Wednesday, March 16, 2016

734.8 Miles #SOL16 Day 16

My sister Gaylene, me, my step-mother Jean, and
my brother Steve on one of our Colorado trips. 
My father never owned a new car. Often our family automobile arrived at our home after a stint in my grandparents' garage. I suspect my father purchased these hand-me-down cars at substantial discount, that my grandparents carried the lien on the vehicles, or that they gave the cars to my dad. 

The latter would be fitting since we rented our home at 1018 W. Daugherty in Webb City from my great grandmother Estelle Cowen after she moved her family to Lyons, Colorado to escape the flooding of southwest Missouri. prophesied by the Bahia faith.  That was in the early 1960s, at least before 1963, the year my brother Steve arrived to fulfill my dad's dream of fathering a son. 

One of the cars we owned was a 1962 Ford Falcon station wagon. It had a white exterior and a camel-colored interior--sans an air conditioner. We took the car on several summer road trips to Colorado to visit my great grandma Estelle and her daughters Babe and Ethel, whose son David lived in the basement of the mountainside house between Lyons and Estes Park. 

The 734.8 mile drive took us up U.S. highway 71 to Kansas City and across I-70 into Colorado. In those days U.S. 71 had two lanes, making the trip drag at the pace of John Steinbeck's turtle crossing the road in The Grapes of Wrath. 

I loathed and anticipated those drives. Often I was stuck in the back end of the car with the luggage and styrofoam cooler holding bologna sandwiches and liverwurst. Unable to sit upright, I was forced to lie criss-cross in a semi-conscious recombinant position, beads of sweat dripping from my head, my glasses sliding down my nose. 

Since the car had no air conditioning, and the wind roared through downturned windows, when the windows were down, and since my step-mother's comfort prioritized that of the three children sharing the back two-thirds of the car, often stale air lingered in a caustic stillness when mom felt the stress of "too much air." At those times we cranked the window up and steeled ourselves against the suffocation.

With my hair knotted in pig-tails, even sleeping posed a challenge, so I rode in misery. Sticky. Tired. Cranky. I fixed my eyes on the Rand McNally road atlas and equated distances between Salinas and Gardner, Kansas, between the next rest area and Gulf gas station, or Texaco, or Phillips 66.

One year, to appease my step-mother and to silence her complaints about the humidity and stale heat, my father installed an air cooler in the car. It encroached on the space engineered for the front passenger's feet. It looked like a mini roof-mounted swamp cooler and had a louvered panel on top. A fan spun inside the mechanism and cooled the front passenger corner of the car by circulating air over water. Consequently, my step-mother's internal temperature decreased while the heat index rose for the children in the back. Keeping the windows rolled down was out of the question while mom used the air-cooler. 

We made the trip from Webb City to Lyons four times, after my 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade school years. 

Each summer my father dreamed of visiting Yellowstone National Park, and he had planned to take us on to Yellowstone during our 5th grade summer trip. But we know what happens to the best laid plans of mice and men. 

During our stop in Colorado, my father became ill, much sicker than the normal illnesses that accompanied his juvenile diabetes. Severe headaches plagued him from the moment we arrived in Lyons. After a few days we headed home. 

That fall my father's doctor gave him the diagnoses that changed his life: The blood vessels in the back of his head were bursting. Eventually, without a medical miracle, he would lose his sight--permanently. 

No miracle arrived.

My father did go blind. Experimental surgery in April of my sixth-grade year failed. We never again drove the 734.8 miles as a family. 

Tomorrow I will drive to Salt Lake City with my husband. We will fly to Hawaii for spring break. I will think about my father and remember the road, the miles, the memories. I'll count the mile markers and savor the moments as they tick by on my next journey. 

The ninth annual Slice of Life Story Challenge
is sponsored by the team at Two Writing Teachers.
Thank You!


  1. A bittersweet slice full of lovely family memories. You've reminded me of the old cars and memories from my own childhood. Enjoy your spring break in Hawaii!

  2. A bittersweet slice full of lovely family memories. You've reminded me of the old cars and memories from my own childhood. Enjoy your spring break in Hawaii!

  3. So beautiful! I have so many memories of being on the road. It just occurred to me (for good or for ill) that my own children won't have those memories. I recall them with the same mixture of fondness and loathing that you describe. Those trips make for special memories.

  4. Isn't it both amazing how life works - how what tortures us becomes nostalgic, with time. No one could have convinced you as a young girl that there would be a fond, loving story to be told about those car rides - but you sure shared one. Thank you. How hard that must have been for your father, to go blind with his family so young.

  5. The beginning of your story had me in the backseat of a 53 cadillac with front seats so high we couldn't see out. Add to that no seat belts and parents who smoked! Ha! Good times!
    I'm sad that those memories for you had such an abrupt ending. Isn't it great that your road trips as an adult can bring back the good memories also?

    1. I took the trip to Colorado once w/ my grandparents. Most of the way I road in the camper on the back of the truck and listened to a transistor radio. Riding in the cab was awful as I had to sit in the middle, and my grandmother was corpulent!

  6. Glenda, years go by from childhood to now but your memories are seared in your spirit of travel. May this trip be a cooling and glorious memory!

  7. Loved reading this slice. So many memories wrapped up in your road trips. I was pulled back to a road trip made with my older sister, her husband, and three kids - OK to UT. I still remember when my brother-in-law decided that we should drive through the night. I was the teen stuck in the back seat with three sleeping kids sprawled all over me.