Kimmy Sophia Brown

On the Road Again

Jul 6, 2003
We were driving on Route 64 West, passing a spot between Newport News and Richmond, Virginia. A truly putrid smell suddenly filled the car. All occupants of our van eyed one another suspiciously. Everyone denied responsibility. Then we realized we were passing the exit for West Point, Virginia (not to be confused with West Point, New York.).

West Point, Virginia is the home of a particularly pungent paper mill. We were thinking they should put another sign on the highway next to the exit sign:

"Welcome to West Point! Don't Worry - Nobody farted! It's just us!"

Of course, then the conversation turned to that old familiar quote, "He who smelt it, dealt it.", which is one of the required memorized phrases of childhood, along with; "Time out!", "Base!" and "It's not FAIR!"

One son asked, "Who first said, He who smelt it, dealt it?" And the answer of course, is the same person who coined the phrase, "Silent, but deadly." -- one of our Founding Farters. In fact, it was the Farter of Our Country. Anyone who has taken long car rides with children, knows that the conversation covers topics far and wide, moods fair and strange, and sometimes, darn right gross.

Whenever I imagine what a car trip is going to be like, I envision beautiful views of countryside passing by, wonderful inspiring interchanges within our family as we travel, and a sense of satisfaction upon returning home that the journey was worth the time, the money and squishing into a mini-van that doesn't have enough leg room.

It usually ends up being kind of a mix of all of the above -- never quite meeting our exalted expectations but at the same time being a good memory to look back on.

When I was growing up it seemed like it was only me who went on trips with my parents. My older brother, who was seven years older than me, had moved out by the time I was conscious enough to remember much. Car trips were always a total bore. This was before seat belts, so I used to turn around and write my name in the dust on the back window ledge, or smile or make faces at people in other cars. If my parents scolded me and I had to turn around and sit back down I put my foot under their seat and pressed it into their bodies, pretending to kick them, my childish resentment taking out its revenge as quietly as possible.

There was no one for me to punch or play with - reading made me carsick, and my parents listened to the world's worst music, or even worse - SPORTS - on the AM radio. There was no game-boy, no walk-man, no in-car video players (because they hadn't been invented yet!) It was a chance to daydream, to be alone with one's thoughts, to stare out the window at the clouds or the night sky.

This year, Peter and I brought our kids to a family camp in Pennsylvania. The restlessness of many hours in the car was setting in, small squabbles erupting, and fanny fatigue was at an all time high.

On a lark, we got off the highway and decided to drive on the back roads through the charming farm country of Lancaster County - silos and barns and big, old houses scattered in dewy, green valleys. It was Sunday morning, and suddenly we were among several horse drawn buggies. Amish teenage girls in bonnets and plain rimmed eyeglasses, hung out the buggy windows, giggling and waving to each other on the way home from church. Teenage girls the same as anywhere, big smiles, warm hearts, laughing about some inside joke, impervious to our rude, 21st century curiosity and fascination as we drove past them.

It was a window into another part of our cultural landscape, and worth the whole trip.

Kim lives in Maine, which is lovely, and where she continues her enthusiastic relationship with Art, Music, Nature, Books, Animals, Humor and Trees.