As I was writing the first installment of my Photo Tour of Mormon Country, I realized I need to explore the topic of Mormon roadtrips a little further. A lot of people–Mormons included–have no idea just how Mormon their journeys are. Our Church has more members outside the United States than inside, so I doubt this aspect of Mormon culture extends to all Mormons. But if we’re talking Mormons in the U.S.A., we’re probably talking roadtripping Mormons.
Let’s do the athropological math:
a=Family relationships are hugely important
c=Mothers who raise children rather than earn money
d=Ancestors who walked across frozen rivers and over barren mountains
e=Brigham Young’s colonization ideas
f=Interstate highway system
g=U.S. gas prices
a(b/c) + e(f+g) = Mormons in the U.S.A. think it’s normal to take four children under the age of eight on a 16-hour roadtrip to visit relatives
Just a couple weeks ago, a Mormon friend told me about relatives who spent their summer break visiting family. They drove with four children, ages 10 and under, from North Carolina to Indiana to Texas to Colorado to Idaho to Calgary to Montana to Illinois to Tennessee to Indiana and then back to North Carolina, which comes to about 8,000 miles. Only in Mormondom!
As I wrote earlier, the downside of Mormon roadtrips is they’re an exercise in misery. The upside is they set the stage for miracles to happen. Also, after a few years of healing, the participants have a great story to tell.
One of my family’s storied roadtrips was the ride home from Boise to Seattle in our big yellow sudan, known in our family as the Banana Boat. I’m pretty sure the Banana Boat was a Buick. It was shaped like the car in the picture below, and had a brown roof and bright yellow body.
It might have been a nice car when it was new in the 70s. Our roadtrip, though, took place in the late 80s. One or two of my older siblings were gone to college, so that made four or five youths and two adults riding in style.
The day of our storied trip was hot, and the engine started overheating, so my dad turned the heater to its highest setting in order to cool the engine. To prevent us from heatstroking, he rolled all the windows all the way down. The wind roared in our ears and our hair whipped in our faces. Occasionally, my dad yelled over the noise to inform us how well his fix was working. It wasn’t. His next solution was to pull over to the side of the road and carry buckets of water from irrigation ditches in the nearby farm fields and splash them over the engine, cooling it enough for us to drive a little further. This trick took us all the way home.
My second oldest brother must have inherited his car sense from my dad because he too believed in driving seconhand vehicles and milking them for every cent of value until they were a scrap heap along the freeway to Utah. My brother’s time at Brigham Young University overlapped with mine, and he ferried me to Provo my first two years as a student there.
Our first back-to-school roadtrip was in his little golden Subaru, which was at least ten years old, maybe twenty. We stuffed our boxes and suitcases into the Subaru until there was no more room. We opened the rest of the suitcases and shoved their contents into the remaining nooks and crannies. When the back seat area was so full that opening the doors would mean spilling duffel bags and shoes onto the driveway, we rolled the windows down a few inches to stuff in a few more socks and shirts. My mother, thinking this was a good time to clean out her cupboards, offered us several nearly-empty containers of food. I thought there really was no room for anything more until my friend, who had come to say goodbye, suggested we open the trunk and sprinkle the Cream of Wheat over our suitcases.
Finally I squeezed into the front passenger seat, wedged my feet into place between the bags in my floor space, and braced myself for the 14- to 15-hour drive to Provo. What should have been a lovely bonding time between brother and sister became instead a time that welded our souls together like comrades in battle. Sometimes it seemed the Subaru was our enemy, but really it was the Blue Mountains. The road from our parents’ home to Provo is about a thousand miles long and five thousand miles up. I can’t remember exactly what was wrong with the car, but overheating was part of the problem, especially when going up hill.
We drove the entire way at about 30 miles per hour, less than half the speed limit. Several people offered to help us, but we weren’t about to flee in battle. If our forefathers got to Utah by sailing across an ocean in a wooden ship and then pushing a handcart halfway across a continent, well then we could ride in a Subaru at 30 miles per hour. My brother the hero drove non-stop for 24 hours until we arrived in Provo just as Freshman Orientation was ending.
The next year, being a true comrade, I trusted my brother to ferry me to school again. Once again we took his little golden Subaru. He planned to buy another car as soon as he arrived in Provo, but he wanted to squeeze one thousand more miles out of his Subaru.
My mom was at work when we were leaving, and for some reason she didn’t have her car there. She needed someone to bring it to her, which wasn’t a problem, since she worked right along the route we would be taking out of town. I drove her Volvo the 15 minutes to her workplace and waited in the parking lot for my brother to show. I expected he would be just a minute or two behind because he was getting into his car when I left the driveway.
An hour later he arrived.
He told me the Subaru hadn’t started at first, but after trying for 40 minutes, it was now going. So I hopped in and we headed over the Cascade mountains. We stopped for gas in Eastern Washingon when, to our consternation, the Subaru wouldn’t restart! The stage was set. We needed a miracle. We bowed our heads and with all the faith we could muster, prayed that our Subaru would start and take us safely to Provo. My brother closed the prayer and turned the ignition one more time. The subaru started.
We weren’t interested in testing our faith again, though, so we decided to keep the car running, even when we stopped for gas. We rolled into gas stations, disembarked the vehicle, locked it up, filled it with gas, and went inside to use the restrooms, all while it was still running.
This trick took us all the way to Provo.