My Mother Road Trip

My father, my two younger brothers, and I traveled the Mother Road from Illinois to California back in 1960. The interstate highway system was in its infancy at the time, and none of the great East/West interstates existed yet. The Mother Road was, of course, US Route 66.

We had spent the previous 15 months living in Paris, France, as my dad had been given a Fulbright Fellowship to teach in French universities for a year. My mother is French, and so we lived with her parents in their large apartment in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris. While there, my dad had purchased a Peugeot sedan which we brought back to the US with us aboard the ocean liner SS France on her maiden voyage from Le Havre to NYC. After debarking, we drove that car from NYC to Chicago, where we visited with one of my dad's grad school professors for a day or two, and then we headed out Route 66 toward our home in Claremont, California (in Los Angeles County).

My mother was a French national at the time, and she had been living in the US under a visa granted because she was married to my American father. While we were living in France, her US visa had expired, and she had to have it renewed to return to the US with us—normally not a big deal. However, she was born in Algeria when it was still a French protectorate, and her birth records were located there, in Algiers. And at that time of our stay in Paris, there was a bloody civil war going on in Algeria between the right wing faction of those who WANTED Algeria to remain under French control (the "OAS", or the "Organisation Armée Secrète"), and the faction that desired Algerian independence. OAS partisans blew up and burned the Algerian hall of records in Algiers, and my mother's birth records were among the many official documents lost in that fire. (The sonsabitches ALSO burned a medical school library there, named after my grandfather, who was a well known physician who was sympathetic to the independence faction. In fact, they detonated a bomb outside an apartment building several doors down the street from the French public school I was attending at the time!) In any case, because her birth records were going to be difficult to procure, my mother was delayed in getting her visa to return to the US with the rest of us, and she had to stay behind when we left. And we HAD to leave because we had those reservations aboard the SS France.

SS France, entering New York HarborThere was much wailing and tears from my brothers and me when we drove away and watched my mother grow smaller in the rear window. I was the eldest, and I was only 8 years old at the time. We were a full day driving to Le Havre, and another day boarding the ship and getting our Peugeot aboard, and the ship getting out of the harbor. We sailed first into the English port of Southampton, where we took on more passengers, and the next day departed for NYC—a crossing of some 4 days, if I recall correctly. We arrived in New York harbor with great fanfare, surrounded by fire boats spraying their water canons into the air, and much blasting of steam horns etc. The picture on the right was taken at that exact moment, and 8 year old me is standing at one of the railings somewhere, fascinated by a fire boat.

We then debarked and began our trip west, which took about 5 or 6 days, if you include the Chicago visit. Add the 2 days between our Paris apartment and Southampton, and the 4 days crossing the Atlantic, and it took all told about 11 or 12 days for us to get home to California. And by the time we got home, my mother was already there, waiting for us. She had managed to convince an American diplomat at the US embassy in Paris that she wasn’t going to leave his office, and she WAS going to make a big scene, if he didn’t get off his officious ass and help this woman get reunited with her family. (It probably didn’t hurt things that she "knew people" in the right places in French gov’t.) So she was able to catch a flight home, and actually arrived a week ahead of us.

During the trip west on 66, we saw all the sights which have become so iconic today, but which were—back then—just the sights to be seen along the Mother Road. We spent the nights in some of those little motels with the crazy neon signs; ate our meals in little roadside diners along the way; bought gas at dusty little gas stations located at crossroads out in the middle of nowhere. For my brothers and me, it was a huge adventure. I don't know how my dad felt about the drive, except that I know that we drove him a little nuts at times. Imagine three young boys cooped up in a car, all day, every day, for several days on end. But I do remember, at the end of the trip as we pulled into our driveway in Claremont, a sense of let down, of loss; that the adventure was over and we were going to have to get back to normal living. It was a summer trip, and looming in the near future was the dreaded return to school, knowing that we had been abroad long enough that we would have to get to know all of our old friends again. It would be like we were "the new kids" again.

Anyway, I’m 67 years old today, so that trip was almost 60 years ago, and I still remember large parts of it with great clarity. It was epic.

Print Email

1000 Characters left