I spent last weekend at a family reunion in the upper Midwest. I visited the same farms, and saw many of the same people, that I saw in the summer of 1969—the year when Apollo XI landed on the moon. For me, that first lunar landing is tightly bound in memory with family trips to South Dakota, North Dakota, and Minnesota.
A little background: My parents left the upper Midwest (Roberts County, South Dakota, specifically) for California in the 1940s. My sister, brother, and I were born in the San Francisco Bay Area, and my parents became proud and happy Californians.
But all of my mother’s family remained in the Midwest. One of her sisters married and moved to Moorhead, Minnesota, but mom’s parents and her three other siblings lived within about 15 miles of the Claire City, South Dakota farm where mom was born. My parents took us kids back to visit these relatives just about every other summer from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s. Traveling typically meant an epic road trip that began when my father got off work on a Thursday or Friday afternoon; armed with a carton of Camels and a thermos of coffee, he’d start driving from the San Francisco Bay Area with my mom and we three kids in the station wagon. He’d drive all night (he claimed that the car got better gas mileage after dark), and we’d snooze in the backseat, waking the next morning somewhere in Nevada or Utah. For two days, we’d camp—or just sleep in the car—till we got to Claire City.
But that trip in 1969 broke the drive-till-you-drop pattern.