Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Abandoning Suitcases to See the Country in a Ford Maverick

My first encounter of being a nomad was when we had to abandon our suitcases. Up until that time, I had never walked away from perfectly good items that belonged to me. Missionaries and their children know the value of hanging onto things. For a long time. That’s why they recycle everything, especially clothes and aluminum foil.

It’s a daunting task to leave two large suitcases in a parking deck and then drive away. But the need to do this was unavoidable. As much as they tried, there was no way that my parents could cram those two large Samsonites into our recent purchase, a 1970 Ford Maverick.

Had my parents been the hippie-types with tie-dyed T-shirts and jeans, I might have felt the leaving behind of suitcases as an anti-establishment protest. On to living with less, peace, hang loose, smile, go with the flow!

But neither my dad nor my mom were of that nature. Dad wore ties. He didn’t own a pair of Levi’s or Wranglers. Mom’s hair was always neatly permed, and like Dad, she only reminisced about once wearing dungarees.

When we abandoned our suitcases, I was afraid that the police were going to come after us, citing us for leaving items on the pavement next to a lonely metal trash can.

As Dad pulled away from the deck, I waved good-bye to those items that had successfully carried our clothes over the Pacific Ocean. Sadness as well as fear crept in. What kind of people had to throw away suitcases? Who had my parents become?

I worried until I heard laughter. My parents were laughing. It really couldn’t be all that bad then, could it?

“Look at us,” said Mom as my father grinned. “Look at us.”

As we sailed down the streets of Los Angeles in the Maverick, the wind blowing my blond hair, Mom, reminding Dad to drive on the right side of the road, I managed a smile. My brother was already making himself comfortable, resting against the plump trash bags that separated us in the back seat.

When my parents realized that the suitcases were going to have to be emptied, Mom rushed across the street from the hotel to purchase plastic trash bags. Our clothes were stuffed into these bags; three in the trunk and two plunked between my brother and me. For the next month, we would not be living out of suitcases, but out of trash bags.

We were on our way to see America from coast to coast. In a green Maverick. With two doors. And no air conditioning. A tiny hole in the back floor consumed my attention as Mom guided Dad to the Interstate. I could see the road from that hole.

Look at us!

I’m not sure which aspect of this picture should have alerted my parents to their mistake. It would be only a few days later when the car broke down for the first of many times that they would realize that this was car was a product of jetlag mixed with naivety. I’m sure the used car salesman knew he had a real live fresh-off-the-boat sucker when my dad entered his lot. Who else would have paid sticker-price in cash for this clunky heap of metal?


We traveled from motel to motel, seeing America along the way. When we grew bored, my brother Vince and I smacked, pinched and punched each other over the trash bags between us. We listened to music on a battery-operated Sanyo cassette player. We ate Milky Way bars and wondered what our friends were doing back in Japan.

The motel swimming pools were my respite and we spent plenty of time in them as the Maverick got repaired in various shops.

Mom broke down and prayed one morning after handing me a Pop-tart. I don’t think the Pop-tart made her cry because in her prayer she only asked God to please get us back on the road again. She grew tired of the trip. Apparently, the thrill of driving from L.A. to Richmond, Virginia lost its luster after a week. She wanted a place to lay her head, familiar faces (in addition to ours) and a residence to call home.

I overcompensated for her dismay, acting like this nomadic life was perfect for me. I was no wimp, I could handle it. Daydreaming played a big role as it had in Japan. Only in this country, I daydreamed about meeting and actually talking to one of the cute guys I’d seen at the pool. Of course, I knew it was only dreaming. There was no way I knew how to approach a real American guy, even one my own age. Besides, these born and bred males couldn’t understand me, my culture, or the language I spoke. So I just swam, glanced at them when I was sure they weren’t looking and continued to dream. In my dreams, I wasn’t wearing hand-me-down clothes out of a trash bag and I always knew what to say. I sure had everyone mesmerized.

Days later, my daydream was interrupted when our car nearly went over a cliff. This time the ol’ Maverick had suffered a frozen transmission on the way down from the Rocky Mountains. Dad was able to break the car just before it dove off the side of a steep embankment.

After the tow truck came, and we found a motel room near the repair center where the Maverick was taken, the four of us huddled on our knees, thanking God for sparing us.

“Thank you, God, for protecting us,” Mom prayed and each of us added our own amen to her flow of gratitude. I think she was ready to abandon the Maverick after that and take a plane to Richmond where her parents were anticipating our arrival.

But Dad insisted that we had more of this great country to see.

And so, once the car was repaired, we set out again to continue.

In between my daydreams, I thought about our home we'd left behind in Japan, about the local candy shop where I bought bean paste frozen treats on sticks, green tea candy and cans of iced coffee. The streets that led to home and the houses of my American friends in Osaka and Kyoto seemed long ago and far away.

But somewhere outside of Kansas City around midnight, when my brother elbowed me off his side of the back seat in his familiar fashion, I realized that for now, in this old car with him and my parents, was home-----no matter where our travels took us.

~ Alice J. Wisler is an author of five novels, speaker, and writing instructor. She grew up in Japan as a missionary kid and continues to wonder about what home is, where it is, and what it means. Her lastest book, Getting Out of Bed in the Morning: Reflections of Comfort in Heartache (Leafwood Publishers) is a companion through grief and loss---loss of a loved one, broken relationships, loss of health and dreams. Read more about this new devotional here.


Linda Rondeau said...

Great poss. Traveling in those days sure was an adventure. Ever think of doing a book on those memories?

alice wisler said...

Thanks, Linda! I am working on a book. :-)

Liz Flaherty said...

I loved this post. I can't wait to see more.