Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Lifetime of Migration


A couple of weeks ago, while sharing lunch with my cousin, Tammy, and her Okie family, they mentioned they intended to drive over to California. They wanted to see the ocean for the first time.
The comment registered with me, but I didn't give that idea much thought until a couple of days later. Then, as I thought about Tammy and company hitting that Pacific beach, I thought about my own Okie trek from Prague, Oklahoma to California in 1952. Even as a young child I felt the romance of meandering across old Route 66, the adults up in the cab, we kids riding under a tarp in the back. We had the canvas water bag hung on the hood ornament up front, the hemp wrapped water jugs and a box of food up in the cab, a loaf of white bread and cans of spam and potted meat and a jar of pickles to sustain us over the 1300 miles westward.

The food didn't matter, and even riding in the sweltering heat in the back was okay; we were on the journey of our lives and there was magic in watching the miles fall away as we traversed the country.
When we finally arrived in California we found the landscape not much different than Oklahoma at first. I had seen cotton fields in Oklahoma and our first landing in California was over at Stratford, smack dab in the middle of cotton fields. This was before irrigation had taken hold this far south. The land all around the cotton patch was parched and dry, alkali seeping up through hard pack earth.
So we picked cotton, and lived in a sharecropper's shed, and ended our day with a beans and cornbread and fried potato supper. And every night, as I lay down to sleep, I heard the lullaby of cars and trucks roaring down old Highway was the first time the sirens of the road called out to me...urging me down some road to someplace I had never been.
So, one Sunday, we all climbed into the old pickup truck, drove down to Route 41 and headed west, a cacophony of Okies bound to see a mighty ocean for the first time. By the time we got to Atascadero our Okie noses began to pick up the scent of the sea and our senses keened to the notion of seeing something we'd never seen before.
Before long we motored into Morro Bay, parked the old pickup and climbed out and stood in awe at an expanse of water that seemed unimaginable to any of us. We walked out onto the pier, watched the fisherman tending to their catch, and listened to the surf roll in and out, an eternal aria sung to Spanish sailors 300 years before we Okies stood and listened on that wondrous day.

That first trip, from Oklahoma, to Stratford, and then to the ocean, filled me with a wanderlust that would never be quenched. We eventually moved to an old cabin owned by the Cyperds over on Rose Avenue. And the sirens came to me night after night. Farm trucks rumbled down Route 41, and a bit distant, Old '99 carried caravan after caravan of travelers to distant cities north and south....and begged me to come along. And I would lay in my bed and try to imagine what these folks were saying to each other, and where they had come from, and where they were bound. And I would awake at the sound of a train whistle, the sirens song ever stronger as I imagined the faces looking out the window of those trains, wondering what kind of place this Selma was.
And throughout my childhood the roar of motor traffic, and the sound of a train whistle accelerated the beat of my childhood heart and I lusted for the road.
I had no specific travel plans back then, nor even a notion as to where the roads might take me in future years...but the lust for migration was always in my heart.
I could not have imagined back then that I would, in later years, see the wonders of The Great Smokey Mountains, or wade in the Atlantic, or walk the rice fields of Vietnam and dodge traffic in Saigon, or roam the streets of Seoul, stroll the canals of Amsterdam, or live in the paradise of Hawaii for a decade, or the desert sands of Arabia, to see Rome appear before me through the window of an airliner, to arrive in Vienna just at sunset, to stand where Macarthur triumphantly waded ashore in the Phillipines.
And when my foreign wanderings were over, I came back to America, but the lust for the road still lived in my heart. So I bought a little RV and set out to see the nation I loved and served for so long.
And I was blessed to stand under blankets of stars on a cool night in the remote deserts of Nevada, to walk Civil War battlefields, to stand on the back porch of Mount Vernon and watch the Potomac flowing past George Washington's back yard, to walk down Broadway in New York City, to stand in Times Square and observe the frenetic hive of human activity, to see Broadway plays and eat cheesecake at a famous New York deli, to stand on the James River and see where Grant's forces crossed over to Richmond, to walk about Ghiradelli Square eating chocolate and sourdough.
I've been blessed with a lifetime of migration, across this great nation, and around the world...and even now the sirens of the road still sing to me...especially when I hear a train whistle in the still of the night.


Frank K said...

Wow! Beautifully said. Growing up in San Francisco and Marin County, I never really had the pleasure of visiting the ocean for the first time. But I've met plenty of people who have, and the look on their faces as they gazed out to sea was classic. Thank you for sharing those memories with us, Scribe. I felt like I was right there with you.

A Modest Scribler said...

Glad you enjoyed my morning musings, Frank. And thanks for joining me on the road.

Ken said...

That was a great story and fortunate you are to have seen the world like that!! I envy you that. Like Frank I was born near the ocean, San Diego. I do know that I never was happy that we left there. I know I don't care for San Fran bay area where I live now. Maybe when my Wife retires we may move to a more politically incorrect location.

Now later in life I have discovered a bit of that wanderlust and have visited almost every island in the Caribbean and most countries in Central America. I have never been fond of the idea of living in the city until I first visited New York City. Not paying attention I ate a $15 bag of M&Ms in my hotel room. I went to replace it while my wife was in the shower and ended up walking with my head turned up in amazement for four hours. I was hooked. I have been back several times now, only for the purpose of exploration. Even had the opportunity to attend an opening night at Lincoln Center of a Tony Award winning play and went to Tavern on the Green with all the stars afterward. If life permits I'll try to get to Europe as I'm told that is even more amazing than New York. I have a hard time believing it.

Thanks again for your memories here. After all you've seen, I would imagine it would be hard to be still for long. Although Arizona itself has so many beautiful places to see. What a wonderful world we live in. Even the small bit I've seen is intoxicating.

A Modest Scribler said...

I like to visit NYC also, Ken. Would never want to live there, and am always amazed how the millions who do even get along, but it's a great place to witness a really fast lifestyle. If I lived there I'd probably go to a play at least once a week.