Authors: Donald S. Smurthwaite
Tags: #ride, #retirement home, #cross country, #North Dakota, #family, #car, #road trip, #bountiful, #Utah, #assisted living, #graduate, #Coming of age, #heritage, #loyal, #retirement, #uncle, #adventure, #money, #nephew, #trip, #kinship
“I demand a rematch.”
“You’re not going to get it. You’re licked. Face it. Our town was a nice little place in wherever we are until you rode in. Then things changed. It just ain’t no good here now. It don’t feel right no more. I’ll be fine on the sleeper.”
“So would I. I insist.”
“I had a nap, which you didn’t. Uncle Loyal, it is your bedtime. Go to bed. Don’t argue with me, or I’ll ground you.”
Good grief. I opened my mouth, and my father came out. Uncle Loyal gives me a slow, wise grin.
“I know when I’m beat, Levi. Or ‘licked,’ as you would say. Whippersnapper.”
“It takes a mighty big man to admit when he’s licked.”
“You only won because you cheated. And because you were untruthful.”
“I know. I couldn’t beat you fair and square so I cheated. Deal with it, Uncle Loyal. Get over it. It’s a mean and cruel world. Dog eat dog. You’re old enough to know that.”
“Good night, Levi.”
“Good night, Uncle Loyal.”
I fall onto the sleeper sofa, and it’s a bit like doing a belly flop into a swimming pool, the kind of dive that leaves you with red marks on your stomach, gasping for air. The springs probably qualify as antiques. The mattress has more lumps in it than day-old cream of wheat.
“Mmm. Feels good. I’ll be asleep in no time.” I force a dreamy mumble and fake a yawn. I was enjoying my newly found talent of not quite telling the truth.
Uncle Loyal switches off the lamp and crawls under the blankets. The air conditioner rattles, the diesel truck engines rumble, and somewhere, maybe from the twenty-four-hour café adjacent to the office, some bad country music is playing. Some sappy guy singing about his ex-girl, his ex-dog, his ex–best friend who stole them both and drove off in his ex–pickup truck, and how he saw the flag and it made him weep, then he heard his ex-dog yelp, all wrapped up into one bad song. Somehow, it all fit.
Then I had trouble remembering anything. A fatigue comes over me as though I had been up all night, which, come to think of it, I pretty much had. Bed springs that were made at the time Lewis and Clark strolled through this neighborhood don’t matter. Nor does the clackety air conditioner. I close my eyes, and in the ether of diesel fumes, deep-fried food, who knows what other assorted toxins, and whatever was spewing from the air conditioner, my head drops. Let’s see . . . somewhere in North Dakota, the motel, the red car, the tornado. I struggle to grasp just where I am. And one more thing . . . oh yes. Evelyn, the empress of big hair. Now, I grew up in Utah, a place where big hair is understood, respected, and adored. I have some experience in this matter. I close my eyes once again and have a vision: a two-foot-high stack of bluish beehive-bun hair on Evelyn’s head.
Yes, I think dreamily, Uncle Loyal was right. It was marvelous.
When I awake, it is a few minutes past six in the morning.
I Tell Levi What I Know about Love
Levi was showing surprising character. He rightfully could have taken the softer bed, but he wouldn’t. We had quite the conversation about who would sleep where. In the end, I accused him of cheating on a coin flip, something that he gleefully acknowledged. And then, with insouciance, he ignored me and hopped onto the sleeper sofa after purposefully throwing an arm wrestling contest. I could hear the ancient springs underneath the sofa bed creak and groan. I’m sure it was uncomfortable, and I worried that he would get no rest. We needed him to be fresh. We had too many miles to go for the driver to feel tired.
I slept well for a few hours, but it was a noisy motel. About six in the morning, it seemed that every driver in the parking lot began to rev his engine. Business at the small restaurant, only a dozen yards or so away from our room, picked up. The talk was loud, friendly, knowing, and profane. Still, it seemed that Levi was asleep, so I lay quietly, my eyes on the ceiling, watching the first gray light of a late summer day filter into the room. I think of my home and how I miss it. I think of Daisy and wonder if she is near, if she can see what is going on, and if she is laughing softly at the sight of me in a truck stop. I wonder again if I have made a mistake by leaving my home. And part of me, I confess, wonders if God in His starry heaven knew my travails and heard my prayers.
