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Aaron Johnson: Remember when?

The summer of 1963 was pivotal in the development of my psyche. That summer my grandfather, Henry, purchased a new Ford station wagon. It was white with red interior.

His sister and her family lived in San Diego and for reasons that still evade me, they thought it would be a good idea to load up my parents, my aunt and uncle, along with grandparents and three-year-old Aaron and head to San Diego.

We must have looked like the Griswolds barreling down Route 66. We had a rooftop carrier filled with all we needed. Each night when we stopped the entire thing had to be unloaded, only to be reloaded the next morning.

With no air-conditioning, the warm breezes blew through the old wagon like an Oklahoma tornado.

You probably wonder how much of this a three-year-old can remember.

Obviously, I don’t recall every moment, but I vividly recall the Petrified Forrest, the Grand Canyon, Disneyland’s twirling cups and boats that plowed through dark blue water in a never-ending circle.

I remember crossing the border into Mexico one day and crossing Death Valley.

I remember the adults discussing the issue of raising the windows to see if it would be cooler. It wasn’t.

I remember my father and uncle encouraging my grandfather to attempt to win the free 72-ounce steak at The Big Texan in Amarillo.

Though the memories are scant, it marked me for life. I became an explorer at the age of 3.

This Sunday, Denise and I will set out on another adventure. We will head to San Francisco. We will make a loop up north and hit the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone on our way home. Every place we go, we have already been.

Why would we go back to where we have already been?

Because our 11-year-old granddaughter hasn’t been. We are taking Lydia Grace with us this time. This time we will see Yosemite, the Golden Gate bridge, and Old Faithful through new eyes that have never seen these sites.

My retirement account would look much different if we had not traveled as much as we have. But I believe my memory bank would be impoverished. The memories made and the places seen will last as long as my memory.

Travel has made my life rich.

Now I get to introduce the next generation to Route 66, our national parks, and The Big Texan.

My wife’s parents worked hard all their lives. Every paycheck saw savings come out the very first thing.

They saved fiercely and denied themselves things others would have readily purchased. They were saving for retirement and the adventures that awaited.

He announced his retirement and did all the needed paperwork to make his exit from Hayes’ Aircraft in Birmingham. For over 30 years, he and a group of riders drove roughly 130 miles round trip from Boaz to Birmingham every day.

Two days before his last day of work, he was riding in the passenger side of the front seat, when a dump truck, pulling a low-boy trailer, with a front-end loader, abruptly pulled in front of them. At 55 mph, they slammed into a heavily loaded trailer that didn’t budge. That began years of decline, punctuated with a stroke and eventually his passing.

The money they saved for travel was never used. Those trips in retirement were never taken.

Yes, my retirement would be better financially had we not traveled as much. But one day I will sit in our home and hold the hand of the bride of my youth and re-tell the stories of remember when.

All the great stories of my life begin the same way, “One day Denise and I were …”

Aaron Johnson is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News. He is pastor of Christ Redeemer Church in Guntersville.

 

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