"South Dakota is Weird" - Ellie Jurchisin
I remember the road trip to Mount Rushmore only taking about eight hours in the car. I’m probably wrong about that, but eight hours to a twelve year-old is an eternity to be cooped up in a ‘98 Chevrolet Lumina APV. The seats were gray crushed velvet and even at my skin-and-bones weight, I still could not find comfort tucked into the back seat next to my younger brother, Sam.
Sam was eight years old and still had his bowl-cut. He had a face that got both of us what we wanted, but as his older sister I would not admit that. He wanted to do everything I did and, in my gawky phase, it was empowering to have an admirer. I took advantage of his devotion, tricking him into swallowing his gum three separate times and purposely making him laugh when my parents refused to break at a rest stop to allow him to use the restroom.
My crafty father had bungee-corded the small kitchen TV to the middle seat so that Sam and I could watch endless hours of Rugrats and Fern Gulley. I imagine the hilarity of the image my parents witnessed, their two Scandinavian-Irish blooded children laughing hysterically to the immature plot lines coming through the oversized headphones. Sam always got upset because they were too big to fit his head, the cloth-covered parts hanging closer to his adolescent jaw line. Surprising, considering the large circumference of our heads. The seat next to the TV was reserved for our beloved dog Winnie, although everyone was always fascinated when she sat quietly in it. She preferred to be perched on the most unfortunate person’s lap, her always long nails scratching exposed skin. She convinced Sam and I of her super-dog powers after lunging herself towards the tinted window and killing a fly that had been pestering us for hours. To this day, we still reminisce about her one amazing feat.
One stop on our endless vacation was Wall Drug. The epitome of Midwestern tourist locations, Wall Drug boasted the fact that it was the largest drug store in the US. Definitely a sight to see, as it also hosted a small dinosaur museum made up of fake, robotic dinosaurs. I ruined this part of the trip by being the whiny, preteen bitch that girls of my age were known to be. In every posed picture from that vacation, I was scowling. Only in the one in which I was captured off-guard was I smiling. It was taken at a campsite right on the river. Sam and I had begged to go swimming in the July heat, my parents allowing it, the only stipulation being that my overcautious mother got to tie a rope to Sam’s life jacket and attach the other end to a tree just offshore. Sam, at first upset feeling that he had all the swimming capabilities of his older sister, later came to enjoy the rope, letting the current take him as far as he could and then slowly pulling himself back. Shortly after, I asked my mom to also tie me to the tree, and spent hours being pushed around by the weak current in the waist deep river.
The few hours we spent at Wall Drug were dreadful. To this day, I still don’t know why I brag about being there. It was too hot and my favorite red and orange shirt was definitely not doing me any favors. I enjoyed horizontal stripes, hoping to add weight to the frame which earned me the nickname “Stick” in elementary school. Plus, it matched the hideous red bucket hat I found so fashionable. The dinosaur was lame and bright green, which Sam preached was not accurate. We got to squish pennies in machines as souvenirs, and they were warm to the touch when they ejected. Except everything was warm to the touch in the sticky South Dakota heat.
I was at the age where everything my parents did was embarrassing. I could not agree with anything they found agreeable, although the whole time I not-so-secretly enjoyed myself. Mount Rushmore was not as impressive as I had hoped; they would not let you get close enough to appreciate the fact that there were faces carved into the side of a mountain. I felt as though I was looking at an image. The idea to me still seems superfluous, spending all that money and time to carve up some rock. Although, I guess those that don’t understand the art form have a hard time appreciating it. Sam and I were playing some sort of game instead of appreciating the monument we had driven hundreds of miles to see and I remember my mom leaving in somewhat of a bitter mood.
I do remember thinking one thing though, that today still baffles me. After getting pictures developed from the site, this being before the digital age, there is one photo I took of the monument, but the main focus is a man standing with his black lab looking off at something in the distance. I thought about this stranger for a while; who he was, what he was doing there alone, what he was doing now. Then my curious mind expanded further, how many strangers have photos of me? How many times did I appear in the background of a family photo on their vacations at water parks and museums and monuments? I still don’t know why I took a picture of this man, but I think about it from time to time and wonder what he’s doing now, ten years later, and that he has no idea I’m thinking about him. And then I think about the people who I have no idea are thinking about me. And how in a little way, we are all connected. And it’s weird. And South Dakota is weird, too.
Ellie Jurchisin is a Junior, majoring in English- Creative Writing. She enjoys underground rap, iced coffee and Chuck Palahniuk. She suffers from a severe Netflix addiction and hopes to never write another literary analysis paper after graduation.