Get Out of Dodge

St. Michael's

My older son and I were in the car the other night, as we often are, and it was quiet for a moment. I sometimes resent all the schlepping and chauffering even though I knew it would come to this because we live in rural Maine. I had hoped it wouldn’t be every day, all the damned time. However. That’s where we also have our best conversations, as many parents of teenagers will tell you. And the end of the schlepping is in sight, a year out, when the lad turns 16. It’s surprisingly bittersweet, as are so many things about watching your kids grow up.

So there we were enjoying a moment of silence on a dark street heading to a friend’s house.

“It’ll be good to get out of Dodge,” I say quietly, thinking of our upcoming Thanksgiving trip to New Jersey. It’s been a hard fall here.

“What?” my son asks. “What’s Dodge?”

“What do you mean ‘What’s Dodge?’ It’s an expression.” I find myself saying this often. Both sons think I make up all kinds of sayings, like “settle your feathers” and “six of one, half a dozen of another.” (“Six of what?” this son once asked before he’d had a chance to think about it.)  I’m creative, but I can’t take credit.

“What does it mean?” my son repeated.

“It means ‘get out of town,’ ” I supplied. “It’s from the wild west, I think, when people wanted to or had to get out of Dodge City, Kansas.”

“Oh.” A moment of silence while he mulled this over. “Why don’t you just say, ‘Get out of town’?”

That wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as envisioning our family riding hell for leather out onto the prairie and away from all our cares and worries. As the days ticked towards Thanksgiving, I was barely able to stay focused at work, aware of a simmering excitement about “getting out of Dodge.” It didn’t even matter that our destination in this case was New Jersey. Of all places.

Now, I have a fond nostalgia for the Garden State. I was born there, lived in an amazing planned community called Radburn until I was 10, and returned there on a regular basis into my teens, if not 20s, many times for Thanksgiving. I know that not all–or even most–of Jersey is what you see from the New Jersey Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway. Even though most is crowded suburbia, in some parts of New Jersey, it turns out, there is still farmland and open space. And that’s where we were heading, if we could only get through Massachusetts. (It turns out every living soul in Boston also wanted out in advance of a nor’easter and traffic was insane. No galloping down the Mass Pike for us. Or anyone.)

St. Michael's barnOur friends live near Princeton in a house that abuts acres of open fields. Their neighbor keeps sheep. Conservation land laced with hiking trails and active farmland make up a good portion of the landscape. It actually looks a little like the view from my house, minus Sugarloaf and Saddleback in the distance, and with the almost always audible hum of distant traffic.

But it’s not home and that’s also its beauty, at least this time. Our friends graciously put up with us for four days while we watched it snow, rain, then snow some more, resulting in a sugar frosting that made us all think, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” never mind Thanksgiving. We walked for miles in the rain-snow mix, returning soaked to cups of hot tea and cooking. We laughed, we ate, we read, the kids all played Risk and Monopoly, and skated at a rink. It was lovely.

Meanwhile back home, a foot of heavy, wet snow knocked out power to more than 100,000 addresses in Maine and 220,000 in New Hampshire where the rest of my family was supposed to gather. I felt for them, for all the folks with scrambled plans and no turkey instead of festive gatherings. I was also grateful: we’d been able to get out of Dodge and lift off the yoke for a few days–the yoke of work and responsibility and bills, of lingering grief.

Now that we’re home again and the darkness of early winter tightens around us, we can draw on the memory of our escape, no wild gallop across the prairie, but an escape nonetheless. The yoke will still be there on Monday waiting to be lifted, but at least now, for awhile anyway, it won’t be so heavy.


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