It's my privilege to bring you Brad Leach who once again uses his words to paint images, bring forth emotions and perhaps trigger memories (happier, I hope) of your own.
As a child, vacations were torturous affairs of smoke, strife, heat, and confinement. To this day I envision hell as an endless, tense, car ride across central Nebraska or Kansas.
With public school, vacations happened during the hot summer. And vacations started with our car. In our case, this was a metal hot-box, salvaged from a POW camp, set on wheels and given an unreliable motor. Dad bought old. Air conditioning was a commie plot to destroy gas mileage, decreasing his beer money.
The tired Chevy or Dodge was jammed with tools, duct tape, oil, water, coolers, luggage, blankets, guitars, and cases of Coors beer for relatives. My brother and I, wedged in the back seat, were an afterthought. I once made the 500-mile trip with my feet propped on two cases of beer.
Dad and NASCAR shared the belief that stops were the "pits" and should be minimal and fast. Detours and tourist sites were "Verboten"! So given travel is educational, my instruction was limited to counting telephone poles in Nebraska or out-of-state plates in Kansas.
"Vacation" meant sweating, squirming, and holding a full bladder, hour after hour. Drinks were discouraged as you'd only have to go to the bathroom -- again. At the rare emergency stop on the highway shoulder, Dad would cuss and Mom plead until a fight erupted as cars flew by. Guilt now joined us in the back seat, as we hoped our small bladders and need for liquids wouldn't destroy our family.
But the worst was the smoking. Both parents smoked and when they grew tired of the highway winds and noise, up would go the windows leaving only a front "wing" cracked. With nothing to do for hours, they went through packs of "coffin nails", using our tiny lungs as hammers. The smoke pouring out of our car must have resembled a 1950's Pittsburgh steel-factory, behind on orders.
Eyes watering and noses clogged, I once convinced my brother to spend our comic book money on those paper painter/surgeon masks at a truck stop. Down the highway we went, masks swallowing our faces, eyes watering, thirsty, needing to pee, drawing pictures on the smoke-stained insides of the glass, while Dad smoked and cussed, Mom smoked away a headache, and passing motorists laughed.
Arriving meant staying with family friends or relations as poor as us. My brother and I answered the same questions over and over to rheumy-eyed adults, looking down purple-veined noses with beers and smokes in their fists. We slept on couches, chairs, or floors, with little to do but find trouble. That meant whippings if we were caught.
Adults went bar-hopping at night or held beer-blast jamborees in a backyard by day. The rest of their time was spent sleeping or arguing. The pall of the dreaded trip home hung over me all week.
My one escape from this holiday nightmare was a few precious books. I could retreat for awhile with the Hardy Boys. Fight aliens with a spaceship and crew. Or cherish home comforts with Bilbo Baggins. Getting home inside those pages was as quick as Mr. Scott beaming me down. And the Enterprise had plenty of restrooms.
Now, as an adult, I don't take a lot of vacations. Frankly, I want air travel and exotic locations (sans telephone poles), no smoke and a nice room. Unfortunately, this takes more money than my bank claims I have.
But -- I can afford my book vacations. Tipping my cap to nostalgia, I sometimes return to solve a mystery with Frank and Joe Hardy. In the cool comfort and clean air of my living room, iced drink at hand, I remind that hot, sweaty kid clutching a painter's mask that we made it.
More importantly, I'm fashioning such novels myself. I want to give others that chance to escape; to fire their imaginations with visions of a better life. To urge them to redeem their own trials for passion.
Celebrate your fortitude and endurance. You are stronger than you know.