By Suzy Beal
This is the second episode of a memoir that is unfolding, one chapter each month, here on True Stories Well Told. Stay tuned for more of the adventure as teenage Suzy’s family moves to Europe, builds a sailboat, and takes up life on the high seas. Click here to read the first episode.
Not long after the card game fiasco, we got involved in another game, but this one Dad instigated. Freeway driving was a new experience for us except for Dad who had driven on them in California. He drove up behind a large semi-truck and crept up so close that the wind suction from the truck pulled us along in the van with no need to use the gas. We careened along the freeway behind the truck for miles. Terrified and white-knuckled, Mom hollered “Tom,” putting a stop to this dangerous, but thrilling, sport.
My mind goes to my friends back home and I spend hours thinking of John and what he and Sandy might be doing. John and I had been going steady, I thought, for a year, but on the last day of school Sandy told me she had been dating John, too. Crushed and unhappy, I cried all the way home in the school bus. Will he meet her at the ball games between Newport and Toledo the way he did with me? Will Sandy go to the movies with him? I can’t bear the thoughts and turn them to Clover, my horse I’d had to sell. I hoped she happy in her new home? I’d told Linda, her new owner, “Clover loves oats, so to give her a can full each day.”
Dad picked up Highway 80 heading east. This highway was a part of the new U.S. Interstate Highway system just completed during the Eisenhower administration. The Howard Johnson’s Hotels/Motels and Restaurants were a part of this new plan. We didn’t get to stay overnight in them no matter how much we pleaded, as they were too expensive, but when Dad needed to stop for gas, he pulled into a Howard Johnson’s restaurant for lunch. These motels became a Mecca for us kids. First, they represented a stop, a break from the boredom. Second, their modern complexes reminded us of the restaurants of the future we’d seen in magazines. We spent our pocket money in the gift shops or purchased ice cream cones and wandered around in disbelief.
“These new highways put in by Dwight Eisenhower are amazing, Tom. They make our trip across the country so smooth,” Mom said. They were avid supporters of the Republican Party and fond of Eisenhower and praising his accomplishments. New and clean, these highways looked like speedways we’d seen in movies.
The editor of our High School newspaper The Harbor Light asked me to write to him of the things I experienced in our travels. He said he would publish them in the school paper, so I took notes in a special tablet for that purpose.
Notes to the Harbor Light
Driving through Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois we have seen hundreds of silos filled with corn and wheat. I’m glad to know if we had a war with Russia there was enough food to feed everyone in the U. S.
The new highways are so cool we speed down them going 50 mph.
The days are long and boring, and I am caught between the excitement of this trip we are on and parting from my friends back home.
There were days, out of sheer boredom, we changed places with each other or because of “infighting.” Mom hollered out “Everyone change places, now!” There was no room to stretch out. Our new 1961 VW van wasn’t as big as we’d thought, once we were in it with our luggage. Everyone was sleeping on each other’s shoulders. Cramped and impatient with the miles and miles of wheat and corn fields going by, we hid in our own thoughts.
The further east we traveled towards more populous areas, the more our interest was piqued by the hustle and bustle of the cities. Most of us had never been in a city larger than Portland, Oregon. As we approached Chicago and skyscrapers came into view, they enthralled us. I wanted to share these sights with my friends back home.
“The next city we come to is Gary, Indiana” said Mom as she read from the Trip-Tik. We broke out in song, “Gary, Indiana, Gary, Indiana my home sweet home.” The musical The Music Man was one record we nearly wore out back home.
We spent a few days in Washington D.C. visiting the Rogg family, friends of my parents. We visited The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, The Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument.
Our final destination in the U.S. was New York City. Our bus had a slide-back top, so we asked permission to open it and stand on the seat as we drove through the streets of the city. We took turns because the middle seat was the only one beneath the open top. We craned our necks to see the top of the skyscrapers while fighting each other for a turn to stand on the seat. Dad found a place to park the van and we headed out on foot. We visited the Empire State Building, where Dad took everyone but Mom and me up to the top in the elevator. Mom and I stayed on the ground floor with little Frank, since neither of us liked heights. After everyone descended, we walked the streets, and even saw ourselves on a television that faced the street from a TV studio. Mom insisted on taking us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where Monet’s Water Lilies were on display. I tried to enjoy them because Mom made such a big deal of them. “We are so fortunate to see these paintings of Monet’s. They normally stay in France and are only here on tour in New York during this month,” but what I loved were William Turner’s sea paintings. They were of boats and harbors and familiar things even though of different times. Several showed harbors shrouded in fog; they could have been paintings of Newport.
We parted company with Tommy the next day. He took “La Cucaracha” to board a ship headed for Spain and Mallorca, which was our destination, too, but Dad hadn’t been able to get the van on the same ship as the one we were going on, so Tommy, at age 17, took a different ship with the VW van. Tommy had travel experience since he’s been to Europe with Dad in December, so Dad and Mom figured he could handle this crossing on his own. He was to arrive in Mallorca only two days before us. Dad slipped him money, I assumed, for a hotel and food once he arrived. The smile on Tommy’s face showed he knew he was ready for this adventure, but the look on Mom’s face, her eyebrows drawn together, as she hugged him goodby, showed how worried she was for him.
I worried if Tommy and La Cucaracha would be in Mallorca waiting for us when we arrived.
© 2018 Suzy Beal
Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 Suzy began studying with Sheila Bender at writingitreal.com. Watch for new chapters of her travel memoir to be posted! Please leave comments for Suzy on this post.
Lots of great details about past times. It must have been quite an adventure with your whole family traveling in that van. After reading this, I think I’ll have the “Gary, Indiana” song stuck in my head for the rest of the day! 😉
I am looking forward to reading this whole series. I noticed its from a few years back but I am happy to say that I did find each chapter and have all 19 saved. 😁😁