What do you do in a car for 22 hours? Well, when I was traveling as a young child to Italy with my parents, my brother and I sat in the back seats, quietly so as not to disturb the driver up front, Daddy. On the way we were loaded to the gunwales with stuff on the floor at our feet and between us in the seat not only because there was no more room on the roof rack and the boot was full, but also to keep us from slapping and touching each other.
But still my father, sitting at the steering wheel on the right of the car (yes, we are the only country in Europe and most of the world who sits on the right and drives on the left), would find cause to turn in his seat and deliver a hard thwack across the thighs of the child unfortunate enough to be sitting behind the passenger, Mummy, on the left of the car, when we got noisy or whiny or argumentative, which was about every hour.
As the oldest, I rarely found myself in that spot. As most children we had assigned seats, my sweet younger brother’s seat was on the left…mine was on the right out of harm’s way. Daddy did try slapping me a few times but the impact wasn’t quite so hard (he couldn’t quite get the momentum needed to deliver hard backhand thwacks directly behind his seat) plus I could quickly scoot my legs out of harm’s way.
We would stare out of the window, listen to the radio, until it faded out after the first day and I would open my window and will myself not to get sick. We stopped to eat as my father did not like the munching that occurred behind him, this is where I learned to suck my chips! Eight hour stretches of road for a three and a five year old were grueling, I think we slept a lot. My father did all the driving and we pitched a tent each of the three nights we were travelling.
Long distance travel in a car today is quite different. For starters there are the DVD players in the headrests of the seats in front, or TV’s that can be set up between the driver and passenger for the backseat occupants’ viewing pleasure. We employed these devices when our children were old enough to ask for them. Prior to the visual they satisfied themselves with listening to music and books on tape. We would talk, eat and snooze. There were no silence or smacking rules in our van.
As an adult on the way to New Mexico recently I was dreading the 22 hour round trip with three of us trapped in a Volkswagen estate. I wouldn’t have watched a film even if one had been available; the books on CD that were plugged in almost immediately, were a disaster since they put us all to sleep, driver included…so for safety’s sake we resorted to conversation.
For a whole 11 hours both ways.
I was worried on the outward journey not sure we would have much to say since we really only met once a month for a few hours to discuss books or writing.
I was worried on the return journey that we would be talked out after five days together in a small cabin.
To put it mildly, if I had really considered what I was doing I doubt I would have let myself be talked into a trip with five other people I hardly knew!!
As it turned out God was beaming.
We talked about the scenery, the windmills and how the farmers didn’t have to milk them.
We stopped for a hamburger and fries and coffee, or other caffeine loaded beverages.
We woke up!!
We spied the Cadillac art just before Armarillo and we let down the windows, for a nano second, to hear and enjoy the smells of the cattle waiting for slaughter.
We commented on the time change when we crossed the border.
We looked at the Indian reservations and wondered what anyone could do with so much desolate land…obviously not a lot other than being able to brag about the hundreds of thousands of aces they owned.
We watched the sun hover and finally set over the mountains when they finally came in view.
We talked about the mesas.
We talked about families, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, parents and grandparents, and found out lots of differences and commonalities. Our parents wanted the best for us in their own way, they were strict, they did unexplainable things, they all had personalities.
We arrived nourished by talk.
While on retreat we wrote down our goals for the week.
In the evenings and on walks we talked about positive thinking, faith, the law of attraction, beliefs, and a new book called The Secret.
We discussed education and how it would be changed if we were in charge.
We compared cooking techniques and how to save water with a septic tank.
We shared the work we had done each day.
We meditated before dinner and did yoga before breakfast.
We kept quiet.
We grew together, we bonded, we attracted, we developed a great deal of respect for one another, we found out how alike we all were.
On the journey home we talked about hopes and aspirations, ambitions and dreams, where we are now and where we want to be in the future.
We dug deep for the defining moments in our lives.
We owned up to mistakes, worries and fears.
We admitted to having already decided what we wanted our future grandchildren to call us.
We confessed to disastrous honeymoons!
We stopped at rest stops and ate sandwiches in the car.
Time flew and at the end of it all I was ambushed by philia.
We unraveled our unique histories and re-wove them into a trelliswork of sweet friendship.
As five women we embarked on our Yoga, Meditation and Writing Retreat.
They were collectively my writing and reading group.
After a week together and 22 hours in a car they are people I can lunch and dinner with, talk to on the phone, who know me almost as well as I know myself.
I have been surprised by friendship.