Food for Thought
I've never been very good at anything that resembles geography. That includes following a road map or finding an address in town. I also seem to have a poor sense of direction, which only magnifies the problem. I don't know if my sense of direction is inborn or learned, but it's pretty dismal. I learned the four main points of the compass when I was around 4 years old. My big sister told me that north was in the direction of the kitchen sink, south to the kitchen door, east on the wall where the refrigerator sat, and west toward the dining room. I got pretty good at rattling them off when she drilled me on the four directions, but it only worked when I was sitting at the table in the middle of the kitchen. Any other location and I was hopelessly lost. Sometimes I still see flashes of that kitchen when I'm trying to figure out a direction.
My mother seemed to understand this and usually explained directions in terms of landmarks. Good enough. Once I'd traveled a route a time or two and come to recognize the locker plant, the old hotel, the courthouse and the movie theater, I could find my way from our house to the downtown area and any store that was located in the main business district around the courthouse square. If I started from our house, that is. Starting from my best friend's house – which necessitated approaching the downtown from the direction of the hospital and city library – had me thoroughly turned around and hopelessly lost when I was far too old for anyone to understand how I could have become so disorientated. Even when I was in high school I faithfully took the same route between home and school every day. Any side excursions left me with an uneasy feeling of being in a foreign country – or at least another town – and it was a great sense of relief when I emerged from no-man's land and spotted a familiar landmark.
In junior high, my summertime bike rides after supper were adventures of exploration comparable to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. I'd start with a familiar street and cautiously explore one street off the traveled route, circling one block at a time until I came back, relieved to find familiar territory right where I'd left it.
As a young teen, I often went with my older sister to visit our aunt in Des Moines. We took the bus from Knoxville and arrived at the Des Moines bus depot after traveling through several smaller towns. Travel with a bus driver was safe. I trusted him to find the way to Des Moines, so I paid very little attention to the landmarks along the way. Upon our arrival at the bus depot, I stuck to my sister like a wood tick, certain that if I lost sight of her I'd spend the rest of my life wandering the streets of Des Moines, trying to find my way to the beauty shop at Younkers where Aunt Virginia worked. The weekends added up, the years rolled by and I eventually found that I could find my way around Des Moines to the Capitol, the Historical Building, the Art Center, the bowling alley, Katz Drugstore and other places that were part of our frequent visits. If I started from the Younkers front entrance and rode the bus, that is.
My senior class took our \Skip Day\ trip to Omaha. We went on a school bus. I knew Omaha was in Nebraska, but I was a little fuzzy about where Nebaska was. I'd never managed to write in the names of all the states on those blank maps we were given as part of the semester test in geography. Oh, we'd had one of those wooden map puzzles when we were kids, but to me it was just another jigsaw puzzle. I noticed that we left town heading west and that was enough information for me. I figured the bus driver knew where he was going.
When I was preparing to start college at the university, I had no idea where Iowa City was located. Dad would drive me there so I needn't concern myself with road maps and mileage. Iowa City, of course, is only about 120 miles east of Knoxville and it takes less than two hours on the interstate highway to get there. In 1952, it involved either Highway 92 or Highway 6, which approach Iowa City from opposite directions. So, depending on the route taken, my approach depended on who was driving. My comprehension of the time involved in the journey was just as vague as the geography. I often traveled home for weekends and holiday breaks with fellow students from my hometown and it seems they all had their own ideas of the best route to take. I didn't pay much attention since they seemed to know where they were going. Sometimes I'd take the train to Newton and Dad would pick me up from there. The train followed the tracks so there was no need for me to pay attention to how it got there, right?
All this inattention to roads and roadmaps would later be the cause of confusion, hilarity, adventures and some escapades that I'll never live down. Once I got hopelessly lost in a parking lot. Not the same as forgetting where I parked the car; I was unable to find the exit. That's another story.