of corn fields (HOLY COW! The majority of the country is cornfields, people), fields of dried sunflowers, The Badlands, farm country, construction, and traffic jams. We passed over the Missouri, the Mississippi, and Hudson Rivers, through several mountain ranges, and across 14 state lines. We traveled over 3,000 miles on the ribbon of highway and the narrow back roads of America, admiring blue sky, old homes, weathervanes, and wind turbines.
Our adventure had nothing to do with hairy situations or traveling in an uncharted territory. We were two (er, three) women driving across the country by ourselves and getting to know each other along the way. Mom, Izzy, and I arrived at our home at 10 pm and we were greeted by a warm hug from Chris and a chilled bottle of wine. I slept better that night than I have since I was a kid. The next morning, I woke up to this, right off my back porch:
Meanwhile, in Fairbanks, it was snowing 6 inches and 20 degrees out.
That night, mom cooked dinner for us. I made cornbread, and it was far from scratch. I was too exhausted, so I got some cornbread mix and corn salsa from Trader Joes (WOHOO! Sorry, Fred Meyer. Trader Joes is my main squeeze now), mixed it all together, along with the egg, oil, and milk as measured on the side of box, added a cup of extra sharp cheese and baked it according to package directions. It was tasty. I recommend it.
But the star of the show was this clam chowder. Maine clam juice and Maine clams are cheap and easy to find here, so naturally, good ingredients make for a good meal. Admittedly, mom does the add-a-bit-of-this and a-pinch-of-that when she’s cooking, but we tried to document it the best we could.
- 5-6 slices of bacon
- ½ stick of butter
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 stalks of celery, diced
- 3 medium potatoes, diced in small pieces
- 2 tsp. Old Bay
- 3 cans chopped or minced clams (small clams)
- 2 bottles of clam juice
- ½ to 1 cup heavy cream (to taste)
- Old Bay Seasoning, to taste
- Salt and Pepper, to taste
- Oyster Crackers
- Cut bacon into pieces and brown in a dutch oven over medium heat. With a slotted spoon, take a few pieces of browned bacon from the pot and drain on a paper towel. Reserve for garnish.
- Add butter, chopped onion, celery, and potatoes to pot with the bacon. Stir until butter has melted and veggies are well coated. Cook until tender.
- Add Old Bay, clams and clam juice.
- Simmer 30 minutes.
- Add heavy cream and seasoning to taste.
- Cook until well heated.
- Serve in soup bowls and crumble a few pieces of the reserved bacon on top of the chowder and sprinkle with Old Bay Seasoning. Serve with saltine or oyster crackers.
For those of you who enjoy seeing the recipes from once upon a time, here is a similar recipe from The Settlement Cookbook.