Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Tale of the Dragon

Mary Leona Carter is the sister I never met because she died when she was a baby, years before I was
born. She remains very much a part of our family--anybody who has lost a child knows this--but as you might expect I've spent countless hours wondering what Mary Leona would have gotten up to had she lived longer. I can ascribe with certainty only five traits I can be sure a grown-up M.L. would have. My big sister would:

* Read lots (all  Carter women do);
* Have the party gene (See above re: Carters);
TENNESSEE FOR MILES AND MILES:  Or it could be North Carolina.
But it sure reminded me of "Cold Mountain"
* Believe herself to be the wittiest person in whatever room she's in;
* Compete to be the most loved aunt and drive hundreds of kilometres from Sudbury to Toronto and back the same day to watch her youngest and handsomest nephew Michel compete in pre-teen gymnastics competition;
* Spoil  me, her baby brother, something perfect. Exhibit A: When I was 17, my sister Bertholde let me and my buddy Mike Blondin take her brand new white Buick Century on a three day joyride to Thunder Bay, a 12-hour drive  from our home in Sudbury. I'm not sure if I've told her, but that trip was the first time I ever hit black ice. Nothing bad happened but Bertholde almost lost her Buick, not to mention a sibling, and the black-ice incident got relegated to that endless series of close calls that have marked my years on this planet.

YAY FOR MODERN ENGINEERING: Even
though my bike was built last century, like me, it still
runs okay.
Which brings me back to Mary Leona.

Just yesterday, it occured to me. The black ice didn't take me, Mike and the Buick out of circulation, because--and you're reading it here for the first time ever--I have one bad-ass guardian angel and her name is Mary Leona Carter.

Stay with me here.

I, Peter Carter, am the luckiest person I've ever met. I've long wondered why. Now I know.

I'm also lazy. So instead of going into a long-winded essay about Mary Leona (which most people wouldn't read anyway) I've summed it up into five discrete points. And they are the following:

5) Earlier this month, my daughter Ev and I took our two aging motorcycles to a 16-km stretch of North Carolina highway called "The Tail of The Dragon." Wikipedia describes it as "one of the world's foremost motorcycling and sports car touring roads." Another writer put it this way: "it is not a road for the squeamish but if you're looking for excitement, don't miss this one." There's a sign near the beginning of the road that says "High Motorcycle Crash Area ahead." So the fact that I'm here, writing this, means somebody is watching over me. Truth be told, if I were simply making a case for being the most fortunate man on earth, all I'd have to do is remind you that I just got back from a week-long father-daughter bike trip with my 28-year-old kid. It gets no better'n that, period. But I digress.

SON OF A DITCH: That was close.
4) After Ev and I had been riding The Tail for about 10 minutes, I made a tiny steering miscalculation that meant my front wheel went a direction I hadn't planned on and wheee! down into the ditch I motorcycled. Cue Mary Leona: For most of the Tail of the Dragon, there is no ditch; there's just cliff. Mary Leona ensured that when her baby brother made a doofus move, he did it at the sole point where the only thing that got dented was his ego.

3) What's more, go enumerate the things that can go wrong on a trip like that. We ride old bikes. I drive a 1993 Harley and Ev's got an '04 BMW. We did almost 3,000 klicks on unfamiliar highways and backroads; we got hit by rain (a bit) and then there's this: I remember at one point heading down a northbound onramp and taking mental stock of all the things I was doing, at about 90 km/h: Looking ahead at the road while glancing in my left rear-view mirror and twisting the right handgrip to accelerate, pulling the left lever because that's the clutch, shifting into a higher gear with my left foot, hitting the signal light switch with my left thumb, trying to avoid the cracks on the road and
PETE'S U-TURN GONE SOUR: We'll add that to
near the top left
wondering if that itching I could feel under my helmet was an insect or, well, you know just  an itch. Motorbike riders are often very very busy people. The potential for mistakes is boundless. Add that to everything else that could go wrong on any trip, anywhere, motorbikes notwithstanding. Ev's and my adventure unfolded seamlessly. Credit: Mary L.

2) Here's where it gets weird. Just before our trip, I coincidentally devoured a novel called Cold Mountain, which takes place in post-Civil War Tennessee; which was the very part of the world we were about to visit. Once there, every few stops, I'd see something and tell Ev "it's just like outta Cold Mountain!" and though she never let on, it probably got a bit irritating. And then, and then..The day after the Tail of The Dragon, we found ourselves in Nashville; and I saw that Tim O'Brien was playing a bar called The Station Inn. "Tim O'Brien," I told Ev, "produced the soundtrack to the Cold Mountain movie." You'll see in the last point, why big sister Mary Leona made this happen, too.
O'BRIEN& CARTER: Spoiled brothers in arms. 

1) We went to the Station Inn. First thing I noticed about O'Brien? He sorta looked like we could be related. Then he started talking about life as the youngest of five kids. He, like me, was spoiled, and his parents--like mine--didn't force a career choice on him. "I told my mom when I grow up I wanna be a musician  and she said 'Sorry Tim, you'll have to choose.'" (I thought it was funny.) Then he told a story about a song he wrote after finding an old photo of his sister who died at six, and--guess what--O'Brien was too young to remember her but she was very much a part of his family and by the time O'Brien was halfway through the beautiful composition, I and lots of other people in the room were looking at the stage through tears. The song is about how all through his life, O'Brien considered his older sister who died in as a child his guardian angel. If that's not schmaltzy enough for you, here it is in song. "Guardian Angel" by Tim O'Brien.

Oh. One more thing thing I could be certain of with Mary Leona?

She would read to the end of this blog then call or email or text to tell me what a wonderful writer I am. All my sisters do that.