The summer between my junior and senior year of high school started out with great promise. I was in love. At least as much as a sixteen year old can be with her first true love, which really means out of this world. He was gorgeous with blond hair and blue eyes and drove a really cool car. I also had a job at the local McDonald’s that gave me extra spending money for all the important things we truly need to succeed in life. Those important things we all need were clothes, shoes, and gas money for my car. We spent every spare minute with friends just hanging out. The future was in the palm of my hand.
All of this wonderful euphoria was swept away two weeks after school was out when I came down with mononucleosis, the dreaded kissing disease. It is a miserable disease that robs innocent people of all energy and makes them feel like death warmed over. It kept me down for over a month but could not break me, and yet, it did nothing to prepare me for what fate and my mother had in store for me one week that summer.
My mother, bless her heart, decided we needed to take the annual family vacation to Opryland in Nashville, TN. “Beautiful country” was the phrase we kept hearing from her. She laid out the maps and very carefully pointed out the route she was proposing for the drive. She thought a scenic drive would be a wonderful experience. My father added his own ideas which meant historical sites. Since he majored in American History during college, it was not a major surprise when he decided to show us The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home.
Of course, being sixteen, I did not think it was going to be such a fun trip. We were not even close to middle class so the trip would be taken in the family car. Oh how dreadful does that sound to a teenager? That meant seven hundred miles each way with my parents, my three younger brothers, and my baby sister in one, two-door vehicle. We did not have air conditioning either, so that was something to look forward to. I am not sure if anyone truly understands the minds of young boys, but if they had to travel with them in rather confined spaces, I am quite confident that all of them would be institutionalized.
As the time drew near, I was still feeling weak from my mono ordeal, but I felt it would give me the excuse to not engage as much with my siblings. I could pretty much ride in silence and for the first hour of the trip, the boys kept fairly quiet. Then they became those creatures that should be locked away. There was the usual bathroom humor that all boys seem to find amusing. I believe there was even a conversation that ended up being a debate. I think it had something to do with nasal discharge and whether your body kept making more after you blew your nose or if you just emptied it out. I also cannot wipe away the memory of that awful stench that was coming from the back seat. We discovered the boys had taken off their shoes.
Keep in mind that this happened in 1979. There are things you will no longer see in the backwoods of Kentucky and Tennessee. As we arrived at the border between Illinois and Kentucky, we realized there was a very large difference in the scenery. We saw more hills and hollers, (as they say in the south), and more old shacks along the road. My mother often commented on the air conditioners jutting out of the shacks right next to a hole in the same wall. The farther into Kentucky we pushed, the denser the woods surrounding the highway became. At times, it seemed like it was closer to dusk even though it was the middle of the day. That is when we started noticing something really strange.
It seemed there had been an explosion of outhouses. Past every bend and turn there was an outhouse. They were made of all different types of material. There were ones of wood, metal, and even some that were plastic. From their appearance, some had been there for many years. Others looked as though they had been freshly whitewashed. It was very odd. For the rest of the way to Nashville, we saw all manner of outhouses. Of course, my brothers caught on to that very quickly. “There’s another one!” was a frequent phrase uttered in the car.
The farther we drove, the more we saw. There was so much jockeying for position it felt like we were the latest craze. We would have given the Rubik’s cube a run for its money. Every bathroom break was an argument to see who would occupy the window seats. We even argued over whether Mom could get a window seat. This game was so much more exciting than finding all the license plates with different states on them. We had no idea how diabolical my mother could be.
That following weekend we took a different set of highways home and had the most hilarious time we could have ever imagined. We excitedly got in the car for the long ride and could not wait to get started. The arguments for position had already started. The second we got away from the metropolis of Nashville, we were looking for outhouses of all shapes, sizes, and age. Needless to say, we were not disappointed. What a trip that was.
As children, we do not understand the significance of the experiences we have. We only know we had fun during that particular excursion or it was the worst time we had. Growing up and having families of our own gives us some insight into what pure joy really is. Pure joy is moments. It is always those few moments when children find humor and happiness in the simplest of times. I discovered it was traveling lost highways and finding outhouses.