Sunset Over My Country Road
I got my own car when I was just 15, a few weeks before I even had my license. Mom needed for me to have my own way around, because she had her hands full taking care of Dad. We couldn’t leave him unattended. Oftentimes, I was able to bum a ride from a neighbor. But the busier I got with activities at school and church—and because we needed for me to get a job—she simply couldn’t afford to hire someone to stay with Daddy every time I needed to be shuttled to town.
So the day I got my license, I also got a lot of freedom.
Occasionally I abused this liberty and did things I shouldn’t. But most of the time I was a dutiful daughter who went where she was supposed to and then returned home on time.
Sometimes I even got home early. And if the time was right, the westward drive up the hill to our farmhouse rewarded me with spectacular sunsets.
These dusky displays promised even more entertainment than any show that might be airing on one of the three networks we received on our rather inadequate TV set. So I would drive on past the house and park on the crest of the hill, just off the side of the road. After cutting the engine, I’d get out of my tan Chevette and sit on the hood, feet resting on the front bumper.
Watching the sky transform like a watercolor painting in slow progress, I could think about nothing in particular.
Not the honors classes I was working so hard to ace. Not the boyfriend I hoped would come back in spite of our age difference. Not the girlfriends I wanted so badly to impress. Not the father in the house who had to be lifted in and out of his wheelchair. Not the exhausted mother who was perpetually stressed about managing the farm and getting me off to college.
I just watched the sun go down, remaining transfixed even while sipping my Diet Pepsi, brushing away a grasshopper and listening to the pigs across the road.
Once the arc of sun was gone and the colors blended to a single shade of purple, I would climb back into my car, shift into reverse and pull into our driveway. I’d gather my books from the passenger seat and glance into the kitchen window before stepping onto the sidewalk. Daddy sat still, reading the newspaper. Mom fussed around him, putting away dishes and rearranging too much food in the refrigerator. She had to keep moving, because the instant she sat down, she’d lose all steam and nod off to sleep.
It was nearly nine o’clock. In minutes, we’d be hoisting Daddy into his home-based hospital bed. Mom would change into her nightgown and doze off reading a magazine in her own bed. And I would go upstairs to my room to study for a few hours.
Pausing on the cement steps, I would breathe in the country air and rapidly repaint the sunset on my closed eyelids. Then I would open the back door.
“Hi. I’m home.”