It was still dark when my father woke us. A moment's worth of grogginess was followed by a rush of unbridled joy: Vacation to Missouri! Grandparents! Trees! Water! Fishing!
The trip to Missouri was an annual pilgrimage when I was a kid in New Mexico. We endured the dust, drought and boredom of desert living for 50 weeks a year. Only the anticipation of two weeks in the hills of southwest Missouri made life tolerable. Dad would pack up the station wagon the night before, then wake us around 3 a.m. to get an early start. Within an hour, we kids would be asleep in the back of the car.
Sometimes we would first stop in Eastland, Texas, and visit Dad's mom, Frankie. We liked her, but there wasn't much to do there and we were still in the desert of west Texas. She lived a frugal life. The house water came from a pond which was full of frogs. My cousin would bring his pellet gun and shoot them. Drinking water came in large metal containers delivered by a neighbor. We usually spent a night or two, then pack up and head on to Missouri.
Time flows differently in a child's mind. Travel by auto seemed endless. We played games in the back seat and complained when our parents smoked, which is probably why us kids never became smokers. We read the billboards as they rushed by. Signs for Stuckey's food stores popped up every few miles, telling us the distance to the next convenient exit and advertising tasty treats. I always wanted a pecan log, but Dad said they weren't any good. The only way to get him to stop was to insist that we needed a bathroom break. I usually talked Mom into buying some comic books to read on the way. Never got a pecan log though.
When we made Oklahoma we got on the Turner Turnpike. Now we could make some time! But Dad never seemed to make the 75 miles per hour speed limit. All that horsepower and he kept it at a steady 60. I remember reading the speedometer because I would hang over his shoulder and comment on his driving. This usually resulted in a hand thrown in my direction. Note to those under the age of 30: We ignored seat belts back in those days.
The last few miles of the journey were exciting. And nauseous. The last stretch of road was a series of steep hills; we were flat-landers. For some reason, Dad enjoyed speeding up on the downslopes to zoom up the next hill. I believe I experienced weightlessness a couple of times! But we knew we were almost there.
After what seemed like days on the road, we arrived to hugs from our grandparents. We ran through the yards and pasture in bare feet, climbed trees and chased squirrels. Grandpap would let us have some of his Formosa oolong tea at breakfast, and Granny made strawberry jam from the berries we picked at Neff's Farm. Her kitchen always smelled like sulfur water and berries. We swam and fished in the nearby creek and lake. We encountered ticks, chiggers and humidity, all new to us. We explored the old general store my grandfather used to own next door. He kept his lawnmowers and tools there. The smell of oil-soaked wood floors and smoked ham lingered in the air. We would wander in the woods to find sassafras, berries and mushrooms. At night, we chased fireflies, ate the fish we caught and told ghost stories.
Yes, time does flow differently in a child's mind. Two weeks seemed more like two days, but we had to pack up and go home. The return trip was always quiet. We replayed the good times over and over in our minds. The car radio kept up a running commentary to cover the silence. We would arrive home to a yard full of overgrown stickers and briars. A layer of dust seemed to cover everything. The dry desert heat parched our skin once again.
Just fifty more weeks to go.
-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.Editorial on 08/21/2019
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