It was 4AM on a 1972 summer day and the car was all packed when we nudged our 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter awake and half carried them to the car. We were heading out on our long anticipated first trip west in our trusty Ford Galaxie 500 with the black vinyl roof, no power steering, and no air-conditioning. My husband and I had wanted to see the Rocky Mountains and we had only a short week to make the trek from Ohio to Colorado so we needed to start early and keep moving. First night was to be Lincoln, Nebraska.
That year became legendary for many reasons and it also started a tradition that family vacations in the car would always begin at 4AM with a promise that when the sun came up and we came to a great rest area we would stop and break out the orange juice and doughnuts from our favorite doughnut shop. We all would stand shivering around the car swilling the orange juice and savoring the doughnuts. I can see it all as if it were yesterday.
We had this first trip mapped out to travel west on I-80 and return by I-70. There were no DVD’s or video games to play. I made up boxes for each child with new crayons, coloring books, and small toys they had never seen to help keep them occupied. We also talked a bit more than some families today might. We used the trip as a history/geography lesson as we crossed each state line.
My bachelor’s degree was in education so I was pointing out things like the kinds of trees, the sorts of crops, and any historical landmarks we passed along the way. That would become a pattern as well for future trips as we went west more than a few times when our children were growing up.
Invariably the question would come from one or the other of the children: “How long till we get there, Dad?” Since they had no concept of that distance or time, my husband came up with some pretty amazing numbers to astound them.
It would be hard to say what all they recalled from that first trip west, but the trip and the conversation was so rich that family vacations exploring new places and things became a part of our lives that we sacrificed to do every summer until each graduated from college. And we didn’t always head west (even though that was a favorite). There were trips to Maine, New York, Massachusetts, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Florida, South Dakota, and more.
We never had a great deal of money for these trips and used the credit card for many of the stops, but year-by-year these trips became more precious as each of our lives got busier. By the time our children were teens it was easy for each of the four of us to be going in a different direction, focused more on ourselves than each other. By 1978 when the big Chevrolet station wagon became a part of our family, we were filling the car to the brim and it would take several days of getting used to thinking of others to get our family back on track.
One of the challenges was always where each of our two kids sat and who got to lay on the seat for a bit and who had to lay on the floor with the hump in the middle. There were smelly shoes and feet to contend with as well, but while we were all adjusting to one another in the confines of a station wagon the Lord honed our characters and brought us more into alignment as a family.
Looking back, I am so glad we didn’t wait until they were old enough to remember everything about a trip or old enough to complain and not think it was a grand adventure. After all, when you are 7 or 8 it can be fun to think what it would have been like to travel across the prairie in a covered wagon and try to figure out how to keep tree saplings alive until the end of the trip.
I wonder sometimes now if children ever see the land they are passing through or make note of its grandeur and beauty. I hope they sometimes put down the video game or headset and take in the vastness and beauty of what they are traveling through. In the midst of that, perhaps they will even share a thought or two with a sibling or parent about what they observe and the family will become more of a family again rather than a collection of individuals who happen to live under the same roof.
That time together (despite complaints or inconvenience) provides the stuff of precious memories and also gives God the opportunity to smooth off some of the rough edges of our interactions with each other.
In 1972, we didn’t get to Lincoln, Nebraska the first night because we discovered half of our clothes were hanging in the closet at home after we had driven a couple of hundred miles and we turned back and got them. Newton, Iowa, became the first stop instead, but we sang songs, enjoyed snacks, and kept looking west.
We were hot more than a few times and the crayons melted in the box when we were taking the cog train up to Pikes Peak, but ice cream cones were a big help and we were together and everyone agreed we needed them often.
Family time doesn’t often just happen. It needs to be planned for on purpose.
I think that is true of those of us who are in God’s family too. It might not always be comfortable, but we need to spend time getting to know one another in small settings and I am sure God shows up to help His kids grow and smooth off the rough edges.