When we were very young, my parents would drive us across the country to visit relatives out west. My father would pull the seats from whatever van we were driving that year, and build a wooden platform to fit in their place. Underneath the platform would go the luggage, and on top would go their bedroom mattress. We kids would pile in, sitting, laying, rolling, on the soft mattress together as the miles passed below us. Mom would tape aluminum foil to the windows to reflect away the sun and its heat, and we would eat sandwiches from a big red and white cooler. There was no air conditioning, so the windows would be open for most of the drive, and the hot wind would rush in and stir up the pages of our books.
Dad would drink "Squirt," a sour grapefruit flavored soda that came in yellow cans. I would steal a sip or two when I dared, and as I did, I would imagine driving my own wife and kids across the country someday. I would drink "Squirt," wear a Farrah Fawcett tee shirt with faded blue jeans, and block out the sun with big black sunglasses. My left hand would hold the wheel, and I would bend my right arm up over my head, fingers clasping the seat belt strap that hung from the door frame above. My wife would sit all pretty in the passenger seat, handing out crackers coated with squeeze cheese and bacon bits. I would listen to the kids sing along with John Denver and Olivia Newton John on the radio, then smile at their cheers when I pulled over at fireworks stands along the way.
After driving all day, Dad would pull over to the side of the road, grab a sleeping bag from the back of the van, and drop to the ground for a long nap. I would worry about my father out there on the ground; I imagined his body being crushed by a passing truck, or wild animals tearing him from sleep with their sharp claws and cutting fangs. I wouldn’t sleep much, restless from the thought of losing him playing on a loop inside my head. Come the dawn, I would wake to the creak of the driver side door opening, and then listen for the rustle of his sleeping bag as he crammed it into the space between the two front seats. The door would close with a click, and he would murmur something softly to my mother as she stirred. Only then would I feel safe again, and as he started the engine and pulled the van back onto the highway I would drift off to sleep with a smile on my face.
I could really go for some Squirt right now.