Getting There | Family Reunion 1958
It’s nearly midnight in July 1958. I’m 14 1/2 years old. We’ve been on the road from Savannah, Georgia, driving to the first-ever family reunion on my father’s side.
We left Mom and Sister #4, now 5 years old, in Savannah. I’m pretty sure we were driving our old second-hand Nash Ambassador (also unaffectionally called a Nashcan). Not a bad car, but not totally reliable, either.
All I remember of the road trip itself is that it took a very long time and the weather was hot. We arrived in Newton, Kansas near midnight. We’d had a little car trouble along the way, and were behind in our schedule.
My father said it was too late to go straight to the family house. We wanted him to call and let them know we were here. They might have a room ready for us. He said no, it was too late. He didn’t want to bother anyone. We would just have to find a motel room.
Several stops later, we still didn’t have a room. It seemed all regular motel rooms had been taken. My father didn’t like our idea about sleeping in the car. Finally he pulled into the only gas station still open, and asked about a place to stay until the morning.
The owner looked us over—a pretty sad sight, I fear—and hesitated. My father pressed him for ideas about where we could sleep. The man finally said he had a few ‘overnight cabins’ back off the road. They weren’t very fancy, but he would let us stay in one of them. He would have to show us how to get there.
We followed his car down a dark, unpaved bumpy road. When we got to the cabin my father went in to check it out. When he came back I could tell he wasn’t pleased.
He told us it wasn’t as clean as he’d hoped it would be, and he was embarrassed to have us sleep in such a place. But it looked like the best we could do right now.
He also said again, in response to our questions, that it was too late at night to “bother the folks at home.” He would call them in the morning. My heart sank. This wasn’t what we were expecting.
The cabin was small and dirty. It had two makeshift bedrooms, and a small bathroom. I remember not wanting to use it because it was so dirty. Looking back, I wonder what this cabin was normally used for. I probably don’t want to know.
Sister #2 and I slept in one bed—dirty sheets and floor. Sister #3, Diane, slept with our father in the other room. I lay awake a long time listening to hear whether my father was asleep yet.
I was anxious, and felt responsible for Sister #3. I wished she were in the bed with us. We would have made room for her. Then I felt guilty for thinking like this. I asked God to keep us all safe. At some point I fell sleep.
The next morning we arrived at the reunion. Our hosts weren’t happy that Dad hadn’t called to let them know where we were—no matter how late it was.
I still think about this event. Among other things, it captures my father’s steadfast determination not to ask for help from his family because he didn’t want to be a ‘bother.’ Not even when his three young daughters were also in the equation. I wonder where this determination came from.
This experience also highlights several things about me. I was fearful about Sister #3’s wellbeing. I felt responsible for her, yet helpless to do anything to change the sleeping arrangements. I also felt guilty because I was anxious. I wonder what I would do differently today, and why?
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 August 2015
Photo from auto.howstuffworks.com
1949-51 Nash Ambassador