When we were growing up our father use to drive us 63 miles from home to the farm. Every weekend. Over the years my feelings towards these trips vacillated. At some points in my life it was “every weekend of my life, oh super yay!”. Other times it was “every blessed weekend. Oh my God”. No blasphemy intended. Nor vain taking. Just exaspiration.
The traveling of my youth was not the same as today. Today a 63 mile trip today is an hour or less. Depending on who’s driving. Back then it was a minimum of an hour and a half. It was a trip. And, with luggage, food, our own drinking water. Everything needed for every day living for the full number of days we would be gone.
In addition to the actual act of traveling, in my family, there was a hierarchy. A very strict and guarded hierarchy. It even applied to driving.
It went like this:
II. Then everyone else.
This is not an exaggeration. Ask any of the “everyone else”s.
Even in the car/truck/van/camper.
So whatever vehicle dad was driving you can bet there was a boy sitting in the front, shotgun. It was an enviable place to be. You got to see everything. And it was an important place to be sitting. Because it had it’s privileges. It meant you were older, and/or, more important than everyone else in the car. Everyone can try to deny it. But when you have older siblings and they always got that seat and you were crammed into a space with the rest of the brood, you knew you were not as important as that one in the shot gun seat.
So, every weekend we packed in to the vehicle of the day. And made a trip to the farm. Then on Sunday evening we redid everything and had to take a trip back from the farm. And so my life went. And it is also no exaggeration when I say it went on like this for a number of years. Years I tell you, before I ever had the privilege of shot gun. But at some point in my life it finally happened. The time arrived, and there I was, sitting in the front. Shotgun. The vehicle at this point in our lives was an old beater van. I don’t know where dad got it. But the boys fixed it up. Painted it tan. Finished the inside with shag carpet and beanbag chairs. It was night time. Dad nods his head to his left at some point on the trip and says “there it is”.
I said “what?”
He said “you tell me”.
I looked. And looked. And looked some more at the approaching low and long lights. I had no idea. I told him “I don’t know.” I stared, very hard. Because I was not seeing something I thought I should see. What? What?!
He was quite dismayed that I had no idea. He kept questioning me. Forming the question differently: what’s that building? I don’t know; what does it mean when we get here? I don’t know; how far have we gone? I don’t know; how far do we have to go? I don’t know. He seemed convinced if he asked me in the right, different, way I would know exactly what he was talking about.
I did not.
With great surprise and exasperation he explained.
At 31.5 miles there is a building. Off to the left, on the other side of the highway. It’s a motel. Not that I knew what a motel was. And not that I knew the significance of that motel.
The road was much longer to me then, than it is now. And it seems in my memory that we drove that road for many many minutes staring at the upcoming lights. The upcoming lights to something, something my dad thought was important. But I had no idea. Because I had never sat here. I had never been part of the communication shared between him and the boys. I had always been in the back of the truck/van/camper and never been part of the travel education. Up to this point in my life I would get in the vehicle and sleep, or read, or fight with whoever I was crammed in next to. Then we would arrive at the farm and get out. Or, if returning home, get in at the farm, and get out at home.
This was different.
He was talking to me like I knew something. Or should know something. I felt like I was letting him down. It didn’t occur to him that over all of these years where this was now common knowledge to him and the boys that it was not something I had ever been a part of. He had never taught me this.
I was surprised at his surprise.
Finally he told me. That motel marks the halfway point between home and the farm. And on the return trip, it would of course mark the same halfway mark.
It wasn’t long after that trip that dad started to point out to everyone in the car the lights at night, or the sign during the day. And who ever was awake or paying attention would yell out “half way!!!!!”
Today I’m heading to a party and have to pass that motel. It has a different name. But it’s still there. And I still consider it halfway. To where ever I’m going in my life on any given day that I pass it. I have to travel that freeway on different occasions in my life now. Never to go to the place known as my childhood home. And no longer to the place in my history known as the farm.
But I can not pass it without hearing dad tell me it’s halfway. Or without one of my smaller siblings yelling out “half way!!!”
Which is kind of nice. Because no matter how old I get when I get to that half way mark? I feel like I have only gone half way. And I am suddenly very young, with so much to learn. I’ve only gone half way. And for part of that way I didn’t know where I was coming from or where I was going. For part of that way I had dad driving. I pass the half way point every time I go that route. And no matter where I’m going, it is always half way.
And every single time I pass it … for the very briefest moment I have a flashback to sitting shotgun, being with my dad, being naïve, being young, and still only being halfway.
With so much further to go.