By Kristen Jordan Shamus
Detroit Free Press
Six of us crammed into a white-topped Ford Flex and barreled through the flatlands of Ohio, the rugged mountains of West Virginia to the sandy shores of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
We had snacks. We had electronic devices — portable DVD players and iPads, iPods and headphones.
We had books and colored pencils, dolls and toy snakes, dinosaurs and dogs. It’s surprising there was room for actual people in the car once it was packed.
We were prepared, we grown-ups were, for a 30-hour round-trip road adventure with three kids ages 8, 5, and 2.
Crazy? Perhaps. But I come from hearty road-trip stock.
COAST TO COAST
The vacations I knew as a child included long drives followed by fun-filled days at Rye Beach in New Hampshire and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. We went to Space Camp in Alabama and slipped down the natural stone at Slide Rock in Arizona before hitting the road again to catch a ride on a huge Dumbo at Disneyland in California.
It was a time when air conditioning didn’t come standard in most cars. There were no seat-back DVD players, smartphones, iPods, iPads or Nintendo DS systems to keep kids entertained.
We had coloring books. We had road atlases. We had the car radio and windows rolled down. We had each other. That was about it. And really, it was all we needed.
When I was 11, we zoomed through Death Valley in a Dodge Charger without air conditioning. It was so hot, the crayons melted. On another trip, our olive-green station wagon darted along switchback roads through the mountains from Flagstaff, Ariz., to Phoenix.
By the time I turned 18, I’d been to all but a few of the states in the continental U.S., thanks to Mom and Dad and their sense of adventure. There probably was a lot of whining. I don’t remember that. What I do remember is laughter, learning to read a map, and how to predict how long it would take to get from one city to the next.
I remember feeling as if Nebraska and Iowa would never end with their vast cornfields, and the way dust devils popped up out of nowhere while we drove a long stretch of Texas highway. I thought Michigan was little more than wilderness when we stopped at an Upper Peninsula rest area with holes in the ground instead of toilets.
What also stuck in my memory were the stories my parents told along the way about where we were headed and why it mattered.
Dad’s were often historical stories — in Appalachia, we heard about Daniel Boone; in Missouri, it was Lewis and Clark; through Massachusetts, Paul Revere. Both parents told us stories about their families, about how they grew up.
“When I was a kid ...” the stories began. Usually there was a great moral that helped us see that whatever we were going through wasn’t so bad.
But something about them stuck. I came to see that family and the stories we heard on those trips helped mold our very identities.
IT’S IN OUR DNA
I learned that Jordans don’t waste food from the time my grandmother mistook sugar for Parmesan cheese, and sweetened her spaghetti. Rather than let it go to waste, she ate it.
I learned that Jordans work hard from stories about how my dad held down two jobs when I was a baby to help pay the bills.
I learned that we can overcome tremendous obstacles from hearing about how my grandmother persevered after being widowed with seven kids in a new country where she couldn’t speak the language.
I learned that Jordans aren’t afraid to go places or try new things by the very road trips we took all those years ago.
Now firmly in middle age and with a brood of my own, I saw a trip to the Outer Banks as a chance to teach my kids those very things about who we are, about what matters to us, about our family.
On our great adventure, my trio groaned when I asked them to look up from their iPads long enough to hear my dad tell them about Daniel Boone. Daniel who?
They griped about having to shut off their iPods long enough to hear the story about their great-grandmother and the sugar on her spaghetti.
And when I suggested getting them each an atlas to plot out where we were going, my eldest rolled her eyes and announced that is what Google Maps is for.
I shook my head.
They might not admit it now, but I’m willing to be bet those stories have already crept into a corner of their minds.
And one day, my kids will instinctively know that they are people who work hard and don’t give up in the face of hardship. They are people who aren’t afraid of trying new things or taking great adventures.
Because that is who we are. That is where we came from.