You could say Carolyn Cary Hall lost the world to gain her own soul.
Or that she had an adventure filled with terror, triumph and grandeur. You could say she
knew loneliness bordering on madness and moments of self-revelation, as she re-discovered
her inner child.
You could call her 18 years on and off the road a journey to the heart
of America. Or a
spiritual quest. You could say these were years of growth and self-education, as she
immersed herself in books on human nature and learned to write. You could characterize
her journey as a flight from abusive and domineering men. Or simply say she took the long
road home to reconciliations with family and friends. You could call it a shaggy dog tale,
or define it as a tribute to Henry David Thoreaus famous advice: Simplify. Simplify.
How ever you defined her sojourn would be inadequate, because it would reduce
18 years of raw living on the backroads of America, to a storybook clich.
Maybe that is whats required. After all, Halls story should be a book. It
should be a movie. Its one of the best stories of the road Ive ever been around.
I first heard part of it in 1982, when Hall was preparing to leave for a
second trip out west, and I interviewed her for another paper. I remember her as a slender
blonde with a big spirit and a dog she doted on.
Last month I heard from Hall again. She sent a document that, once I picked
it up, I could not put down. It was an interview she had conducted with herself,
question-and-answer style, and it brought me up to date regarding this gypsy
from a former time.
Here is a brief summary of what she wrote.
In 1981, at the age of 41, Carolyn Hall cut the moorings. She exchanged the
bitter dregs of a disastrous relationship with a millionaire for a fresh drink at
lifes vineyard. She took Thoreaus advice to simplify her life, to look at herself and America
from the outside in. She loaded up a cooler, a mattress, called her yellow collie-shep dog,
Harmony, and, with $300 in her pocket--and $3,000 worth of jewels for security--struck out
on the road.
Her safety net was snatched away less than a week later, when thieves
ransacked her van in New Orleans. They stole her jewelry and left the remnants of her
material possessions scattered across the parking lot of a cheap motel.
Starting again in despair, Hall set off without a plan other than to see the
majestic west that had served as the backdrop to cowboy movies she grew up watching on TV.
She literally tossed a coin time and again when deciding where to go next.
Wherever she wound up, she usually found some work and made enough money to move on. She
served as captain of a pontoon boat on an Arizona lake. She waitressed in the Grand
Canyon, flagged traffic for a construction crew in Wyoming, washed dishes in Oregon,
mowed grass in a cemetery, pumped gas, clerked at flea markets, worked on roofs,
Hall was seldom far from danger. She writes of the night she awoke on a Gulf
of Mexico beach to the sound of roughnecks in hotrods roaring round and round
her van like Indians from a B-movie, while she huddled, terrified, inside. When a woman in
Tucson expressed alarm that she was living alone in her van, at a time when rapes
were up 50 percent in the city, Hall began avoiding cities in favor of small towns.
She knew quiet triumphs. The first campfire she built was a beacon of hope.
She learned a lot about life around such fires--from gypsies, cowboys, earth
mothers and artists. Storied and troubled people found it a relief to unburden themselves
to this comely pilgrim passing through. When alone, she began remembering the story of her
life. She recalled her childhood on an Ohio farm, with cold and aloof grandparents who
raised her, while she pined for her natural mother who lived and worked just eight miles
While still a callow teen, she fell into a marriage with a man who brutalized her,
and, following a divorce, another man who did likewise. She raised two daughters on her own.
Then she met the millionaire, who gave her a kind of self-esteem, while plying her
with drink, flying her around the country in private jets and festooning her with jewels. It was
after he betrayed her that she made her break for a clean start.
How she came to terms with her past is too complex for the telling here. But
somewhere along the way she learned forgiveness, compassion, self-reliance, and the
grace of a God that she defines as Love. The recent death of her mother and others close to
her has started the wheels of memory turning. Now, with a Colorado mountain cabin
beckoning, Hall is ready to commit her story to paper. If she writes narrative as well
as she conducts interviews with herself, this should be an astonishing manuscript. I look
forward to reading it, and I wish her well.