A Song for the Open Road

January 31, 2011 § 6 Comments

In the summer of 1949, the Summers clan piled into a black two-door Chevy—Mother and Sarah in the back seat; David on shotgun; Dad at the wheel; and me, wedged into the crack in the middle of the front seat like so much sweet filling in the Oreo cookies Mother doled out when we got cranky. And off we drove.

David was just 8, I was 5-and-a-half, and Sarah would celebrate her 3rd birthday on the trip.  Mother and Dad had a dilemma—keeping three young children happy on long, hot days in an un-air-conditioned car.

Dad’s plan: join AAA and pre-pay motels for each night. He had one requirement—besides clean. The motel had to have a swimming pool or a playground. Those with swimming pools were his favorites. He loved the water after a hot day driving through the southern states and so did we!

Mother’s plan: entertain and re-direct.  She knew we were good after breakfast for about 2 hours and then we had to stop. After Go-Gulf time, we had a snack or made a side-trip to the Five & Dime. After another 2 hours we had lunch—a picnic in a park or a hamburger at a drug store counter (my favorite), and stopped at any historic site available. But by 3:30 or 4:00 we had to stop for the night. We kids had had it being nice to each other!

Ah, the song of the open road. Well, actually, not open! The highway was a blacktop two-lane, two-way affair that wound through every city on the route.

We climbed Civil War canon at Vicksburg; saw Rock City in Chattanooga; ate peppermint sticks and taffy samples outside of Aunt Mahalia’s Candy Kitchen in Gatlinburg; waded in cold mountain streams; stopped for bear-jams on the slow, winding road through the mountains; and sang every song we knew along the way.


Little Pigeon River, Great Smokey Mtn Nat'l Park






 Dad loved to sing. He had a sweet tenor sound, even into his seventies. He’d start “Oh, The Moon Shines Tonight on Little Red Wing” (Chattaway and Mills) and we soon learned the chorus:

Oh the moon shines tonight on pretty Red Wing,
the breeze is sighing, the night birds crying,
For, oh, far far away her brave is dying
and Red Wings’s crying her heart away.

I think pretty Red Wing has cried through most of the lower 48 over the years!

Other songs in our hit parade included “On Top of Old Smoky”, “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine”, and “Nothing Could be Finer, than to be in Carolina in the Morning”. After one evening sitting on the back porch of a country store in Gatlinburg listening to mountain music, we added, “Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off of Me” (referring to ghosts, of course!):

Bill Johnson was a feller, that believed in Haints and Sights
He used to dream about ’em, when he went to bed at night
And when he’d dream about ’em, you could nearly always tell
He’d just pull back the covers, he’d jump right out and yell.

Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Of Me
Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Of Me
I don’t mind them naked bones
I can stand that hollow groan …
But, Keep Them Cold Icy Fingers Off Of Me.

Our repertoire was diverse, if not uplifting!

And when our voices grew hoarse, Dad quoted poetry by John Greenleaf Whittier or Robert Frost. My favorite is still Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”:

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

It took us five days to get from Texas to Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly in Western North Carolina. I could make the same trip now and spend only one night on the road! But the fun does not lie in a destination reached. The fun lies in the trip itself.

New Mexico - land of beckoning roads!


I’ll take the side roads—those roads less taken—and find my life richer for it.


§ 6 Responses to A Song for the Open Road

  • Donna Beard says:

    Mary Lois, Please keep writing. You have taken me back to my youth for I traveled in that car with you. My sister, brother and I did not sing when we rode in the family car, rather we played Black Magic and Animal, Vegetable or Mineral. The roads less traveled were the only roads back then.
    Thoroughly enjoy your memories.

  • http;//slowdancejournal.wordpress.com says:

    My brother, sister and I shared the back seat. When it was time to sleep (my own dad did not mind driving on into the dark) we each had a designated place to stretch out. Claudia got the seat. Chris, who was the youngest slept on the ledge against the back window. I got the floor–by choice. Although the floor had a mountain ridge in the middle, making sleep difficult, I loved the dusty smell of the scratchy rug, but most of all I loved the sound of the road passing under the wheels of our car.

    Beautiful poat ML!

  • Kids today don’t know what they’re missing on their modern day road trips with fast food drive throughs and DVD players installed in the back seat!

  • Lovadell French says:

    Mary Lois,
    I enjoyed the trip taken with you. Your writing is so lyrical and picturesqe with word images. Now why would you enjoy the scratchy dusty floor?

  • click says:

    I Will have to come back again whenever my course load lets up – nevertheless I am getting your Feed so i could read your web blog offline. Thanks.

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