by John Bigelow
About seven years ago I attended my 51st High School reunion and was amazed at how old so many of my classmates had become. I was also saddened by the number who had passed away, a few I learned, in the prime of life, but mostly from many years lived and many miles traveled.
For whatever reason, I found myself thinking about “Frog” and remembered clearly his passing some fifteen years earlier. We both knew he was dying. I had known it for a long time and I’m sure Frog knew it too. He just wouldn’t give in to it.
Illness and age had pretty much eaten up his body and many of his vital parts were hanging on by a mere thread. In spite of this we made one last trip together, Frog and I.
Most people said we were crazy. “He’ll never make it,” they said, but neither Frog nor I would listen. Maybe his stubbornness came with age (I’m accused of that myself occasionally) or perhaps it was because of all the miles he’d traveled. I think it was a combination of both, plus a whole lot of love. In any event we both needed this last trip together, a time to recall past trips, perhaps a time to say goodbye.
It wasn’t a long trip as long trips are often measured, but 1600 miles at his age was like a round trip by Marco Polo. We left Hickory, N.C. in the middle of October and followed roads that were familiar from many past trips. Interstate 40 east to Interstate 77, then west to Interstate 81 north through the beautiful Shenandoah, resplendent in its autumn colors. We never hurried. There was no need. The weather was perfect, the day was perfect, the traffic was light and we almost wished the road would go on forever.
North we drove, all the way into New York State where Frog wove through the heavy traffic with the agility of a far younger companion.
The weather turned cold and rainy that week in New York but still Frog was ready to go to work each day. Then when our work there was done, we turned toward home and, as always, we shared the good feeling that comes with “going home,” even though it was still a long trip with another week yet to be spent in northern Virginia.
That return trip though wasn’t measured in miles traveled, as most trips are, it was measured in rivers crossed. The Hudson and Delaware, the Chesapeake and Potomac. Then after a week in Fredericksburg we crossed the Rappahannock and the James. River after river, some large and well known to history, some small and obscure, but each a familiar marker on our journey.
We crossed the New River twice and then down the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge into North Carolina.
We turned west onto I-40 and soon crossed our last river, the Catawba, our home county boundary. Even though there were a few missed heartbeats along the way, Frog had made it home, as I knew he would. We pulled off the Interstate at exit 125 and right at the top of the exit ramp, Frog died, but with one final last gasp got us off to the side of LR Boulevard, safely out of traffic.
Eighteen years old and 300,000 miles was more than most would have expected of a 1871 Dodge Maxi-van. His slant six engine and rusted body gave me that and more. But Frog, my green van, Frog, had brought me home. I knew he would have wished to be an organ donor, so I transplanted his luggage rack onto my next van, a somewhat newer Chevy, but one that never had the spirit or character of the Frog.