When I was a kid, my family owned a station wagon. You know, a real station wagon — it was as long as a city block and probably weighed as much as a train — that kind of station wagon. It was white with four doors. I’m sure it had air-conditioning, otherwise my memories would be clouded with sweat. I guess it had a radio, I wouldn’t really know because my dad never turned it on.
My guess is that this wagon of ours could have held fifteen people, comfortably. Although I was too young to test out that theory, I’m sure my oldest sister attempted to set some passenger records. What I remember it being used for the most was trips to visit relatives.
Both my mom and my dad grew up in a small town in Missouri, near St. Louis. The drive there from our house took about eight hours — you had to add an hour or so for food and fuel stops and the occasional, “I’m gonna pull this car over” threats. We would start out early in the morning, usually on the road by 7:00 am sharp. My father always woke up early — he was the get up around 4:30 am type. But my mother, well that was a different story. She enjoyed her morning coffee and her paper — so 7:00 am was usually pushing it for her.
I can distinctly remember those mornings of loading up the wagon and heading out. My dad would, of course, pack up very early. Carefully organizing the load — he was an engineer after all. Then he would tell the four of us kids to get in. Now the wagon, for this trip, would be transformed into a virtual rolling bed. All the seats in the back would lie down flat. My mother would lay blankets across the whole thing and we would each have a pillow. There was this weird nauseating exhaust smell that would seep through the back of the wagon when the car was turned on in the early morning cold. I was never sure whether I should vomit right then or be excited because that smell meant we were on our way.
That’s how we traveled, the four of us, lounging in the back. Of course, this free for all seating arrangement created a need for my father to pull the car over several times during the trip and either threaten to spank us or actually spank us (not me though, a priviledge of being the youngest). It never dawned on us or my parents that this seating configuration could have been slightly dangerous in the event of a wreck.
We never took the interstate, I swear I’m not really sure when I figured out there was an interstate system in our country. My father never used it — we always took the highway. This of course added some time to our trip. And there was that one restaurant that we always stopped at, Jerry’s. We never stopped anywhere else — we ate at Jerry’s and filled up the car across the street, then we continued.
Whenever I take trips with my kids, I always have an urge to just put all the seats down in the SUV, spread some blankets, and let the kids go. But, logic (and the fear of wrecking) always takes over. And there’s always those few seconds when the car is first turned on that I have to decide whether to vomit or get in the car and be excited for the trip. The good thing is, the need to threaten the kids with pulling the car over has been all but extinguished with the addition of the car DVD/satellite TV. I still have a hard time traveling on the interstates when we take trips though — what if we miss the Jerry’s?