Some of my earliest memories are the countless hours on the highways and backroads traveling as our father drove to satisfy his curiosity (my guess, at least) by seeing places he’d never seen before. It’s a good thing children are resilient, as I don’t recall much of being confined inside a car for a dozen hours at a time, but I do remember a few of those places, which now paint landscapes in some of my stories.
Complete boredom often forces me to seek entertainment through my imagination, which probably sprouting from driving state to state. Our father once drove to Washington state from Alabama and back to pick up a friend. This long trip must have been a burden for my mother, as our father seldom ever rented a hotel room for us to sleep overnight. He’d drive until he was too tired and then had our mother drive a few hours while he napped. When they both grew too tired and we stopped somewhere to sleep, it was usually in a rest area or a parking lot.
On the way to Washington, I recall us parking in the lot of an apartment complex in Oregon, even though I was only four years old. I remember this because of how dark the night was. My father had gotten out at a payphone on the outskirts of the parking lot to call his friend and let him know where we were. While he made the collect call, my mother got out to stretch. He didn’t stay on the phone long and they hurried to get back inside the car. Their socks were covered with large fleas.
After they got rid of their socks, we parked outside an apartment and ate bologna sandwiches from a cooler. Before my parents napped and I fell to sleep, they discussed the darkness and how we couldn’t see our hands in front of our eyes with them only a few inches away. Their voices indicated their nervousness, probably because we were out-of-state strangers parked in the apartment parking lot. They chose to take short naps and get back on the road.
I suppose the eeriness of an overcast night without any street lights cemented this uneasiness into my memories and why most of my stories have dark settings. People tend to fear the unknown or what we cannot see in the absence of light, even if nothing is in the shadows. For my young age, this is the one element of the trip that I’ve never forgotten and a half century later, I can still picture it.
In later years, my mother remained quite bitter over this trip. She said that on our way back to Alabama, we passed a sign with an arrow pointing to view the Grand Canyon. We were only a mile from seeing it, but our father refused to take the time to stop. The stop was one of the lookout points, but he chose to continue driving. And since she knew at the time she’d never get another chance, she never let that grudge be buried.
Both of my parents told me about strange paranormal things they’d witnessed on the long narrow roads through Oregon and Washington. Traffic was thin, and late at night, about the only other vehicles on these roads were semis. Some of the roads they traveled were at high altitudes without guardrails. Both swear they’d seen strange events occur on these late nights in the middle of those thick forests. Whether those tales are true or not, I cannot say with absolute certainty. Sleep deprivation plays tricks on the mind, and both were avid fans of dark tales, television shows, and ghost stories. Had their imaginations gotten the best of them? Were they dreaming while they drove? I don’t think so. When two or more people tell with conviction of what they witnessed, even years later, some truth exists in what they saw. Perhaps in the future, I’ll be bold enough to share more.
My mother brought a few toys for me to play with on the long trip. These kept me occupied for a while. Other than the darkest night, I remember little more that I found alarming. I suppose I slept a lot. At least, during that time, children weren’t forced to be locked in carseats. Had I been, I might remember far more, due to frustration. But, the cars our father drove in the early 70s were usually large, so I had room to roam or lie in the back window and watch the endless passing lines of evergreens.
These scenic landscapes painted colorful, and sometimes dark, memories that are splashed on the canvases of my mind. Though young, a deep part of me must’ve remembered the discomfort of being trapped inside a vehicle for countless hours without a break. When I became a young father, when my wife and I took our children for trips or to visit family states away, I made sure to stop several times along the way. Of course, our trips never took half a day or longer to reach our destination. I never wanted my children to look back on our trips as burdensome times. I’ve always wanted them to have happy memories to cherish during their childhood. For me, so many are bittersweet, wishing we could’ve done more than we were able. But I hope they can look back and smile at the memories that are ever gentle on their minds.