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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

From sea to shining sea


My brother, Walt, had an extended van with bench seats behind the front seat.  It held about nine passengers, ten or eleven for good vacations. Way before the days of seat belts. Mom called it the “Flapping Chicken.” It was a Chevy, and its body was flapping away on the highways. He had such a big van because once he was married to a woman with six children. Plus, at that time, his three.

One year Mom and I took her grandchildren to see the Atlantic Ocean, starting in Maine. I think my oldest daughter will remember it as the year her oldest male cousin, a head taller than she, refused to get on the ground under the camper and knock lose the camper’s foot, because he was too cold. Directing a look of disgust at him, Beth went under and got the job done.

The next spring the children discussed potential vacation venues. My niece Michelle prevailed. “Pacific Ocean!”  She had a bottle of the Atlantic, and intended to balance the collection with a bottle of the Pacific. Neither of us entertained naysayers. It was 1980. I wanted to see the Columbia River and Mt. St. Helens, which had erupted.

We worked our way across the country, seeing things children are obliged to see. I remember the kids won the license plate game at Mt. Rushmore, where they collected the twenty or so missing states in the parking lot. We pulled off the interstate for gas. Montana, I think. Mom leaned against the Chicken, shading her eyes and said “Look up the butte, there. I’m sure that’s the road my father took in 1936.”

My grandfather was big on vacations, too, and took his two kids and my longsuffering grandmother across country in 1936, brand new Buick 1936 Buick Roadmaster and color film in the camera. My Aunt Flo always moaned “Do anything but make me watch the movie of 1936 again!”

We took the road. It went up, up, up, around and around. Once it dipped slightly into a valley with a picture perfect farm set into fields of green crops. We came out at the Columbia River, and picked up a trucker on the CB who regaled us for an hour with stories of his great grandparents crossing this country in covered wagons.  The Columbia River is breath taking.

We drove California State Route 1 down the coast, through sequoias, to San Francisco. Michelle got her jar of Pacific. All the children had jars of Mt. St. Helens ash. My brother wanted to drive Lombard Street, but left it to me, so he could see better. He redeemed himself when I was driving on the way home and the Chicken lost its fan belt in the Great Salt Desert. I’ve always been terrified of dying by fire or drowning. I can add dying in the Great Salt Desert to that.

There literally was nothing and no one. “Drive it until you peg out the heat gauge, turn off the ignition and coast to almost a stop, do it again, until we find help,” Walt said, and so I did. Like those car races on the salt flats, I put the Chicken to her max of about a hundred miles an hour, killed the engine and coasted on down, over and over. Like a scene from Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, a gas station materialized from the rising heat waves. I do not recall gas pumps, but I distinctly remember two solid walls of fan belts.

Good times. Yesterday I smelled campfires while I was outside. Today I saw a map of the smoke.


28 comments:

  1. Family vacations....memories to treasure.

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  2. Thanks for the stories...and the map. Now I know why my area was so overcast today.

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  3. Sounds like you have some great memories to share!

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  4. What wonderful memories, Joanne. Dad took us to Florida or Tennessee for our summer vacations. Don't think we ever went anywhere else... maybe Texas to visit relatives. And I spent summers at my uncle's farm in Mississippi. All good memories too.

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  5. Fantastic! I love vacation stories. And to have Mt St Helens ash is a treasure.

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  6. Your adventurous spirit was inherited I see.

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  7. Marvelous stories, Joanne - you have such an evocative way with words.

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  8. I feel like I was there in the Flapping Chicken with you.

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  9. WOW! I'd have never thought that would work.

    If you had one, a cell phone probably wouldn't have worked there either. That station must have been some sight for sore eyes.

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  10. I did enjoy that..... what an adventurous lot you were. I

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  11. Memories of road trips, just have m o re than a few of them involving a Ford Station wagon and trips from California to Oklahoma with stops at as m a n y western sights as my Dad could fit in.

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  12. Honestly don't know how people did road trip vacations without cell phones, yet we all have great memories of doing so. Thanks for sharing some of yours with us!

    betty

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  13. The spirit of yours is in your blood. You could not be amy other way. What great memories!

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  14. What a great story, Joanne. You are still the same person as you were back in the 80's, going 100 miles an hour and making it matter.

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  15. Hari om
    Now that is living... the fires and storms and politics arexall in such turmoil now, it makes onecto run for the hills like a Chicken...! YAM xx

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  16. That's a couple of fantastic trips. Does Michelle still have her jars of oceans?

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  17. Great fun to hear these stories. It was momentarily horrifying to learn that you lost your fan belt in the desert. I should know better than to doubt your ability to rise to the occasion.

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  18. Remember the water bags to get for your car and my dad wouldn't get one to cross the desert. I was terrified. The guy who just ran into the fire maelstrom at Burning Man was from the little town my farm is in.

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  19. Happy memories for you I am sure Joanne.

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  20. Lovely memories, but a sad situation out west at the moment......

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    1. I have responded to none of the comments for fear of spoiling the individual perceptions. Here is my time sequence of the genesis of the post. Tuesday I was outside, and treated to the delightful smell of campfires. I couldn't understand. We are not permitted outdoor fires here. There are no forest fires in the state of Ohio, to my knowledge. Then, I realized it was the fires in the west. I was west several times as a child, but the memory above is as an adult, taking Mom and all the grands to the Pacific. I set out to write about my terror of fire and water, but you see what came out. I came upon the map somewhere, and realized the scope of the fires. I am simply crushed by the fires in the west and the hurricanes in the south. I don't know why.

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    2. Not so surprising. I feel crushed myself. You are a very empathetic person and the amount of destruction and suffering can feel overwhelming. But I like Mr. Roger's advice to look for the helpers. We will always find them when we look.

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  21. mispronouncing "butte" would make your mom's words a good junior high joke.
    Your broken fan belt in the desert - great experience since you are here to tell it.

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    1. ?Everyone knows how to pronounce butte? You don't scare me. Nahnanananana.
      All of my trips west have involved the great salt desert. No human skeletons, but lots of animal bones. You can't cross it without leaving a lot of respect behind.

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  22. Some people are more perceptive than others. I notice that all the time.

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  23. Nothing like a road trip and that sounds like a great one, but O that fan belt event.

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  24. I have never been cross country on the road. Something I cannot do in Hawaii.

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  25. Fun memories, but what strikes me even more is your reply to Thickethouse, above - "crushed" is the word that I used in my post today also, which was written before I read yours. It just seems like so much weight on the mind and soul, to watch the destruction and loss everywhere. Your memories are a good lift, and as Thickethouse referred to, "look for the helpers" because that truly does restore the soul.

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