On August 19, I will be flying to Birmingham, where I will address the BWWG during their annual summer retreat and meet with the southern contingent of From Women’s Pens re final touches to be put on our 2011 Christmas anthology.
In honor of my trip, I have decided to share with those of you who follow my blog two sections from another project in process whose working title is Travels with Annie. Part I is presented today, and Part II will appear as next week’s blog entry. My hope is that you will enjoy them as much as I enjoyed the trips that inspired them.
Part I –
Reviewing my life, I’m surprised to note how much of it has been spent on the road.
I’m not even including carpools and grocery shopping, I’m thinking of much bigger trips.
In my teen years, my parents packed our family of six into a 1957 Mercury Monterey, complete with a push button transmission, and treated us to two long driving extravaganzas.
Both trips – the first to Canada and the second to California – started from our Tennessee home. Looking back, we were all very lucky to have survived even one and certainly both of them.
My mother did not drive on these trips, for which we were all grateful. Her accidents while behind the wheel of a car were legendary.
Instead, she sat in the middle of the back seat between my two youngest sisters, partly to keep them occupied and partly so she could pull a white enamel bed pan from under the front passenger seat quickly should either of them threaten to get car sick or worse.
My second sister sat in the middle of the bench front seat with her nose in a book that was propped on her elevated knees in a perfect reading position, since her feet were firmly ensconced on the “hump” that divided the floor. It’s no wonder that, when she grew up, she became a librarian.
I was positioned on the front passenger side by the door with my legs separated by a round, scotch-plaid aluminum cooler that sat on the floor. This was, of course, after I had taken my seat with a clunk, due to the bedpan residing underneath me. I’ve always wondered why such experiences didn’t leave me at least a little bow-legged, but they didn’t.
The cooler contained bottled soft drinks set in ice in the bottom and a church-key can opener, several Hershey bars, and a package of bologna for our picnic lunch in a tray under the top.
In between serving snacks and drinks to everyone, it was my job to navigate, so I usually sat with a large road map spread across my lap.
These trips were taken way before interstates, credit cards, power steering, power brakes, and/or automobile air conditioners. Did I mention that both trips were taken during the heat of late summer?
The first trip took us up the east coast, where we first stopped at a small motel in North Carolina. Here we ingratiated ourselves to the neighbors on both sides as my father extracted my third sister’s baby tooth using all of his great ingenuity and a small piece of string. The tooth was barely hanging by a thread itself when he bent to the task at hand, but still, her screams of outrage at such an invasion of her privacy reverberated. The looks we received over breakfast in the motel’s restaurant the next morning… Well, we won’t go there.
This minor surgery completed, we continued on our merry way the next day to Williamsburg, Virginia, where we visited the full complement of historic homes, shops, and government buildings, before moving on to Jamestown.
Next on the agenda was Monticello. Too young to appreciate it fully, I remember a huge clock, a dumbwaiter, and Jefferson’s bed – strange items to stick in the mind of a twelve year old.
At this point, we had been stuffed full of history, but our parents loaded us back in the car completely undaunted.
In Washington, D.C. we took in Mt. Vernon, the Washington Monument, both the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and at least one building of the Smithsonian – all in a single day. When you consider that there were four of us girls, covering a ten year span in age, this was quite a marathon.
I believe it was at this point that I decided to get my B.S. degree in history, having already absorbed enough information to secure a diploma.
My entire memory of New York City centers on my father losing his way and driving us around and around the same four roads, while I frantically searched a map for a better way and my mother, who had no actual experience of the city, called out a never ending stream of directions from the back.
Eventually, we made it to the pier where we boarded a ship headed to the Statue of Liberty. I’ve always wondered if my parents had worked out beforehand that climbing so many stairs at a single go would leave their young brood utterly exhausted.
Sadly, much of New England is but a blur – possibly because I was still recuperating, and it has always been my intention to return there.
Finally, we made it to the border, my mother now speaking in hushed tones to my youngest sisters, so as to not draw too much attention until we were allowed through customs. Could the Canadians really have been that scared of us?
Montreal was noteworthy only because one of my younger sisters utilized the bedpan on the hump between the two bench seats as we passed through downtown, focusing all of our attentions away from what I’m sure is a charming city.
We rolled into Ottawa, Canada at the end of a long day and settled into the Butler Motel, where we were scheduled to stay for a week while our father attended a meeting of world scientists.
Imagine our excitement the next morning, when we discovered that this motel was used to billet transferring Mounties. Such a family of four was housed in the room to our right, and we quickly formed friendships that resulted in a tour of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police stables.
We spent a lovely week, tasting meat pies and consommé for the first time, watching the changing of the guard, and touring the botanical gardens – glad to be free of the car.
In the middle of the night before our departure, a quiet knock sounded on our door. My father slipped on his robe and answered the call. From our beds, we all lay completely silent and still, eavesdropping like pros but still learning nothing.
Finally, my father closed the door and announced to my mother that he was needed on a matter of some urgency. That having been said, he dressed and then left us.
His having returned in time for breakfast, we learned the next day in the car that two Russian scientists had decided the evening before to defect – the sort of thing that could happen on anyone’s family vacation.
Only Niagara Falls could’ve replaced our amazement at this turn of events, and it did. It was spectacular on both sides of the border.
The next day, we began our long journey home, a highlight of which was passing over what my mother referred to as the 1000 Island Bridge with some excitement – the islands below us having somehow managed to give their name to what at the time was an upscale dressing.
Finally, we returned home, seasoned travelers, ready to share our experiences when school started in just a few days, unaware that the very next year we would top even these experiences.