It took me a year to get to Maryland on Saturday. Not literally, but literarily. It was New Year’s Eve in Grace Lin’s The Year of the Dog, when I started my car in Connecticut, beginning my journey to my childhood home. I was rolling down 95 as young Grace’s family prepared for their biggest holiday.
Somewhere around February, I pulled off at a rest stop on the Garden State Parkway and clicked a Zoom link on my phone so I could listen to grown-up Grace Lin give the keynote speech at Teachers’ College. And there she sat, in my passenger seat, while I continued south. I didn’t know if she’d stay with me or get off at one of those digital deserts, but she sat through all five toll plazas. She talked about how, as a child, she’d first ignored her family’s heritage, considering herself American. “Hey, that’s just like me,” I said, but she had me on mute. Later, she took a U-turn in her attitude, exploring and then celebrating her Chinese roots. She guided us through her journey, closing with the way that recent events had made her focus on how she could affirm her Chinese heritage while also broadening the meaning of All-American.
I wanted to draw along with Grace as she gave her speech, but my hands and eyes were occupied. “Keep your eyes on the road,” she said to me. “Stay in your lane.” When she finished her talk, I tried to screenshot that brave tiger she’d encouraged us to draw. I was hoping I’d get to draw it later. I missed the picture, but I did stay on the road.
It was March in The Year of the Dog, as I merged onto the Jersey Turnpike. While Grace and Melody navigated their science fair, I steered past the Vince Lombardi rest stop. As Grace struggled to push through writer’s block, I wove around that painfully slow Corolla. When Grace celebrated those ugly vegetables, I rejoiced at surviving Delaware’s annoying bottlenecks. As her granny painted soothing characters on her stiff neck, I climbed out of the harbor tunnel and craned my neck to see Camden Yards.
Grace and her family had come full circle to a new New Year, as I rounded a turn on the Beltway and exited where I’d begun, Connecticut Avenue. From home to home. The year and my ride had flown by.
I listened to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon on my return trip, and it turned an otherwise fruitless trip into a much more fruitful journey, but that’s a metaphor for another time.