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Signs of Life
Another way to check your pulse...

by Rita Ayers
April 4, 2007

It's early spring and we're already melting in the South. I'm beginning to think that these global warming documentaries may not be sounding the alarm bell too early after all. I watched one a few nights ago that focused on Antarctica and how many degrees per decade that continent is warming up – and melting.
Maybe the global warming theory partially explains why we just cannot live without our air conditioners these days. Of course, it could also have something to do with the fact that the majority of us are spoiled rotten. I work in a relatively new building and yet, we are always either freezing or melting. Yesterday, I trotted into the front office to ask why it felt like it was four zillion degrees in my classroom. Our friendly face at the front desk, fanning her face furiously with a handbook meant for more educational purposes, said, "We don't know! We're all dying, too! Why don't you write about how we've grown so accustomed to air conditioning that we just can't live without it? And, while you're at it, put my name in there and say I said so!"
And so, just so you all know, Ashley Cobb, in complete agreement with me, says that we are all spoiled rotten and can't live without our air conditioning.
"Well, Ashley, if I don't cool off, I won't be able to have a clear thought in my head to write anything. Anyway, I was sort of thinking about writing about signs along the road."
"You mean like stop signs?" she asked.
"Well, no, not exactly. I was thinking more along the lines of the types of things that you look for as you drive down familiar streets and roads," I replied.
"Oh! Like the turtles in the pond on Gayfer that I look for every day."
I couldn't believe my ears! Ashley had stolen my sign! In fact, it was those very turtles in the little pond on Gayfer Street Extension that had caused me to think of road signs – the non-metal variety. Every afternoon, on my way home, I look to my right just before I turn into my subdivision. There is a small pond there, with an ever-sinking tree branch jutting out at about a 30-degree angle near the far bank. Before one of the hurricanes, there was substantially more wood exposed – and more turtles lined up along the branch, sunning themselves at every opportunity. Now, there is barely enough space for two turtles to hang out there, yet I find myself looking for them with every single passage. I figure if the weather is nice enough for the turtles to be sunning, it's too nice for me to go home and clean house. I see that as a sign that I need to putter around in my flower garden and feed my fish instead of working too hard – so I pray for turtles.
Beginning at a very early point in my childhood, there have been journeys that have been woven into the fabric of my life, just through numerous repetitions or because of their special nature. And, for most of those journeys, there is one special place that marks some rite of passage for me. Growing up in Waynesboro, Mississippi, I frequently traveled to nearby Laurel or Meridian with my grandmother on little shopping excursions. Along the highway to Laurel, Highway 84 West to be exact, there was a cemetery with a small pond in front. (Hmmm… I'm starting to notice a theme here… I must be drawn to water.) It wasn't the pond that I found so fascinating. Instead, there was a miniature church, too tiny for even the smallest child to enter, right beside the water's edge that caught my fancy. Many years later, I learned that the whimsical structure existed to cover the pump for the pond. At the time, though, the sight of the little chapel meant we were rapidly approaching Laurel. I wondered, every single time, what the itty bitty worshippers must look like.
There were many other signs that had nothing to do with yielding or watching for deer crossing the road. I looked for the big hills covered with kudzu as we approached Meridian on Highway 45 North, knowing that within minutes they would give way to my first glimpse of the Kirk building, representative of Meridian itself. Along that same trip, as we played the A-B-C game, we knew that only in Quitman would we find the letter "Q" on any sign, so we perked up and tried to be first to spot the prized consonant.
One of my favorite trips was the one where three or four carloads of my extended family, including aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, journeyed somewhat too lackadaisically for my taste, from Waynesboro to Pensacola Beach. The highlight of this trip was the causeway across Mobile Bay – a mere seven miles from where I now live, ironically. It was the first sight of "real" water and a promise of what was to come once we reached the pristine white sands found in Pensacola. We would stop and eat at Palmer's, which featured the best hush puppies I have ever put in my mouth. With full stomachs, we piled back in and rode to the top of Spanish Fort Hill, where I always made it a point to turn back and look at the bay one last time.
My young life was punctuated by a move to Brewton when I was approaching fifteen, meaning that a new round trip became a routine part of our travels. From Waynesboro to Brewton is a tough trip by any measure – all two-lane, narrow, twisting highways with few, if any, safe places to pass. The Mississippi-Alabama border was nothing to get excited about, but there were two bridges that we felt divided the trip into thirds. The second bridge, in particular, made the trip worthwhile. It began as an elevated highway long before the actual river could be spotted, scooting across the tops of wide, green fields - and what I felt certain must have been all the grounds of a century-old plantation. I was able to daydream away the rest of the trip, imagining myself in Scarlett O'Hara garb and surrounded by charming beaus and white masses of cotton.
After high school graduation, a new regular trip joined the others, connecting my hometown and my college town. Between Brewton and Mobile, in a little community known as Perdido, I watched for the garage that had a huge, jack-o-lantern-style, smiley face painted across its two doors. The bet was always to see if the doors were open or not, meaning that the face was bisected in half and the gap-toothed smile was even wider. That always cracked us up.
Even today, I find myself looking for that unique vision along the road. A trip to New Orleans has all of us watching for the castle house on the left side of I-10; we know when we see it that the bridge across Lake Pontchartrain is all that remains before we're in the Big Easy.
The signs of life are sometimes less tangible than these I've mentioned, but I think I have figured out what it is that makes all of them so special to me. It's the anticipation of what's to come that excites me almost as much as the sight of the "landmark" itself. The best part of the whole weekend for me is the drive home from school Friday afternoon; I know I've almost arrived at those promising two days of freedom. The days of summer vacation are never as sweet as that first dusky evening, and the best part of any trip is backing out of the driveway with the road map still safely folded and tucked away in the glove compartment.
As you meander through your life, don't miss your signs. They make the journey worthwhile, and only you know them when you see them.

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Here's to you, Ashley!  I saw the turtles yesterday afternoon; did you? (And yes, my house still needs cleaning!)

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