Looking back - 20:20 Hindsight
It's worth putting down my thoughts about the trip and about my reaction to it. Let's try:
- By the time I was 10, I had been in 40 of the then 48 states. Also most of Mexico and four Canadian provinces. My brother and sister could make the same claim at age 7 and 5 respectively. Forty states is more than just a number. We saw America! Driving around on back roads, before tourism was big business, was a completely different experience from business travel or even most vacations today. Now you get a homogenized experience, packaged by experts to satisfy the average tourist. When we went, it was much more life in the raw; you saw the places you visited closer to the way the residents see it -- and you also got to know the residents.
- Reading through the diary was fun -- and enlightening. I was surprised and sometimes chagrined when comparing what I wrote to my recollection of the events, especially during the first half of the trip. All too often some very clear memory got only a one-line mention, or none at all. In fact, one life-changing impression never made it into the diary. Well, the event did, but not the important message I took away from it. I'm talking about the rodeo at Kadoka; there are a lot of similar but less important examples.
- My writing improved over the course of the trip. Not so much on boring days, when there was not much to say; on those days, I just put enough words on paper to "get credit". But when something of genuine interest happened? At the beginning of the trip, I scrambled the events of the day, managing to throw them on the page and make them stick, but not much more. By the middle of the trip, I was much better able to organize my thoughts and make them readable; I even inserted humor. For that alone, the experience was worthwhile.
Probably the weakest part of my writing (which got getter, but far from perfect, later in the trip) came from my failure to add thoughts after I had moved on to write something that happened later. I was writing by hand, and had no intention of rewriting everything to fit in an afterthought about something that happened early. At the beginning of the trip, I would just write it where I was in the narrative, making for a very scrambled account. Later in the trip, I had apparently decided to just leave things out if they occurred to me out of sequence. Made for a better read perhaps, but left some unfortunate holes in the narrative. I didn't realize until after this article was posted that I needed two things to happen before I would conquer that weakness in my writing:
- In seventh grade (two years later, age 12) my English teacher Mr. Kaplan would teach us the Harvard Outline. If I had made an outline of each day before I started writing, the accounts would have been 100% better.
- Word processing! The ability to insert thoughts, not just append them, makes it possible to really polish a piece of writing. I was doing this earlier than most of you: 1976 or so. Still, that's 25 years after I needed it for the diary.
- My photography was spotty, but pretty good for a 10-year-old beginner.
- Exposure was not great in difficult conditions. I'm going to finger-point and blame the completely non-adjustable camera. "Point and shoot" in 1951 did not involve the camera's computing the proper settings. The settings were what they were, the same settings for all pictures; if they didn't work for this picture -- tough!
- I got entirely too many tilted horizons. Easy to do with a twin-lens reflex, but it's important to learn to get it right. It took me a few years, with the Duaflex and then a Rolleiflex.
- That said, my composition was pretty good. Over the next ten years, I would read and study a lot about photography, and felt I learned a lot about composition. Looking at these efforts, I got more right than I would have guessed, even before I knew what I was doing.
- This article may be a work in progress. I expect to get feedback, comments, and even source documents from Bob and Ruth. I will add them as I get them. If we are lucky they may include:
- Additional recollections from Bob and Ruth.
- Dad's diary, which Ruth has found. If nothing else, this "official diary" has things like mileages and costs, whose summary may be interesting to readers. (And to us as well.)
- Dad's pictures, especially where I failed to capture something significant on film. Ruth has some of them, and we're looking for the rest. If and when we find them, digitizing them may be a challenge; they are stereo slides, not standard 35mm slides.
Hope you enjoyed the journey!