BACKROADS OF MY MIND
“Aren't we there yet?” asked Candy. “How much farther is it?” “Go back to sleep,” said Johnny. “I'll wake you when we get there.” “I can't believe your sister couldn't handle this,” said Candy. “You could lose your sponsor.” “She's got three kids in school and working two jobs to make ends meet,” said Johnny. “If it was Mom, she'd be here in a heartbeat, but she'd be useless trying to fill Dad's shoes.” “This is only temporary, right?” asked Candy. “A couple of weeks at the most.” “Sure,” said Johnny. “Dad's tough. He'll bounce right back.” “I bet they don't even have cable way out here,” said Candy. “What am I going to do for two whole weeks?” “Rough it,” said Johnny, “and stop bitching. We're not even there yet.” “Johnny, you never talked to me like that before,” said Candy. “I know you're under a lot of pressure, but I have feelings too.” “I'm sorry, Candy,” said Johnny. “Go on back to sleep.” Johnny thought about his younger days in Harden County before he graduated high school and joined a pit crew on the Nascar circuit. Today he was a famous formula one driver with a great sponsor and a great pit crew of his own. He had met Candy in Barcelona when she presented him with the winner's trophy. After a whirlwind romance, they were married in Paris.
Johnny loved the excitement of racing but was still a country boy at heart. He would have been just as happy racing stock cars on dirt tracks but the pay wouldn't have been as good. Somehow, Candy managed to spend it as fast as he could make it. If this took more than a couple of weeks, he'd have to sublet one of the condos, maybe both. They had talked more on this trip than they had talked in any one week since they met, even with Candy dozing off every thirty minutes. He was beginning to realize just how little they had in common with their clothes on. Johnny talked to his mom at least once every couple of weeks, but he had not been home since he starting driving the formula one circuit. He hadn't spoken to Dad since the last time he was home. He remembered helping his dad on the farm since he was old enough to walk. Looking back, he realized for probably the first time, that he had never been much help, but Dad never complained. He just seemed to enjoy having Johnny around. His dad had never approved of Johnny's interest in racing. He had tried to convince Johnny to go to an agricultural college. It was one of the few things they had ever disagreed on. “Honey, wake up,” said Johnny as he pulled into the driveway. “We're here.” “Louisiana plates,” said Candy. “Is that your sister's car?” “I think so,” said Johnny. “I don't see Dad's chevy. What's going on?” “Uncle Johnny,” screamed Johnny's niece and nephews as they came running up to the car. “Is this your racecar? Can you take us for a ride?” “Not right now,” said Johnny. “Maybe later. Where's your mom?” “She's inside taking a nap,” said Wendy. “She didn't get much sleep last night.”
“Where's your Grandma?” asked Johnny. “Is she inside?” “She's at the hospital with Grandpa Bill,” said Ricky. “He's awful sick.” “I thought he was already home from the hospital,” said Johnny. “Mom said he was recovering.” “Mommy can explain it better,” said Wendy. “I'll go wake her up. You coming in?” “We're right behind you, sweety,” said Candy. “We'll get the bags later.” .................... “Johnny, thank God you're here,” said Sarah. “He had another stroke. They found a tumor, and they operated last night. He's still in intensive care.” “What do the doctors say are his chances?” asked Johnny. “Is he conscious? Does he recognize anyone?” “You should get there right away,” said Sarah. “It's not looking good. I'll feed the kids and be there as soon as I can.” “You go ahead with Johnny,” said Candy. “I'll feed the kids.” “Sarah, this is Candy,” said Johnny. “Candy, this is my sister.” “We'd better hurry, Johnny,” said Sarah. “Kids, you mind Candy. She's the boss till I see you again. I'm driving, Johnny. I never did trust your driving.” .................... “How are you holding up, Sis?” asked Johnny.
“Better than Mom,” said Sarah. “This is really hard on her. She'll be so glad to see you.” “Did anybody see this coming?” asked Johnny. “Has Dad been in poor health?” “It's just right out of the blue,” said Sarah, tears running down her cheeks. “One minute he's fine and then ...” “Maybe you should let me drive,” said Johnny. “Pull over.” “I'll be fine,” said Sarah as she wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “Have you got a cigarette?” “Stop at Orville's and I'll buy a pack,” said Johnny. “I could use one too.” “It's a chain store now,” said Sarah. “You haven't been home for a while, have you?” “It's been a while, I guess,” said Johnny. “Time flies when you're busy.” “Tell me about it,” said Sarah. “Seems like only yesterday the kids were in diapers. Wendy's in the fifth grade.” “Mom told be about Bobby Joe,” said Johnny. “When does he get out?” “Doesn't matter,” said Sarah. “We're divorced now. I hope they throw away the key.” “Ever think about moving home?” asked Johnny. “Yeah, but the kids have all got their friends,” said Sarah. “Besides, there's no jobs to be found around here.”
