Coast to Coast (and HOME again)

Our NaNoWriMo queen, Sara Harricharan, is hosting Friday Fiction this week at her blog Fiction Fusion .
(I expect you'll find quite a few NaNo excerpts posted this week.)

Here is an excerpt from my NaNo story. Mine will not be a true novel because it isn't fiction, it's a memoir of our family's trip from Maine to California - and home again.
(Excuse the wordiness and bad sentence structure. This is a rough draft. I don't have time to edit when I'm writing for NaNo.)

Getting Ready

Life is hard when you are raising a family. My husband went to work day after day, providing money for food and clothes, keeping the car running, and cutting wood to keep the stove going through the winter. I cooked the food and washed the clothes and cleaned the house and cared for the kids. The children had their part by shoveling snow and doing dishes and folding clothes and studying their school work.

There was not much time for play, especially any thing that takes too much money. We camped and hiked and played ball in the field. Going to Disney World or to Hawaii for a vacation were just fairy tale dreams.

My husband, strong and hard working man that he is, had been working at Delta Chemical Corp. since he graduated from high school in 1972. That meant he had been working for twenty years and had earned five weeks paid vacation coming to him the next year. There is a lot a person could do with five weeks off. We began to dream.

Randy thought it would be nice to take a long road trip to California. The timing was perfect. The oldest of our eight children, Grace Elizabeth, was almost fifteen years old. Next year, when she was sixteen, she would be able to get a job. We know that once the kids started getting jobs, we would never be able to get that much time off in the summer for a long trip.

A trip like that takes a lot of planning, at least for my husband, who rarely does any thing with spontaneity. First of all, he decided that a good destination would be Big Sur, the home of our friends, the Sullivans, who had moved to California a few years ago. Randy contacted the Sullivans, and they were glad to be our destination. So the planning began.

We decided to make a long loop, swinging through the south west, up through the pacific coast, and returning across the top of the country. It sounded like a great plan. Randy joined AAA and got a triptik for the whole trip. When it arrived, it was a bundle of six inch by two inch cards, held together with a plastic claw binding. Page by page, it showed us route by route how to leave our home on Turnpike Road in Searsport Maine and drive across the country and return home again.

We wrote for travel brochures of at least twenty states, the ones we thought we might be traveling through. For weeks, we received colorful books and pamphlets of museums and parks and caverns and fun family things to do in each state. It was quite overwhelming!

We home schooled the year before our trip. It was a good time to study the geography of our country. I got a huge map of the United states and tacked it to the wall. We studied the names and capitals of the states and the different sections: New England, the Eastern states, the South, the Midwest, the Southwest, the Plains, and the Northwest. We learned about the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. We studied about the westward movement. We read about the Pony Express and Oregon Trail. I had them use their spelling words in stories that they wrote. Anna wrote about a stray buffalo that ran into someone’s barn, and the children wanted to adopt it as a pet. She did such a good job, that she won an award through a writing contest through the library.

At the time of our trip, Grace would turn 15 and Abel was only 3 years old, still in a car seat and wearing diapers at night. Needing another vehicle anyway, we purchased a 12 passenger Chevy van. It looked like a big reddish brown brick. The inside had no ceiling insulation and the floor was covered with a grubby rough carpeting. There were three bench seats, the back one being longer, fitting from side to side. There was room under the seats to squeeze some stuff, and more room behind the back seat, but not enough space to fit all our camping gear and clothes for a whole month.

Randy and I were each doing our preparations. Randy signed up for the KOA campgrounds membership. They also sent us plenty of material – of where each of their campgrounds were located. We decided that we didn’t want to do much as far as commercial amusements, but to check out parks and interesting sights along the way. He wanted to see the Grand Canyon and travel along Route #66. He made sure the van was running well and bought a new tent. We purchased some plastic plates and bowls and other camping paraphernalia. We made sure everyone had sleeping bags.

Since my family had moved so many times when I was young, I had family and friends all across the country. I gathered address and phone numbers and began contacting some to see if we could visit them while we were in their area. Randy made a few reservations for the first few nights, but realized that if we got delayed somehow, it would throw off our timing, and so he decided to not make anymore.

I made sure everyone had enough clothes: (without holes or obvious stains) shirts, shorts, jeans, underwear, bathing suits, pajamas, jacket, hat, flip flops, and at least one whole church outfit. I started making the van “livable” – with seat covers made from old blankets and curtains that could keep out the sun and make some privacy for those who would be sleeping in it. I put all our favorite songs on cassette tapes: Disney songs, bluegrass songs, men’s choir, and others.

I knew that with so many kids, there was a chance we might accidently forget one at a gas station or wherever. I needed a way to help keep track of all my “chicks.” I thought of a buddy system, but then came up with another plan- assigned seating! If there was an empty seat when we all buckled up, then we would know who was missing. I also knew that certain kids got on the nerves of each other, so I’d have to plan this carefully.

Abel would have to be in the car seat. That would have to go right behind the driver’s seat, so I could reach him easily. One more child could sit next to him, and we could leave one space free for the maps and such right behind the passenger seat. That’s two children – six more in seven possible places. I could put three in the middle and three in the back, with another space to store something. I made a chart on our chalkboard, marking each seat with a box. I crossed off the blank seats and put an A for Abel behind the driver’s seat. Grace had long legs and would want to sit in the back where there was space to stretch out. I kept some away from each other and put younger ones near older ones. After erasing and adjusting the chart a few times, I finally got a seating arrangement that looked good. I figured there would be times when I’d let them switch around, but each time we got in the van, I’d have them sit in their assigned seats.

Knowing we’d be staying at campgrounds along the way, I began planning some easy, but wholesome, meals. All our cooking gear and food would have to fit into boxes under the seats. We had a cooler, but that would have to be restocked with ice and fresh milk and such at grocery stores along the way. I packed instant oatmeal, granola bars, macaroni, canned tomato sauce and soup and vegetables. Potatoes wouldn’t need to be kept cold. We packed koolaid and coffee and instant iced tea. Things like fruit and cheese and milk could be gotten along the way. I couldn’t forget the cast iron frying pan, the percolator, and the can opener. The colander would be very handy and cooking pot or two. We would need eating utensils and a spatula and a few sharp knives.

We used an overnight suitcase for our toiletries. I was glad the kids were little and didn’t need their own deodorant and shaving stuff. Besides toothbrushes and toothpaste, hairbrushes and comb, I added bandaids and antibiotic cream, Tylenol, Q-tips, sunscreen, safety pins, soap, and anything else in my bathroom cabinet that I thought we might need. This bag was put right near the front, where I quickly find emergency supplies.

Randy installed a roof rack on the top of the van so that we could attach two car top carriers. One was filled with our tents and sleeping bags – the other was crammed full with each of our bags. Benjamin became our designated car top engineer. Whenever we stopped for the night, he climbed on top and unlatched the lids and tossed down all our stuff to waiting arms.

The back of the van was the last to be packed. It held a porti – potty and a big 5 gallon water jug. We had good water at home, and if we only used the water jug for drinking, it should last a long time. We could refill it, if we found another place with good drinking water.

We checked our list two and three times, adding things like toilet paper and paper towels. We borrowed a video camera from Randy’s brother and let the kids bring a few books or small toys. At last we were ready for our trip to California!


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