The Trip West

By Marilyn Crockett, a member of Get Your Wordsworth

Preparations have been going on for a long time for the trip West. It is mid-July, 1951. We are starting from suburban Chicago. I am eleven and my sister, Susie, is eight. The car, a black 1949 Ford, was tested last summer on a trip to the Ozarks. My sister and I were tested as well. Staying still in the car, keeping quiet, and not fighting with my sister is not easy. She tends to be whiney to my stoic and I do not respect her for that. We are apart in the large back seat, separated with a piece of luggage between us. I think it contained the food that was to sustain us for the long trip.
There are also bags and lots of other things around our feet, among which is a bag of children’s books, magazines and games that we have been forbidden to touch before the trip. My mother is determined to keep us quiet as my father is not in the best of moods. They have quarreled about the amount of luggage that mother wanted to squeeze into the car. The car is loaded. There was a rack on top but at the last minute, my father decided not to take the rack as it might become unattached on the trip. The car had to be completely repacked without the rack. My father would say “Meg, we can’t possibly fit that in.” and Mother would say “Yes we can.“ She was very good at packing a lot in a small space. So there is even more stuff that has been squeezed into the car. My mother is sitting sideways because her feet are hampered by things hastily put on the floor but that means she can turn and see us better.
I have a tendency to get car sick and have been instructed to watch the scenery and keep my eyes on the horizon. The scenery is boring. I have not yet seen any of the Burma Shave signs that are practically the highlight of the trip. I try to watch the scenery. My sister and I are trying to spot white horses. I can count the horses on my side, the right side of the car and my sister counts on the left. If either one of us has a cemetery on our side, we have to start over as our imaginary horses have died. We also try to spot out-of-state license plates. I try to concentrate, but somewhere in Western Illinois or Iowa the waving fields of corn get to me and I announce I have to get sick. Mother does not give me the Dramamine until after I get sick as it makes me go to sleep and she doesn’t want me to miss any educational landscape. I have a thin pillow and the Dramamine puts me to sleep.
My mother has made sandwiches, meatloaf or peanut better and jelly. We eat lunch while stopped for gas. My favorite gas stations are the Sinclair stations that advertising with the dinosaur. Mother has milk in one thermos and coffee in another. There are cookies for desert and Sue and I gingerly eat one apiece. Mother has emptied the refrigerator into those cookies and they have raisins, nuts, dates, chocolate chips, cut up dried fruit and oatmeal. I can’t tell what I am going to bite into next and this is a little upsetting. When we later claim to be hungry, Mother will endlessly bring out those steadily hardening cookies until we decide that we are not hungry after all.
My father tries to make five hundred miles a day, starting early and looking for a motel at about four in the afternoon. There can be a lot of no vacancy signs up if we get too late. In spite of the fact that most of the packing has been done the night before, we had a late start the first day and do not make our mileage. Every one is tired and cranky by the end of the day. The road side diners have those seats that twirl around but my parents don’t want us to do that much.
One of the cabins we stay at, has screens with holes in them and Sue wakes up to a mass of mosquito bits. She is all over reddish welts. I have one or two but it is not bad. I feel sorry for her. My mother has calamine lotion but that never helps much. Further west we seem to finish with the waving wheat, so prone to making me car sick, and get to herds of cows. We are expected to know the difference between Holstein or Jersey milk cows, and Black Angus beef cattle.. We are looking for better strip motels that might have a swimming pool so that, “the girls can have a swim.” This does help as it can get very hot and sticky in the car. Neither Sue or I have learned to do show off dives, but I do a shallow dive or a cannon ball jump into the pool, while Sue creeps down the ladder and slowly gets herself wet.
Mother is enormously excited by her first glimpse of her beloved mountains Sue and I try to see them but it just looks like clouds. We do eventually get into the mountains at which point you can’t see them, but at least it is not so hot. My father does not enthuse over the mountains but he does permit a stop at the Great Divide in Colorado at Pikes Peak. My mother explains about the rain fall going to the Pacific on the west side of the great divide, or the Mississippi on the east side. There is a brass plaque that explains the same thing that we dutifully read. My father has not permitted stops at the “Giant Reptile House with Amazing Sights.“ or any thing like that. This is particularly disappointing when there have been sign after sign announcing this amazing sight for miles and miles
The five days of traveling finished, there is a day of visiting Mother’s Washington state relatives. Sue and I are dressed in the matching searsucker outfits my mother sewed for the trip. I like mine in blue stripes. Sue’s is in brown stripes to match her eyes. Sue and I, for the first time meet Aunt Francis, Uncle Eugene and my cousins Gail, a little older than I and Lee a little younger than Sue. Gail and Lee show off their rooms to Sue and me but we really aren’t much interested in each other. Aunt Francis serves us a brunch that includes hand squeezed orange juice. Mother later is very critical of her sister’s showing off by squeezing orange juice. It is much more convenient, more modern, to get it delivered by the half gallon as we do. My father expressed no opinion on the orange juice question.
We also drive to Everett Washington to visit my Grandmother Cole. I like Grandmother Cole. She has a tiny house of four small rooms and a toaster that has sides that flop down when the toast is finished. My sister and I are amazed at the toaster. My grandmother seems very small, thin and frail compared to my mother. My grandmother pays special attention to Sue and me, and shows us some marvelous things in her garden. Her garden is full of blooming flowers including Snapdragons. She picks one and shows Sue and me exactly how to make the Snapdragons snap We get to pick one and get busy making them open and close. She also picks leaves of the Rabbit’s Ear plant and gives one to each of us so we could feel how soft it is.
The next drive is to Whidbey Island where Mother and Dad have reservations at a resort In order to get there my father lines up the car and we wait for the ferry. To our surprise, the cars drive right up onto the boat. There is a guy who has pulled open the chain, and with a lighted baton waves the cars onto the boat and shows them which row to get into. We are permitted to get out and enjoy the salty, ocean, breeze, and look at the water, the islands, and the green forests that seem to grow right down to the shore. Puget Sound is agreeably smooth and I have no trouble with getting sick this time. The air is fresh and clean.
The resort is small and we are back to cabins. The beach is not sandy but full of small rounded pebbles. It is possible to walk on them barefooted but mostly we wear rubber zorries. The water is cold, very cold It is suitable for wading but not much else. It burns the skin, it is so cold. The skies are frequently overcast and sometimes it rains very lightly But Sue and I are happy. We can run around on the beach, We are released from the confining car and we can explore new wonders like the giant kelp that has a big, brown, onion shaped, bulb and long, rubbery, trailing, leaves. We have been warned not to step on the fearful jellyfish. There are empty crab shells, and a little dog that seems to be a stray without any owner. I fall happily in love with the wet dog and will suffer grief at leaving him, but for the moment Sue and I are both happy. We have arrived.

