Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Cross-Country Trip, Part 1

“Love will find a way.”
Amy Grant

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
Ernest Hemingway

“Travel brings power and love back into your life.”

In a previous blog I wrote that I had lived in Indiana for about five months when I was 13 years old.  We knew we were going to leave, but we didn’t know we were going to leave as soon as we did.
My dad had joined us in December and the plan was that we were going to stay until Christmas and then go to California.  Plans changed, however.  In the third week of December, perhaps on the 21st, a big snowstorm hit the Midwest.  My dad did not want us to get stuck in Indiana because of the weather, so we said goodbye to our grandparents and my dad, my mom, three brothers and I all piled into the car.
I don’t remember the model, but the car was one of those big Cadillac-type vehicles that were still popular in the United States.  Within a few months, they would be gone due to the energy crisis and a sudden but painful increase in gas prices.  It was just the car we needed for this trip though.  We drove to Chicago to say our final farewells to family members.  The drive was slow because of the weather, indicated by the number of cars that had spun out and ended up on the side of the road. 
First we visited my dad’s aunt.  I think we spent the night there.  Then we went back to Aunt Marie’s house so my mom could say goodbye to her sister.  Then we started our drive.  Despite the previous night’s weather, driving conditions were good.  It was a beautiful sunny day and things were peaceful.  Had I been driving I might remember distances, times and places we stayed, but at 13, I was just along for the ride.  I remember our first stop was Iowa.  Looking at a current map and remembering conversations, I think we took the 80 West and went through Iowa. 
I liked Iowa.  It was a beautiful day and there was no evidence of the snowstorm.  We stayed in a motel in a city with a Native American name, perhaps Osceola.  The next day we took the 35South through Missouri and Kansas.  I remember this specifically because it was when I learned that there was a Kansas City in both states.  Then we got to Oklahoma and I think we stayed the night there.  It was in Oklahoma where our troubles started.
We went to a very crowded restaurant for breakfast.  The service was slow and it took a half hour just to be given a donut.  We were all miserable, but some of us were more miserable than others and not just because of slow service.   I don’t remember who, but the flu hit a couple of the family members.  Jimmy, the brother closest to me in age, had to take some kind of pill and it was a terrific struggle between my dad and him.  I remember the car on the side of the road, other cars passing by, with my dad holding the pill, his face full of frustration and Jimmy crying.
Still, we survived.  We saw the Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City.  Otherwise, the road went on and on.  The radio was on most of the time, A.M. radio playing some of the same songs over and over with a smattering of Christmas songs.  Here are some of the songs I remember:
·      Feliz Navidad – Jose Feliciano
·      Time in a Bottle – Jim Croce
·      Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan
·      Tell Her She’s Lovely – El Chicano
·      Smoking in the Boy’s Room – Brownsville Station
·      I Love – Tom T. Hall
·      Show and Tell – Al Wilson
·      Love’s Theme – Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra
·      Why Me, Lord? – Kris Kristofferson
·      Christmas Story – Cheech and Chong

 There were more, but those are the ones I remember.  My dad did all the driving.  I don’t know whose choice that was.  The road just went on and on, especially through Texas.  One of the things I remember about Texas is a sign that offered a 10-pound steak for free if the patron could eat the whole thing.  I also remember a lot of desert.  The desert continued into New Mexico and that’s where we stopped on Christmas Eve.  And that’s where we had one of the most amazing Christmases of my life. 
Picture the scene again:  Two adults and four small boys in one car driving 2,000 miles during Christmas.  Upon arriving in the motel, our parents got us in and then said, “Wait here.”
Then they came in with Christmas presents!  Not just one or two, but several for each of us, all wrapped and labeled!  For years I shared that story and for years, I wondered how they did that.   Because we were on the road, I don’t know if any of us expected to celebrate Christmas.  My parents, however, were pretty good about making sure we had good Christmases and that was one of the best.
The next day we were off again and heading towards Arizona and eventually to the end of our trip.  That’s another story however.  I don’t know if there’s a lesson or a moral to this part of the story, but I never forgot that Christmas.  When something is important to us, perhaps because it’s important to someone else, we make it happen.  We find a way.  We Get Started and we Keep Going until we make it work…even if we’re on the road.