Every once in a while, for summer vacation, or for Christmas, my younger sister and I would be awoken well before the dawn, bags packed the night before sitting in a pile in the living room, ready for dad to work his magic of getting it all to fit into the trunk of whatever vehicle we had at the time. These early mornings were how all our trips down south to visit dads family would begin. The drive took us 14 or so hours, with an overnight spent at the Pennsylvania Turnpike at Breezewood. There we would stay at the Best Western, or maybe it was the Holiday Inn, but dinner was always at the Dutch Pantry, breakfast at McDonald’s.
We’d travel though those mountains of Pennsylvania, thru to Maryland, and the winding beautiful vistas stretched out before us, down i95, through this country of my birth. Skirting Washington, D.C. on one of the outer outer beltways and on into the smoke and dirty downtown of Richmond Virginia, and at the border of North Carolina we would stop at the first rest stop, to stretch our legs, have a pee.
By that point our destination was only a few miles away, maybe an hour. We would skirt by Raleigh, and on into tobacco country, Pitt County, passing dirt roads lined with tobacco and cotton, on to grandma and grandpas, back down to that place dad called home.
Back in those days, in the mid to late 70s when my sister and I were still kids, I was mentioning to a friend how once we had passed over the border at Buffalo New York, first thing mom would say is “girls, you can take your seatbelts off”, as if the fact America had no seatbelt laws made it safer to ride around in cars without one. Go figure, but anywho.
“If a man’s character is to be abused, say what you will, there’s nobody like a relative to do the business.”William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair
I remember on those rides back to dads home, I recall the battles my sister and I would have over that 4 × 3 feet or so of space we had to share, remember the battles we had over who had what, and when, and why, whose feet were in whose space. If I decided I wanted a nap and inched over into her space with my feet, well of course now she wanted a nap too, I swear just to annoy me, to refuse me the 2 or 3 inches of space I wanted for my feet.
It is in that back seat we, eventually, learned how to get along, to form a truce, even if it was fleeting, brief, not to mention legislated on command from mom.
It wasn’t actually until I was older and moved out, my sister was a teen, and it would end up being the last trip we all took together. We had been fighting tooth and nail, it was the trip back home to Canada after grandpa’s funeral, and we had stopped to eat and gas up. Now mom and dad were in the store paying and grabbing some drinks for the road, and I was having a smoke, bent forward to grab something from my purse and accidentally burnt the material on the back of the seat of dads brand-new truck. I looked at Lex and her eyes gleemed with evil intent, just as they were getting back in the truck.
Horror tore through me, as I stared back at her, knowing full well at that moment she held all the cards.
She looked forward, answered something dad had said to her, and didn’t say a word. Not a peep.
But in our youth, those travels down i95 were fraught with division and battles over everything we touched, saw, heard, generally from the boredom of being cooped up together for so long. If we travelled down in the summer, at some point on that long drive, radio turned off long ago due to arguments, all the windows open, stopped in traffic that skirted round D.C. on one of those outer beltways, breathing the hot stuffy fumes, the air thick, collectively sneering at the cars in our way ahead, in rare synchronicity, as a family.
Some article I read years back in the London Free Press talked about those drives, and how they figured new cars were developed by middle children, the one that always got the hump.
The article talked about how it was the lack of – the lack of air conditioning, the lack of space, the lack of amenities – that taught us sharing, patience, gratitude, and how to get along when we are at our worst. That new cars have taken all the friction out of those long trips, and it made the point that maybe also taken away the lessons learned along on the road, bringing up a whole generation of kids who lacked in fractious long car rides to far off destinations, with little to no means of distraction, at some point realizing you either find some common ground or kill one another.
Can’t say I completely disagree, today, with what I see going on in the world, and think maybe many are concentrating on the wrong things, lost the point, and maybe we were the last generation to learn those lessons in the backseat of the family car, hurdling off to some far off place, suffering the long confinement, learning to make peace.
Family. Who we think of as family, what memories we have, the moments with them, who they are, how we fit, if we fit, if we care that we fit whatever mould they have for us. Our bonds, our divisions, our love, our hate, the roadmap to our emotional well-being is first laid down in the embrace, or the abuse, of our families.
So the other night I took Pika back to visit her mom and dad, and her sister from another litter, and they hung out and many growls and howls of fun, and bum sniffs, and sounds of someone being strangled, and I recognized that sound, the family love teaching wee Pika stuff I just can not, all the doggo manners and ways of getting along, making peace, making friends, learning how much shite your sister will put up with before she hauls off and bashes you in the gut.
Now, the mom was none to pleased to set eyes on Pika, as Pika is still quite young, 4 months, and still prone to wantin’ a suck on the tit, which ol’momma was having nothin’ to do with, and growled every time Pika came near her.
“In a way, I was incredibly proud of her (not that I had any intention of letting it show while I was beating the crap out of her).“Meg Cabot
She turned her attention to Rosie, her sister, decked out in the rather fetching Unicorn sweater that makes her look like a fashion doggo, and she prances around like she’s all that and a bag of mints.
Now Pika, being 10 months or so younger than her sister, they play like sisters, um, play. Fights and growls and rough housing, racing around like maniacs, noises and barks and yips and yelps, and racing around some more.
Catching up, socializing, learning the things, all the things o’doggo’s need to know, and humans are not the best at teachin’.
Family. A rare thing for a dog, and very beneficial for Pika as she was an only child, the only survivor of her litter, and so deprived of those lessons your siblings, ahem, teach you.
Such as getting along, patience, not biting when you don’t like the results, how to face defeat, how to not be an arsehole, why one should not be an arsehole, how to make friends with the arsehole who just plowed you in the gut for having her feet on your side of the car, so the momma unit don’t wring both your necks before you even reach blawdy North Carolina.
Now, Pika gets car sick, and when we travelled up to North London, all across town, to visit with her family, she did not get sick once. Not a heave, nada.
However, when the next day we took her right back to around the same neighbourhood to her Vet appointment, she puked THREEE times. Stinky, wet, noisy puke all down my messenger bag I had her in, all over me, all over the car door, down the seat, onto the carpet. THREE TIMES. I had brought a towel and a wash cloth, just because I knew she might, and she did, with spectacular effect, grossing us out and causing much gagging, queasy tummies was had by all.
And why? Well, of course because it was my sister that drove, and it was her new vehicle, and maybe the universe thinks its f’n funny.
And Pika is dang lucky she’s cute.
“Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life.”Charles M. Schulz
Now, in fact, I do recall something from our long car rides, I remember the year I got to sit up front with dad cause the sister unit had got sick off something she ate at the Dutch Pantry and puked her guts out in the back seat with mom. As I enjoyed the rare treat of being in that prime location I recall the wuft of puke in the air, yet my pleasure was none diminished, as she wretched her guts out some more, a smile broke my face at my good luck.