Mejol picked me up at Penn Station in Baltimore and we went to The Half-Moon Cafe to have dinner with Elizabeth and Fletch, her children and Elizabeth's boyfriend and Fletch's wife and their two sons. I'm not sure that's the name of the place but it had something about a moon in it and it was truly one of the outrageous places in the world. In the entry hall they had a collection of what must have been 4000 Pez dispensers--probably the whole corpus of Pez dispensers ever made. And on and on that kind of weirdness went: lamp shades made of hundreds of little dolls, huge sailing ships hanging upside down from the ceiling, Barbie's by the dozens, lots of old mannequins, mostly of children, sans clothes and (if I might say) a tad creepy--hanging from walls and ceiling and light fixtures. On and on....I'd like to spend a day or so in that cafe, looking at all the weird stuff. The food was wonderful and the company even better. I've seen Mejol's kids and others maybe four times in the last 20 years and being with them is like being with old and familiar friends. It is remarkable to me, but I feel like I've seen them every day for years when I'm with them. Part of that is Mejol, who has always been so special to me, but part of it is how special they all all.
After a night in Mejol's townhouse, we started the drive to Aunt Elsie's.
And there is this: once you pass Fredrick and are in western Maryland proper, the drive on I-68 W and I-79 S is as scenic and breath-taking as any drive I've ever taken. Being away from the mountains for a few years makes them surprise you all over again. And there are mountains! Mountains after mountains, after more mountains and then, more mountains and mountains after mountains after all that....
Fifty shades of grey can't begin to compete with 400 shades of green in the mountains of Western Maryland and North-central West Virginia!
Mejol said, at one point, "we drive and drive and it's like the scenery never changes." She was right.
Through the Cumberland Gap and down into Preston County, West Virginia, the mountains never end and on to Morgantown (where Bern and I both graduated college--home of Jerry West and Sam Huff's heroics) and south through the very middle of West Virginia to Charleston. And all that way--almost 300 miles--you are in the mountains.
A funny thing about I-79: there are lots of exits, but there's nothing there...no signs of life. One exit, I remember, promised three gas stations, a motel and four fast food places when you were a mile from the exit itself. As we sailed by, I saw the signs telling you which way to turn to get to those places: the closest one was 10.1 miles!
West Virginia is as big as New England (leaving out Maine) and has 1.6 million citizens. A lot of West Virginia is simply natural and empty of humans. You see more cell towers on I-79 than human habitations. At first the emptiness was odd and strange to me--but I grew up surrounded by miles and miles of nothing but nature and after a while it was a deep and satisfying comfort.
We drove for hours through nothing but green and mountains, the nearest thing I have to a sibling and me. We talked and talked and told stories and laughed and pushed back tears from time to time. And other times we drove in comfortable, companionable silence, engulfed by the wilderness, embraced by the mountains, entranced by the greens.....
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