They don’t make cars like they used to. Once we broke down in the Texas panhandle and instead of getting out of the vehicle, our family road the lift pole all the way up to the ceiling while the mechanic worked on our car as we made sure Greg didn’t open the door and plunge down to the shop floor below. Our throttle chain broke on the New Jersey turnpike in 1975 and Dad rigged the chain to work at low-speed and we limped to a hotel at 10 mph all while throwing toll booth change from the back window when the power window on the front driver side wouldn’t go down. And in Western Colorado we discovered our brakes were gone shortly before we hit a “T” in the road, otherwise, our family of seven would have turned that “T” into a plus sign.
We had some really big cars that allowed sleeping in strange places, the back window for instance and when front wheel drive came along and the drive shaft hump disappeared magically in our Blue Cadillac Eldorado, we slept on the floor in the back without the hump interrupting our spine. And when we did fall asleep, there was the wake up call, the ding-ding when our car ran over the gas station driveway cable triggering the service station attendant to come check our oil and clean our windshields and fill er up with Ethyl or Fred or Lucy. That ding-ding awakened a yearning, a Pavlovian salivation for a Grape Nehi or an Orange Crush in an ice-cold redeemable bottle.
And the food along the byways was memorable. I loved IHOP pancakes and the carousel of syrup spun like the wheel of fortune which always landed on blackberry somehow and there was The Dutch Pantry incident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the worst meal any of us ever ate. I thought they named Stuckey’s because of the pecan pralines behind the checkout display would always get stuck in my teeth. And once we drove off and left Greg at Kip’s Big Boy, he was maybe four at the time, although nobody remembers why. But we did go back and get him. I think we may have been too intent on snagging handfuls of Pearson’s Mint Patties at the register.
But no matter how sweet the vacation, I always enjoyed coming home, crossing the Osage prairie and descending Circle Mountain on highway 60 and seeing the Bartlesville skyline, wishing the view of my hometown lasted a bit longer as we drove into the valley near the airport. I was always proud to come home.
The one time I came home by myself, in 1976, on my flight back from Orlando to Tulsa, I listened on my headphones to Carly Simon sing, Well That’s the Way We’ve Always Heard it Should Be.
My father sits at night with no lights on, His cigarette glows in the dark.
The living room is still; I walk by, no remark.
I tiptoe past the master bedroom where, My mother reads her magazines.
I hear her call sweet dreams, But I forgot how to dream.
But you say it’s time we moved in together
And raised a family of our own, you and me –
Well, that’s the way I’ve always heard it should be:
You want to marry me, we’ll marry.
Carly Simon sang in a hauntingly beautiful way about parents who had failed to live out the dream. Mom and Dad gave us no sense that marriage was easy. We saw the trials, not just of marriage, but of life. But they taught all five of us to dream. To dream of a time when there will be no tears and relationships will be mended and whole, and it helped to see glimpses of that happiness in our own family, in the spiritual way we were gently nudged to unfold maps with anticipation that the squiggly lines were filled with wonder and adventure.
Thanks for driving us Mom and Dad! In an age before GPS, when folding a map was still an art form and highways were pathways to magical places, our memories are creased with many amazing and remarkable scenes.