“How would you like an all expense paid trip to California?!”
The voice on the phone was my uncle Curtis. The time was early in the summer of 1965 and I had recently turned 16. Curtis was planning a cross country train trip with stopovers in several cities to visit relatives in San Diego. Accompanying him would be his mother Edna (my paternal grandmother) and his aunt Mary (my great aunt). And out of the blue he was offering me the opportunity to tag along.
Of course, I said no.
The dates in August overlapped the dates our family had already planned a trip to Maryland to visit Neal and Fumiko, my uncle and aunt on the other side of the family (my mother’s). And I just don’t react well to surprises. Yes, I can be an idiot at times.
It didn’t last long. When my mother came home from work and I told her, she said we’d cut short the Maryland trip by a day and made me get right back on the phone to see if the offer was still open.
And once I had a moment to think about it, I began to get excited. Now it meant some more rejiggering of my summer schedule. The August trip dates also conflicted with the driver training course that I was scheduled to take with Mr. Spangler. That proved no problem; I just switched dates with someone, I no longer recall who it was, and I ended up taking the course early along with Pam Barry. Or maybe it was later, I’m not sure, but I do know that Pam and I took it together.
On our visit to Neal and Fumiko, Neal seemed as excited about the California trip as I was. He recalled the train trip he had taken out west when he joined the service, and he was still impressed by how remote many of the western areas seemed with nary a telephone pole nor any other sign of civilization in sight. I was getting psyched now.
Knowing that we’d spend many hours traveling on the train, I made sure to pack a good supply of reading materials so that I’d have something to do when viewing the scenery got tiresome.
And so I was ready. Little did I know [cue the spooky music] that this trip would lead to the unearthing of family secrets—secrets that had been buried for 40 years—secrets that wouldn’t fully see the light of day for many more years to come. [music swells to a climax—blackout!]