Dressed in the next day’s clothes, we’d toss and turn with excitement, too wired with anticipation for deep sleep. My heart always skipped a beat at the touch of my mother’s hand on my back. "It’s time to go," she’d whisper softly and break my mirky dreams, but it was never an effort to wake on those early mornings.
Loading our purple Town and Country was a spiritual endeavor. Each year, we used the same luggage and attempted to pack our bags and snacks and coolers exactly as we had so many times before. Everything was the same as before: the blue bathroom bag, the Starbucks iced coffees, the faded towels from the ’90s, the enormous green duffle bag my parents shared. And later, the two kayaks meticulously mounted to the roof rack. We knew better than to deviate from the norm, which inevitably added extra minutes to the long journey ahead.
Once packed like a perfect Tetris board, we’d pile into our purple Town and Country lovingly named "Old Faithful" after our first great trip out west. And, faithful she was to carry the six of us on our fifteen hour trek. These ventures took us east, from western Ohio’s expansive farms to Massachusetts’s congested forests.
With tired eyes and a heart afire, I’d nibble my pop-tarts and watch the world wake. Purple and orange smeared the dark sky, dusting the cornfields in shimmers of color. The sunrise signified we were truly on our way. It was the first box I’d eagerly "check" on my mental list.
The buzz of the wee morning hours often fizzled by the time we reached Columbus, but we were creatures of habit. We had more checkboxes to mark, and each one brought our hearts an easy giddiness.
Lunch was light and fun. I’d dig my mother’s pre-made goodies out of the ice in our cooler, and pass around fluffernutter and deli sandwiches. Each of us kids could also pick a single serving pack of chips or Cheetos, and when I was older, I’d also indulge in one of the Starbucks iced lattes in place of a traditional Capri-Sun. I still remember the exciting "pop" of the lid and sweet aroma that’d erupt from those glass bottles. It was a luxury saved only for our Massachusetts trips, and certainly the catalyst for my coffee obsession.
Then there were the CDs and DVDs. As for music, our compilations were curated with care and affectionately named; I remember "Marshmallow Goatee" and "Grand Canyon Tunes" most vividly. As we crossed from Ohio to Pennsylvania, we jammed to our favorite hits from the likes of: The Traveling Wilburys, Tears for Fears, Jimmy Buffet, Electric Light Orchestra, Billy Joel, Journey, Sting, U2, Heart, America, Toto, and of course the Beatles. And I’m sure many, many more.
Some of my favorite memories of our roadtrips are of my father behind the wheel. Sunglasses on, hair tousled by the wind, fingers intertwined with my mother’s, jaw lifted in carefree song. His soft, sweet voice somehow never failed to carry over our pillow mountains and coolers. I’d hear him from my backseat, and watch his reflection in the rearview mirror. His mind and heart always seemed swept away elsewhere, perhaps to the past when these songs were the anthems of his youth. I wish I could have experienced those days with him, but man I’m grateful for the songs he gifted us. Songs woven into the fabric of my own youth, as if the timelines collapsed and granted us core memories to share.
The movies came next, usually Cars, National Treasure, or Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. Or something similar. We’d snooze in uncomfortable positions—waking for quick bathroom breaks or that one incredible gas station in Ashland, Ohio called Goasis—but when we crossed the boarder, our eyes were on the valleys far, far below.
Pennsylvania was a land from the fairytales. We were Mercer countians, born amid green seas of beans and golden blankets of corn. The fields spanned horizon to horizon, disrupted only by tiny forest islands and little villages. To me, the Appalachian Mountains looked like great fingers bursting through the surface, trying to pinch the clouds … and sometimes they did!
When lazy clouds kissed the road, I was entranced. Wide eyed and moved with emotion, I imagined I was Frodo attempting the Misty Mountains. Or a bird cutting the sky with its wings. Or an ancient people, discovering that sacred range for the first time. I loved the pines, the twists and turns, the towering rock walls blasted from dynamite. Those mountains were magical, ladened with forgotten histories, and reminders of the grand scale of our world.
I wish I could have seen them aflame with color in autumn. Perhaps one day I will…
Thank you for reading Part 1 of my Massachusetts series, where I recall cherished memories from my childhood vacations to our tiny cottage on Lake Lashaway. Part 2 coming soon. ♡