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Oh, Auntie Em

by Madonna Dries Christensen



I blame Adam and Eve. If they hadn’t eaten the forbidden fruit, God would not have sentenced them and their descendants to a nomadic life. We would all live in Eden, a place so ideal the word travel would never have been coined. But with the couple’s eviction, the comings and goings began.  

        Lot and his family fled Sodom; Noah booked the first cruise; Moses led a tour through the desert and parted the Red Sea so they could keep on trekkin’. When Naomi decided to leave her village, her daughter-in-law, Ruth, said, “Whither thou goest, I will go,” and off they toddled, hand in hand, giddy as teenagers. The Magi saddled their camels and followed a star, and we’ve been meandering ever since.    

        We live in America because Columbus (or was it Leif Erickson or Saint Brenden?) discovered a new place for humans to live. Hearing reports of streets paved with gold and a land of milk and honey, folks shouted, “Head ‘em up, move ‘em out. Go west, young man.”

        The exodus continued—on foot, by rickshaw, oxcart, ship, boat, ferry, train, horseback, dog sled, prairie schooner, and stagecoach. In time, technology made the automobile the preferred mode of transportation. The fictional Joad family strapped lock, stock and

dreams of employment onto their dilapidated vehicle and motored from Oklahoma’s dustbowl to California’s fertile valleys. A couple decades later, Dinah Shore urged television viewers to “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet.” With Dad as pilot, Mom scanned the road map showing the new Interstate highways, read Burma-Shave signs aloud, and periodically answered the kids’ question, “When will we get there?”

        The James Fitzpatrick Travelogues shown before feature movies in the 1940s bored me. I came alert only when Fitzpatrick droned, “As the sun sinks slowly into the west, we bid fond adieu to the quaint people of Timbuktu (or wherever his slide show had taken us). His sedative voice made these sojourns as interminable as the Bataan Death March. Please, bring on the MGM musical.  

        The family sedan begat the station wagon with luggage racks, which begat tow-behind Silver Stream campers. Today’s RVs, so huge they could be recycled into city buses, tow boats, bicycles, motorcycles, and smaller cars for side trips. The vagabond kings and queens of the road who roam in these condos on wheels have their own encampments with catchy names such as Breezy Oaks and Teepee Town. At dusk, the exhilarated travelers gather around an outdoor grill and discuss where they’re from, where they’ve been, and where they’re headed.  

        The world has shrunk to the size of a Swedish meatball. Planes transport us coast to coast in about five hours and to other continents in a few more. But planes have shrunk, too. It’s no luxury getting anywhere seated upright in a position that even a yoga expert would find uncomfortable. Recline the seat? Right; two inches back makes a huge difference. And convince me that the little belt clipped across my lap will save my life. Flying over water numbs me. I almost drowned as a kid. Floatation device? I don’t remember instructions well when I’m in panic mode and the music from Jaws is drumming in my ears.   

        Step into any group of people and you’ll hear travel talk: the Alps, the Holy Land, the Amazon, the pyramids. “You’ll have to come over,” a man says. “I put the photos from our trip around the world into a Power-Point presentation.”

        He doesn’t mention that it runs nine hours, thirteen minutes.

        Heaven help us if there’s an astronaut in the group. How does one top going to the moon?

        These magical stories are sprinkled with laments about delayed or missed flights, security snags, lost luggage, jet lag, sea sickness, language misunderstandings, and Montezuma’ s revenge. Hank had a gall bladder attack and ended up in the hospital. A llama drooled on Ada. Stan left his Kindle on a train in Zurich. Would you believe Max and Irene encountered pirates near their cruise ship? Gee, whiz, that was scary. Still, all the trouble is forgotten and plans are underway for the next adventure.

                Just for the record, I appreciate Woody Guthrie’s “From California, to the New York Island, From the redwood forest, to the Gulf stream waters . . . .” I’ve marveled at spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountains majesty, and fruited plains. I’ve gotten kicks on Route 66; traveled Blue Highways and new highways, been up North, South of the Border; flown East and West and over the cuckoo’s nest. Been around the block and across the pond; been to Europe, the Caribbean, and South Africa—twice. Delved into caves, coves, caverns, canyons, catacombs, and climbed the stairs in the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s a big, wide, wonderful world, no doubt about it.

        But is anyone besides me tired of traipsing all over planet Earth? I understand—it’s difficult to admit you enjoy staying home. People think you’re missing a cylinder if you don’t enjoy traveling. It’s chic to travel; it’s educational; it’s a status symbol; it’s . . . exhausting.   

        I propose a support group for home-bodies. There would be no meetings to attend. Members would sell their luggage and walking shoes and the polyester wash-and-wear travel clothes. Then relax, read a book, plant a garden, take a nap, watch the grass grow, write memoirs, or put old travel photos in albums and mark them: Been there, done that.

        Anything that doesn’t require passports, inoculations, or roadmaps would be acceptable activity. Suggested attire is sweat pants and a t-shirt bearing the words: Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.      

[Madonna travels only when it involves her three young grandchildren. That will include a trip with them this summer to the South Dakota Black Hills.]


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