House By the Side of the Road


My mom, Beverly G. Garcia, who always insisted we include the “G” in her name so as not to mistake her for just any Beverly Garcia, died five years ago on July 5th, the day I launched this journey. I miss her and think about her every single day.

I didn’t plan “driveway” day to commemorate the five-year anniversary of her passing, that’s kinda morbid, but since it worked out that way, it seemed rather fitting that my day of departure coincided with her day of departure to another realm. I have her black-and-white bandana tied around my neck, a different kind of collar, from the corporate noose I shimmied out of just last week. That feels like a long time ago already. This collar’s absorbent, and I need it, seeing how it’s hotter than hell out here, lost on a country road in the middle of a fucking corn field. Gotta love Illinois.

What I’ve come to figure out in less than 24 hours on this trip is that I’m already multitasking on a different level. The GPS, the texts from well-wishers ( I love y’all, I really do) and media interest, which is the mother’s milk of my quest for critical mass, is great. I’m grateful, but I just did a magazine interview and ended up going the wrong way on a one-way street.  (Okay, don’t freak, it was only for about 50 feet or so…)

Suffice it to say, on the shake-down cruise, a short day to lead off with, I have already learned a few things:

1. Don’t do media interviews when I’m driving.
2. Libby does not poop on command.
3. Motel maids are my friend. They let me check out late and I like them.  I used to be one.
4. As a general rule, people are friendly, except when you’re driving directly toward them.
5. My car will no doubt be the mobile tear chamber.  (at times)

Do you ever cry in your car? My friend Tammy, also a single mom, who had her share of trials and tribulations, told me one time, that she could maintain her composure through one catastrophic event to the next, until she was alone in her car. Then, Annie bar the doors, the tears would spew like a geyser! Makes sense.There’s nobody around to notice, until you stop at a red light, mascara streaming down your face and the person in the car next to you feels uncomfortable eavesdropping on your meltdown.

But nobody sees me out here on the open road, except Libby. I have these momentary flashes of fear. I’m working on it, but you’ve gotta understand I’ve been living on an adrenalin drip for fourteen years, shepherding (little play on words there) four kids through the perils of adolescence into adulthood and it’s hard to set the car down.  I have these flashbacks of my Seannie standing in the driveway, with Louie, The Stubby Tyrant, and I love them BOTH so much!

Sean and Louie the Dog

Sean and Louie, saying goodbye, July 5th

The only babies left at the house now and my white-knuckle fear of abandoning them devolves into tears. And then the “what the hell am I doing ?” spreads like fungus to blanket all four of them — in  NYC, DC, LA and STL and once again, all I can do pray down the highway, “Lord watch over them, watch over them, please watch over them.” It’s been my mantra for, oh, like 32 years now. Except NOW I have my Our Lady of Guadalupe car freshener hangin’ from the rear view mirror. My car smells like a church for dogs.

Libby on Red Roof Inn BedThen the momentary flash of fear passes and I’m back in the zen of cornfields and blue summer skies and wide-open grass lots next to the Red Roof Inn, where I’m encouraging Libby to poop. My  first port in the storm was a far cry from the four-star hotels my corporate job afforded me.

I had to laugh, “so, this is my dream….” laying on the saggy bed, with the circa ’70s, shiny floral print bedspread, looking up at the hole in ceiling. Sure as hell wasn’t the W Hotel on Lexington in Manhattan, nor the Trump Tower in Chicago.

Libby couldn’t have cared less.  She was happy as a clam, because we got a king-size bed, dawg. 

When I was growing up, my mother always cited a poem, House By the Side of a Road, by Sam Walter Foss. You should read it. It’s very relevant for our lives today. My mother genuinely lived by this rule. She’d seen a lot of stuff, went through some tough things, some inherited, some by her own design, but she never became a cynic.
“…I would not sit in the scorner’s seat
Nor hurl the cynic’s ban-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man…” 


I took a photo of a painting she did which I believe was inspired by this poem. It hangs on the wall by my front door, I took the photo to remind me while I’m on the road.

House by the Side of a Road

Last night, that poem became this for me:

“Let me stay in a Red Roof Inn by the side of the highway
and share my bed with my dog.” 

Peace. On to Chicago.

About Jean Ellen Whatley

Writer. Dreamer. Sometimes schemer. Journalist/memoirist/observer and sometimes constructive irritant. Prisoner of demon muses. Mother to four humans and two dogs. In my spare time, I delete phone numbers of former boyfriends.

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