Gotta Make the Journey Out and In

My father loved the road. And being near great bodies of water.

So there was the neighborhood in Maryland, school at Olney Elementary (yet to get into that) and the rhythm of life in the late 1960s. But Dad’s newfound wealth led to the Family Project traveling a lot. As I said before, it was an expansive time. So, we hit the road.

Before we moved out East, I recall only one other place we’d gone to, so it claims title as my first “away from home” spot: Bear Lake, Michigan. Right now I have no idea where that is, but we rented a place on the lake and Dad boasted it was near where Hemingway lived in Michigan. (I’ll go fact-check that now. Please wait… Okay, it could’ve been Walloon Lake, but Dad always talked up Bear Lake, so your guess is as good as mine.)

Bear Lake, to my memory, was a rickety thin dock, outboard motor smells, water lapping on a sandy shoreline, a bearskin rug I was supposedly posed upon for a photograph (non-extant). There was an energy around water and my father loved it. We went as far west as Utah, as far north as Maine, as far south as North Carolina’s beaches. Dad took us fishing on the Shenandoah River, we toured Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, Annapolis, Maryland, and were camping in a fold-out trailer tent in Maine when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon in July 1969. I was angry because we had no television, only listening to it on the radio with the kerosene lamps burning loudly and the firepit crackling in the summer night.

We took that camper-trailer everywhere my father could think of: packing his fishing rods, going to picnics and outdoor socials where Mom brought potato salad and there were church ladies with black-rimmed glasses and smoky men in ties and cans of beer and kids running around shyly meeting other kids.

There’s a photo of my brother and I awakened by Dad early morning in a stone cabin somewhere in God-knows-where, freezing in our sleeping bags, the smell of coffee boiling on the ceramic pot over the fire, pine trees scenting the air, and another day on the road with the Chevy station wagon. We stayed at Howard Johnson’s when we weren’t camping, we joined up with Grandma and Grandpa Adams (my mother’s parents) who often took their Winnebago on the road. All I can say is that I came from a restless family. 

It wasn’t always a journey “somewhere else.” My favorite trips were internal. The south wall of our living room was a floor-to-ceiling bookcase filled with mostly Reader’s Digest condensed books, but also Encyclopedia Britannica—and next to the fish tank, and my biggest fascination: National Geographic, particularly the issues on Jacques Cousteau. I pored over those.

Books were my closest companions. Mom bought me an illustrated children’s Bible that I’d still like to see today … the photo-realistic color illustrations were disturbing and immediate: one in particular, of a reedy stream and a body floating in it, horses and Jericho and dusty remote places I’d never seen.

Then there was the presidential history encyclopedia that was heavily illustrated and tracked facts about the presidents. I recall I gave them to my brother to store at his house. He eventually gave them away. Or the Golden Book pocket guides, and especially the Golden Book Encyclopedia, covering everything from ancient Rome to Telstar satellites. I got lost in those things. The images stay with me, the rainy street corner in this Golden Book entry on weather. Or a foggy night. Or stratus clouds, so forlorn above lonely telephone poles, ones I used to see while riding with Grandpa Maupin in his station wagon.

It was like, if you had the right book, you’d have the answer to your questions. It only took finding the right book.

I don’t know what this is, but one afternoon, in Maryland, I can’t remember who it was, whether it was with a school friend, or my brother, or a neighbor kid like John Gottschalk, but we went in search of someone who lived past the horses’ field…someone…was it a girl? Another friend? I thought this person lived in the newly put up housing tract behind the horses’ field.

We didn’t find them. Don’t know why that sticks out in my memory, but I recall how persistent we were to find out.

~ by completelyinthedark on November 7, 2010.

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