It was the summer before third grade. My mother and grandmother (Mema) packed all four of us kids into the backseat of Mema’s Honda Civic hatchback. All of our things were in a sizable white shell secured to the top of the car. It was close to the same size as the car, at least in my memory.
We trekked across the country, packed in like sardines. I remember arguing about who got to sit by the window, stopping to pee on the side of the road, and occasionally for someone to get carsick.
I remember eating at many truck stops, where friendly waitstaff served us sugary breakfast cereals in tiny boxes or prepackaged plastic bowls. I remember driving all night, Mom and Mema must have been swapping turns driving to avoid having to stay in a hotel room. I can see us stopping in the middle of the night to fuel up, dragging uber-sleepy versions of ourselves out of the car into the night lit up by gas station lights scented with the smell of gas, to go pee. Oddly, I still feel like there’s nothing as mysterious and fun as a gas station in the middle of the night.
Kansas was flat and boring (at least it was in my kid memory). As we entered the grand Rocky Mountains I remember Mema lecturing us to observe how beautiful everything was. Her tone sounded like we were ungrateful for not having noticed on our own, but her point was made. I’d never seen landscapes like we saw on that trip. Hell’s Half Acre in Wyoming and standing there at Old Faithful felt important. We were just kids, but it felt like it could be the only time we ever got to see it, and that made it stick.
It was fun to meet my mothers cousins and my Mema’s siblings. We took a boat ride through the “Gates of the Mountains”. I can still hear the voice of the guide talking and teaching the whole time.
I also remember it was the summer of Patch and Kayla’s wedding on Days of Our Lives. We watched it while we were there.
Wildfires had burned through a good portion of Yellowstone national Park and I rember driving though large burned out sections and feeling sad about it. It seemed like such a waste. Mema drove that little car precariously through some mountains and I almost had to hold my breath because I was sure we were going to plummet to our deaths.
I believe we were gone for two weeks in total. We visited relatives in Helena and Butte, saw the smokestacks in Anaconda, the city where my mother was born. They told us the smokestacks were so large you could dive a team of horses around the top and I remember wondering if anyone actually measured that.
We stopped at state parks and fancy rest stops, and ate sandwiches packed in a cooler.
We came home and went on about our usual summer business, but I’ll never forget the beautiful things we saw and the people we met.
You just can’t beat a good vacation.