By Ron Page
It’s nearly the first of June and I’m hoping more than a few Rotarians have plans for summertime family road trips. When I was a boy, seeing America from the back seat of our DeSoto in the days before air-conditioning was as good as it gets, and memories from those road trips have stayed with me and have much to do with my view of what a family is and what it tries to be.
We farmed in flat, featureless Illinois corn country and my parents had traveled very little.
The thought of seeing oceans and mountains seemed to my father a perfect diversion during the hot humid summer months when the cornfields literally steamed. He announced one day that he would like to see if geysers really did shoot 100 feet into the air and if the Rocky Mountains really did have snow on them all summer. He wanted to see the ocean and he wanted to compare other cities with Chicago and St. Louis, the only two he had ever visited.
With Dad at the wheel and Mom navigating with her Rand McNally Road Atlas, we began our annual three-week road trips. I’m not sure how mom did her research, but she somehow identified the important places we must visit and established the route and schedule. She constantly shouted over the roar of the air rushing in our 4 open windows, pointing out things that were unique to the region – sunflowers, men wearing cowboy hats, Indian hogans in the desert, wild animals, Spanish moss, and hundreds of other things we had never before seen. The experience was truly a family experience. It wasn’t a “treat for the kids”. Mom thought it important that we visit all 48 states and all the Canadian provinces and Dad planned to climb to the top of the dome at each state capitol. (Imagine his disappointment when we arrived at the Oklahoma State Capitol to find it didn’t have a dome.)
We did visit all 48 states and Dad did climb the domes of all the capitols with the exception of those with no domes or where the visiting the top was forbidden. I suspect that today none of them would allow a tourist on the narrow stairs and catwalks at the top of their domes. We visited all the Canadian provinces except for two of the Maritime provinces. Mom made sure we were observing and respecting various cultures and traditions as we attended pow-wows, ate local cuisine in small town café’s and attended local festivals. We visited most of the National Parks, and many National Monuments. We saw the old part of Quebec City, we drove to Key West, Dad negotiated the streets of Boston, we traveled a full city block in San Francisco in reverse as the policeman who assisted us decided that was the only way to get us on the bridge, we fished for Northern Pike in Ontario, and set crab pots on the Gulf in Alabama.
Mom did a lot of shrieking on the scary mountain roads and Joyce and I did a lot of begging to stop at each roadside attraction that garish billboards proclaimed to have world’s largest snake, or a petrified giant gopher or free souvenirs. Joyce and I complained about starting each day at dawn, but, each day, dad would remind us how comfortably cool it is to travel early and that wild animals were more active and visible in the early hours. I can smell the mountain air and see those moose right now.
It’s that time of year – plan a road trip, then load up the kids and make some memories.