Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lessons From "The Wayback"

“The Wayback” does not refer to stories from “way back when” but instead refers to the pre-minivan place where many of my generation spent our childhood. “The Wayback” of the family station wagon was the place where the youngest family members were positioned for family road trips - long and short. There were no seatbelts, or seats for that matter, no DVD screens or game consoles. We were simply dumped back there to bounce around for the journey and figure out a way to entertain ourselves.

It was a place where you either learned to get along with your siblings, or didn’t. But either way it didn’t matter, you were stuck back there with them. Often it was hot, and no amount of pillows or blankets could make it comfortable, especially when your younger sister spent all the time in the “wayback” chattering nonstop.

My life in the wayback began in a playpen and lasted well into my teen years. It was there that I learned to get along with my sister, that you don’t leave family behind and that littering is not tolerated.

I was recently reminded of the “no littering lesson” as I a drove down a country road on my way to a storytelling gig. On the side of the road for a quarter mile stretch there were beer cans, fast food bags, super size drink cups and other assorted trash strewn carelessly amidst the grass and scrub trees. Obviously someone had not learned the “no littering” rule. It is simply baffling to me that someone can throw their trash out their window and not give it a second thought. I mean really! Who do they think is going to clean up their trash!!

I remember vividly the day I learned NOT to litter. I was eight and my sister was six. We were in the “wayback” of the family station wagon somewhere between Massachusetts and California. We’d been back there for weeks! We (my brothers) had tried to leave my sister in Utah but had been unsuccessful. That was the moment we learned “you don’t leave family behind”! But I digress – back to littering.

My sister and I were playing around in the “wayback”.  It was a hot day and all the windows were open. The wind was whipping through the car blowing our hair everywhere. She handed me a piece of Trident gum and I quickly unwrapped the piece and popped it in my mouth. The gum wrapper slipped through my fingers and sailed out the back window of the wagon. Some how my father saw that wrapper flicker in his rear view mirror and sail away.

Immediately he pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the car and walked around to the back window. He leaned in and asked us, “Whose wrapper was that?” We both pointed to the other one and said, “Hers”. We then watched Dad walk to the camping gear we towed behind us in a small sail boat. He pulled the canvas back revealing the camping gear and pulled out a Hefty trash bag. He walked back over to our window, handed us the trash bag and instructed us to pick up the trash on the side of the road.

While Beth and I walked along the side of the road picking up trash, Mom, Dad and the boys sat by the side of the road drinking lemonade. When Beth and I had filled most of that trash bag we walked back over to Dad to ask if we were done. He looked at us and asked, “Did you find your gum wrapper?”

Are you kidding me! We didn’t find our gum wrapper, but we did learn a valuable lesson that day. I never littered again – even by accident.

Twenty-five years later it was a lesson I taught my sons along a country road in West Virginia. You don’t leave your trash behind. I sure wish everyone had learned that lesson when they were young. What a beautiful world it would be . . . .
(c) 10.06.2013 Martha Reed Johnson