“You kids today have it too easy.!” Those are words I vowed I would never say, having heard them approximately three million times while I was growing up. However, I have to admit that I thought those words as I drove on I-287 the other day behind a minivan. The two kids in the back seat were watching two separate movies on DVD players which swung down from the ceiling. I thought that they had it easy. But they were also missing something. They were missing the trip itself.
In particular, I remember when I was a kid, riding with my parents and my two sisters on a long highway car trip that turned out to be an adventure. Not a good adventure, but an adventure nevertheless.
It started with the fact that my sisters and I did not want to go. My parents piled us all into the Buick station wagon anyway. My father used the reassuring phrase we had heard from him many times before, “You’re all going and you are going to have a good time, God Damn it!” It sounded stranger than usual when he said that, considering the fact that we were going to a wake and funeral of our Great Uncle Sean in Chicopee Massachusetts. A long drive up the Turnpike from southern Connecticut to Massachusetts was not the way we wanted to spend an August day.
Like most cars in those days the Buick did not have air conditioning, and it happened to be over 90 degrees that day. So we rolled down the windows and took off with two adults in the front seat and three kids and a full grown German Shepard in the back seat. (Oh yes, the dog got to come to the Funeral).
You would think that traveling at 65 miles an hour the air coming in the windows would cool you off, but it doesn’t. It’s just 90 degree air hitting you in the face very fast, while your ears are blasted by the truck and cars noises all around you. Of course, this noise makes the dog very excited and he reacts by jumping around and barking in our ears constantly. He can’t be stopped since he is actually bigger than us kids.
Somehow my parents seemed oblivious to all of this. Adults in those days had a special way of just tuning kids out. My father drove and smoked his cigarettes while my mother read magazines and listened to the radio.
My father was a chain smoker and as he finished each cigarette he would flick it out the window with his left hand while driving with his right. The problem is that a car traveling at 65 miles an hour creates a slipstream. I did not know that word when I was a kid, but I did know that every time my dad flicked a cigarette out the front window, the air would catch it and the lit butt would come in the back window. My sisters and I would try to duck out of the way of the lit cigarette and my sisters would scream while doing so. Of course, that would make the dog even more excited and he would jump around bashing into the three of us.
The seats were cloth, and a couple of times a cigarette butt landed on the bench seat and the cloth would start to smolder until we stamped it out with the heels of our hands.
By the time we got to Chicopee we were exhausted. The trip had made us actually look forward to the wake since it meant we would not have to be in the car any longer.
The strange part is that we really did have a good time at the wake, just like my father had said. If you have never been to an Irish wake, then you don’t know how much fun dying can be. There is alcohol for the adults, soda for the kids and lots of food for everyone. If the deceased lived a long life people don’t talk about how sad it is he is gone. They tell funny stories about all the great things he did when he was younger. The stories made me laugh, but they also made me wish I had gotten to know my great uncle a little better when he was alive. There is an old Irish expression that says, “an Irish wake is sort of like a Bon Voyage party for the departed. The only difference is that you won’t hear anyone say, ‘I wish I was coming with you.'”
We stayed at a relative’s house in Chicopee that night and the next day had to repeat the whole arduous journey back home. The heat wave had not abated and my father had not quit smoking (and never would). By the time we got back home we kids felt like we had been to the Moon and back.
Maybe the kids in the minivan will remember what movies they watched as they rode in their isolated cocoon on the highway. I’m betting that they won’t. I do know that I will never forget ducking lit cigarettes flying at my face while my sisters screamed and a dog barked in my ear. The strangest part of it all is that it actually does come back as a fond memory.