It says something about Wisconsin winters that my parents decided to pack all five kids into the Country Squire, tie the suitcases onto the roof, and head off on the 1300 mile drive to sunny Florida over Easter vacation. And we did this more than once, if I remember right. What an ordeal to go through, just to get a little sunshine! We weren’t even in Chicago yet, when the questions started coming:
“Are we there yet?”
“How many more minutes?”
“Look! There’s a Stuckey’s!! Can we stop? I gotta go to the bathroom!”
“Mom I think I’m going to throw up!”
I still have some fairly vivid memories of my spot in “the way back” and the smell of carsickness, my father rolling down the window and resting his left arm on the car door so that he arrived in the Sunshine State with two differently colored arms. I remember my brothers reading “Hardy Boys” mysteries and the radio stations turning country with their DJs’ starting to drawl. We did not wear seat belts and sometimes traded places on the fly. We didn’t sing show tunes, but there were some games played. Who would be the first to find a word on a billboard or license plate that starts with “A”?
Sometimes the sun would set and the car would go quiet except for the soft murmurs coming from the front seat, my parents quietly discussing something I couldn’t quite make out and probably wouldn’t have understood anyway. But that sound was so comforting and soporific. They were in their thirties at the time. With their five kids asleep in the station wagon behind them and a week of sunshine and sandy beaches ahead.
Strangely, it was something utterly awful in today’s political news that steered my thoughts back in time to these ancient memory road trips – but I am not sure exactly why. I only know that I am suddenly nostalgic and mourning something lost.
I’ve been following the downs and downs of this election season too closely. I’m in danger of finally comprehending a concept that I’ve been lucky enough to elude my entire life: hatred. I might have to unplug – say “Goodbye! See you next winter!” to Rachel and Chris – before politics turns any more of my innocent, inner child memories into nightmares.
I’m in “the way back” on a trip through Bizarroland and I still smell the puke. Instead of my father, Donald Trump is at the wheel with his butler historian riding shotgun. There are no soft murmurs coming from the front seat now, just one debasing, intelligence-insulting commentary after another, increasingly hateful and violent in tone as we all head south. All the other drivers on this road are angry and aggressive too. There is no sunny destination at the end of this trip. We are just putting distance between ourselves and my hometown before the nukes are dropped to rid it of the “muzzies”. Part of me is morbidly curious about just how crazy bad this ride is going to get. Are we there yet? The other part just hatched plans to get out and run away at the next Stuckey’s. How many more minutes?