Journeys can take place in many ways. Summit of a mountain, sailing around the world, a quest for answers, an internal journey of discovery.
Or a cross-country car trip as an adolescent, with a pre-pubescent annoying brother and two parents not having their expectations met of their adolescent daughter and her younger brother.
My dad had warned (read threatened) he might move his happy little family from the comforts of our southern home to the wilds of New York someday. He said it so often I think we stopped believing him. I should have known the halcyonic summer our family went to Jamaica to visit my mother’s aging aunt was a bribe.
The following January we played car tag on interstates, turnpikes and rural roads to New Jersey. A rude awakening.
So the following summer my parents planned this huge car trip, with a stop in Ohio to look at the portrait of my great-great grandfather who was former chief justice of the Ohio supreme court, my mothers’ parents’ graves with our final destination Colorado Springs to see the boyhood city of my father.
Roughly 1,748.8 miles each way, give or take.
The worst of it was not the chipped beef sandwiches, not even when Mom mistakenly bought Miracle Whip and refused to take it back swearing it was better for us. She had decided we would save both time and money eating our lunches in the car.
I do not recall whether we had breakfasts at the places we stayed on the way or a fast food place. I was not a healthy breakfast eater in those days. But what really made the trip nearly unbearable was my brother, all of 13 years old and nearly 6 feet tall, lounging across the back seat with his size 11 feet stuck out the window. My window. So I had his smelly feet under my nose for that many miles and nobody cared.
The day we pulled into our hotel (Best Westerns were Dad’s resting place of choice) in Ohio he overshot the parking lot. Instead of turning around like most people he put the car in reverse and drove backwards through 2 parking lots and across a road to get to the proper motel lot. This rendered my mother speechless, rather she burbled “bl-bl-bl” and “F-f-f-f-” with an irrepressible laugh coming up which no one in the car could interpret, including her.
After Ohio we headed west again, one scheduled stop in Nebraska, destination unknown. Remember, too this is the 70s. We do not have gps or smart phones or wifi of any kind. We had AAA Triptiks and tour books of the states we were driving through, and maps of the states and just for good measure Mom included this huge RoadAtlas of the entire United States. In case we took a left in Illinois or something.
So we’re getting tired and cranky and hungry and Dad asks Mom to start looking for something where we can stop to eat and sleep. I have given up trying to move or even break my brother’s legs. Mom mentions this little town up ahead called Cozad and Dad starts looking for signs.
I do not believe there was anything else in this place aside from this little roadside motel. Maybe a gas station. I don’t even remember what it was. There was the skeleton of a snake outside the door to our room, and my brother, excited about the swimming pool watched in awe as some teenage girls, rather large, nearly emptied the contents of the pool when they jumped in.
So we went into the little motel dining room and sat at a table, happy that our bellies would be filled and then we could sleep. We ordered, I can’t remember what anyone else had because when my mother’s food was served, a bowl of chili, she lifted her spoon and as she dipped in saw this anticipated thick, tasty bowl was as thin as water. She dropped her spoon and, as usual Dad got the brunt: “Jack!” she cried. She did not eat a bite.
We moved on from this encounter and made it to Colorado, which of course was beautiful: pristine lakes, stunning snow-capped mountains and fresh, cool air. We saw where Dad was born in Colorado Springs, then drove to a town near Cripple Creek to look at some property he had nearby. We did stay overnight and had a wonderful dinner and floor show at an old hotel, the Imperial, complete with mugging actors and melodrama and a tinny piano. From there we drove to Aspen. Dad had some chartered land in those incredibly treacherous mountains nestled amongst hairpin curves. I learned here my fearless Mother was terrified of heights. When the sheer side of the mountain was on her side of the car she could not bear to look out her window.
Armed with walkie-talkies, binoculars, cameras and a geologic surveyor’s map Dad and my brother Jon headed up the mountain in search of a closed silver mine, leaving Mom and me deep in the wildflower-dotted valley which was rather marshy from the recent snow-melt. So we’re slogging along, not really sure why or where we’re going. Mom had recovered just months before from cancer surgery. We plodded on in silence for a bit when suddenly Mom stopped. I did too and looked over at her, her chin jutting out, stern gaze in the direction of where we’d last seen Dad and Jon disappear and declared, “People have gotten divorced over less than this!” I half-heartedly laughed, knowing their marriage was rock-solid, or at least Mother was and we meandered around this valley for about an hour. Finally Mom decided it was time for Dad and Jon to reappear but they did not so we tried to reach them on the walkie-talkie. Nothing.
Before panic set in we found the emergency channel and contacted whomever (the sheriff? park rangers?) was at the other end explaining the situation. A few minutes later we decided to start back to the car and wait. Just as we heard the rescue helicopter there appeared Dad and Jon cresting the mountain.
What a relief.
The place we stayed in Aspen offered me a job for the following summer, and my brother planned to rally some friends to camp on that mountain and try to open the silver mine, but that’s another story…..