Tag Archives: family travel


Nothing is yours.  It is to use.  It is to share.  If you will not share it, you cannot use it.” –Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed

Unnecessary possessions are unnecessary burdens.  If you have them, you have to take care of them!  There is great freedom in simplicity of living.  It is those who have enough but not too much who are the happiest.  –Peace Pilgrim
Over the last few years, my brother, Tony, has been asking me to move back to our hometown of Kansas City, Kansas.  I grew up in Kansas and, to this day, my immediate family still resides there.  My brother and sisters are settled, happy, at peace.  They’ve raised their families, worked hard, and created nice homes.

I have always been the wanderer, flitting from place to place, living periodically in apartments, hotels, and cars. I owned nothing but a few books, some CDs, TV, computer, and a change of clothes.  I don’t own a home.  I won’t buy furniture.  I don’t hang pictures on the walls of rented spaces.  I hate clutter because it makes me feel like the walls are closing in on me.  Funny, but when I am “settled” in an apartment, I tend to have frequent panic attacks.  To remain calm, I usually don’t keep many things around me.

Many of my friends didn’t seem to mind my lack of furniture when they came to visit me.  They always happily sat on the pillows I would toss around on the floor.  We would sip hot tea or coffee.  We would talk and laugh without distractions. We would look into each other’s eyes instead of glancing around the room.  Many friends originally thought my lack of furniture would feel awkward.  To their surprise, they usually discovered that my home was warm and inviting.  Friends were always welcomed and honored in my home even if they didn’t have a comfortable place to sit.

My last apartment was in Palm Springs, California.  To say I had a simple decorating style would be an overstatement.  I had decorated the apartment in the “Early Wal-mart tub” style.  Seriously…I had just purchased plastic tubs from Wal-mart to hold my CDs, books, papers, and underwear.    I slept on an old army cot.  I explained my decorating style to my friends this way.  “When I have to leave again, I don’t want anything holding me down or holding me back.  I just want to be able to throw my things in my car and drive away.  I want to be able to leave at a moment’s notice and not have to worry about things.”

Possessions have always been a problem for me.  In the distant past, with my first apartments, I did try to create a sense of home by purchasing appliances and furniture.   But when the urge and opportunity came upon me to move, I didn’t know what to do with everything I owned.  I didn’t want to pack it and move it.  I didn’t want to deal with it even if I was just moving ten miles away.   I would just give my things away.  That was a very strange situation.  I would call my friend, Julie, and tell her I had a vacuum, microwave, TV to give away.  She would answer, “I really would love those things, but I’m too busy with the kids right now.  Can you bring them over?”  So I would load up my car and drive the things over to Julie’s home.  Then my friend, Sara, asked for some of my things.  I would load up my car and drive the items to her house.  Next thing I knew, I was delivering random stuff to all of my friends’ homes.  Why didn’t I just move everything to my new apartment!?  I was moving the things all over town anyway!  I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.  I just kept given my things away without even considering taking them with me.  For some reason, this odd ritual just made me feel free and unburden and I would repeat it with each move.

Until recently…

A few years ago, things changed a little for me.  I thought I would finally settle down in Southern California.  I had a good job and was making extra money.  I still wouldn’t buy furniture; that was too big of a commitment.  But I did indulge in buying additional books and CD, which really make me happy.  But a strange thing happened.  Staying in one place caused me to accumulate more things.  And the worst part…I got attached!  Seriously, I became very attached to my books, my CDs, my DVDs, my clothes.  I became selfish.  I didn’t want to give anything away.  I wanted my things…the things I had worked so hard to acquire.

So, a few months ago, when Tony again asked me to move back to Kansas, I responded honestly.  “I don’t want to give up my things again.  I always give things away every time I move.  And Kansas is a thousand miles away from California.  I don’t want to give everything away.”

“You don’t have to give your things away,” Tony laughed at me.  “Why would you do that? Bring it with you.  Hire a U-Haul, get a van, hire a moving company.  You don’t have to leave it behind.”

