Memorial Day is traditionally known as the unofficial start of summer, but I prefer to bestow that honor on the 4th of July. The days after Memorial Day are focused on finishing up the school year and on graduations, so summer fun is still but a vision in the future. As the month of June passes and the days grow longer, summer becomes a reality. School has ended and the classroom doors will not open again until September. No backpacks to fill with books… no lunches to be made… no homework to be done. The beaches beckon and BBQ grills are taken out of storage and readied for those backyard picnic suppers.
July speaks of freedom…and the open road.
The anticipation of Independence Day stirs something within me. My soul yearns to be on the open road traveling across the miles to an unknown destination. There is almost a mystique in the air… something is beckoning me to come and to see. I am a self-proclaimed road warrior. I love nothing more than to watch the countryside flow by from the window of my car. Those hours spent in the car on road trips are the hallmark of summer vacations.
In the summer of 2008, my two sisters and I packed the car and headed East from Arizona bound for St. Louis and a family reunion. My sisters occupied the front seat as the driver and the navigator while I held court in the back seat as “Queen of the Snacks.” It was the perfect vantage point from which to watch the miles roll by. Our goal was to travel as many miles as possible on the “Mother Road” otherwise known as Route 66 and the trip was mapped out well in advance for our arrival on July 3rd. We had secured hotel reservations for every night so we could take our time exploring the beauty of the landscape or the dusty shelves of a kitschy Route 66 road stop.
When we stopped for the night in Springfield, MO, we actually stayed in a motel room reminiscent of the 1950’s motor courts. We parked our car right outside our door and we ate supper at the diner in the motel parking lot. It was as if we had stepped back in time to revisit past vacations with our family. The nostalgic feelings stirred up that night felt like being wrapped in one of my Dad’s big hugs.
The “Mother Road”
Meandering back and forth along Interstate 40, we found miles here and there of the old road known Route 66. It often morphed into a dirt road riddled with potholes and broken chunks of asphalt. The odometer continued to click off the miles as we drove. We passed red rocks and prickly cactus in Arizona and New Mexico, dusty plains in Texas and Oklahoma, and green rolling hills in Missouri. Our trip included stops at the largest cross in the Western Hemisphere, the Barbed Wire museum in Texas, the Oklahoma City bombing site, the Big Blue Whale in Catoosa, Oklahoma, and a Civil War battlefield site found in Missouri. And, of course, every little out of the way Mom and Pop souvenir store we could find.
We ate copious amounts of road trip snacks, took obscene numbers of photos, sang old John Denver and Neil Diamond songs, and laughed our way across the country. We tantalized our taste buds and filled our bellies with smoky BBQ. The genuine hospitality and the greetings we received all along the way truly warmed our hearts.
After 6 days on the road, our journey ended in St. Charles, Missouri as we joined in the reunion festivities. We gathered as an extended family on the banks of the Missouri River to watch the fireworks. I felt a deeper connection to our country and to the American spirit than ever before. The sights and sounds and the people we met on that journey are forever imprinted on my heart.
So, to you, America, I raise my mason jar of sweet iced tea in salute. “Cheers” to the open road and to the red, white, and blue. We truly do live in America the Beautiful.
***As a tribute to our beautiful country, enjoy this song by Lee Greenwood: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KoXt9pZLGM