Iowa Writes

BHASKAR PULIKAL
Rest Area Stories - Spoon River


It looked like a Grant Wood painting.  The road was splitting the huge plains. On either side of the road, there were brightly colored prairie flowers trying to overlay the green color of the grass. Next to them were vast fields of corn or soybeans. Farmhouses and barns were strewn around, across vast distances. I was traveling in the Midwest, the back yard of Grant Wood, and as such it shouldn't be a surprise.

Trying for the elusive son, I became a father of three lovely daughters. But the daughters more than made up for the lack of a son, by excelling in studies, creating successful career paths, and more importantly, by marrying equally successful partners. All of them have migrated to the U.S. from India. My wife and I had been coming often to the U.S. to visit them, help them during their pregnancies, and manage the infants thereafter. Recently, my second daughter relocated to Cincinnati. My eldest daughter lives in Cedar Rapids, and we have been with her for the last two months. As the delivery for the second daughter is due in a couple of weeks, my eldest daughter was chaperoning us to Cincinnati. My son-in-law and daughter were sitting in the front seats. My wife and I were in the middle row. Both my grandsons were sitting in the last row of seats. My daughter longs for a daughter of her own.

It looked like a Grant Wood painting.  The road was splitting the huge plains. On either side of the road, there were brightly colored prairie flowers trying to overlay the green color of the grass. Next to them were vast fields of corn or soybeans. Farmhouses and barns were strewn around, across vast distances. I was traveling in the Midwest, the back yard of Grant Wood, and as such it shouldn't be a surprise.

Trying for the elusive son, I became a father of three lovely daughters. But the daughters more than made up for the lack of a son, by excelling in studies, creating successful career paths, and more importantly, by marrying equally successful partners. All of them have migrated to the U.S. from India. My wife and I had been coming often to the U.S. to visit them, help them during their pregnancies, and manage the infants thereafter. Recently, my second daughter relocated to Cincinnati. My eldest daughter lives in Cedar Rapids, and we have been with her for the last two months. As the delivery for the second daughter is due in a couple of weeks, my eldest daughter was chaperoning us to Cincinnati. My son-in-law and daughter were sitting in the front seats. My wife and I were in the middle row. Both my grandsons were sitting in the last row of seats. My daughter longs for a daughter of her own.

As we passed Moline, my son-in-law took the exit for I-74 from I-80. My daughter and son-in-law were talking to my wife. I took part in the conversion, too, once in a while. But the scenery outside the windows was triggering my deep down memories to come out alive. Didn't I learn about prairies in my third grade class? Is distance and time a direct proportion or inverse? If the van were traveling at 70 miles per hour, how long would it take to cover 400 miles? Did I learn these sums in sixth grade? Which year did John Lennon sing "Imagine"? The birds flying in formation— are they ducks or swans? Didn't Dick Cheney get hurt while bird hunting? What was that? Spoon River. . .Spoon River. . .the name sounds so familiar. . .it's on the tip of my tongue. Not able to remember. . .tut. . .tut. . .tut. . .

"Hi Dad, the rest area is a mile away, do you want to take a break?"

It was Spoon River Rest Area. Maybe it would help to jog my memory better.

"Okay, dear," I said.

My son-in-law took the exit to the rest area.

As soon as the van was parked, the kids got out and started running. They must have felt imprisoned. There was a lot of activity around the rest area. Many trucks were in the parking lot, a bit farther away.  Close to the rest area facility, about ten cars were parked. This side of the rest area was on the lower side of the undulating plain. On the other side, you could see the other rest area, meant for traffic going the opposite direction. The roads in between the rest areas were busy with a steady stream of cars, vans, trucks—all sorts of gas-guzzling gizmos running in opposite directions on parallel roads. The area between the road and the facility was well landscaped. There were green lawns, flowering bushes, shrubs, and well-paved roads and footpaths. Inside the facility, there was a big hall with restrooms on either side and vending machines in the middle. There were pay phones and also a button to call 911 prominently displayed on the wall opposite.

Usually I enjoy these breaks at rest areas. But this time, my thoughts on the mystery of Spoon River were making me restless.

The kids came running to me, "Grandpa, Grandpa!" I bought candies and chips from the vending machines for them. My son-in-law gave an indulgent look but said in a disapproving tone, "You are spoiling the kids."

"Does Spoon River ring any bells?", I asked my son-in-law.

"Guess it's river flowing somewhere around here." I heard that my son-in-law is a genius in writing code for computers. But his general knowledge is pretty low. I would have been surprised if he'd known the answer.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


BHASKAR PULIKAL

Bhaskar Pulikal immigrated to the U.S. in 1998 and has been living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa ever since. He has written and published a number of short stories in his native language, Telugu, and is currently working on translating them to English. This is an excerpt of one of his prize-winning stories. He is an alumnus of the University of Iowa.

This page was first displayed
on March 22, 2010

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