Wednesday, March 24, 2010


We were the lucky ones. We did not have to cook our meals over open fires. He did not walk a mile every day to gather our water or our firewood. We could read, and we had homes with wooden floors and sometimes carpeting. In the entire vast world, through all the ages, we were the lucky ones to get to be born in our time and our place. I knew this early on, and it has been a great blessing in my life to appreciate what many take for granted.
We did not always have a car when I was a kid. But we had bikes, and Ann Marie’s had a basket on the front, so if the three of us little girls (we were known as the three little girls in our family…I know, that’s a bit ironic now, don’t you think?)…anyway, if the three of us rode together to Foodland, about a mile away, we could handle getting a gallon of milk and some bread and maybe a little meat and veggies home, no problem. Lib and I could hold a grocery bag in one arm and steer with the other. A.M. got the heavy stuff in her basket. It’s a rock solid good thing for kids to feel ownership in helping out. And it’s a good thing for us to go without a car once in a while, because it makes us appreciate even old clunkers, as long as they work.
For a few years we did own a blue station wagon. We all fit in that one and we didn’t have to ask for rides to church. Church was kind of far away. Everywhere else we could walk or bike. We didn’t always have the money for gas though, so Mom taught us this very cool game of laying our heads on the seat back as she accelerated uphill. Then she’d put the car in neutral on the downhill. At the very bottom, you could sort of feel when the energy shifted; we would thrust our upper bodies forward to try to get us a little mileage under the wheels before we had to use the gas again. We pumped our weight forward until the car almost stopped, then she’d put the transmission in drive and let the pistons do the work. Sometimes, if we were extra lucky, the trick got us to the top of the hill and we could coast down the next one too. Great memories!
I have many wonderful memories of riding in that car. In the summer, after school was out, Mom scrubbed and organized and caught up on laundry. She laid out our matching summer outfits, a stack on each of our beds. We usually got new underwear and a new shorts outfit for the “summer trip.” The summer trip was always to the same place, IDAHO! Even the name was magical to us. I loved the anticipation of the trip in the car almost as much as the vacation itself. This was in the day before “laws”. There were no seat belts. No speed limits. There was not cassette, or 8 track, or CD, or iPod player, just the radio. But we really never listened to the radio on our trips cuz Mom went crazy with the noise of all us kids, and besides the wind blowing through the windows was loud. The car had little triangular wing windows in the front. If you angled them just right you could get a kind of whistle that was mesmerizing. I wonder if Mom angled them to put us to sleep.
The bigger kids sat in the front and middle, with the apathetic non-expression of teenagers. But we little ones got the back to ourselves. We had two thin green mattresses that were laid in the back cargo area. The luggage that would normally go there was compressed into a big block and tied down to the metal luggage rack on top of the car. We had our silky blankets and pillows back there. Before every trip Mom took us to Daniel’s Hardware or South Hills Village and let us pick-out one modest toy for the trip. We were not allowed to open it until we were on the road. We played with our little dollies or whatever, all the way to Idaho. My sisters were the best pretenders. We would hold up our dolls for the car behind us. We’d pump our arms at the elbow to make truckers honk. We’d play “I’m going across the country and I’m going to take…” for hours and hours. The alphabet game, the license plate game, I Spy with My Little Eye…. We sang and we sang and we sang, until we got tired and laid down on our pillows. If I got to looking out the back window too much I’d end up car sick, then I had to go sit in the front, next to Mom.
“When are we going to get there?” My tummy hurt, and it was much more dull in the front seat.
“Just close your eyes and go to sleep Cori, and when you wake up your tummy will feel better.”
And so I would lay my head on my mother’s soft arm, drifting off to the soundtrack of wheels on concrete. I still doze off when I’m riding in the car. Ask Dave.
We drove through the night, for many reasons. First, we couldn’t afford a motel. Second, it was cooler at night. Third, the kids were asleep and less demanding. The only bad thing was keeping the driver awake. Mom would stop sometimes and lean her head against the window, trying to sleep. But she would get to thinking of home, and how if she kept on driving she would be to Omaha by morning. Maybe I learned that kind of thinking from her. I suppose I did. For sure I did!
I don’t ever remember stopping for meals. It was more like we stopped for gas and someone ran into a grocery store and picked up a loaf of soft white bread, a brick of cheese, and a couple fresh bell peppers. To this day I get a far away reminiscent glaze over my eyes when I eat a green pepper sandwich. And if we were lucky, when we stopped at the Little America in Cheyenne, we could get one of those 5 cent ice cream cones, or a half a bottle of pop. Full bottles were forbidden on car trips: too many rest stops. The first half of the trip we’d have Isaly’s chip chopped ham sandwiches on crisp hard rolls, with a chunk of lettuce and some salt and pepper. Our sister’s Sherry and Sue were the keepers of the grocery bag. Sherry remains the queen of sandwich making. She had a knack for proper proportions.
Finally, usually at night, we’d end up at one of the aunt’s houses. Tired and hungry, they would open their doors to us. I’d wrap my arms around her hips and she would kiss the top of my head and tell me to go get in my pj’s while she cooked up something warm like toast and a cup of soup. We bedded down on our pillows, under our familiar silky blankets, and drift off to sleep listening to the hum of our mother and her sister reconnecting.
I am blessed; so blessed. So blessed to have grown up in a time when we did not have the option of a DVD player amusing us in our travels. We had to imagine together, to cooperate, to harmonize…that’s how we passed the miles. I was blessed to have a seat in the Big Blue Pontiac Rocket, and doubly blessed to have the heart of the pilot of that rocket beat so close to mine.

