As I wrote last time ... because many of my dad's relatives lived out in Oregon, we took several long car trips out there during my childhood--trips I loved. And, as I also said the other day, I still love going on long car trips.
But what did we do, we three lads in the back seat (yes, the back seat: we rarely got to ride up front--just as Mom rarely drove; Dad did the vast majority of it--a generational thing: Joyce's dad also did all the driving on their family jaunts, even though her mom was a far better driver)?
Need I say that we had no Backseat Technology in those days? No videos, no computer games (no computers!), no smart phones, no iPods, no iAnythings except iBored. Occasionally, Dad would turn on the radio for the news or a score of a ballgame. But that was it. We had to generate all our own entertainment in the back seat. And here are some of the things we did.
- Stared out the window. This was actually entertaining for much of the way. The prairies--the Rockies--the high desert--this was the geography I knew well--from our travels, from the many Westerns on TV in those days, from my imagination. For, you see, I saw myself out there--on a white horse--white hat (of course!)--two six-guns in gilded holsters--guarding the Dyers' journey into the West. Looking out for the Bad Guys.
- Talked with my brothers. This was easier with Dave (four years younger) because I was immature. Very immature. I had much more in common with Dave than with my older brother, Richard, who was three years ahead of me by the calendar, decades in other ways. Dave and I would talk about Westerns, the Three Stooges, the Mickey Mouse Club. Richard disdained all that. He read fat novels written by people with unpronounceable names; he liked--no, loved--classical music and opera (what a weirdo); he thought popular culture was all crap. Oh, and sports he had no use for, either. He could run very fast--faster than either Dave or I could run--but he didn't care. Track coaches wanted him. Too bad. He had a fat novel to read, a long opera to listen to.
- Talked with our parents. We did this quite a bit, actually. They knew things. And some of those thing I wanted to know. Things about geography and history, especially. And I always loved Dad's family stories. Times he got in trouble with his brothers. That kind of thing. Mom's stories were a little more boring: She was the daughter of a preacher and sometimes looked at the males in the car as if they had arrived straight from Weird World.
- Played board games. Checkers could happen in the back seat, but you had to be careful. Mom made up a staring-out-the-window game called "Cowpoker." You counted the number of cows on your side of the car; first one to a hundred won. We rarely got that far, though, because whoever was behind--way behind--would just quit competing. Pretend it wasn't important. Who cares about dumb Cowpoker!? Only the winner cared.
- Read books. We always brought along piles of library books with us. Richard was always reading in the car, back slightly turned away from us, as if to say, I'm reading. I'm important. Don't bother me. I'll kill you if you do. I invariably had biographies of Western heroes--or sports' stories--some of which I'd read repeatedly. Schools had not yet invented the evil of Summer Reading, so there was never any of that to deal with. So we read books that were fun.
- Got violent. Sometimes, you know, you just have to punch a brother. It's in our DNA. Can't be helped. So here's a story to end today's segment ...
In 1959 we took our last family trip to Oregon--the last with all five of us packed into a 1956 Pontiac station
Anyway, 1959. We took the northern route--up through Michigan, hung a left on Route 2, all the way to Glacier National Park and down into Oregon. Well, somewhere out there (was it going? or returning? can't remember), little brother Dave (he was 11) responded to the instructions of his DNA. Richard had been reading the novel Warlock (no--it's not about a supernatural being--it's a novel by Oakley Hall, a novel, oddly, based on Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral--that story was already consuming me). Why Richard was reading Warlock is beyond my imagination. He didn't normally read Westerns--he read Dickens and Thackeray and those other unreadables. (I just looked: It was published in 1958, nominated for a Pulitzer (a finalist, in fact)--that's why he was reading it.) (Hall would later write a Billy the Kid novel--Apaches. Billy: My hero.)
Anyway, he was reading Warlock. Both Dave and I were preternaturally bored. We'd traded insults, a few light blows, received some admonitions from the front seat. We stopped.
Dave looked over at Richard--who'd just graduated from Hiram High School. Lost in Warlock. Turning pages in an annoying manner. Sitting there in annoying manner. Breathing in an annoying manner. Having an annoying face. Wearing annoying clothes. Living in an annoying manner. There was only one thing to do ...
Dave leaned over and delivered a vicious straight right hand to Richard's jaw. No warning. Pow!
Richard yelped, struck back. Dave yelped. Dad barked from the front seat. Richard! You are about to be a college student. Punching a fifth grader!
Richard warbled and burbled as he was wont to do. Dad was firm. Richard pouted, whispered a dark promise of revenge. I looked at Dave with a new-found respect. This boy rules! (Not a saying in 1959. Deal with it.)
And now we had a great family story that one of us retells just about every time we get together.
Just yesterday--in the grip of nostalgia--I sent Dave, via Amazon, a copy of Warlock. It's probably time to read it--but probably not around Richard.