But still, I resisted the move for a while until I finally decided last month that it was time to return to the Midwest.  I decided that Tony was right.  I didn’t have to give away anything I wanted to keep.  I would just pack it all up, put it into storage, and then hire a company to move it to Kansas when I was ready to return to the Midwest.  I soon notified my leasing company that I was leaving my apartment and began to pack my “things.”  Now, as many times as I have moved, I still don’t know how to pack.  That’s because I never took the items with me before.  Now, I just went to Home Depot and purchased a stack of boxes and some tape.  I just started throwing random pieces of my life haphazardly into the boxes and taping them up.  I placed the boxes into a small 5 X 5 storage unit.  For some odd reason, I was pleased that my whole life could fit into the smallest space available.  I think it was reassurance to me that my life wasn’t cluttered.  I wasn’t hoarding anything.  i really wasn’t attached.  I began to breathe a little easier as I closed and locked the door of the storage unit and drove away.  For several weeks again, I traveled unburdened through Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and Canada.  I was totally unencumbered.  I was able to breath and feel free once more.

And then…

I was ready to return to the Midwest.  Before making the journey, I first had to meet the movers at the storage unit.  I apologized a few times when the movers complained that the boxes loaded with books were so heavy, but I didn’t really worry about it.  I just watched with relief as the two large moving men placed my 24 boxes, the sum of everything I currently owned, onto the truck and took it all away.  I had my freedom and I would have my things.  Tony was right.  I didn’t have to give anything away.  I was able to keep my possessions….and I was able to drive back to Kansas without feeling the weight and heaviness of my possessions.

But then…

Once I was in Kansas, anxiety began to build up in me.  Twelve days later and my possessions had still not arrived.  All kinds of thoughts and worries hammered away at my brain.  What if the moving company had been a scam?  What if the movers were going to hold my things for ransom?  What if my items had gotten lost, damaged, or stolen along the way?  What if the only time the moving company could deliver I was scheduled to work at my new job?  The “what if’s” built up with endless anxiety.  “Stop it,” I tried to tell myself.  “It doesn’t matter.  It’s just ‘stuff’.  Let it go.”  But the stress kept me awake at night.  Yes, stress…over ‘stuff.’

Finally, I received a call from the movers letting me know that they could deliver the items the next day…well, night.  They would not be arriving in Kansas City, Kansas, until 9 pm.  I told them that was fine.  I didn’t care if they didn’t arrive until midnight.  I just wanted my items delivered and the whole thing over with.  The movers didn’t show up the next evening until around 10:30 pm.

Tony had just gotten home from work when the moving van arrived.  I was fortunate to have him there.  The delivery was a little rough.  The truck driver actually passed up Tony’s house and was halfway down the street before realizing his mistake.  He suddenly brought the truck to a loud screeching stop and then backed up with lights blazing and the annoyingly loud reverse “ding” sound echoing around the neighborhood.  The noise brought several neighbors to their front doors.  Tony’s next door neighbor, an elderly woman dressed in a purple bathrobe, fuzzy slippers, and pin curlers, stepped out onto her front porch.  I couldn’t quite hear what she was shouting at Tony, but my brother answered, “It’s okay.  It’s fine.  It’s just a moving van. They are delivering to my house. “

The elderly woman shouted to Tony again.  After he reassured her that the van was there make a delivery, not to rob the neighbors’ houses, the woman went back into her home and quickly shut and locked her door.  Tony and I stared at each other and then turned our attention back to the delivery truck.

“Oh, my God,” Tony suddenly declared. “What is that driver doing?  He doesn’t know what he’s doing! He doesn’t know how to drive that truck!”  Tony went running out into the street as he watched the driver steer the truck right up into another neighbor’s yard.  Tony tried to flag down the driver and get him to turn in the other direction.  Tony walked up to the side window of the truck and after some discussion, the driver finally stopped the truck in the middle of the street.  Tony walked back to me shaking his head.  “Oh, man,” he sighed, “the neighbors are not going to be happy when they see their yard tomorrow morning.”

