Sitting on a small suitcase on the front seat of our ’47 Chevy sedan between my mom and dad is a fun way for a six-year-old to travel. I could see all the sights between home in Salt Lake City and New Orleans and back again, and I did not have to sit where my sister was—in the back seat between my two grandmothers. I sat in the front seat on my mother’s suitcase between my parents almost every day for three weeks, and I was looking forward to being home and in my own bed.
My dad wanted to take the family with him when he attended a conference in New Orleans for his new job as Managing Director of the Intermountain Electrical Association. With his new job, he had a private office in an office building in downtown Salt Lake City, and a secretary in her separate office. I was impressed by his new job and by the fun posters of Reddy Kilowatt (a fictional character that acted as corporate spokesman for electricity generation) he brought home.
I enjoyed the trip except for when I was bitten by bedbugs while sleeping in a rollaway bed in the Lusher, a cheap motel in Louisiana, the only non-AAA rated motel we stayed in on that trip. No AAA-rated motels were available.
My mother and grandmothers were very particular about motels. Each time we needed a motel for the night, they would look for AAA-rated motels. They would first ask the attendant for a key so they could look at a room before committing. They would go into the room, feel the bed, check out the bathroom for cleanliness, look behind the furniture for mouse dropping or cockroaches. They usually looked at two or three motels before they found one that passed inspection.
The best part of the trip was spending time with my dad. He was in the Bishopric, he played on a basketball team, and he sang in operas and on the radio, so he was not often home. On the trip, I was able to sit next to him in the car every day for three weeks! There were seldom radio stations to listen to, so we talked or sang songs. When we were stopped at a stoplight, he would say, “The light is going to turn green right now.” I thought he was psychic or something. (I didn’t notice the yellow light for the other direction of traffic.)
Second to the bedbugs, the next worst part of the trip was when, somewhere along the way, I lost my teddy bear Timmy. I probably lost him when we all jumped out of the car to take pictures at the sign announcing we were entering a new state.
When we returned to Utah, it was comforting to be back in the mountains rather than on the open plains where there was no way to tell what direction we were facing. At home in Salt Lake City, we always have the “big mountains” (Wasatch Mountains) to the east and the “small mountains” (Oquirrh Mountains) to the west, so if I could see the mountains, I always knew which way I was facing. I also knew the mountains protected us.
People were always talking about WWII, as it was foremost in everybody’s mind. The war ended just ten days before I was born. During the war, my father was in the Army Air Corps, and my mother and grandmothers worked in the Remington Arms Plant. The returning soldiers were heroes, and I was especially impressed when they gave talks in church wearing their pilot’s bomber jackets. I heard a lot of talk about the Germans and the Japs. In my six-year-old mind, I thought the Germans were just over the mountains to the east and the Japs were on the other side of the mountains to the west. I thought those mountains kept us safe from the Germans and the Japs, and I was also told that the mountains protected us from tornados.
We were coming down from the mountains through Parley’s Canyon when suddenly I saw the Salt Lake Valley. It gradually opened as we got closer. It was comforting to be back in the Salt Lake Valley between the mountains. From Parley’s Canyon, we traveled down 21stSouth to 13thEast and then south along 13thEast past the large and scary Utah State Prison on the left and Sugar House on the right, where I spent so much time shopping with the women in my family. Thirteenth East met Highland Drive in front of my grandmother’s house, and my house was 40 feet behind my grandmother’s house.
Both my grandmothers lived in the same house. My mother’s mother lived in a large walk-out basement apartment in my father’s mother’s house. The large Jensen mansion was on the other side of the cornfields of the Jensen Estate that were on the west and north sides of our home. I had a lot of fun when I lived on Highland Drive. As we got closer to home, I anticipated picking raspberries, peaches, apricots, and apples that grew on our property, running through the cornfield, and playing in an old barn at the far end of the cornfield.
There were some scary things about our house. The stove in the kitchen was heated by coal and could burn me if I touched it when it was hot. There was a grated opening to access the crawlspace below the floor. My mother screamed once when my father came up from the crawlspace with a black widow spider on his back.
Finally, after the long trip, the car was unpacked, my grandmothers were back in their house, and I was glad to be back in our small home. My bedroom was a fun place where my dad would often lie down next to me at bedtime and tell me stories he made up about dreams he said he had.
I wish those fond memories could have continued, but a year and a half later, my father died of polio, and four years later I had a stepfather.