Visitors - Come on in and say hello!

Friday, January 28, 2011


In  those long car rides, I remember watching the landscape pass by in a blur, the hours moving slowly, yet I always had a sense of excited anticipation to penetrate through the boredome. I was always ready to “go” somewhere, to reach our destination.

The semis would rock the car sometimes when they passed, and if it was raining the water would spray up on the windows. Whoever was driving (usually Dad) would turn the wipers to “high” so he could see. My brother would look to see what kind of truck it was and what it was carrying. Mom would tell stories of helpful truckers and speak of road "manners" around those huge metal beheamoths.

The sound of tires on the pavement at 55 mph sometimes created a rhythmic cycle, sedating us with the gentle motion and song of the highway lullabye. We’d pass through exotic places, watching exotic signs, rivers, towns. The light would fade from the sky as we passed by Green Bay (which really wasn’t very green from what we could tell), and slowly those wide-open industrial areas would close in with trees, we’d begin to get glimpses of Lake Michigan and get excited thinking we were “almost there.”

But we forgot that Lake Michigan was much bigger than we could fully understand, and eventually we’d fall prey to the tranquilizing darkness and highway lullabye. In the half-sleep I remember hearing the whine of the transmission when Dad pulled off for gas or a “pit stop”. I recall the slamming car doors, opening and closing, Mom and Dad taking turns so one would always be with us as we slept. Sometimes they would wake us to eat something and then we’d return to our slumber, too bored and tired to stay awake, the darkened landscape no longer able to keep our attention – shadows aren’t very interesting to look at when they pass by so quickly.

I’d hear the fascinating familiar-yet-not-familiar names of towns as Mom and Dad discussed routes or remembered past trips together. The musical names like “Menominee” could almost be felt in my mouth, turning over, taking form, only to be replaced with the kid-friendly “Oshkosh (by gosh!)”, leading me to ponder, deeply in my semi-conscious state, the tag on some of the clothing Mom had packed for me. I wondered if we’d ever turn into Oshkosh (by gosh!), and if we did, would everyone be wearing the same thing?

We passed by exits for “Oconto” and “Oconto Falls”, while arrows on big green signs directed us toward “Marinette” (which always sounded like a place for puppets), but first, first…we had to go through “Peshtigo”, and like “Menominee”, I loved the feel of those words in my mouth, so different, so interesting, and in the case of Peshtigo…so historical.

I always wanted to be awake as we went through Peshtigo, as Dad always told us about the great Peshtigo fire, and promised that if we could, we’d stop at the Fire Museum there on the way home. It was one of those big events that, except for Wisconsin and Michigan locals, had nearly passed into oblivion as it occurred on the same day of the Great Chicago Fire…even though the one in Peshtigo had done far more damage and had taken far more lives.

I couldn’t always stay awake, although I recall waking in the darkness of one trip and asking sleepily where we were.

“Peshtigo”, Dad said. I tried to wake up to look around, but the sleepiness and the rhythm of our travel, the whine of the accelerating transmission, the turning of the car from this corner to that, the glow of the streetlights…all were too much and sent me back into my dreams, all aglitter with the backdrop of Peshtigo and the surrounding forest lands and the great expanse of water, water everywhere on the other side.

Finally, we’d arrive at our destination, and my haze of sleep would be penetrated by the changing movement of the car. Mom and Dad would be speaking softly to each other, and slowly, as we entered Escanaba, (where I’d once asked if Eskimos lived), the rhythm from the tires would combine with the emerging rhythm of street lamps, taking us from light into darkness back into light. I didn’t lift my head, too tired to do so, but I knew we must be close as the car was slowing now, taking more turns, Mom’s and Dad’s voices were growing a little louder now, speaking more urgently as pilots must, I suppose, as they approach their landing.

Mom would turn and try to get brother and me to awake.

“What time is it?” I would ask, rubbing my eyes.

“Midnight”, Dad said, turning into Grandma and Grandpa’s driveway.

He’d pull past the steps that led into the house, leaving room for the car to be unpacked. They had already decided whether to perhaps unpack fully that night or tomorrow, so when they got out of the car to greet Dad’s waiting parents, Mom could get my brother and I from our comfortable temporary cocoons and bring us into the shockingly bright light but comfortably warm kitchen with all the decorative Swedish tiles and the slight scent of gingerbread and potroast.

We’d be whisked upstairs, Grandma leading the way to our assigned rooms, leaving Mom and Dad to help us get changed and back to sleep. They’d finish unpacking the car while we went back to dreamland, resting on crisp clean feather pillows in the same place where Dad grew up.


No comments: