Yodel Little Lady Who?

By Linda O’Connell

When I was six and Dad was six foot two, he jingled his pocket change to a tune in his own head, played the guitar by ear, his life by a hunch. He wasted time and every dime, sipped scalding coffee from a saucer and warbled songs about his little girl. He reared his head, raised his voice, and released a “Yodel-little-lady-who,” which I tried and tried, but never could do.

On summer nights, Dad pulled out his guitar, slipped on his favorite tortoise shell ring, precious as his gold wedding band and invited neighbors into the backyard for a jam session. My brother and I watched fireflies light up the night and listened to Dad’s songs climb to the treetops.

Every summer wanderlust struck Dad, an odd jobber, who worked on his own schedule. I could always tell when he had rambling fever. He would sit hunched forward on a kitchen chair, sip strong coffee, and with a knitted brow, tell me he was studying.

“What are you studying, Daddy?” I asked, wondering where his books were.

“Baby, I’m studying my life,” he’d say, which made no sense to me. He’d sit there gazing off, wandering vicariously to where he’d been and where he wanted to go – California, where his oldest brother moved.

When Dad got the urge to travel, he told Mom to pack a bag, then tugged my mattress off my bed and tossed it into the back of his old, green, panel delivery truck. Our family of four was on our way, somewhere, anywhere Dad’s rambling soul would take us. The mattress buttons and my little brother’s bony elbow poked me in the ribs as “The Mother Road,” Old Route 66 hummed beneath us. Occasionally we hovered over our parents’ shoulders, picked at the cracked, green leather upholstery and whined for something to eat or drink. It took two days, but seemed to take forever to drive to the town where Dad’s younger brothers and their families lived.

Around noontime he stopped at a small grocery store. Dad strolled back to the car carrying a paper sack, plopped it between him and Mom, and continued along the highway through small towns, where laundry hung heavy on clothes lines and Golden Guernseys grazed in pastures. He pulled into the nearest roadside park, and we kids bounded out, anxious to stretch our legs and run around. Seated at a granite picnic table, we watched Dad remove each item from the paper bag. Out came a quart of milk for us kids and a cream soda for Dad. Next, the soft, white Wonder Bread – not in a plastic bag with a twist tie, but in a white waxed wrapper, sporting red, yellow and blue circles and an advertising slogan, “Helps build strong bodies twelve ways.” I always wondered which parts of my body that bread was headed towards every time I took a bite. Dad carefully untied the twine on the white butcher paper and unwrapped a half pound stack of sliced bologna. He peeled the red rind, slathered our sandwiches with mustard and reached deep into the sack for a jar of baby gherkin sweet pickles. We crunched and munched potato chips with our sandwiches. Bananas were usually dessert. Then we were back on the road.

Mom read aloud the Burma Shave signs which displayed advertising slogans. One line of a four verse stanza was hand painted on four individual signs, spaced at intervals along the highway. When read consecutively, they made sense. Sometimes it was an adage that caused my parents to nod their heads in agreement:

Violets are blue

Roses are pink

On graves of those

Who drive and drink.

~Burma Shave

We drove through town after town, passing row after row of 1950s era motels. As dusk turned to night, I begged Dad to let us stay in one of those tiny cottages decorated like play houses. Instead, we did as many other motorists did back then. We slept on the side of the road, in the back of the panel truck. Dad stretched straight out with his head pointed due west like his soul was eager to go. Mom hugged the tire hump. My little brother and I curled against our parents and squirmed until we fell into a fitful sleep.

When the morning sun woke us, we headed for the nearest roadside diner where we ordered hotcakes to fill our “bread baskets” as Dad called our bellies. We took to the road until we arrived later that day at my dad’s youngest brother’s home. Soon after, my uncles and their older sons grabbed their guitars, and a jam session began. By evening, they moved from the living room to the front porch, where the guys of all ages strummed gospel songs, wailed Waylon’s tunes and harmonized Hank’s honky-tonks. I begged Dad to sing an old song, my favorite, that I was sure was about me: “I’ll sing you a song about my little girl…” When the guitars’ timbre climbed to the tree tops, my heart raced, and when Dad leaned his head back to yodel, I thought his melody surely circled the stars and slid right off the moon.

