Don Quixote de la Yankee.
Dad,my Don Quixote
Dad was about 47 years old when he decided his traveling shoes needed some mileage. It was 1964 and we were moving west, cuz life was short and he was restless. I had lived in the little yellow carriage house in my small town since they brought me home from the hospital, sometime in the early part of October 1955. By 1964, I was in the fourth grade and my brothers had their own lives far away from our little town in southern New Hampshire. Mom was not at all impressed with leaving her friends and family and traipsing across the country to a new life. But dad won out. Poor guy, had to listen to her bitch for several years, and we ended up moving back there eventually. But that is another story!
They bought the little house for $1400 in 1955 and in 1964, after making major renovations themselves, the place sold for $14,500. It was what dad would consider to be a “fortune”. That was a phrase they used all the time. Either something cost a “fortune” or we might end up in the “poor house”. No wonder kids growing up in my time period had a poverty mentality, it was a mantra of that age! We were also told we had to eat everything on our plate as children were starving in Africa. Of course, the truth is they were and they are still starving. I never made my kids eat anything they did not want to eat, after they at least tried a bite. That was not the same thing in my house growing up though, and I had to eat some pretty awful stuff!
I had to wait until school was within 2 weeks of ending for the year before I could withdraw and still pass 4th grade. They sold the house in early May and we had to live above the beauty shop downtown in a furnished apartment. It was not fancy and it smelled smoky. The ugly whirring fan in the window had to run all night in order to stave away the heat and May flies. This odious noise kept me awake many a night on my small cot. When you are a kid, this seems like forever! But it wasn’t and the day came when we were ready to leave town.
Dad started packing the 1962 baby blue Impala convertible with our blue cardboard suitcases and a train case full of toiletries. Mom was busily making sandwiches and wrapping them in wax sandwich bags. They were probably bologna and cheese on white wonder bread, which now I would not touch with a ten foot pole! Filling the red and silver aluminum cooler with ice and milk, she began placing the wax sandwich bags on top away from on a tray so as not to get wet. She also had bottles of soft drinks (which we called “tonic” in NH) and I was dressed in a pair of dungarees, (but she really always wanted me in a dress).
In the back seat of the car was my menagerie of stuffed animals to cuddle and paperback books to read as we traveled along the highway. One title remains embedded in my mind “Honestly Katie John!) Later my daughter name would be Katie, but it was from the girl Robbie married on My Three Sons. I had my trusty feather pillow and plenty of crayons and coloring books to enjoy along the road as well.
Looking out the window of the apartment towards the car I saw my dad preparing for the long haul. Our destination was Arizona and then onto California to start a new life! It was then I could not help noticing dad talking to an older man who appeared to be in his late 70's or early 80's curiously watching him put things into the trunk of the car.
“Where ya headed?”, he asked dad in his thick New England accent. I stood watching for a few minutes as dad chatted in his usual animated manner to the older gentleman. Mom called to me to get my shoes on and grab the last of our belongings and get ready to leave the apartment. When we got to the car, the man was till standing watching us all place the rest of our things into the vehicle and leave. He stood waving as Dad pulled the car onto the quiet road.
I was about 6 AM and we were on our way to the beginning of this grand coast to coast adventure. As we got onto the main thoroughfare, Dad started telling mom the conversation hee had with the man. Looking up from the trunk Dad saw the man watching him as he was putting the suitcases in the trunk, readying the maps and his movie camera and other paraphernalia in preparation to leave. This man, who did not know my dad, came over to him out of curiosity to ask him where he was going, while on his way to work in the shoe factory that morning.
Dad told the man we were bound for the west coast, and that he had a few job prospects and interviews out there where the climate was drier and be better for his emphysema. Dad also had spent over a year in a tuberculosis hospital when I was two years old, so his lungs were not in very good shape. He told the gent about the “trip-tik” road maps he got from AAA, preparation of the routes we were to take, stopping to see the places and things we hoped to see along the way. He also mentioned how his dreams to travel west was something he had envisioned for many years. Dad also always felt he was “getting old” stating it over and over throughout my whole childhood.
The old man stood with a wide-eyed look of astonishment at my dad and his description of this proposed undertaking. Again in his slurred accent, the man stated: “why, I have only been out of this town once in my whole life when I went to Boston one time. I cannot imagine going anywhere that far away! Aren’t ya scared?” Boston is 40 miles from my childhood home in New Hampshire. Although we had no highways at the time, it would not have taken long for anyone to get there, on well paved secondary roads. The idea this man had never gone out of my town but once, was astonishing to me, even at age nine. While pulling out of town, the man stood watching us leave. I remember seeing his face in the rear view mirror until we came to a hill and he was then out of my sight. Strange what the mind remembers.
Not everyone is a traveler. I’m grateful everyday my dad was one. Gypsies we were called. Dad and I never cared. Mom was another story. And although my own children were uprooted many times, I am now seeing they have retained the family tradition of wanting to experience all life has to offer. Makes me wonder if it is embedded in the DNA.
I’m certain that man died in the same house he was born in. And that was his decision. But I hope it wasn’t because he was “scared” to embrace adventure. I hope no one ever stays in one place simply out of fear. How sad that would make me feel. But we all have choices..and in dreaming them sometimes we make them so.
“Happy Trails to you...”
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