Epic road trip: my parents recall a youthful drive across Route 66 in a ’36 coupe
NEWS-LEDGER — MAY 16, 2012 —
As all of you know, another Mother’s Day has just come and gone, and like everyone else, I spent some time visiting with my mother this past weekend, and my daughter also had her over to her house for one of my mother’s favorite meals, a yummy steak sandwich from West Sacramento’s popular Club Pheasant.
My mother is 91 years old now, has more energy than I do, and lives in her own little apartment in Sacramento, which she has called home since the passing of my father seven years ago. Until then, West Sacramento had been their home for most of their 63 years of marriage, having moved here shortly after the end of World War II. With the help of the G.I. Bill, they bought a little tract home on Michigan Boulevard and my father went to work for the Southern Pacific Railroad, where he toiled away for the next 39 years. Anyway, while my mother and I were chatting the other night, it dawned on me that when children reflect back on the lives of their parents, the time frame that comes into play usually begins with their own birth, and more or less covers their years of growing up in their parents’ house. In other words, we really do think of our parents “as parents”, and often forget that they were young once, too, with hopes and dreams and a whole life still in front of them long before they ever got around to getting married and raising a family.
[adrotate group=”10″] In my case, I know most of the basic stuff about my mother’s youth, that she grew up in a little town in Southern Missouri and that she and her family lived through the most difficult days/years of the Great Depression; that she met my father in grade school and that he was in her life for almost as long as she can remember; that as a young girl she worked in a beauty shop to earn extra money and was always very responsible; and that she adored her father, who passed away much too young from a burst appendix before I ever got to meet him. But other than that, my mother’s life before I became a part of it isn’t all that well-known to me, and I thought I would start doing a little something about that this Mother’s Day.
“So, Mom,” I asked her last weekend, “how did you and Dad get all the way out to California from Missouri after you were married?”
“We drove in a car, silly,” she answered matter-of-factly.
“I know that, Mom,” I said, “but why don’t you tell me all about it?”
“Why?” she asked suspiciously. “And will what I tell you end up in that newspaper column of yours?”
“Maybe,” I admitted.
“Well,” she said with a smile, “it actually is a pretty funny story.”
“Well, you have to remember that your dad and I were just a couple of young green kids back then and we didn’t have a clue about what traveling halfway across the country might be like. Plus I had just had my appendix out and the doctor wasn’t too happy about me bouncing around in a car all the way to California. But your dad had found work out there so we jumped into an old 1936 Chevy coupe and off we went. And you have to remember that this all happened back in the winter of 1941 and since they didn’t have fancy weather forecasts back then, we ended up driving through snow and on icy roads most of the way.”
[adrotate group=”9″] “So, did you stay in nice hotels and use the trip as kind of a honeymoon?”
“Are you kidding? We had less than $75 to make it all the way to California – more like $50 if I remember right – and most of that was going to have to be spent on gas, so we stayed in the cheapest places we could find. And for food we had brought some of my mother’s fried chicken with us, along with a pound of bacon, a loaf of bread, and a dozen eggs. And I went and dropped the darn eggs and busted all of them the first night we were unloading the car. So we had nothing but toast and some bacon for breakfast all the way to California. And how we made it through those high mountain passes in all that bad weather I’ll never know. Plus when the windshield wipers stopped working I about froze to death hanging my head out of the window to tell your dad what was ahead of us.”
When I started laughing, my mother said, “Well, if you think that is funny, you should have seen what happened to us when we finally got through the mountains and all that bad weather and out into the desert just before we got to California.”
“So what happened then?” I asked with interest.
“Well, the radiator sprung a leak and started spewing out smoke and water and of course we didn’t have any money to stop and have the darn thing repaired. But it got so bad we finally had to find a gas station and ask for help. After this really nice man looked at it and showed us the problem, we told him we didn’t really have any money for him to fix it, and he said he knew of a little trick that would probably get us all the way to Sacramento before the radiator completely blew up.”
“A little trick?”
“Yeah, and what he did was go get a big old bar of lye soap and then he started shaving it all into the radiator until he had the whole thing filled up with soap shavings and water.”
“Nope, and sure enough, once we started rolling along again, I guess that soap somehow filled in the hole in the radiator and just like he said, we made it all the way to Sacramento.”
“That is a funny story,” I said.
“But that’s not the funny part!”
“There’s more?” I asked my mother, returning her smile.
“The funny part,” she explained with the kind of warm, happy expression on her face that only comes from recalling a cherished memory, “was that all the way from at least Bakersfield to Sacramento our car kept blowing bubbles out from underneath the hood and everyone who passed us – coming or going – ended up waving and laughing at us. We looked like we were on the Lawrence Welk show with all those bubbles coming out of our car.”
“Now that is a funny story!” I said.
“Oh, what a trip that was,” said my mother, obviously wishing she was 21 years old again, had her whole life with my father still ahead of her, and that they could jump back in their 1936 Chevy coupe, motor out onto old Route 66, and travel every one of those long ago miles all over again.
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Copyright News-Ledger 2012