Eventually it was time for us to head home, for my young son James and me. But the idea of heading straight home just did not appeal to me, at all. It seemed like there was more adventure to be had out on the road, more time to kill before getting back to work, more valuable one-on-one time with James (or Jamie as we called him then).
So I got out the road atlas and planned an alternate route that would take us through the mountains of western Virginia, heading southwest towards Knoxville, Tennessee, where we would get a motel room and spend the night. Then back home to Chicago.
Interstate 81 goes through the mountains of western Virginia, tracing a line roughly parallel to and maybe 40 miles east of the diagonal northwestern border. It’s a nice drive, with few cars. Relaxing. And most importantly, it has a very funny sign on it, announcing the name of a road passing underneath: “Butt Hollow Road”.
Yep. Butt Hollow Road. This is a name that, unsurprisingly, makes four-year-old boys laugh hysterically for hours.
I’m not exaggerating. We drove for at least an hour or two after seeing that sign where he could barely contain himself he was laughing so long and so hard. And I couldn’t stop laughing either, mostly because of him and his spasms of laughter. Just when I thought he was done, up it started again. I’ve never in my life heard anybody laugh for so long about one thing.
To this day, we still laugh about Butt Hollow Road, and it is one of his most prominent memories growing up.
Did I realize, when we left for this trip, that it would provide a memory that we can both share and that I can hold onto forever, even when I need a drool cup? No, no I did not.
But that’s the beauty of serendipity – it’s unexpected, and because of that, it seems to carry more weight, to have more intrinsic value. Thinking back on my own childhood, I don’t remember much about birthday parties or family events or other planned social gatherings, but I remember the unplanned silliness, the moments of serendipity, really well.
One of my strongest memories is when I was about six years old, sitting at the kitchen table with my friend Cathy Wilson, eating lunch on a Saturday. My mom gave us some Fig Newtons for desert. Suddenly I was compelled to say “watch this”, and then to pick one up, and then to take a little bite out of one corner, and then to put it on the table and drive it around like it was a little truck, making vrrooom! vrrooom! noises. We both laughed like loons. We laughed so hard we could hardly breathe. After we were done, we couldn’t look at each other without breaking into huge grins, and laughing again.
OK, maybe you had to be there. Or maybe you just had to be six years old. Or both, like Cathy and me.
But just remember: Serendipity. It’s awesome, and after my road trip with James, it is forever connected in my head with laughing hysterically in my red truck about Butt Hollow Road.