He fell in love with traveling across this beautiful country, so every year following that initial trip, we went to some part of the 48 states. (Note: This was 1948 and there were only 48 states.) Our days on the road followed a pattern. We would be in the car and on our way by 6 a.m. each morning. It was cooler then (the car had no air conditioning) and traffic was lighter (there were only two-lane highways.) After two hours of driving, Dad would stop at a café for breakfast. Every small town in America had at least one of these establishments. As a child, I was fascinated by the doll-sized glass bottles filled with cream, which the waitress brought with my parents’ coffee. The locals, who were in the café having their morning coffee, were always friendly and asked where we were from and where we were headed. After breakfast, we would crawl back into the car for the longest stretch of the day’s drive. Around noon, my father would stop for gas. While the attendant was filling the tank, checking the oil and washing off the many bugs that had met their fate on the windshield, we would all use the restroom. Usually, the restroom door was outside the station and you had to get the key from the person working inside at the counter. While we were in the town getting gas, my mother would find the local grocery and purchase enough food for our lunch. This usually consisted of bologna for sandwiches, a can of cold pork and beans, and maybe a cookie and sliced peaches and water or Kool-Aid. We didn’t have a cooler, so she only bought what we could consume in one meal. To this day, the wonderful aroma of waxed
paper cups brings back visions of a squatty green metal thermos with an aluminum lid and a spout on the side. We wouldn’t eat lunch until we found a roadside park. Usually, the park consisted of a grassy space on the side of the highway with just enough room for a car to pull off safely. There would be one or two wooden picnic tables and a green barrel for trash. As we sat and ate, we would see some of the trucks that had impeded our forward progress, roll past. This meant, of course, we would have to pass them again. Then it was time to get back in the car. The black highway with the yellow lines painted down the middle stretched ahead of us like a ribbon, sometimes curling around a curve and up and down the dips in the road. The only thing that slowed our progress was a slow-moving vehicle or a semi-truck. I remember standing on the “hump” in the back seat (no seat belts) and watching as my dad would pull the car over the center line just enough to see if there was any oncoming traffic. If not, he would pull into the left lane and pass, but occasionally, especially in a hilly stretch, it could be twenty minutes before it was safe to pass the vehicle in front of us. Around 4 p.m., my parents would start looking for a motel or cabins with a ‘vacancy’ sign. My father would register, pay and get the key. We would rest for a while before eating dinner at a restaurant. Usually, it was within walking distance of our motel. After dinner and before an early bedtime, we would sit outside our room in the provided lawn chairs and chat with other travelers. It was interesting to hear about their home states and their destinations. It seemed to me as though everyone
traveled somewhere in the summer. Occasionally, there were sight seeing opportunities on the way to our final destination, so we would spend time exploring these wonders, also. It was an education no schoolbook could have provided. I knew first hand what the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore, and the Statue of Liberty looked like. I saw palm trees in Florida, visited Washington D.C., and saw rows of combines making their way across the vast wheat fields of Kansas. I waded in the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, swam in the Great Salt Lake, and felt spray on my face at Niagara Falls. By the time I was 10 years old, I had been in 40 of the 48 states. When a teacher talked about a particular location, I knew exactly what it looked like. I saw cities and farms that were not like the ones in Indiana, and had the opportunity to talk to children who looked and sounded different than I did. The auto trips of my childhood gave me an appreciation for this amazing and diverse country and the people living in it. I truly enjoy every type of travel, but traveling by car is still my favorite. My parents were by no means wealthy; they saved for this one expenditure each year, and I am eternally grateful for the many experiences and the education that the travels provided.
Our USA Magazine 15
Charming Stories & Photos Created by Remarkable Americans Just Like You.