I just stared at my brother in surprise, completely incapable of responding.

The large, red-haired driver now climbed out of his seat and walked to the back of the truck.  He pulled up the door and I was suddenly staring at all of my boxes…all of my crumbling, smashed, opened, mauled, tattered boxes.

“Did you pack this stuff?” the driver asked me.  I just shook my head yes.  “Man, way too heavy.  Those boxes weren’t strong enough for everything you packed.  And the tape you used…absolutely useless.”

“It was books,” I answered meekly.  “I packed books…”

I didn’t know what else to say as the man now began to gather together the ripped boxes and throw them down off the truck.  Several of my books fell out and scattered across the driveway.  I was so thankful to have Tony there.  As the mover threw the boxes off of the truck, Tony and I gathered together the pieces.  Tony placed the boxes on his dolly and rolled them into the garage.  Many of the boxes were so heavy, the two men had to lift them together just to get them onto the dolly.

“Way too heavy,” Tony shook his head at me.  “Why did you pack everything this way?”

I could just shrug my shoulders helplessly.  I wanted my things this time, I just remember thinking.  I just really wanted my things.  I didn’t want to give them away again.

Finally, the 24 ripped and tattered boxes were inside the garage.  I paid the mover and thanked him for his help, even though Tony did the majority of the heavy lifting and hauling into the garage.  When the mover drove away and the neighborhood was once again quiet, Tony and I stood in the garage together staring at the boxes that were open and/or fallen over.  I was shocked, surprised, and speechless.

Though I truly appreciated Tony’s help, as I stared at all of my possessions, I didn’t feel happy or relieved.  I didn’t feel excited or elated.  No.  Instead, I felt humiliated.  I felt embarrassed.  I was absolutely horrified.  All of that fuss. All of that upset and worry and stress.  All of the annoyance to the neighbors and all the work Tony suddenly had to do…for this! For this dilapidated, falling over, crushed, and scrambled pile of boxes.  All of that work and worry for all of my absolutely worthless material things!

I felt myself burn with shame.  I was so angry that I had let material things own me, control me, and load me down.

Tony was incredibly gracious about the whole mess.  It was as if he knew that this was the total sum of my net worth.  He had more respect for the remnants of my life than I did.  He smiled.  He said he would find stronger boxes for me.  He said he would help me repack everything and make sure it was all there and all safe.

I just wanted to throw everything in the trash now and forget about it.   I wanted to sell it all on EBay.  I wanted to place all of the boxes in the front yard and let someone just walk off with them…if he or she could even lift the boxes!  I wanted to have a garage sale and sale everything at discounted prices.  I wanted to pack everything up into my car and deliver to the homes of my friends.  After all of the struggle and all of the fight over all of my junk, it just didn’t seem like it mattered anymore.

Two weeks later, and all of the boxes are still sitting in the garage.  I haven’t unpacked them.  I hadn’t even looked at them.   I haven’t gone through any of the boxes or rearranged them in any way.  I have an aversion to looking at them or touching them.  The boxes make me cringe.  They remind me of my once horrible attachment to things that didn’t even really matter in the first place…I just want to get into my car now and drive away from the whole, God awful mess.

I want to live out of my car again.  I want to sleep in the backseat and keep battered paperback books on the passenger seat beside me.  I want to listen to music on the car stereo and cruise through small ghost towns throughout America…alone and free.

But for now, I’m buried under a mountain of junk that keeps me trapped and weighed down in a quasi-normal life.  Why did I insist or believe that I couldn’t move without my things this time?  Was I just using my things as an excuse not to move again?  And now that I am in Kansas, will I ever run free again?  Maybe I just want to feel love…love of life, love of thought, love of spirit…Maybe I just want to feel love instead of taking cold comfort in material things.

I remember reading in a Buddhist book about the theory of attachment.  I paraphrase the thought, but it basically said that it was okay to have things but don’t become attached.  You must know that all things are impermanent.  Have things but don’t allow yourself to become sad or disappointed if they are lost, stolen, or broken.  They are not the sum of your life, of your existence.

I don’t know why I let myself, for a period of time become so attached to my things. Maybe I just needed it for a time to feel like I was accomplishing something.

But now, I think I could just walk away and leave everything behind…and I would be okay.  Yeah, I would certainly be okay.



I had been sitting at a small table in the back of McDonald’s for about twenty minutes when a large group of handicapped adults and three caretakers came into the restaurant.  They sat at four tables not far from mine.  I tried not to stare but I was fascinated with the caretakers as they efficiently attended to their clients.  I have to admit that I never would have had that much patience.

I picked up my pen and looked back at my notebook just as I heard extremely loud, barking noises coming from one of the handicapped adults.  I have to admit the sounds actually unnerved me at first.  I looked up but I couldn’t see who was making the noises.  A wall blocked my view of the whole group of handicapped adults.  I looked away but could not stop hearing the loud guttural growling sounds.  The thought went through my head that maybe I should leave, but I really didn’t want to.  I was relaxed and happy and enjoying my morning.

The noise continued however, as a memory flooded into my brain.  When Mom and I were traveling through the southern states several years ago, we stopped at a place in Cullman, Alabama, called the Ava Maria Grotto.  Known as “Jerusalem in Miniature,” the grotto is a four-acre park that displays 125 miniature replicas of well-known historic landmarks, which were created by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk.  Brother Joseph used many materials, from stones and concrete to clips and buttons, to create his designs.

Mom and I roamed through the grotto looking at the beautiful reproductions of cathedrals and basilicas.  We ended our journey in the small gift shop.  As we were looking around, Mom and I noticed a bus pulling up in the parking lot.  The bus was decorated with the name of a local school for handicapped adults.  Several of the people getting off the bus were adults who appeared to have some sort of medical condition.  Some people were in wheelchairs; others were being guided by the attendants who led them into the shop.  I was standing on the opposite side of the room.  I was across from the front door, Mom, and the adults who just came into the shop.  One of them was a middle-aged man.  He was extremely tall, well over six feet, and very thin.  He wore jeans, a red windbreaker, and a blue baseball cap.  He lumbered towards Mom and loomed over her.  My tiny mother only came up to the middle of his chest.  She had to crank her head way back on her neck to look up at his face as he stood before her.  Nervously, I started towards them and felt a slight panic as the man suddenly lifted his hands, gently laid them on Mom’s shoulders, and stared into her eyes. Then he gently said, “God bless you, my child.”  He pulled his hands away then and lumbered off with the rest of his party.  I finally made it over to Mom’s side, where she stood looking stunned.  She didn’t move at all; she just stood staring straight ahead.

“Mom?  Mom, are you okay?” I asked her as I touched her arms gently.  She turned slowly to look at me.

“Did you see his eyes?” she asked me.  “They were glowing.  They were so golden.”  Then she smiled a slow sweet smile.  “I was just touched by an angel,” she whispered.

We didn’t talk at all as we walked outside, climbed into the truck, and drove away from the grotto.  In fact, we didn’t talk for a while after that.  Mom seemed lost in the experience for a while.  I don’t really know what exactly happened, but Mom was quiet and peaceful as she leaned back in her seat, just watching the scenery roll by as we headed towards Mississippi.

Suddenly, the memory faded as I looked up.   One of the patients in McDonalds walked over to the trashcan that was close to my table.  Then he abruptly turned and was standing right next to me.  He was about 5’6” tall and very thin.  His straight black hair hung down over his plastic glasses.  The thick glasses emphasized the way his eyes crossed uncontrollably.  His hands flapped in an agitated gesture and his feet took turns tapping against the floor.  Then suddenly he smiled a radiant smile that displayed crooked, broken teeth.  “Hi,” he shouted to me.

“Hi,” I answered back and the most amazing sense of calm came over me as I talked him.  “How are you today?” I asked him.

“Great,” he answered a little too enthusiastically as his hands continually clapped together.  “How are you?” he asked.

“Great,” I told him.

He smiled again, “Okay…bye.”

“Bye,” I said and waved to him.  As he waved back, I suddenly felt incredibly peaceful.  Is this what Mom had felt at the grotto?  However, I didn’t feel that I was touched by an angel.  I felt instead touched by a human being.  I felt touched by another person and that touch lead to a connection with God and the universe.

As the attendants began to lead the handicapped adults out of the restaurant, I started thinking about all the times I came home from school in tears.  I remember my mom hugging me as I cried on her shoulder, “Mommy, what’s wrong with me?”  She had no answer for me mainly because she didn’t believe anything was wrong.  However, I had always felt different from other people.  I have never seemed to fit in anywhere.  Because of the bullying I had experienced, for most of my childhood, I thought it was wrong to be different.   As a result, I found myself shying away from people who are considered different, unpredictable, or unstable.  Now, I know better though.  As I watched the attendants lead their clients out of the restaurant, I felt  a sense of belonging I hadn’t ever known before.  People are not angels.  There are just people who can touch others in an angelic way and our differences are a reflection of the many facets of a loving God.

Where I am

I know I have chosen a lonely life for myself. Though I know I have meet the most amazing people from all over the world, it hasn’t been easy to maintain long standing relationships when I have moved around so much. A friend teased me one time by saying, “You move more than someone on the run from the law.” I don’t know if she ever realized how exactly right she was. I have my own separate page in her address book. She claims that she saves extra room for me because she has to constantly write in updates to my information.

I just moved again a few months ago. It’s funny. I never realize how much junk I have until I have to move it. But every time I move, pieces of myself get scattered all over the place. I decided I didn’t want to move all of the junk again, so I did what I normally do every time I move. I called my friend, Olga, and asked if there was anything of mine she could use. She answered, “Oh, I could really use the toaster oven and blender. That would be so great. But I can’t get over right now to pick them up because of the kids.”
Oh, well, okay, no problem. I loaded everything into my truck and drove it to her apartment. Suddenly, over the next few days, I started getting calls from several other people I knew. “Hey, I hear you’re moving and giving some things away. Can I have your…”

Next thing I know I’m loading up my truck and driving my microwave oven over to Rayna’s place, my vacuum cleaner to Teri’s, my mixer, dishes, and various appliances over to Jaynie’s…Wait a minute! I suddenly realized I was driving all of my things all over town! Why didn’t I just drive all of it to my new apartment?!

No, seriously, I am so fortunate to have the friends that I have and to have meet a lot of interesting and unique people from all over the world. But I always move on. I am always ready to pack up and go. I am bored staying in one place for too long. Roots do not grow under me. I don’t feel connected to any one place and yet I love everywhere I go. I’m just always looking for the next opportunity. I always seem to have my eyes focused on what is over the next horizon and sometimes I don’t realize the warmth of the sun that shines on me wherever I am. Sometimes I have to wonder why I’m going and what I am trying to accomplish. I don’t know if I will ever find the answer to these life riddles but that doesn’t stop me from searching for some solution somewhere.

But that’s alright because along the way I have made many amazing discoveries. As much as I feel I know people, and I know about this world, and I know about life, every new place I arrive surprises me with scenery, people, and opportunities I could never have even imagined.

New Adventures–Getting Lost

At that time my family embarked on road trips, there were no cell phones or GPS systems. We did not depend on technology to get us through. We were real pioneers, with nothing but maps and fellow adventurers traveling the highways. All we had to depend on were ourselves and the kindness of family, friends, neighbors, and travelling allies. That was the adventure. We lived dangerously…and we survived. We learned how to stand on our own two feet and find our direction. We may have found ourselves lost every now and then, but we always eventually made it back home.

