There is a memory I carry of being the little child in the front seat who couldn’t wait to get promoted to the freedom of the back seat.
This was the era of going for rides as entertainment. “But where are we going?” I often asked.
The answer was that we weren’t going anywhere, we were just going for a ride.
We loaded up, usually on a lazy Sunday afternoon, and traveled a great many country roads to nowhere.
I have a feeling that those early cars of my childhood, mostly 1950-something sedans, didn’t even have seat belts. There was nothing to fear, evidently.
Though I now know otherwise, my wise old parents didn’t seem scared of anything, and the road was wide open for those long, rambling, rides my parents loved.
It was a way of getting away from the farm without the stress of arrival anywhere, and no need to watch the clock. Traffic was incredibly light, as every family we knew only had one car, and no one had a busy schedule to keep.
I sat, stifled by their protective arms that jutted out automatically to hold me in place when braking to a stop. I felt loved to pieces but very much under the thumb of parenting in that front seat while listening to my three older sisters playing silly road games, singing and generally floating free, a whole world away in that big back seat.
As the seasons rolled on and I was at long last released and promoted to explore the world on those rides from an entirely new perspective, I couldn’t see up out of the windows like my sisters could.
“Hey, there’s a cute little bunny!” one of my sisters would proclaim, knowing bunnies were my favorite thing in the whole world. I carried a worn-out, stuffed rabbit every place I went. The rush was on to climb from the floorboard to the seat and peer out the big windows.
“Where?” I would ask with grand excitement.
“Ah, gee, ya just missed it!” my sisters would tell me. Every single time.
So, climbing into the back window well became my dream spot. It was the best place in all the world, watching the countryside unfold behind us, the warm sun intense in that enclosed shelf. I was sure it was designed for the youngest kid in every American family.
On our trips to nowhere, I was allowed to stay there for a little while, but if we approached a town or Dad needed to park, I had to clear that deck.
Dad was checking crops while getting away from his own. We might stop for an ice cream cone if we were lucky, but that was a rare treat.
Sometimes, Mom packed a picnic of sandwiches, apples and cookies, with water in a thermos, and we would find a roadside park to enjoy our simple meal.
Often, though, we started out and returned home with nothing but the experience of a long car ride, a few more miles on the family car.
“Home again, home again, jiggety-jig!” my mother would say with great cheer as we arrived back home, just in time for chores.
We had so little, but in my memories, my parents seemed so happy, so in love, excited to be building a farm and a family in a community they embraced.
We were a lucky bunch, and I wouldn’t trade my childhood for an entire valley filled with silver and gold.
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