It was the middle of June, 1963 and we were at our first stop to stretch our legs--just outside of Yuma, Arizona. I was 6 years old. We were only a few hundred miles into what would be our first of many summer trips from California to our home town in Kentucky. This year we were driving the family car, a 1962 blue Pontiac Tempest.
I peered out the window through the sand coated glass and pulled the door latch with both hands, and pushed against the heavy car door as I tried to unstick my legs from the blue vinyl seats.
My younger tow-headed brother had already escaped out of his side of the car and was racing after Dad, who was a few man-sized strides ahead, finally catching up, grabbing his fingers and skipping every other step alongside him.
My mom, dressed in a pale pink sleeveless blouse, white Capri pants and sandals, wrestled her purse over her arm and took my hand as we walked toward the concrete building housing the restrooms. We both agreed it was too hot for either of our liking.
Pushing open the stall door, I stood at the sink and splashed cold water on my face, getting chin length pieces of dark hair around my face wet in the process, and waiting for my mom before walking back out into the blazing Arizona heat. The hot air blew into my face reminding me of when Mom opened the oven door while dinner was cooking.
I stared at the adobe and iron barred building in the distance and brushed my damp hair off of my face and squinted in the bright sunlight. I was ready to go, but my brother was busy collecting rocks and chasing horned toads.
I squatted down and swirled my fingers in the sand, making designs and letters and waited as Dad went to get the camera to take a picture of us.
My brother and I posed in front of the Old Yuma Territorial Prison sign and made squinty smiles for the camera. The hot wind blew sand into our eyes and after several clicks of the camera, Dad put it away and promised we’d stop for a cold soda pop at the next place we came to.
My brother and I raced back to the car, swung open the doors, and climbed back in, each reclaiming our own half of the back seat. We peered forward, pushing against each other hoping to get the first glimpse of a filling station sign, a place we knew would have ice cold bottles of grape and orange pop, and Dad’s favorite, Pepsi-Cola.
Before long, we spied the red and white star on the Texaco sign standing out like a beacon against backdrop of blue sky meeting sand. Dad turned off the two lane highway and rolled into the parking lot. He fed silver coins into the pop machine and we pulled hard on the cold glass bottles grinning when they released into our hands. We wrenched the bottle tops off on the opener and I pressed the bottle against my lips and drank half of it before taking a breath. The fizz from the soda burned my nose and my eyes watered, but at the time, it tasted like the best thing I’d ever had.
We reluctantly climbed back in the car and Dad turned back onto the highway driving east toward Phoenix. I perched on my knees against the back seat and watched out the back window, as the sand blew off the back of our car and the mountains faded in the shadows of the setting sun.