I don’t think people want adventure any more. They just want to be at their destination fast and soon. Oh, what they have missed along the way is heartbreaking. Why not stop and view the world around us? Otherwise, what’s the point of going anywhere? Why ever leave home?

Mom and I continued to travel that way as we journeyed through America. Just a map and stopping when we got tired, never quite sure where we were going to end up. Wherever we stopped, that’s where we stopped. Talking about it now seems as foreign as the wild-west journeys by covered wagon. But people used to watch out for each other then and travelers could always rely on gas station attendants and friendly locals for free directions, bitter cups of coffee, and interesting conversations about little hometowns.

My brother, Ralph, always had the greatest advice. “Always get lost in a new town,” he suggested. “Whenever you’re lost, you have to force yourself to learn the city to get back. There’s no better way of learning about your surroundings.”

There was only one time in my life that I can ever remember ever getting horribly, desperately lost. I was five-years-old and thought of myself as a big girl. Everyday when I went to kindergarten, Grandma always dropped me off right at the front door. My classroom was just inside, first door on the left…however, over the last couple of weeks, I happened to notice that several of my classmates were coming into the classroom from the opposite direction. They were coming in through the backdoor, and for some reason, I thought that was really cool. So one day, I made up my mind that I did not want to go in to school though the “baby” front door and told my grandmother to drop me off at the back of the building. Grandma was very hesitant at first.

“Are you sure you know the way?” she must have asked me five times as she circled around to the back of the building. Of course…well, maybe…but what difference did it make…I was on the very first of many amazing journeys. Grandma stopped at the back of the building and…uh, oh, there were two doors about five feet apart.

“Are you sure you know which door to use?” Grandma started to worry again. “Let’s go back up front.”

But I couldn’t back down now. I quickly kissed her check, jumped out of the car, and without any hesitation, I walked to one of the doors. I just picked one. I swung it open, stepped inside…and was suddenly completely lost! I had no idea where I was! Did I turn around? No. Did I step back out and try the other door? No. I just started walking…and walking…and walking as if I knew where I was heading. But I had no idea where I was or where I was going. I just tried to pretend like I belonged (which seems to have become a running theme in my life!). I just ran up and down the hallways for about half an hour. The more I ran, the more confused I became. I started to panic and felt warm tears beginning to wind their way down my cheeks. The hallways were empty but I passed rooms full of people. I was just so very shy and didn’t know who to ask or what to say. So I kept walking as if I had somewhere to go…and I did…I just had no clue how to get there.

Suddenly, I turned a corner and out of nowhere there stood before me a young girl. She must have been about ten-years-old and she was holding the hand of a very small child. I don’t know who they were or where they came from? The young girl looked at me and said, “Are you looking for the kindergarten classes?” I couldn’t speak a word. I just shook my head. “Go that way,” she said pointing down the hallway behind her. “Just go to the end of the hallway.”

I took off at a run, even too shy and upset to say “thank you.” I ran down the hallway and there it was…my classroom. I stopped running now. I wiped my tears and then casually strolled into the room, hung up my coat and took my seat, shaking my head and acting as if I had meant to be fashionably late. The teacher, Mrs. Gilbertson, stared at me for just a moment but when I refused to say anything or show any kind of reaction, she simply went on with the class. The next day, Grandma dropped me off at the front door of the school and I never complained again. My big girl adventure was over.

Endless Adventures

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.

Babies in cars

My family is very fortunate that all of our travels have been safe. In the many years we had traveled on the road when I was a child, we didn’t have any car wrecks or major calamities. That’s not to say we didn’t have our share of interesting mishaps while travelling, though they were always very minor and certainly laughable.

One day, as we were driving along some mountain passes in Colorado, my year-old brother, Ralph, was sleeping on my mother’s lap. Mom had pulled off his small pair of shorts to cool him down in the hot car with no air conditioning. She placed the shorts over his face to keep the sun off of him. As dad drove around a curve, Ralph’s shorts went flying out of the open passenger window. Mom screamed out but it was too late. The shorts were gone down the canyon, never to be seen again. Ralph spent the rest of the day in just a diaper until we could unpack some clean clothes for him.

