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Yes, imagine two Mennonite girls tripping across the country . . .

  • In a blue-gray 1958 Chevy Impala sedan
  • With a chauffeur and navigator
  • Through 47 states + Mexico
  • Five weeks in 1964: July 18 – August 24

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My Travel Partners: The Metzlers, whom I call Aunt and Uncle, and their daughter Joann

Unlike John Steinbeck who wrote Travels with Charley about his one-man, one-dog travelogue in the 1960s, we were a four-some, Joann Herr, my new best friend, her parents, John and Mary Metzler, and me. But like Mark Twain, we were “innocents abroad,” leaving our cozy Mennonite countryside and venturing through the wild and wooly West to the Pacific coast, eyes agape with wonder.

Best Bud: Joann Metzler (Herr) whom I met while she was student teaching at Rheems Elementary School, where my Aunt Ruth Longenecker was principal. “She’s such a nice girl. You ought to meet her,” Ruthie said about Joann. She was right! I even thought so at the end of the trip.

Chauffeur Extraordinaire, Uncle John: One day he drove 748 miles! John Metzler, who raised crops and cattle, is related on my mother’s side of the family through a common ancestor, Valentine Metzler, whose immigration to Pennsylvania was celebrated in the reunion in 2013. During this thousands-of-miles-odyssey behind the wheel, he sometimes came up with quotable expressions:

“Oh, schmatza (PA Dutch for pain),” he frets when there are too many switchbacks on mountain roads.

“Now we’re caught with our pants down!” when he makes a wrong turn.

“I thought I’d be hen-pecked with three women around and by golly I am already!” he exclaims 11 days into the trip.

Navigator with a Built-in Compass, Aunt Mary: With only a road map and keen sense of direction, Joann’s mother “Aunt Mary” was quite a trooper. She made sure we were ready to roll between 6:30 and 7:00 am every day. When I felt road sick, she doled out Chiclets. She was eager to see her spry, 81-year-old Aunt Susan in Los Angeles.

In Cheyenne Uncle John was taken for a German because of his PA Dutch accent, and Mary tells him “ta be more English!” Here are the two smiling at Crater Lake, Oregon.

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The Big Loop – Like Steinbeck, we did follow a northern route across the Mid-west, angling down through California and sweeping across the Southwest into Texas and further east to Florida and then north back home to Pennsylvania. Along the way, we sometimes fancied ourselves in foreign lands: Parts of Utah looked like Greece to us, the Rockies like the Swiss Alps, and some of Oregon, the Holy land because of myrtle trees.

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In the Rockies, I make a snowball on my birthday!

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We were entranced by presidents, puffy clouds, national parks  . . .

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Yellowstone, 12 million acres of gorgeous scenery - even bears want a part of the action

Yellowstone, 12 million acres of gorgeous scenery – even bears want a part of the action

And the Magnificent Grand Canyon

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Oregon and California: Myrtle trees, Joshua trees, Dates and Olives!

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Joann and almond tree

Joann and almond tree

Navajo Indian Reservation: Family was pleased to pose in exchange for some pesos

Navajo Indian Reservation: Family was pleased to pose in exchange for some pesos

Tijuana, Mexico: sombreros, a heady substitute for our prayer caps. Joann had no idea she was inviting kisses!

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What We Wore

The photos prove our plainness. We always had something on our heads: prayer coverings, black bonnets on top of our caps for Sunday in Salt Lake City, Utah. Accordion pleated plastic wind-breakers for stiff breezes or rain. Dresses or skirts – absolutely no slacks or shorts.

Grandma Longenecker gave me a travel iron – no permanent press fabrics yet in our wardrobes in the Sixties.

Closeup of prayer covering and bonnet like Joann and I wore on the trip with Kodak Ektachrome slides, letter home and post card from the Petrified Forest, Arizona

Closeup of prayer covering and bonnet like Joann and I wore on the trip with Kodak Ektachrome slides, letter home and post card from the Petrified Forest, Arizona

Days were HOT!

One day it was 110 degrees in a car with no AC. Our Boontonware cups melted in the rear view window. Our backs made puddles on the seats, so we tried the feet-in-air position, backseat monkeys! Here below are the Boontonware cups before they melted! And, yes, photos at state lines were staged – part of our ritual.

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Uncle John couldn’t wait to get to Cheyenne, Wyoming to see the Rodeo, The Daddy of ’em All during Frontier-land week.

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What We Did at Night

Sometimes Joan and I disturbed the peace of the Metzler pair next door in the motel. Once I kicked down a picture on a motel wall in Wisconsin and nearly fell on my head to try to retrieve it. Daily we wrote in our diaries and totted up our expenses down to the last penny.

Usually we snacked and read books. One night I lowered the hem on a skirt with my sewing kit to comply with standards of Lancaster Mennonite School, where I would return to teaching in the fall. Here I’m making a feast of boysenberry bread near Kanab, Utah.

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Many thanks to photo-enhancer Cliff for bringing faded memories back to life!

How did I pay for this trip on my slim school teacher’s salary? What secrets did my diary and expense book reveal? Did anyone from home remember my birthday? Find out in my next post!

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