Thursday, November 5, 2009

Family Vacation, Like It Or Not

Coming from a middle-class upbringing, I was very fortunate to go on a family vacation just about every year of my youth. Mom and Dad would take two or three weeks off and spend at least that much time getting everything ready.

You see, this wasn't a "Pack Your Suitcase and Hop In" type of vacation. This was "Let's Carefully Pack The Tent-Trailer, Coolers, Trunk, Luggage Rack, Wooden Boxes, Camping Equipment, and Kids" type of vacation. A place for everything and everything in its place! My Father was very laid back except when it came to packing. He became very Anal Retentive. "Don't even think of putting the lantern there!" or "We have to balance the weight over the axle!", were a couple of his common statements.

Even my place in the car was permanently assigned. Being the youngest child and only boy of three kids, I got stuck crammed in the middle of the back seat with my feet on the "Hump". If a foot ever slipped on to one of my sisters' sides, I'd often receive a punch in the thigh causing a Charlie Horse or a elbow in the ribs that took my breath away. My view was usually blocked by all these taller people around me and usually I couldn't wait to get to our next destination.

Yellowstone National Park sticks in my mind as a favorite vacation. For a kid that grew up in cramped city life of a smoky Steel Mill town, I was in total wonderment of The Great Outdoors and the wildlife I got to see. Previously, my only exposure to nature was Mom's National Geographics and I was disappointed I didn't see any naked tribal ladies. I remember being stuck in a long line of traffic within the park due to everyone gawking at several bears that were on the road. It was a hot Summer day with no air conditioning in the car. All of a sudden, my Dad started yelling for everyone to put up their windows. No sooner was this done, when a huge Black Bear raised up on his hind legs and put his front paws on my Sister's window looking for food, of course. My Sister immediately vaulted over me into my other sister's lap, fearing she was going to be attacked. I do think her seat was wet afterwards. The Bear's paw prints were still on our car window, well after we returned home.

Camping on vacation was always an adventure. Dad would usually drive much longer than Mom thought he should. Everyone was Dog-Tired by the time we found an open camp ground. Mom insisted it had showers and flush toilets. Her reams of atlases, maps, and AAA camp ground directories and trip-tics pointed us in the right direction usually. The directories had little legends in them to tell you what amenities each place had. Flush toilets and showers, yep! Pull in here!

I was the lucky one who got to crawl under the trailer each night and morning, placing or retrieving the large wooden blocks Dad used to level the trailer legs. Camping wasn't such a great deal for Mom. She still had to cook and do dishes, but she never complained. I recall a boy at one of our campsites showed me how to take Cat-O-Nine Tails form a nearby pond and dip them in Gasoline, light them, and they would burn for hours. Unfortunately, I didn't ask for help with this and proceeded to dunk the Cattails in the White Gasoline Can my Dad had for the Cook Stove and Lantern. He was muttering to himself upon discovering this and having to strain the gas with one of my Mom's Nylons. I think I got cuffed in the back of the head for that one!

Over the years, we traveled most of the Lower Forty-Eight. I had plenty of experiences for all of those dreaded oral and written reports we had to do in school describing our Summer Vacation. I found a lot of Pen Pals,(remember those?), to correspond with over the years from every corner of the country. One girl I befriended was Maxine Bond from New England somewhere. Yes, her Father Was James Bond. I had to ask, I was a big 007 Fan. We wrote each other all through school, but never met again.

My folks might have had to put some of the expenses on Plastic. They thought it was important to have a Family Vacation every year, regardless of current finances. We all needed the break and change of pace. We didn't realize it then, but it brought our family together and gave us experiences we'll always remember and talk about for years to come. I still love to take vacations. Except now, NOBODY is going to make me sit on the Hump!


  1. Now I know where you get your anal retentive - I mean packing abilities!

  2. Hi, Tom -

    I talked about this in my book, too. We would sometimes end up just pulled over to the side of the road with sleeping bags thrown on the nearest soft spot if we couldn't make the campgrounds at a reasonable hour. My mom, like yours, was the navigator... and never being able to say "turn right" or "turn left" without taking too long to think about it, her directions were to simply say "go my way" or "go your way" - something all of our family still says when giving directions.

    I totally relate on "the hump". I had older sisters too, so I ended up there also. My little brother was spoiled and got to sit in the front between mom and dad!

    Family vacations were the best - what great memories. Thanks for sharing!


  3. How lucky you were! We never were able to afford family vacations. I thought families who went camping every summer were "rich." Your parents were right - the experience and family bonding are worth every penny, even if it was charged.