Two or three times a year, my parents and I took a trip to visit my father's parents in Bridgeport. As a seven year old, this was the longest trip I made on a regular basis, and I planned for days: what to wear, what to bring for the ride down and for my grandparents' tiny apartment, and what snacks to have in the back seat.
My grandparents were in their eighties. They had a nice house with a steep staircase but moved into a first floor apartment when my grandmother broke her hip. Their new neighborhood and its loud music and crowded streets frightened me. I was from Willington, a town of five thousand with quiet backyards. “The sticks” as my grandfather called it. In Bridgeport, I heard the scream of the sirens and the yelling of the neighbors. I liked the Spanish, though. It reminded me of the Shop Rite in Willimantic.
I asked my parents how many days it took to get to Bridgeport. I guessed three. "An hour and a half," my father said.
On the day of the trip, I placed one of my wooden chairs purchased at a gas station in the backseat. I wanted a good view. Seatbelt use in my family was unheard of until I took Driver's Ed ten years later. I piled up my books – two mysteries in case I finished the first one and three puzzle books – and pencils, pens, and markers. Next to the books was my own cooler with bite-sized ham and cheese sandwiches, homemade chocolate chip cookies, cut up apple sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and a thermos of lemonade. My school bag was filled with a change of clothes and a couple of card games like Old Maid and Go Fish.
On the ride down, we practiced the state capitals from yellowing flash cards. My mother called out the state, and I named the capital. Then we reversed it. These cards were so old that they didn't include Alaska and Hawaii. Thankfully my parents knew Juneau and Honolulu. We completed the capitals by New Haven in time for me to stare at a park's statue overlooking the highway. "Someone fell off that cliff playing Frisbee," my mother said on one trip. On another, "They found the strangled body right near that statue," my father whispered. (To this day, I am still mesmerized by that statue and have never visited East Rock Park.)
If I saw the statue, it meant my father had taken the main highway through Hartford to I-95 South, which really goes west in Connecticut. I preferred the Merritt Parkway with its tree-lined drive and no trucks, but it dumped us on the wrong (nice) side of town, Pop said.
The scenery from I-95 was ugly, and, finally, after passing numerous wrecking balls at junk yards, we arrived. My grandparents peered out their front door and waved. I was glad my father parked in front—I didn't want anyone to break into the car and steal my little chair like they tried to steal someone's radio the last time we were visiting.
We unloaded groceries for my grandparents and brought in almost all of my backseat items. It felt like we spent a couple of days in their apartment, but it was only a few hours. In short years to come, my grandparents would be gone, along with the reason to make this trip, but I didn’t know that then.