Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

I Was a Back-Seat Western Pioneer

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

I Was a Back-Seat Western Pioneer

Article excerpt

When I was a little girl growing up in Kentucky, my parents thought nothing of packing us four kids, our suitcases, several jars of peanut butter, a cooler, and plenty of dog-eared maps into a station wagon and heading west. The road started in Lexington and headed out through the western part of the state.

If we were taking the northern route, we'd drive through Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and California to reach the West Coast. If we were visiting my mother's best friend in San Diego, we'd dip down through Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

The days took on their own rhythm. We'd be up as early as four kids could be roused from their Holiday Inn rollaways, fed some dry cereal, and packed into the back seat and nether regions of the station wagon. The morning highway was still cool and shadowy and the fields sweet-smelling and dewy beside it.

As the day wore on and the road grew hotter, we'd stare at the maps and watch for cities we'd pass. Sometimes we'd play silly games; other times, we'd listen to whatever radio music we could eke out of the sky. We didn't stop for lunch, but made one peanut- butter sandwich after another.

My mother had a story ready whenever we complained about the four- day journeys, which, when we first began taking them, still involved passage on a two-lane Route 66. She would tell us that we were getting a taste of the way the early pioneers explored the frontier. This never quieted us completely, but it did add an aura of romance to some otherwise long, hot days.

A couple of times - when the un-air-conditioned car was dragging through the desert and we were trying to stay cool with washcloths dipped in melted ice from the cooler - we would almost believe her. At those moments it didn't take much imagination to think of ourselves as the heirs of those early travelers, walking alongside a dusty covered wagon with half a mysterious continent ahead of us.

By 3 or 4 p.m., the sunlight made mirage-like "puddles" on the tarmac that would disappear as we reached them. Cries of "When will we get to Topeka?" or "Can we stop at a motel with a pool?" would fill the air. …

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