A Long Way from Middlefield, Ohio

As promised, I am bringing you part of Mem’s travel journal from her cross-country trip. Her trip began out of Middlefield, Ohio on May 1, 1950, when she was 30 years old. I am now 60, twice the age Mem was when she took this trip. I thought of her often during my trip out West. I tried to imagine what she was like when she was 30, unmarried, and with her friends.

The beginning of the journal reads:

Our Trip to Monrovia, California

The Group

Elizabeth E. Miller – Mary Kempf – Katie Miller – Jerry Reeves – and myself –

Driver Mrs. Marjorie Burdick

I know Mem and the group made it all the way to California, but she left her audience at the Carlsbad Caverns on May 22 after visiting Mexico twice. That is where her journal ends.

The parts of the journal that overlap with the trip David and I took are the focus of this post. I’ve included in brackets details that are important that I gleaned from earlier entries in her journal. I’ve also corrected her spelling so as not to be distracting. Because I no longer have her photos to go along with the journal, I will add photos in the appropriate places from those I took on my journey .

Tuesday, May 9, 1950

Started out around Santa Rosa [Texas] around seven o’clock. Stopped at the New Mexico Museum. Also had a nice ride on a stage coach with four horses. Here is where Mary and Katie got their eye on a cow boy.

Stopped and each had a good drink of cherry cider. Riding up in the mountains makes a person want to drink. Also stopped at Kit Carson’s Cave. We saw all shapes and all sizes of mountains. I can not explain the beauty and scenery that can be seen here. I can not blame the Indians for building their homes in these places.

Crossed the Arizona border at 4:15 P.M. Went around the painted desert. Saw lots of petrified wood for sale. The painted desert is beautiful at sun set. The rocks are all colors and when the sun sets there are different layers of different shades of different colors. Is another one of natures’ own wonders.

It is obvious that Mem had a sense of wonder of places like the painted desert. I am my mother’s daughter. Besides the Grand Canyon, my favorite place to visit was the Petrified Forest National Park. I will be writing more about this in another post.

We saw the Painted Desert on a cloudy day and it was stunning. I can only imagine what it would be like during sunset as Mem described it. Below are several photos I took.


Photo by Saloma Furlong


Photo by Saloma Furlong


Photo by Saloma Furlong


Here is Mem’s next journal entry:

Wednesday, May 10, 1950

Went to Clark Café for breakfast and had ½ grapefruit, 2 doughnuts and coffee for 41¢. Mrs. Burdick had the car looked over. We then went to the stratified forest. We girls and Jerry walked over 1 mile of it and it sure was worth it. Had our dinner in a café near the Petrified Forest. Were all hungry. Katie and I had hamburger steak, ice cream and coffee $1.00.

Started off for Grand Canyon around 12:30. Saw snow topped mountains 13,000 feet above sea level. We could see the snow 200 miles away. Right after lunch we headed for the mountains over looking Grand Canyon to see the Indians war dance. We then went to a cafeteria-style restaurant $1.29.

Can you imagine getting those kinds of meals for those prices? How times do change!

David and I did not go to the Stratified Forest because we didn’t know about it. I believe the snow-topped mountains Mem would have seen would have been the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff. I posted photos of those Peaks in my last post. Here is a reminder photo:

Photo by Saloma Furlong


Thursday, May 11, 1950

Went sight seeing [at the Grand Canyon] all A.M. Walked down part way. We refused the mule ride down and back for $5.00. But on the way back, had we had a chance we would have been glad to accept it for we had a hard time climbing up. We stopped ate some apples and Ritz crackers paid 80¢. Stopped at Williams and ate ice cream, cherry pie, and coffee 36¢.

Here Mem doesn’t describe what it was like for them to get their first glimpse of the Grand Canyon. There is nothing quite like it. David and I just couldn’t take in all that Beauty at once. As we stood at the rim and looked out over the colorful formations, it was like trying to fathom the depth of the ocean. The vastness, the colors, the depth, the breadth. It was all just so awesome and majestic. How can one describe what one feels standing at the edge of one of the World’s Wonders created by Mother Nature herself — a creation that took more time than humans can comprehend.

They say a photo is worth a thousand words, but even photos don’t do the Grand Canyon justice. Below are a several of my attempts.

Photo by Saloma Furlong



Photo by Saloma Furlong


Photo by Saloma Furlong The Colorado River far below.


Photo by Saloma Furlong Around the deepest part of the Canyon


Photo by Saloma Furlong


Photo by Saloma Furlong

Saturday, May 20, 1950

I had a cinnamon roll and coffee. Started out [from Dateland, Arizona] 20 after 7. There isn’t much to see through the lava desert except black lava and a few different kinds of cactus. Followed R. 80. About every 35 miles we came to a gas station. Passed a dead cow by the side of the road. People have no fences here.

Part of the desert is now farming sections that are irrigated from the Boulder Dam. Other parts are as dry as ever. From R. 80 we picked up 84.