I knew the answers to those questions, but nonetheless, I find myself asking Him. He sends little guidance, which is what I expected. I am left only with the thought, “Struggle through this as well, Loyal. You’ve been through more difficult. I will require not an ounce more than what you need to endure. Struggle through.”
And so I vow again, for what must have been the thousandth time, to struggle through. This enduring. It is not easy. It is not comfortable. Yet it must be.
The springs on the sofa sleeper groan as Levi turns. I hear him sniff, see movement from the corner of my eye. I know he’s awake, ready to face the day with verve and vigor.
“Uncle Loyal?” he whispers.
“You must be awake.”
“I am. I have been for a while. I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“I’ve been awake for a while too. Can’t stop thinking. Stop thinking at all. She is magnificent. I want to see her again.”
“Who? The young lady you mentioned yesterday? Rachel, I think you called her.”
“No, not Rachel.”
I sit up in bed. He turns over and looks at me. Mirth is in his drowsy, downy eyes. He rubs his unshaven jaw thoughtfully. “Her.”
“Who? She who. That’s who. Evelyn.”
“The desk clerk last night? She of the wondrous hairstyle?”
“Yep. She’s the one. All that hair, built up with as much care as the pyramids and maybe with the approximate same number of workers. I’m thinking we need to date.”
“You don’t say.”
“I do say. My world is rocked. My world is spinning.”
“Love. This thing called love. How do you know?”
He flops over on his back and gazes at the ceiling. I acknowledge that I am enjoying this conversation.
“It’s her hair. It’s something a man could be proud of. Walking into a movie or a restaurant or even church. People would stop and gawk and talk. It’s Evelyn’s hair. No one could ever sit behind her at a movie. We could house orphans from Asia in it. They could have their own rooms. She might have a fast-food restaurant hidden up there. Fries to go.”
I play along with him. I know Levi is only teasing me, but I am beginning to understand his slightly unhinged sense of humor. “She’s much older than you.”
“What does age matter when it’s true love? Evelyn and Levi. We both have the
thing going in our first name. How much more of a sign can you have than that?”
“Definitely a sign, Levi. Take it a step further. There’s a
“You’re a genius. Absolutely. I knew you’d see it my way, Uncle Loyal. You were there when we met. We’ll name our first child Loyal. I hope it’s a boy. I hope he inherits his mother’s hair. Little Loyal. He’ll be a cute little tyke. With amazing hair. Piles of it.”
He sits up in bed, broad smile, eyes alive. He is chatty. There are no walls, no suspicions. He views us as equals, I believe, for the first time on this trip.
“How do you know you’re in love, Uncle Loyal?”
I think about this one for a few moments. Love is not always an easy thing to speak of.
I know his question has nothing to do with Evelyn and everything to do with the young lady Rachel. So I think with care. I think about Daisy and my girls and my friend Glenn. I think of others, too, but mostly Daisy. And I come to a single thought, which came from a feeling, which, as near as I can tell, is how God talks to us most of the time.
“My answer might not make much sense. Or it might not be the sort of dramatic revelation you’re looking for. It doesn’t have much to do with big hair.”
“How did you fall in love with Aunt Daisy? How did you know?”
“Now there’s a story.”
I turn toward him. I pull down the long sleeves of my pajamas. I clear my throat. And then I say, “I fell in love with Daisy because I had to.”
“Had to? You’re wuffin’ me, Uncle Loyal. Had to? No way.”
“It’s true. I am not wuffin’ you, although I am unsure what that means. It goes like this.”
And then I tell him. I tell him after the war, after a mission, after most of school was done, I heard of a young woman named Daisy who lived in a town about eighty miles away. I heard she was single, pretty, and most of all, an active Church member. I told him my choices and chances were limited in those days, so I got in my car one morning at six and drove the eighty miles to be at her small ward in time for Sunday School.
“You drove eighty miles to see her? You didn’t have any more intel than that?”
“Yes. And no. That’s all I knew of her. I wasn’t even sure of her last name.”
“What happened when you got there?”
