As she looked out the window she wondered when we would stop. At least that’s what I imagine my mom was thinking as I look back to that desert car trip.
“That’s a nice yucca plant.”
She had said it so many times that day, now years later, we still remember it. My older sister and I use it as an easy joke when we are in the car together when one of us wants to stop, but the driver keeps pressing on.
I guess there were only six of us in the car at the time, four in the back seat, my parents in the front, where my mom hinted to my dad that she would like a picture of a yucca plant. That was a small group for my family, which had nine kids. There had been trips with more kids crammed into cars than this one.
All of us in the back seat, me along with my sister 10 years older than me, my brother and sister, five and six years above me, stared out the window at the blurry desert, our bodies crammed together, rattling like stew bones. I had no idea what a yucca was but imagined a tall cactus with three arms like the ones I saw on the Road Runner cartoon.
Later I would learn that I was wrong. That was a saguaro. A yucca was a shorter plant with a bush of spiky leaves. I started seeing them in my neighborhood a few years ago, 1,300 miles from our desert trip. This summer I walked down the street to my neighbor’s house and looked at the plant from the sidewalk.
There were three yuccas growing in his yard. Each low plant had a tall stalk standing in the middle as high as me with a bell of blooms about to burst forth. It seemed crazy to me that all I had to do was walk a few steps to see these plants while my mom had to drive across country to do the same.
I don’t know how many times she had to say, “That’s a nice yucca plant,” and the implied “let’s stop and take a picture with it,” before my dad stopped.
I have no memory of the plant from my childhood, only the line. I remember bits and pieces from trips to the south, though I can’t be sure if they were during this trip or another. A drive up a tree lined road in Arizona, with my mom’s brother driving, where we slid down a watery rockslide too few times for my liking. Another time in Texas, where I scratched my head on the sprinklers in the lawn when I did somersaults in the dry crunchy grass in my dad’s sister’s backyard.
These couldn’t possibly have been the same trip, or could they? There was a time when everything we needed wasn’t at home. There was a time when we had to drive for hours and hours and sit so close to our siblings that the skin of our knees adhered to one another. In those days we did take epic trips, it seemed like for weeks at a time, once I swear driving to Florida and then turning west and around the perimeter until we ended up in Minnesota before driving home. We were up at dawn and drove all day until we ended up the next relative’s home or if we were lucky a hotel with an outdoor pool.
Is it impossible to believe because it comes from the imagination of a child or because now it is so easy to hop from this place to that? Or because we can see anything we want, the moment we want to? As I stand in front of my neighbor’s house, I don’t think I made it up. We can grow yucca plants in Wisconsin now, but I know there was a time when this wasn’t true.
But that doesn’t change the fact. That is a nice yucca plant. Even if it is only a few yards away, I do not touch it. I like remembering what it was like before I knew what one was.
This post was written in response to the prompt at this month’s short story link party at Grammy’s Grid.