Stopped a few times to take pictures of cactuses. Some were as big and high as the telephone poles. Went back on R. 80 in Tucson. Mary’s cap went flying out the window but found it again.

Stopped at a Donkey Inn Restaurant. We each had a spaghetti dinner. Was a real good big plate for 85¢. Coffee was free with the meal.

Drove through Texas Canyon which is a mass of rocks. Stopped at Wilcox, Arizona around 3:50 P.M. Stayed at Frank’s Courts overnight. We bought 1 pint of ice cream, crackers and cookies and ate in the cabins.

When we were in town we met a Mrs. Bacheller which was very nice to talk to. She took our names and addresses. Paid 68¢ for my supper.

This entry is the one that surprised me. I hadn’t remembered that Mem had gone through Tucson or Texas Canyon. Below is a photo David took when he was at the Saguaro National Forest, just outside of Tucson, while I was attending a memoir workshop.

Photo by David Furlong

I had mentioned Texas Canyon the other day, and posted a photo from it. When I think back, it is a coincidence that we even stopped there. I had been doing the driving for a few hours, and I pulled into a rest stop so that David could take over the driving. Once there, I could not stop taking photos, I was just so amazed by the rocks and boulders.

Photo by Saloma Furlong
Photo by Saloma Furlong


Photo by Saloma Furlong


Photo by Saloma Furlong


Photo by Saloma Furlong
Photo by Saloma Furlong

Mem had gone on this trip with other “old maids” from her Amish community. This was not a good status at the time — women who were single at that age were considered “left over.” During my trip, I realized there were advantages to this status: it afforded her the privilege to travel across the country, which was quite unusual for women of her generation. I’m glad she enjoyed that trip before she married and had children.

This may sound really strange, but I have always wished I could have known Mem before she became my mother. Taking this trip and reading her travel journal has allowed me the feeling of going back in time and “meeting” her as a young woman. I feel like she was fun-loving and gregarious when I see her helping to find her friend’s hair covering that had blown out the window in Tucson, hiking down into the Grand Canyon and wishing she could ride the back of a mule coming out, or teasing her fellow travelers about “cow boys.” I’m fairly sure she wasn’t averting her eyes from those cowboys.

There was a way in which I recognized Mem in this journal. She always loved food. (Nowadays she’d be called a foodie).  Whenever she knew we’d eaten at a restaurant, she’d ask, “What did you have?” I noticed she answered that question every day in her travel journal.

There were times during this trip when I felt led to the places we visited. The coincidence of stopping in Texas Canyon is just one such example. The Tucson Festival of Books is the only literary award I’ve ever won. The fact that this took me to the Southwest is another coincidence. Making such a trip was on my list of things I wanted to do before leaving this earth, but whether I would have without this kind of a prompt, I will never know. I am glad I had this opportunity to visit some of the same places Mem had visited. It was a privilege and an honor. It was a long way from Middlefield, Ohio — for Mem and for me.

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15 thoughts on “A Long Way from Middlefield, Ohio”

  1. When I read about “writing behind writing,” my heart beats a bit faster for I feel as though I am riding The Spiral Of Time/Space Experience. Words have such power! They do bend the concept of time, space, and relationship. May you continue to travel the way Einstein did when he imagined riding on top of a beam of light to unlock the way it explained e = mc2. Thank you!

    1. Mary, you make me think about the human attempt to measure space and time. What if we didn’t have a way of measuring either? How would this change our world view?

      Thank you for comments… very thought-provoking!

  2. About 1977 we made trip from Wisconsin through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and into Nogales, Mexico. I was wondering if you saw any part of Mt. Lemon outside of Tuscon. We started to go up to the top. The curves going up were narrow and sharp. Starting at one curve, we encountered a bus that had to go in our lane to make the sharp curve. There were no guard rails. My husband slammed on the brakes in time. I told him he better let me and the kids out at the next available spot if we wanted to go on. No way was I going through that experience again. Needless to say we found a spot to turn around and come back. That evening at supper in the restaurant I told the waitress of our harrowing experience as she inquired about our “site seeing” experiences. Poor lady had to listen to a “Mouthful”!!! She thought it was funny – guess they were used to that kind of “excitement”!!

    Another time coming home, we stopped at one of the rest stops. The girls were 5 and 7 at the time. I told them if they had to use the facilities now would be the time because there wouldn’t be another place to stop for quite a while. Nope – neither one “had to go”. Ok. So I alone. Half way “through” I hear this knocking on the locked door. I started yelling “I thought you didn’t need to go, so now you can just WAIT until I’m DONE!” A few seconds later a female voice on the other side of the door said “Oh, I’m sorry I was just checking to see if it was occupied as I couldn’t get the door open.” Needless to say, upon exiting the “facility” I apologized and explained the situation to the poor lady.

    We had to go through a “check point” at the border. They asked us various questions and looked in the back seat of the car and asked if those were our children? We said yes. Years later I told the girls that when they asked us that I should have said “Children?? What children?? How did they get back there?? Never saw them before in my life!!” LOL.

