When I was a kid, my family didn’t travel much. We didn’t have a lot of money, we weren’t the camping sort, and my dad really didn’t like breaking with routine. So my “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” papers were pretty much a variation on a theme: I read, watched TV, and slept a lot. We were homebodies.
But when we did travel, we always drove. Dad did the vast majority of the driving. Mom would sit next to him in the front. My brother would sit next to one window in the back, and my sister would sit next to the other. I sat in the middle, straddling the hump in the floor, because I was the youngest and smallest. It was close quarters in our 1958 Chevrolet Biscayne. There was, for example, nowhere to go when my brother decided to whistle in my ear all the way from Beaumont to Dallas when we went to Six Flags Over Texas one time. And the car didn’t have air conditioning or seat belts, so it could hardly be characterized as luxury travel.
Two things were sure to be wonderful on each trip, though. One was that many hotels had “Magic Fingers” beds in them. If you inserted a quarter into a slot at the head of the bed, the bed would vibrate. This probably had some sexual uses that we can skip over here, but we kids thought that the vibration was almost as good as the rides at the amusement park. The other thing that was great was that we would always stop at a Stuckey’s along the way.
Just in case you’ve never experienced the joys of a Stuckey’s, let me assure you that a stop there was grand. On a practical level, Stuckey’s was air conditioned and had clean restrooms. But the magical part about Stuckey’s was that the store was a wonderland of stuff for sale. They had pecan candies, commemorative thimbles, gimme caps with American flags on the front, actual cotton bolls in baggies, and soap-on-a-rope in every color and scent imaginable. You could buy impossibly large candy bars and salty snacks like chili peanuts that would necessitate stops at the next two Stuckey’s, one for a giant drink of water and the next for a bathroom break. Witty and sometimes slightly racy postcards filled racks that were as fun to twirl as they were to peruse. I remember one postcard to this day. It pictured a car speeding down an empty highway stretching through a desert; the caption read, “The sun has riz and the sun has set/And here I is in Texas yet.” What literary genius pasted on a card stock rectangle! It was dizzying.
Fast forward a few decades. Mark and I didn’t do lots of driving vacations with our children, but over the past couple of years COVID and the need to bring furniture from Texas to kids settling into homes in the Midwest have prompted us to drive Texas to Ohio and Indiana a couple of times. This trip we’re in a rented Nissan Rogue. It was white when we picked it up at the airport in late March, but currently it’s mostly the color of dust and a few miscellaneous squashed bugs. I can find it in a parking lot because it has Louisiana plates, and those are rare in Indiana.
Our trips have been blessedly uneventful thus far. Mark does most of the driving, but I generally do the midday shift. We listen to books downloaded from the library or from Audible. We’ve mostly chosen light mysteries, but right now we’re listening to Barack Obama recount tales from his early life and first term as President. And our pit stops tend to be at Starbucks if we need coffee or McDonald’s if we’re craving soda. But as the attached picture proves, we did find one of the remaining 117 Stuckey’s in the USA (down from a high of 350-odd shortly after WWII). Out of sheer nostalgia, we stopped at the teal-roofed building for a restroom stop (still clean, although the paper towel holder was jammed) and to see what wondrous goods might be on offer. FYI, Stuckey’s still sells gimme caps and giant portions of candy, although there was nary a soap-on-a-rope in sight.
Our visit to Stuckey’s was a throwback to yesteryear, and it was fun. But as with with most things from the past, I don’t miss it. I didn’t sigh as we pulled out of the parking lot or yearn for what used to be. One of your jobs as an adult is to decide what relationship you’re going to have with your own past. And I’ve decided mostly to leave it behind. Sure, I can chuckle or wince or regret or get gooey about something that happened before – singing silly songs with one of our babies and both of us laughing like crazy, asking a classmate at a reunion about his wife and finding out that they’ve just concluded a bitter divorce, looking at Mark when I got to the altar at our wedding – but mostly the past is, well, past, and I’m ready for it to stay there. The past is a gray country set behind an impermeable barrier. You can’t go there, and you can only vaguely trust what you see.
I know that this attitude doesn’t work for everyone. I’ve been fortunate not to have lost a spouse or a child, for example, so there’s no one in my past I yearn for. My parents are gone, but since I’m in my 60s that’s not surprising. I’ve lost other family members, friends, and pets; I’ve missed opportunities and closed doors that I might, on reflection, have wanted to take hold of. But with each loss I’ve also tried to learn something from it, square my shoulders, and push on. We carry the marks of every win, loss, or draw we ever experienced, whether we relive them in remembrance or not. And I refuse to be held hostage to what was or might have been.
So stopping at Stuckey’s was fine, but never stopping there again is fine, too. Face it, all of us here on this planet are on a road trip we call life, but the catch here is that our cars are different from our rented Rogue. Life only has one gear, and that’s drive. So get comfy in the driver’s seat, grab the wheel, and hit the gas. If you must look in the rear view mirror, only spare it a quick glance. The road awaits.