Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Second Exodus

It was Easter week, I was thirteen years old, there was still snow on the frozen Ohio countryside, and we were embarking on our second exodus. We were going to California! Goodbye storm windows, salt/slushy winter streets, frozen toes, and staying home from school on blizzard days. Goodbye sweaty summer nights, millions of bug bites and the smell that hovered over Cleveland in the sixties. Hello to...what? My brother and I could only wonder. All that we knew about America we had learned in the nine years spent in a Cleveland that was, for us, no different than what we might have expected if we had stayed in Europe. Weddings, funerals, holidays, picnics and most get-togethers were Austrian food and fun fests complete with home-baked bread, stuffed peppers, goulash and apple strudel .We were leaving the bosom of a large extended family. And except for Disneyland and "Beach Blanket Bingo", we had no idea what to expect of the Mythical land of California. It was as if we were going to Mars.

My father had rented a U-Haul trailer and it was hitched to our 1960 Ford Fairlane. In the trailer were my mom's sewing machine, dishes, housewares, clothes and boxes of mason jars containing the fruits and vegetables of my mom's canning efforts. Up to this time in my life, I had never seen the inside of a store-bought can of peaches. My Aunt Ruth was seeing us off. After the hugs, tears and promises of a reunion in the not too distant future, the tires crunched on the snow of our familiar street for the very last time. The street, the house and many of the neighbor's children and grandchildren are still there, but none of us have ever seen that house again.

Adventure! that's what I felt. Pure adventure. My father was eager to get to his new job, my mother was scared to death of the unknown and my brother was heartbroken at leaving his big-breasted first real girlfriend. But me? I was ready for anything. I knew that before we stopped for the night, I will have eaten in a coffee shop for the very first time. Before we stopped for the night, I will have travelled in four different states and seen four different types of street signs, four different types of traffic light, four different state patrol cars. And as we rolled past the snow-covered farms of Indiana and Illinois toward our first night ever in a motel somewhere across the Mississippi, my thoughts drifted to the new world in front of me. Was it all like Disneyland? Did everybody run up and down the beach carrying surfboards and chasing after Annette Funicello? Would the kids like me? And would my brother ever finish that first letter to the girl he'd never see again.

It was a long day's drive to St. Louis and I fell asleep somewhere in Illinois with the taste of my first coffee shop fried eggs still fresh on the taste buds of my drowsy mind. As I rubbed my eyes we were getting close to the Mississippi. I had never seen anything like it but had so many virtual images etched in my reading memory through an early fascination with Mark Twain. Even though it was nearing midnight, I thought that it must be warmer here. This was, after all, the beginnings of "the south", and as we crossed the river, the cigarette-tinged air from my dad's wind wing seemed almost balmy.

I fell asleep that night thinking of all that I had seen that day and how strange the voices of the newscasters on the motel TV sounded as they drawled my parents to sleep. Whatever tomorrow had to offer, I knew that my daily life would never be the same.

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