“I kinda miss the old days,” said Johnny. “It's gonna be nice to see some of my old friends.” “If they're still around,” said Sarah. “Things change. We grow up and we grow apart. Candy's even more beautiful than her pictures. How are you guys doing?” “Okay, I guess,” said Johnny. “Can't complain.” “I didn't give it a year when I heard that you two got married,” said Sarah. “She's a little high maintenance, isn't she?” “That's just the way she grew up,” said Johnny. “You have to get to know her.” “Well, I wish I had time,” said Sarah. “But as soon as Dad's out of the woods, we're heading back to Shreveport.” “I'm gonna make it a point to come and see you,” said Johnny. “I promise. It shouldn't take a family crisis to bring us together.” .................... “We're here,” said Sarah. “Try not to freak out when you see Dad.” “We never did get that cigarette,” said Johnny. “Well, I think it's gonna take more than a cigarette to solve our problems. You ready?” “Try to smile, Johnny,” said Sarah. “Momma always loved your smile.” “I'll try,” said Johnny. .................... The last time Johnny was in this hospital, he had fallen out of an oak tree and broken his arm and twisted an ankle. They had added a few more floors and several more wings since then. As he
followed Sarah down the long corridor to the elevators, childhood memories of Dad carrying him into the emergency room and holding his other hand as they set the broken bones rushed through his mind. “Will he be able to play the piano?” his dad had asked the Doc. Johnny had never played the piano before, and the humor in his Dad's voice had brought a smile to his face. As they rode the elevator up toward the fourth floor, the door opened and a nurse stepped in. “Johnny, Johnny Winfield. For heaven's sakes. How are you?” she exclaimed. “Betty Jean!” said Johnny. “Is that really you? You haven't changed a bit.” “Oh, I heard about your dad,” said Betty Jean. “How's he doing?” “I just got here,” said Johnny. “I'm going to see him right now.” “How long are you in town?” asked Betty Jean. “We've got to get together and talk about old times.” “Not sure yet,” said Johnny. “Sounds great. This is our floor. I'll look you up after I get settled in.” Johnny had had a crush on Betty Jean ever since they played spin the bottle at her thirteenth birthday party. But try as he may, he never got past first base with her. He had often wondered what things would have been like if he had stayed home and gone to college. “You can introduce her to Candy,” said Sarah as they exited the elevator. “Yeah,” said Johnny. “They'll hit it right off. She's just an old friend, for God's sake.” “Hey, it's me, your sister,” said Sarah. “I still remember how you followed her around like a stray puppy.”
“We were kids,” said Johnny. “I'm a married man.” “Just so you remember,” said Sarah. “I already knew that.” “Little Johnny Winfield,” said Aunt Rose. “My, how you've grown. Give me a hug. You're so handsome.” “Hi, Aunt Rose,” said Johnny as he gave her a hug. “You're as lovely as ever. I think you've lost a few pounds.” “No honey,” said Rose. “Your arms are just longer. Now where did your uncle go? Horace, get over here.” “Johnny, well I'll be,” said Horace as tears came to his eyes. “All grown up. You look so much like your dad at that age.” “It's good to see you again, Uncle Horace,” said Johnny. “Where's Mom?” “She in his room with your Grandma,” said Rose. “They're only letting two at a time in the room.” “Have you seen him today?” asked Johnny. “We just got here about thirty minutes ago,” said Rose. “Here comes Gladys now.” “Momma,” said Sarah as she met her halfway. “How is he?” “Is that Johnny?” asked Gladys as Sarah nodded. “He's improving. He opened his eyes.” “Mom!” said Johnny. “Have you had any sleep. You look like you're exhausted.” “You look fine too, son,” said Gladys. “You're just in time. You're dad's awake.”
“Did he recognize you?” asked Johnny. “Of course he recognized me,” said Gladys. “He asked about you two.” “He can talk?” asked Sarah, “That's a good sign, isn't it?” “He's paralized from the neck down,” said Gladys. “The doctors said it's too early to tell if it's permanent or not.” “Can we see him?” asked Johnny. “Sure, Son,” said Gladys. “Let me just get your grandma, then you can both go in.” .................... “Grandma,” said Johnny. “It's so good to see you. How have you been?” “You didn't come all this way to see me,” said Grandma. “Get your butt in there. We'll talk later.” “Yes ma'am,” said Johnny. “Save me a hug, cutie.” “Don't you worry,” said Grandma. “Your dad's going to be just fine.” “Thanks, Grandma,” said Johnny as he and Sarah headed for the room. .................... As they walked into the room, their dad smiled up at them. “What's a man got to do to get his family together?” asked Bill. “Hi Sissy … Son.”
“How're you comfortable.”
“I've been better, Son,” said Bill as he managed a smile. “How are you doing?” “I'm just fine, Dad,” said Johnny as he held his dad's hand. “We've come to bust you out of this joint. Just let us know when you're ready to go.” “Oh, they treat me pretty good here,” said Bill. “I might just stay a while.” “Did you just squeeze my hand?” asked Johnny as he looked at Sarah. “I think he squeezed my hand.” “Just a muscle spasm, the doctor says,” said Bill. “It's just a matter of time.” .................... “We had McDonalds,” said Wendy as Johnny and Sarah returned to the waiting room. “We rode in a racing car.” “That's nice, honey.” said Sarah. “Say goodbye to everyone. We've got to head back home.” “How's he doing, Johnny?” asked Candy. “He's paralyzed from the neck down,” said Johnny. “It too early to tell if it's permanent. Mentally he's fine but this could take some time.” “I can't do this, Johnny,” said Candy. “I can't bear to see you so sad. I'm going home. Sarah, have you got room for one more?” “But Candy,” said Johnny. “I have to stay.”
