Lately, I’ve been trying to record more childhood memories and family stories. There are many things I am afraid I’ll forget. This is one about family road trips.

Both of my parents are from Georgia, and it is where my entire extended family lives. When my siblings and I were growing up, we went down south at least twice a year to visit the family. These were our vacations. We flew if school was in session, to maximize our time, but in the summertime we drove, all of piling into the van, our yellow lab Chipper in the back, and driving over the course of two days. We would stop somewhere in Virginia, at a preselected Best Western that allowed dogs and had souvenir rubber ducks in the bathroom which we always took and placed on the dashboard of the family minivan. By the time we were all teenagers, these ducks lined the entire dashboard from end-to-end, beaks pointing the way forward, our fearless leaders guiding the way south.

Often, our driving days were Saturday and Sunday, and as such we did not go to church on Sunday morning. Instead, my father declared we were going to the “Church of the Town and Country,” aptly named since we owned a bright red Chrysler Town and Country minivan. This meant that Dad would read from The Book of Common Prayer and we would pray and sing hymns. My mother would drive at this time, so my father could have hands and mind free to conduct the service. As the scenery of highway 81 flew by us, we would try not to get distracted when we would spot the first Cracker Barrel or Chick-fil-a. There would be time later for such idols. 

This on-the-road service only lasted about fifteen to twenty minutes. There was no sermon. Afterwards, we went back to our regularly scheduled programming: audiobooks. (A different kind of sermon.) Usually it was Harry Potter, but after the fourth book they got too long for an eighteen-hour car trip, and my brother and I became too impatient to devour the plot and would rather buy the books and read them ourselves. We also took turns choosing CDs. It was very fair and diplomatic. There was separation of church and state in the Town and Country. 

We made frequent stops for food and to let Chipper run around. We would also stop for churches, oftentimes for specific structures my father had previously researched. Sometimes, deep into a fast-food induced coma, the rest of us would just stay in the car. But my father was excited by each one, and would often grab some “literature” about their services and community. He considered this work research, it’s probably one of the reasons he can encounter a church-goer anywhere in America and go “Oh, I know that place!” or “I’ve met that pastor!” Also, his memory is uncanny, which is something I greatly envy. My mother will sometimes tease him for being able to remember so many details about superheroes, and jokingly predict a future of him in an old folks home, convinced he is literally Batman, while she in her sounder mind is tasked with reminding him of reality. So far there are no signs of this mental deterioration. So far he’s still usually the one to remind us of these stories. And I will keep recording.

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