At the time my family was taking road trips, speed limits were set at fifty-five miles per hour. It would take us two and a half days to travel from Eastern Kansas to central Colorado. While Dad navigated down Highway 70, Mom was in the front seat with baby Ralph on her lap. Grandma, my two sisters, and I would pile up in the back seat and the open compartment in the rear of the station wagon which also held all of the luggage. Seven people pushed, pulled, and crumpled in a station wagon with no air conditioning and barely enough room to breathe for four days round trip of fun family vacation travel! Very few cars had air conditioning…ours never did! We usually had to travel with all of the windows rolled down to get some relief from the oppressive heat as we sat crunched together in a steamy car rolling down the highway on hot summer afternoons.
Nights were actually the worst, though. We never stayed in a hotel when we traveled. It was just too expensive for all of us. In the evenings, Dad would just pull over to the side of the road and we would all stretch out on top of each other in the back of the station wagon and try to get some sleep. We would wrestle around for awhile, kicking and pushing each other until my dad would holler out for us to settle down or he would take us out of the car one by one and whoop us. Believe me, it just isn’t possible for seven people to comfortably relax and get some sleep in the back of a station wagon on a humid Kansas summer night. Seriously!
Oh, yes, and one summer, on one particular trip, we were joined by a squawking, feisty, temperamental parakeet! Grandma had decided to give her parakeet, Tweety, to her daughter, Nancy, in Colorado, but, hhhhmmm, how to get the bird there? Why, take it on a two-day drive in a hot station wagon with an exhausted, sweaty family, of course! Tweety didn’t seem to mind. The parakeet sang and squawked the entire trip, throwing us so off key when we tried to sing, my father finally condemned us all to silence. Not a peep did he want to hear for the rest of the trip, he demanded.
Well, the bird, of course, was not going to have any of that, especially at night, as she continued to squawk and chirp, keeping us all awake and on edge. It wasn’t too bad when we were actually traveling. All the windows were rolled down and the sound of the wind blowing through the car didn’t make the bird sound so loud. But I swear that parakeet must have been part owl. He really came alive at night. Even with a towel thrown over his cage to calm him down, the bird would chirp and sing all night, keeping us all from a usually bad, uncomfortable night’s sleep.
Though Dad’s bad temper usually quieted the kids down, the bird refused to listen. Even Dad’s curses and threats of turning the bird loose into the hot night air wouldn’t settle Tweety down. As the night stretched on, everyone in the family was feeling the need to “accidently” set Tweety free from her cage and watch her fly out through the open windows. Dad finally gave up and started driving through the night just wanting to get rid of the bird as soon as possible. Tweety did make it safely to Aunt Nancy’s home, but after a long drive, nights without sleep, and massive headaches from all the chirping, she was the only one happy to arrive. The rest of us were ready to head back home….without the bird.