Friday, July 1, 2011

Fiction Friday: Seeing America, Part 1

By the time we pulled over, the station wagon was on fire. Mom and I screamed from the car as dad flipped up the hood and flames pushed him back onto his elbows on the rocky gravel. This was before the days of cell phones and AAA. We were seeing America in our brown station wagon, and right then, America looked like a brown station wagon with flames pouring from the engine.

Mom crawled into the back seat with me and together we crawled out the back door. Dad helped us pull all of our stuff from the back. I remembered the library book I'd tucked under my seat, but there was no going back for it. My school would just have to do with one less copy of Ramona and Beezus.

I used to joke that the wood paneling on the station wagon was ridiculous. Were we trying to trick people into thinking the car was made of wood? Well, it might as well have been wood the way it burned up so completely. We stood there, suitcases and beach bags and an ice chest at our feet, watching our family car turn into a fireball. It was a sight. I remember wanting to laugh, it was so absurd. All of our memories in that car literally going up in smoke. A cathartic bonfire we didn't know we needed.

But I didn't laugh because my parents couldn't have looked less amused. Mom was crying, no doubt terrified at the thought of being stranded in the desert. Dad paced back and forth, hands on his polyester-clad hips, muttering under his breath about his no good black mechanic. Dad wasn't very PC back then.

I hated that station wagon. The way my hot legs stuck to the vinyl seats on a summer day. How hard it was to crank the window down. I was always afraid the handle would break in my hand and I would be trapped without any fresh air in that brown backseat dungeon.

And God, the color. Brown, brown, brown. Like a big loaf of bread on wheels. Mom called it comforting. I always felt like I was riding around in a fat turd.

As we stood there watching our sole mode of transportation warm up the Arizona countryside, my Dad clapped his hands together.

"Let's go," he said with purpose.

"Where?" my mother cried desperately. "We're miles out of any town!"

"The pilgrims made it all the way to California, Joan! So can we!"

It didn't seem the right time to correct my father's misuse of the term pilgrim, so I picked up the ice chest with both hands in anticipation of our trek.

Click here to read Seeing America, Part 2

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