1953 Buick Special
1953 Buick Special
This one isn't ours. No Presbyterian minister's car would have whitewalls in 1953.

Dedicated to my father, Reverend Robert H. Graham

    The idea for this trip was conceived in the back seat of a 1953 Buick. Or maybe it was the '57 DeSoto, I'm not sure. It was sometime in the 50's, my early boyhood, during one of the several cross-country trips in the family car, six of us in all, my three older sisters, my parents and I; no air conditioning, no radio. We would leave Berkeley at night to beat the heat of the desert (and because the kids would sleep, of course). And we would take the better part of a week to travel across the continent, eating canteloupe, peaches and sandwiches, stopping at restaurants where the menu was inspected scrupulously not for quality but for price, and then doing the same thing at roadside motels, sometimes checking on two or three different ones before the right price was found. I remember figures like $12 a night for our family of six. I think that was for two rooms. Getting a motel with a pool was an unheard of luxury.
    I rode in the back seat where I invariably got carsick. I always smelled exhaust, and it made me nauseus. At nap time I would lay on the back shelf and watch the desert, mountains, plains and hills roll away behind us until I fell asleep.

front window of buik

    Dad was the adventurer. You would feel his excitement days in advance. The car had to be lubed and tuned. The route had to be selected. His packing of the trunk made professional movers look like rookies. Dad loved to travel. Mom put up with it.

    It was Dad who said, "there's the old road" as we crossed the deserts. It was Dad who talked with regret about the new diesel locomotives, and with anger in his voice about feather-bedders ruining the railroads. It was Dad who did the driving, pretty much all of it. It was Dad who could keep the lifesaver on his tongue the longest without breaking the circle. It was Dad who led us in singing "The Bear went over the Mountain" and "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt".
    And when we would finally turn onto the Shunpike for the final two miles to Grandpa's farm near Poughkeepsie, I don't know now who was more excited; me with my heart pounding so hard it might explode through my chest, or Dad, leaning forward over the wheel as we rounded the last curve, gravel crunching under the wheels as we pulled into the driveway,  a continent behind us.
    I've always loved to travel, and I know where I got the bug.

Pulling into Grandpa's farm, Clinton Corners, NY, around 1947
(before I was born)

    Dad's life was his ministry to God through the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He was in the second graduating class at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia) and among the first wave of those who risked a secure future and led their churches out of the Presbyterian Church in the 1930's. The break came after the mainline Presbyterian denomination adopted the philosophy that each person (and each pastor) could decide for themselves whether or not Jesus was the actual Son of God, and whether or not the Bible was God's word for mankind; the denomination would take no official position one way or the other. My father, and others, felt this was an abdication of the Church's basic responsibility. It's true, each person DOES have to decide these things for their self, but the Church must take a stand on its beliefs. Really, is it that tough?
    I think my father was on to something huge. He felt it, too. Take a look around you today. We're all afraid to take a stand on ANYthing. Why? Because each person is his own final authority, his own God. There is none higher than SELF. So neighbors dare not discipline the boy they see breaking windows, teachers dare not criticize students, citizens dare not hold their President (or each other) morally accountable. After all, the neighbor doesn't know the boys reason for breaking the windows, the teacher wouldn't want to deflate self-esteem, and the President was only doing what comes naturally.
    Of course the criticism in all this is, "Who died and made you God?" This is the biggest weakness in churches which still believe in the deity of Christ and the infallibility of Scripture: they tend to cram their fallible interpretation of it down your throat, making themselves easy targets for their opponents. The airwaves are filled with them. I question their motives. They should shut up and concentrate on being more Christ-like. I know, I know, I'm doing what they do, but they make me so mad. They could all take a lesson from Billy Graham (no relation).
    The man who led the movement that became the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was J. Gresham Machen. My dad revered him. Almost all the people in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church who actually knew him are now dead. I should know more about him than I do. My brother-in-law, Charles Dennison (we call him Charlie), is the historian for the denomination. He's got a portrait of Machen hanging in his front hallway.
    Dad retired numerous times between the early 1970's and late 1980's. It's impossible to say when he actually did retire, but he put in more than fifty years in the ministry on unbelievably crappy wages, virtually no retirement, and still tithing ten percent of it every payday back to the church. He kept the "tithe box" in the top drawer of his dresser. The check got cashed and the tithe went in the box.
    He and my mother (Ruth Hall Graham) moved to the Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Center (Quarryville, Pa.) in 1992, where he succumbed to cancer at the age of 87 in 1993. My mother is now 87 herself and in great health. She does her Royal Canadian Air Force exercises every morning for twenty minutes and walks a mile or so every day. How 'bout you?

Mom and Dad celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in 1990

    I would also like to thank my brother-in-law, Reverend Donald Duff, for providing the next layer when it was needed.
    Don was born in Ethiopia of missionary parents (who showed callous indifference to the lifetime of 'Donald Duck' jokes their son would live with). I think his love of the open spaces and the mountains came from his youth, tramping over the hills of that beautiful land.
    He and my sister, Peggy, lived in Wheaton (Il) and it was after my freshman year at college there that they drove me home to San Diego. On the way through Colorado, Don said he wanted to check out a route he had taken a long time ago. And so we turned west off of Rte. 24 in Buena Vista and proceeded up and over Cottonwood Pass on the dirt road and over into Taylor Park. It was the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. I was ripe for it, and my love for traveling, born years before, crystallized on that day. I knew I would be back in the mountains again, and I have been, almost every year since.

    I hope the travel bug has been passed to my daughters, Ruth and Alyce. They have been camping in the west almost every year since they were born. Ruth is now ('97-98) a freshman at Wheaton College and Alyce is a junior Wheaton North High School.

    She'll shoot me for this because she hates this sort of thing, but I must acknowledge my wife, Lois. We were married five years ago. In fact, our fifth wedding anniversary will fall during the middle of this trip. We may or may not be together for it. She doesn't understand my wanting to make this trip. I don't either, but I have her blessing. We love each others' company; I'm already looking forward to being home again, and I haven't left yet.