When I was in third grade, my teacher, Mrs. Malone, had a humongous rug in her room. It was a map of the United States and each state was a different color and type of carpet. Varying lengths (this was the ’70s and shag was a given), textures and colors were cut into the shapes of different states. Somehow it was all sewn together. No one ever told me, but even as a third grader, I had the sense this rug was a one of a kind, handmade treasure.
The rug was where we sat when Mrs. Malone took attendance and counted who was buying lunch. But best of all, it was where we sat when she read aloud to us. I tried to sit on a different state each time we came to the carpet. As she read aloud, I listened while running my fingers through a thick orange Indiana or tracing the patterns of nubby brown Colorado, pressing my shoes into velvety green Oregon or picking at thinning red New Jersey. The royal blue Pacific and Atlantic Ocean carpet bordered the map and completed the rug into a rectangle.
During a spelling test or other desk work, I would often look over at the rug and wonder about the funny-shaped states. Who lived there? What did it really look like?
In third grade, my favorite place to be was on the map rug listening to stories. One of the stories we heard was about Johnny Appleseed. He went all over the country planting apple trees. But to me, the point was, he got to travel all over.
And a seed was planted within me.
I knew one day I would have to see for myself about the real fibers of which our country is made.
Now I have that opportunity. We leave in two weeks on our own magic carpet ride of sorts. It is the road trip that is part of the collective American experience. Driving cross-country in a minivan for three months will force us to pack light. I cannot emphasize enough to the kids that we must pack light. Nothing but the essentials. Clothing and books. As romantic as that thought is, I must admit cell phone, iPad, and laptop are also vital.
I am eager to take my kids apple picking somewhere far from home. There is where I can properly pay tribute to Johnny Appleseed and Mrs. Malone.