My family had to move from California to Virginia when I was a sophomore in high school. My sister had just completed her senior year, and my brother was 6′ tall and in the 8th grade.
All five us – mother, father, sister, brother, and me – had to travel for six days in an unairconditioned GMC Hornet Wagon.
Traveling with us was our dog, Mitzie, who looked a lot like Templeton the Rat from Charlotte’s Web (drawing by Garth Williams). Mitzie is the one on the left.
Our Coleman ice chest was crammed in the back of the Hornet with either Linda or me curled around it. The ice chest housed our bread, peanut butter and jelly for lunch stops. These were the days when there wasn’t a lot of disposable income, especially for a Baptist preacher’s family. We had to make do with what we had.
We sludged through Texas over what seemed to be four weeks. As I gazed out the car window, sucking in hot hair and the occasional bug, I said, “I think Texas is hell.”
We did stop one night for dinner in Texas and splurged at a local restaurant.
I ordered a piece of chicken and got an entire hen with steak fries and two huge pieces of Texas toast. The waitress winked at me and said, “Everything’s bigger in Texas, honey.” I didn’t know what to say to that, so I just smiled. Soon we were back in our room, with a black and white television screwed to the wall. My brother always got stuck with the roll-away cot, which was a lot like sleeping on a medieval torture device.
Back on the road early the next morning, we made the best of a hot situation.
Since the Hornet only had an AM radio, and most of the sound waves were sucked into the wavy heat around us, we sang. Mom would bring out her ukelele and dad would play his melodica and we’d sing “Edelweiss,” and “When We All Get to Heaven” and “Five Foot Two.” With sweat running down our backs, we’d harmonize much like the Von Trapp family. Linda was the soprano, mom was second soprano, I was alto, dad was tenor, and Mark sang bass.
Our finale was always a flamboyant rendition of “He Touched Me,” a gospel song with a questionable title that my mother hated.
Mitzie mostly contributed a couple of barks and horrific internal stomach sounds.
There were moments when we lost our sense of humor.
You haven’t lived until you’ve walked into a dirty little gas station in the middle of nowhere and asked for the key to the outside bathroom. There was usually a two-by-four hanging off the key, and once the door opened you held your breath and moved quickly.
But what I cherish most was the joy we found in each other as a family.
There were no texts, or calls, or Facebook posts during our trip in 1975. There was only the five of us and Mitzie, forced to interact and find creative ways to entertain each other.
While we laughed a lot, we also had moments of quiet, as we watched stucco turn to clapboard turn to brick.
We had moments of total silence, as each of us looked out a window, nervous about new beginnings on a different coast. Each of us anticipated the price of being new to an area . . . the lunches alone in school cafeterias and the whispers from curious congregational members.
But in that silence was a sense that we were in this together.
During those six days we weren’t adults and dogs and teeangers. We were fellow voyagers on a new exploration, holding each other up with laughter and love.
The trip was worth every sweaty minute. It was worth the initial tears spent over girlfriends and boyfriends left behind. It was even worth the inhalation of Mitzie’s constant gas.
Because for six days, and across as many states, we were each others’ best friends.
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