Life's Highway

"This is the only time I get by myself to actually have my grieving feelings," says Deana Rogers at the memorial she's maintained for two years near Davidsonville Road. (Photos By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By Lonnae O'Neal Parker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 20, 2005

We drive past them every day. Love stories that ended badly. Ended in burnt rubber and twisted metal. Ended with a grim-faced police officer knocking at the door, to be met with denial and desperate pleas: Please, God, please no!

There at the side of the road, loved ones claim the crash sites and call them hallowed ground. They mark them with flowers and small wooden crosses. That's all we register as we rush urgently on our way. The living have so little time for the silent storytelling of the dead. And gradually, these roadside memorials cede their stories to the seasons, handing them over to grass and ground.

Except for rare ones that don't give an inch and insist their story hasn't ended at all.

On July 7, her 35th birthday, Deana Rogers was tending a roadside memorial on Route 50 in Anne Arundel County, near the Davidsonville exit, when a driver heading west laid on the horn. She turned and waved. Friends and family are always honking when she's out there, which has been about once a week since the motorcycle accident. Once a week for nearly two years.

She cuts the grass around it herself and cuts back the trees. The memorial has grown to nearly five feet wide and changes often. "We have a couple of Christmas trees, then we have Easter stuff," says Rogers. "I have different displays for Valentine's Day and Memorial Day. Every holiday and his birthday . . . I made a tractor-trailer. I got the wreath and dragonfly hanging on it now but it's starting to fall apart."

And you should see the wreaths the family puts out on the anniversary of the crash, Oct. 12.

The memorial features no cement or metal that could be hazardous to drivers so county officials don't make her take it down, she says. Sometimes, though, an officer will stop to ask her why she's been sitting on the side of the road for hours.

"This is my husband, this is my soul mate. We're just away from each other," Rogers explains.

The story of Deana and Charles "Chuckie" Amos Rogers Jr., a 41-year-old trucking company co-owner, began at a Moose lodge in Prince George's County where they met when she was 20 and he was 29. It was set in a double-wide trailer in Lothian, out in south Anne Arundel, and was full-up with family and friends, motorcycles and trucks, Jesus and Jack Daniel's, and American flags.

The lingering memorial is for the husband who is no longer alive but whom she sees in dragonflies and dancing candle flames.

On this Thursday afternoon, a few days past the Fourth of July, dozens of flags are drooping from humidity and rain. It will be time to freshen the site soon. The memorial has grown steadily and she's trying to keep it to its current size. But if she can ever find that motorcycle pinwheel she saw on another roadside memorial, she'll stick that in as well.

Rogers has put mesh underneath some rocks and laid down decorative garden stones to keep the weeds away. There's the five-foot-tall wooden cross carved with her husband's name that she and her brother-in-law made, and the one adorned with two dozen dollar-store roses she put up a few months after the accident, the first time she could bear going to the crash site. Sealed in plastic and taped to the cross are family photos, like the 1999 wedding day picture when she was a radiant bride on the back of a Harley-Davidson, and a tiny reproduction of the vanity helmet Chuckie was wearing the day he died.

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