The idea for this column took root during my search for the spare key to our Volvo. I decided the carved cedar box sitting on the bedroom dresser would be a good place to start because it’s where I store old knives, broken watches, and other keepsakes. Facedown on the bottom of the box was an old picture of my dad standing behind our old 1947 Chevy.
The picture was taken in 1956 as he stood in the driveway of our apartment in Whiting, Indiana where we lived for just over a year. Holding the picture, I stepped closer to the window to get a better look.
For some reason, the drive to Indiana stands out in my mind. Mom and dad packed our belongings along with my brother Neil, my sister Mary Lois, and me into the old Chevy. We headed north on the Friday night before Memorial Day. Dad thought the traffic would be better at night.
We stopped at a rest stop somewhere near Paducah, Kentucky. Rest stops in those days were wide places in the road with two concrete picnic tables and a garbage barrel. We pulled baloney sandwiches from a brown paper bag that mom had packed for us. We lingered long enough for my dad to take a short nap so that he wouldn’t fall asleep while driving.
I was wide-awake and I remember hearing vehicles gearing down, and then accelerating to climb a nearby hill. In my mind, I thought it was all the racecars headed to Indiana to race in the Indianapolis 500. When I mentioned this to my older brother Neil, he made fun of me for being so goofy.
The racecars were actually tractor-trailer trucks using gears to maneuver up and down nearby hills and hollows.
When we loaded up for the last leg of our trip, I camped out in the hat rack. That was the place under the back window. Seatbelts had not been invented then, and the family was unaware that one sudden stomp on the brakes would have turned their sleeping child into a human missile.
There weren’t many lights then in rural Kentucky or Indiana so the stars in the sky were as bright as diamonds on blue velvet blanket.
The picture of my dad triggered another thread of memory about our short time in Indiana. Had the photographer taken a few steps backward, you would have seen massive petroleum tanks that looked like shiny fat ticks. The storage facility was just beyond the fence at the back of our apartment. There was a troubling odor of petroleum in the air when the wind blew from the wrong direction.
Early one morning our family was jolted from deep sleep by rumbling explosions. A short time later we heard sirens. Every now and then there would be another explosion.
Across the fence, the predawn sky glowed orange and yellow. Soon rescue people came down our streets and told us we would have to leave…now.
My grandparents lived in Hammond, Indiana which was a few miles away and that’s where we went that morning before the sun rose.
Soon after that experience, we moved from that strange land back to the comfort of the drafty old camp house in Sloss Hollow.
I had not thought of these things in years until I saw the picture of my dad.
Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book Life Changes is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at email@example.com.