My father could lift me like a feather, with his whisper, “go back to Sleepytown” lulling me. I mumbled about my teddy. “Your mother has it in the car.” In the car, then. Vacation, worth a smile before dozing.
My bunk was the back window of the sedan in a nest of blankets, my back against the glass, my teddy shading my eyes from the streetlamp. Next he would lay my older brother Burl stretched along the bench seat, already dosed with Dramamine and gone to the world. My younger brother David fit in another nest of blankets in one well beneath the backseat, with his knees propped up over the hump. When my parents settled into the front, David would feel the rumble of the engine through him, and he wouldn’t hear another thing.
And I could choose, as we left our driveway in the true Sleepytown of Farmland, Indiana. I could choose a delicious sleep, with the sounds of late night radio drifting in and out, or I could choose to concentrate hard on my parents’ quiet conversation—I was an excellent spy. Or I could watch the night stars once we were away from the lights of town. Every option seemed almost too good to be true, in the romance of vacation driving.
The romance would break when the sun began to heat the car, our limbs unable to stretch. By then we would be miles away from our humdrum lives, navigating by the spiral bound atlas, looking for a breakfast diner. The first day’s goal: a motel in Effingham, Illinois. We would arrive too early to check in, but my father could park in a shady spot and sleep while my mother took us to the swimming pool. By the time my father hauled our suitcases in, we’d be sunburned and water-logged and ready for a nap in air-conditioning.
On some years, day 2 included a tour of the St. Louis Arch, which I loved. On some other years I watched the Arch from the distant interstate, and I pined to return to its heights. Either way, we were bound for the Missouri/Arkansas border, to visit my Grandpa Ruby and Grandma Mae, in a place even hotter than Indiana in summer, and we needed to arrive by the end of day 2, so we could avoid more hotel cost.