Being six in 1954 was eventful. In the summer, my dad piled the three of us into our 1953 two-toned green DeSoto, full of the aroma of new car. We headed out to see my paternal grandmother, aunts and cousin in Texas, where my dad was born and raised, and then Utah, where my mother spent her middle childhood and teen years. It was a great adventure, in the days when most families took long car trips and almost no one flew, except in the movies. I cannot say that I remember much of the vast scenery, because I was in the big back seat nearly all the time and could only see sky and occasional trees from my eye level, below the car windows. But I could nap there and it was like having my own playroom. I was not aware of ever having spent so much time with both of my parents at once, either. They talked or sang in the front seat, and it felt so familial, so special, so American. We stayed in motels and my mother let me take the little Best Western soaps wrapped in paper. I had thought it might be stealing, but she said it was okay, we were paying for even the extra ones.
The stops I remember are: Dallas, where I met my grandma, my Aunt Carol, from whom I got my first and almost never-used name, my only first cousin on my dad’s side, Burney; and my Aunt Billie. My mother queried them in Grandma Allen’s living room: “Why do you say, ‘Y’all’? Why don’t you say, ‘All of you’?” My Texan relatives laughed and considered those questions unnecessary to answer. I felt a little embarrassed and sorry for my mother. It was just the way they talked.
Next was Nacogdoches, where my dad was born, and near where I met my ancient (age 89) great-grandfather Robert Sims Allen, who was deaf and nearly blind but could spit across the room into a spittoon, something I thought an amazing (though stinky) feat of intuition. (I always thought he was much older at the time, say, at least 95, given the few faculties he seemed to have at his disposal. Having done my genealogy in my fifties, I learned his true age. He had fought in the Confederacy; his uncle by marriage, Jay Cooke, had financed the Union side of the war, a heartache that many families divided into north and south had faced. Great-Grandpa Allen died at 96. I cannot imagine how he functioned that long –presumably by sheer will –and with the help of his competent and kind nurse attendant, referred to as a “Negro” in those days.) My father was very proud to have me meet his grandfather, though it was hard to tell if the feeling was mutual, given the old man’s silence.
Then there was San Antonio, where we saw the Alamo, which I thought was spectacular, with its interior courtyard and flowers (besides, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier! Geronimo!). I was fascinated by this beautiful, open architecture and thought it would be wonderful to live in a place that had an open ceiling and plants inside. My mother’s home in Ogden, a shabby little house with asphalt shingled siding, left me a little demoralized about her past. I had imagined a big stucco two-story home where she and her nearly dozen siblings had grown up. And we also visited my mother’s brother Charles, in Wyoming, where my aunt Anna was giving birth to my cousin Bob, who was named for my dad. When we went to the hospital to visit, I fell going up the concrete steps and knocked myself out, resulting in my being taken back to the house, where I awakened disappointed to have not seen the new baby. (Bob and I are now good friends on Facebook.)
That was the only big vacation my parents and I took together, due to my father’s untimely death later on that year. But it instilled in me the travel bug, and although my mother hated to travel, I’ve hit the road or taken to the skies at every opportunity, despite my disability.