This morning before I set off on my journey, a dragonfly appeared hovering above my windshield. I was in a parking lot in a shopping mall, nowhere near a field or marsh. And it hung there as began to drive, flying just a few inches ahead of me, like it was leading somewhere. It stayed with me for a good ten seconds, and disappeared as mysteriously as it appeared.
* * * * *
“There’s a barn up here with a beautiful painting of Our Guadalupe on it. I want to stop and take a picture of it,” I said. Cheryl and I were careening down a four-lane highway in rural Calvert County, better known for conservative Republican farmers than a Mexican barn-painting Catholic.
“We should travel across the country and write a book called ‘Mary in America,” Cheryl said, going on to explain the coffee table book we could work on together. She’d take the pictures of the people, places and things – and I’d write the stories.
I spotted the barn and hung a U-turn, rolling to a stop on the shoulder with cars whizzing by. Cheryl leaned out the window with her camera.
“Back up a little,” she said.
I backed up and the 4-foot-high panel under the eaves of the red barn came into better view between a powerline and pole. There was Our Lady of Guadalupe in all her glory. Green robe covered with stars, bursts of light behind her, angels at her feet. The plywood was weathering. The artwork was beautiful.
Next the red barn was a line a pick up trucks, and I couldn’t see the house for the trees.
“Back up a little more,” she said.
As I inched backwards on the highway, I saw a pickup truck approaching along the shoulder in my rear view mirror. The truck was twice the size of my little hatchback, jacked up on enormous wheels with rack of spotlights affixed to the top like Mickey Mouse.
“Oh my gosh, it’s the person who lives here!” I say.
He pulls into the driveway and rolls down his window. Halfway.
“We’re admiring your Mary. Is it okay if we take a picture,” Cheryl says, as she hops out of the car and approaches the truck.
By the time I get there, she’s run closer to the barn, and I’m looking up at the man behind the wheel. The cab is lined in blue flame upholstery. He’s about 250 pounds with a day’s growth of a beard and short, curly blond hair. He’s not Mexican. He’s 100 percent Calvert County. White, male, and country.
“I’ve passed this Mary before on your barn and I had to stop this time,” I said. “She’s beautiful.”
“Well, thank you,” he said, with a slight smile. His teeth were small compared to the rest of his body. “I asked a lady at my church to paint it for me. I saw what a wonderful job she had done before, so I asked her to paint Mary for my barn.”
He was warming up.
“I’d like to build a little structure to keep off the rain.,” he said proudly, “I used to have a light for it, but the kids kept running over it with the lawnmower.”
I laugh, and we introduce ourselves.
“I’m glad you like her,” he says.