This article first appeared in the CS Monitor on June 12, 2016. My Grandma just passed away and I’m dusting it off in remembrance of her and her love of travel.
My cousin Brice is armed with the bow and arrow. Of the two of us, he is the better shot and the more ruthless. I have a plastic bag filled with paper “snaps” that go bang! when thrown on the ground.
A foolish woman thought she could steal a few moments of rest alongside this winding road in the Great Smokey Mountains. Little did she know that lurking behind the shade tree she had parked under were two 7-year-old boys about to attack.
She is asleep. This is going to be easy. First, I will startle her awake by throwing a handful of snaps at her car. If her car doesn’t explode into a burning inferno, we figure she will stumble out to see what’s happening. That’s when deadeye Brice will take aim and launch an arrow at her. If everything goes as planned, she will have an arrow suction-cupped to her forehead.
The plan seems so perfect to us. There is just one thing we don’t account for … Grandma!
Brice readies the arrow, I let fly the snaps. Walking purposefully in our direction, Grandma shouts, “Kelsey! Brice!”
We are banished to opposite ends of the RV.
It’s strange what memories are forever etched in your mind. A child’s imagination blends with reality, and you can’t be sure what actually happened.
Some memories I am certain about. Riding shotgun with Grandpa in the monstrous house on wheels was a special – although somewhat frightening – privilege. It was scary enough watching him drive a compact car on a flat, open country road, let alone drive a seven-ton RV around sharp mountain curves. But his lemon drops, sweet and sugary, calmed my nerves.
Breakfast in the RV was a special time. We would eat from single-serving boxes of sugar-loaded cereal. Sometimes fights would break out over the Fruit Loops.
After breakfast, Grandpa would have us stand on a stump. He would pull out his black plastic comb – they don’t make plastic that hard or sharp anymore – and pull at the tangles in our hair. I can still hear the ripping sound. Such pain is not easily forgotten.
It was on trips in the RV with my grandparents when I first learned that the adventure is often found in the journey more than in the destination.
The motor home barreling down the Interstate was much more than an RV – it was an entire world: The blanket-covered bed in the back was a swampland. Under the bed we found a mysterious cave; on the card table, a vast desert.
On occasion, Brice, my brother, Kyle, and I would turn our attention to the outside world of motorists. Brice liked numbers more than McDonald’s Happy Meal toys with imaginary missiles, and we would help him inventory license plates according to their state of origin. He’s now a banker.
I remember that the first time I walked into the ocean, I was holding my grandpa’s hand. I don’t think I have had a better day at the beach since. We rented small inflatable rafts and played in the surf – and played in the surf.
We called the large waves Big Johns: “Look out, here comes a Big John.” By day’s end, my stomach was sore from the canvas on the rafts. Kyle had a sunburn. That night, a storm shook the RV so hard we sought shelter in the shower house. I thought the palm trees were going to blow away.
Of course, Grandma and Grandpa couldn’t always take their grandchildren with them when they traveled. We had school. But they were always sure to send us postcards and souvenirs such as pens filled with ash from Mt. St. Helens.
Every summer they would stop by our house in the RV on the way to or from somewhere. Grandma would empty paper grocery bags of treasure from garage sales across the nation. Kyle and I would play in the RV with our new toys.
With each visit, there would be more states filled in on the outline of the USA in the RV’s back window. Grandpa made it to 46 states before he died. Grandma, after a trip to Alaska, is up to 47.
Grandma, Grandpa, and their RV introduced us to a larger world beyond the fields of corn and beans in Ohio – a world with mountains, oceans, and volcanoes.
Even though a few of the memories have faded over the years, some things – like grandmas and grandpas – are unforgettable.