Friday, May 22, 2009

On the Road Again...

By: Marie Force
I’m riding shotgun right now on a family road trip from Rhode Island to Indiana where my husband’s family lives. Since the last time we did this trip by car about five years ago, my children have discovered electronics and we’ve lost both of the dogs who used to ride along with us. So this is a quieter, less intense version of the road trips of yesteryear. The only disruption to the peace in the car is the hourly dust up over feet creeping over “the line.” Remember the sibling line of demarcation in the backseat? The ‘he’s touching me’, ‘she’s looking at me’ line? I’m here to tell you that “the line” is timeless. I’m also enjoying listening to my husband bicker with the Garman, who he has named Lola. She is NOT happy with him and how he continuously defies her by freelancing his way to Indiana.

Being from New England, specifically the Biggest Little State in the Union—Rhode Island—I’m always struck by the vastness of our country when I take to the road. Earlier this year, I had the special joy of driving my father home from South Florida. My brother and I shared the driving duties and were unpleasantly surprised by how long it takes to drive through the Carolinas and Virginia. Today, I’ve got a bone to pick with Ohio. These are some BIG states, people, and a shock to the system of a Rhode Islander who can go from end to end in her state in an hour.

The best part of the road trip is the percolation time. Good music via the iPod, pretty scenery, the pervasive smell of cow manure, the endless golden fields . . . I find it inspiring to see different parts of our country, to see how other people live, where they work, how they talk. Every experience adds to the pool of available material to be used in a future book. On this trip, I’ve made use of the endless time in the car to work out a lot of story details for a new series I’m working on about four brothers. Staring out the window at the passing scenery, I’ve managed to put a lot of the pieces together because my mind is quieter than usual. I’m away from the daily routine of work and school and homework and dinner.

I’ve also used this time to think about the upcoming blog tour for Love at First Flight. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to talk about a book that has meant so much to me since the idea first occurred to me almost a decade ago. L@FF is proof that inspiration is everywhere—whether a gate area in an airport, a soybean field in Indiana or a stretch of highway in Pennsylvania. The secret, I’ve found, is being open to and accepting of the ideas when they present themselves to you.

So back to the reason for this family road trip... My father-in-law passed away Tuesday at the age of 86. As writers we strive to create unforgettable characters, and sometimes we meet people who are so unique, so singular that we realize we could never make up something better than what’s right in front of us. Richard Force was just that kind of person. His life spanned many adventures—including a stint as a carnival worker and service to his country in World War II as a member of the prestigious Flying Tigers, during which he was shot down over occupied China and spent a month hiding in rice fields until he was rescued. He never ate rice again.

After the war that took the life of his older brother, Richard returned home to Indiana, married his childhood sweetheart, fathered six children (mine is the fifth Force of nature), and went to work building bridges for the railroad in the Midwest. He took great joy in his ten grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He was one of the funniest, most outrageous people I’ve ever met—a true character in every sense of the word. And when I think of him, I’ll remember living near them in Florida and how he came running any time I needed help with my kids when my husband was deployed with the Navy. Our relationship was all about razzing each other on a wide variety of topics, ranging from who was a better Euchre player (definitely him, but I can only admit that now that he’s gone) to whether the Cubs or the Red Sox were baseball’s most cursed team (I finally prevailed on that one thanks the 2004 Sox). I’ll never forget mentioning that I was the only woman in the Force family who can’t sew like a professional. “You,” he said, “have other talents.” I certainly hope he was referring to my writing, but knowing his wicked sense of humor, I was afraid to ask! I loved him, and I’ll miss him.

Do you have memories of “the line” in the backseat of your parents’ car? How do your travels inspire your writing? Who are the true characters in your life?


  1. Marie~

    I'm sorry for your loss. Your father-in-law sounds as if he was quite a character and a very special person.

    As for the back seat, I was the youngest of two with divorced parents, I was usually relegated to the back seat with the dog, Mulligan, a huge Irish Setter with no sense of personal space. When we were with my dad, I was thrown in the back of his Datsun 240 Z - it didn't have a back seat.

    I'm blessed to have so many real characters in my life. You know what they say, truth is stranger than fiction - the characters in my family are living proof.

  2. What a lovely, lovely blog! Exactly what a blog should be, IMHO: a slice of life, a glimpse of a point of view. And at the end, your tribute to your father-in-law didn't only sing his praises, it made me SEE him. I feel you shared him with me. Thank you.

