Panelled station wagons guzzled their way down many highways in the 70’s. Convenient? Yes. Stylish? Debatable, as were shaggy mutton-chop sideburns and highrise hairdos. Those of us who were kids didn’t know style. We slogged our way through in polyester brown pants and orange striped cotton shirts. The only joy we had, sometimes, was riding backwards – free from restraint – in those matching brown and orange metal boxes. Making faces through the glass at clearly unhappy, suspecting drivers to the rear, we knew of no internet, cable, or cell phones. A snack, or two, held our attention … and, of course, the adult at the wheel in the car behind who was the audience of our pre-teen antics.
This was our station in life. None of us knew anything different at the time. Grocery store, scouts, school, … a trip to Grandma’s house a few blocks away, whatever the reason, to ride in reverse was a treat. A middle seat plunker was doom and meant something happened – something serious in the familial universe. The overstepping of a boundary (admittedly, a line I was quite capable finding – frequently) or, simply, space were two reasons back bench bliss wasn’t available to three knee scrubbers growing up in a lower-middle income household.
My dad taught school and mom hung around home raising three kiddos. An easy decision for her. She was built to be a mom. Take a bucket full of qualities that make up a great mom and you could paint the most beautiful of mansions. Colors vibrant with care, love, compassion, music, food, touch, humor, faith, and … well, mom… made up a palate of wonderfulness.
Dad painted houses in the summer to earn extra money for a yearly trip to Ocean City. This was his release from occupation hell – as he would define his life. Love for family, as most likely defined by his generational genes, was an unwavering commitment to the job(s) he had to do. Man’s work was love for family. The yearly 7 hours jaunt to the same beach … same hotel … same efficiency room … gave him a much needed break from himself and his routine. If you caught the irony, it was intended. And if you can see where I got some of my OCD issues, kudos as well.
These trips were packed with dogs and suitcases, so riding in the back bench seat was impossible. Yes, this was a space problem. Three kids in the middle due to non-discplinary concerns, for once. A sort-of long trip from 4 a.m. to noon traveling down interstates to a very familiar beach town where people of different colors, shapes, and sizes could be seen slathering themselves with smelly oils and eating their Fisher’s boardwalk fries.
With very little to do in that confined paneled prison, I discovered a love of puzzle books. Specifically, “Variety” books. If I found moments of peace among my younger brother flicking boogers or Cheetos at me, these gems of pencil-pickers captivated my hours between eating P&J’s and the occasional window stares. These graphite grapplers kept the boredom at bay as the ba-dum of each tire over the concrete of the interstate could’ve driven the strongest willed off into the emotional median abyss.
The bridge between youth and adulthood is narrowed and shortened during a crisis. It is for me, anyway. I look back at my childhood – an obvious reverse of time – to hold my present hand. In front of me is a very puzzle book I used to unfold many years ago. Acrostics, Crosswords, SumTotals, …. all my old friends. And, of course, word searches. To this very day, I do not do them. Ironic.
As I sat down, this morning, I couldn’t find the words to write. Sentences? All the more difficult when words themselves don’t easily appear in my brain. It truly is the station wagon of the times. An ugly reality that is here and we must face – in reverse while others stare back in disbelief, anger, or malaise.
The words we choose are seen and heard by everyone … especially if we throw them “out there” for consideration on the public freeway of informational bias. They’ll get run over, skidded on, tramped, judged, weathered, and remembered.
Yesterday, I posted a simple poll result. It was reported 72% of PA residents approve of our Governor’s job performance. I took an independent position on the matter, assuming an information-only, non-pot-stirring stance. The number seemed a bit high based upon my recent FB wall post in the midst of this pandemic “thing”.
The comments and responses would not surprise you. Left, right, conspiracy, bias, fake news, polls and wrong, … all manners and forms of opinions. Words.
The Washington Post, from which the MSNBC broadcast I pulled the poll, was challenged as biased. The ugly station wagon stuffed full of opinion.
Opinions are good. I’m not challenging the basic tenent here. Problem is: nobody is going to change theirs. The station wagon is still going to the same hotel … the same beach … the same …
I just wonder. What are we trying to do? All I hear are people searching for the right words to say – everyone wants to hear – but nobody is willing to listen. It’s the greatest word search puzzle of all-time and we’re all stuck facing backwards in an ugly station wagon.
Hope the people in the car behind us know what’s going on. Let’s all make a silly face so we can get a reaction. Maybe it’ll lighten the mood a bit and they’ll have a word, or two, for us in return. When looking in the rear-view mirror once we find ourselves in the driver’s seat again, hopefully we’ll see what was left behind from lives, choices, and words we clung to. What’s ahead is an open road of ideas and opportunities for all of us to take that may … just may … help form sentences all of us can agree on.