We are in the California Central Valley, about a half an hour north of Sacramento, and we are tired of driving. It’s farmland here mostly, trees and low plants that I can’t identify without vegetables or fruit growing on them, and fenced off grazing land with cattle wandering about. It’s all stuff I remember from my youth, but this particular scenery is new to Hunter, so I have been tour guiding our way along the back roads at her while we’ve been traveling.
“I learned how to change a flat right over there,” I say, pointing to the side of the road. “My grandfather’s pickup, probably 1981. We did it at night in the dark, so that was a learning experience.”
“Very manly,” Hunter says.
“Would have been more manly if we’d been attacked by wild dogs or something, but you know. Weren’t many packs of wild dogs running loose in 1981. These days, sure.”
“Better hope we don’t have a flat then,” she says. “Packs of wild dogs are definitely on my nope list.”
“It’s the future and we have cell phones. The triple-A guy can deal with the dogs. They’re specially trained for this sort of thing.”
“No dying on this trip,” she says.
“Too much of that already,” I say.
We have made this trip because we are attending a funeral an hour north of Sacramento, my grandmother’s, out in the rural sticks where she lived most of her life. It’s a beautiful day out, no rain, not too cold, and the traffic has been surprisingly light. All things considered, it’s not a bad trip at all. Even my sadness isn’t as overwhelming as I feared it would be, which is nice. My grandmother lived to be 95 years old, and her health was fairly good right up until the end. She died in her sleep in her own bed in her own house, and really that’s probably the best that anyone can hope for.
“Speaking of dead things,” I say, “I saw half a dog along the road here once.”
“Ew,” Hunter says, scrunching her nose.
“Back half. I think it was a German Shepherd. No idea what happened to the front part.”
“That’s absolutely disgusting.”
“Kind of. Twelve year old me thought it was pretty cool.”
“Twelve year old boys think everything gross is pretty cool.”
“Old man me thinks a lot of gross things are pretty cool.”
“Not dead dog guts though,” she says.
“No,” I agree. “Not that. When I was in college though, I had to drive past a dead dog on a road that didn’t have anywhere for anybody to stop, and the city wasn’t taking care of it, so over the course of the semester, I got to watch it decompose, which was pretty cool.”
“Boys are nasty.”
“No argument,” I say.
“Let’s stop talking about dead things while we’re on the way to a funeral.”
“I’m on board with this.”
“Except,” I say.
“My aunt is buried just off this exit we’re coming up on.”
“Not right off the exit,” Hunter says.
“Well, no. In a cemetery. I may come from hillbilly blood, but we don’t just leave our dead by the side of the highway.”
“I should hope not.”
“Maybe in the past, we might have,” I say.
“But like I said, we live in the future.”
“Thank God,” she says.
“You knew about my backwoods genetics when you married me.”
“I did,” she says.
“And you’d marry me again.”
“This pleases me muchly to hear,” I say.
We pass the exit that my aunt is not buried directly at, and continue along the highway.
“I hate funerals,” I say.
“Everyone hates funerals,” Hunter replies.
“I don’t hate all funerals. Some funerals I look forward to with great anticipation.”
“Nobody I like, obviously. Just all my enemies.”
“So many enemies.”
“Dozens,” I say. “Hundreds.”
“But no dogs,” she insists.
“No. Not dogs. I have no dog enemies.”
“That you know of.”
“That I know of.”
“You’re my favorite hillbilly, you know,” Hunter says.
“It’s because I have most of my original teeth, isn’t it?”
“No comment,” she says.
“You know,” I say, “I have a great aunt who was run over by a train at an unmarked crossing…”
“Shut up, hillbilly,” Hunter says.