It was the early summer of 1966. I was only eight years of age but knew with every fiber of my being that something was about to change in a very big way.
Every day more things were disappearing into boxes. My dad was home and when he left, it was only for hours and not the days or weeks that I was accustomed to. Then one day he came home with a big yellow farm trailer behind his blue Ford and began moving the boxes from the house to the trailer.
Even at this young age I knew this was going to be more than a camping trip, or a trip to see the cave with elves or Mother Goose at Rock City high up on Lookout Mountain, or to visit with family in Chattanooga, or to the Sand Mountain farm in Alabama. I was already a veteran of the move having lived in Morehead City, North Carolina, Norfolk, Virginia, and Port Huron, Michigan.
Then came the day of goodbyes and we loaded into dad’s blue Ford. My three old sister and my big sister who had just graduated from school piled into the back seat among the various items that wouldn’t fit in the trunk or in the trailer, dad, mom, and the parakeet in front.
We weren’t as constricted and cramped as we had been on previous moves, or in future ones, but in retrospect, it helped me relate to those folks who traveled in steerage, that packed into a lumbering Conestoga for the trip west along he Oregon Trail, or that clambered aboard a pile of possessions heaped on a cut down Hudson on the westward journey to California.
The first leg of the journey was a short one as the first stop was at my grandmother’s towering old house near the creek on Hinckley Boulevard in Jackson, Michigan. In that short distance I had learned several things – this wasn’t fun, my little sister was irritating, it was hot, and I really didn’t want to do this anymore.
My vocal expression of these sentiments did nothing to alter the outcome (a valuable lesson learned) and the next morning we were herded back into dad’s blue Ford. As dad despised the heavy congestion of urban areas, and despised them even more when overloaded, we went south on U.S. 127 into Ohio, a road of familiarity after many trips to see family in Alabama and Tennessee.
Somewhere between grandmothers house and a nifty little roadside park with a hand pump for water, I discovered a haven from the confines of the back seat and the reality of missing a summer spent with my friend Brad, on the rear package shelf. Of course my haven was fraught with all manner of restraints and peril, namely my dad’s wrath. Still, I persisted and learned that he was a bit more tolerant when night transformed the highway into a ribbon of light in a sea of darkness.
I remember few specific details about our journey west that summer. What I do remember with snap shot clarity are the stops made along the way; a roadside park in Missouri with a stream, a motel nestled among the tress and a tire swing, another motel with a big grassy yard and lots of kids excited about being set free from the car just like me. There were lots of roadside meals, a couple of camp outs, and just enough excitement and adventure to ensure the memories of being cramped, uncomfortable, and miserable in the back seat were overshadowed by the memories of fun and adventure.
Now, fast forward to 1976. That was the year Dad made a valiant effort to create a father and son bond through an epic road trip that lasted more than three weeks in which time we traveled from Michigan (where we were again living) to Arizona, to Utah, To Mt. Rushmore, and to Chicago. During the journey we stopped at the trading posts and tourist traps always skipped when I was a kid, and sought out the smoky dives in Chicago dad remembered from his days as a recruit at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center during World War II.
We were home less than two weeks when I pitched in to help relocate the family to Arizona. Step one was moving my mother and little sister west followed by another epic father and son trip back to Michigan. Then, in December, dad and I made the final run out to Arizona.
Even though dad and I never really were close, our many adventures on the road that year shared a common thread that ensured a life time of fond memories and that thread was our trip west in 1966 along Route 66, and the role it had played in my development.
So, even though I didn’t realize it in 1966, or 1976, or in the years in between when I learned to ride a bicycle on that old road, learned to drive on that highway, and had countless other experiences on that road, Route 66 was woven into the very fiber of my being. Perhaps that is why, as I look back on this and another thirty years of Route 66 memories, I see that old road, the Route 66 community, as my home town.