i could feel the beads of sweat taking shape. starting at the temples and rolling gently down the sides of my flushed cheeks. the usually pin-straight dorothy hamill bob looked more like a shaggy helmet, with a faint halo of frizz around the edges.
at eight years old, this was my first taste of southern-style heat. several hours in the baking georgia sun transformed my crisp white terry cloth romper into a dingy sweat mop, clinging to my skin like a piece of bologna on warm bread.
over the years, our family vacations covered most of the requisite tourist attractions: disney, D.C., new york…but this trip broke the mold. we were in atlanta visiting cousins who had moved down south.
our grand tour started with a stop at the peachtree hotel. “COOL!!” we shrieked as we giddily glided to the top floor of the tower. the next stop, however, wasn’t nearly as lofty. piled into a wood-paneled station wagon seventies-style, we were stuffed like sardines, no sign of seatbelts and non-existent AC. we rolled down the windows but there was no relief. the hot air rushed in and swirled around like a convection oven, ensuring even roasting on all sides.
three grueling hours later, we arrived at our destination: plains, georgia. a tiny podunk town that proudly boasts its status as the hometown of jimmy carter, his infamous brother billy, and their family peanut plantation. not exactly my idea of tweener paradise...and i could feel my head starting to throb.
we spent what felt like an eternity browsing kitschy peanut paraphernalia lining the gift shop shelves. finally, my dad, who was inexplicably tickled by the idea of “billy beer,” grabbed a 6-pack and we headed toward the car.
head hurting, sweat dripping, car dreading, i was not looking forward to enduring another three-hour haul back to atlanta. i looked at my mom, who was smashed next to me in the middle row.
“mom, i’m so hot. i really don’t feel well.”
she had a peanut brochure in her hand and was waving it back and forth like a fan to cool off, but when i spoke to her, she stopped. and looked back at me.
she grew up in the school of tough love. she lost her mom early in life and showed love by being strong, working hard, pushing through…but certainly not emoting. i fully expected her to hand me a napkin to mop up the sweat and leave it at that.
but she didn’t. instead she moved her big purse off to the side and pulled me closer. she didn’t say a word. but she laid my head in her lap and stroked my hair gently the entire way home, stopping only occasionally to fan me with the flyer.
i vividly remember feeling shocked…then serene…then utterly safe.
it was a moment—in the midst of peaches and peanuts, sweltering heat and strange circumstances—that i will never forget. despite the millions of memories i have of my mom, this is one that still stands out. the day i knew that i was loved. and safe. and that she would always be there.
there are moments in life that define the totality of an experience or paint the complete picture of a relationship between two people. when all the trivial things fall away, the peaks and valleys level off, and all that is left is what’s true.
the things you remember may not always be the obvious ones. as i look back, sometimes it’s the little things—felt most deeply—that linger longest.