Family vacation. I’ve been seeing a lot of the usual posts and articles here and there about family vacations ….typical for this time of the year when most folks are dreaming of getting out of the house and enjoying some time outside in the sun, away from the daily pressures of one’s job. One article in particular, written by one of my fellow WordPress bloggers, really brought back a lot of memories for me about a particular ‘family vacation’ from my youth.
My blogger friend had noticed several Pinterest posts from young moms who had created all kinds of 5 star traveling “accoutrements” to make the trip in the car ultra Disney-like with all kinds of fancy and abundant snacks, laminated maps, a special project kit every hour and even a pulley system….yes, I said a pulley system…whereby she would shuttle all these wonders from the front seat to those clear in the back. Holy cow…..I wonder if they remembered to bring the ‘silver spoons’ too! My friend then waxed tongue-in-cheek about how vastly different her family vacations back in the day were, by contrast. She regaled us with details that made me hoot with laughter…..not just because they were so starkly different from the privileged and pampered youth of today….but also because they were very reminiscent of my own experience as well.
I will preface the following remarks by assuring you that I loved my parents more than anyone in the world and they were very good people, only wanting the best for my sister and I. And, like most parents, they did the best they could with the resources they had….which were next to nothing compared to many today. And if they were still alive and reading this, I have no doubt they would both laughingly agree with my observations.
To begin with, our budget as I was growing up did not even allow for family vacations. Period. When I see posts on Facebook of folks taking BIG family trips on ships and planes to destinations far and wide and many on the other side of the planet, and the fact that some take more than 1 of these types of excursions in any given season….I am in wonderment of their apparent resources that seem endless or at least way beyond anything of my personal experience. So, that being said, when my parents decided one year that we were going to take a vacation to Denver, Colorado to see my aunt and uncle that I believe my sister and I had maybe only met one other time in our young lives, it was like the first lunar landing, in our minds….thrilling beyond belief to just think about it! Spoiler Alert ….As it turns out, this was to be the ONE AND ONLY family vacation we EVER took. Making the experience even more important and memorable.
Of course it was summer, I was in 8th grade, so, roughly 13 and my sister Lisa was in 3rd grade, about 8. We had the pleasure of sharing the back seat of our old Buick LaSabre. Nope…no big fancy van or SUV for us. No bucket seats or TV screens on the back of the seat in front of us. Not only that, but our old Buick had NO air conditioning and NO radio….yep, quite the luxury vehicle it was not! But we started out from here in Ohio excited as could be nonetheless. Notice I said “started out excited”….that will be important to note for later in the story.
The fact that my 60 year old memory is, well…just that…a 60 year old memory…I’m quite sure I have forgotten some of the finer points of this excursion over the years. However, whenever memories of this trip resurface, the very first thing that pops up in my mind is Kansas. Right after that, the words HOTTER THAN HADES and BORING come in second and third. I have no doubt those themes gained marquee-status because of our lack of air conditioning and the lack of music for my teen ears. Now mind you, I had tried to circumvent the music issue by bringing along my own very treasured radio that had been a very special Christmas gift. However, I was soon to find that getting reception while on the road was not something it was capable of. So, I chucked it up onto the back dash….the big back dash under the big back GLASS window….to basically be forgotten until we reached our destination.
By the time we reached Kansas, the novelty of this once-in-a-lifetime trip was starting to lose its’ luster. During our overnight stay in a motel, my sister had stepped on a part of a broken pop bottle with her bare feet…..yes, you Millenials may not realize that pop (aka Coke, Pepsi, Mt.Dew, etc.) came in glass bottles back in those dark ages. Bottles that we saved and then took back to the grocery store for a whopping savings of maybe 25 cents or so….for a carton of 6. We also recycled them for other things…like filling them with water and attaching a little “sprinkler-like head” and using them to “sprinkle” clean laundry while ironing it. Sorry…I know I’m blowing your socks off right now because most of you probably don’t even know what an iron is, let alone why we would be “sprinkling” the clothes with water while ironing. Oh my…..I digress. Back to the motel. Anyways, Lisa now had her first souvenir of the trip…..a lovely little chunk of glass in her foot that I’m sure hurt with each step. Did my parents take her to the nearest Urgent Care center to have it removed? Excuse me….I just spit up some of my tea while laughing. I have another shocking revelation that you may find hard to wrap your head around…..there was no such thing as an Urgent Care center…..anywhere. Nope, there were only emergency rooms and using one was not included in the meager budget for the trip unless there was perhaps blood from a major artery, persistent loss of consciousness or 3rd degree burns. The fact that my uncle that we were attempting to visit was an OB/GYN probably had something to do with that too. I’m sure my parents had full confidence that he could help solve this predicament, whenever we reached our destination. So, back on the road we went.
