We moved to California after my father was killed in action in Korea in 1951. From then until 1963 Christmas vacation was a 2,200-mile drive across the United States to Louisville, Ky., to share the holidays with my grandparents.
I could almost smell grandma’s fried chicken and milk gravy as we got in the car. We left at 4 a.m., a thermos of hot water for cocoa or dried soup and a thermos of coffee with food for the trip in a metal ice chest. My brother and I were stuffed between suitcases and a makeshift bed in the back of the Dodge station wagon while at least three rotating drivers, my mother and friends hitching a ride home, took turns at the wheel. No one could afford airfare or hotels. We stopped when the car needed gas, used the potty as the thermoses got refilled and were on our way. I remember the brilliant stars in the dark skies between towns, and the rose glow of sunrise over desert turned to plains with horses and cows to count and land so large a child could not imagine those who had walked it beside a covered wagon. Streams and curves soon wound us into the dense forests of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. Indian faces seemed to wait in the shadows of boulders and trees. Light snow transformed the roads into Santa’s runways. The trips were long and, in retrospect, hard. But I hold them in memory as warm with waiting hugs, delicious food, and many people gathered in laughter.
Recently, discouraged with news of world conflicts and challenges ahead facing Earth, I thought about those years of watching the small towns of America pass by each Christmas. One troubling memory arose from 1961 when our car broke down in Texas in the middle of nowhere. The land was icy and forbidding. We stayed in a tiny motel near our car repair shop where an old unshaved man rocked on the porch and spat tobacco into a spittoon while he glared at me. The banner overhead as we limped into town had announced, “Population 2,029 – The Darkest Soil and the Whitest People.”
I remember being stunned. President John F. Kennedy was soon to be assassinated, followed in the years of marching by his brother Bobby and Martin Luther King. With these memories I am reminded – one step at a time, one drop in the ocean of ideas at a time, we have moved forward.
Today Loretta and Linda Sanchez are sisters representing California in our U.S. Congress when growing up in a neighborhood like mine as Latinas they were not allowed to swim in our municipal pools.
It is not easy ground. But this time of renewal reminds us, each one of us counts. May peace, tolerance, hard work and love guide us as we greet the New Year.
Now retired and an active grandmother, Laguna Beach resident Marni Magda, who graduated from UCLA in 1964, formerly taught English at Orange Coast College.