The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Geronimo and Route 60

By Evelyn K. Lee © 1992

Issue: January, 1992

I made a strange connection the last time I went back to the town where I grew up. I went for a drive on what looked like an old country road and had a vague memory of its leading somewhere important. I passed a sign saying Route 60 and recalled being told as a child that Route 60 was one of the important things about our town.

My father used to say, "Route 60 goes all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Just think - we are on a main route across the whole country." And then to impress me even more, he'd add, "And there's Route 11. It goes all the way from Maine to Florida." He made our town sound really important, like everything centered right there and we were the crossroads of the nation and connected everywhere.

Over the years I forgot about Route 60. My father would talk about how the town was keeping its place of importance even though Route 11, North and South, was supplanted by Interstate 81 and Route 60, East and West, was deposed by Interstate 64.

"Both the new interstates meet right here in Lexington, Virginia," he pointed out proudly, on one of my visits. "In some places the politicians managed to move the new routes to different towns, but here they kept them like they should be." He glowed as if Providence understood.

Now, seeing the Route 60 sign on this old two lane road, I realized I was on what used to be the important coast to coast highway. Up ahead was that mountain which once seemed to block out the rest of the world and keep us in our part of the globe. What was it called? It was North Mountain. Why was it North Mountain when it was what you had to cross to get from Virginia to West Virginia and the Far West? You could even get so far west that there were Indians, my father used to say.

And I remembered his yelling, "Geronimo!" when he would play hide-and-seek with me. I always wondered why he did that until I went to a museum in Arizona and found out that the Indian Chief, Geronimo, was a terror when my father was a little boy. That must have been the scary news and the scary game of his childhood. Had some of the boys pretended to be Geronimo? Who got to be the enemy and who was the hero?

Looking at North Mountain, looming ahead of me, I remembered being surprised last Summer when I drove into Globe, Arizona on my way to a San Carlos Apache Indian powwow and realized I was on the same Route 60 that went thought Lexington. Did the folks in Globe think they were the center of the world because of Route 60?

I had gone into a diner, sat down for some coffee and was thinking about the road when an Apache family came in off of Route 60 and slid into the booth in front of me - two parents, a toddler and a grandmother.

Could the grandmother be my age, I wondered. She was wearing a long, flowered gingham dress with rickrack decorating various edges of it. She looked as if she belonged in the Geronimo pictures I saw in the museum, but she was using a bag of Fritos to play peek-a-boo with her grandchild, who kept jumping up and down on her dress in his sneakers every time the boo came. Had the old woman's father played with her as a child? What kind of words had he yelled out to scare her? I watched her lean over and speak to her daughter. I listened. She wasn't speaking English.

I couldn't understand her, and I couldn't answer my questions, but back on Route 60 in Lexington, Virginia, looking at North Mountain with my father's shout of "Geronimo!" echoing in my head, I thought about the diner in Globe, Arizona and I knew the only thing I needed to know was that we are all connected.