In a world where many live in urban areas with thousands passing them daily without a smile, a nod of recognition, a word of encouragement, or even a honk of protest, finding sustaining connections with people who care becomes increasingly important. Our families, when natural bonds are nurtured beyond the occasional get-togethers, can help provide that supportive community we so treasure.
I’m writing this early in the morning, two hours before we hit the road in Rawlins, Wyoming. We’re returning home from our RV caravan from CA to Kirkland, Illinois and back. When my wife and I told others about our 4,000 mile trek through fly-over country with my son and his wife, his in-laws, our four grandkids, and my sister with her family of five, we received two basic responses: “Why would you do that?” and “What a memory-making adventure!”
There’s history to our decision to hit the road as a family. Twenty-seven years ago, my parents invited their kids and families to take the same trip. They led the way in their large Winnebago RV, and we followed in our Dodge Caravans and tents. We visited the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, the Badlands, and Mt. Rushmore. We took a raft trip down the Snake River rapids and a never-ending side-trip to the “Wonderland Cave.” But it was the time together that mattered most. The journey was a vehicle to make our family bond even stronger.
Every night, I’d pull out my guitar, and we’d write a new verse to describe the events of the day using our version of “This Land Is Your Land.” We’d end with the same chorus: “This land is your land. This land is my land. From California to the Kirkland cornfields…. This land was made for you and me.” The “Paulson Family Singers” performed the song to applause at the Kirkland Paulson Family Reunion. They always wondered about us California Paulson’s, and our performance certainly confirmed that the nation is tilted to the West and all the nuts roll down to this end of the country. We laughed, we shared stories, and we secured lasting memories.
Why caravan this year? When my mom died last year, it was time to deliver on our promise to bury our parents’ ashes together in Kirkland’s Maple Cemetery, their hometown. In addition, my son Sean had turned 16 on the last caravan and his oldest son, Micah, was now in his teen years. When you added the opportunity to visit national parks, travel with the family, and attend the Paulson Family Reunion over the July 4th Weekend, we couldn’t resist the call to the road.
With our walkie-talkies and three RVs, the clan took to convoy stopping at campgrounds along the way. What stood out—the beauty of America, the fireflies, the small-town patriotic parades, and how down-right nice people are who travel by RV. There’s a courtesy and camaraderie that seems to characterize those who take the slow lane through life’s byways.
Without such experiences, families miss the shared adventure, the singing with guitars at campfires, and the many challenges that turn into character-building memories. You miss the chance for a new generation to experience the power of family and to hear family stories that bind them together. Every day created new memories and rekindled old ones.
On this same trip, we were able to bring our families together to bury my parents in Kirkland and to spread my daughter-in-law’s grandmother’s ashes to the winds from a scenic overlook in Manhattan, Kansas. My son, who is a minister, was able to assist with both graveside remembrances. The full impact of a family’s faith commitment blossoms at the graveside with shared tears, memories, laughter, and prayers for those who have left us and for those who remain.
My son noticed that the names of my wife and I are on the same gravestone in Maple Cemetery. He smiled when he saw it and said, “I guess at some point we’re going to do this journey again.” Yes, that time will come. Until then, families and faith endure. May it always be so.