Every year these days, we have a Father’s Day barbeque to celebrate my husband, Bill, a wonderful dad, step-father and grandpa. Our last family members leave as the sun is going down. After clean up, I sit down to rest and think about my own dad. His heart and soul was always headed west. He made it there finally, but decided California was too fast-paced for him, so he settled in Nevada.

On Father’s Day, I look heavenward when the stars begin to twinkle. Old Route 66 wraps me up in childhood memories, and I travel back in time. The roar of the road– a distant call– entices me. Heavy-lidded, I nod off, headed towards the sights and sounds of yesteryear. When I’m sure I’m alone I sing to myself, “Yodel little old lady me.”

About this writer

  • Linda O’Connell

    Linda O’Connell

    A preschool teacher for almost four decades, is notorious for holding her life together with duct tape and humor. Her greatest loves are family, the beach and dark chocolate.

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14 Responses to “Yodel Little Lady Who?”

  1. Alice Muschany says:

    Lovely story Linda. Your descriptions brought the era alive again. No wonder you’re a travelin’ woman! I can almost hear you yodeling now!

  2. Truly heartwarming…makes me long to be able to claim I had a father like that. I tagged right along with Linda’s family on Route 66, also wondering about what the twelve ways Wonder Bread worked. I don’t think they ever said. I crunched those gherkins too, and then, when I finished the last line, I decided to buy some the next time I go to the store. I haven’t had any in years. Thanks so much, Linda O’Connell, for the memories.

  3. Bobby Barbara Smith says:

    I tagged along also on this wonderful road trip, dreaming and wishing for memories and a father like Lindas. As the words came alive weaving clear pictures of each event I was carried back to years of Wonder Bread, Bologna and Crunchy Gherkins. The jams sessions brought the perfect ending to a perfect day. I loved it all!

  4. Jason wenzelburger says:

    Wow. What a wonderful read this was. Truly felt as though I were there with this family on their journey west along route 66. Such great memories. Thank you for helping me to remember some of my great family trips from my childhood.

  5. Claudia says:

    What a lovely tribute to your dad. I could taste those in car meals as I experienced something similar. Nothing in this world like white bread wrapped around bologna!

  6. Pat says:

    Cute story, Linda, that stirred a few memories of my own.

  7. Erika Hoffman says:

    A delightful story, delightfully written, that evokes delightful memories in the reader. We travelled from NJ to AZ when I was ten. I recall that trip more vividly than most others. Thanks for taking us back.

  8. Val says:

    You made me feel like a kid again. And want a bologna sandwich. You are welcome to keep the sweet gherkins! Great story about hitting the road with your dad.

    My dad had an old GMC pickup truck with a camper shell. He put a piece of plywood across the front of the truck bed, so we had an elevated bed for Mom and Dad, and one on the floor for my sister and me. They had a mattress, but we only had air mattresses.

  9. Jason Wenzelburger says:

    WOW. What a great read this was. I felt as though i were there in the old panel truck with your family traveling down old route 66. Thank you for reminding me of my great family trips from my childhood.

  10. Tracey says:

    This was a wonderful story. Linda has a way with words & made me feel as if I were right there rambling down Old Route 66 with her. Took me back to many happy childhood memories when we traveled along the same road. I look forward to future stories from this exceptional writer.

  11. Connie says:

    Aw, this is a wonderful story and tribute to your Dad, Linda. I really enjoyed this.

  12. Linda O'Connell says:

    Thanks to everyone who left a comment. I appreciate your readership. Be sure to check out the other writers and all that Sasee offers.

  13. Pat says:

    This took me back to a different time and place, I’m so glad Linda shared her story with us. Such a beautiful tribute to her father.

  14. Rose Ann says:

    Your essay took me back in time. Beautifully written memories of your dad.

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