July 11, 1969: My Brother Mike

Foggy ‘till late. Bought groceries. We all went to San Luis Obispo and visited the mission. The boys swam and then took a long walk up the beach. Doug and I cooked supper. Mike shut his finger in the car door.

Marge Binder, July 11, 1969

When I first read this entry from Maw’s diary and saw, “Mike shut his finger in the door,” my reaction was, “Yep, that’s Mike.”

I felt bad, for sure, but things like this were always happening to my brother Mike. I think he’d agree today: thus has been his existence. Mike is the middle child, and he possesses much of the pseudo-psycho baggage that goes with that (along with the virtues like leadership and modesty). But that’s just the beginning.

I don’t think my joints do that anymore. Now I know why.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve seen that we stopped every seven days in one little town or another to get Mike an allergy shot. Later on in the trip, he’ll get poison ivy and visit a hospital in Illinois for an ear situation. In the years to come, Mike will suffer bouts with more allergies and god-awful plantar warts. Being in the room when he was having one of those things removed was terrifying for me; I can’t imagine what it was like for him.

(Mike and I share a few bum knees too, but I am grateful that our family didn’t suffer anything more nefarious. Very grateful.)

In her diary, Mom seems to cluster Mike and me together in many situations. Even though he was eight and I was four, Mom referred to us as “the little guys” in one entry. We swam while Tim fished. While Tim fished we swam. And on and on.

The scout befriends a native.

But Mike and I were very different kids. He excelled in math and science. I relished the liberal arts and sports. He was obsessed with “Star Trek.” I made appointment TV with “Wide World of Sports.” He studied his ass off. I did what I needed to get by. Mike became an Eagle Scout. He put himself through the University of Virginia (which he didn’t have to do) by driving buses around Charlottesville. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, got several advanced degrees, researched at CERN in Switzerland and then got another degree in architecture.

I have a BA in English.

We are no longer the little guys. For 50 years we’ve charted different courses, chased different dreams, and we’ve somehow got more in common now than ever. We are both creative and artistic, curious, considerate and compassionate. All traits we no doubt learned from Mom.

Yet, differences remain. I consider my big brother Mike to be one of the most honest, modest, sincere and hard working persons I have known in my life. Something I can only aspire to.

June 30, 1969: Part 2

“Visited the Pacific.”

This terse observation belies what must have been an “arrival” for Mom. I hope she took a moment to reflect on this achievement: In two weeks she had safely transported her three boys across the country and delivered them to an ocean they’d never seen before. She battled the elements and endured the sometimes-cross nature of boys, and there were still plenty of surprises and challenges ahead.

I’d like to think, as she looked out at the Pacific that evening, she was thrilled to be back in Southern California, a place she revered since her short time there as a teenager. To this day I think Mom identifies as a Californian; a lot of us do.

The champale probably tasted especially good that night.

June 19, 1969: Let’s Meet the Players!

This was all Mom’s idea.

Mom, a.k.a. Maw

Driver, cook, nightly construction supervisor, navigator, personal shopper, cruise director, protector, provider, saint, miracle worker. And it was all her idea!

I asked her recently: Why? Her answer: “I wanted to go to California, and this is what I had to do to get there.”

Dad, Pop

Pop hopped a flight to LA to meet up with the rest of the family for a few weeks of our west coast swing. As Mom explains, he simply couldn’t take the whole summer off. Dad was an avid and talented photographer, so his time on the road is better documented that other times. Alas, there is not a rich photographic record of the trip.

Tim, Timbo.

Age 15. The eldest brother. Tim was, dare I say, an obsessive fisherman, and I learned recently from Maw that she selected campgrounds based on access to fishing. Enabler!

He came through in spades! More than thirty documented fishing expeditions in 62 days. But I don’t think we (or, I) used them for sustenance.

Mike, Miko.

Age 8. In her diary, Mom sometimes refers to Mike and me as “the little ones.” Um, okay. It does appear that we were paired most of the time for swimming and gofer-ing. And I guess we were little. So, whatever.
Mike required weekly allergy shots in whatever town or crossroads we happened to find ourselves, events Mom records religiously in her diary.

Doug. Age 4. Cute as a friggin’ button! Otherwise mostly dead weight.

I provided some full-sensory comic relief in the form of car sickness, getting lost and upending pee jars. You are welcome.

The Tent. No frills, unless you count the smell of raw, musty nature. To this day I remember the sensation of rain and storms on the other side of that thin piece of canvas. LOVED IT.

The Chevy Kingswood. Mom and Dad purchased a brand new station wagon for the trip. On stormy nights it also served as our refuge. Behind this we pulled a trailer that carried the tent, stove, chuck box and more.

Read more about the Kingswood.

Mom’s Diary. My bible for reconstructing the places, faces and times we had. Thanks to Mom for keeping it, and thanks to Mom for letting us share it here.

Time change helped getting us up early. Showered and washed my hair. Reached the Arnolds about noon, had lunch and the boys played until about 4. (Mike’s shot) Got to the Meramac State Park and set up. The boys played in the river. Exhausted.

Marge Binder, June 19, 1969

Learn more about Meramec SP here.

It begins and ends with Maw.

“I wanted to go to California.”

54 years ago, my Mom loaded her three sons into our brand-new Chevy station wagon and lit out from Virginia to California to Michigan and back. Maw called it 62 days under canvas.

A few summers back, I put together this blog to mark the 50th anniversary. I’d intended it to be nostalgic. Now that the world is where it is, this has taken on all-new significance — the great outdoors, exploring new cultures, lots of personal interaction. Nostalgic indeed.

It’s is a day-by-day recounting of the nine week trip, including excerpts from Maw’s diary (with permission), old-timey paper maps and AAA tour books purchased on Ebay, as well as photos and impressions of those who were transported and transformed.

I asked her, as part of this exercise, why did she do it. Simply, “I wanted to go to California.” And so she and her boys did.

Maw passed away three years ago, but thanks to the internet–and my heart–her spirit lives on.

Note: This is NOT a new road trip. It is a recounting of the one that happened 50 years ago.