The drive was eighteen hours long, I40 most of the way through desert and mountains and finally the endless flat of Oklahoma and Kansas. Sometimes we did in one day, sometimes it took two.
We almost always traveled the same path, but sometimes my dad would switch it up and take a different route; up through Oklahoma City instead of cutting through the panhandle of the state.
I was the youngest and my spot was in the middle. I was too young to sit by the doors they told me. No seat belts or car seats. I liked being sandwiched between my two brothers-“the boys” as they were known in my family. I was the baby and only girl.
They tried to act cool and ignore me, but I wouldn’t let them for too long. “Where are we now, how much longer, and are we close yet?” Were some of my favorite pestering questions. It wasn’t long before they taught me to watch for familiar landmarks and how to follow a map.
We stopped in the same cities each year for gas and meals. My favorites were Santa Rosa and Tucumcari. I think I liked the way that they rolled off my tongue. Albuquerque had the prettiest rose colored lights as you entered the city limits. Those lights told me we would be stopping soon, and we were one day closer to “the farm” where my grandparents would be waiting.
Sometimes my mom would pack our meals- beef heart thinly sliced on white bread for one brother- fried chicken for the other. The faster we ate the sooner we could get back on the road.
Breakfast was my favorite. We were often treated to those little cereal boxes you open from the side and pour milk straight in the box. The boys had their pick, then me- SnAp, CrAcKle and PoP greeted me as I leaned my ear in. “Watch your hair,” the boys would warn. But I didn’t care ice cold milk and singing Rice Crispies on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere was the best way to start the morning.
Some years we’d stop at truck stops and eat with other weary travelers and the truckers that ruled the interstate. I liked the ones with the little juke boxes right in the booths. Crystal Gale crooned about her brown eyes turning blue and Tanya Tucker was doing the San Antonio Stroll back in those days. The boys struggled with who play John Denver or Charlie Rich.
There were no video games, dvd players, or ipods on our trips. I had a sketch pad, color books, and a brand new pack of sixty-four crayons to keep me occupied. The boys had a deck of cards. I was often the table, or banished to the floorboard to color.
Eighteen hours and five states every summer was all worth it when one brother leaned forward in his seat and called “I’m going to see the farm first!”
It didn’t matter that I was the youngest and stuck in the middle I knew I would never be first. It didn’t matter. We had made it once again.
As young as I was-I knew we had just left our house in the desert to travel HOME to “the farm.”