Wednesday, December 16, 2009

US 395 near Susanville - and Miss Holly Evermore

[July 2008] I’D ALWAYS PRESUMED THAT SAGE was the natural perfume of that great basin and range territory east of the Sierra. South of Susanville, most of days of the spring and summer, and just after any rain, sage scents the entire east side. But when I crossed Yuba Pass and escaped the acrid smoke from 2008’s very early forest fires, the overwhelming scent was that of lilac. Fifty-five miles of it. And for nearly an hour, I was transported back to the only high school dance I ever attended. The one where Miss Holly Evermore wore lilac, and not too much off it.

FROM THE MOMENT Miss Holly walked onto campus, everyone noticed. All the boys, because we were boys, paused and simply appreciated as she wafted by, noticing honey-colored hair, her finely sculpted legs, and her slightest-every-wiggle – all the while inhaling deeply of her signature fragrance. ‘Shangri-La’ was her soundtrack even among the boys we knew to be stoners. Meanwhile: all of the girls, well, most of them, hoped she’d hop on a one-way out of town and never return, because of all of the boys. One girl, I’m told, even dropped a hand drawn map on her desk indicating the quickest route to the Greyhound station between Sixth and Seventh on Wall Street.

Miss Holly wasn’t my date. No. She was about a second year home economics and bonehead mathematics teacher the likes of which prompted several of us to curse our success in algebra as under-classmen. Most of us were good enough at math to cipher the six or seven-year age difference between a senior class male and a second-year teacher; and most of us sighed in the face of that impossibility. I, like most senior boys, adored her, partly, in my sad case, because she’d felt sorry and danced one dance with me. From that point forward, I was certain of two commonly held beliefs: One, Miss Holly Evermore was forever out of reach, and two, Miss Holly Evermore was assuredly going to marry beneath her standing.

Miss Evermore was the essence of a whole bunch of things. Confidence – she never shied away from having a word with any of us. Patience – she could teach a thumbtack to do algebra. Smartness and savvy – she had to: she taught mathematics to thumbtacks. Spirited – heck, she chaperoned school dances and she’d danced with me. Prior to that, my only true love had taught Kindergarten. Plus, she was far more beautiful than Johnny Kay’s new maroon and gold Boss 302 Mustang. More beautiful by a long shot.

Miss Holly Evermore. Soft. Sweet. Smelled oh, so pretty. Like lilacs. Still makes me wish I’da flunked algebra…

I AWOKE FROM THIS COMPLEX REVERIE, now fifteen or more miles on the north side of Susanville, a town that I did not see. I thanked the Gods of the Open Road that a deer or a steer hadn’t decided to plant him or herself in my path anywhere over the past fifty-plus miles. The lilac had dissipated and in its absence returned that traditional sage perfume. The aroma of far-off-in-the-distance horizons. Of adventure. Of a romantic, pastoral life from another time, a century or so back.

‘Sage,’ I’m thinking, as I motor toward Alturas, ‘Not bad, but not Miss Holly Evermore, either.’

© 2008
Church of the Open Road Press

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