Gene Shopping

I left home in a downpour this morning after looking in vain for my umbrella. I thought, “I probably left it at work – I hope my sister didn’t take it by mistake.” And I smiled at the thought of our nearly matching duck head umbrellas. Mine’s navy. Hers is forest green.

We bought them separately and it was some time before we discovered our similar tastes were showing again. I don’t know another soul who owns a duck head umbrella.

Sis and I have ended up with other similar items over the years, never our intention. We had enough matching outfits forced on us in our growing up years. It is not too unusual that we each purchased the same style winter hat (mine black, hers red) but the identical art deco turtle lamps are harder to explain away.

Are there shopping genes? Is it nurture or nature that draws us both to a love of baskets and candles? But it gets stranger than that.

Five years ago my sister and I were preparing to fly to Kansas to visit our dad. Her almost two year old daughter would be flying with us, for what we all knew might be a last visit. Dad had been fighting pancreatic cancer for over three years and was running out of ammunition.

I knew a long flight and layover would not be easy for a two year old. I went shopping for ways to help entertain her.

As we boarded the plane, I told my sis “I brought a new picture book so she has something new to look at, a My Little Pony with a comb so she can keep busy combing its hair, and a little stuffed puppy that fits in a little doghouse-shaped purse. I thought she’d have fun putting it in and out…” And my sister started to laugh.

Our books were different, but she had also purchased a My Little Pony and a dog/doghouse combo. We had purchased the same three items, using the same reasoning as to how they would entertain her on the plane. (In the long run the snack food we each brought may have been the best entertainment…)

I think it’s in our genes.

The Road Oft Travelled

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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.

Catsup bottle "on a stick", Collinsville, IL

Catsup bottle “on a stick”, Collinsville, IL

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.

View from I70

View from I70