We're back on the road again today, traveling the open highway west towards home. Leaving before the sun was up, we followed Jason's brother into Iowa, enjoying a beautiful sunrise on the way, and met an hour down the road to stop for a quick breakfast before saying goodbye and heading in different directions.
My original family took a lot of road trips when I was a kid. We went to the east coast, west coast, and a whole lot of places in between. Not confined by seat belts, we kids took turns lying across the back window (they were pretty spacious back then in our '56 Chevy), getting the full bench seat, or curling up on a nest of blankets on either side of the hump on the back floor. I think I liked the back window best but the floor by the hump was pretty fun too. There weren't as many rest stops then like there are now along the Eisenhower Interstate System, so we often stopped in little towns along the way to buy gas, find a picnic table to eat our road food, and stretch our legs.
We were in one such town when my dad had filled the tank (or probably the gas station attendants had dispensed the fuel--along with an oil check and windshield wash) and he went inside to pay and visit the loo. We four kids were playing around in the car when our mom noticed a quaint little shop across the street from the gas station. "Tell Daddy I'm going to go look in that shop across the street for a minute," she said as she got out of the car.
We said okay and kept playing. When our dad returned and got into his seat, a couple of us said, "Mama went over to look in a store," and we got back to our car play. We played make believe games as well as car road games, my favorite being Battleship, which my mom had printed for us using the mimeograph machine where she taught junior high English. With two purple-inked graphs on a page, we each had our own Battleship game board on which we could pencil in our ships and mark our hits and misses. No pegs, no small parts. That, plus road bingo, were some of the best travel games.
We'd been playing a while, rolling along the roadway, when suddenly our dad did a dramatic double-take toward the empty front passenger seat and cried out, "Where's your mother?"
"She went into that store."
"We told you."
Apparently he hadn't been listening. Or paying attention. Or doing any kind of head count before shifting into Drive. We did a pretty fast U-turn and hightailed it back to that little quaint store, I imagine out-pacing any of our previous speeds up to that point of our trip.
The takeaway from that for me was always do a head count. When our kids were little, every time we reloaded the car and buckled up, I said "Count off," and in birth order the kids shouted out their numbers and we'd know who was there or who wasn't. Or just who wasn't paying attention, because I knew then, it's pretty easy to get in the car and think about something besides checking to see who's there with you. Or not there.
It'd be good to say my dad never forgot my mom again, but that wouldn't be true because I remember a particularly rainy day when he came home from work and again asked where our mother was. When he realized she was in town waiting in the rain for him to pick her up, he dashed out of the house to go fetch her. Worried how upset she'd be, I turned on soft music and lowered the lights, and lit candles around the house. I'd hoped to create a soothing environment to help out my dad. But then when I put a candle too close under my mom's favorite lampshade, that plan was out the window. I turned the burned side toward the wall and decided to break the news to her when she wasn't already upset about being left in the rain. My takeaways on that one? Always look above the candle you light to make sure your mom's favorite lampshade isn't above it.
Knowing how educational prior road trips have been, I can't help but wonder what my takeaways will be from this one.
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