We didn’t have much money when I was a kid. Indeed, by any government definition, we were poor. So when my mother, a long-time widow, said she was selling the piano we had for many years to finance a trip across the U.S., I said I would use my savings from work to go with her. Callow youth I was, I thought she was “old” (she was 54), and it would be her last chance. I thought the college student was doing her a favor.
A school teacher who rented a room from her agreed to go along. The three of us set out in a 1956 Chevy with ninety-eight thousand miles on it. Back then, a car was really doing well if it reached one hundred thousand miles. My uncle took me aside and said he didn’t think we would make it, that I should call him if we broke down and he would send the money to get us home. We did get caught in Las Vegas in the worst sandstorm to that date. The sand didn’t do the car any good and our gas mileage declined, but the transmission didn’t fall out until we got home after thirteen thousand miles on the road.
The Interstate system was barely begun, and we never drove on it. We looked for motels with rooms at ten dollars a night. We drove south from Pennsylvania on U.S. 11 and then across Tennessee to Oklahoma City (where a relative had a room for them and a couch for me). I was thrilled to cross the Mississippi and appalled by the share-croppers’ shacks. A fan of TV’s “Route 66,” it was fun to be on the actual road through New Mexico and Arizona into California.
We didn’t have the money to ride on anything in Disneyland, but we did see the park. We didn’t have the money to spend much time anywhere, but we did see some great National Parks: The Smokey Mountains, The Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Sequoia, Crater Lake and Yellowstone. We saw the Acoma “sky city” when it was still a poor native-American village back a long dirt road far from the main highway.
I started by saying we were “poor,” but poor was only defined by dollars. My father died when I was nine. It was a time when my mother literally kept track of every dime she earned and spent. But even then, she found a way to take us on vacation – usually staying with a relative or friend – and opened my eyes to adventure found seeing new places. A couple years after this trip across the country, she remarried. She and her new husband got a trailer, took many road trips together and continued to explore the U.S. for many years. So have I, a beneficiary of her legacy of the open road.
I have written about interesting foreign places, but it is my greatest hope that someone reading this post and others in RalieTravels also might be inspired to explore the U.S.