When we were little, my siblings and I loved trips to Kansas City. As Mom frantically swept through the house like an angry spring tornado, checking for left-out bowls and turned-on lamps and unflushed toilets, we kids stuffed two extra pairs of underwear and socks into our suitcases and yelled haphazardly in the general direction of Mother — MAHHHHM! What’s the weather gonna be like?
I always took great care to pack Copper just so, with his body zipped inside my 101 Dalmatians duffel, and his head free and clear outside (so he could breathe, duh). I also found room for my notebooks and gel pens, something no aspiring writer could travel without.
When beds were fastidiously made and rooms tidied and dishes washed, we lugged our bags to the van and piled them high before quickly jumping into our familiar seats. Meanwhile, Dad would begin his customary honking (at our ecstatic urging), until Mom resurfaced from the house, hollering I’m coming, dammit Mike! He’d turn to us, grinning like a child, and giggle as we gave him the thumbs up.
The drive always felt like Forever: North to Cassoday on a winding road (2 turns constitutes “winding” in Kansas), Northeast to Emporia on the turnpike, past Lawrence with a stop at the Leavenworth rest area, and then straight on toward The City. Often we pulled into Grandma and Grandpa’s drive at nightfall, but I knew the route by heart. Past the church where my parents got married, past the bowling alley, turn left before the jeweler…anticipation mounted with each twist and turn.
The City was exotic and romantic to me — there were streets everywhere, and a Lamar’s Donuts, and beautiful brick houses with squirrels in front yards. I couldn’t fathom having so many neighbors and not knowing anything about them. After all, my other grandparents were our closest neighbors back home, a half mile down the dirt road.
As soon as we pulled into my grandparents’ driveway, the effects of the long ride took an immediate toll. Six individuals, all tired and cramped from hours in an economic but remarkably tight minivan, began the act of Untangling. Pillows and empty bottles and stuffed animals and little brothers–all had to be extricated with precision before we could truly savor our arrival. We would race from the van, numb feet tingling, administer a breathless and impatient kiss to Grandma at the door, and climb over one another to get to a bathroom first. Grandpa, hanging back to let the mad dash settle, would waddle to the freezer in that bowlegged manner of his to set out ice cream (at least three varieties).
And after sugary bowls of butter pecan and what seemed like hours of conversation with The Wheel of Fortune or Notre Dame football playing softly in the background, we’d succumb to exhaustion. After more weary kisses for Grandma and Grandpa (and often, aunts and uncles who came to say hello), we would trudge downstairs to build beds on the floor, never without a fight for the couch (which Jacob always won, naturally). Mom and Dad would tuck us in up to our chins, and I’d lie awake in the dark as long as I could, listening to the soft sounds of a family that loved one another. I’d fight Sleep as I imagined the hundreds of pictures that hung on the walls around the pool table, jolted awake every now and then by a peal of laughter from Mom or the groan of Grandpa’s chair.
The City was good. It was love, and joy, and family, and good.