My father, visiting, tells the story of his parents driving from Michigan to California, in the fall of 1941. I imagine my father, 4-years-old in the backseat with his much older sister, his parents driving an American-made car on innumerable two-lane highways, in the time when cars were made with tank-quality metal.
Decades before blue jeans and seatbelts, his parents — both Romanian immigrants — must have been on the immigrant road again, traveling not for leisure but to size up the Golden State: could they make a living in this land of sunshine?
They returned with the intention to sell their business and property and move. That early winter, however, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. With the country at war, moving was no longer an option.
In the blue predawn, I lie awake, thinking of the journey of these people, a grandfather I never met, my grandmother and aunt, now long dead. How this terrible war ended the California dream of my grandparents, but made their grocery business; how my dad enrolled in the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he met my mother; and that his sister lived her adult life in southern California.
All a mystery, perhaps, that journey cloaked in the murky past — and yet not, the consequences of those years still unwinding in my life — and my daughters’ lives.
I saw in their eyes something I was to see over and over in every part of the nation — a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here… Nearly every American hungers to move.
— John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America