Upgraded to a Toyota Corolla, I pull out of the Hertz parking lot in Newark, Delaware, and take to the open road with a smile — well, not so open, I’m headed to Pleasant Hall, Pennsylvania. The Corolla’s silver exterior sparkles under a sunset sky as I head down 273. It feels good to be out of the house. I make my way towards Fair Hill, a 5,613 acre national resources area, where sporadic fog tops the hills and settles between the bushes and trees. This is beautiful.
The image of my Thoroughbred SweeTart and Mustang Little Boy comes to mind and I imagine the times when I’d come riding here through the fields. My hands warm up as if I’d just run them several times along the neck of my horse, and I recall the softness of its muzzle. It’s been so long.
I follow the winter into darkness until an array of fun Christmas lights offer that joy we know so well — as if no cold temperature could ever break our spirits, but actually ignites our happiness. It’s the potato chip factory Herr’s in Nottingham. Every year during the holiday season they set up a half a million lights for visitors to enjoy. This area, so close to our old home on Carter road, is very familiar to me.
A few hours on the road and I’m finally nearing Pleasant Hall to visit my dear friend Madeline and her husband Scott. They warned me that most GPSs don’t find their home address and mine is no exception. I’ve reached the fire hall and the post office, then decide to drive further down the main road in search of their number. Once I reach an area where my phone has signal, I call Madeline who begins giving me a few directional pointers. I go back to the post office and make a right, per her directions, but then I’m at a loss. Driving slowly down the street, a flash of light is coming from the helmet of a bearded man on a bicycle. He looks at me as he bikes by my Corolla, and I look at him. Strange. My eyebrows crinkle. Is that… Could that be…? I stop the car, roll down the window and stick my head out as I see the man bike back towards me. That’s Scott coming to fetch me.
“I didn’t realize it was so cold,” he says shivering.
He would do that. They’re both so sweet. They live just a few houses away so we get inside quickly. The Christmas tree is lit, the four stockings are still hanging on the fireplace and their kids are still up playing together. Our visit consists of little cars and big toy buses and — once the kids are in bed — we return to September of this year when they came to visit me in France with a glass of red wine accompanied by big green olives and smoked sausage slices. Prior to the visit in France, Madeline and I hadn’t seen each other since the end of 2006 — nearly ten years. The next morning we make a cup of candy cane coffee to keep the holiday spirit.
It’s about 9:30 now and I decide to make a move so I can squeeze in a visit to Wilson College, where I studied, before visiting Sami — both Madeline and Sami were in my French class at Wilson College.
Inside Madeline and Scott’s home the Christmas tree is placed at the center of their large main window to the right of the front door. I stare one last time at the tree and notice beautifully white flurries falling in the background. Wow! Snow! It’s snowing!! I’ve been hoping to get just one day with giant flurries during my visit home.
Now behind the wheel of my beloved Corolla, with the heat blasting and music blaring, I drive 15 minutes to Chambersburg. As soon as I sight the first large stone building, a variation of grays whose shades strengthen behind the pure white of the many flurries now dropping, I feel simply giddy. I don’t know why I feel so excited. Only a year and a half of my whole life was spent at this college, but it’s home too. They’ve constructed a few new buildings and relocated the entrance. It looks lovelier this way. Stone, stone, stone. I love stone.
I park in the visitor’s parking lot just in front of the freshman’s living quarters and the administration hall, not far from where the old library used to be — I worked there one semester. The missing ‘library’ sign indicates that it’s been moved.
There’s an amazing little sculpture made of thick twigs, bent and wrapped around one another to make a sort of safe haven. It looks like a little house with separate rooms — a good place to read or study when it’s warm perhaps. It’s the handy work of internationally acclaimed artist Patrick Dougherty. I walk around to the other side of campus and find the new library. It’s incredible.
It’s about 10 now so I’d better move. Off to see Sami, who lives just 5 minutes or so away. Her address is a tricky one too, but after a bit of searching, I call her and make it there just fine. Bicycles are leaning up against the porch and a Ho, Ho, Ho sign is in the front lawn. I walk in and see Sami sitting on the sofa with her broken ankle in a cast and propped up. Her little girl bounces around cutely until it’s time for Sami’s mom to take her to an event. Sami and I last saw each other in 2011 when she came to visit me in France.
Time should be erased from our vocabulary and daily living. I’ve run out of it here, with only a couple hours to visit Sami but with a promise to see her again next year. Up next is an hour and a half ride to York to visit my highschool friend Kim. We last saw each other during Christmas vacation in 2013 just after I’d had my motorcycle accident that nearly took my life and left me with a new facial identity. This visit, to her and her husband’s home, means a lot to me. Kim would see the improvements that three years can do, and I would see her in her new adult life, which now includes a little boy.
The only house the GPS loves, I make it to Kim’s perfectly fine. It sits in a truly delightful neighborhood, rather deep in it too and away from any major highway. Brick seems to make up the exterior and there’s a basketball hoop in the drive — her husband loves playing. It’s so amazing I wonder if I’ve got the right address. There aren’t any cars in the drive, but I trust I’ve written down the correct number so I ring the bell. Kim opens to my relief and I jump inside to give her a hug. The place, both spacious and well designed, fits them perfectly. I’m so proud of what they’ve achieved. Her little boy’s in bed so we make pizza and chat about everything and anything. We exchange family stories and life goals and laugh about our silliness of old times — a time when we lived so close to one another I could pop in whenever. Surprise visits were my specialty.
But, as always, time ticks the seconds away from our building new memories and I hit ‘go home’ in the GPS. Pulling out of Kim’s drive, I suppress the urge to tear up, but it follows me all the way home. Home was set to our old home on Carter road and takes me through the countryside. Fields and fields of hills, some of which used to house wheat stalks, and trees and very American houses. It’s spacious and private and welcoming all at the same time. Coming up on Taylor road, I think to stop in to see my grammy who lives down there, but remember how sad it made me to see the neighborhood run down like it is the last time I went to visit with my sister, and choose to continue on. Before reaching the next street, the voice on the GPS says to turn left to arrive at my destination. It’s Carter road. I don’t look left as I pass, but right instead. I see the little grocery store Benjamin’s with its freshly painted exterior. That’s better.
I’ve got an hour before the Corolla needs to be turned in. I ride into Newark and stop for a coffee at Saxby’s. This is where my parents always go to grab a coffee. They go so often the workers know exactly what kind of coffee they order and how they take it. I sit inside and sip on a French vanilla latte on ice, then drive to Hertz to hand over the keys. Corolla, I’ve only nice things to say about you. Thanks for the ride.