This weekend I am going to hit the road with the three youngest of my children. We are driving from North Carolina to Louisiana, and then to Texas. We haven’t even pulled out of the driveway yet, and they have already started whining and complaining. My teenaged daughter has announced that she’s not going, that she won’t have time to spend with her friends over spring break. I’m imagining myself at that age, being told “We’re moving to the Philippines,” and saying “I’m not going!” Oh, the reaction I would get! I’m going over my mental checklist to keep the peace: portable DVD player, headphones, library of movies, books, video games, pillows, snacks. I’m trying to think of a system to rotate the kids through the front seat that doesn’t involve “calling shotgun.” I’m considering wearing earplugs to keep myself from imploding from the squabbling. I can already hear myself yelling “Don’t make me stop this car!”
Every summer we came back to the states for home leave. Each trip was a familiar ritual: shopping for clothes at Sears Roebuck for the coming year and visiting family. We would traverse the state of Texas (my parents’ home state), from Houston to the Panhandle. We would stop to see Grandma & Grandpa in Pampa, Granny in Dallas, and Aunt This and Uncle That in San Antonio, people about which I only had distant memories. We would get the usual “My how you’ve grown!” and pinched cheeks. We had fun playing with our cousins, walking to the Pak-a-Sak for orange push-ups and Icees. We walked barefoot, hopping over the hot asphalt, and poking our toes in the oozing, melting tar that bubbled up between the cracks. Walking through the grass I would get stickers in my feet.
Anyone from Texas knows the old adage, “The sun has ris’ and the sun has set, And here we is, in Texas yet.” This probably originated in the days of the covered wagon, when Texas was as big as a continent. However, it applied pretty much the same to me, stuck in the back seat with my two sisters, driving mile after mile over endless highways.
My mom didn’t believe in stopping for fast food, and our trips always involved a picnic lunch at roadside parks. We would sit at filthy concrete tables, with the hot Texas wind blowing in our hair like the fans of hell, eating Devilled ham sandwiches with Gulden’s mustard, hard boiled eggs and tomatoes. I can still picture my dad driving our rented Pontiac, his hand resting casually on the top of the steering wheel. When we stopped for gas, he would always get out to supervise the attendants (remember when there were attendants?) and do the oil dipstick himself. He would buy a bottle of Delaware Punch and drink it with one foot propped on the fender of the car.
Having the bad luck of being born last, I always had to sit in the middle. I sometimes tried to stretch out on the floor, but the hump made it a little difficult. Occasionally I would attempt to sleep on the shelf behind the back seat, until the sun started to bake me through the window. Reading in the car made me nauseated, so I to pass the time gazing at the scenery. I would watch as we passed vast, flat fields of wheat, or corn, with slowly kowtowing oil derricks scattered throughout them. We usually arrived at our destination late in the evening, and I would wake up from an uneasy sleep as we pulled into the parking lot of the Holiday Inn.
I suppose each generation says the same thing: “Young people today …” We’ve all heard the same refrain about walking ten miles to school, barefoot, in the snow, uphill both ways. Yesterday as we discussed the trip, I heard the voice of my mother coming out of my mouth: “When I was a kid, we didn’t HAVE DVD players in our car! We had to read BOOKS! And play license plate games! And sing SONGS! Heaven forbid!”
Being TCKs made my sisters and me more patient with change and adversity (although while I wouldn’t call a long car trip adversity, my kids probably would!) Not only did we endure the long summer car trips, we sat on planes for hour after hour while we crossed oceans. We sat, dirty and jet lagged in airports when flights were delayed. We never uttered the phrase, "I'm bored!" We walked, bleary-eyed, through strange new cities, knowing that they were our new “home”. Disoriented, we found ourselves immersed in places where people spoke strange languages and had weird behavior. We were taken to new schools, dropped off with a pat on the head, and expected to fit in. So, yes, it makes me want to scream at my kids, how easy you have it! even though I know it will fall on deaf ears. I am simultaneously angry with and envious of them.