Early Road Trip Memories: Relative Prosperity

Little things can polish the luster of a family trip.

Interesting thread at Fodor’s this morning about earliest childhood travel memories. A couple of things surface: It doesn’t take much to make a great memory, and the kids are usually quite oblivious to the nightmares that their parents may be experiencing.

I guess my earliest road trip memory is driving to Belfast, Maine for Thanksgiving with my Mom and Sister. We were “going home” to Grammy and Grampy Grady’s farm. The car was an old VW bug. It was black with a lot of chips, scrapes and miscellaneous dings. My Mom called it "Ol' Paint", which is a nickname for old horses. The car was in rough shape but it ran reliably, and it was paid for. The floorboards were rusted through, so Mom used to remind us to keep our feet up (though we were small enough that they probably didn't touch the floor anyway). It was an ongoing source of fascination for me: thinking about watching the road as it sped underfoot. Like a floor window, right underneath that floor mat. Truthfully, I think Grampy had welded some pieces of sheet metal over the holes, which were probably the size of a dime, but my imagination said "floor window."


Traveling was always an adventure in Ol' Paint, and this trip offered a little something extra: a snow storm. Driving at night is mystical to kids, but adding a blizzard of white in the headlights was delightful; but maybe a little less so to Mom. Traveling along Route 1, at night, in a snow storm, with two chatterboxes had to be challenging (ask me how I know this). It being the non-tourist season, finding an open motel added another layer of complexity.

The motel memory is brief but vivid. When my Mom opened the door, a new world gleamed through. Everything was different; it was like a big bedroom with two big beds and living room all mixed together. And a bathroom! And a color TV! And green rayon bedspreads! My sister and I jumped up and down on the bed until my Mom convinced (threatened?) us to go to bed.

The morning after a snowstorm is always magical, but after waking up in a motel during such an arduous journey, this one was supernatural. Sunlight gleaming into a blanket of white crystals, even the roads where white and clean. And slippery! After breakfast in a little local diner we continued on our journey to Belfast. I don't recall arriving or the preliminary activities; my recollection fast forwards to the dinner.

The elaborate table setting saturated my senses, but my clearest memory is a visual one. All of the special dinnerware that had normally been stored in Grammy’s china cabinets was laid out on the table. The anticipation built with each dish that emerged from the kitchen. And being
too small for the chair, my eyes were just about table height, so the view was even more dramatic, looking through the maze of silver platters, China serving dishes, and crystal water goblets. Soft light glistened off the roast turkey. That Thanksgiving dinner became the standard by which all Thanksgiving dinners have been measured, and none have measured up. But that’s a good thing.

Thinking about it now, the holiday was probably a special celebration for my Grandparents too. Maybe it represented success. Life may have been simple on the farm in Maine, but it wasn't easy. No electricity or running water. Most likely no automobile, just horses named Ol' Paint... I imagine this dinner represented an overwhelming giving of thanks: not only had they all survived and stayed healthy, but the kids were happily married, with healthy children, and, rusted floorboards notwithstanding, doing well. The hard work invested in their children was reaping dividends in the form of grandchildren. And relative prosperity.

What are your early road trip memories?

1 comment:

tbell said...

I'm a reporter at the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, looking to talk to people who have a good story to tell about a Thanksgiving road trip involving Maine in the story.
Please call me at (207) 791-6369 or reach me at tbell@pressherald.com