The car was loaded full and my parents promised two weeks of adventure. We were driving out to Montana with the three of us to go to some distant family members wedding. My mother knew who it was and in later years I would find out it was her cousin, but at the time, I was six years old and just excited about the adventure. I gathered my toys, lots of drawing paper and games; I had virtually made the back seat of our small car into my room away from home. My parents tried piling a few suitcases and things in with me, but I’d already staked my claim over most of the vacant space.
I was bouncing off the walls and driving my parents batty before we had even left the driveway. I sang car songs and tried to engage them in travel games. There were so many sights to see…and then we got past the town limits! As time dragged on, so did my energy. I was frequently making use of my pillows and blankets in the backseat, much to my parents relief.
We decided to drive across the United States because it was quicker and we were under a tight timeline to make it all the way to Montana in time for the wedding. We only made a few stops on the way there and my parents promised there would be more sightseeing on our trip back, with visits to Mount Rushmore and the Badlands and Crazy Horse. These places sounded exciting as my parents talked about them, although I had no idea what they were at the time. Just before we arrived in South Dakota, we stopped for gas in a small town on the border of Minnesota. I got out to run around and went inside the store to see if there was some trinket I could convince my parents to buy me.
There was a small wire rack of postcards right by the door that caught my attention. Right at my eye level, I came across the most amazing thing! It was a picture of an animal I’d never seen before that day – A JACKALOPE! I squealed with delight that such a creature could exist.
I ran over to my mother and insisted I have this fabulous photo. My mother said, “Is that all you want? There are toys and candy over there,” pointing to where my dad was smiling at me from. “Nope, I would like this, and I would like to know where I can find one! How come I never knew these existed?!” My mother seeing the delight in her child’s face, smoothed the hair on my head and took me to the cash to buy the postcard.
Once we got to the car I was told to keep an eye out for this elusive and shy jackalope, that maybe, if I was lucky, I would see one playing in the field on the side of the road. I kept my eyes glued to the window all the way through the long hours of driving through the badlands of South Dakota. When we got to Wyoming we hit a massive snowstorm and we couldn’t see anything for driving and had to pull the car over. I nervously asked my parents if the jackalopes would be alright. They assured me that they would hide in their homes until the storm passed.
Like the inquisitive six year old that I was, (and still am in many ways) I pressed on, “But what if they get lost in the storm and can’t find their way home?” I was oblivious to our own plight of being pulled over on the interstate in white out conditions; I was more preoccupied with the new animals I had just discovered and their fate, even though they had survived long before I knew about them. Now it was different, because I longed to see them for real, and not just in the postcard I clung tightly to my chest.
After much reassurance and patience, my parents got me calmed down and we drove on, slowly. As soon as we crossed the border into Montana, some ten miles later, the sky was blue, the snow had stopped and we were on our way again, and I was back on jackalope watch.
On our travel back, and one of our many stops along the way, we stopped in Walgreen’s and I happened to find a stuffed jackalope. I was absolutely mortified to see my new friends like this. It did however, confirm their existence to me, so this made me somewhat satisfied. I stared at it in amazement, taking the wonder of this new animal in. The entire trip passed however, and not a live jackalope was to be found.
It wasn’t until years later when I found the postcard back and showed it excitedly to my parents that they revealed the truth about the non-existence of jackalopes and I think I was more devastated with that news then any of the other childhood illusions we grow up and out of. But who knows, maybe Santa really can keep one as a pet afterall…