We’re not even 10 minutes out of town, and the boys, 6 and 3, want me to put the top back up, and I’m thinking: This is yet another example of my ambition outstripping their attention spans. In their defense, it’s windy in the back seat, much windier than up in the cockpit proper, and they’re not even huge fans of having all the windows down in the van. Whose idea was this, anyway, this renting of the convertible? Mine, I’m realizing. They like helicopters and airplanes and race cars plenty, but they might like the idea of those things more than the things themselves. Me? I’ve rented a midlife crisis. And I don’t want to put the top up.
However: Through trial and error, we learn that to drive with the top down, but the windows up, is a happy enough medium. “It will blow us out!” The Wee, my younger son, keeps hollering, holding onto his bucket hat like a Southern lady in a sudden storm. But then he asks: “What’s this car again, Daddy? What’s our cool car called?” Convertible, I tell him. “Oh,” he says. “Combertible.” He grins, starting to get his bearings. “Go fast!” he says. We’re on a two-lane. I punch it. We go fast.
• • •
South to Asheboro for a fancy lunch at The Table, a place with great bread and patient waitstaff, and then on into the Uwharrie National Forest. It’s one of those days that has no season, warm in the sun and cool in the wind, and where long sleeves pushed partway up your arms feels like the right answer. The boys are in the back, watching their hair blow around, and my wife and I are up front, remembering how to hold hands. The boys take off their shoes. The little one spreads his toes apart, giggling. “Daddy!” he says. He was the first to cry, but also the first one to start to enjoy the whole thing. “I can make the breeze be inside my toes!”
It takes us a while to find the forest proper — to get out of farmland and houses and into the true wild — but as we do, I keep thinking we’ve crossed a border into some other land. We marvel at the sudden mountains, or pre-mountains, or, more accurately, post-mountains: What was, 500 million years ago, a volcanic range that reached 20,000 feet now sports High Rock Mountain, at about 1,200 feet, and a few lesser domes. It feels vaguely Appalachian, which makes sense: North Carolina does ancient mountain ranges well. My kids care little about geology, of course. They ask me to turn up the radio.
My wife, who wasn’t totally on board with this experiment (her concern was safety; it’s not like I’m loading them into the back of a pickup, loose, and driving them to the Dairy Queen, I told her), now has her feet on the dash and her Wayfarers on. I get us half-lost, drive onto the unpaved section of Eleazer Church Road, which leads to Eleazer Church, a white clapboard building with stained-glass windows. There’s a cemetery across the road with a big dogwood in the center, pre-Civil War gravestones, and several markers that seem to date to well before that. By now, The Wee is asleep, and his brother, The Toad, is in a waking coma. With the engine off, the only sounds are birds, wind in the grass, and maybe some distant creek. This is the point of a drive: to find the kind of quiet you have to luck into.
On the way back, we stop at the North Carolina Aviation Museum, a two-hangar affair where the boys get to sit in a Cessna and get their picture taken in front of a biplane. Back in the car, The Toad says: “This was seriously fun. We got to go to a restaurant, drive around, go to a museum, fly in a real plane in the real sky, and pet a king cobra.” He has a casual relationship with the truth.
“Yeah,” The Wee says. “Is this Bacation?”
Sure it is, I tell them. I roll the windows down a little. They’re getting used to this. I head out onto the road, not at all in the direction of home.
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