Flight Lesson – 7
I learned to love being lost from my mother, playing turn left – turn right, on country roads that stretched out like gravel grids in every direction from “the road.” My brother and I would be loaded in the backseat of mom’s car, and draw straws to see who got to go first. Untethered and unseatbelted, we’d roll down the windows and stick our heads out like dogs. Waiting until we reached an intersection. Then we got to take turns picking which direction to go. Telling mom to turn left, turn right, or to stay on the road and see what was up ahead. Somewhere around each corner, or over the tops of the cornrows, was something worth searching for. And when we found it, I was sure no one else in the world knew is existed. In those hidden places, we found everything hidden there to be “the best.” The best undiscovered ice cream shop, the best hidden farm fruit stand, the best field of wild flowers. Each roadside discovery was a gem, because we found it by chance. A child’s curious choice led us to discover hidden treasures everywhere, on gravel roads in nowhere.
My parents were preppy hippies. Oxford cloth clad pioneers, forging forward in perpetual motion. They had homemade cures for everything. Coughs were soothed with whiskey, honey, and lemon. Hiccups were stopped with orange slices coated with raw sugar, and bitters. Morning glasses of carrot juice and beet tonic were used to fight off the flu. Dirty words washed clean from our mouths with brown soap, and tiny tears were dried with fresh baked wheat bread spread with sumac jam made from the meadow. My parents’ greatest cure-all was the tonic of car travel. I spent half of my childhood in the backseat of their car.
Each year my brother and I would be taken out of school for weeks at a time. In a time when you could just take children out of school, and we would travel someplace far away. We took turns picking the towns we were going to visit, and what we wanted to see on our trips. One year my parents found cheap tickets on an IcelandAir charter to Iceland, then on to Luxembourg, where Dad would rent a car and drive us through Germany. We did our homework to learn enough German to be able to buy food in the market, ask for directions, and say please and thank you. I was eight and my brother was ten. It was my first trip overseas, and my first flight on an airplane.
Iceland was wild and windy and smelled like wet rocks. The winds were so strong the night we landed, we had to hold on to a rope to cross from the plane to the terminal on the icy ramp. Our hotel room in Reykjavik was a teak paneled cocoon, with twin feather beds and a tiny table. Through the frost on the double paned window, I was sure the Snow Queen from my book of Grimms’ Fairy Tales was waiting to steal my brother and I away. I was afraid of the dark, and the icy world outside the small far away window. I couldn’t sleep. I thought my parents were wicked for bringing me here, and my brother was wicked for being able to sleep and not stay up with me. I hated Iceland and I wanted to go home. I ran to my parents room and buried myself in my mother, hiding under her arms and the feather bed covers, wishing Iceland and the Snow Queen away. In the morning the Grimms’ Fairy Tale I told myself of Iceland disappeared, when the waitress brought “the best” hot chocolate ever, with warm crusty rolls for breakfast. The icy mirror I held up to view Iceland though, cracked with the smell of homemade bread. As my childlike senses warmed open my mind to the idea that the comforts of home, waited for me anywhere in the world.
Landing in Luxembourg was like landing in a Fairyland of castles and enchanted forests. We spent two weeks playing turn left – turn right, driving through Luxembourg and Southern Germany. Our direct route was never planned. We would just start out each day, taking turns holding the map, and calling out directions to dad. Winding along the Moselle River, and crisscrossing the Black Forest, with the windows rolled down and our heads hanging out the side of the car. Fighting to be the first one to spot a castle or a good picnic spot for lunch. My parents would stop at a local market, and give us money while they stood in the back and watched, making us practice our German paying for food. My brother and I loved being in charge of the trip, but especially loved being in charge of lunch. We would buy small green bottles of pear soda, to go with the sour dark bread, ham, and cheese. Then we’d gulp the soda down in the backseat of the car immediately. Getting a little bit drunk each day on sparkling pear wine, we thought was soda pop. Within days we were choosing to order strange meats in strange casing, sleeping happily in strange Gasthauses, and exploring even stranger Knights’ Castles. From that trip on, my thoughts bubbled like pear soda with the possibilities of where in the world I would fly to next. By the time I was 21 I had traveled to more exotic places like Soviet Russia and Egypt, and lived in London twice to go to school. In the safety net of the backseat of my parents’ car, nurturing my child’s curious choice, I forever lost my fear of traveling anywhere in the world.
Sometimes you end up in places so painfully perfect, you have to pinch yourself to believe you found them. Then you realize they were there all along. That they really just found you. Life is simply, turning left – turning right across your road. Searching until you find the hidden treasure there, waiting for you to be brave enough to discover it.
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