Saturday, March 23, 2013

the road to freedom

Americans are defined by their cars.  And the freedom that comes along with big fins and shiny chrome.

I have long understood that.  When Jefferson wrote that men are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness," he could only dream of how Americans would pursue that happiness. 

Sure, horses and carriages brought a lot of mobility to American settlers.  Enough mobility that they could conquer an entire continent-wide country in less than a hundred years.

But the moment middle class families could afford a gasoline-powered freedom-mobile, the world was limited only by one's imagination.  And that liberty wave crested just about the time I was born.

I grew up in a world where there were no limitations on dreams or hopes.  Even when that dream was nothing more than to drive as fast as your car would go to the next town.

And, even though I knew all of this long ago, looking at old photographs has really brought it home.

Take a look at my Dad in the top photograph.  Standing proudly beside our 1951 Mercury.  You have met him only as the man of dust in the box that I carry around to Father's Day celebrations (band of fathers).

Here he is in his element.  As proud as any cowboy with his horse.  And well he should be.  I remember the car.  It was like riding around in an upholstered tank.  Power and luxury rolled into one green package.

It was the first car I remember.  But this is the car I remember best.

In 1955, my parents bundled up their two young sons and headed off from Powers on what would be one of the two vacations we took as a full family.  And it was to be quite an adventure.

In Portland, we boarded a train that would be our home for the next three days.  For two boys aged 6 and 4, it could have been tedious.  I remember it as being filled with constant wonders.  Western places I had only dreamed of.  And, finally, Detroit.  Our destination.

We had traveled east to claim our new 1955 red and white Ford station wagon.  Another symbol of American freedom.  But for the whole family.

As exotic as the train was, the station wagon had an additional advantage.  It could take us anywhere.

We traveled all the way back to Powers.  Stopping at attractions along the way.  For some reason, Carlsbad Caverns is the clearest of those memories.  Probably because of my love of caves -- and the dark.

I can trace most of the major events in my life through the cars my family owned -- and the series of cars I have owned as an adult.

But these two have a special place in my life.  The freedom of the open road.  And the loving arms of a family.

Note -- Speaking of freedom, my mother, brother, and I are flying from Redmond to Portland around noon.  We will then be heading south to Mexico early Sunday morning.  If I do not have a chance to post anything before then, I will meet you on the other side.


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