"Remember that there's nothing higher, stronger, more wholesome and more useful to life than some good memory, especially when it goes back to the days of your own childhood, to the days of your life at home. You are told a lot about your education, but some beautiful sacred memory, preserved since childhood, is perhaps the best education of all." (Alyosha, in Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov)
I don't remember how young I was at the time, probably about six, but from my earliest memories I recollect a curiosity about how other people lived. I was riding once with my mother to see my grandmother and distinctly remember looking around me at some small, white clapboard houses (smaller and shabbier than mine) and, seeing a woman come out of the front door of one of these small homes, wondering who these people are, what they do all day, how they live. I'm sure it was but a momentary event, but it was, I guess, an epiphany for me: not everyone lived like me, not every place was like the town where I lived, and while I'm not sure I could yet think about what "other" might mean (my world was so small then), from then on I wondered what was "out there."
I became the resident travel agent. I studied atlases, pored over maps, and sent my own postcards to far away state tourism offices and chambers of commerce seeking information to plan our trips, even though most of the planned trips were not taken. Spreading the Esso map out on the tan carpet of our living room floor, alone, I almost felt transported just by following the red and blue lines that snaked across the pages, mouthing the names of cities and towns, wondering how far we could go and what we would find when we got there.
My uncle and aunt took me on a trip once to the Washington, D.C. area. I rode between them, without seat belt, in the front seat, and directed them: "Turn here, not there; No, Uncle Clarence, not there." Occasionally my uncle would pretend (he later declared) that he was lost, and I'd have to help get him out of the jam. All our trips were car trips, and while my sisters yakked in the back, I sat in the front. I wanted to see where I was going. I still like knowing where I'm going.