Janice Lin/MiC.

Family drives were an integral part of my childhood. On the weekends after my dad came home from work, my siblings would all pack into his old Toyota 1996 Land Cruiser and he would drive us down the highway, always insistent on taking the scenic route. The seemingly endless Lake Michigan would glisten under the sunset sky. Golden rays from the sun would peek through the cluster of towering buildings, casting a majestic glow on the Chicago skyline. As my family’s car flew down Lake Shore Drive, I would stick my hand out of the backseat window to cut through the brisk gusts of the Windy City. I remember my dad inserting his old reggae cassettes into the car’s console, playing songs from the likes of Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. From a young age, I fell in love with the groovy rhythms and deep basslines that I could feel in my chest through the car speakers. My older siblings and I would jubilantly accompany our dad in singing the songs that he grew up listening to back in Nigeria. By a certain point, I had most of Jimmy Cliff’s discography stored in my permanent memory. I never knew where we were heading on these drives but I always enjoyed the ride.

I held these rides close to my heart because it was precious quality time with my family. It was also a time for passing down culture. My dad often used these lengthy drives as a time to tell stories from his youth. Whether it be the thrilling adventures he had with his schoolmates in boarding school or grim tales of living through the Biafra War, I knew I could always count on a captivating recounting of his childhood whenever we were in the car. In his boisterous tone, he intertwined the beauty of his home country and the struggles he had to endure with vivid imagery, suspense and the occasional humorous hyperbolic statement. Hearing these stories always made me feel closer to my culture that I sometimes felt estranged from as a first-generation American. They were narratives that I listened to eagerly, in hopes to pass them down myself someday. 

Now, my siblings are sprawled across the country, building their careers and pursuing their passions. We don’t get to be together anymore as often as I would like. We really only have the opportunity to spend time together over the holidays which always feel far too short. Over this past summer, the four of us got the chance to drive to the city together for a night out. I plugged my phone into the aux cord of the car and hit play on one of my Spotify playlists, comprised of the reggae music that was now part of our childhood as well. Still not grown out of my past ways, my arm was stuck out of the window, slicing through the breeze. While on the ride, we reminisced about these drives that we had, cracking jokes about our dad’s wild stories. I was pleased to discover that they had cherished those moments just as much as I had. We were reminded of the importance of those drives, and furthermore, the necessity of holding on to any time that we have together because such moments are becoming far and few between as we all get older.

Whenever I play songs like “Vietnam” by Jimmy Cliff, I’m taken back to these drives through the city. Suddenly, I’m 10 years old again and life is much more simple. I took these moments for granted, never thinking that they could possibly end. Still, I’m grateful that I can look back on these car rides with a great sense of fondness. While these times may be far behind in my rearview mirror, the stories, the music and the memories of my family’s car drives are forever with me. 

MiC Columnist Udoka Nwansi can be reached at udoka@umich.edu.