“It’s time for a road trip.”
That was the warning every year around the end of April. The renegades were restless at home counting down to the last day of school. This was dad’s remedy to reconnect the family, although the rest of us never understood why. The announcement was just a foreboding of things yet to come. The month of planning. The week of packing. Six of us running out the house yelling ‘shotgun’ which dropped Grandma to the ground to take cover. Once loaded, Gramps and Grandma, never brave enough to make a trip with us, waved good-bye.
The trip officially started with mom rounding the corner of the house carrying her small valise in hand. Dad, who had just spent twenty minutes tying down “every stitch of clothing the family had”, slowly turned to watch her approach. Closing his eyes as if to blot out the sight, slowly shook his head and sighed. Then came the all too familiar ‘just-when-I-had-it-all-together-you-come-out-with-more’ speech. Every child in the car held its breath as dad’s voice continued to raise a notch with each word. Mom, however, held her five-foot-one height to his six-feet, smiled sweetly, placed a kiss on his cheek, lowered the valise to the ground, and climbed into the front of the car to start counting heads. With quiet grunts, dad tied on the menacing valise. The result was one station wagon, three girls, three boys, two adults, and countless suitcases, pillows and blankets.
It was never a small feat to take our family on vacation. But one particular trip stands out the most in the memory of all. Dad, being a history professor, decided to take the eight of us “to see the west as it should be seen along the Oregon Trail.” Small groans escaped each of us as we heard this announcement. He should have realized the trip would be eventful the minute mom walked out with two valises in hand instead of one.
Dad was thoroughly excited. He looked forward to reminiscing the wagon train days. We just wanted out of town.
With us girls in the middle seat facing forward and the boys in the rear facing backward, we began our own ‘wagon train’. Wrestling was restricted to the rear, while beauty shop was kept in the middle. Occasional instructions floated from the front.
Ten minutes down the highway, dad stopped to inspect a rattling from the roof. Heads popped out of every window as dad exited the car. One particular head quickly returned as he saw the cause before the wagon master discovered it.
“Davey!” was all we heard from outside our wagon as dad found his new screwdriver lodged in between the rack and luggage. All fell silent in the wagon.
On the trail the next day, dad decided we needed to open in prayer and devotion.
We heard about loving God and each other.
Worship music was played.
For an hour we watched the scenery. Then mayhem began in the back seat. The boys were reconnected. They wrestled a pretend calf.
This became routine as history was rewritten. At Ft. Kearny, shots were fired. Girls groaned of the ‘gross smells due to trail beans.’ Boys giggled. Windows were rolled downed to, “Aw! Who did that?”
Leaving Chimney Rock, the Indians attacked in the rear. All defenses went up, Jacob’s eyeglasses flew out the window. Six pairs of eyes watched as cars crushed the magnifiers. Dad sighed.
It was just day three.
Like the days of old, memories were made at each stop. Dad attempted to correspond our modern day to that of old. Rocks were collected. Ice cream devoured. Soda’s were known to explode out cans at any given meal. Songs were sung in rounds. Stars were counted by the hundreds.
From the middle, Lila reported everything the wagon past.
“Car. Car. Church. Dog. Car. Policeman.”
The wagon slowed down.
When at last we returned home, Jacob still could not see well. Lila’s hair was shortened by Davey’s knife. Julie had become Timmy’s protector from Indians. And I, Betsy, had written a full diary.
None of us learned old history, yet all of us could recant our own ‘wagon train experience’ for years to come. We even learned to reconnect through God’s love, despite our differences.
To this day we all end the school year with the announcement, “It’s time for a road trip.” Then our own reminiscing of old begins.
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