Link to Owner Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr.



We had left our Denver home at dawn that day for the long drive to our annual summer visit at my grandparent's home in Topeka.

There was one sure way to tell when my father's roaring Buick crossed the state line going from high desert Colorado into Midwestern Kansas back in the 1950s: my hair, carefully curled by my mother the night before, slowly melted into a straight mop from the humidity. We had left our Denver home at dawn that day for the long drive to our annual summer visit at my grandparent's home in Topeka. My young brother was in his flimsy car seat, which was hooked over the top of the bench seats between my parents. My older sister and I stayed on our own sides of the back seat, reading the comic books that we were allowed to buy for 10 cents each before the trip.

Unfortunately, reading in the car plus my father driving with one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake resulted in a lurching ride that sent my sister and I into frequent stops by the side of the road to briefly bend over the prairie grass.COURTESY PHOTO - Peggy Keonjian remembers reading Burma-Shave signs on the highway while her family drove from Colorado to Kansas.

The Interstate had not yet been completed so the day-long drive was on a straight flat line east, down the highway, stopping only for gas and lunch in little Colby Kansas. There, my sister and I were allowed to buy a Nesbitt orange soda from the gas station cooler. The car had no air conditioning then, of course, so how good the icy pop tasted in the humid summer heat. We loved the Burma Shave signs that showed up along the flat highway, not understanding the humor but proud of reading them as we sped by, a break in the monotony of passing fields of corn or wheat stretching to the horizon.

By twilight we finally pulled into the alley behind my grandparent's Topeka house. We then had to scurry past the scary squawking chickens in the back yard, but knew that waiting in their kitchen was a plate of my grandmother's just-baked sweet rolls, bottles of cool Grapette soda and strawberries freshly picked from their huge garden next to the house.

While my parents visited friends over the next week I often sat contentedly with my grandfather as he worked in his basement woodworking shop, reading very early Superman comics that my older cousins had donated. I often said then that I wished I could bottle the smell of Grandpa's basement, a combination of freshly sawed wood, Kansas humidity and musty old comic books, to take home with me. I still do.

The rest of the visit was spent catching fireflies in jars, eating Grandma's juicy fried chicken and home-grown tomatoes, and searching for four-leaf clovers in the lawn. With no television, each evening we sat on the front porch, rocking on creaking chairs, as the locusts buzzed loudly from the trees in the soft summer air. We would soon start the long drive back, but for now I was wrapped in a cocoon of affection and family that remained long after the Colorado mountains appeared on the horizon as we neared home.

Peggy Keonjian is a member of the Jottings Group of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

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