My sisters Amy and Melody were riding along with the four of us, so we rented a minivan. Here's what made it so much better than most of the Indiana drives I remember:
- Bill did all the driving, so I didn't have to tank up on Diet Mountain Dew to keep my eyes open. I could nap whenever I wanted and catch up on my reading.
- We didn't leave at 4:00 in the morning. In fact, we didn't leave our house on the 18th until after 10:30 A.M. (Dad would have been beside himself.) It was so much easier to enjoy all our family togetherness on a good night's sleep.
- We didn't try to "make time," and we wouldn't have dreamed of driving through the night. We made lots of stops, whenever anyone had to pee.
- We stopped for the night at interesting tourist attractions; we took different routes on the way there and back.
- We played games to pass the time. Amy brought some dice and the lid to a big plastic tub, and we played Yahtzee and Farkle. (The kids loved saying, "Mama farkled!" but that didn't happen too often since I always play it safe.)
- We brought yummy picnics (featuring things like Aunt Sue's delectable chicken salad) which we ate at several McDonalds along the way. It felt pretty brazen to walk in there with our cooler bags and jumbo bags of chips, but no one seemed to notice. And we did buy drinks and salads, and the occasional ice cream. So we spent almost nothing, and we ate healthy food that didn't give us tummy aches.
Allyson Discovers Elvis
As we drove through the Memphis area, where we spent our first night on the road, there were pictures of Elvis everywhere, and brochures about Graceland and other related attractions. That's all it took for Allyson to develop her first crush. She treasured those little pamphlets, which she guarded fiercely.
"Read this book about Elvis, Aunt Amy," she said. But when Amy took a little too long, she demanded it back.
"You've got another copy," I reminded her.
"No, that's Allum's" she corrected me. Amy handed over the brochure.
And then Bill discovered a satellite station that played all Elvis, all the time--which meant we could listen to Elvis for our entire vacation. Allyson was probably the only one thrilled about that.
I wish we'd had time to stop at Graceland; I think we all would have enjoyed it. As it was, we drove slowly past it in the dark. We could just make out the house, but we had a good view of one of Elvis's jets, the Lisa Marie.
In a flash of inspiration at the start of the trip, Bill assigned Ethan the front passenger seat, far enough away from Allyson to avoid their typical squabbles. Ethan's main job was to take pictures of all the welcome signs we passed as we moved from state to state. Unfortunately, he missed most of them due to our camera's abysmal shutter speed.
Ethan also served as Bill's navigator, at least in theory. He pored over the 2005 atlas, tracing the route dictated by the real boss: our navigator, whom we affectionately call "Jane."
Jane sometimes led us astray, though, like the time she told Bill to exit the highway in a scary area on the outskirts of Memphis. "I don't know, Jane," he said as we drove down dark residential streets with beat-up cars and overgrown lawns.
"In 800 yards... turn left," she said cheerfully.
Bill squinted through the darkness. "I don't see a road there, Jane. I'm turning right."
Jane recalculated while we rounded a curve in the unlighted two-lane road and approached a rickety railroad trestle. "In 100 yards... turn left," she advised.
Bill started to pass under the trestle, but we all protested. "This doesn't look right," Ethan said.
"It's a dead end," Bill said. "I'll have to turn around."
All of us shivered with fear as he meticulously executed a three-point turn, backing the minivan up within inches of the 10-foot barbed wire fence that flanked the road.
"I hope there's nothing waiting behind that fence..." Amy began.
I glanced pointedly at Allyson. "Shh!!"
"Why is Jane trying to kill us?" Ethan asked.
Bill said it was probably because he'd been disrespectful to her earlier, questioning her routes. In any case, we made it to the hotel at last, though Jane conveniently failed to mention that Bill needed to turn onto the hotel's side street and we had to make a 3-mile circle practically back to Graceland.
There at Last
We had a wonderful four days in Indiana, though it passed too quickly as always. We spent a lot of time visiting (and eating) with all my cousins, aunts, uncles, and of course my grandma. We stayed with my Aunt Sue and Uncle Jeff. Their Golden Doodle Miley (a cross between a Golden Retriever and a poodle) kept us entertained. She's a giant puppy, very mischievous, with an affinity for socks and underwear. She once got a-hold of one of Ethan's dirty socks and played a ten-minute game of keep-away with him. When Sue got the sock away from her and tried to hand it to Ethan, she snatched it back and pranced away proudly. He did eventually get it back, but only after it was covered in slobber.
|My Daily Walking Buddies: Melody, Me, Sue, Amy, Miley (And Allyson)|
On our first full day, we went to Potato Creek State Park with Aunt Sue and Uncle Jeff. We rented bikes so old that Jeff said they were probably the same ones they used when they opened the rental shop 30 years ago. The brakes barely worked, and they only had one gear, which was unfortunate due to all the hills. Bill had it the worst because he had to pull Allyson in a little trailer. Most of us had to stand up on the hills, but sometimes Bill had to get off and push the bike.
|Foreground: Ethan; Background: Jeff, Bill, Allyson|
|Bill, Amy, Allyson, Melody|
We had hoped to escape the interminable heat, but they were having a heat wave in Indiana too, and with the humidity it was almost unbearable. But most of the time the trail led through the heavily shaded woods, and there was a refreshing breeze. It was only on the stretches through the sun that we suffered.
After our ride, we had a picnic and then cooled off with a quick dip in the ice-cold lake--so much different than our bathwater lakes down here in Texas.
Another highlight was a trip on the South Shore Train to Chicago, where we spent about five hours in the Museum of Science and Industry. We could have spent days. It's an amazing museum. I think my favorite exhibit was the German submarine that had been captured and towed in utter secrecy to the United States.
|Ethan and Allyson at U-508 Exhibit|
Allyson's favorite was the fairy castle, a giant doll house full of lavish miniatures with a fairy tale theme. For example, the library held real one-inch books with teeny words on tiny pages. I wish we had thought to take pictures.
|On the Way Back on South Shore Train|
And while I'm mentioning highlights, I can't forget to mention Aunt Carol's famous homemade ice cream with her trademark fudge sauce. I ate two bowls of that!
Stop in St. Louis
On the way home from Indiana, we stopped at the giant arch in St. Louis. We rode up in tiny pods that were a cross between an elevator and a Ferris wheel car.
|Allyson Crying Because She Wanted her Own Seat|
|All Smiles After I Shared Ethan's Seat|
At the top was a narrow room, arch-shaped of course, with tiny windows that you had to lean into to see the ground. I was surprised to see people swimming in pools on top of the hotels across the way.
Afterward, we met my cousin Matt's family at a nearby restaurant, The Spaghetti Factory.
|Renee, Theron, Matt, Grayson|
We had to wait an hour and a half, so we were beyond starving, but it was a great chance to catch up. And the dinner was delicious and reasonably priced. The kids even got balloon animals.
|Allyson's Flower Popped Before We Left Restaurant|
|Hopefully Theron Had Better Luck With His Mouse|
At the end of the trip, Amy said, "Even though we didn't go somewhere exotic, this was one of my favorite vacations ever." I have to agree.