Maureen Egan: 100 Miles Before Breakfast
I have my mother to thank for the highlight of my childhood — a five-week, cross-country camping trip our family took in the summer of 1969, the year I turned 8. After seeing a neighbor's slideshow of a similar trip, my mom began her multi-year campaign to convince her book-loving, school administrator husband to devote his entire summer vacation to driving a car and tent trailer — packed with six kids and camping gear — from the south shore of Boston to the south coast of California and back, for a total of just under 7,000 miles.
Before she married at 29, my mother had hiked Mount Katahdin; sidestepped up and skied down Tuckerman's Ravine on Mount Washington; and road-tripped with friends from Boston to Aspen to experience the thrill of skiing in powder. (Mind you, this was in the late 1940s and early 1950s when proper ladies rarely took such risks.) The idea of hauling a 6-, 8-, 10-, 11-, 12- and 13-year-old — five of them wiry boys — across our great country, motivated rather than daunted her.
She plied my dad to build a wooden roof carrier and a custom-designed camp kitchen with cubbies and drawers that held all the cooking items she would need to feed her family of eight during the trip. (We ate out less than a handful of times during the five weeks.) She pinched pennies for two years from dad's meager private school paychecks to fund it all, including a trip to Disneyland in California. Gas was only 35 cents a gallon, but it still took every scrap of her frugality to manage the budget.
Early on in the trip, mom figured out that we would never achieve her ambitious itinerary if we stayed at the pace we were keeping. (Picture six scrappy kids playing hide and seek in the woods when it was time to break camp.)
"Starting tomorrow, it's 100 miles before breakfast," she declared in her don't-mess-with-me voice.
"What does that mean?" we all asked.
"That means we break camp like soldiers, get on the road by 7 a.m., and drive two hours or 100 miles before we stop for breakfast at a rest area," she said.
"Mommmmm....noooooo!," came our chorus of groans.
"That's right, NO more lollygagging around. We've got an entire country to see and we'll never make it at this pace. Walter, tell them we mean business," she said.
"Your mother is right, children," my dad said, clearing his throat. "Tomorrow is a new dawn, and a new plan."
My mother purchased a Golden Eagle card from the U.S. Government for $7, which would gain us entry (including camping privileges) into any National Park in the country. She was not about to waste any of her investment, and her adventurous legs knew no bounds as she led us up the Rocky Mountains in sneakers, down Bryce Canyon on horseback, into the Pueblo dwellings like hunchbacks and along the precipitous paths overlooking the mile-deep Grand Canyon on sturdy legs. It was mom who doled out ice chips in our oven-on-wheels as we crossed the Mojave Desert, where I think we almost ran out of gas.
Mom was the only one able to repack the tent trailer with all our gear at the end of each stay. It was she who figured out that a tall, plastic, covered pail, when filled with water, clothes and powdered laundry detergent, could squeeze into the back of the station wagon and slosh all day, leaving just a quick rinsing and hanging once camp was made to produce clean laundry. Mom even kept a separate suitcase, packed with one clean outfit for each person, to ensure that her brood would arrive at church each Sunday — in Denver or Las Vegas or Yosemite — dressed appropriately. Let it be known that Marie Egan's family never missed Mass.
We spent two of the five weeks near Los Angeles, camping at Doheny Beach, close to mom's brother and his family — six kids similar in ages to our own. We got to know our groovy California cousins and the waves of the Pacific, and that was pretty great, but the road was calling and my mother wanted us to taste it all — the bark-covered towers of the Sequoias, the fearless bears at Yellowstone, the mighty lakes and mountains of the Grand Tetons. In all, we made it to 15 states and 10 national parks. We almost lost 10-year-old Joe, who climbed over the fence at the Grand Canyon, and 13-year-old Jerome, who got tired of pit toilets and wanted to hop the bus back home, but my mother would have none of it. She pulled us through with her spunk and her spark, and only a few boxes of Band-aids.
I had hoped to take my two kids on a similar, life-changing adventure, but every time I pictured it, I got totally overwhelmed. I didn't have the iron will and selfless gumption to forge such a heroic odyssey. Mom was one of a select few who could pull off that legacy trip. My brother, Leo, said it best at the end of his eulogy, eyes moistened with the adoration we all shared, "Love you mom...If anyone deserves a rest, it's you."
Maureen Egan writes and paints, among other things, in Rockport. She finally went camping with her family this spring, a trip planned by her daughter, who takes after her grandmother in more ways than one. Maureen's art can be found at eganart.com.
We tell stories.
We tell stories to make sense of our lives.
We tell stories to communicate our experience of being alive.
We tell stories in our own distinct voice. Our own unique rhythm and tonality.
Transformations is a weekly story-telling column. The stories are written by community members who are my students. Our stories are about family, love, loss and good times. We hope to make you laugh and cry. Maybe we will convince you to tell your stories.
— Kathrin Seitz, editor, and Cheryl Durbas, co-editor
"Everyone, when they get quiet, when they become desperately honest with themselves, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there." — Henry Miller
Kathrin Seitz teaches Method Writing in Rockport, New York City and Florida. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheryl Durbas is a freelance personal assistant in the Midcoast area. She can be reached at email@example.com.