I'm hardly a geographical expert. Far from it.
In fact, I have a spatial dyslexia that often leads me astray. Left? Right? Both look the same to me. So I've developed a sensory view of places, a directional rhythm. Consequently, I find an ebb and flow in every place I've lived. Each town has a feel to it, depending on how its streets are laid out.
These pathways, earmarked by a drug store, a bus stop, an iron fence, serve as my visual cues in the event I'm lost.
Which I will be.
Tulsa, Oklahoma was a north/south and east/west grid of straight lines either named or numbered with nothing much getting in the way. Racine, Wisconsin's streets curved around Lake Michigan and the river. Rockford, Illinois was split down the center by State Street, with avenues branching left or right and sometimes inexplicably changing names.
But Winston-Salem was unlike any map I'd lived in.
When Maggie was three years old, we moved to its suburbs in North Carolina. Neighborhoods were pockets of cul de sacs that wound through wooded housing developments. To go anywhere, I circled through and up and out of rhododendrons and dogwoods, forever driving in figure 8's among green fluff.
And all that bobbing and weaving led to parkways bordered by more forests. Again and again I was caught in a traffic roundabout that applied to no one but me.
Behind me in her car seat, Maggie rode patiently, listening to me talk out loud to myself as I pondered my street map. I flipped it upside down and right side up, trying to decide which road looped where. I'd recite the street names in order, attempting to memorize which ones split from or led to Peacehaven, the apparent center of our Southern universe.
And I was forever stopping to ask for directions. Maggie took it all in, perched in the backseat.
One day, at my wit's end after I'd wrongly driven in a circle for the third time, she said, "Mama, turn left on Peacehaven," with the sweetest sense of certainty she could muster.
Of course. She'd heard that street named so often that EVERYTHING had to involve Peacehaven. She'd also figured out that left and right were my eternal weak points, too, so she was choosing for me.
In all honesty, she was right at least 50 percent of the time.
But the thing that overwhelmed me was her toddler's determination to help me.
"Thank you, sweetheart," I answered.
All these years later, she remains my best GPS. Whenever I'm about to give up, the memory of her precious voice hovers above my despair or my disappointment, calling me to the center of myself, leading me to Peacehaven.
And I go on.
Not because I'm any more certain of the leftness or rightness, but because I know she believes I can set myself straight.
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