“and I’m not worth a damn.”

Maybe Mama Was Right- Mississippi Jake

I’ve found myself driving the same roads my folks who adopted me took on vacations. I’m still as captivated by the terrain of this nation as I was back in the 1990’s. The red clay of Oklahoma still glows off the light from the sky. I still feel like a cowboy riding through the front range of Colorado. I can smell the pines of the North Woods that early native folks and trappers smelled. The dust of Texas roads still gathers in my throat, like that of a Texas Ranger tracking an outlaw. My fascination with history has always transitioned well into travel. A few hundred history books can only tell you so much. Not until you can smell, taste, and feel a place, can you begin to understand the events of the location. 

I had two very opposite voices in my life growing up. One said, “You’re not smart enough to go to college. Don’t bother trying. All you’ll ever be is a factory worker.” The other asked every day, “What do you want to be? You know you can do anything, right?” The second voice still echoes in my head, thankfully. My childhood was pretty complicated, but I came out on top. I listened to the right voice. 

Dad not only told me I could do anything, but that I could go anywhere. He showed me how big the world could be and how small I could be. From Yellowstone to The Alamo, and The Grand Canyon to Washington D.C., we traveled over the summers. I would sit in the back seat and draw or follow our progress in the Rand McNally atlas. Each green interstate sign told the name and distance to the next new city to me. 

I fell in love in Bend, Oregon. In that 11-year-old kind of way. We met at the pool of a Best Western. It was fancy, it was half indoors and half outdoors. If I recall, king of the mountain on an inter tube and diving rings were our first, and only, date. We had made plans to meet in the morning for another swim. She never showed up. After we drove away from that Best Western, I think it took me the better part of a month to mend my little heart. 

Dad grew up near a small town, he played college football in a small town, and he educated thousands of kids over the years, all from small towns. Dad also made damn sure that I knew the world was larger than my own county. His voice encouraged me to live big and get uncomfortable. 

If I’d listened to the first voice, the one that told me dreams were foolish, I wouldn’t be driving across the country. I would never have gone to college, or graduate school. There are a million “what ifs” that aren’t worth the time of day because another voice called me to the interstate. The roads I now find myself on have a familiarity about them. Sometimes I’ll pass a rest area or gas station that I feel like I recognize. While driving through New Mexico, I told my dad that I owed him. Decades ago, he chauffeured me around this country and now it was his turn to sit back and enjoy the view. 

-Mississippi Jake