"Riding along in my automobile
My baby beside me at the wheel
I stole a kiss at the turn of a mile
My curiosity runnin' wild
Crusin' and playin' the radio
With no particular place to go"
No this particular bit of rumination isn't about cruisin' and parkin' with your sweetie. Though that is a thought for another time. Where did you and you're darlin' like to go? Was there a cruising strip in your town?
But as I said, what I'm thinking about tonight isn't steaming up windows on the side roads or in the cemetary, at the drive in or lover's lane. This is about an entirely innocent kind of cruising that is interconnected to some of the best memories I have of being a child.
My father and mother divorced when I was barely 2. I never knew him. I still don't, the last time I saw him I was 8 or 9 years old. I could honestly pass the man on the street and not know it was him. I doubt he would know me either. My stepfather is my dad. He and my mother married when I was 3 or just about to turn 4. Their marriage didn't last, but he didn't bail on me or my younger sister when the divorce occurred. He stayed in our lives and had visitation rights for us as well as my second sister, his biological daughter. I was about 8 when they divorced.
Money wasn't good for either of my parents. My mother turned to public assistance. Once a month she'd get a check to help cover the costs of raising three daughters that my dad's child support didn't cover. This is not a dead-beat dad story or a story of a father who didn't care, my dad paid child support the best he could, it just wasn't enough.
Back to the memories I mentioned earlier. Once a month, just after the check arrived, my mom would load us into the car and we would spend that Saturday or Sunday afternoon at the grocery store buying the non-perishable food for the entire month a head. We all helped collect boxes at the local bag your own. We all helped box the food, load it into the car and carry it inside. We helped put it away.
We usually got finished in time for a bit of play. In my case that meant reading a book or hanging out with my best friend Marcy. Just as the streetlights started to come on, we'd all make sure we were home. We knew what the first weekend of the month would mean. It was a ritual.
Mom piled us into the car with a blanket or two and we'd go fill up the gas tank. She'd drive us into town and to the local ice cream store. Maybe Baskin Robbins in the fall, but in the summer it was The Custard Cup. Ah, the Custard Cup. The bastion of quality soft serve ice cream in our home town. It was an institution that stretched back years. Each of us with our ice cream, my mom would turn on the radio in the car, roll down the windows and take us for a drive.
We drove through the fancy neighborhoods picking out the houses we'd one day live in. The holiday season always saw us cruising the streets looking at the lighting displays while we drank shakes from McDonalds.
Then mom would head out of town onto the country roads and we'd feel the wind wipping throught the windows as we drove down the country lanes. Then, sometimes, she would pull off on to the side of the road on an old blacktop road and cut the engine. We sat quietly and looked off to our left. There was the screen for the local drive in. There was no sound, but as we sat there finishing our treats, eyes growing heavy, heads nodding, we drank in the images on the movie screen. Actually going to the drive in was a rare treat, but it did happen. But more often than not, if a family show was playing, we'd sit there and watch several minutes of it, wondering what was happening.
Then my mother would start the car and drive us back home, waking up weary grouchy children to stumble into the house to stand grumpily in line so we could have our dirty faces and hands washed before finally falling into bed.
I'm not sure why those nights were such wonderful memories. Maybe because they take me to a time and to moments when it was just us girls. My mom, me, Staci and Carla. Just us. No drama from my mom's boyfriends. No picking and nagging little sisters. No one who wanted to hurt me or anyone I loved. Just us girls.