As Father Richard recounts, two weeks crammed in a VW Beetle, sharing a tiny tent trailer at campgrounds all across the continent is definitely the stuff of vivid memories and so much more.
It was the summer of 1959. Me, my Mom, Dad and two sisters were nearing the end of three wonderfully exciting years living near Nottingham, England – home of Robin Hood. We were packed and ready to depart on the RMS Carinthia, from Liverpool bound for Montreal and then on to Calgary by way of Vancouver Island to visit grandparents I had not seen since I was ten years old. The six-day ocean crossing was memorable for the bad weather in the North Atlantic, with several days of waves so high that furniture was tied down and decks declared off limits.
While in England, we had acquired a Volkswagen Beetle and a homemade wooden tent trailer. They were to be our mode of transportation and accommodation for our journey from Montreal to Vancouver Island. Safely back on Canadian soil we took off for the west.
There we were: two full sized adults and three gangly youngsters age 13, 11 and 9 packed – make that stuffed – into a VW Beetle, pulling a tent trailer. In those days the “trans” part of the Trans Canada Highway had yet to happen, so our route took us through Ontario as far as Sault Ste. Marie then across the border into Michigan. The next part of our journey wound through the northern United States – Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and finally Washington before crossing back into Canada near Vancouver. The final leg of the journey was back on water aboard the CPR Ferry from downtown Vancouver to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
As we were driving across North Dakota on a Sunday morning the car suddenly jerked, swerved across the road and back before coming to rest on the shoulder of the road. A blowout on one of the trailer tires. Here we were stranded on a deserted road with no spare tire. Remember this is long before cell phones.
My dad was nervous and worried about what to do next! Then – like a Wild West movie – seemingly out of nowhere came the North Dakota Highway Patrol to the rescue. Two wonderful young men took complete control of the situation. One stayed with my mom and sisters while the other took my dad and me into the nearest town. It was a Sunday, everything closed, but the Highway Patrol Officer was able to find a garage that would open up and fix the blown out trailer tire.
Half a day later, filled with thankful relief for the kindnesses of so many we were on our way. There were many other wonderful adventures on that trip. But it was this memory that remained firmly etched in my mind, and that of my father as we reminisced once again this past week about the amazing care we as a family received that hot Sunday summer day in North Dakota over fifty years ago. The story is all about the kindness and the caring those officers and the town they came from bestowed on us. And I am certain that we always travelled with a spare after that adventure!
This story is a treasured part of our family lore! I wonder now if the families of those two officers realized how important the tremendous kindness and assistance they offered that day means to us? Is it part of their family lore? I know that many of us have been on both sides of such a story. It is my hope that the times we have been the “white knights” feature firmly in our family lore. Give thanks for kindnesses we have received and celebrate kindnesses we have offered
This is only a small part of the adventures of our family on that cross continent journey in the summer of 1959. To paraphrase the Gospel of John: Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. Family stories are meant to be remembered and shared within and beyond one’s family. I look forward to hearing stories from the summer of 2013 that are already underway!