    If there was a "line" in the backseat, I don't remember it. The line I recall was the one between being fractious in the car and being punished. My daddy was more than capable of stopping the car and dealing with the miscreants (always plural.)

    As I think about it, though, we didn't take many long car trips--not the kind that would tax kids' abilities to entertain themselves with games of "cows and horses" and "the minister's cat."

  3. It sounds like you and your father-in-law had a great relationship, Marie. I know you'll miss him a lot.

    I don't remember having a line in the backseat. My dad drove a VW Beetle and there were three of us kids wedged in there, and if it was a long trip, we were doped up on Dramamine. My kid's sparring is mostly verbal, so, unfortunately, there can be no line.

  4. Thanks for the kind words, Robin and Mary Margaret. LOL on the lack of a backseat, Robin. And MM, no cow or license plate games on this road trip. It's all about silence! LOL! My DH and I have always had lots of fun on road trips, going back to when we were dating. It's a lot more fun again now that the kids are bit older.

    I'll be off doing the family thing for most of the day but will check in later on.

  5. Marie,
    Your blog today brought back many long ago memories and some very recent ones. We lost my husband's mom on April 23. She was 91 years young and a sweeter soul never lived.

    And as for those backseat days, I remember them well, but there were no lines--seven little kids and two parents stuffed in one big car--well, there just wasn't room for lines or extra money for long trips. With five of the seven kids being girls, we spent our time trying to keep our dresses from getting wrinkled on the way to church.

    Thanks for a wonderful post.

  6. Thanks for sharing your bigger than life Force of great Nature with us. I'm sorry you lost him. But he lives on in all your hearts.
    The lines:
    "Are we there yet?
    If you don't stop it right now we 're not going anywhere!!!!

    I love those car trips across this great beautiful country.

  7. Thanks for the kind words, ladies. Glad to know you all remember "The Line" in the back seat, although SEVEN kids--whoa!

  8. Lovely blog. Brought back many memories.

    We had three boys squeezed together in the back seat (European car, so not that big). There wasn't any room for lines, but there was certainly plenty of bickering.

    And the ever-ready "Are we nearly there yet."

  9. Great blog post, Marie! I liked learning more about your father in law.

    On trips, my brother and I were usually pretty good, but there was one time, and it wasn't even a trip--it was when I was learning how to drive... My brother (who was 12 at the time) was making me nervous on purpose by SCREAMING at the top of his lungs from the back seat. My mom looked at him and said "If you scream one more time, wherever we are, you will get out of the car and walk home.”

    So, naturally, he did and my mom had to literally drag him kicking and screaming out of the backseat. Were at least a mile from home (in our subdivision, so it wasn’t entirely unethical of her to do so). It was super funny :)

  10. LOL Danielle! Good for your mom for following through on the threat! Although a woman did that recently when her kids were fighting and ended up losing custody of them (temporarily, I believe). But who among us hasn't wanted to put the kids on the side of the road and drive off when they act up in the car? Not that I ever actually DID it or anything...

  11. Marie,

    Great post Marie; I was so sad to hear about your fil's passing.

    Ah, the back seat... my dad thought it was hy-larious to drive down the beach (in those days you could drive on the Lake Huron shoreline, and in fact still can in some spots) with the car windows open and dip down into the waves so those of us on the passenger side (including my mom) got splashed!

  12. My condolensces on your loss, Marie. Having been there recently, I know your pain.

    We traveled all over in the car, and moved by U-Haul several times across country, so car travel was a common experience and I have lots of memories. :) One was when we were nearly wiped out on a mountain road in Tennessee and some wild acting kids came around the mountain curve to pass another car headed in our direction. Thankfully there was enough of a shoulder in that one spot that Dad jammed on his brakes and we skidded to a hair's breath of stop on gravel at the edge of the cliff. We were all thrown so hard, my Afghan hound in the backseat with my sister and I had an accident, which I got to clean up. Since my dad slammed on the brakes so hard, it seemed he should have cleaned up the mess. LOL But we were grateful to be alive and we sat there for a long time afterwards before my dad, who had nerves of steel, could drive again on that narrow winding road.

  13. Wow that's crazy, Terry! So glad no one was hurt!