Even with my untrained eye, I could see the treads were worn on my tires. I was looking at taking a couple long road trips, and with my precious cargo, I figured it’d be prudent to buy new tires. The tire guy explained that my old set of tires was designed for driving on gravel roads. Then I remembered that Mark had purchased those tires because not only is his house set in on a gravel road, but he was planning to use my car for our family fishing/skiing/hiking trips.
I felt some weird sense of victory when telling the tire guy that I wouldn’t be needing tires fit for gravel any more. Yes – I still drive gravel to the cabin and skiing. No – I do not live in a house on a gravel road.
The kids and I laughed at the smooth ride. Who knew different tires could make that much of a difference? We left the tire shop and headed to the grocery store, windows rolled down, the three of us sighing and saying, “Ahhh. Smooth ride, huh?”
A couple days later, we set out on our road trip west to see family. We stocked up on fritos, cheese and cracker sets, waters, sunflower seeds, DVDs, sketch books, and word search books and put just over 1400 miles on the car in a round trip to the state of Washington.
As we got closer to Seattle, and the kids got more excited, Will discovered it’s better to count by half hours than whole hours. For some reason, he liked saying, we’ll see our cousins in two and a half hours, rather than three hours. We counted by mile markers, exit numbers, and pee stops. The ride was smooth, the tunes were loud, and the treats were devoured.
Occasionally I reminded them to look out the window at the view.
“Hey, we’re crossing the Columbia River.”
“Wow, that’s way bigger than the Missouri. Even the word ‘Columbia’ sounds big,” and then Will turned his head back to his word search. “Mom? What’s that trick you use for finding the words easier?”
“Think forest, not trees. Look for letters together, not individual letters.”
“Hey, there’s those iron horses on the top of the hill. Can we hike up there again? No. Wait. Our cousins are waiting. We’ll do that on the way home.”
We’d left early in the morning, and by mid afternoon, they could hardly wait to see their cousins.
I’ve done this drive enough times that I don’t get lost on the way to my brother’s house. I don’t get too intimidated by the traffic. But I wouldn’t want to deal with that traffic every day.
We take a corner in their neighborhood, and there they are! The cousins are standing in the middle of the street, waiting to see our car. I let Will and Jenny out and they race to the house screaming and jumping and arms flailing. At one point the two girls stopped side by side, looked at each other, grinned and scrunched their shoulders as if to say, without words, “I thought you’d never get here. I almost forgot what you look like. What are we gonna do next? I want a t-shirt like yours.” All of this was said in the same breath and gesture, in the way that only girls can do.
The boys raced for the skateboards, the toy guns and the hose. They managed to shoot hoops, shoot each other, and shoot the moon all within the first five minutes of our arrival.
The typical family get-together was defined by staying up too late, wet swimsuits, callouses from doing the monkey bars, ice cream cones, watermelon chi chis, and the kind of breaks from parenting that only come from having one set of kids entertain another set of kids.
It was fun and exhausting.
And it’s why we only do that once a year.
The return trip lacks the excitement. There isn’t the anticipation of the fun to be had. There’s more sleeping, more stopping and it seems to take much longer.
My cell rang twenty miles from town.
Mom called to warn me that I had a certified mail notice on my stack of mail. “I didn’t want you to stew all the way back in the car, but I wanted to tell you before you walked in the door. It’s from an attorney’s office.”
The kids heard me ask, “An attorney’s office?”
When I got off the phone, Will said, “Did dad call a rettorney about us?” I said, “Honey, it’s attorney. I’ll take care of it. We knew he might go this route.” I looked in my rear view mirror and saw Will’s eyes do the blinking thing. I still don’t understand how his nervous tic can kick in so quickly.
We walked in the door to one happy cat, and a yellow slip from the post office.
It seems we didn’t hit the gravel road until returning home.
Maybe I should have bought the ‘for gravel’ tires after all.