I suppose it was the night air, or the fifty mosquito bites on the nape of my neck that brought me back to reality the second I became a smidge nostalgic for my younger days and life in Michigan. I recall front porch screens that closed with a snap and bang, adventures in Cedar Point (America’s roller coast) and a taste for summer cocktails of Faygo and Deep Woods Off. (Shaken.) But, oh, do I love Las Vegas more. At least, I thought I did until I took a drive down a back road today.

Back then, it was the best of times…it was the worst of times, and I love remembering them. I love my family very much and it is good to see them again. Although I admit that sometimes the visits are too short  (burdened with the ever looming vacation itinerary) and the in-between times too long, I do think that in the world of crazed family situational comedies and tragedies, perhaps the more poignant visit is the most appropriate.

On this particular trip we flew first class. I feel no shame in writing about it. The pillows were of average airplane size, the Reuben/Chicken Salad menu options dwindled to merely Chicken Salad by the time they got to row 6, and my Bloody Mary tasted like feet. I’m sure someone in coach won the lottery. We all have our win falls and downfalls. Poo-poo on those who can’t see past the little curtain that separates things. Anyway…dropping into Detroit brought chilly winds, loving faces, and sprouting nieces who I swear are growing in front of me as I spend time with them.

The Zoo, Lake Michigan, Fireworks, Grandma’s Birthday and a Lansing Lugnuts game filled my dance card for the week and I was able to put my Vegas summer plans on the back burner for a while. (Even if they did indeed fit in my carry-on.)

Jackson, Michigan is a very interesting place and a perfect example of rural Mid-West. The culture shock isn’t terribly jarring, (even if songs from 5 years ago are still in the county’s top ten and going to one of two Starbucks within 60 miles is considered a “trip”) I argue everyone needs to take two steps backs every now and then and remember where they came from. Breakfast at the Bone Island Grille and sharing stories with my Mom and Grandma did just that, and I took off my sunglasses at the table and opted to drop the “out of town” act at least until the bill came.

For some reason this trip I found myself particularly interested in the surrounding areas of Jackson. The ones that had father and son, one-garage auto shops with signs that read, “Save a Squirrel, Check your Breaks” and Taste-E Freezes oozing with chocolate covered cherry compote. I noticed broken windows in broken down factory buildings, deserted fairgrounds and weeds hiding between cracks in the road.

When I came upon a weathered yard sign that read “Burning Barrels – $10” I stumbled upon a whole different avenue of forgotten times. For those of you who don’t know, burning barrels are empty oil drums, stripped and painted for the sole purpose of rounding out the corner in your acre backyard, so that your family can take trash out every other day to burn. That’s right. Garbage men came around only once every two weeks…and it was relatively light work. Everything else was toted and burned. After a year or so, when the ashes get to around 2-inches from overflowing, you call up a handyman to come and tote the heavy bugger away, and you start over again.

Kinda crude in the age of fuel emissions and recycled Diet Coke cans I suppose. But for a young boy, growing up, it provided excitement to that occasional desire to hold a match to something and created an He-Man action figure death trap and a source of amusement. (Moss Man: R.I.P.) I had forgotten about watching those plastic bottles shrivel up and the Kleenex take flight into the air as a charred web of ash.

As I get older and find these visits “back home” to be more and more about finding time instead of catching up, I wonder how my life has changed from the days of the burning barrel. I like to think I’m wiser, but to this day in Las Vegas, twice a week mind you, I open my garage door and drag my trash 2-inches to the curb of my street…the same type of garbage, without a care.

We all have demons. We all have regrets. We all have things that weigh on our minds and hearts. There are things that need to be said…and things that need to be undone. And I all too often find myself willing and able to tote those fears, doubts, angers and griefs out to the road, knowing that if we reach the curb, we won’t have to worry about them anymore. We do that all too often with hopes, goals, promises and dreams as well.

If I were to manage these hopes, fears, ambitions, etc….strike the match and begin a blaze, for whatever reason…at least then I would be most likely to stand and watch the progress of my decision. Ponder….reflect….and then watch whatever I trashed wisp away into the air, or shrivel up and melt. At least then, I see it with my own eyes. At least then, when my burning barrel gets full…it’s my responsibility to figure out a way to remove it.

Deep stuff, huh? I thought so too. But, using a burning barrel as a metaphor isn’t the only thing I found interesting this trip. The innocence in my Grandmother’s and nieces eyes…the fervent desire to cling to precious time with her son in my mother’s smile….the practical need for an ant trap back home so my house sitter isn’t grossed out…all these things add to the stew I brew up every time I step on a plane back to Jackson, MI. As often as I roll my eyes every time someone might suggest I ever live in the Mid-West again…Jackson has always provided me with something that I can take home with me to think about.

I need to think about what I throw away everyday in my personal trash can, perhaps sift out the recyclables, and then make room in the back yard for a burning barrel once more. I think it is important to reflect on everything in the past, the present and in the future. All too often, because of time or space we forget how we once used to deal with things. Perhaps in the rapid fire age of drive-thru Starbucks and zoom zoom race cars we need a back road tour of how to slow down our decision-making.

At least then maybe I can appreciate the trips “back home,” enjoy a slow-paced itinerary, and be thankful for golden nuggets like a simple Jackson city burning barrel.


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