Across the Country in Reverse

I think my parents were insane.

Yep, I said it.  Insane.

In the early 70’s when we were all little kids, my parents decided to take 6 of us on a road trip from Labrador City to the Calgary Stampede.   Hence my belief that they must be insane.  No one in their right mind would take 6 kids on a road trip across the country unless they had some method of staying out of touch with reality.

We were loud children.  Every so often the loudness was punctuated with, “You crowd are gonna drive yer father off the road!” coming from the front passenger seat.   Sometimes my Dad would throw in an 8-track and we would sing to the old Gaither stuff (which, I guess, was new Gaither stuff then).  But mostly we would just be talking, laughing, rough-housing or arguing.  I always thought my mother was staring straight ahead to help watch the road, but I’m pretty sure now that she was going to her “happy place”.

My big brother Stan and I were the youngest at the time, as my little brother, Dan, didn’t come along until later (that’s a blog for another time).  Thus, Stan and I were relegated to that weird seat that came up out of the floor in the back and faced backwards.  So, my brother and I saw the whole country in reverse.  (We had an especially good view during the road trips when the trailer was not hitched on to the back.)

Then there was Debbie.  Many of us who are a younger child in the family have a “Debbie” big sister.  Don’t get me wrong… she’s a lovely person… now.  Back then, she was not entirely delighted to have a little sister bugging her while she sat for endless hours in the car.  (Personally, I can’t understand why.)  Debbie would get in the car for road trips and would draw an imaginary line down the middle of the seat between us.  She would point her finger at the imaginary line and say, “Do NOT cross this line.  This is MY side, and THAT is your side.”  (She would also do this in the bed that we shared at home.)

Now, it’s a little much to ask a little wee, skinny, fidgety girl to hold imaginary parameters in her head. Let’s just say that I was keenly aware that great woe and sadness would befall the poor little sister who crossed that line.

Back in the day we had no iPods, videos or things to entertain us outside of each other.  My mother would make up silly songs that didn’t make sense, or she would get us to point out interesting things along the way.  Other than that, it was just a lot of “together time”.  Nobody was able to zone out.

Nobody that is, except Donna.  She is my big sister, who always seemed to know how to tune us all out.  She is the quiet type, who appreciated her solitude. She would be absorbed in a book or drawing a picture.  I was quite fascinated by her.  She would always be able to read things in French, and at 9 years older than me, she was like an adult in my eyes.  I hung on every word she said and was enchanted by her creations.  I really wanted to be her, but knew that I couldn’t because I was too loud and silly.  She managed to keep her sanity intact while fending off three little brothers and two little sisters.  She didn’t even have to draw a line on the seat.  All siblings just knew where it was.

My two bigger brothers, Dean and Rick, were the clowns.  They figured out a way to make every situation funny or about meeting girls.  I suppose they must have been good looking, because whenever we parked our trailer somewhere, teenage girls would suddenly appear out of nowhere, just sauntering by with no place to go.   It’s a wonder my mother got any sleep at all.

Now that I’m a “grown-up” and I have attempted the dreaded road trip with just 3 kids, I have realized that the whole thing is insane.  The “holiday” part of a family road trip only belongs to the children.  For the parents, this is a massive undertaking and an incredible amount of work.  For my parents, there were 6 kids to pack up, 8 sets of meals to be either bought or prepared every day, 8 ice cream cones to carry from the store to the car, 8 people’s laundry to bring to a laundromat, 8 bathing suits to keep track of, endless fights to referee, and miles and miles of road stretched ahead.

But that’s the life you choose when you choose to parent.  My parents sacrificed a lot in energy, sanity and finances to provide vacations for us.  Their investment in family holidays has paid off in a family that is bonded across many miles and in memories that have endured for years.  They are memories that will always be in our hearts as a family as we move down the road that is stretched ahead of us.

…or behind us, if you’re sitting in the back.


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