©Shers Gallagher 2015
My family travelled a lot when I was growing up, Dad being an ambitious career climber and taking whatever steps he could to further his vocation as a sales representative and later district manager of a huge auto manufacturing industry. And these professional jaunts of his sent us kids packing and assuming a lifestyle of hopping from state to state. I have many personal memories of my oldest brother and me eating breakfasts out of mini-cereal boxes in back of the station wagon full of bags and boxes. Like many childhood friends made in passing, who for us were mostly military brats, I could count having been enrolled in at least half a dozen different elementary schools: no available preschool in Oregon, my first and second class years in Ohio, continuing in Arcadia, California and finishing in Encino. My third year of school began in public education and, after an operation, ended in private. My last year of primary school I happily spent at a spanking new school in a Valley suburb, which is now a huge cement sprawl but was then all orange groves and horse ranches.
It wasn't until the family finally settled in the Valley that my parents remained rooted till Mom’s early death from cancer brought a sad relocation once again. Dad never remarried, having met early on the love of his life and being quite content with that. His last social move, though, was to a senior condominium complex with community pool and Jacuzzi, and there he stayed till the onset of Alzheimer’s syndrome necessitated him having to leave once more to spend the remainder of his geriatric years in a round-the-clock nursing care facility. Throughout his life, Dad had worked hard to achieve the success he’d envisioned for himself and family, and the price he paid was all this travelling. Rehousing we always did by auto, but business trips he did by plane. He also liked the good life, which we kids benefited from by proxy, especially as we got older. Only the youngest never knew anything but such a life. We eldest had grown up on the road, not like gypsies, but as one of many social climbing families of its time having such a lifestyle. Being one of the oldest meant that I didn't much know my father, who was always on the road. Only the younger ones knew him better when he was more settled with himself and his career, which actually took another drastic leap when he was about to retire and is another story of his breaking and remaking.
Reflecting back, I don’t think my older brother much cared for all this uprootedness, especially having to continually remark his territory, as young boys often do. Yet, for me it was an adventure to see who and what lay around each corner of unmarked family territory. Here I could play out my fantasies by donning costume after costume and experiment with manners and behaviors that, if uncomfortable with, I could easily exchange when onto the next leg of the journey, the following community and schoolhouse. What I liked most about all this travelling, though, was simply being on the road, which led us from southwest to northwestern America, across the great divide and back again. It wasn't the highways but byways I liked best, the roads like Route 66, where one could spy out anything from hand-carved totem poles and tepee Conoco gas stations to statues of tall hot-dog bearing giants and building-sized rocking chairs to curio shops boasting of oddities like two-headed lizards, arrowheads and jumping beans, as well as rattlesnake tails making menacing sounds when you shook them. My favorite, though, was the jackalope, a mythical creature of the Pioneer Trail that was legended to look something between an antelope and jack rabbit. I no longer have any jackalope curios, but then I collected cards, toys and buttons with a fervor.
It’s been many a year since my journeys along America’s blue highways. Yet, to me the memories of them have been accumulated with fondness for what I feel are a neglected part of our crazy and history rich American culture.