By Sally Friedman
I have a love-hate relationship with the New Jersey Turnpike.
Yes, it's probably quicker than any other way to get us from the south end of our little state to the north. And if you time it right, you might even avoid the gridlock near Exit 8A.
But the turnpike is ugly. It's boring. And it's expensive.
For years, specifically from the time our two younger daughters had the temerity to move to Montclair, nearly 100 miles away from their Moorestown roots, we've faced the south-to-north commute. When they each presented us with grandchildren, the motivation became even more mighty.
My husband, born on a farm in Perrineville, a dot on the Central Jersey map, always pushed for getting off the teeming turnpike and seeking back roads around Monmouth County. Longer didn't necessarily mean frustration for him.
I, the Type A family member, would sulk and pout, noting that the trip was long enough as it was. "Just stay on the turnpike," I would argue.
Things have changed. Like the solution to so many issues in a long marriage, this argument, too, has ended in compromise. Now, instead of barreling our way home with behemoth 18-wheelers as our companions, we often exit the turnpike and meander along alternative roads.
Somehow we always wend our way back to Perrineville, and to the sturdy brick farmhouse at the bend in a road where my husband's memories reside.
If it's on the way home from our family visits, with grandparent time already joyously logged, we tend to spend more time just staring at the marvelous landscape that surrounds that modest brick house. "Knock on the door," I would beg my husband. But he never would. Just remembering was enough for him.
I now understand that my husband was blessed in a unique way, growing up as he did against the quiet backdrop of rural New Jersey. Those of us who came of age in cities or towns - my own turf, Philadelphia, doesn't quite cut it as rural - may have different touchstones that seem just as mighty to us.
But based on more than half a century with my own former farmer, I suggest that places like Perrineville have a mightier pull on inhabitants past and present.
So yes, our detours off the turnpike have come to feel almost spiritual, even to me. The landscape, of course, has changed dramatically. Houses have sprouted where once there were meadows, and a strip shopping center with a pizza joint suddenly appeared last year on the hilly road my husband used to sled down in winter snows.
The lilac bushes have been cut down; the poplars are gone from the side yard of his farmhouse. I finally understand what those losses mean to him.
But the essential things are the same. My husband can grope his way back to his past just by passing the old cemetery, the tiny synagogue in the next town where he celebrated his bar mitzvah, and the place on Etra Road where he drove his father's car much too fast.
In spring, there are hyacinths and fields of buttercups - a far cry from the industrial landscape of the relentlessly ugly turnpike.
I have learned to forget the extra minutes and remember what all this means to my husband, the New Jersey farm kid who belonged to 4-H.
Our detours to Perrineville give him a cherished link to his past, and a tonic for his present.
My once-upon-a-time farmer needs to see those few open fields, those scarce remaining barns, that place on a gentle slope where once he picked blueberries and sold them for a nickel a pint to his neighbors.
He needs to see that while Monmouth County may be vastly different, it is still, for this man, a homeland.
All of which explains why the ride home from those turnpike detours is done in the loveliest, most contented silence.