    Glad you had a great time. Have you had a chance to do any house hunting yet?

    1. Kris, I love these stories of your trip. Traveling as a couple is so different from traveling with children. David and I travel well together. Sure, we wish for breaks from one another once in a while, but I love sharing experiences with him.

      That is hilarious about the bathroom incident. I would have been with you on the trip up the mountain… I don’t need to see the top, thank you very much.

      Your daughters must have a retort for you about the checkpoint… “Yeah, Mom, the guards would have laughed at your joke… NOT!”

      I remember trips with our two sons, and they were not always pleasant. The bickering between the boys used to be relentless. I don’t have an nostalgia for those trips!

      Thanks for sharing your stories.

  3. Wonderful!! It was nice that you mom could travel that time. So nice that you made the same trip. Wonderful pictures! It’s on my wish list to travel through the States.
    You never know what happens.

  4. It’s a beautiful part of the country, for sure. After retiring (from Ohio) my parents moved to the Phoenix area and used to spend a couple of months each summer in Santa Fe, so by visiting them off and on I became fairly well acquainted with a lot of the region’s beauty. It never got tiresome.

    After my mother died I also really wished I could go back and rerun time to know my mother as a “girlfriend.” She was a truly wonderful mother, but it would be so much fun to run the story so that we could be contemporaries. You’re the only other person I’ve encountered who’s expressed that same desire.

    1. Joan, I like that I’m not the only one with this desire. I thought about not writing that because I thought it might sound hokey because it’s a desire that can never be fulfilled.

      I’m so glad you had a wonderful mother. My relationship with Mem was complicated. In looking back, I think she tried to annex my will to her own, and that caused a huge struggle between us. I was not about to let that happen. If I had been her friend and contemporary, I think I would have seen that whole other side of Mem. She had what I call Amish charisma. She could be charming, she had a great sense of humor, and she was very intelligent. But as my mother she was also a hard taskmaster and harsh with her punishments. Even now, as I write this, it’s as if I’m writing about two different people.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and letting me know I’m not the only one with impossible thoughts and imaginings.

  5. Denise Ann Shea

    What wonderful story and beautiful photos. Your mother must have been adventurous back in the day. It was interesting to see the prices for everything–my how times have changed!
    Congratulations on your award. You have a great gift.

    1. Denise, thank you for your kind words.

      Yes, Mem was adventurous when she took this trip. This is not exactly the mother I knew, which is why I find it to fascinating.

      Have a wonderful week.

  6. Enjoyed this journey with you, Saloma and your Mom! Never had thought about knowing my Mom as a teen and a young adult! Now though….what a blast and insight it would’ve been.
    My Mom’s elderly best friend told me when I visited her about 20 years ago, that my Mom had many friends, and came from a “more wealthy home” than most in their group. Mother was the “pigtail” and the youngest of her 5 siblings, so she got to travel and do more fun things, than the others, and always had money to buy this best friend, and others, ice cream and other treats, always generous and gifting her friends!
    I have pics of Mom before she married my Dad, at just 18, beautifully dressed, tall at 5’9 1/2″, and very pretty. My Dad was the oldest of 4 boys, with 2 older 1/2 sisters. His Mom was a quadrapelegic, since having the Influenza in about 1900 when my Dad was just 9 years old!
    My Dad had very few luxuries growing up, working hard, to help the family. His 2 youngest brothers died when they were 6 months old, and another at 12 years old. The brother closest to Dad, died at 33. I have often wondered what my maternal grandparents thought of (Their baby girl) marrying (at such a young age), my Dad, who was nearly 5 years older,and from a somewhat poorer (compared to her’s) family! They were both Amish/Mennonite families from the same church,….so maybe it never even crossed their minds?!
    I have also wondered what my Great Grandparents on my Mother’s side thought when MY Grandmother married MY Grandpa! LOL She came from an apparent family of wealth, and as far as I know, my Grandpa was a “jack of all trades” and never held a conventional job, his whole life! I would’ve LOVED to know my Grandmother, Mom’s Mom, but she died when I was only about 2.
    YOU are such a great storyteller, Saloma, you inspire me to look back, now too. I remember thinking when we were in Switzerland, that my ancestors had probably walked the streets of Zurich and around in that area….just wish I had know more of their history before visiting that BEAUTIFUL country! Blessings to you and your family!

    1. C.J., thank you for telling a family story of your own. My great-grandmother up my maternal line died of influenza, leaving 10 children behind. That is such a tragic story!

      Interesting that your mother married someone not of the same echelon as her own family. Mem did the same. Most of the Amish I know are covertly class conscious. I know Mem’s family had a much better status in the community than my father’s family. I think that was part of her issue with my father, besides that fact that he wasn’t as intelligent as she was.

      Thank you so much for your compliment. I do what comes naturally, and I’m so grateful for all of you out there who read my blog and books. You keep me going!

      Happy Spring!

  7. Pingback: About Amish | A Visit to the Petrified Forest National Park

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