We talked about taking a Route 66 vacation this summer. After all, we live in Chicago (and Route 66 starts across the street from the Art Institute!), and it ends in L.A., just north of my parents’ home. But with this year’s Every Kid in a Park (which, btw, if you have a kid who just finished fourth grade and you haven’t enrolled yet, I don’t think it’s too late), we switched to a visit-National-Parks trip.
Still, our National Parks roadtrip ended up overlapping briefly with Route 66—we were going to Petrified Forest National Park, which is on historic Route 66, and we decided to stay in nearby Holbrook, in Wigwam Village #6.[fn1]
While at the motel, my little boy fell into an epic meltdown, a combination of being off any sleep schedule plus being in the back seat of a Prius with his sisters for interminable hours plus epic amounts of enjoying national parks plus some trigger that I frankly can’t remember.
So I took him on a walk around the parking lot of the motel. Because, between the guests’ cars, the parking lot of Wigwam Village #6 is peppered with classic cars from the 60s and earlier, the kinds of cars that didn’t have seatbelts, but had space-age tail lights.[fn2] My son found the cars hilarious (the cars had eyes! and Mater—or his doppelganger—was in the parking lot!).
By now, he’d totally forgotten that he was melting down. But he wanted to show all of the cars to my wife. While exploring, they stepped into the building with the registration desk. In a back room, they discovered a collection of Native American artifacts and guns and other tchochkes that Wikipedia tells me (in a passage that “needs citation”) belonged to Chester Lewis, the guy who built the Village.
After getting back, my son wanted to take me to that room. And in there, something caught my eye: a book, twice as wide as it was high, with three pins through the spine and the words “Book of Remembrance” embossed on the cover.
Why did it catch my eye? Because my mom had a book with the same name, shape, and construction when I was growing up. I remember flipping through it on occasion—it was mostly sheets of family trees, and it traced her ancestry for a long time. (When we arrived to visit, I asked her about it; she doesn’t remember where she got it, but she confirmed that I was right about its content.)
Although it struck me as Mormon, I didn’t know that for sure—I only knew it was part of my Mormon upbringing. (For all I knew, Books of Remembrance were an American fad in the 1960s or 1970s.) It turned out, though, that there was a second Book of Remembrance in Lewis’s collection, and the second one had “Arizona Temple,” and a picture of an Arizona temple,[fn3] embossed on the cover.
Which leads me to believe that Chester Lewis, the guy who built Wigwam Village #6 in Holbrook, AZ, was Mormon. And that’s my unexpected encounter with Mormonism on Route 66.
(N.b.: I apologize in advance that I probably won’t respond to comments, should there be any. Being a Chicagoan, it’s amazing to me the stretches through Arizona, Nevada, and the California desert that don’t get any Verizon reception. So while I’ll certainly read comments, whether they’re about unexpected encounters with Mormonism or about Route 66 or about Wigwam Villages, it may be a while before I see them.)
[fn1] Partly, we were inspired by the Cozy Cone Motel of Pixar’s Cars, which itself was inspired by the Wigwam Villages. While Cars may be lesser Pixar, it is also the Best. Movie. Ever. for some set of toddler/preschool boys. A year or two ago, that set of small boys included mine. (Also, of course, we were inspired by the retro-kitsch that Route 66 basically demands.)
[fn2] In the morning, one of the other motel visitors was photographing the car next to mine. He apologetically explained that his wife’s parents used to have an old Studebaker, but, until staying there, he’d never been able to find one.
[fn3] I assume—I didn’t look terribly closely, and wouldn’t know what any Arizona temples look like anyway.