If you want to play along today, go see CableGirl and get your name on her list. Come on; I know you have always wanted to be a Flasher! Or am I projecting?
The summer between second and third grade, my parents decided we were going to take a long family vacation. We loaded up our monstrous Ford Econoline van (including a mattress in the back, as that was long before seat belts were a big deal) with the six of us (the Parents and us four daughters), as well as our huge Old English Sheepdog and headed cross-country from Colorado to Kentucky; that was where the parents of my step-father lived, and we had never met them before, so when the Step Dick-I mean dad-had a month's leave from the Air Force, they though it would be a great time to go.
And this remains to this day one of the best childhood memories I have. We all loved music and loved to sing, so we had this huge fake leather carrier thing filled with cassette tapes-from The Sound of Music Soundtrack to Dolly Parton and the The Andrews Sisters, BJ Thomas and Johnny Horton. Miles and miles each day, singing along to the radio or reading or falling asleep to the hum of the wheels on the pavement. I used to ask my mom to wake me up if we came to a town at night, because I loved to see the lights at night, all of these houses lit up with families inside; it always made me feel unreasonably happy and safe to imagine what their lives were like, and the lights of the big cities and the small towns alike filled me with a sense of possibility, like somewhere out there along the road, I would meet my own life, my own self, and know I was going to make it.
***Yes, I really did think like that when I was a kid; didn't you believe me when I told you I was a nerd? Now you know why.***
I don't really remember much about our actual destination, Kentucky. I have a vague memory of the street my step-grands lived on, with a neighbor boy who had a bike he would let us ride, the faint smell of cabbage and endless glasses of iced tea. I remember thinking that my step-grandma was something like God to me, because when my step-dad yelled at us for not eating the Brussels sprouts, she smacked him on the hand with a fork and told him to stop. She stood up to him, where we certainly couldn't. In retrospect, I imagine he was as afraid of his parents as we were him, but at the time, I felt protected and safe. And that pretty much sums up my memories of the visit itself.
But I remember the trip: the driving, and the stopping. We went to a reservation in New Mexico, and I remember how odd it was that there would be shacks made from corrugated metal, no power lines, chickens scratching around in the dust-but with shiny brand new trucks parked alongside the house. I remember feeling very, very white when we would stop at little stores along the way, buying penny candy sticks and wondering why everyone seemed so tired and worn down. Still-New Mexico was beautiful in a strange, wild way I had never experienced, and I made up my mind then that I wanted to live there. It hasn't happened yet, but maybe. I also found out that I didn't like the Grand Canyon. At. All. It scared me, and I actually do not care if I ever see it again.
I remember the thrill of watching life unfold in front of me, and the way it looked from behind. I remember being mesmerized at the way the shadows from the power lines swooped up and down, over and over, looking like they were moving but the van was standing still. I remember the roadside diners and stopping at rest areas to pee, remember the feeling of being completely alone even when I was surrounded by my family, and I remember the soft sound of my mom singing as I fell asleep.
I think this is why I love to travel, to just get in the car and drive. I never did get bored in the car, and still don't. I thank this one vacation for my love of the road, and the desert, and the way life could be. Three weeks of nearly idyllic living, and I haven't stopped looking for it since.