When I was a young girl, my father liked to pack us all into the station wagon for long road trips in the summer. We didn’t have iPods, or portable dvd players, or cell phones; we didn’t even have air conditioning, which meant my father liked to hit the road at 4 a.m., to beat the heat of the day and the LA traffic. I remember this was part of the excitement: rising in the dark and stumbling in our pajamas out to the car, still clutching our pillows and blankets and stuffed teddies. My two brothers and I crawled into the way back and set up our nomadic bedroom, snuggling back down as the car pulled out of the driveway in reverse.
“Goodbye house,” my mother whispered softly.
“Goodbye house,” I echoed back hoarsely, then lay on back and watched as the sky revolved outside the long windows. I imagined our house waving back until we turned the corner out of sight. Sometimes I’d be lulled back to sleep, but often I liked to lie there half awake instead, trying to determine where we were just by timing the turns or watching for familiar billboards and signs.
It was a lovely time of day to be awake. And a lovely place in which to be awake: between my two brothers who were pretty nice when sleeping; in the care of my parents, who murmured together in the front seat; in our familiar car, so solid, moving us inexorably forward. My father, an engineer, had packed everything just so; everything had its place, including me.
I could hear the thermos lid being unscrewed, smelled the sharp scent of Folgers as it poured into a cup. I heard the AM radio voices: announcers who were all storytellers and invited you to be part of the story as well.
In a few days I’ll be flying from Bellingham to Phoenix to meet up with my parents at their retirement home, and the next day we’ll hit the road together to drive 8 hours to my little brother’s house in Laguna Beach. We’ll pack the car with snacks and water and podcasts. We’ll have air conditioning, so we most likely won’t leave at 4 a.m. I’ll drive part of the way, but not enough to take this pleasure away from my father who, at 81, still loves to drive. I’ll love being with them this way: together in a time out of time, keeping each other safe.
In this season of vacations and road trips, it’s a great time to remember traveling as a child. Write for 15 minutes about an early childhood memory of a road trip. Allow the sensory details to emerge: the smells, the sounds. Try to evoke your child’s frame of mind: what did that child think about; how did that child feel? Do these feeling arise in road trips you take in the present?
Happy beginning of summer, my friends. Here, in the northwest, we’re experiencing our annual “Juneuary,” as we call these cold gray days, but I know these will pass for sunnier days ahead.