Invariably, when telling new people about this trip, someone always asks, “what do your parents think?”
“They’re thrilled,” I say.
You see, they did the same thing.
In 1974, just a few years into their marriage, my New Jersey-born-and-bred parents boxed up their apartment, quit their jobs and packed a VW bus. Knowing they didn’t want to settle in a big city and feeling the pull of the great open West, they set out on a journey to see the country and find somewhere new to call home.
Slides document their trip. In the darkened room, the bright bulb of the projector makes dust motes flash like tiny satellites and the old carousel whirrs and clicks. Each photo is a story they tell together, filling in details, complementing each other. The day they woke with the camper surrounded by a herd of cows. The campsite by the river with a little laundry and lending library. The meadow where they first saw bear grass.
They were a decade younger than Patrick & I are now. Their pictures look so much like the kinds of photos we’re taking. And my parents – my beautiful mom, long hair parted in the middle, smiling up from a book, my handsome bearded dad, grinning as he holds a just-caught fish – look just like the kind of people we’d be friends with. In a way, this trip lets me get to know them better. Or, imagine their lives before me better, at least.
In Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck theorizes the urge to explore and seek out new places is genetic. “The pioneers, the immigrants who peopled the continent, were the restless ones in Europe. The steady rooted ones stayed home and are still there,” he writes. “But every one of us….are descended from the restless ones, the wayward ones who were not content to stay at home. Wouldn’t it be unusual if we had not inherited this tendency?”
I’m grateful to my restless parents. Parents who passed down, perhaps, an itch to see the country. Who said, “GO!” when I told them about this adventure. Who showed me that working hard and having a good career are important, but not the only important things. If Patrick and I ever have kids, I’m glad this trip will be part of our family narrative. And I hope I pass down curious, restless DNA. I can think of no better legacy.