One Last River to Cross

One Last River to Cross

I drove along the Monongahela River and up the winding hills out of Morgantown to I-68 just after the morning rush hour. A few miles after that came the glittering Cheat Lake, fed by the Cheat River. Soon after that I crossed the state line into Maryland and cheered at being one state removed from “home.” This stretch of I-68 is part of a National Scenic Byway – and scenic it is. Rolling hills covered with a lush carpet of emerald grass were interspersed with clusters of trees painted in spring’s palette of olive, jade and sea green, pastel pinks and yellows, and dogwood white. Rushing creeks tumbled over rocky beds then disappeared into leafy glades of ferns and mayapples.

The miles rolled away under my wheels as high white tufted clouds floated above me. I crossed the Youghiogheny River at Friendsville then climbed up and down over Keyser’s Ridge, Negro Mountain, Big Savage Mountain, Meadow Mountain and the Eastern Continental Divide, all part of the “Penn Alps” region, and crossed the Casselman River. This area also boasts an incredible number of state parks: Swallow Falls, Herrington Manor, Deep Creek Lake, Big Run, New Germany, Savage River and Dan’s Mountain, just to name a few.

Cumberland, MD looked like a charming, historic city on the banks of the Potomac River, but exploring it would have to wait for another time. I had a brief flashback about Cumberland as I drove through. When I attended 10th and 11th grade in Bedford, PA, the legal drinking age in PA was 21, while it was 18 in Maryland. Cumberland was just a short drive away, and it was the home of “Tommy Diehl’s” – a tavern of questionable reputation where any teenager who was tall enough to shove their money across the counter could get beer or wine from Tommy (or so I’d heard…)

Just outside of Cumberland, I exited the Interstate and headed north on Route 220 toward Bedford. What sweet peace to cross the Pennsylvania state line and be “welcomed” by a big blue sign outlined by flowering trees.

Bedford County farms are among the prettiest in the country, and I say this even after having driven through Iowa and Indiana. (okay – the fact that I spent the first 12 years of my life living on one of them makes me just slightly biased) The barns are almost always red, with stone foundations, but their roof lines vary – rounded, angular, and gambrel. Most of the farmhouses are red brick, often with white Victorian gingerbread along the roof lines.

But the farms weren’t the reason for this detour. Though the two high school years I’d spent in Bedford were a lifetime ago, I had some unfinished business there. The past couple of days had made me realize it was well past time to address it.

I exited Route 220 and drove up East Pitt Street. I parked in front of S&S Appliances, the business my parents had purchased in January, 1977.

That winter, Dad, Mom, my two brothers and I had packed up and moved to Bedford from Elizabethtown (it was the middle of my 10th grade year). We had settled into one of the apartments above the store and Mom and Dad started to run the business.

I pushed open the heavy oak door and walked into the high-ceilinged entryway that led to the upstairs apartments. I walked up the steep stairway and stood for a while in the echoing hallway, remembering. Then I went back down those creaking stairs one last time. The loud slam of that heavy oak door sounded as I imagine it might have on the October day when I’d returned home from school and learned that Mom had left – for good – while we were at school. In the summer of 1978, Dad sold the store, and he, my brothers and I moved back to Elizabethtown, just before my senior year of high school.

As I drove out of Bedford, everything looked much the same as it had back then – Eleanor’s Dress Shop next to the appliance store, the bank on the corner, the Dollar General store up the street. Even the Pitt Theater, where I’d gotten my first-ever paying job looked the same. Yet everything had changed. I knew it was finally time to pay attention to my own sermon.

After two more hours of Turnpike driving, there was one last river to cross. I crossed it, and was finally home.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What river might you need to cross?

Posted by Melanie Tagged as: grace goes to prison book tour

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