I have set foot in, driven through, filled a gas tank in, observed at 70 mph + / – 10 depending on the driver (Speed Limit Russell vs. Lead Foot Doris), slept in, or actually stayed more than 24 hours in 38 of our 50 states. Some of the above occurred when we had only 48 states. I have flown over an additional four. The New England states, Alaska, and Hawaii are on my ToDo list.
Trouble is, I will have to pay significantly more to see the last 12 than it cost to experience the entire first 38. We traveled on a really thin shoestring. Had it not been for distant cousins strategically scattered across the midwest and willing to take in a family of 5 on short notice at all hours, we would have slept through more states than we did. But…that’s the kind of kin Dad had in those days.
Packing the 4 door sedan for these epic journeys was a marvel. It was training for the travel I do now. See previous blog on packing. Whether we found a cousin, a dent-in-the-ditch motel, or chose to drive straight through, we knew we were sleeping in the car part of the time anyway. Keep in mind there was one 6’2″ long legged dad, one full figured mom, and three wiggly, warring girls, small, medium, and tall. Add to that 3 pillows, 3 blankets, bags of sandwiches, snacks, and drinks, comic books, dolls and/or stuffed pets, various personal items such as hair spray (yes, IN the car), sunglasses (breakable), just about all our clothes, and whatever else pre-school to teen girls think they need in a moving vehicle. If you’re sweltering in central Illinois in July and you are going to the upper peninsula of Michigan and you take only shorts and sleeveless tops you WILL encounter 60’s and drizzle and wish you packed pants and sweaters–trust me.
Mom had to dress up for travel. Sweats did not exist in the 50’s especially for mature, properly reared women. She wore during travel a dress, hat, gloves (in the purse), nylons (in two pieces, seamed), and dress shoes. Dad wore his Indiana Jones fedora and slacks. At times we were coerced into dresses . That’s Sharon’s knee on the left. Later in life the parent unit costumes would be replaced with poly-sewn-seam floodwater-height pants and a Stetson with a blue work shirt, work pants, respectively. Aging is not always graceful.
Peace was defined as “all 3 asleep”, Sharon on the seat, Margaret on the floor, Janie in the back window. But when the war in the back seat threatened to go nuclear we were split up. One of us was in the front seat (YAY!) and assigned the map. There were no interstates and only random sections of 4 lane toll roads, hence the word freeway as interstates grew. So at age 9 I could pull out a road map, get you where you needed to go, read the Burma Shave signs en-route, play alphabet — a “quiet” game, and refold the map properly. That last one took practice. Maps were free at gas stations, too, in case it was torn or bunched. A good reason to stop besides potty breaks at fill-ups only, please, (but, Daddy, I have to goooo baaaaad) was to switch drivers so that Dad & Mom’s other arms could sunburn too. No AC.
Notable highlights: Dad smoking to stay awake and growling about it. Yeah, right. I think he liked it. Mom halfway into the back seat running on one foot because Dad was rolling onto the highway and couldn’t hear her yelling RUSSEL!! RUSS-ELLLL!!!. A blowout on New Mexico hot asphalt –no power steering and parts scattered back a mile or so I was told, 1954. Desert vistas photographed with a Brownie in black and white. I remember popping a balloon behind Dad’s head once. He didn’t laugh. On one trip we were caught in a white-out all the way to The Soo during Christmas and picking up the cutest soldier hitchhiking his way home. Driving past historic and other sites of interest– we’re “making time” here. Buying a different car en-route when the ’52 Hudson that I loved broke down. Dang. I could sit on the armrest and see out for once.
I haven’t touched on the destinations. Maybe I’ll have to write a How Not to Travel Guide. No regrets, I wouldn’t want to trade these stories. But if we’d flown every time, how dull would that have been? Oh, but trains! Now, that would have rocked. I’ll put that on my ToDo list.