Monday, March 29, 2010

A Ride in the Country

In the 1940s entertainment had to be simple and cheap and for our family, going for A Ride in the Country fell into this category.

Unlike some other applications, in this instance “cheap” and “easy” did not mean the same thing at all. Although the cost was limited to the price of some carefully rationed gasoline and maybe an extra quart of oil, very little about our family rides in the country ever proved to be easy.

To begin with everyone had to “get cleaned up”. This meant we had to wash faces and hands, put on shoes and make sure everyone had on underwear. If I take a minute I can feel again the child that was me and the excitement of that preparation and the urgency in the fear of being left behind.

The logistics alone would stop most people in today’s world. When I was very small Dad would drive, and when I was older it was my oldest brother. Mom and one of my older sisters sat next to him in front. Most often it was Kathryn because her legs were shorter and it was easier for her to get out of the way when it came time to shift. (It was a floor shift thing you know.) One or another of the children who got stuck boarding with us while their parents did who knew what..who knew where would be on Mom’s lap.

So that left the back seat for my other older sister, her baby girl, my two other brothers, my third sister and myself. I was too small to deserve a whole seat space and too large to stand between someone’s knees or sit on a lap so I generally rode stretched out on the shelf at the rear window. I remember it being very hot but I liked the privacy. Believe it or not, more often than not, someone would bring along a friend. Yes, we actually had friends who looked forward to our family doings as much as we did. I don’t remember where they sat.

The car I remember most was a box-like little Chevvie sedan. I saw one again at a car show a few years ago and I could not believe how small it was!

The road to the highway was a mile-long series of hills that caused us all to clutch each other going down and to hold our breath, lean forward and exert a communal mental energy urging the little car to make it to the top, on the way up. Everyone relaxed a little when we made it to the highway but only until whoever was driving started cussing and waggling the steering wheel around. That meant we had a flat.

No Drive in the Country was ever completed without at least one, and sometimes two or three, flat tires. Tires and their tubes were the bane of any ride in the country. The flat-repair process was rather complicated and ate up a lot of time. Everyone had to get out so the back seat could be raised up so the jack and patching stuff could be reached. The car was jacked up. The driver, whose job this generally was because everyone else was either too little to be much use or had wandered off looking for a bush or some wild plums or just to not have to hear the loud shouting and cussing, did a lot of shouting and cussing. When the flat was fixed everyone got back in and we went on until the next flat occurred.

There were other entertaining reasons to go for a drive …

We always tried to catch explosions, house fires and floods. This kind of news was easily obtained by phone through insistent rings on the party line. Even if it wasn’t our ring..(we all had a code..say two longs and a short..or a short and three longs etc..) an unusual amount of phone activity meant something was happening and everyone was bound to listen.

House fires generally occurred at night and because of the urgency of the thing the “getting cleaned up” part was minimal. No one could see if your face or hands were dirty and no one worried about whether you had on underwear. Floods had to wait for the weekend and sometimes were disappointingly receded and we had to be content with looking at dirt marks on the sides of buildings where the water had been. The only thing that exploded with any regularity was the feed mill in NKC.

The day we went to Sears to get the new console phonograph was memorable. It was hard to find room for it but my brother managed. The very first fish I ever caught..a beautiful Gar for those who fish.. stiff with rigor mortis..rode home on the floorboards at Daddy's feet.

The hot August day my very first niece came home from the hospital was, of course, a family event. We all got cleaned up, piled in the car and went to escort the new parents from the hospital…track them to their tiny upstairs apartment and watched while a very nervous young father tried to stuff her baby arms into a soft shirt.

A few years later I recall Daddy taking a smaller crew, diminished by time and the departures of adulthood, to see a straw stuck into an oak tree by a tornado at Excelsior Springs. Evidently, by the time we got there, someone had pulled out the straw because we never could find a tree with a straw sticking out of it.

They just don’t make entertainment like they used to.

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