As previously mentioned, my memories of Kansas were at the forefront of my mind……unending fields of yellow as far from the road as the eyes could see, interrupted sporadically by a few freakish-looking billboards for upcoming snake purveyors. Yes….that’s correct, people displaying and apparently selling weird snakes. I know, it seems surreal even to my own mind as I recall it now. Being a car full of snake-haters, we were not even tempted once to stop and take a peek, thank goodness. Kansas became like the infamous “Groundhog Day” movie….the same thing over and over. Lisa and I were baking in the back seat and became irritable and argumentative….foreign concepts….or not. My dad, who was all about “making good time” soon got sick and tired of us asking “how much longer”. I had long hair at the time and because I was hanging my head out the window like a dog so much, trying to cool off, it soon became so ratted up that the thought of just cutting it all off down to my scalp seemed preferable to the pain of working out all the tangles with a comb. Of course I did not…..I was a vain, self-conscious teenager after all….but the thought did flit through my brain.
Interestingly enough, I have no recall of any of the food we ate enroute. That alone confirms my thoughts on the subject. To us back then, McDonalds was a ‘special occasion’. I have no doubt, that, like my blogger friend’s trip, we too were treated to bologna sandwiches and thermoses of water or lemonade or something similar. I am quite sure my dad did not take us out to eat more than once or twice on that 2 day trip. A stark contrast to most of today’s families who not only set out with a bounty of snacks and goodies in their laps but then also usually stop at eateries along the way as well.
When we finally…and mercifully crossed the border from Kansas into Colorado, I remember vividly being shocked by the scrubby, tumble-weed-strewn terrain. Being geographically challenged, as I pretty much remain today, I had been expecting to see the gorgeous woods and mountains immediately. As we got closer and closer to Denver, however, I was thrilled to see those majestic mountains come into view, the type of landscape that remains my favorite to this day.
I’m sure we looked a sight to my aunt and uncle upon pulling into their drive at last. Me with my Don King hair (you young people will have to Google that …or ask an old person), Lisa limping and my poor mom, who had badly sprained her ankle at home right before we left, also limping. My dad, who always had the ability to make you think everything was ok with him, was probably at the end of his rope too after 2 days of driving 3 women across country in a steaming hot metal box, with no sound but us whining and repeatedly asking our ETA.
For me personally, this arrival was marked forever in time as bitter sweet, because as we were unloading the car, I discovered that my precious radio…with the controls that slid up and down in slots on the front…had been slowly rendered mute, as the hot summer sun had beat down on it through that big glass window and melted the entire front to where the controls were all welded shut. This was quite tragic to my young teenage self who knew there would be no replacing it.
Life goes on though, and we were very excited to see my aunt and uncle and their infamous huge German shepherd Max. I think I only saw Aunt Freda and Uncle Bob 2 or 3 times in the entirety of my life, but they left some pretty big impressions on me nonetheless. Uncle Bob was to me then, the kindest, most gentle man I had ever encountered who, despite his gentle demeanor, also seemed to be the master of his domain. He had trained Max to be the most obedient dog I had ever encountered in my young life and I was quite fascinated with both of them. His orneriness popped up, though, when he took us, at breakneck speed around hairpin mountain roads on our grand tour in their station wagon. Aunt Freda was also very kind and I remember watching her quietly and comparing her with her sister…my mother. I believe that she and their other sister Marian had a boldness and innate confidence that my mother did not possess. She was the more meek and hesitant of the 3…except when it came to music and singing. That was her element and the one in which she excelled…..much like Aunt Freda, as I understand it.
Goodness……I digress terribly…..this is what happens once I start down “memory lane”….too many little alleys to get lost in along the way.
Back to Uncle Bob’s tour of Denver and the surrounding mountains! A few things stand out all these years later. He took us to a old “mining town” and to a Swedish smorgasbord there for lunch. Is it just me, or does that somehow seem an odd combination? Anyways, I remember that all the different foods seemed “white” and in white sauces and very unappealing to me back then….interesting because it was different from our normal fare, but not great. Maybe the forerunner of the Ikea cafe’. He also took us to a ski resort high in the mountains where we found a large gift shop that I was enthralled with. I must have bought some small trinket because when I went up to pay, the cashier told me that we had just missed John Denver who had been there just a short time before us. To a dyed-in-the-wool John Denver fan, this was beyond tragic, to have missed one of my all-time teenage idols by a few mere minutes. And yet, it was also exciting at the same time to imagine that he had been there in the same spot too!
I honestly don’t remember too much else from that singular family trip…a few snippets here and there. Yes, Uncle Bob DID dig the glass out of Lisa’s foot and I did manage to get all the gazillion tangles out of my hair. Alas, my mom’s poor ankle only got worse with the exploring of the mountains and probably ruined the trip for her, as she partially revealed much later. And, as I recall, I think maybe my dad whittled around with a knife and managed to get some of those sliding controls on my radio to work again after we got back home.
It’s interesting what one remembers from a “family vacation”. Sometimes it’s not at all what you would think. Regardless, though, whether they are the typically indulgent and bountiful trips of today’s families or the more frugal and sparse versions of generations past, they are times when togetherness is cherished and memories are made….good or otherwise.
Here’s to wishing you a happy one this year!