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One thought on “The Trip West

  1. Wally Morgan says:

    Before getting my morning’s Worsdworth I read an email from someone wanting me to do a facile questionnaire. Just four inane questions about a specific aspect of life ending in: “If you had a magic wand, what part of this problem would you like to improve? “ It seemed to me a crass question whose response would prompt the author of the email to contact me offering to sell me the answer to my imagined problem.

    So I moved on to Wordsworth.

    My first reaction was “Ugh, short sentences…. This looks like a child’s writing. Must have been torn out of an exercise book.” So why did I continue reading? I asked myself. Why? Because I wanted to know what happened. Anyway, I soon realised I was enjoying it. I like travel and recognised enough in the story to know just how accurately the scene was depicted. The children were engaging and called to mind people, situations, times in my childhood – around the same time. There were similarities, even though my sister and I were growing up in England – the preparations, the squabbling, the travel sickness. I, too, didn’t like Gail or Lee very much and was glad to reach Grandma’s. I gradually realised I was transposing the descriptions in the story onto the template of my childhood – journey into the New Forest with Uncle Bill, the garden was that of Great Uncle Clarence and Great Aunt Blanche, the beach was on the coast between Southampton and Portsmouth, the dog was real and followed us all the way back to the car. I cried when we left it behind. The clever use of short sentences shrank my world. (Alice in Wonderland, eat your heart out!) This beautiful piece transported me in time, space and body. It briefly turned this ageing adult into a child once more. It brought happiness.

    Get your Wordsworth? That’s the Magic Wand.
    Wally Morgan

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