I grew up in southwest Louisiana, in a flat, mid-sized town one parish north of the Gulf and about thirty miles from the Texas border. Lake Charles was the town in which my mother had been raised, and although she hadn’t planned to return, she and Dad did just that when I was five and my sister was 2. The allure of in-town grandparents and a full medical practice after so many years of med school, residency and skimping by was too great to pass up.
745 miles away, east-northeast, is a tiny, hilly town in north Georgia. Toccoa is tucked in a corner of the state just about thirty miles from the South Carolina border. It’s where my father grew up. Like my mother, Dad never planned to return to his hometown. Unlike her, he didn’t. But his parents, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew remained in Toccoa, and so we visited regularly, most often for Christmas.
To get there, we drove; Mom, Dad, my sister, Elia, and I packed in whatever land-yacht Mom had at the time. She went through several Oldsmobile Cutlass sedans before moving on to a string of three identical Lincoln Town Cars.
In any case, the drive from Lake Charles to Toccoa was long: 10 hours if you hauled ass and didn’t stop, but who doesn’t need to pee, eat or stretch legs in desperation? And so it usually took longer. Mom always said she’d help drive, but as soon as she took the wheel, she’d start nodding off from boredom. Dad would then again become captain of our ship.
Driving east through south Louisiana is one of my favorite things to do: the Atchafalaya freeway and swamp basin is one of the most magical places on earth. I feel deeply rooted, calm and right when I’m driving over that long expanse. I’d go back and forth all day if I could, imagining the gators in the murky depths, looking for regal egrets and herons, watching fisherman cast from their pirogues and flat-bottomed boats.
Once you leave Louisiana and enter Mississippi though, nelly is it boring. Just dull as all get out. And then you have Alabama which is not much better although Mobile is pretty. And then Georgia where at least the land gets hilly and at least you're finally in the state of your destination.
There was little to amuse us during those rides beyond good music and fun stories. We’d stop for snacks and gas, run around a bit, get back in. Invariably during these long drives, many farts were passed. We labeled them: Dutch Oven; Silent But Deadly; Wet; etc. It sounds revolting, but we thought we were hilarious. “The family that plays together, stays together” we’d laugh, tears streaming down our faces. The worst stinkers resulted in what we termed Blow Outs.
Blow Outs involved rolling down all the car windows simultaneously and screaming BLOW OUT at the tops of our lungs! When you’re driving 65 miles an hour, Blow Out is an effective way of airing out your car and releasing any frustration you might have about still being stuck inside a sedan full of flatulence on the flattest, most boring roads in the world. (Well, I hadn’t yet driven through Ohio and Indiana, but you get my drift).
We dreaded those long drives to and from tiny Toccoa, but if you ask anyone in my family now, I bet we’d all agree they were special times in their own ways. No technology then, no screens. We really spent time together, talking, laughing, playing license plate bingo, and, yes, farting. BLOW OUT!