In the spring of 1971 a long-deferred trip home from an Indiana college began in an off campus café, where I found myself telling a young woman (who back then was a big part of my life) how much I missed the Appalachian hills of my boyhood... Lamenting how long it'd been since I watched Triplett Creek white-cap over its rocky bed or heard the accented speech of my boyhood, I talked myself into hitchhiking back home.
I could have taught something to Tom Wolfe, the "You can't go home again" guy. For a little while I came home, and if my grandma couldn't understand hair below my shoulders and a beard as unkempt as any Hell's Angel's, other relatives I hadn't seen in years were happy to look past such tonsorial niceties.
I stayed the better part of a week, five or six days of seeing places and people who confirmed home was here, would still be here at the end of the decades of wandering and seeing and doing I'd only just begun.
The last day, I went to see Great Aunt Martha, who cooked thirty years at the Eagle's Nest before opening her own place, called "Mom's." Martha and I had a fine two hour visit. It took nearly that long to eat the kind of meal she and her sisters - - one of whom was my mother's mother - - could make. When I stood away from her table Martha said, "I reckon you'll see your Uncle Arthur now."
It was long past time to be on the interstate, thumb extended for a ride north, but Martha's tone of voice made it clear she'd already decided I would see Arthur.
I taxi cabbed to the edge of town and found Arthur on his front porch. I hadn't bothered to call ahead, but the old man's grin as he watched me wrestle a backpack out of the taxi's backseat signified an unannounced arrival didn't bother him any.
"So how you doing, Arthur?" I asked, tossing my gear up onto the porch, then climbing the steps to settle into a rocking chair beside his.
"Doin' fine," he told me, eyeing my backpack. "You been out camping?"
"Hitch hiking," I said.
Instead of reserved disapproval heard from other relatives, Arthur nodded and told about long road trips he made before I was born. "You have trouble gettin' rides with all that hair?" he wanted to know, and I explained most people who stopped had hair as long or longer than mine.
When conversation lagged I asked, "You still have that old motorcycle?"
Uncle Arthur's face lit up. "Want to see it?"
Leading me to a shed behind the house, Arthur stripped a canvas tarp off a ‘48 Harley flathead. Never allowed to stand uncovered overnight, the motorcycle's unscratched chrome and glossy paint job looked brand new. Arthur explained he only used it for short trips to the barber shop and back, a far cry from ten hour rides to the Indiana factory town where my family'd settled. Uncle Arthur was past seventy and his real motorcycling was over, though he wouldn't give it up completely.
"How ‘bout a piece of pie?" he asked when the Harley was covered again. "Got a real good pecan in the kitchen."
That's how Martha found us when she came home. I was chasing a second slab of pie with a third cup of coffee while Arthur told me about Uncle Louie's latest Canadian hunting trip. I'd long ago stopped caring about running late.
Taking off her coat Aunt Martha asked, "Did you figure out who this feller is, Arthur?"
Frowning, the old man looked a wordless long time at long haired, bushy bearded me, sitting at his table, eating his food. "No, Marthy, I don't have any idea who he is." He looked hopefully toward her. "Do you?"
Once we established I was "Margie's boy, Bobby Lee," I had to stay another hour so Arthur could ask the family questions he hadn't asked before.
Arthur and Martha are long gone from this earth.
And I do miss ‘em both.