As a child of the 50’s and 60’s, I was fortunate to be born at a time when summer vacations meant hitting the road. Gas was cheap and the interstate highway system was connecting major cities with 4 lane ribbons of concrete. Other than going to Minnesota every summer, the first major trip of my life was in 1960. We went to Disneyland by way of Pike’s Peak, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon and Death Valley. All of this was accomplished in a Ford station wagon without A/C. My family consisted of myself, 2 older sisters and my folks. I chose to ride in the very back just to avoid contact with my sisters. I was too young to comprehend what an adventure this really was and how long it would take to get to Disneyland. I loved the Rockies and all the sights between Kansas and the Grand Canyon but Death Valley sounded a little scary. I was right of course and the hours it took to cross that God forsaken stretch of parched earth will never be forgotten. My Dad is either the most patient father who ever lived or he had cotton balls in his ears because all 3 of us in the back were whining and crying about the heat and vultures and the sense of impending doom that all those bones along the road represented to us.
We made it across and happily found a nice motel with a huge pool in Anaheim. I was never so happy to see fresh water in my life. We did all the popular SoCal tourist things including the San Diego Zoo, Capistrano, Knott’s Berry Farm, Disneyland and my first time in the ocean. At 6 years old the ocean is really too much to grasp. I walked straight down the beach and into the water up to my knees like I had done many time before in the lake and was promptly pounded into the surf by a huge wave that pushed me into the sand and then tried to drag me back out into the shark infested depths of the Pacific. Luckily my Dad was there to grab me by the arm and save my stupid butt. After that I was quite content to make sand castles and watch the surfers. My Mom had to hang my clothes out the window of the car to get them to dry on the way back to the motel. Even when you’re only 6, it’s pretty humiliating to be driving around Los Angeles in your tighty whitey’s while your pants and shirt are flapping in the breeze.
After our day at the beach we spent the next whole day at Disneyland and the evening at Knott’s Berry Farm. I was in kid heaven right up till the time the park closed at 10 o’clock. As we left the park and headed out to the parking lot it quickly became apparent that we had made a critical mistake in our vacation planning. None of us could remember where the car was parked. Every lot looked the same and white Ford wagons were more plentiful than palm trees. It seemed like we wandered for days and were on the verge of giving up all hope . In reality it was probably closer to an hour before we miraculously stumbled upon our beloved family car.
The other long trip we took in the 60’s was down to the Gulf of Mexico. I was probably 10 or 11 that year but still relegated to the back of the Ford wagon. We went to New Orleans for a few days and then headed down the coast highway to Mississippi and Alabama. We spent a wonderful day at Bellingrath Gardens near Mobile but I was still too immature to appreciate its beauty. I really just wanted to get to the beach in Gulf Shores. I never really got to enjoy the warm waters of the Gulf though because I got sick as a dog with some intestinal virus. I was in such bad shape we decided to head for home earlier than planned. It didn’t help. As we were going down the interstate I was getting sicker and sicker. I was pretty delirious by this time but just awake enough to ask my Dad to roll down the tailgate window so I could have some fresh air. I hung my head out the back for a few minutes and then hurled everything my stomach could hold right onto the car behind us. As the other car passed us and the driver made some rather obscene hand gestures my Dad just waved like nothing had happened. He was always cool that way.
In retrospect, I don’t know what we were thinking. Cars weren’t that reliable in those days, all we had were lap belts and there was barely enough room for 5 people and suitcases. Three weeks on the road under those conditions would be grounds for divorce now a days. I could barely get my kids to handle 12 hours to the lake in a nice minivan with captain’s chairs, A/C, 12 cupholders and videos. Those last 2 hours were always brutal. Twelve hours of family togetherness is almost too much to ask. The funny thing is, I wouldn’t change one day back then or now. All of those memories have stuck with me so vividly that I can’t imagine my life without those times. Mark Twain was probably right about travelling but when it comes to your family, more often than not, you will find out how much you love them.
©Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Guy R. Horst and grhgraph.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.