Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Book Review: The Ride of Our Lives

When I was growing up, my family took trips. We all bundled into our little station wagon with a cooler full of sandwiches and a giant thermos of kool-aid (now I say "yuck" - back then, it was "yum"). I remember my father driving all through the night and the four of us kids (at the time, my youngest brother hadn't been born yet, so I was under 10) would sleep on a mattress in the back.

Later, my parents purchased a small camper. In order to accommodate all five of us kids at that point, my dad rigged up an extra bunk from a piece of plywood. Talk about claustrophobic! Try being the kid who had to sleep on the inside of that small added space!

We would drive around the United States, experiencing the world around us. We went to the Grand Canyon; Salt Lake City, Utah; California and a trip to Disney Land; two separate trips to Disney World (the latter trip when my youngest brother was only one and he remarkably lasted the whole day - of course, he was a remarkable kid all around when it came to deportment, so we shouldn't have been surprised!).

When he visits, my dad will sometimes pull out video footage of those trips. He has transferred them to DVD by recording while playing from the 8 mm reel to reel. This has the added benefit of background discussions between my parents which are totally unrelated to what is going on on-screen. Their banter is almost as fun as watching those images of our smaller selves dancing across the screen.

In my mind, those were some of the most wonderful times I know. I have fostered a pipe dream of purchasing an RV just so I can attempt to replicate such experiences for my boys. They all know when we pass an RV or camper for sale, that I will make some sort of wistful comment. Usually, my husband, whose family only took one vacation in his entire lifetime, and who actually loathes travel, will try to bring things back into focus and shine a light on reality by reminding me that I cannot even make it through a day at home with my brood of boisterous boys. How would I ever manage a trip in an RV, in tight quarters with rambunctious boys?

Indeed, I mentioned my secret dream to a co-worker once and she detailed her own horror story of RV proportions. Her husband had the grand idea that they rent an RV and take a vacation to Disney World. She said it was the hardest vacation she ever endured. Everyone else played and enjoyed the sights and she was in charge of keeping the children in line and preparing enough food to feed the army that was her own family, plus her in-laws. She swore she would never attempt an RV vacation again.

I'm not easily dissuaded, though. In my mind, the pipe dream lives on!

Thus, I was stoked when I snagged Mike Leonard's book, The Ride of Our Lives, at the library book shop. I think he's on to a smart adjustment to the RV pipe dream, in that he waited to take this trip when his parents were in their late eighties and his children were grown. It made for an interesting trip and a delightful journey.

Mike Leonard's parents were in need of some encouragement and their first great-grandchild was due, so Mike rented two RV's and headed off with his three grown children and his comical parents (comical because they are the yin and yang of life - one up-beat and optimistic, talking to every willing ear, and the other pessimistic, convinced that something will go wrong). They made a cross-country trip, visiting historical landmarks and old stomping grounds.

The book focuses on far more than the RV trip, however (indeed, he didn't really offer up any advice about making such a trip a success). Much of the book chronicles the lives of his parents, the hardships they have endured and the bonds that draw them close. Between stories that make you want to read them aloud to any one nearby (like the one about Mike's father sending the grandmother's engagement ring with an unknown flight attendant), there are stories that bring tears to your eyes (disappointment in returning to the cemetery, but never finding the gravestone for Mike's older sister, Anne, who died at birth).

I also enjoyed the brief DVD included in the book. It contained four segments aired on the Today Show about Mike's cross-country trip with his parents. It was, as Amy Dickerson declared on the back of the book: "as touching and whimsical as a series of home movies."

No comments: