This morning I ate breakfast with my son, something I don’t often get the chance to do. We had juice and cereal. I had orange juice but couldn’t get him to try it. And I really wanted him to try it for some reason. Probably because I love, love, love the taste of Orange Juice and Milk and Cereal together and I wanted him to experience that. Most people don’t like that flavor combination and it’s easy to understand why. It’s not the flavor combination so much as the memories it triggers.
When I was a kid, can’t remember how old exactly, sometime between the ages of 6 and 10 my mother would drive myself and my sisters up north to central Pennsylvania to see my Dad for a couple weeks in the summer. We had a station wagon, white maybe, with faux wood paneling–a faux woody, so to speak. Imagine, if you will, six females, five of whom are children, in a very small space over a looooong period of time (long at least to a mere child). To say that it was difficult would be an understatement. My mother would often try to drive it straight through, which if she was successful would shorten the trip into 24 hours. If she couldn’t do it, she would have a hotel reservation at the half way point somewhere outside of Knoxville, TN. But she was a tough lady and she often would push right on through the weariness. And when she did, that meant we all had to find a way to sleep. Thankfully this “faux woody wagon” had a foldable back seat. My oldest sister always sat up front, the twins and our middle sister would stretch out in the expanded back, and I, as the youngest and smallest, would curl up in that narrow in-between space on the floorboard with the hump in the middle.
How I did it never ceases to amaze me. Not long after this time period I became claustrophobic and since then I can’t imagine how I managed to stand being in such a small, confining space. I do distinctly remember the roughness of the carpet and the warmth of the hard steel frame underneath. I do understand, all too well, why I did it though. I simply could not stand to sleep shoved up against my sisters. No insult meant to them but even today I am not much of a snuggler. Also by that time I was sick to death of the endless poking, prodding, teasing and just plain fractiousness of my siblings. Basically I desperately needed to be alone.
The best way I can describe what it was like is to pose it as a couple of math problems. A car is traveling slower than a South American tree sloth on heroin, ie 55 mph, for 1,000 miles with stops every four hours with one adult female driver and five female siblings.
- Will the driver use the no-look back-handed slap to adjust behavior in the back seat:
a) before Nashville
b) after Nashville
c) before leaving Memphis city limits
d) All of the above
2. At what point will blood be drawn by one or more of the children in the back seat?
a) 1 hour into the trip
b) 6 hours into the trip
c) 12 hours into the trip at the halfway point
d) Never, they’ll skip bloodletting and proceed straight to choking
If you answered d to both questions, then you must have been a member of my family or have grown up in one just like it. But that’s what it was like. So my mother, understandably, did her damndest to drive straight through. At some point we would all fall asleep–the susurrus of the highway, emotional exhaustion and bleeding out will do that to you.
My mother would stop at dawn, usually at the same place, high up in the mountains. I would crawl out of the hot stygian darkness and sleepy breath-filled air of our car into the cold morning. Gasping at the air like a drowning person, I stumbled over to a silvered wooden picnic table. And there, sitting on that chilly, hard bench, I would try my best to ignore the sound of the highway traffic behind me and the grumbling around me. As I ate my cereal and drank orange juice I would watch as the sun rose over the foggy tipped mountain range in front of me. I was well on my way to being out of that damn car and my father was not far away. And that, dear reader, is what orange juice, milk and cereal tastes like to me.