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Me, My Family, and a Minivan

Tamara Keith

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Dad is my Pilot
(Tamara Keith)
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Tamara: It was the summer of 1995. My brother was nine, and reading what I wrote back then, I can only figure I was a bit of a punk teenager. Here's my first column written just before the trip:

For the next six weeks I will be putting up with my little brother, motion sickness, unfriendly locals, and strange insects (I've heard Texas has some really huge mosquitoes), all on the quest to find America, or what's left of it. ...This trip is just another episode in my father's ongoing mid-life crisis. Thirty years ago, he went on a trip around the country, and now that my brother and I are old enough to 'appreciate it,' he plans to give us the same experience. It seems that my father has roped us into his most recent nostalgia trip.

My dad, Donn, explains his reasons for taking this road trip this way, "Well, I was thinking that it would be a really great bonding experience for the whole family."

The whole family got together recently and reminisced about the trip:

"It just sounded like another one of dad's road trips where we just drive and drive like 400 miles a day, and we won't stop to go to the bathroom," mom says.

Donovan was more optimistic: "Dad was really big into this trip, and so I was thinking it's going to be really pretty awesome."

It was all carefully planned. Our space-shuttle- shaped minivan stopped at virtually every major attraction and national park this country has to offer.

"I remember we passed a sign that said, 'free taters for out of staters,' and then we drove to the place where they had free taters for out of staters," Donovan says.

"Do you remember a place called Wall Drug?" asks Mom.

Seven weeks. We were gone seven weeks.

"How did we survive?" Donovan asks.

We were fueled by candy and books on tape and arrived in Washington DC just in time for the Fourth of July fireworks show on the National Mall. At that point, the inside of the minivan had seen plenty of its own fireworks.

I don't remember what we argued about, but Mom and I were going through a tough stage back then. Dad usually sided with me, and then she'd say we were ganging up on her. That day Mom had a headache--or maybe she just said she did. She stayed at the hotel while Dad, Donovan and I camped out on the Mall for six hours in a thunderstorm. We were in the middle of this muddy drunken mess, but it was on Dad's itinerary, so there we were.

The next stop was New York City. We saw some plays on Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street...and we went to a Starbucks. It felt so New York.

Then it was on to Disney World, and soon we were driving through the tobacco fields of the South. Here's one of my snottiest columns:

The Deep South. The whole concept of being in 'The South' really freaked me out. I've always had a theory that my California girl attitude (speaking without being spoken to, putting my elbows on the table, and refusing to say "yes Ma'am" and "no Sir") could get me thrown into an alligator pit or at least a close encounter with corporal punishment, and I didn't want to test it out.

God, I was bad back then. You know that age. I was the center of the universe.

"You did kind of look out for yourself," Dad says.

"You were a bratty brattersteen," Donovan adds.

It's all true. After a week at Disneyworld, we spent a couple of days in New Orleans.

And then with the minivan pointed towards home, we drove further and faster each day. We did take one detour, though, to downtown Oklahoma City. It had only been a few months since the bombing of the Federal Building there.

This is what I wrote:

For me, and most of my generation, this event will always be remembered. I will personally identify with the bombing as a tragic part of my life history. In much the same way as my parents and grandparents relate to the assasination of JFK or Pearl Harbor.

I know it sounds dramatic, but that was such a powerful, painful experience for my 15-year-old self. There were a lot of things on the trip that mean even more now than they did back then. We were so lucky to see New York City before 9/11, and to experience New Orleans pre-Katrina.

"Those places will never be the same as they were when we went, and those memories that we have of those places we'll own for the rest of our lives," Dad says now.

"That was our great time to be together as a family and it may never happen again," Mom adds.

My parents still have a minivan, but we're rarely in it together. My brother moved six hours south to Los Angeles last year, and now my husband and I are planning a cross country drive of our own--we're moving to Washington, DC.

"It's kind of like the end," Mom says. "You're moving away, he's gone. Here we are, ready to retire in three or four years, and yeah, it's a great memory. It's a really great memory."


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