So I tell Levi some more. I tell him I arrived and sat down in the small chapel, across from where I assumed most people would walk in. I wanted an unobstructed view. I watched people straggle in for twenty minutes. Big farmers in tight, cheap suits. Their wives in cotton floral-pattern dresses. Little children, somber and tired. A young couple, very young, holding hands and cooing to one another.
But no Daisy. Or at least no one who looked anything close to a single young woman with light red hair, as she had been described to me.
“Who told you about her?”
“Our high counselor. His name was Brother Wells. Leland Wells. He pulled me aside after church one day and said, ‘There’s someone you need to meet. She lives a fair piece from here, but you need to meet her. You need to get up early and make the drive and meet her because you should. That’s all I have to say to you on the subject. I believe I am inspired in my advice. Go next Sunday.’”
“So your high councilman set you up on a blind date? That’s cool. I always wondered if those guys did anything good.”
“Brother Wells was as fine a man as I have known.”
“Tell me more. You’re at church, staring at the door, waiting for your EP to walk in, but so far, nothing.”
“Oh. I see. Young LDS lingo.”
“Yeah. But back to the story.”
So I tell him more.
I tell him this: The opening hymn was playing. I picked up the hymnal. To this day, I remember what song we sang: ‘You Can Make the Pathway Bright,’ hymn number 228. A stout, middle-aged man offered the opening prayer, obviously a man of the land, judging by his tanned, wrinkled skin and thick, strong hands. His name was Schallenkamp, a fine German name. I remember that, too, after all these years. I was thinking, “I drove all this way to meet her, to see her, because she is perhaps the only young woman within a hundred mile radius that I could possibly wed. And now she is not here, and I am feeling foolish.” But I should have shown more faith because the Lord often allows us to feel foolish just before He blesses and enlightens us.
The man who prayed said, “And may the righteous desires of our hearts be granted,” and then he said amen, and then I opened my eyes, and then I heard a rustling and noticed movement near the door at the back of the chapel.
And I turned and I saw her.
“And I loved her at that moment, from then on, from then on until forever.”
“That soon? Love at first sight? That doesn’t sound like you, Uncle Loyal.”
“It was a bit out of character for me. I am not a rash man, and I prefer slowness to haste.”
So I go on with my story. I tell my grandnephew this: It wasn’t the
she looked, it was
she looked. She had on a white dress with a blue sash. She was wearing high heels and wobbling a bit on them. Her eyes, the word I’d describe them with is
. She seemed to be looking for someone in the congregation. It wasn’t obvious, just the way her head moved slightly from one side to the other, scanning the room. When her gaze came toward me, her eyes seemed to settle for the slightest pause. I could feel my heart thumping and wondered if I were all right. Then, she and her mother and father took seats on the back row. It was hard for me to see her then, without being too obvious.
The thought came to me that Leland Wells had talked with her, spoken with her parents, mentioned that I might be coming to church that day, that he had prepared the way for me. The thought came to me that she had purchased or sewn a new dress, was wearing high-heeled shoes for possibly the first time in her life. The thought came to me that she couldn’t be more than nineteen or twenty years old. The thought came to me that she also understood that something great and cosmic and eternal might occur that day, and she was excited and spellbound and curious about the thought and possibilities. On the plains, in those days, there weren’t many opportunities, I told Levi. You had to be prepared for the few that came along.
“That’s a great story, Uncle Loyal. She must have looked amazing.”
“It wasn’t what she looked like, Levi. She was pretty, but it is how the moment felt to me that I still recall.”
So I explain further.
I say to him that I felt sweetness and peace, and my thoughts were clear. I felt excitement, true, but it was also a sense of deep satisfaction.
“That sounds a little weird.”
“But it’s not. You must understand sweetness in life. Much of my life has been devoted to finding sweetness. To maintain it. To fend off circumstances that would take it from me.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to. But you will understand. Someday.”
“And what else, since we’re talking about all this? Any more advice?”
“When she walked into the room, it lit up. And she continued to light my life for the rest of hers. It came to this: I chose her and she chose me, and then we worked hard to make it all come together. Now do you see that we
to get married? We were each other’s only prospect. And it was meant to be.”