Summers always remind me of vacations we took as kids. I recall one particular trip that six of us piled into our ’54 Ford and drove from Littlefield, TX to California.
Some may remember that in the summer of ’55 most cars did not have air conditioning (ours was one of those), I-40 was still a dream in President Eisenhower’s sleepless nights, Hwy 66 was THE highway, 2 lanes all the way, and motels weren’t common.
Oh, and don’t forget those water bags that you strapped on the front of your car in front of the radiator so you could get across the desert when (not if) your car heated up. I was never certain if the water in the bag was used to cool down or refill the radiator when steam came shooting out of the front of the vehicle.
On our sojourn, those squeezed into car included my parents, my two sisters, and our 87 year old grandmother. Fortunately, our dogs did not go along for the ride.
After much planning, Mother decided we could make the trip on $12 per day, not including gasoline. That was $2 per person, and would include a lot of bologna and cheese sandwiches. The plan was to camp out most nights, and in order to accommodate that plan, Dad built an odd shaped trailer that held all of our supplies. From the end, this unique contraption looked like an A-frame structure on wheels. Both sides had doors that would open from the top and served as a ‘chuck wagon’ type of table. Inside each of the sides was room for canned goods, the pots and pans, and utensils, and whatever else my Dad thought would be handy. The trailer opened at the end and we stored our sleeping bags inside. Quite a fancy thing, and Dad thought it was ingenuous, his very own design. He had visions of mass producing this one-of-a-kind trailer. Needless to say, it was never duplicated!
So off we went, across 3 states, stopping to see all the sights along the way, finding out-of-the-way camping spots, cooking meals over the campfires, and seeing the western part of the United States up close and personal.
Aside from the flat tires, getting lost, losing the trailer in downtown Gallup, N.M. (the Indian capital of the world) on a Saturday afternoon, being snowed out of Yosemite National Park, not having enough waterproof sleeping bags (we discovered this oversight the night it rained and some of us had to sleep in the car, including our arthritic grandmother), and the multiple fights that transpired with three bored teenagers, the trip was wonderful. It was an experience that makes family stories and memories a part of our history.
We returned home exhausted, glad to sleep in our own beds, and grateful to be out of the car. If you think about it, that’s the way it is today when we’ve traveled in an air conditioned plane, been bumped around at a massive theme park, and stayed in motels with swimming pools. We come home exhausted, ready for our slippers, and more tired than when we left.
There was something magical about those days when we cruised along at 50 miles an hour, feeling the rhythm of the concrete road, and eating cheese and crackers. Those magical moments were interlaced with touches of reality like when dad threw the tire tool at the car while attempting to get the lug nuts off in order to change the flat tire. I’m almost certain I remember Grandmother reaching into the bodice of her dress to turn off her hearing aid in order to avoid being assaulted by the sailor language that was emanating from Dad’s vocal cords.
Was that reality or part of the magical memory? Whichever, it makes for a great story that we still tell at family gatherings.