“Stop the car!” Mom demanded.
“What?!?” Dad questioned. “Here? Now?”
“Yes! Just pull over!”
Glancing in the mirror he deftly braked while steering the car to the right, breaching the white line and spraying gravel, pinging and spitting under the tires. We rolled to a rapid stop on the side of the highway, cars whizzing by us. All six of us in the back – who moments ago had been in various stages of daydream or slumber – riveted our attention to the urgent matter unfolding between our parents up front.
Mom flung open the passenger side door and got out. “I’ll be right back!” she blurted.
We watched in stillness, six sets of eyes squished to the right side windows, peering from the tangle of blankets and pillows in the far netherworlds of the Vista Cruiser wagon, plus my Dad’s eyes up front, too. She side-stepped and slipped down the grassy embankment and eventually stopped way in there, waist high in spring vegetation. What was she doing? We knew it wasn’t a bathroom break. Our mom could easily drive from New Jersey to Michigan without a pit stop if she put her mind to it. Public restrooms were far below her nursing standards of acceptability for cleanliness.
Vegetation swashed and swished around her as she tromped and hunched through the swaying detritus, occasionally wrestling with some unknown something. We could see her only from the shoulders up. Periodically, we looked at Dad. He turned the engine off, returned the look, and shrugged.
We silently watched and waited.
Eventually she emerged. Her arms were full of brown, twiggy stalks dotted with soft, plump nubs of velvet gray.
Flushed with happiness, she opened the passenger side door, and angled her tall frame back in, gently propping the very tall bundle of branches upright between the two of them on the front seat. “They’ll be just beautiful in an arrangement on the dining room table,” she beamed.
She smiled at my dad, and he – well he just looked at her, and then wordlessly facing forward, turned the key. The engine thrummed to life and we pulled off the gravel strip and back onto the highway, pointed toward home. In back, we sank into a familiar mosh of entwined limbs, worn blankets, soft pillows and breath, and the familiar cadence and hum of our car on the road.
I saw them just yesterday in a water-filled bucket next to a sign at the local grocer.
Three bundles for $12 – as easy as that.
Because of my Mom, I just had to have them.