We usually vacation in Kansas.
The trips started when this Kansan city girl fell in love with a farm boy from Ohio. We made the first 1600 mile round trip drive from my home to his as boyfriend and girlfriend, our second after we were engaged. These were “how fast can we get there” trips, leaving us exhausted and ready to crash on arrival. The same way he had traveled alone, coming and going from college. We added an overnight stop on our first vacation to Ohio as husband and wife, and never chose to drive straight through again! We spent much of this trip discussing future plans. On the drive back to Kansas from that first married trip, we decided to move to Ohio.
A month later we were on the same road again, headed to a new life on a farm in Ohio with our meager possessions, a mother cat, and four two-week-old kittens. It was a long year before we made that first trip back to Kansas to visit family and friends. The importance of the destination to us has always been the people.
But, slowly over the years, it also became about the journey.
Young kids helped slow us down on the road. We made frequent rest stops and memorized the locations of those with playgrounds. In the early 80’s, we looked forward to the only two fast-food stops with indoor play equipment on our route, one in Missouri, one in Kansas. In the car we snacked, blew bubbles, read stories, sang songs, played road bingo, and celebrated every 100 miles with a pack of stickers. The only “tech” equipment to entertain them was a cassette tape player. We bought a new tape for one trip home just to get a break from the one they had favored over and over on the trip out.
As they grew, we extended the trips to see things like the St. Louis arch, Branson, Missouri or Colorado Springs in addition to the great-grandparents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles and old friends in Kansas. The kids learned to look for landmarks, laughed at things “on a stick” and other advertising ploys. We stopped to try the Mile High Pie in Missouri and learned Jay’s had the best burgers in Vandalia, Illinois. We had a favorite motel in Concordia, Missouri, with a playground and a pool, where Imo’s pizza delivered.
During their high school years, we stopped at outlet stores rather than playgrounds and took the backseat to let our two young drivers “bring us home” on wide Kansas highways, their driving status allowing them to control the radio. Somewhere along the line they became great travel companions, entertaining us more than needing to be entertained.
We travel as a couple again these days, our recent thirty-something-th road trip to Kansas to celebrate a niece’s wedding. We remember the kids with basketballs and jump ropes at the rest stop where we stretch our legs. The Mile High Pie sign now claims to be only Foot High. (It’s five inches, tops. I prefer the obvious hyperbole of the old sign.) We retell the usual stories of being stranded in Missouri as we pass Blackwater and Wentzville. I feel like I am coming home on both ends of our trip.
I love visiting new places. But there is something special about the miles we’ve retraced, etching family memories and traditions into our lives.