Signal Fire by Tyler Knott Gregson
Signal Fire by Tyler Knott Gregson
To The Mother Who Carried Us | 5.12.24

To The Mother Who Carried Us | 5.12.24

You Carried Us Home - The Sunday Edition
A very baby me, and my Mom rockin’ Farrah Fawcett hair

Certain memories stick more than others from the years we call shaping ones, certain things stand up taller than the rest, the guideposts that show where we’ve been and what we’ve come through. It’s Dolly Parton, if I’m honest, that lends color to an entire portion of my life that almost feels make believe when I try to look back on it, almost feels fabricated from some grainy VHS movie I must have rented from some musty video store. It’s Dolly Parton and the sound of four voices trying their best to find the notes as a Volkswagen van hurtles down some blue highway a few minutes after dusk, mile posts crawling past while I try to make sense of the world outside the windows.

I don’t know the count, not exactly, of how many times we’ve driven across this country, I just know it was enough to memorize as much of Dolly Parton’s discography to that point in time, all the music she made between 1981 and 1998. A few times from Montana to North Carolina and back, a few more from Montana to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Add on to this the times to and from Midland, Texas, the round-trips that brought us in and out of Bakersfield, of Los Angeles, California. I lived through peripatetic youth, almost military in its constancy of motion, and I lived it with the three people I think I realized even then, would be the best friends I would ever have.

My Dad has been in professional baseball all of my life, the only job he’s really ever known, having made the leap from high school to college, college to the pros. This path, one of career and passion that still thumps wildly to this very day, blessed the rest of us with a life I would not trade for anything, though it stole him away from us more often than not. All my life was measured by the times he was with us, and the times his job pulled him away. Sacrifice, it seems, always has two sides to its suffering. He ached for all he missed, we, we that remained, ached for him in our missing.


What stands out then, what rises to the surface like foam on stormy seas, are the memories of our time spent chasing him. We drove, and we drove, and we catapulted ourselves across the sprawling wild landscape that was the United States of America in the late 80s and early 90s. Always, it was us, three kids and a mother that knew nothing but bravery. This is to the mother that carried us, some small ode to the woman that packed the van, filled the cooler in the small space by the sliding door my feet would rest on from the furthest back row, that would drive and drive and hide the weariness she felt after three straight days of 12 hours behind the wheel.

It was Dolly that we sang, and I remember joining them. It was Silver and Gold, it was Jolene, it was “Rockin’ chairs, Rockin’ babies, rock-a-bye rock of ages,” and the way we’d all sing and look at each other around the van, McGraw in the middle seat, Rian stretched out to my left, when we’d sing “Side by side, we'll be together always,” and then laugh at our pitchlessness. Outside, America, one that felt mysterious and wide, but somehow with my Mom at the helm, never dangerous. Not once.

Somehow she navigated us through the great Southwest, through the red valleys that led to Santa Fe and onto Albuquerque, to gas stations that glowed in the failing light like some neon oases, over mountain passes, dry deserts that became mud-washed plains after flash floods from monsoon season in New Mexico. She, alone, delivered us safely through a California that struggled with gang violence on unprecedented levels, through late May snowstorms in the Sierras, tornadoes in the middle of the Bible Belt, through chicken pox twice in the Appalachians. Somehow, she made it magic, somehow, she made it fun.

Screenless, as we were still years and years from the devices that distract us now, she manufactured some miracle of entertainment out of the games we played while we had nothing but hours and hours to spend stuck in that maroon VW. The Cow Game, where we counted cows we drove by, dividing up teams by which side of the car we sat on, the elation when we past some giant herd, the devastation when we saw a cemetery and lost every bovine we’d counted. She made scavenger hunts for all we might see on the roadside as it whipped by us, the grand prize hiding in a brown grocery bag on the empty seat beside her when one of spotted the ultimate find, a Mayflower moving truck with the little green ship besides those massive red letters.

Magic is what we invent from nothing at all, the illusions we convince others to believe in with all their tiny hearts, and in this, she was magician, she was Houdini or Copperfield, she was some master of sleight-of-hand that could convince an undiagnosed Autistic child with IBS and twenty unknown food allergies to get into a car and sit, and sit, and sit, for a dozen hours, three days in a row, just to get to wherever my Dad was assigned for the Summer, whatever team he happened to be coaching that year. I call this magic, and call it miraculous that when we look back on this long stretch of our lives, all three of us kids that are now adults, call it beautiful.

I believe us shaped by the things we share, the history that is ours unique, the songs we sang, the world we watched float by just beyond our windows. Me and the three girls, always this, and I believe me shaped by my intense adoration and respect for each of them. All I am is from the women who molded me, and no hands transformed the clay of me more than my mother.

It’s Dolly Parton, sure, but it’s my mother’s voice singing the words. It will always be her voice, and I’ll never stop hearing it.

Across a country,

Autumn in its infancy,

you carried us home.

Haiku on Life by Tyler Knott Gregson

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Signal Fire by Tyler Knott Gregson
Signal Fire by Tyler Knott Gregson
Tyler Knott Gregson and his weekly "Sunday Edition" of his Signal Fire newsletter. Diving into life, poetry, relationships, sex, human nature, the universe, and all things beautiful.