Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Go West, Young Boy: Vancouver 1963

I was a young boy when we moved from Sioux Falls, South Dakota out to Vancouver, Washington. By we I mean my parents--Father and Mother--and my Oldest Brother, my Second-Oldest Brother, my Sister and Youngest Brother. Seven of us, that made it, and our cocker spaniel, Blackie. I was all of five years old.
I think we drove out in my Dad's Nash Rambler. I remember it as being two-toned (red and white) big, hulking, full of steel.  It was a car with those fins and bulbous headlights. I could, of course, be wrong that it was this car--my dad had one, but I'm not sure the Nash Rambler was the car we drove out in. My father worked for the Veterans Administration (V.A.) as a psychologist and he was being promoted/transfered from Sioux Falls. (My father was from Red Oak, Iowa (actually, he'd been born in eastern Nebraska, some little town along the Blue River, but Red Oak was his town) and my mother was from the small town of Arlington, South Dakota. (All of us kids had been born in Sioux Falls.) So, our belongings were being transported by Mayflower moving trucks (paid for by the Fed) and we headed out as one of those typical 1950's families--Mom and Dad and one kid up front, four kids squished in the backseat with pillows and toys and snacks and the family dog, all of us riding seatbeltless and whiney and also on a great sense of adventure. I recall I had some plastic dinosaurs that I played with the whole trip long, while my father drove us through South Dakota--through the Black Hills where we had vacationed a number of times--and through Wyoming and into Montana, Idaho, into Washington and down into Oregon and then crossing the Columbia River in Portland to get to Vancouver, Washington: our new home town.
It was summer and it was hot, all the windows down with the hot air rushing inside at us as my father sped down the roads--some Interstate, I'd guess, but am not sure. I think there was plenty of two-lane, too. (Not all of the Interstate had been built at that time.) We all did our usual antics as a family of five small kids heading out west--fought and cried and laughed at each other, made our parents angry, yelled when the dog pissed in the car, stopped at rest stops too often, ate too much junk, were fascinated with the roadside motels because we never ever stayed at motels much before. I do recall that I was sitting up front (we often fought over who got to sit up front and then who got to sit by the windows in back) and we must have been in Wyoming--seeing those long arid plains for the first time, that endless nothing nothing that makes up such a chunk of the West--and I was the first one to spot the mountains. This was a big deal. In my mind, this happened in Montana, but it must have been Wyoming, no? Sure, we'd seen hills and small mountains, but these were the big craggy snowcapped beasts. It had been a challenge--a game my parents used to keep us occupied--to see who would be the first to spot the mountains. And I, being up front, being a viewer of landscapes and a burgeoning highway nomad without knowing it even at that age, saw up ahead, in front of us along the long stretch of empty road the rise of something strange, some gray matter way away with what became a blinding white hairline. The Rockies with snow.
Maybe it was the Tetons, maybe it was indeed the early mountains of Montana. But I was the one to see them and this went down in family lore.
And what it meant--those first mountains--was we were out West. And when we went over those mountains, we had left our old lives behind, ever so further as we made our way past more mountains and forests and rivers and to--essentially--the Pacific. Wet, green, volcanic big snowy mountain studded, mild-weathered, Cascade Ranged, Pacific Northwest, Washington/Oregon west. That was where we lived.
I sometimes get that trip mixed up with others. Because in the five to six years we lived in Vancouver, every summer we'd take week to two or three week long car and camping trips all over the West--we even drove back to South Dakota at least once--(and when we eventually moved to Tennessee, that was another long car trip, down through California and across AZ, NM, TX and then gone from the West), I'm mainly talking Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and of course Washington and I get those vacations, those other long long car trips, strewn in with the two big moving ones. But, not the first sighting of the mountains.
That I remember.

No comments: