Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Back in the 1950's, my family experienced a significant life event which is now commonplace but in those days was not an everyday occurrence -- one of the kids moved across the country.  My uncle, a young Methodist minister, had been serving for some time as a "circuit rider" in three small churches around Black River Falls, Wisconsin.  (This practice was de rigueur in those days, particularly in areas with small towns and few pastors.)  I don't know the exact circumstances, but at some point, my aunt and uncle got the opportunity to move to California.  Since my aunt was a native of Bakersfield (home of country music legend Buck Owens), I believe this was probably a good opportunity to get closer to her family.  Given that my uncle had grown up in Tennessee, I guess you might say he already had a head start on the rest of the family when it came to relocation.

Before too long, my grandmother and grandfather decided to follow suit.  I mean, after all, what was a simple move from Tennessee to California?  It wasn't really that far, especially in a car with no air conditioning at a time when flat tires were commonplace.  My grandmother, a wonderful storyteller, related their story to me, and it's always been one of my favorite family tales, because it truly exhibits a sense of complete disregard for stated rules, and let's face it, there's a certain amount of enjoyment in that for all of us.

It seems that the moving trip west for Grandma and Grandaddy along Route 66 was going well until they reached the border of New Mexico and Arizona...that's when everything went a bit sour.  When you travel west, you are stopped at the NM-AZ border to make sure you are not bringing in fruit, because it can introduce unwanted insects into the local ecosystems, which are heavily dependent on agriculture.  A border guard, doing his duty by checking this car with Tennessee license plates, innocently asked them what they were carrying.

My grandfather, a stern man of German heritage with an engaging Southern accent, replied, "Nothin'."  But this was not to be the end of it.  The border guard continued his line of questioning.

"Well, sir, I guess we'll need to see what's in the trunk of your car."

Not to be taken lightly, my grandfather barked back, "I ain't opening it up."

At this point, my grandmother became somewhat nervous...after all, this was an officer of the law.  Seeing a big rug that they had tied to the top of the car, she somehow could predict what was coming next.

"Well then, sir, if you won't open the trunk, you'll have to tell me what that thing is up on top of your roof."

It would suffice to say that my grandfather, a reasonable man in his way, felt that some line had been crossed, and he wasn't having any of it.  He took one more look at the officer and with a grave face, and every ounce a Tennessean, he replied, "It's mah STILL."

At that point, the border guard gave up and let them pass.  I don't know anything about the rest of the move, and Grandma didn't seem to recall all that clearly either, but I don't think that really matters.  The important thing was that Grandma and Grandaddy were allowed to pass into Arizona and on to California, and soon, they became settlers of the New West.  After a few short months of acclimation, they located some Southern food, and all was well.