by Anne Hughes from Vancouver, BC
May 12, 12
My parents are two of the most interesting people I will ever meet. They met, fell in love, my father choked out a proposal, and they were married. September 1, 1985. Four years later they had my older sister, then two years after that they had me. I remember a lot from my early years but the things that stick with me the most are our family vacations.
The trips themselves were memorable, but what was most memorable was the car we took those road trips in. A gold four-door 1979 Buick Electra - Limited Edition. It was bought new out of a catalog by my dad’s dad. My sister and I called it: the Loser Cruiser. At almost 19 feet long, we could go for weeks with all our stuff packed in there, we often did.
I remember my father in the driver’s seat, constantly streaming trivia about the buildings we were whooshing past. When he paused to breathe, my mother would occasionally lower the visor and flip open the mirror to look at my sister and I. If we looked comatose she would ask loudly, “Girls, are you soaking up the culture?” As I watched the fields blur past my window, she would proclaim, “Yellow flowers!” to which we were expected to respond promptly: “Canola!”
Yellow flowers for canola; blue for flax; purple for alfalfa and pink for clover.
Although the destinations always had a purpose, at least half the fun was the journey.
The older we got, the more unreliable the Buick became. Each roadtrip became a gamble. The week before we left, my Dad would take me to junkyards where he would point out similar models and rifle through their engines or dashboards in search of whatever item had just given up. He would invariably spend the night before we left repairing the Buick, which was parked on the dark street out in front of the house, packed and ready to go, a work light hooked onto the raised hood.
Since those days, both my sister and I have grown up and moved to different areas of the west coast. The Buick still sits outside my parents’ house but its days are coming to an end. The parts we need to fix have become more and more scarce so it is harder and harder to maintain. It’s sad to see it sitting there, but I know it’s had a long fulfilling life packed with adventure and a loving family that tried their best to keep it running as long as they could.
A few days before I moved out, I went back and sat in the Buick for what I think may have been the last time. I sat in the backseat behind the driver’s seat--my seat on all those road trips. I couldn’t bring myself to sit in the front because those seats don’t belong to me: they belong to my parents. I closed the door and shut my eyes, remembering. The car still smells the same ¬– musty and comforting, the seat feels the same too. I visualized the tower of pillows that I’d stack between my sister and I just in case she tried to look at me. I felt the wind tangle my hair as we drove with all four windows down because the air conditioner had died again.
I thought of the trips, yes, but I also thought of everything that had led to me to that moment and that place ¬ – the backseat of that Buick, just days before I was moving out and far away - a thousand kilometers away. Somehow, it didn’t seem too scary to be going so far away. My father’s trivia and my mother’s comments made even a thousand kilometers feel like it was just around the block. Whether they knew it or not, when they took us on those trips they were preparing us for the world outside our neighborhood. They were preparing us for the day when I’d have to leave it and explore on my own. Everything they did back then was for me; now it’s my turn to say that everything I do is for them. Every favour I give to a friend, every test I study hard for, every extra mile I go to make someone feel valued; I do for my parents.
And though I may not know how to change a tire, I know all about my home away from home. I don’t know how to check the oil but I can tell you which flowers are which. I’m not sure where the fan belt is but I can tell you what it sounds like when it snaps on, on a deserted Okanagan Valley highway on a hot weekend in July.