Saturday, September 3, 2011
Riding in a car on I-75 southbound through Kentucky I see the sign for Jellico and memories flood back to the times there were seven of us in a woody wagon with a Nimrod trailer attached to the hitch behind. Goin’ on vacation.
I was prepared with a pencil and a puzzle book containing crosswords, word searches, and my favorite–logic puzzles to entertain myself on the long journey south to the beach with my family.
I think Annie must have sat in front between my parents and the rest of us crowded into the back seat or climbed over to the rear of the station wagon where we could lie with a pillow and watch the sky go by. None of us wore seat belts, except possibly my dad if the trip occurred after Mom gave him one at Christmas. He had to have it installed. I think I spilled the beans on that big surprise, so I must have still been pretty young.
I was anxious to try out my dad’s new seat belt. One Saturday morning when I was going with my dad to the hardware store, I got into the unlocked car early. I don’t think my dad ever locked the car in those days. I stuck the flat end of the seat belt into the clasp and it clicked together. Success! But then I couldn’t figure out how to get it back off. It was the kind of seat belt where the whole side of the clasp lifted up to release the other end, but I didn’t know about that mechanism. I turned it over and saw a button or little gear on the bottom and worked feverishly trying to push it or move it to get the belt apart. Today I have no idea why I was so worried, but on that day I thought I was going to be in trouble if I got caught wearing my dad’s new seat belt in front of the steering wheel. I was sweating bullets.
Just in the nick of time, as my dad was leaving our house to walk down the steps to the car, I managed to finagle that little gear on the back and get the seat belt apart. I slid over into my seat on the passenger side and nonchalantly asked my dad to show me how the seat belt worked. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to unfasten and how hard it had been for me when I didn’t know how.
Anyway, we didn’t have seat belts on our trip to the beach so we were free to move around. We also didn’t have iPods. We were stuck with the radio stations we could receive along the way. There were some pretty long dry and occasionally staticky spells through the mountains. Sometimes my sisters and I would sing songs like Blowin’ in the Wind.
We didn’t have hand-held video games, or a T.V. and DVR hookup in the car. We played the alphabet game where you had to find either an object or a word on a sign that began with each letter of the alphabet consecutively. We also played the state license game to see who could come up with the most states. No movies for us.
I remember riding with the car windows down. I think we probably didn’t have air conditioning in our car back then. My dad leaned his left elbow on the open edge of the door and ended up with a good sunburn along the bottom half of his arm by the end of the trip.
Jellico stands out in my mind, and I think it might be because on our trips south we often stopped at a roadside park in Jellico for lunch. My mom would open the cooler she had packed with lunch, snacks and drinks, and distribute the sandwiches. We ate at picnic tables in the hollow of those Tennessee hills.
We didn’t buy food, snacks, or drinks along the way. We traveled on a budget.
Today Mark drives right past Jellico without stopping.
I sit in the passenger seat and pass the time by checking my e-mails and reading my favorite blogs on my iPad through its 3-G internet connection. CDs I selected prior to our departure play through our stereo speakers. Our windows are closed and the air is cool inside our climate controlled car.
That ivy that I used to find so beautiful as it blanketed the shrubs, trees, and hillsides now seems much thicker and very invasive.
Bright gold flowers gather along the base of artificially straight rough mountainsides formed when dynamite blasted through the rock to form the road all those years ago.
Today I relieve Mark and start driving after several hours until we stop for lunch. We are more than halfway and the trip is going by much more quickly than those endless rides I remember from my youth.
Mark and Anna share the afternoon driving while I sit in the backseat and read The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake on my Kindle.
My dad used to drive the whole way wherever it was that we went from the north beaches along the east shore of Rhode Island to the southern most tip of Florida. He drove to Canada and to California and back. We all rode along with the open windows blasting warm air at us, looking out at the world, trying to find that next letter or new state license plate.