I am sitting in the right bucket seat of our lipstick-red Ford Wind Star minivan. The first seven of the twenty-plus hour trek from Chesapeake to Branson, Missouri have been slightly less than excruciating.
My little siblings remain content— for the moment: the two little ones (affectionately nicknamed “Precious” and “Little Senor”) softly bicker about the angle of the small television currently playing Shrek, while the eldest of my younger sisters lies unconscious in the other bucket seat. My mom and step-dad are in the front, lamenting over the aches and pains of travel agencies and the other specifics of the trip. I, however, try to obtain some measure of solitude. With the latest issue of The Economist in hand, and my godsend iPod playing, I try to enjoy the ride in relative peace.
By around the eighth hour of the trip, I had realized that my role in the family is much more complex than that of just a simple bystander. I am the ultimate Blue Helmet of family road trips, mediating from my mom in the front to my little brother and sister in the back. My goal is to make sure they don’t choke (either each other or on food, one in the same), or scream too loudly, or kill one another. All the same, I must attempt to maintain my sanity against the ubiquitous flow of drama that oozes from my recently pubescent 15-year-old sister. While she is often my closest confidante and one of my best companions, the ever-deadly summer road trip brings out the worst in her. In her defense, however, I would argue it brings out the worst in all of us.
Trips like these teach me the ultimate value of my favorite body part: the tongue. Although 90 percent of communication is non-verbal, that remaining 10 percent is certainly important to me. Words have meaning, and learning those meanings determines the efficacy of your speech. The Branson trip gave me time to ponder why certain words mean certain things. “Ketchup” was a frequent one…‘What does it mean? Is there a Latin root “ket” that means tomato?’ Some words have no derivable meaning, just the sensation, the feelings they bring when spoken. My family is the ultimate science fair project of the tongue, melding both anthropological study and interpersonal communication. Our minivan’s biome of shuffling game boys, books, crackers, cookies, juice boxes, and blankets required a unique ability to craft words in order to maintain order, or at least sanity.
I was forced to learn, within the first couple hours if I was to enjoy any peace during the voyage, that family is often the greatest litmus test of verbal ability. They simply do not allow you to get away with trite concessions and simple platitudes. My little siblings are perfect examples. I can tell them all the glories of civilizations past, using fancy words and the most illustrious vocabulary, but what does that mean to them? Nothing, really. To them, the simple greeting “Precious” or “Little Senor” is all it takes to gain acquiescence. Branson taught me to value words more so than I already did. My own obsequiousness is easily overpowered by a kind and understanding word.
Missouri itself was a beautiful state, and Branson was a unique amalgam of old and young, past and present, country and city. However, the week that ensued was relatively unimpressionable. In fact, when I look back, it was the seemingly never-ending 22 hour car ride that taught me the most about myself and about family.
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