We lived on two things: the road and carrot sticks. The road because my father was in the military and we moved on average every two years; carrot sticks because carrots don’t make crumbs. Six kids traveling across the country with their parents in a Volkswagen van could not eat anything that made crumbs. Crumbs in your seat as well as in your britches made for itchy kids, and an itchy kid moves. A moving kid, even one moving across something as big as the continental U.S. in something as big as a 1971 Volkswagen van, is a bad thing, made worse when traveling in close proximity to siblings who were also moving. Moving leads to unruly knees and disorderly elbows and ill-behaved extremities inevitably lead to fighting since the most horrific thing that we kids could be subjected to was to have someone just like us touch us. Crumbs, being the culprit of all chaos, were therefore avoided at all costs. This made most of God’s perfect foods like Oreos, salt and vinegar potato chips and brown sugar Pop Tarts forbidden, but fruit wasn’t and we were allowed apples. I remember using my tongue to push chewed-up apple against the back of my teeth so it squished out from between the spaces in my front teeth. I would then wait patiently for my little sister, the Queen of Queasy, to look at me. When she did I would bless her with as broad a smile as I could manage. Mama mistakenly thought my sister suffered from motion sickness, but what she truly suffered from was relative.
We were, on occasion, permitted a special treat: Space Food Sticks, a compact energy snack that the Pillsbury Food Company developed for space travel. This Tootsie Roll like candy was our reward for eating carrots and keeping our body parts in check. The good thing about Space Food Sticks was they were chocolate, caramel and peanut butter; the bad thing was they really weren’t and they tasted horrible. They were enriched with vitamins and minerals and that is exactly how they tasted: like iron. The metal flavor grated against my teeth and left my tongue feeling dried out. Because Space Food Sticks were the closest we would ever come to tasting real chocolate we kids prized them. (Real chocolate was on the no-no list for its tendency to cause squirming and then, having successfully caused a skirmish, would melt into a permanent smudge of Hershey on the car interior to forever remind Mama never to Kiss her kids again.) Since Space Food Sticks were valuable to six kids, whose deprivation was second only to their boredom, we devised ways to torment each other with them. It never failed that one child would pretend they had eaten their ration and then, when everyone else had consumed theirs, would whip out a piece hidden in an armpit or in the cleverly folded crease of the seat belt and yell, “Whadda ya know! I still have some!” This would cause a glare of hatred so intense that the hoarder would have to shield his stick from the gaze of the others to keep it from disintegrating. There is nothing on this earth as satisfying as the pleasure of eating your Space Food Stick in front of five siblings that don’t have one. Sibling cruelty is an art form and it took some time to master the torturous mmm’s, ahh’s, exaggerated lip licking and blissful smiles that were all quite a necessary part of enjoying your snack.
Of course any thought of food flew out the frantically lowered car windows when Sam, the family mutt, gassed us.
When we traveled we weren’t allowed hydration. That might require an extra bathroom stop and Papa only pulled over when the van, not the kids, needed fuel. Volkswagens being what they are, that meant on the trip from Charleston, South Carolina to Greenville, Maine, we peed once—somewhere in southern New Jersey.
We emerged unscathed from our cross county travels, if not from our childhood and have all settled in Maine—and needless to say, we don’t travel far from home.
L.E. Hughes is a columnist, author and owner of Diamond Corner B&B in Stratton, Maine. She welcomes your thoughts and comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.
© July 2006, Lew-Ellyn Hughes. All Rights Reserved and Retained by the Author.