It’s strange to think that my mother was actually holding my brother on her lap in the front passenger seat as we careened around the mountain passes. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, seatbelts and child car seats were not required. For almost eight complete years, Mom always had a baby on her lap whenever and wherever we would travel.

My first introduction to my brother was in the front seat of my Dad’s old Chevrolet. Just two weeks past my third birthday, my sisters, Theresa and Carol, and I were sent to stay with my maternal grandmother, Edith. It was agony for me. I was a momma’s girl. I missed her horribly for the week she was gone. I cried every night for my mom and threw tantrums continually at my grandmother’s home. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be with my mother.

I was relieved when my dad finally appeared one day to pick us up. He explained that Mom had had the baby. Baby, huh, what?!? What baby?!? I do not remember hearing any talk or explanation for my mother’s absence until that very moment.

Quickly, Theresa, Carol, and I were piled into the car to go to the hospital to get Mom. I remember sitting huddled with my sisters in the back of the car as Dad ran into the hospital. I remember Mom climbing into the front seat with this bundle in her arms. I remember leaning over the front seat while Mom settled herself in the passenger seat of the car, the bundle she carried now resting in her lap. Slowly, she pulled back the blanket, opening the bundle and there was my baby brother, Ralph. I heard my sisters cooing, “He’s so cute….” So I said it too. But in my head, I remember thinking, “This is it?!? This is why my momma had to leave me?!?” It just didn’t seem right, but Ralph had already made himself comfortable in the front seat on my mother’s lap (where I used to be) and that’s where he would travel for the majority of our journeys over the next few years.

We were always safe and secure there in my mother’s arms. There was only one incident that occurred while Mom was holding one of her babies. This was before my brother usurped my place. I was the infant nestled in my mother’s arms.

My father had an old car when they first got married. The front passenger door didn’t always latch and would fly open at unsuspecting moments. One afternoon, Dad went zooming around a corner, the door flew open, and Mom and I went sailing out of the car. By reflex, Mom stuck her foot out the open doorway and by some odd occurrence suddenly found herself standing peacefully on the pavement with her baby girl still sleeping in her arms. Mom felt as if she had been supported or carried to the side of the highway, away from the passing cars. Mom thankfully had a death grip on me and did not let go, so I remained right where I was, wrapped in Mom’s arms, and sleeping through the whole experience.

The transition from car to street had been so smooth, Dad didn’t even realize his wife and infant daughter were gone until he was halfway home. Surprised when he suddenly turned to his right and found an empty seat and open door, he turned around and retraced his path and finally came upon Mom and me on the side of the highway. Pushing open the passenger door for my mom, Dad was still stunned. “What the hell’s wrong with yous…Where did yous people go?” Mom just sadly shook her head and climbed back into the car sitting closer to my dad this time and holding on to me and dear life all the way back home.

So yes, for years Mom rode everywhere with a baby in her arms, always protecting, never letting us go.

Emergency breaks

Driving was always very important in my family because it was our main mode of transportation. We never flew anywhere. Family vacations were always taken by car. Every summer we would either head west to Colorado to visit family or east to St. Louis where the construction company Dad worked for had offices and hotel rooms he could write off at a discounted price.

Having to use the bathroom on a long, two-day drive wasn’t always fun. My father may be hard to motivate to move but once he was on the road, he didn’t want to stop. One time, my father finally got tired of our cries and moans and pulled over at a gas station so we could quickly (“You have two minutes only or I leave without you!”) run in to use the bathroom. My maternal grandmother insisted that she was fine and didn’t need to “spend a penny”. (“Spend a penny” was my grandmother’s usual euphemism for peeing. She referred to toilet paper as “hockey tickets”.) So, once all the kids had piled back into the car within ninety seconds (we had reason to believe Dad), we were back on the highway again.

