Route 66 in the News
Sixty-Six Years on Sixty-Six
HERITAGE RANCH, Calif. - My parents, Mildred and Marcel d’Avignon, were married on the Fourth of July, 1946 in Alva, Oklahoma in the little Catholic church. They took off after their wedding in a grey 1936 Ford two-seater and never looked back. They currently reside at Heritage Ranch.
From then on, they were always on the move, travelling the highways and byways from the Midwest to the west coast. My parents have covered more miles on the road than some truckers do in a lifetime.
Especially on Route 66.
As a kid, I can remember sitting for hours in the back of one of the Ford cars that we owned. We never left home without the green Coleman cooler full of bologna sandwiches prepared with mustard or Miracle Whip. Mom made sure we had Fritos corn chips and Coca Cola or Dr. Pepper. Back in the early days of my childhood, there weren’t any drive in restaurants yet, so we had to make food at home and take it with us.
When I was 8-years-old, we took a trip from our home in Guthrie, Okla., leaving through the Oklahoma panhandle to sunny California on Route 66. It would turn out to be a whole new life for our family. We drove through Amarillo, Texas, Tucumcari and Wickenberg, NM, along with Williams and Flagstaff, Ariz.
Along the Route, I was enthralled by the many “exotic” places. Like the Dinosaur Park. Wow, seeing that gigantic dinosaur model looming up into the desert sky was frightening to a little girl from the Midwest. We also visited the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert, Carlsbad Caverns and the Grand Canyon, of course.
Sometimes, when stopping for gas at the Phillips 66 stations, we would encounter one of the small Indian shops that sold blankets and turquoise jewelry, like the Peach Springs Trading Post. Sometimes the Indian women would be weaving the blankets right there and you could watch in fascination.
Before heading into the long stretch of desert between New Mexico, across Arizona and into California, dad would always check the car engine, fill the radiator and the water canvas bag, which hung from the front of the car. The “filling station,” as we called it then, had full service attendants to fill the tank with gas, wash our windows, check the tire pressure and the oil. When visiting the gas station restrooms, if it wasn’t spotlessly clean, mom would take out her tissues from her purse and place them on the toilet seat before we would be allowed to sit down.
Since my dad was a car mechanic and race car driver and a Ford car lover, we would play “name that car” games during the long hours on the road. At an early age, I learned very quickly to recognize every make and model of car whizzing by. I thought that was very important to know back then.
During the prohibition era, dad was the mechanic that the bootleggers and haulers would seek out to “soup up” their Pontiac Straight-8’s so they could outrun the “feds.” (What had my mom, a nice Catholic farm girl, gotten into?)
Instead of cash payments, dad was once given a cute beagle puppy in exchange for his work. At age 5, I immediately fell in love with the fun loving pup we called “Candy." She went with us on many of our trips and took to traveling quite well.
We would roll down the window and Candy would stick her nose out sniffing the air with her long ears flying back.
I also spent some of my time on the road staring out the window and would imagine myself riding my pinto pony bareback, cantering through the desert canyons with my pigtails bouncing in the wind. I was a real cowgirl at heart.
At night, we would hunt for the perfect “motor inn” to stop at. I was entranced by the “teepee” wigwam motel in Albuquerque, NM and begged my parents to stay there.
We never did, but there was always the one story inns with the red tile roofs and the colorful neon lighted signs that would buzz and blink at night. We stayed at places with names like “Cactus Inn” and the “Palomino Motel."
I remember the excitement when coming into a strange room, checking out the little paper wrapped soaps in the bathroom, then tearing off the paper strip on the toilet seat. I was never quite sure what that paper strip was for, but I knew it would always be there in each motel room we stayed at.
If lucky, I would get an hour of pool time at the motel before dark on a warm summer night. The pool would be lighted up, and the water shimmered. Mom would tell me I looked like Esther Williams in my new swimsuit and rubber swim cap. It was pure bliss to dive in after the many hours of sitting in the car.
In the morning, we would open the little cereal boxes that mom brought for breakfast. We thought we were hot stuff when the small hand held electric coil water heater came out. You could plug it in and stick it in your cup of water and make hot chocolate, tea or instant coffee.
Driving into Needles, Calif. during the summer, it was 114 degrees at midnight. I never ran so fast as I did that night going between the car and the air-conditioned restaurant.
I will never forget ending our Route 66 trip in Santa Monica, Calif. Coming down the winding road overlooking the seemingly endless sandy beach with the blue sea beyond was a wish come true.
What had started out as a road trip, actually turned into a new place to call “home.” “California here we come” was our new song. Our family ended up in sunny California and still live there today.
But there were many road trips back and forth between California and Oklahoma for family reunions, weddings, holidays and funerals.
My sister, Annette was born in 1961 and also joined in the many road trips with us. It was great having someone to play with in the car now. Candy would still join us sometimes. Annette and I took turns “walking the dog” when the car stopped.
In later years, our favorite TV program was Route 66. We watched every episode each week, as religiously as going to church.
I’m now married, have had my children, and now grandchildren. Dad is 90, and mom is 87 (but looks 60), and they are still going! They own their own mobile home and live independently by the lake. Road trips are still an important part of their lives. Dad works on and races his Model A (with its souped up Mustang engine).
They are celebrating their 66 years of marriage on July 4, 2012. So, I thought it fitting to write their story and combine that with their miles on Route 66.
Mom, dad…here’s to many more miles ahead!
~Joan d’Avignon Lehr, Paso Robles Press