Poontiac Rocket

I. We laid our clothes at the foot of our beds
She kissed us goodnight on the top of our heads
When the sunlight came she’d empty the house and she’d lock it

II. She tied a solid brick to the luggage rack
No one packed like my mom could pack
Then she loaded us into that big blue Pontiac Rocket

CHORUS: Flying down the road at the speed of light
She aimed that rocket to the heart of the western night
In the days before the cops could even clock it
Yeah she shot straight through
Yeah her aim was true
Flying in our great big blue Pontiac Rocket

III. We had a grocery bag with cheese and bread
A tank of gas, full of lead
And every dollar she owned was tucked away in her pocket

IV. She was an Idaho gal in a steel mill town
No bad marriage gonna take her down
Still her home was a magnet calling to the Pontiac Rocket

Bridge: Now I got car sick, and I was little
So I sat up in the front seat middle
The wind was a whistle, her arm was a pillow for my head
The nights were cool so she kept on driving
Hit Omaha when the sun was rising
She couldn’t sleep, she kept on flying instead

V. She had this weird way of thinking, I have learned it too
She’d be there tomorrow if she drove straight through
If home was the target, no doubt she’d even try to walk it
Thirty-eight hours to the Blackfoot farm
She flew like a sparrow to her sister’s arms
And the dust finally settled on the fender of the Pontiac Rocket

Today I had a Heart & Soul gig in SLC.  I perform a couple times a month for people in retirement homes, nursing homes, and rehab centers.  It's my favorite gig.  When I was done today, and had greeted all the residents who were there, I took my guitar over to my gig bag and started putting things away.  An ancient gentleman shuffled over and watched.  He asked, in a shaky but dignified voice:
"Did your mother encourage you to sing and to play?"
"Yes, she sure did." I responded.
"Are you going to see your mother?"
"Why, as a matter of fact I am.  She's right out there in the car with my sister."  Mom and Lib usually drive me to these gigs, they are a good reason for an outing.
"Well, " we continued, "Will you please tell her thank you for us."

Doesn't get much sweeter, does it?


  1. Ah such sweet memories! ARE WE THERE YET? Mom, John is taking up too much room. Mom, can we please stop at this rock shop, please please please. Mom, George ate my potato chips. If we stop at that rock shop then we get to stop at Wall Drug. How come Sherry gets to ride in the front seat so much? It's my turn to sit by the window. How many ways are there to get from Pittsburgh to Blackfoot? How many times can you run out of gas on the way? Do you know any other family of 9 that has spent the night parked at the gas station in Swan Valley, Idaho? But you have to admit, we did see a lot of this great land of ours on many highways and byways through a perspective you would get no other way. When you've shared the first glimpse of the Iowa cornfieds, or the lighting strikes through the Kansas prairie cutting through those amber waves of grain, or the awesome grandeur of the Grand Tetons as you come through the pass, or have seen the Gulf Building 10 times in one night with the ones you love - well you just can't beat it. May that faithful Pontiac rest in peace.

  2. it is easy to pretend when there is someone like you leading the way! you made ... umm ... make, my life worth living!

    i was going to send you that picture of all of us sitting on the pontiac rocket in the church parking lot in pleasant hills. then i couldn't find it. i better start looking.

  3. THis is the first of the songs Guy played for me. I experienced it in a very tactile manner, really - touched stored info in my brain. Our car trips. Ice cream cones in the car. I used to get into the back of the station wagon and play solitaire. We sang the ABCs in complex baroque improvisations. I loved the wind in my face, hated trying to get the snarls out of my hair afterwards. And always, always, the sweetest thing was sleeping in the car, my parents' voices low and sonorous in the front seat, the streetlights whipping by in rhythm.

    Why does Libby use a picture of an orangutan?