Journey On

By Diane Schlindwein

February 6, 2009 6 min read


A writer reflects on her four-generation trip out West

Diane Schlindwein

Creators News Service

As many as 10 years ago -- when my husband Jeff and I were still decades away from retirement -- he used to comment about RVs traveling down the highway.

"There's our future home," he'd say. "As soon as Nathan's in college, we're selling the house and hitting the road."

His dream was postponed after our fifth child came along -- a wonderful surprise! -- in our 21st year of marriage. "Forget retirement," he chuckled. "We'll be working forever!"

But every once in a while we do take vacations, and a few years ago we took one in a 36-foot motor home. Somehow, Jeff agreed to a four-generation trip out West. He probably figured he owed me for the time his mother accompanied us to Disney World.

It was mid-June and our destination was Wyoming, where we'd visit my sister Barb, her husband and their large brood in the log home they'd been building for several years.

Just before we pulled away, our oldest son Dustin -- who stayed home to work (and spend some private time with his future wife, the neighbors reported) -- took a picture I cherish.

There we are: my mom, 84-year-old Grandma Taylor, Jeff and I, our grown daughter Whitney with her almost 2-year-old son Nolan, 16-year-old Trevor, 11-year-old Nathan, and 3-year-old Ryan. The RV was packed with suitcases, snacks, medical supplies, video games, toys and a road map. We were ready to roll!

The first -- and one of the last -- squabbles of the trip took place almost immediately. We had assumed that Jeff would drive, one of the older kids would co-pilot, Grandma Taylor would sit in the captain's chair and the rest of us would use bench seats. However, Ryan and Nolan were both determined to sit with Grandma.

It wasn't as comfy, but Grandma -- always the peacemaker and an amateur child psychologist from way back -- agreed to sit between them on a bench seat. Later, she moved to the softer chair.

As much as we all appreciate her, we learned that traveling safely with an elderly woman requires more effort than road tripping with children. If youngsters take a tumble, they hop back up. Older people don't recover so quickly. So it became my mission to keep Mom seated as much as possible -- even though she didn't always cooperate.

When she decided to stretch her legs by walking through the moving vehicle, I hovered a little too much, issuing warnings -- "Careful, Mom. Pat (my really overprotective sister) would never forgive me if you fell!" -- and saying a few prayers.

My mother not only gets around well, but she defies most health odds. A smoker for 70 years, her need for nicotine became an issue. With a restroom in the RV, we didn't need to take "potty breaks" but Grandma still craved her cigarettes. So we stopped.

We discovered that lighters and service stations are a scary combination. "Mom! You can't light that cigarette by a gas pump!"

Truck stops hold their own hidden dangers. "Mom! You have to watch for the trucks!" Oh, and did I mention it is hard to sleep with 18-wheelers coming and going all night?

We preferred camping outside on my sister's acreage. Wyoming birds and insects sound different than those close to our lake home in Illinois. I even enjoyed hearing the coyotes -- as long as they kept their distance.

Our RV trip was calmer than those we've taken in the family van. The kids put the extra space to good use by playing traveling games, listening to music and napping. Best of all, nobody had reason to whine about being crowded or wanting a window seat.

Of course, there is much to see out those windows in both South Dakota and Wyoming. We also visited Devils Tower, Mount Rushmore and Jewel Cave, hit some tourist spots and spent the day at a small lake. And since that area is RV-friendly, we always found places to park.

The younger members of our family remember peering at the wandering beasts in Bear Country, playing baseball on the beach and climbing on rock formations. Jeff remembers navigating steep and narrow winding roads.

As for me, I recall Grandma, flanked by the two little boys, while all three enjoyed Tootsie Pops in the RV. Sadly, although she enjoyed herself, Mom doesn't seem to remember the trip at all. For her it was over practically the day we returned home.

Now, looking back on our four-generation road trip, I wonder, would we do it again? Yes. Can we? No, that's not possible now. Yet, we have our fond memories -- well, most of us do -- and in the end that's what is really important.

Diane Schlindwein is an award-winning writer, photographer and editor whose work has appeared in various local, state and national newspapers, magazines and online publications. She lives on Lake Springfield in Illinois with her husband of 30 years, the youngest three of their five children and the family Saint Bernard.

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