Ermie’s Pilgrimage Home
By goodness she had raised her son, cleaned his behind when it was dirty, sat up long nights through illnesses, prayed for his safety during his years of playing football, and wiped stray tears away the day she watched him leave the nest for college. There were no questions or doubts about the bond between mother and son. But lately, those bonds had been tested by his constant hovering over her.
“Mother, I really wish you would reconsider.” His condescending tone dripped with sugar folded into a Southern drawl. “I don’t like the idea of you living alone.”
Ermie slammed the trunk of the faded green and white Datsun. The car had been a beauty in its day, glistening in the sun among the rows of new cars. She’d just graduated with her degree as an English major from the University and had been hired with one of the Atlanta newspapers. Her dreams of becoming a journalist were on their way to fruition. So what if her new job had her writing a weekly column as Ask Aunt Bertha, and any other bottom feeding job they threw at her. It was the seventies a time for feminine liberation. Her first act toward claiming her stake in the movement was marching onto that car lot and buying her first car. For a fleeting moment, she felt like that young woman making her stance once again for independence. “You act like I’m some doddering old fool. I’ll have you know I am still quite capable of caring for myself.”
“Mother, I don’t see you as a doddering old fool.” Her son shifted his weight. “Kate and I are just concern about you living so far from us. Especially since your heart attack.”
“You make it sound like Athens is on the other side of the planet.” Picking up the carrier, she ignored the growing complaints from its captive occupant. Ermie held the carrier up eye level and was met with a glowering stare. A long emphatic ‘meuuuuw’ was yelled at her. “Oh Aesop, I know. No one likes being caged.” The cat lay on its stomach with its front paws outstretched and turned its head away from Ermie.
“You make it sound like we keep you locked up like a prisoner.” Her son thought about how both he and his wife had tried to make Ermie feel welcomed. They always included her on their social calendar. Rarely, did they ask her to babysit the kids. Both of them were supportive of her writing.
“I just feel like an intruder. I need my own space.” Ermie carefully placed her beloved companion on the front seat. She thought about how the past six months she had felt caged in her son’s home. Even the city that had once been friendly to her felt like a jungle of aggression. She longed for the comfort of the place that centered her – Athens. Atlanta was no longer the slow- paced, genteel place. It was always bustling with people frantically moving from one place to another. Between climbing career and social ladders, Ermie was amazed that her son and daughter-in-law found time to make their three beautiful children. Bless their tiny hearts they were adorable but way too much energy for Ermie and Aesop. The poor cat had started losing clumps of fur from the stress of screaming kids always chasing after him.
“What if you fall and get hurt? Or Someone breaks in and tries to rob you?”
Ermie knew her son was trying to use scare tactics to make her change her mind. He’d been using that strategy since the day she announced she was moving. “That’s why I’m always packing.” Ermie patted her purse sitting on top of the car. That was another issue her son did not take kindly. He was sure she would end up shooting herself. Ermie removed the purse and placed it on the floor of the passenger side. “There’s nothing you can say or do to change my mind.” Ermie walked to the driver’s side of the car. She stood with the door open before getting into the driver’s seat. She took a long look at her son. He was the spitting image of his father: tall, muscular but not to the point of being bulky, traces of gray made its appearance in his dark hair. His stance even mimicked his father, especially when she had exasperated him to the point of blinding frustration.
Her son threw his hands up in defeat. “Just call us if you need anything. You know you have a place to come back to.”
“I know.” Ermie slid into the car. With a white knuckled death grip on the steering wheel, she braced herself for the assault of the Atlanta traffic. Aesop’s protests became louder and with a fervent pitch of disdain for his captivity. Ermie tried to block out the cat’s vocal protests. She stared at herself in the rearview mirror. “You can do this.”
Maneuvering the concrete maze known as Spaghetti Junction made her think of all the twist and turns her life had taken her. She’d walked away from a successful career at the paper to pursue domestication. After years of playing wife and mother, she found herself wanting more. Against her husband’s wishes, she returned to college and obtained her Masters in English Literature. The opportunity to teach at the University helped her overcome the battle of empty nest syndrome and gave her a fulfilling purpose. After her husband’s defeat with the battle of cancer, she began to follow a lifelong secret dream. Ermie started to dabble with writing. At the age of sixty-five, she held her published novel in her hands. The moment made her feel like a first time mother holding her newborn.
The multi-lane arteries of Interstate Eighty-Five were clogged with people willing to trade paint for their small piece of real estate. Ermie tried to ignore the craving for nicotine burning across her taste buds. Cigarettes were the one device she refused to give up in life. Despite all the chiding her son gave about the imminent lethal outcomes.
She had to remain strong and keep focused. The huge white lettering on the overhead sign only gave a number: three-sixteen with the direction to exit right. Just another quarter of a mile and she would be on the corridor that would lead her to the Promise Land. The irony of the situation caused a small smile to crack the chiseled concentration, to Ermie this road was her salvation. Like a stray sheep being herded, she eased into the lane and continued.
Ermie mustered enough courage to look at Aesop’s cage. Crystal blue eyes glared from the sable colored round face. “We’re almost home.” A turn of the head with one ear cocked backward and the other forward was her only response.
Traffic began to move at the speed in which Ermie thought. It wasn’t that she was dimwitted. At her age, she had learned that taking a leisurely approach to life was more preferred. That was one of the areas of conflict with her son. She was happy sitting at home in her pajamas, surrounded by newspapers, watching reruns of old black and whites, and eating out of the box of corn flakes while swilling cold coffee.
Uncontrollably, Ermie busted into song startling the sulking feline. Off-key and pitch verses of ‘Amazing Grace’ mingled with the chorus of ‘Glory, Glory, Glory to Ole Georgia’ were sung at the top of her lungs. Her heart danced with elation and her spirit felt free.
Another green sign passed with the letters A-T-H-E-N-S in bold white type on it. She was home. Just for old time’s sake she cruised through the heart of the classical town. She passed the building where she had once commanded the attention and minds of hormonally charged freshmen. It was standing in front of their blank faces that she tried to impart on them her love for those that inspired her to write, authors such as: Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, James Joyce, and Georgia’s own – Flannery O’Connor.
The end of the tour found her in the quaint Five Points Area and passing the Waffle House. Her first novel had been written by hand while sitting in the last booth near the windows. Three a.m. often found her sitting absorbed by her characters and their adventures. By goodness, she was an author – published. Her creative muse, years of teaching college freshmen, and raising a family gave her the right to be a little eccentric.
The final turn of her journey placed her dented, faded Datsun in the driveway of an Arts and Crafts bungalow. Ermie relaxed her grip on the steering wheel and leaned back into the seat. A fuzzy flexed paw reached from the interior of the cage. Ermie poked a finger through the opening. Aesop rubbed his face against the finger and gave a loud purr. Ermie reached inside her purse locating her pack of cigarettes. She pulled one out and lit it before taking a long slow drag. Bluish-white smoke filled the interior of the car. The phrase, free, at last, thank goodness, free at last, looped through her mind.
About the Author:
Tori Bailey is the author of the Coming Home Trilogy. She released her first novel of the titled trilogy in 2010 and released the second novel, Ethel’s Song, last fall through Turnip Press Publishing. She enjoys writing about life in the South and the rich characters that one can find on any visit. Tori is currently working on the last installment of the trilogy, Unexpected Places.
She currently makes her home in the Athens area with her husband and four rescue cats. When not writing, she is a full time 9-1-1 Communication Officer for a Metro-Atlanta center. Visit her website: www.readtoribailey.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter.