When we take family vacations, our criteria consists of having fabulous food, spacious accommodations and fun for everyone. Flash back 50 plus years ago and things looked mighty different. My daddy believed in vacations, that’s for sure, but the logistics were sometimes painful and always frugal!
My daddy was an Electrical Engineer and former Navy Captain. This combination does not allow for errors or give room for spontaneity (unless it is planned) Daddy was trim, 6’2” tall and could do anything and fix anything and he was always right. Another important fact is that Daddy’s idea of fun was planned, purposed, budgeted and sometimes mandatory fun!
When I was growing up, my Dad would meticulously plan our summer vacations. Our travel group included my dad, my brother, Grandma and Great Aunt Lena and of course myself. On this particular trip we drove from Amarillo, Texas to Colorado to camp out in the mountains. Picture the five of us and all of our supplies/luggage loaded into and onto our 1958 Mercury sedan. You know, the type of car where 3 can sit comfortably in the front seat. I will never forget that car because later I burned a hole into the front seat with a cigarette lighter. I just wanted to see if it would burn…and it did, but that’s a whole other Oprah.
We had 2 tents packed. One for the girls, big enough to set up cots so my Grandma and Aunt didn’t have to get up and down too much. And a pup tent for my brother and dad to share. We had a Coleman stove packed, all of our food for the week, fishing poles and various other important items. Between the US Navy and the Boy Scouts of America, we were prepared for every possible scenario.
To this day, I can remember the smell of the car. My grandma packed our lunches. There was always a thermos of coffee for the grownups and a Shasta soda for my brother and I to split. There were always bananas, apples and grandma’s banana nut bread.. Ah…..preening down the highway in our loaded 58’ Mercury, singing songs and fighting over who got the window seat. Everything was wonderful until someone had to stop for an unplanned bathroom break or something flew off the top of the car. No luggage racks for us! Our gear was tied down with my dad’s rope, sailor knots and strong will. When we finally arrived, the grownups began the daunting task of setting up camp. Daddy’s naval training and my brother’s boy scout knowledge gave them the inspiration to think their master plan would work.
My now wonderful big brother, was then a 12 year old know it all, girl hater, smart mouth big brother. He was really only nice to me when someone was looking or it would serve his purposes in someway. To this day, I do remember my part….as I would push him to his limits and then when he threatened to hit me or sit on my head and fart, I would scream,“ Daaaadddy, Jimmy’s bothering me.” I’m not proud of it, but it was pretty effective for quite awhile.
Grandma did the cooking, of course. I don’t remember what we ate, but I do know that my Grandma believed that sandwiches were not real food, so we had to have a “hot meal” everyday. On the premise, of what goes in must come out, Grandma brought a large, white porcelain jar for our bathroom needs. Honey pot, chamber pot…you get the visual, I’m sure. It was mainly for us women folk, as the guys used the woods.
We spent the week fishing, hiking, and enjoying the fresh mountain air. Moving on to one particular day.. It was the day we were to break camp and drive to Silverton. We were going to ride the Narrow Gauge Railroad from Silverton to Durango. There is probably a Murphy’s Law that says ‘what you packed cannot be repacked in quite the same way’. I remember my Dad’s frustration in getting everything back into and onto the car. I’m pretty sure I was not much help, but eventually we were loaded and started the drive. That is, until we got stuck in the mud. My brother, grandma and aunt all got out to push the car while my dad steered and I sat “quietly” in the back. Finally, we were back on the road, although not as clean as when we started. My dad drove like a bat out of hell as we raced to the station and ran to make the train on time.
I don’t know how to describe what happened next except to say Great Aunt Lena was afraid of heights. She didn’t really want to sit by the window and with a tight grip on the seat, she began to pray aloud the whole way asking God to save us from plunging to our deaths! Everyone was cranky and muddy (except me) from being prodded and rushed by my dad. Suffice it to say that his words of, “By golly, I paid for these tickets and we are going to enjoy this train ride if it kills us!” put us in check. Chug a chug a choo choo….and off we went..
After the train ride, we settled back into our assigned seats and began the trek home. Yes, my Daddy loved a trip, loved to plan it and most of all control it. I remember the stress, the tension and calamities, but I also remember his face. Occasionally, when things were going smoothly, the work was done and he was casting his line into the stream…he would smile. Truly smile. He had pulled it off, we were on vacation, enjoying our little family and creating memories, and that we did!