We took our first big big road trip, dubbed by the kids as The West Trip in 2015. They were 6 and 8 when we started. One had a birthday and turned 9 while we were at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I think it was a pretty grand birthday. We’d been camping and cooking over the fire for over a week, so eating at a breakfast buffet and having pizza by the canyon rim was a very nice birthay treat.
Eddie Elk joined our family while we were traveling in the North Rim. He was not a birthday present as one might expect. Our birthday person had brought some spending money on the West Trip and bought Eddie at the tiny North Rim gift shop. One of his perky little antlers broke on the first day so he began his life very loved.
Eddie became a staple in our kids active imaginative play, which involved a complex nextwork of bison, deer and other wild (stuffed) animals. Eventually he got his own radio show in their imaginary world, as DJ Elky Ed. He was elected President at least once I believe. He’s regarded as one of the stable, wise characters in their special world.
You can probably imagine that Eddie joined us on future trips. Of course he was one of the chosen ones for our West Trip II, taken in 2017. This is an honor, as adults made a rule that only two stuffed animals could accompany each kid.
I don’t remember much about Eddie’s presence for the first couple days of that adventure. We started in Pgh, drove through St Louis, to the Schlitterbahn waterpark in Kansas City, then the long day’s drive into Texas on the way to Big Bend National Park.
That long driving day turned out to be very memorable though we would have never expected it to be. The road between Kansas City, Kansas and Snyder, Texas is not known for spectaclar landmarks. Sprawling farm fields. Grasslands slowly blending into dry desert landscape. Old oil wells. Pickup trucks. As far as sights that day, I remember seeing a conversion van in northern Oklahoma with the vanity plate “Jewhawk” and a Kansas Jayhawks bumper sticker. We waved to the driver, a young man with a long beard and yarmulke on his head. He cheerfully waved back. Tiny happy memory.
We ate a packed lunch at a service plaza in Oklahoma and had planned to eat out for dinner. I am a planner but didn’t choose a specific restaurant for our dinner stop. About 1 hour before dinner time we started looking ahead on the road to see what was out there. In these remote places like west Texas, it is important not to make assumptions that restaurants will 1. exist, 2. be open, 3. that you will have data/phone service to look at all times.
We chose Sonic Drive In in the town of Seymour, TX. There are several dessert lovers in our family so it was chosen with knowledge of a Dairy Queen less than 1 block away. Dinner was nice at the picnic table in the hot Texas sun. I dropped off the 3 ice cream lovers at Dairy Queen and got gas a little bit down the street. When I got back, everybody piled into the van for the last two hours of our drive that day, to the hotel in Snyder, TX.
About an hour into this drive, the backseat occupants became increasingly frantic searching for Eddie Elk. He was not in the van. We wondered if he somehow was left at Sonic or Dairy Queen but had no cell service at that time to call and ask. We tried to prepare the kiddos that Eddie may be gone. They were inconsolable. I tried to comfort them by saying maybe another nice family had found Eddie and would take him on new adventures. “Poor Eddie!” one of the small people wailed. It was very sad.
Adults tried to have a rational conversation about missing Eddie. We did not want to drive over an hour back, turning a 10ish hour driving day into a 12-13 hour day, especially not know if we would find what we were looking for. The sadness in the backseat was intense. Thankfully we got into a small pocket of cell service and I was able to reach the Dairy Queen. Eddie was found in the parking lot. It was a road trip miracle! I asked if the would consider mailing him to us and they said no. It was a Decided No. I did not try to negotiate.
Of course the backseat occupants heard this whole exchange with mostly very good news. At this point we were getting pretty close to our hotel. It was extremely dark in this remote part of Texas, few towns, no street lights, lots of speeding pickup trucks passing us in clouds of dust. I did not feel comfortable spending 4 more hours in the car in these conditions. I hemmed and hawed. Helder decided.
He dropped us off at the hotel, then drove back two hours for Eddie, just making it before the Dairy Queen closed. Two hours after that, he was back in Snyder with us. Eddie is special and all, but. Whew. Stress. I didn’t like waiting those 4 hours for my husband to come home to our hotel. SO grateful when he got back. That was a big long hug. We took a short walk around the dusty parking lot and looked at the dark night sky. We tucked Eddie into bed with the sleeping kiddos.
There were many many memorable moments on that trip but Eddie’s side trip to Dairy Queen for a couple of hours always sticks out. I don’t know why exactly. Maybe it was the crazy yet heroic fathering. Maybe it was the fact that my kids were still young enough to care so deeply about a stuffed animal? Maybe Eddie himself and his precious imaginary world? For what it’s worth, here’s Eddie today.