Which Way is Up?

 By Amy Mullis

I have a terrible sense of direction. My dad, who served his country in the Navy during World War II, considers anyone who can’t tell direction by the stars an underachiever with communist alliances.

 I don’t even know east from west. Dad tried to deport me when I was born just because I got my Poles reversed and slid backwards into the world. I once asked him why, if port meant left, all the portholes weren’t on the left side of the ship. He said I was adopted and began to refer to me as Comrade.

 I’d once recklessly promised the kids I’d take them camping, and since children never forget a promise made while you’re asleep, one summer morning my sisters packed the compact car with snacks from the crinkly-paper-wrapped food groups, handed me a map, and expected to find the campsite while our clothes still fit.

Glancing at the map, I noted that we would be traveling in the direction known to me as “down and a little to the right.” I checked the snack supply, carefully folded the map, and gave the go ahead to proceed.

“Why do you always have to wad up the map like that?” my sister asked lovingly.

“Shut up and drive.” I answered airily. I checked the snacks again. We might need more chocolate.

We were going to a state park in the next town. The whole trip should take less than an hour, mostly by highway.

 By suppertime we had crossed the state line twice, eaten our snacks, and were beginning to eye the remaining Ho Ho like the last chicken leg on the plate at the family reunion. We traveled on roads that still had buffalo tracks. At least once I saw the bleached skull of a steer marking the path.

Sisters are good for a lot of things. Their clothes always look better on you than yours do. Their kids steal straws from fast food restaurants and make random animal sounds to make your kids look like keepers. And sometimes, just when you need it, they will say the stupid thing so you don’t have to.

As we crossed yet another state line in the direction denoted on modern topographical maps as “UP,” my sister peered through the windshield at the sun setting behind a string of dusky mountains designated on the map as “SOMEWHERE ELSE” and said, (I promise she really said this.)

“If we could see it, we could drive to it.” Silence settled in the car. Even the kids stopped kicking the seat and writing their names on the windows in drool. The radio stopped playing. Crickets chirped.

The mountain we were looking for was roughly mountain-sized, festooned with trees and threaded over with rushing streams, all-in-all standard as far as mountains go.

 One child leaned over to the other and whispered confidentially, “If we could see it from two states away, it would be the biggest mountain in the world!”

 “Well, Comrade,” I announced. “The world is round. We can keep going the way we came or we can turn this wagon train around and give it another shot.”

She looked at me and her lips curled back from her teeth.

 I don’t think the map will ever fold correctly again.


  1. You are an artisan w/ words, my friend. AND you make them funny and that's hard work!

  2. Thanks, Nancy! Now if I could just find my way home. . .

  3. I think it's down and a little to the right.

  4. No, that's where the itch is. Ahhhh!


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