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Hard-Learned Lessons from the Family Road Trip
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Hard-Learned Lessons from the Family Road Trip

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Hard-Learned Lessons from the Family Road Trip

Hard-Learned Lessons from the Family Road Trip
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My sister Amy and I used to kind of dread the advent of summer. My parents had this idea that summertime was the time for trips – preferably the educational kind, but at a bare minimum, the kind that entailed at least 16 hours in a car, in a row. There was always a breakdown. There was always at least one major argument. And at the end, there was always a quiz.

My father was an avid Triple-A member, and he would pore over TripTiks with the intense focus of the whalemen of yore consulting star charts. He would load up our station wagon, the back of which he had tricked out with these odd orange bamboo-like sun curtains and a giant slab of foam rubber covered with a Vellux blanket, and set off for an Educational Experience – most of which was completely wasted on his children. We were really in it for the Pringles and the soda pop, and the off-chance that we'd get to stop at a Stuckey's for pecan roll. It was not because we didn't care. It's because my sister and I would be trapped in this little plush-padded greenhouse of a car and it was just too hot for us to be anything but dehydrated and drowsy. Nowadays, families travel in ultra-luxe minivans with front-and-rear climate controls, bristling with cupholders and DVD players. It's kind of like traveling in a hotel lobby. This kind of luxury was beyond our wildest dreams back in the mid-70s. We stuck to the seats and sweated. We ate junk food. We played car bingo and listened to AM radio, fighting the urge to jump out of the moving vehicle in order to escape hearing "Seasons in the Sun" for the sixth time in an hour.

My mother was, and is, the world's worst navigator, because she is the kind of person who manages to leap to all the wrong conclusions based upon selected bits of random information. She is a one-woman argument for dashboard-mounted GPS systems. I remember a trip we took in Washington, DC where we were on the George Washington Parkway for an eternity and got lost someplace in Virginia because she was absolutely convinced that, given its name, this road would eventually lead us to Mount Vernon...which it would have, had we been going the right way.

That trip happened in 1975, when my mom decided that her girls should take a trip to see the most important sites of the American Revolutionary War. The bicentennial was coming up, and she wanted to provide us with spatial and historical context. And because she was a teacher, she wanted to stock up on battlefield brochures, tri-cornered hats and mobcaps so that her lessons would have a little extra 1776 oomph. So off we went, grimly hauling ourselves through Yorktown and Jamestown and Williamsburg and Washington and Trenton then over to Philadelphia, with an added bonus of side trips to Gettysburg, Appomattox, Manassas, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and Shenandoah that resulted in me being very confused about the American historical timeline. All I still carry with me from the entire enterprise is that any soldier fighting in that heat in full uniform and gear must have really, really been committed to the cause, because I was about to expire of heat prostration and I was decked out in Garanimals and Stride-Rite sandals. After 10 days, sick from our diet of refined sugar and Chee-Tos, we'd finally had enough and went home. And even though it's much nicer now to take the climate-controlled SUV with reclining chairs for a spin, I still find myself feeling like it's not really a trip without my father checking off the passing towns on the highlighted TripTik map, my mother reading every billboard out loud, and "Seasons in the Sun," playing endlessly endlessly as we drive through the summer heat.

Laura Lorson is not planning on going anywhere this year except possibly the back yard of her home in Perry, Kan.

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