After traversing the state from corner to corner yesterday -- a trip that took more than seven hours and two stops at fast-restaurants -- the boys and I are in Thief River Falls. Thief River (also affectionately called TRF, TR, or my personal favorite, Tough Rubber Balls by the locals), is my hometown, and the place where my parents, sisters, nieces and nephews still live.
There's a comfort in being here. Even though it's been 20 years since I left, the landscapes of Thief River are as familiar as if I'd never gone. (Even after Wal-Mart bullied its way into town and left several downtown storefronts empty, and the 7-11 turned into a meat market.) When pumping gas at Pennington Main or stopping at Lori's Hallmark for a birthday card, I'm likely to run into an old neighbor or one of my cousins. And at the Rusty Nail, I'm almost guaranteed to see one of my old high school teachers hanging out at the bar.
That's, actually, a little strange.
But with the exception of seeing Mr. H with a beer, time has stopped for me here.
When I go to the Hugo’s parking lot to pick up milk for my mom, I’m still looking for Tom Pittman’s white ’68 Mustang in the parking lot and his toothpaste smile and dark brown eyes at the checkout lanes.
When I come in on Hwy 59 at the double lanes and cross the intersection at the Holiday gas station, I see the charred remains of the stoplight after a high-speed chase killed an older couple and landed a teenager in jail.
Oakland Park Road leads to the park, not where my family reunion was held last summer, but where my high school boyfriend and I used to make out in the tall grass at the base of the old sanitarium. Tindolph is where my high school best friend Nenna lives, regardless that she’s in New Mexico now. And the light at the end of that long driveway we pass on the way to my parents is my grandfather’s reading light over his recliner… even though the chair is gone now and my grandparents sold the house to my little sister years ago.
When I come home, I drive by these landmarks and others -- my other grandparents’ little white house with the “214” still peeling on the garage, the beach where Nenna and I drank from two-liter bottles of wine coolers, the dock off 8th street where I wished on pennies with a boy I hoped was wishing for me -- jostling time and place and confusing facts until I leave and life is as it should be again.