We got on the road early despite the rain. I was hoping that the weather would keep people inside, off the road, and out of our hair. I was right for the most part, but I still felt like we were being watched every once in a while. There was only one place we could cross the river at and to do it we had to get on the interstate.
The back up was miles and miles long as each car had to go through a military inspection point. We finally made it through around three o’clock in the afternoon and if I hadn’t been so worried I would have cheered, we were finally in Tennessee. The problem was that things on the Tennessee side seemed to be a whole lot more militarized than I had ever dreamed it would be. There were check points, passes that you had to get to get from one checkpoint to the next, constantly showing my passport and getting my name typed into one electronic tablet after another.
“Ma’am, we show that you crossed the bridge at three o’clock this afternoon and have passed three check points since then. You don’t appear to have deviated from you proposed route but there is no way you are going to make your destination before curfew takes effect. I suggest you pull over into a traveller’s lot and then apply for a pass to the next check point in the morning.”
Looking at the young soldier I asked, “When in the morning?”
“The office opens at 0500.”
“And there’s no way …?”
“I’m afraid not ma’am. The curfew is very strict. Not abiding by it could be … dangerous.”
I was worried. We were low on fuel and food both. Bobby, Lonnie, Corey, and Mimi all had the sniffles. If I knew kids Tiff and Paulie were going to get them too and then I was more than likely going to come down with them. I couldn’t afford to get sick and I was afraid someone could get freaked out and put us in quarantine if they saw the kids with a runny nose. But there seemed to be no choice.
I pulled into the least full lot I could find and then into an empty parking spot as far from everyone as I could manage. I’d put the last of the gas in the tank when I was sure it was dark enough that no one would notice and hope the smell wouldn’t carry.
I got out of the car and taking with me two large igloo thermos bottles. “Paulie, keep the doors locked. I’m going to go see if I can find us some water.”
At his nod I turned and went up to a bulletin board that seemed to be a map of the camp. “Can I help you ma’am?”
I jumped and turned to find a man dressed like he was about to head to church. “Uh … I was … was wondering about water? I need to get my kids cleaned up.”
His eyebrows came down. “You have children? At your age?”
“Not literally mine … well maybe they are.” Taking a chance I said, “We don’t always get to pick who God gives us to care for.”
His face blanked for a moment and then he beamed. “So true little sister, so true.” After that I nearly got a tour of the entire camp and then a warning to not wander around at night because while they did their best to maintain the camp with the highest morals, a few unscrupulous men did slip through on occasion. “We must lead by example, but we shouldn’t be foolish while we do it.”
I said, “Yes sir” which earned me another beaming smile.
I hated to play on the sympathies of seriously nice people … and that man and apparently those he worked with were very serious about being nice people … but I was scared that someone would get wind and interfere when we were so close to our goal. I tried not to overplay my hand and I managed to pull it off.
I decided to heed the man’s warning and was very careful about when and how I poured the last of the gas into the Clunker’s tank. As careful and as quiet as I was from a couple of car lengths away I heard one man mutter to another, “Someone has fuel. Better not catch any more gas thieves. We’ll hang them just like we hung those others over in Humbolt.”
The other man laughed nastily and said, “You’re preaching to the choir Brother.”
Mocking their hosts was one thing, talking about hanging people was something else altogether. I only slept in bits and pieces after that. I was so jittery the next morning that I had three people ask me if I was OK … three complete strangers … which explained the wide-eyed stares that Paulie and Tiff were giving me.
“What? Is my hair on backwards or something?” I asked them trying to fake them out.
Paulie said, “No. But you don’t look real good.”
I shook my head. “I’m fine, just tired. As soon as we get home everything will be OK.”
I kept telling myself that through every check point after leaving the camp at Dyersburg.
Obion and Union City were a mess to get through, full of angry and impatient people. Martin wasn’t much better. Then came Paris where I had to dig in the box of important papers I had salvaged from the duplex to prove I had property in Tennessee so could be free to travel without getting a special ID which cost money that I didn’t have. They held us up there so long I barely made it to Dover before nightfall.
“Oh please!” I begged. “We’re so close and we’ve come so far. Just let us drive the rest of the way home.”
A big guy in overalls and some kind of badge displayed prominently on his strap said, “Now little lady, if we break the rules for you we have to break the rules for everyone and that’s just not going to happen.”
I wanted to cry, nearly did. And then my heart stopped when I heard, “Dovie?”