“I understand,” said Candy. “But I can't. Give me a call when everything is good and we'll talk.” “We've got room if it's okay with Johnny,” said Sarah. “I'll catch a plane for home when we reach Shreveport,” said Candy. “I'll take care of everything back there so you can help out here.” “If that's the way you want it,” said Johnny. “I'll miss you.” .................... For several weeks Johnny worked the farm by day and hung around town during the evenings. It didn't take long to find out that all of his old friends had either left town or had families and lives of their own. “Candy called today,” said Gladys as Johnny entered the house. “She asked me to give you a message. She said your replacement driver just won the French Grand Prix and they signed him to a five year contract. She said you've thrown away everything you love most. What did she mean by that?” “She probably wants a divorce,” said Johnny. “Next time she calls, just tell her to send the papers. I'll sign 'em. She's never going to move here and I can't leave.” The next day, Johnny stopped by the bar where he had seen Betty Jean hanging out after her shift at the hospital. Feeling sorry for himself, he order a whiskey with a beer chaser and nibbled on a bowl of peanuts while he waited for her to show. An hour later, he was still sipping on a beer as he stacked the shotglasses in various formations. “Johnny,” said Betty Jean as she walked up to the bar. “What's up?” “Oh hi, Betty Jean,” said Johnny. “Want to dance?”
“Sure Johnny,” said Betty Jean. “Oops. You're gonna have to get up if you want to dance.” “Where have you been, Betty Jean?” asked Johnny. “I've been waiting for you for fifteen … no, thirty … a long time. Help me up?” .................... Johnny woke up with a headache and a hangover worse that any he could remember. “Who are you?” he asked as he looked at the beautiful woman in bed beside him. “Where's Betty Jean?” “Betty Jean!” yelled the redhead. “He's awake.” “Be right there,” said Betty Jean. “Don't you start without me.” “Holy crap,” said Johnny as he jumped out of bed holding his head. “Where are my pants?” .................... “Where'd he go?” asked Betty Jean as she entered the bedroom. “I've never seen a man get dressed so fast,” said the redhead. “Is he a fireman?” “A racecar driver,” said Betty Jean. “He was fast,” said the redhead. “If he does everything that fast, it's just as well he's gone. Are you coming to bed?” As Johnny walked down the street towards downtown and the bar where he had parked his car, he heard a car honk. Holding his head, he looked around. “Get in the car, Johnny,” yelled Gladys. “What are you doing? Where are your shoes?” “What's going on, Mom?” asked Johnny. “Is that Dad in the car with you?”
“He can walk,” said Gladys. “We're headed for the hospital. They want to run some tests. It's a miracle.” “That's great news, Dad,” said Johnny as he hopped into the back seat. “What happened?” “I just woke up and I had a pain in the neck like you wouldn't believe,” said Bill, “lying right there beside me.” “Bill!” said Gladys. “All the feeling is back,” said Bill, “I'm a little stiff and sore from lying around so much, but I can walk.” “There's my car,” said Johnny. “I gotta run home and change clothes and take a shower. See you at the hospital.” “Call your sister,” said Gladys. “I will, Mom,” said Johnny as he hopped out of the car. .................... “It's a complete recovery,” said Gladys. “He'll be back in the fields in a couple of days.” “That's great, Dad,” said Johnny. “I'll just stick around for a while till you can handle it by yourself.” “What part of complete recovery didn't you understand, Son,” asked Dad. “You've got races to win.” “That's all over,” said Johnny. “You were right all along.” “It's not over till Aunt Rose sings,” said Bill. “Do you love her, Son?”
“Of course I do, but ...” “My son is no quitter,” said Bill. “You tell that little girl how you feel or you'll never forgive yourself.” “But what if ...” “What if a frog had wings?” asked Bill. “He wouldn't bump his butt when he jumped,” laughed Johnny. “And I'm gonna kick your butt if you don't get out of here,” said Bill. “And I can do it, too.” .................... “If I'd known he could drive like that, I would have sent him to racecar school,” laughed Bill. “I hope he doesn't get a ticket,” said Gladys. “I don't think he has enough money to pay attention.” .................... “Hi, honey,” said Johnny. “I'm home.” “It's about time,” said Candy. “You've got a new sponsor.” “Who?” asked Johnny. “I'm not going to drive for just anyone.” “Me,” said Candy. “Now I know you didn't want me to work, but I got tired of just sitting around. You're looking at the cover model of next months Style Magazine. Oh yeah. I hired a business manager.” “Business manager?” asked Johnny. “Could you come in here, Mrs. Winfield,” shouted Candy.
“Sissy!” exclaimed Johnny. “What are you doing here?” “Getting to know my new boss,” said Sarah. “Quite a girl you've got here.” “You don't have to tell me that,” said Johnny.