Growing up in Florida the end of the school year meant one thing. Road Trip. My family would pack up our conversion van and head West. Were there quicker ways to get from Florida to Idaho to see my Grandparents? Absolutely, but then how would we see, taste and experience this wonderful country firsthand? My parents, brother and I would pile into our maroon and white Dodge van with it’s 4 swivel captain’s chairs, cassette player, electric windows and a bench/couch in the back which converted to a twin bed… we were basically traveling in a space pod. My favorite part of our futuristic van was the removable table with built-in cup holders and a checker board painted directly on top. When we weren’t using it to eat our cooler of soggy bologna sandwiches we stowed the 2 piece wonder under the couch where it would roll and clang around for the duration of our 2,600 mile family fun road trip.
We would travel the distance without the benefit of modern day conveniences we now take for granted. There was no GPS, no website to help hunt down the best hotel or at least help one avoid the ones lodging ax murderers. If you needed gas, you better be responsible enough to fill it up when you saw a gas station and hope they hadn’t closed for the evening before you got there. Road Side Assistance was not a thing. Looking back on it we were kind of like explorers. Traveling to parts unknown with only our map and instincts to guide us. I can’t imagine how nerve racking it must’ve been for my parents to drive and look at a map for our exit, while my brother and I wrestled like maniacs in the back.
We saw so many weird and wild sights on those summer road trips. Herds of Buffalo, plains littered with those otherworldly pumpjacks which pumped oil out of the ground like a metronome, dipping and lifting, dipping and lifting… Every once in awhile, thanks to my Moms persistence and my Dads love of history we would stop at road side attractions and historical or natural landmarks. Some silly, others majestic: Dancing chickens, counting pigs, the mighty Jackalope, the largest Idaho Potato, Ruby Falls, The Corn Palace, Mt Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park with its wild grandeur, Old Faithful, and hot springs. We stood on the battlefield of Custer’s Last Stand where I fell in love with all things Native American and especially the great Lakota warrior Chief Sitting Bull. Every summer I would beg my parents for a pair of moccasins and bless their hearts one summer they got me a pair! I wore them the entire summer. I wore them until there were quarter sized holes in the leather soles which hurt like hell, but I wore them anyway.
When we finally made it to Idaho and into the arms of my Grandparents, I was wearing feathers in my hair and proudly showing off my sweet new moccasins. My Dad took to calling me Little Swan. In my Grandparents town of Arco, (first town to be lit by atomic energy, thank you very much) we would climb Number Hill where every senior high school class, climbed up and painted their graduating year in big block letters. Some numbers were faded like ’29 with a simple white script, while others like ’79 used a bold orange, black and white. We went to the desolate Craters of the Moon where you could explore in the caves all day and pretend you were an astronaut walking on the moon. We hung out with old friends and even though we were outsiders they welcomed us in. We went to the town rodeo on the weekends and could eat as many root beer popsicles as we wanted out of Grandma’s freezer. We would play Red Rover in the church’s backyard. My grandma was a part of a quilting group which would meet in the church basement. Women would sit around the large quilting frame while working on their individual square, quietly chatting and laughing with one another while I soaked it all in.
By the time summer was over and we drove back to Florida I was a different girl. I couldn’t wait to get back to my neighborhood and tell my friends all about Chief Sitting Bull, the Corn Palace, the buffalo…the Jackalope! It all fell on deaf ears. Most of my friends stayed home during the summer. They went to the beach or the mall, had summer romances, got into fights with friends etc… I was on the outside again. I remember going over to my neighbors house where everyone was hanging out. As soon as I walked in the room it quieted. As I stood there awkwardly greeting the room one of the cool boys looked me over, laughed and said, “What the hell are you wearing on your feet? You look ridiculous!”
The moccasins I begged my parents to buy, which I loved with my whole heart and wore all summer as they took me on one adventure to the next, now looked different from their eyes. Looking down I could see they were dirty, stained, and torn. I felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment, I said goodbye, ran home, took my brown leather moccasins with the fringe around the ankles off, stowed them in my closet. I remember thinking I would wear them the following summer in Idaho; never dawning on me that my feet would be a whole size bigger in a years time. I never got to wear them again.
Those summer road trips shaped me, educated me, expanded my mind without me even realizing it. It brought me closer to my parents, brother and of course my beautiful grandparents. That is the thing about summer break… in a way one can learn more about themselves in a few short months than an entire school year ever could… So get out there! Travel, road-trip, meet new people, see things from a new perspective and report back, I’ll be here in my shop reminiscing right here Under the Pines…