About an hour later, Grandma began to twitch and groan. “Uh, Joe,” she called up to my dad in the front seat, “I need to use the bathroom.”

“We just stopped an hour ago, Edith,” Dad insisted. “Why didn’t you go then?”

“Didn’t have to,” Grandma responded like a five-year-old child.

Dad sighed, breathing heavily in order to gain control of his temper. “Well, let me find a place to stop…” And we drove for another hour. There was no place to stop. No gas stations for miles. Grandma was becoming more uncomfortable with each passing minute. She was not a small woman and her seated peepee dance was causing the car to careen in several different directions as we continued down the highway. Finally, totally exacerbated, and seeing no other choice, Dad at last pulled over by the side of the road near a clump of trees. “This is the best I can do, Edith,” he told her. “Just go back by those trees.”

Grandma looked absolutely horrified at the thought. “Listen,” Dad tried to convince her, “we haven’t found another gas station. We haven’t even passed another car for miles. This highway is empty right now. There is no one else around. It’s getting dark. You’ll be fine. Nobody is going to see anything.”

Grandma reluctantly climbed out of the car and looked up and down the long, lonely highway. Okay, it looked safe enough.

She moved over to the clump of trees, raised her skirt, lowered her underwear, and…

…Twenty-five, thirty cars suddenly materialized out of nowhere, zooming past my grandmother with her pants down on the side of the road, their headlights illuminating her bare white bottom. She yanked up her pants and ran back to jump into the car. Dad took off while Grandma cussed him for the next three miles as if he had purposely sat up that particular experience to keep anyone from asking to stop to pee again for the rest of the trip.

Childhood Dreams

I am getting to the age where I can look back on my childhood and long for simpler times.  Though most people, I grew up in a time when children didn’t have to be in car seats and riding in the back of open pickup trucks wasn’t illegal.  When I was growing up, parents threw their kids in the back of the car and just told them to hang on.  We all rode in pickup trucks over bumpy, potholed roads.  The fear of bouncing out was all part of the fun! 

It was also the time when, for lack of something better to do, families would take long meandering drives on lazy Sunday afternoons.  Every Sunday afternoon, after church and a lunch of Mom’s pot roast and potatoes, my family would pile into our old Chevy station wagon, lovingly known as Betsy, and hit the highway.  It wasn’t always the most comfortable of rides.  Eight people (my parents, 2 sisters, brother, both grandmas, and me) were stuffed into ole Betsy as we swerved around the highways of Kansas City.  My siblings and I would continually jostle for space, climb on and off of each other’s  lap, and fight over who would have to sit on the “hump”.  

The heat in the car, at times, could be unbearable.  Oh, that’s right…we had no air conditioning!  The windows would be rolled all the way down and the vents would be opened wide but that still didn’t stop the heavy sweating of eight people all packed in together in a small space. 

With no CD, cassette, or DVD player, without cell phones or iPads, my siblings and I would become endlessly restless and bored on these drives.  While my father continually yelled that he would turn the car around, my mother would try to calm her children down by singing.  She would begin with the melody and, once her children joined in, switch to the harmony vocal, which would threw the kids off and we would have to start all over again.  With church every day but Sunday, we sang the songs we knew the best, church hymns.  So, there we were…8 people in a station wagon, hot and sweaty, rolling down the highway, singing offkey versions of “Now Thank We All Our God” and “Let There Be Peace On Earth”. 

Where were we headed?  No place.  At that time, most businesses were closed on Sundays.  The best we could hope for was ice cream from the local Dairy Queen on the way back home if Dad was in a good mood. ….we didn’t always get ice cream!  But this was my life.  I grew up in a car.  I have lived out of a car.  I have done the majority of my traveling in a car. 

I love to be on the open road.  On nights when I have trouble sleeping, I imagine a ribbon of highway in my mind that I travel until I finally drift off to sleep.  I have traveled in so many ways, physically, emotionally, spiritually, conscious and unconscious.   I travel the endless highways of my life and I am ready to share my journey.