Many people believe that the mid-west is flat. They often complain about the tedium of traveling across such flatlands, seeing nothing but fields and farms. If you have ever driven through that land in a VW Bus, you’ll know that’s not true. We breathed a sigh of relief once we passed through all the western mountains until we realized that the bus slowed down on every slight rise. It didn’t look like we were going up or down hill, but the bus felt it. It seemed like it took forever to cross the plains. We managed to stop at rest areas or truck stops before dark for most of the time.
In general, we really liked driving through Nebraska. Nebraska had the best rest stops for children. There were playgrounds and lots of shaded areas to run around and play. One evening, it was starting to get dark, so we had decided to get off at the next exit and find a place to spend the night. Unfortunately, the next exit was too many miles away, and we were forced to turn on the headlights to see, slowly coasting to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. We sat on the side of the road, hoping that no state troopers would come by. However, they soon did. As they pulled up behind us, Paul started rummaging around for our registration and hopped out of the car as they were starting to walk towards us. Suddenly, both cops crouched down with their guns drawn and Paul immediately threw his hands up and yelled, “There are kids in the car!” The troopers slowly walked forward and patted Paul down, then shone their flashlights into the car. They yelled at him for what seemed like a long time telling us both to never jump out of the car or rummage around. To them, it looked like we were up to something. I never forgot that lesson.
We finally got around to telling them about our car issues and the reason why we were sitting on the shoulder when the volunteer fire department showed up. Now there were four emergency vehicles surrounding our little family. The troopers were insisting on calling a tow truck to get us out of there, and we were protesting vehemently, explaining that we had little money left, not even enough to pay for the tow let alone the rest of the ill-fated journey. We were trying to get to Pennsylvania, where we had the promise of some day-work. I’d always taught my children to be friendly with law enforcement. They always waved when we passed them and often engaged them if we were stopped for any reason. They helped me get out of a lot of speeding tickets back in my younger days. They probably helped that night, too. All of the men who had stopped loved them and spent time asking them about their trip so far. Luckily, they were also very wise about what not to say to officials. After going round and round with the police, begging and pleading, they finally agreed to give us a jump and let us drive in the dark with Paul and I holding flashlights out the windows and the emergency vehicles in front and behind us with their spotlights and flashers on. The flashlights were the cops’ idea, which I thought was a little silly, but the kids loved being in their own parade! Somehow, I was always able to spin difficult events into something fun and exciting.
When we got to the truck stop, the volunteer firefighters had taken up a collection and handed us money to buy breakfast with some left over for gas. We were so impressed with their kindness. I even cried a little. We ate breakfast at around 3 or 4 am then took the kids out to the playground, swinging on the swings and sliding down the slide until the sun came up. As we headed down the road, Jessie exclaimed that she’d had the most fun ever. She was totally impressed by not only the parade but also with being able to play outside at the playground in the dark. My ulterior motive was that they would sleep in the bus, giving us more time and distance on the road. She still remembers it fondly. It's always interested me how people in the same family, experiencing the same things, remember them so differently. For us, the "responsible" adults, it was very stressful. For the kids, it was fun and exciting.
The plan to make the best time we could went slightly awry when we made a necessary stop for gas and bathrooms and inadvertently left our cat at the truck stop. We realized as soon as we got halfway up the entrance ramp, which was very long and curvy. There was no backing up, and the next exit was very far. Jessie cried the whole way, certain that Autumn had run off when we left her. We finally made it back, and she was sitting in the parking space we had vacated, just waiting for us. We scooped her up and went on our way, stopping at dusk, just to be sure, and made it all the way to Ohio before our next challenge.