"Are we there yet?" my brother asked after an hour on the road. School was out and the summer stretched before us. On a road trip from Michigan to Maine, our family rolled along in our 1959 Oldsmobile with a rowboat on the roof and a travel trailer behind us. It was the summer of 1964. I was seven. My parents, ten year old brother, and I were off for a summer of fun, sun, and family.
Mom sighed, "We have a two day trip! Read a book."
I grinned at my brother, glad he’d pushed my parents' patience first. He was my best friend. I buried my head in a book. I loved books and could read for hours. After a short time I got bored and put the book aside.
"Mom," I whined, "can I have a map?"
"No, I only have this one that I’m using." She patiently answered. I admired that unruly piece of paper. Map lines were so cool. I wondered how Mom could figure out where we were by looking at a piece of paper. Sometimes it seemed clear, but at times tension rose as my parents debated which exit to take. Maps seemed glamorous and adult. I wondered why it was always hard to refold a map. They started neat but morphed into a mis-folded mess.
"Tell me again why I can't ride in the trailer," I whined to my mother as I looked out the back window at the trailer behind us, propped up on my knees, with my chin on crossed arms in the back window. There were no seat belts in 1964.
"It’s against the law to ride in an attached trailer," Mom answered without looking back.
I looked at the ceiling of the car. I reached and touched it, pushing against it to stretch my skinny arms. Its soft feel was fun to run my fingers across. I looked out the window at fields whizzing past and dangled my fingers out the edge of a window that was open a couple inches to let air in. We needed air to move the heat, but not enough to blow things around inside the car. It was a tricky balance before air conditioning existed.
I subtly moved my leg to the right so it was over the halfway point of the car seat. It felt good to stretch my leg. My brother immediately noticed, looked up from his book and said, "Stay on your side!"
We passed vast fields interspersed with farm houses. I imagined pioneers working the fields with their oxen and plows. I imagined being an Indian girl working my way through the dense woods in moccasins. I stretched my feet and flexed my toes and heels on the seat in front of me. Not too hard though, lest I irritate Dad.
Without looking my brother, still reading, moved his leg to my side of the car. I pushed his leg back over our well-established imaginary line. I whined, “Mom. . .”
"We’re stopping in 5 minutes," Dad said in the nick of time to prevent an all-out war.
We forgot the injustice of seat ownership and scrambled to put our shoes on.
It felt wonderful to stretch my legs as I eagerly ran to the restroom. Stench filled the sticky, trapped air. "Don't touch anything!" my mother called. "Put paper on the seat!" As I washed and dried my hands, I had an idea. I pulled out a dry paper towel and held it carefully as I left the rest room.
Breathing in fresh air and freed from the confines of the car, I ran in circles and raised my arms like airplane wings as I swooped and swayed. My paper towel flew along with me. Too soon Dad called us back to the car and we were on the road. "What’s the paper towel for?" my brother asked.
"It’s my map," I said proudly as I wrinkled the paper and straightened it against my leg.
"You’re crazy," My brother buried his nose in a book.
I loved my map. I traced imaginary roads with my finger, turning at each point where creases crossed. I told Dad to turn when I thought we had reached a significant crease. He patiently said, "Okay.", ignoring my meaningless directions.
Life was good. Nothing to whine about. For now. . .
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