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Stopping along the way

Food For Thought

It wasn’t until I had my own car and my own schedule I learned the pleasures of taking the scenic drive and enjoying the journey, not just dwelling on getting to the destination.
I have never quite understood the male urgency to “get there” as efficiently as possible. I can remember my dad and my uncles (and later my husband and brothers-in-law) discussing routes that cut six or seven minutes off a five-hour drive, as if it were a matter of grave importance. And heaven forbid, they should have to stop along the way for someone to use a restroom or throw up in the ditch from car-sickness. I might add here, as a child, I was forced to take along an empty coffee can in the car as a precaution against my barfing all over the upholstery when the inevitable surge of nausea hit. And, I learned early in the child-rearing years, it is wise to take the potty chair along in the car once the toddler is out of diapers.
I also learned that stops and those fast food places at the edge of town or at major highway intersections are apparently meant for people traveling coast to coast and not for local families. No matter how long it has been since their last meal, they are expected to wait until arrival at the final destination. About the only time a man will agree to stop for something to eat is when he is hungry and comes upon a familiar eatery where he knows he can get a superbly greasy, salt-laden hot beef sandwich, accompanied by heaps of mashed potatoes and swimming in gravy.
Travel with children was very different in the days before seat belt laws and required car seats for children. Aside from the driver, a second adult was needed to keep youngsters from diving over the seat into the driver’s lap or falling out of windows; to prevent the outbreak of fisticuffs, and to supervise snacks, cold drinks and deal with diaper emergencies. It wasn’t until I was blessed with a station wagon I found myself with facilities, experience and courage enough to drive by myself with four kids and a large dog. I found that a portable baby crib fit behind the back seat, creating not only a confined place for an active 1-year-old, but also an escape-proof pen for our golden retriever in the space behind the portable crib. The two middle boys could each have their “own window” in the back seat, and the oldest could share the front seat with me, learning map skills, finding suitable stations on the car radio, and handing out snacks and water to the others as needed on long journeys.
For short trips, such as our monthly drives to visit my parents in Knoxville, we often stopped at a small restaurant located along the highway in Sigourney, the midway point of the trip. We usually started out early and had breakfast in Sigourney; at other times, we ate at home and stopped there for pie or hot cocoa.
For breakfast, the boys invariably wanted pancakes and bacon, and I (at the time suffering from a gall bladder problem) ordered a fat-free breakfast of oatmeal and unbuttered toast. The toast came, buttered, but with the buttered side turned down, as if I wouldn’t notice. After one of the boys spilled orange juice and the toddler dropped half a sticky pancake on the floor, I decided not to leave an apologetic tip for the mess, or to complain about the buttered toast. I was pretty sure the waitress would figure it out, once she saw I had detected her subterfuge and left the toast uneaten.
On longer trips, we often had lunch in a little roadside cafe in Parkersburg– roughly the halfway point of our journey to visit the other grandparents in northwest Iowa. Sadly, the friendly little cafe is no longer there, having been wiped out by the tornado that devastated the town several years ago. It was a popular meeting place for the locals and on rainy days, the booths were nearly all taken up by farmers who drank cup after cup of coffee, no doubt thinking their wives believed they were running important errands in town. My boys were especially fond of their homemade pies and I had to restrain one of them from picking up his empty plate to lick up the last traces of lemon pie filling. Once, when I requested a root beer float, the waitress informed me this was a cafe, not a soda fountain. I argued all she needed to do was put a scoop of ice cream in a glass and fill it with root beer, but she insisted she couldn’t do that, even though the ingredients were there. In the end, I ordered a dish of ice cream and a root beer with no ice, and combined the two myself at the table She graciously brought me a straw.
And, I won’t identify the roadside restaurant in Missouri that listed sodas, sundaes, malts and milkshakes on the menu, but when we ordered milkshakes, we were forced to wait nearly a half hour before they were finally brought to us. It turned out the extended wait was necessary to allow ample time for one of the employees to drive to the local Dairy Queen and pick up our order.