I had one the other day — the feeling that fate had led me to turn onto an isolated country road in Virginia; that it was meant for me to drive down that road; and that, by doing so, I would end up meeting one of my idols, Tom Wicker, the famous writer.
It all started with a wasp. Heading north to Richmond on State Highway 10, south of Hopewell, I looked into the rearview mirror to check on Ace and noticed there was what appeared to be a wasp on what appeared to be the inside of the back window.
I pulled off on the first side road I came to — Wards Creek Road — and popped my back window open so it could get out. I was getting back into the car when I noticed a sign saying that this particular portion of country road was adopted by Tom and Cookie Wicker.
If they were picking up trash along the road, surely they must live on it, I figured, and just maybe, maybe even probably, it was THE Tom Wicker.
I called my father, who was a friend of Wicker’s long ago. Tom Wicker, both my parents have told me, used to bounce me on his knee when I was a baby. I didn’t really want to be bounced again, but how cool would it be, after all these years, to drop in out of nowhere and say hello?
“Does Tom Wicker live in Virginia?” I asked. He didn’t know. “Is he married to a woman named Cookie?” He wasn’t sure of that, either. Cookie sounded like an author’s wife’s name to me, though. Virginia seemed a likely place for Tom Wicker, born in Hamlet, N.C., to live. Perhaps I was destined to meet Tom Wicker again.
I drove along the road, picked the most impressive looking driveway and turned down it. It led to multiple houses. At the first house, I had stopped when a pick-up truck pulled up. I asked the man inside where Tom Wicker lived. Tom Wicker, I was told, lives at the very end of the long gravel driveway.
The driveway grew ruttier and narrower as I proceeded, but I decided it was worth the possible payoff. This is the sort of place Tom Wicker would live, I reasoned, on a secluded country estate. Writers need their solitude.
At the end of the driveway, there was a modest home, and a mastiff, who started barking. I waited in the car, figuring that Tom Wicker, hearing the noise, would step outside.
And out he came — not Tom Wicker, the writer of numerous books about politics and presidents. Not the author of “A Time to Die,” about the Attica riots, my personal favorite. Not the Tom Wicker who grilled politicians, hobnobbed with presidents, and whose writing served as inspiration to me. Not the Tom Wicker who bounced me on his knee.
Instead, it was Tom Wicker, the retired nuclear plant worker.
A little wary at first — and who could blame him? — this Tom Wicker listened with curiosity as I explained how I ended up parked in his side yard. He remembered reading Tom Wicker’s columns in the New York Times, but said he was no relation.
As we talked, his dog — Lula was her name — kept her eyes on me. I asked to meet her, knelt down and called her name. Nervously and slowly, she approached, sniffed my hand and let me pet her. Then she spotted Ace, who had climbed up into the driver’s seat and was leaning out the window. She walked over to my car and touched noses with him.
I didn’t go so far as to let Ace out, or even suggest it, as I felt I had intruded enough on Tom and Cookie Wicker — Cookie also having come out into the yard by then.
Lula, two years old, originally belonged to Tom and Cookie Wicker’s daughter but she found two mastiffs too much for her mobile home and gave Lula to her parents.
But, I’ve decided, one should not stop mid-whim and Google. One should not let Google spoil an adventure, even if that adventure is based on a misconception. We don’t want the world to become a place where Google — useful as it is — does all our seeking and searching for us, where we get so used to turning first to the computer that we fail to explore and savor the real world.
Had I done that, I wouldn’t have met Tom or Cookie or Lula.
Besides, Tom and Cookie Wicker gave me a parting gift — two tomatoes from their garden.
They were red, ripe, juicy — and real.