I’ve always loved traveling, no matter how short or long the trip. This wanderlust has taken me on so many wonderful adventures over the years, and fortunately for me, so many of my best childhood memories were made hitting the road with Grandma Reid. The woman just loved to go. She rarely spent time at home, at least until age caught up with her. In fact, she spent over forty years selling women’s clothing from a variety of catalog companies. So many of her customers were housewives who lived out in Michigan’s Thumb. She’d drive to her customers, bags and bags of clothing samples in tow. She quit selling in the early/mid-1990s only due to the fact that she could no longer find a quality company to represent. The last company she carried sold more home goods than clothing. Unfortunately, the quality was nothing compared to the companies she worked for during the 1950s-1980s. Even as a teenager, I loved to go clothes shopping with Grandma. She had a way of helping you find the right fight and could be brutally honest if need be. I learned to love the road and basics of business, at least in part, at my grandmother’s knee.
During my preschool years, Grandma would pick me up from time to time. At the time, I was used to her late ‘70s/early ‘80s blue Chystler station wagon, the same one that I tried to make Grandpa Reid promise to take care of as it was now his. If you knew Grandpa Owen, it was a futile effort, even if asked by his adorable granddaughter. I can still envision the station wagon parked underneath the old apple tree at the canoe livery – or as we always called it, the park – Grandpa napping in the backseat in the heat of a Michigan summer.
Then one day, I couldn’t find Grandma’s station wagon in the preschool parking lot. Grandma’s new vehicle was one for the books. She purchased one of the first Chrysler minivans, and what a vehicle it was! I have no idea how many miles she put on the thing, but I do know that she replaced the engine at one point. She finally totaled it in the early 90s in an accident on her way to one of my sister’s softball games. That iconic tan minivan, when it was finally put to rest, represented the passing of an era.
What makes certain vehicles from our childhood so damn memorable? I wrote a piece about my first car, which my mom drove for a large chunk of my childhood. I could write something similar about my dad’s ‘77 Freewheelin’ Ford Bronco, his green Jeep Grand Cherokee that my sister inherited as her first vehicle, or even the lemon fullsize blue Ford van with the squealing fan belt that hung around the canoe livery forever – the one we drove to Florida to Walt Disney World. It isn’t the vehicles so much as the journeys and times they represent.
Last spring, touring the Henry Ford Museum for the first time with my middle school students, I was taken back by a veritable wave of nostalgia seeing one of first Chrysler minivans (in this case, a Plymouth Voyager – almost identical to the first Dodge Caravans) at the end of a long line of evolving family vehicles. It stopped me for a moment. All it needed was a tan paint job/interior and Dodge badging to be Grandma’s minivan of my childhood.
More than anything, that minivan represents, at least to me, countless trips to the movies, Lutz’s Funland in Au Gres, putt-putt golf in Tawas, ice cream runs, and the Bear Track. I think of the infamous trip to Kings Island in Ohio where Mom and Grandma tried to remain calm as we were caught in an awful storm. We were parked, Grandma had her foot on the brake, and the van was still shaking. How many trips to weddings, family reunions, and showers did I take with her in that van? Last, but not least, we took Grandma’s van to the airport on our infamous trip to Aruba with Dad, Erica, Emily Lammy, Grandma, and Dean Gillette (Mom was too pregnant with Garrett to fly) for New Year 1991. On the way home, something was wrong with the van, and we could only travel in 15 minute spurts. I thought we’d never get home, but eventually, we arrived.
Grandma knew how to make any trip fun. It wouldn’t be a summer adventure if we didn’t stop for ice cream. On one such occasion, we’d stopped for ice cream after hitting a local amusement park for putt-putt and go-karts. Per usual, Grandma had a van full. In addition to my sister and I, cousins Michael and Linda were there as well, and I may even be forgetting someone. As we are enjoying ice cream on the way home, suddenly my sister’s ice cream falls off of its cone squarely into Michael’s hand. We had to pull over we were laughing so hard, especially Grandma. Now well into our 30s and 40s, the ice cream incident is still mentioned from time to time. Something about it was so incredibly funny, or as Grandma would say, comical.
Now, I’m the one who is rarely home. I’m the one “running the roads” as my dad would say. I hope to make the same kind of road memories with my niece and nephews as they grow up, but that is more my mom’s territory, for now. I normally tag along in her car, playing navigator if need be. Maybe one day they will reminisce about all the Buick Enclaves in our family at the moment (3 and counting) or Uncle Garrett’s Avalanche.
At this point, I doubt my love of the road will ever die. Thank you, Grandma.