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July 14, 2011

Seeing the USA, in our Chevrolet

By Nancy Pickard

  Take one '49 Chevy--a green two-door sedan.  Place a mom and a dad in the front seat, and their only child--a girl-- in the back seat.  1949 Chevrolet Don't forget the thermos of water and a sack of snacks--crackers, cheese, grapes, mostly.  Now you've got a picture of two weeks of my summers from the time I was five to when I was twelve.  Oh, and add in a cross country car ride in a different direction every year.  By the time I hit that twelve-year-old marker, I'd been in every state in the lower 48 but one.  Rhode Island, I think.  Sorry, R.I., but you must have been off our beaten track that year.

My mom, an elementary school teacher with the summer off, planned everything, chose our destination, and then woke up my dad and me very early to to get going and beat the heat.  By 3:30 or 4 on the first morning, I'd be already falling off to sleep in the back seat, and by the time we stopped for breakfast in one of those mom and pop places that used to dot highways, the sun was up and we were already a couple of hundred miles across Kansas on a two-lane highway before the days of interstates.  This would be in August.  Without air conditioning.  What was that like, you young'ns ask?  Mostly, we didn't notice, because we didn't know any different, but now and then it was pretty miserable, to tell you the unsentimental truth.  Sweating.  Too hot to talk.  Hot breeze surging in through every window we could open.  (Cars used to have "side vent" windows you could use to direct the breeze anywhere you wanted it to go.  They were wonderful!  If I could bring back anything from those old cars, I'd bring them back.  Trust me, you'd love them.)  I remember putting a blanket over my head, in spite of the heat, just to block out the sun.

But boy, it made the swimming pool at the motel at the end of the day feel so very sweet.  You haven't truly enjoyed a dip in a pool until it follows twelve hours in the back seat of a car where it's a hundred sweltering degrees.


 The motels were cheap.  Plain and cheap.  We found them by following the AAA book religiously.  My mom would go into the motel office, AAA book in hand, and then we'd watch her follow the motel owner down the long line of units so she could examine our room.  She wasn't hesitant to say, "no," if it wasn't clean. It was an exciting moment when we saw her wave for my dad to pull into the parking slot in front of that room.

 A motel with a swimming pool cost a few dollars more.  Lucky for me. my parents were willing to splurge on the extra three bucks at the end of our long travel days.  They'd take turns sitting by the side of the pool listening to me shout, "Watch me!" before I jumped off the low dive.

 We'd eat dinner at another mom 'n' pop cafe.

 Every few days, I'd get cherry pie. Homemade.

On those trips, when my mom was doing the driving, my dad and I used to play a game he invented.  He'd been a bit of a musician before I knew him:  played the banjo and the piano and sang in a sweet tenor.  In the car, he'd tap out the rhythm of a popular song with his finger tips, doing it on the back of the front seat so I could hear it.  Then I'd have to guess the song just from those taps.  Then I'd do the same, and he'd have to guess.  We could pass a lot of time tapping out "How much is that Doggy In the Window," or whatever was popular that year.

Those were the days before seat belts, so I could stretch out to sleep in the back seat, or lean over the front seats to be closer to my parents, or even crawl up into the level place below the rear window and lie there, like a puppy, when I was small enough to fit.  My god, the National Transportation Safety Board would have a conniption fit if they saw that now.  It's better now.  I guess.  Kids are safer.  But a lot less comfortable.  Sometimes I feel sorry for kids now, for being so contained, so strapped in, so safe.

On those trips we saw California and we saw Maine, we hit the beach in Florida and we took a ferry to Vancouver.  I ate pancakes with fresh blueberries on the east coast and fresh trout in the Rockies and lots of chicken fried steak.

1950 cafe

Wouldn't you know that although I truly loved those trips, I envied my friends who got to go to the same cabin in the Ozarks every summer.  They, it turned out, envied me for the confidence I gained from getting to venture outside Kansas City.

It wasn't all great.  There was that no air conditioning thing.  There was the flat tire in the Utah desert, and the bear who climbed onto our picnic table and ate our lunch in Yellowstone Park, and the ratty motel in Reno, and my mom's once-a-trip-migraines, and my car sickness on curvy roads and behind Grayhound buses, and how there wasn't much money so there were no souvenirs to bring home.  And if I never see another state Capitol it will be too soon.  But if it wasn't all great, it was mostly great, and I'm really grateful to my mom for insisting we do it, and to my dad for giving up his entire two weeks of vacation so we could.  It wasn't until years later that I realized that meant he never had ANY vacation days in the whole year--in a long lines of years-- just to relax and putter around home. Burmashave

I've loved the feel of wheels rolling under me ever since, and I still love hotels, so thanks Mom and Dad.  Thanks for the car, the cool water, the a la mode on the pie, the cots I slept on, the games, the swimming, the opening of my eyes to a bigger land.

What about you?

Did you have travel vacations where every night you stayed somewhere new?  Or did you always go somewhere and stay there for the whole time?  Maybe you stayed at home, and never got a special vacation at all?  And what about your kids?  What will they tell people, years from now, about their summer vacations?





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Nancy, we had the same mom. The only difference is, mine was driver, navigator, packer and planner, single mom to 8 of us, traveling cross-country every single year so we'd stay connected to my dad's family on the east coast. But same AAA hotels and mom & pop roadside cafes . . . I was stuffed in the back-facing back seat with a bunch of brothers. I didn't face forward in a car until I was 12, I think.

And it didn't matter where we went, because in every state I had my nose in a book.

I just got back from a 9-day NYC adventure with my own kids, and next week they go with their dad to visit (wait for it:) Cambodia. It's a whole different ballgame, isn't it?

Hi Nancy,

When I was a kid my vacations were usually spent at home, mostly in great places on the ocean or my great-grandmother's cottage where we lived in massachusetts. My childhood wasn't idyllic, but my surroundings sometimes were.

I did have a lot of vacations with relatives. My grandmothers or an aunt or uncle would come and get me, and off we'd go their house. Looking back now, I think they were protecting me the best way they could, and I got to have fun with them. One year I just got to stay on with Auntie-Mom. That was really the best.

The first family vacation I had was after I was married. We took a lot of road trips and camped out along the way. First we had Step's kids, then ours. Camping, hiking, and backpacking everywhere from Death Valley to the Cape and Islands. We also managed to stop at every state capitol along the way ::HELP:: and every shlocky touristy place. It was new for me. I had no idea people did that - that drive around and look at boring stuff thing. It's not that I never went anyplace or did anything fun, just never that road trip Zabriski Point > Four Corners > the Flat Irons > Laura Ingalls Wilder's house > Purple Dinosaur > Train Museum > Lake of the Ozarks > alligator wrestling show > Half Dome/El Capitain > Plains of Abraham > go see great-grandpa's new portrait in the state capitol building > trip to the family cemetery while your in New York > Paul Revere's house > Niagra Falls > somebody's cabin on lac Champlain. It was new to me, all that kind of thing. I don't know how much the kids liked it. I think they remembered the long hours in the car or one of the boys remembers hating not being able to get a decent (rock) radio station for 90% of the trip. He had his cassettes - remember those? But he needed to hear all the music he didn't have, and it really had to be loud. Very loud. Someone in the family left him a grand piano. Now he plays classical piano, only. Go figure. God bless Great-Grand Uncle Whoever.

My family's first vacation was a road trip, it was the summer of 1967 and we drove from Marathon, Ontario to Nanaimo, BC to visit family. Driving across Canada in the dead heat of summer with 5 kids, 2 parents, one old station wagon. No seat belts, lots of fighting over who got stuck sitting on the 'hump' - the transmission hump down the middle of the car. We got one brown grocery bag each for our clothes and drove as much as possible each day to minimize paying for motels. We played I Spy for license plates and all tried to hold our breathe when we passed a dead skunk. When we stopped for gas, my dad would buy one bottle of pop and we would each get a 'sipper' of it. After a week visiting relatives we got back in the and drove all the way back to Ontario. We drove through the northern states on the way back and the transmission blew just outside of Kellough, Idaho. Us kids thought it was great, we stayed there for 2 nights and the only motel had a pool! Oh, and my little brother used to lay across the top of the back bench seat and take naps. Who needs no stinking seat belts . . .

3 months later my dad got a job on Vancouver Island and we packed up our whole lives and drove all the way across Canada again, this time in October so not so hot and less dead skunks.

In 1971 my oldest (16) brother was terminal with leukemia. He went into remission in the summer and yep, we all piled back into the car to drive to Ontario so he could have a last visit with our great grandmother (Nana) and say goodbye to all his school friends. I remember the trip being much more stressful as my parents had to be aware of where hospitals were in every city we went through or stayed in. The song Sweet City Woman was the number 1 hit that summer and we heard it many many times a day on the drive to & from Ontario (the car only had an AM radio). My dad had a new game for that trip. We would be driving into a new place and he would ask us to close our eyes and slowly count to 10. We all did this a number of times until my brother peaked - my dad was doing this every time we went past a Dairy Queen so he wouldn't have to listen to us beg to go get ice cream!

My brother's remission lasted 3 weeks, we got to Ontario and back in that time. He died on Labour Day. That was our last family road trip.

Oh Gaylin . . . dear one.

Yes indeed, I can vividly remember all of us in one of the bigass cars made of actual metal with a huge engine and no air conditioning that my folks owned, cruising down the highway at about 75 or 80 (my dad considered speed limit signs to be mere suggestions). My mom would make him stop every 90 minutes or so for bathroom breaks...and it didn't matter if we were actually in a town or not. All of us being country folks (and three of us being male), the idea of taking a leak behind a bush or tree wasn't strange.

I remember being carsick any time the road wasn't straight as a ruler. Not sick enough to barf, but pretty miserable all the same.

I can see my dad climbing back into the car after buying a bag of hamburgers and a bunch of milkshakes. When we'd roll into a sit down place, Dad would always have a steak.

Then there were hotel pools and AC and sleeping in strange beds. It was a big adventure for us kids.

It was hella fun. I miss those trips.

We did summer vacations, 4 kids, 2 parents, by car. We did every space center, baseball stadium and tourist attraction, natural or man-made, in the South. Put six flags over it, and we were there.

In the car, we hit every cliche: "Mom, he's looking out of my window!" "Use the bathroom now because I'm not stopping until we hit Mobile." "Honey, you're going over the speed limit." "Mom, he's looking out of my window!" "Are we there yet?" "Honey, you're driving like a maniac!" "I feel carsick." "I'm not speeding, I'm making good time." "Mom, he's looking...!" "Honey, you're going ..." "Mom...""Honey...." "Mom...." "Honey..." "I have to throw up."

Then we'd finally finally finally arrive at our hotel, and we had to be quiet so my parents could take a nap.

Ahh. It was all so great.

Classic, classic stuff! Nancy, you're entirely correct; the NTSB would bleed from the ears back in the day. We had a 1959 Chevrolet Bel-Air for years, and in my mind and memory, my father could have driven that thing through a brontosaurus and come out without a scratch.

For some odd reason, toll booths fascinated me. Slowing down, flipping in a nickel, the barrier raised, and we were on the way. I may be wrong, but as I remember, you could use pennies in the toll booths in Chicago. They'd hit the grate, rattle around, then slide into the chute. The light would turn green, the barrier would lift and off you go!

Even now when I'm traveling, I'll go out of my way to find a Mom 'n Pop diner. They're few, but still out there. Never had a bad meal in one. Ever.

Found one last year in Mississippi, just off the Interstate. Rushing to get to New Orleans after 16 hour days in Mobile the previous week, I ran in and ordered a coffee to go. The woman behind the counter (I'm guessing one of the owners) took one look at me and said, "We ain't got to-go cups for you. Sit down, baby."

I suavely said, "Huh?"

She poured my coffee into a real cup, put it on a saucer, and set it down on the counter. "You lookin' a little stressed, baby. Ain't got ten minutes for a cup o' coffee, you're moving too fast and working too hard. Ain't got to-go cups for you. Now, sit down. Smoke 'em if you got 'em, too."

After weighing all my options and potential responses, I said, "Yes, ma'am."

I'll never forget that woman. Or that coffee.

We couldn't afford family vacation trips, but we made do with the local zoos (we had 1 in each borough) and the amusement park. There was so much to do, we didn't miss not vacationing else where until we got older or someone took a trip and told us their adventures.

I still love mom and pop places, and luckily, though maybe not exactly mom and pop, I can hop down to the Keys and into any number of fun and personal bed and breakfast establishments. My kids have been just about everywhere in every kind of establishment, and I think we all love it best when there's something unique about a place--and the people running it!

We never took a family vacation. Until I was 18 and ran away with the carnival, I had never been any further than Pittsburg...35 miles away.

But being on the road made up for it. Going to new places every week. May not have been vacation but it sure was fun.

What an evocative post! We took a handful of road trips when I was a child, but the best ones were with my grandmother in her 1971 Lincoln Continental--- big red yacht sailing across the west. When I was 15, we went to Seattle to visit my uncle and got stuck in a blizzard in Wyoming and were rescued by a trucker, stayed in theme motels all the way, and yes, ate lots of chicken fried steaks. I fell in love with travel on that one...the Columbia River, the ocean, the adventure of it all.

Oh, yeah, great memories. The goodie bags my mom put together for all three of us. Pumping our hands to get the truck drivers to honk. Holding pillows over our faces when we hit Gary, IN. I saw most of the country backwards, too, Harley. As the youngest of three, it was that or sitting on the hump. Safety? Bah! When I'd feel sick, I'd crawl over into the front seat and lay down with my head on my mom's lap and feet in my dad's. Loved those motel pools. One morning, leaving a motel in Northern California at the crack of dawn, my dad accidentally backed into the plate glass window of the office. That was exciting. One trip, I made up a game tallying "sweet faces" (people who waved back) and "pinch heads" (people who didn't).

With my own kids, we did a couple road trips . . . but I wish we'd done more. three years ago, though, I helped my son and his girlfriend move from St. Louis to Seattle--2000 miles driving a u-haul towing a car. That brought back lots of memories.

Oh, you tapped into my happy place today! My parents were both elementary school teachers, so every summer was spent travelling in our (thankfully air-conditioned) car and travel trailer. I saw every corner of my beautiful state and one wonderful summer we drove to the East Coast via Yellowstone, then a long boring part (sorry MidWest, I mostly read all the way through you) until we got to Gettysburg and Washington DC and made our way up the coast seeing NYC, Boston, Cape Cod and absorbing history and geography first-hand. We went to Montreal and saw Expo '74, then drove west through Canada. We ain't ever going to run out of room for people until we fill up Canada, folks. It's big, and it's empty. We usually did one meal a day in a Mom-and-Pop, but I remember going into my first Howard Johnsons and thinking how wonderful and sophisticated it seemed! (I still love chain restaurants). Trailer parks in those days were mostly independently owned (I can't remember a KOA) or state or county parks. Our park system is a treasure! My dad was a friendly sort and by the time he had the hook-ups done on the trailer (oh, did he have a time with the water heater! Every. Night.) he would have the lowdown on several of our neighbors, where they came from and where they were going. He would regale us with their stories while we ate dinner, and it was fascinating.
I still love to travel, and I still love to hear other people's stories!

Wonderful stories here--Oh, Gaylin! And Judith with the carnival??

My husband leaves tomorrow for his annual motorcycle trip with his riding buddy. This year they're going to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Why? Mostly to find great pie, I think.

We never had a family vacation, either, although I did spend several summers dragging my younger siblings to the city pool, a 10-minute walk away. Unless Ralph was dawdling, in which case it took longer. Sheesh, all I wanted when I was a teenager was to spend my days like the girls in Ingenue did, lying on the beach with sun in my hair, carefree and little brother-free. Alas.

The summer I had just finished my freshman year of high school one of my favorite aunts asked my mom if I could go back home to Maryland (DC area) with her and my two boy cousins. We had adventures! Aunt Phyllis drove us back in one day, but along the way she indulged my curiosity about the pretty pink roadside vine (it was called Royal Vetch, according to the sign when we stopped), and stopped for good food for all of us.

Once we got to their home, packed with cool things from Uncle Bob's naval voyages (like dolls from Japan in glass cases, so exotic), we barely had time to drop our bags and get back in the car. She took us to John Brown's Landing, Arlington National Cemetery (where we saw the Eternal Flame and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier), and lots of other great, only-in-DC spots.

Then Uncle Bob came home from five months of the submarine, and Aunt Phyllis took us with her to pick him up at the station. Never--not before, and certainly not since--have I ever seen such a passionate welcome back kiss in public. That was 45 years ago, and remembering it still gives me goosebumps.

Oh, Judith, what a great life that must have been!

As good a reason as any to go anywhere, Nancy.

I love pie.

Happy trails to Jeff, Nancy!

P.S. I had the 1951, grey version of that car, when I was 18. Never drove it, and made $25 profit from my $75 investment a year later. Good times, way back in 1969!

My father was a teacher and my mom babysat for other teachers, so you'd think we had great summer vacations; however, Dad taught Ag and his summers were full with farm visits and FFA activities. Also, he was an avid vegetable gardener and didn't like to leave it for long. Instead we did a lot of weekend trips to visit family and friends, or we'd spend a long weekend at the campground. It was an independent family-run campground and there was a strong sense of community there. We left our camper there year round - we were part of "Skid Row," an area just across the pond from the rec hall. I loved going to the same place, seeing the same people, every weekend. We played pool and danced to the local bands in the rec hall, ate peanuts in the shell in the tiny bar, and swam in the itty bitty pond. Next to the little grocery door was a sign with a drawing of a guy diving into a toilet and the caption "We don't swim in your toilet, please don't "P" in our pond." I say "grocery door" because that's literally what it was - a divided door, top and bottom, with a person inside who handed you whatever it was you needed to purchase. They stocked bread, milk and eggs, toilet paper and napkins, shampoo, soap and toothpaste, and marshmallows, Hershey bars and graham crackers. The bare necessities.

It took about two hours to get from our home to the campground, so we just had mini road trips. I do remember riding in the car, though. I usually had my nose in a book, but I'd occasionally take it out to play "Zittedy Zot" (it had to do with seeing horses), and to put my hand on the roof whenever we passed under a bridge. I don't remember if that had a name, but I think if you didn't touch the roof you turned into a monkey. Something like that. I taught my little brother all the Girl Scout, jump rope and hand clapping songs I knew, and we "entertained" Mom and Dad with "Boom Boom Ain't It Great to Be Crazy" and "Billy Boy." I also have a lot of memories of my dad rapidly rolling down his window, leaning to the side, and letting a fart rip while my brother and I screamed in horror in the back seat. Sometimes he didn't roll down the window and we screamed louder.

Stone Harbor, NJ. We still go there every summer.

I hear you on the strapped-in generation. Wonder what kind of havoc that will wreak in the long term?

Seatbelts: If my mother had been wearing one in 1964, instead of leaning over the back of the front seat looking at my little brother, she would not have gotten slammed into the seat, crushing the entire lower half of her face. She had plastic surgery when that discipline was in its infancy, and the docs learned a lot from her massive injuries.

My aunt hit a parked car while driving at 30 mph, and my brother wasn't hurt because my aunt instinctively threw her arm over to hold him to the back of the front seat.

Yeah, I've used seatbelts my whole life, and won't ride in a car without one. Have I lost anything by that? Nope. It has saved my life at least twice.

All of my memories look just like yours Nancy!
We'd hit the HoJo's after doing whatever the attraction was. The pool with the low dive was THEE best! Lion Country Safari, Bach Singing Tower, Cypress Gardens and Weeki Watchi Springs with their mermaid show still live in my mind.
This was of course back when the earth's crust was still cooling and before Walt build the happiest place on earth.

Until I was in 9th grade all our family vacations were spent either at Lake Erie or for 2 lucky years the ocean. I think my parents were waiting for my youngest brothers to be old enough for our road trip vacations which began the year Disney World opened. That was our first road trip through the sweltering south in July. We detoured to Chattanooga to see Look Out Mountain and the battlefield, but it was socked in with clouds and rain so we pressed onward. We spent one whole day at the Magic Kingdom, as that was all there was. Did the Kennedy Space Center tour, and stayed at a mom and pop motel in Ormand by the Sea (sp). Drove to Charleston and toured Fort Sumter. Toured a mansion in Newport News and then headed to Fredericksburg for a tour of the town. My most enduring visual memory of this first "touring vacation" is of my two brothers and I getting out of the backseat of the car at every gas station, begging for change to buy a bottle of Mountain Dew which we 3 would then have to share. We didn't have Mountain Dew up north in those days. Oh the joy of cold, fizzy, sweet but tangy, yellow pop passing over our lips and tongue then down our throats. It was always over too soon with having to share three ways. We had a few more tours of the south as a family which always seemed to have a battlefield and plantation theme to them.

My daughter, husband and I don't really go on vacations very much, but battlefields and historic sites are in my blood and that's what we gravitate towards.

HoJo's! Oh, wow. Are they even still around anymore??

We did those vacations, too, Nancy. Four kids in an unair-conditioned green 49 Hudson. We kids fought and snarled all the way across the USA to Colorado. Why my parents didn't abandon us along the way I'll never know. But you're right -- the pools were marvelous.

Wow - what experiences! We didn't have a regular summer vacation routine. Every few years we'd fly "back east" from CA to visit my Mom's family, and every few years we'd take the only big road trip in our repertoire to see my Dad's family in Montana. It was the only one because (a) my Dad, being a workaholic type, didn't take time off and (b) all 3 of us kids got carsick. Thank heavens for Dramamine!

We made the trip in a station wagon with the back seats folded down and covered with a pad so we could stretch out and move around. Mom doled out games and toys to keep us occupied; she and Dad didn't listen to music. They smoked, of course! We learned the joys of country breakfasts in those Mom & Pop diners, AC and pools in Best Western hotels, and putting on our "restaurant manners" to impress the staff at wherever we ate dinner.

The best memory? Being caught in an honest-to-god cattle drive in Idaho. With the cattle going the other way. At one point, a steer just stood in the middle of the 2-lane highway and stared at us. So cool!

Oh, my, does this bring back memories of being on the road with Mom, Dad, and my kid brother. And my grandmother, who used to pack a goody bag to sustain me during the short drive from her house back to our house.

Ah the memories you are bringing back.

Growing up, my family didn't have a lot of money, but we went on a family vacation every year. That was the only time my Dad EVER took time off from work. We went camping. ALWAYS. I loved it then and still do it to this day. Don't get me wrong, I love the 4 star hotels too. (Thanks priceline).

We went south to Kentucky and Tenessee. My dads family lived there. (everything is south from Mi)

I love a road trip. Sometimes getting there is the best part. Love the mom and pop places. Of course, we have air and our kids are grown.

Sheesh, I said love a lot.

I think we all took about the same trip, in different cars and roads.

The pleasures of having grand parents on Lake Erie! Every summer it would be the road trip to Fremont, OH. It included an overnight in a holiday inn with a pool. Dad would take us swimming and mom would do her nails and hair to see her parents the next day. Every summer we would get to go to Cedar Point!! When Six Flags opened in St. Louis it was such a disappointment. Cedar Point was so much better.

We have taken a few road trips with the girls. I must admit, a Honda Odyssey with its two air conditioners, cruise control and DVD player is a lot better way to travel than a 1967 Ford LTD Country Squire, blue with wood trim.

Now I am looking in Google Maps for Grandpa's house. It was on the town square. It used to be the health department offices after he moved out of it.

Literally, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot. My grandmothers garden is the parking lot for some Sandusky County offices.

Anyone remember Stucky's and Big Boy's?

I remember both Stuckey's and Big Boy's. Big Boy's still exist here in MI.

I forgot to mention that there were 3 of us growing up and we used to fight to have the middle back seat. The one who sat in the middle got to hang over the front seat and listen to our parents talk. The youngest, my brother, always got to lay in the back window. We fought and had fun. One vacation we must have said "she's touching me!" 1 too many times. My Dad pulled the car over and yelled (dad didn't yell) "no one in this car ever touch anyone else ever again! Or else." We didn't complain for the rest of the trip.

We still have a few Big Boys around.

What a wonderful blog this is! My family didn't really do road trips. I was number nine, and I believe they took a trip to Niagara Falls before I was born, but after that it was mostly a week-long rental at Sandy Pond, on Lake Ontario. In Central NY, it was all about the lakes - Ontario, Oneida, and the Fingerlakes (Skaneateles was the closest), all within an hour or so drive - we did day trips to a lake a lot, not many vacations away.

When I got older (and there were only two of us left at home), we took trips to the Outer Banks. That was my first exposure to the ocean. The salt water was a big surprise.

Harley, I don't mean to be disrespectful, but why in God's name Cambodia?

Hi, everybody. I'm so sorry not to be around, but I'm doing this writer's conference and Karen of Ohio just arrived for the afternoon!! See you later.

This post is like taking another road trip. All those things we did, packed lunches with mom feeding us baloney sandwiches and fruit, while I wanted those pecan logs from Stuckeys, stopping to look for a motel at three o'clock, and swimming in the pool. It was the fifties, not so much air conditioning. The excitement of seeing a new place, and then stopping in familiar places. We lived in NYC, so New Hampshire was a favorite place. As a parent, making up games in the car for two very normal little girls who entertained each other. Mostly. For me, even today, there is something about the open road-new things to see, and new people to meet, lovely.

Great memories. Imagine kids today going for vacations in cars without air conditioning, we'd probably be pulled over by children's services.

Alan, I'll call your Stuckey's and Big Boy's, and raise you Shakey's Pizza Parlor!

When I was growing up, my parents couldn't afford to take us anywhere, and my dad rarely took vacation time at all - we needed the money too badly. However, he and my mom would take us out for long Sunday drives, and we'd stop at places like zoos or nature centers. We LOVED our drives and have lots of photos of the five of us kids at various such attractions. After being on the road for an or so, my brother would pipe up with "I smell hot dogs" and one of my sisters would add "I smell root beer!" and then Dad would look for a hot dog stand out in the middle of nowhere. Usually, he DID manage to find one, too! There were no fast food restaurants within driving distance of our town and my parents could rarely afford to stop at the Mom&Pop-style places.

Hard to believe we did not have seatbelts. I feel lost without one when I'm on a train or a bus. In 1975 my youngest sister was seriously injured in an auto accident because she wasn't wearing one (I don't think that particular car was even equipped with one, but I'm not sure; I can't remember how old the car was.) She was thrown all around the car and had many broken bones, along with a concussion. That she survived and had a decent recovery is a miracle.

Ever since childhood, I have felt sorry for people who didn't like long drives or who suffered from car sickness - day trips/drives were our only form of entertainment - besides reading, of course! (It goes without saying that I always brought along a book to read. I still NEVER leave the house without one!)

That last road trip was in an old station wagon, it had a sort of trunk in the back with all our stuff crammed into it. My dad put an old foam mattress in the wagon part of the back and 2 or 3 of us kids would be laying back there with our feet hanging out the back window. We used to wave to truck drivers with our feet . . .

I do remember doing a lot of barfing, especially one time when my mom dosed me up with Gravol and I had a reaction to it. I don't get car sick at all anymore, thank goodness!

I make great pie.

Boysenberries and rhubarb are ripe.

We did have a few family camping trips when I was in high school, but before that, Dad's vacation was timed to get him away from the hot McDonnell Aircraft plant during the hottest part of the summer. We did go to the zoo and history museum -- not the art museum because my brothers were too silly around nudes. (Also, my parents repainted the walls nearly every year, I think because of the discoloration of two pack-a-day smokers in a very small house . . .)
Summers off from school gave me time to read, read, read in the backyard. Thanks be for libraries!!

Ah yes! I loved those trips, mostly. We stayed in those same motels, except my dad said we could always swim at home, so we never stayed where there was a pool. I felt deprived. We mostly ate breakfast at a roadside park--I still think of those breakfasts fondly when I smell cantalope. Our breakfast consisted of cantalope and breakfast cereal out of those little boxes. (I thought it was so cool that you could pour milk into the box and eat right out of it.) We usually went to Colorado, but one year we went to California, and I'll never forget the scorching trip across Death Valley--of course without air conditioning. But we had one of those canvas water bags that hung on the front bumper. I loved reading in the car and hanging my feet out the window, and sometimes I even slept on the shelf in the back seat. (How did we ever grow up without seat belts?) Those trips were made in the '52 Dodge, the '55 Mercury, and the '59 Ford that I remember most. My dad and I would get up before dawn and go fishing, or we would go horseback riding up in the mountains of Colorado. We also went to the Aspen Music Festival, which was a wonderful blending of nature and music. They instilled in me a great appreciation for the outdoors and the magnitude of our great land. I feel very privileged to have those memories and I thank you for bringing to the surface again.

This sounded almost exactly like my vacations when growing up. Although, ours were from Philadelphia to El Paso...every two or three years. My mom would plan a different route each time as we journeyed from home to go to Texas to visit my paternal grandmother (maternal grand's lived just a couple hours away).

We also did the 3am departure, in the middle of summer, in an attempt to get as many miles as possible done while it was still cooler out. We did more of the KOA and Jellystone camping though.

I saw Niagara Falls, Johnny Appleseed's grave, the early stages of the Chief Crazy Horse monument (shortly after the blasting, before you could tell which was the horse and which part the man). Had chipmunks joining us at our picnic table at Yellow Stone Park, where we stayed a couple of days.

And yes, I was so jealous of my friends who all got to go 'down the shore' to Jersey or Maryland. But then, as I got older, I realized that they had never been anywhere, and I got to climb the plateaus of the Grand Canyon, and all over the west.

Nancy, we took those trips, too. Left central Illinois and hit the Florida beach, the Ozarks, the Grand Canyon, north to Wisconsin lakes. I remember a few motels and cabins but mostly camping trips.

When I got older - say 13 - I wanted the windows rolled up so my hair wouldn't get mussed. 120 degrees, back seat of a '62 Ford station wagon with no A/C, rolling through Mississippi to Florida in late July. Strangely, my family would not comply.

Even though my younger brother and I fought constantly over who had the most room on 'their side' of the back seat, I thank my Dad heartily for driving and opening my eyes to new destinations. I was about 10 when I realized that there were people who lived in those wondrous locales YEAR AROUND. He showed me the joy of travel, meeting new people, trying new foods, and I'm still at it!

Two weeks in a rented lake cottage in South Dakota every summer. Why you say in South Dakota? Both my parents were from the same small town near that lake and all our relatives still lived there or nearby. So it was the only time we spent with our grandmothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We had a fantastic time on water thanks to the uncle with the boat. Only two of the older generation are still with us, but the 18 first cousins, their kids, and their grandkids are all still in touch. There's an annual gathering on the 4th of July hosted by the 2 cousins who still have cottages at the same lake. Great fun still these many years later.

As a kid we went on a lot of family trips to Vermont and New York State.
We stayed at Tourist homes or relatives and had wonderful times.
One set of relatives owned a grocery store and had an endless supply of Pepsi Cola which I drank every day.
My mom never kept soda in the house so this was a treat.
The ultimate road trip was when DH and I embarked on our life changing drive from Ontario to Los Angeles on Route 66.
Sunburned arms sticking out of windows was a adventure since we were heading to a great new life. Last night it became full circle when I drove up to Hollywood to see a taping of America's Got Talent. Got to see Howie Mandell and the bunch. Yes I am still starstruck after all these years. Forty-five years ago I stood in a phone both at Hollywood and Vine to tell my Dad I was you guessed it..Hollywood California.

So sorry I never got to meet your dad, Nancy.

Thanks, Margaret. He was a sweet man.

These are really wonderful stories. I was worried this blog might be too familiar--we've seen a fair number of "summer vacation posts--but now I'm awfully glad I went ahead and wrote it. It's really amazing to me how many of us had similar experiences, but then maybe those were the days of that kind of thing--families on the road, literally seeing the USA in our Dina-Shore-Approved Chevrolets, etc. Motels were new and exciting. Highways were improving. There was Route 66. I remember how some people collected those state stickers and plastered their rear windows or bumpers with them.

I forgot to mention identifying state licenses. "What's that one?" "Can you drive a little closer so I can see it better?" "Utah! I think it's Utah."

We had a little TRAILER and slept in it as we drove from scenic whatnot into the great where-ever. I do not remember much of it. I was little.

You are very young. There, there [patting her little head].

This blog brings back so many memories. My parents and I took several long distance trips with my sister and her husband. My nephew was 3 years younger than me but loved cars and could tell you the make and model of every car we saw.

We also made a trip across the desert with the canvas water bag on the front of the car. I remember getting to pick oranges in a cousin's backyard in CA. We visited Disneyland the first year it opened. I still have the souvenir booklet and an A ticket or two somewhere.

I also remember staying in the primitive cabins at Yellowstone. We had a sink in the room but restrooms were in another building.
We usually stayed in the small "no name" motels along the way. I do remember my mom and my sister would look at the rooms before we checked in. Of course we would always leave very early in the morning to avoid the heat. My brother-in-law always had a new car but I don't remember any of them being air-conditoned.

We always had snacks and my mom always carried wet washcloths so we could wash our hands if we had a snack in the car.

I think of it now and wonder how we stuffed 4 adults and 2 (later 3) children in one car with enough luggage for a couple of weeks. I can picture my niece standing up in the front seat on the way to California. Now I wouldn't think of getting in a car without seatbelts or a child not in a car seat.

Ahhh, Judy, 'pinch heads'! The wonderful road games--my cousins knew more than I did, but my brothers and cousins and I were best at naming the make and model of all the cars we saw. Maybe that's why I've never owned more than one car from a particular manufacturer--the whole world to explore, right?

Yep, William, there's a HoJo's right here in Santa Monica . . . right next to a major hospital, though, so maybe not quite the 'we're all going on a summer holiday' sort of atmosphere one might want . . . and not the long courtyard of outward-facing units, either, this one is all stacked up like a regular hotel.

Great memories, Nancy--thanks so much for this post. Our road trips were in my grandmother's '53 Buick Special. We would start out around 4 or 5 a.m. to beat the heat, and drive 90 or 100 mph for 9 hours, so we could make El Paso from Dallas in one day, then repeat either the next day or whenever our El Paso relatives would let us go, making a big chunk of the trip to L.A. the first day, with a stop at Stuckey's or (?) Little America or The North Pole, if we took the long way around, and on at least one of those trips, stopping at a reservation to sit around campfires at night and watch the leather-clad dancers.

I sometimes get nostalgic for the days when I would kneel on the back seat and stare for hours out the back window, while my brother and sister faced forward, or curled up with books, or we would take turn squeezing up onto that rear shelf . . . but then I remember my sister flying through the air from the back to the front seat and crashing into the dashboard . . . she has always been prone to neck injuries since, and had some mysterious health issues in her chest that may have had their roots in that incident.

I still remember the feel and smell of the canvas water bags we would hang across the front grill to cool the engine when we crossed the desert. Who knew how brave that was, back then?

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