I think this memory was reawakened by the opening of the American Indian Museum last September and a recent listening of "The Ballad of Ira Hayes" by Johnny Cash ...
I skipped kindergarten. My mom thought it best to teach me basic reading, writing and math at home when I was five, rather than send me thirty miles to school everyday. This is when we were living in West Texas, a little town called Harmeier.
The best part of no school was that my father would sometimes take me with him on his "hunts." Dad would load up our old white Impala (much like the one Matt Johnson used to drive) and drive off for days with his pal, Johnny Roberts. At that point, we lived in a trailer park in the Bacon Rind canyon, near the South Concho River. The closest "real" town was San Angelo, TX. Dad and Johnny would take long drives into New Mexico or Oklahoma to look for old cars that could barely run and buy them for cheap. One would drive it home while the other followed, making stopgap repairs along the way. Once home, they would keep the car in Johnny's backyard until they got it painted and running and, supposedly, make a lot of money off the selling of them. I suspect now that Dad just liked his little mini-vacations out of the "Bacon Rind."
What I remember most is riding in between two grown men in the big bench seat and drinking Chek ginger ale out of the cooler we kept in the back. At night, I would crawl over the seat and lie down, fully-extended, in the backseat and watch the stars fly by overhead until I fell asleep.
On these trips, we stopped in a lot of small, dusty mom-n-pop gas stations. These were good places to ask about local junkers and who might be owning and selling. They were strange places, dark and cool inside, floors covered with cigarette ash and shelves covered in cowboy arcana. I remember licking an exposed salt lick one time until I threw up all over the store, my dad chasing me around with his belt as I vomited up all that salt, apologizing to the store owner. Stuffed pronghorn antelope were everywhere. Outside, the parking lots were paved in discarded bottle caps which you could read for the soda names: Coke, Nehi, Crush, White Lightnin', the occasional Tab, and especially Dr. Pepper. Oil derricks usually filled in the giant horizon.
These stores were my supply-line to my first childhood vice: the collectible glass. For some reason, amidst the arcana, you could often find collectible Indian glasses. These were drinking glasses that commemorated various tribes and chiefs in drawing and a short explanatory paragraph. You could only find them in the dustiest of gas stations, probably because they were already about ten years out-of-date. I think I had the whole set. Back home in the "Bacon Rind," I would only drink my Dr. Pepper or lemonade out of these glasses and would cry if my mother tried to force me to drink out of a different glass.
However, by first grade, we moved to North Carolina. My parents bought their first house. The glasses were, I can only assume, lost in the move. I'm sure I was heartbroken at the time. Now, I don't think I had thought about those glasses until six months ago, when the American Indian Museum opened on the National Mall and I wonder now, after going to the festival, which brought tribes together from all over North and South America, whether I once had the complete set.