Family Road Trips
My father was stationed at Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, South Carolina. We lived there from 1973 to 1981. During this time we lived in a trailer for a few years which was quite an adventure to say the least. (Read about trailer life here.) It was nice to eventually upgrade from a house on wheels, to military housing.
Something we didn’t have around us was family. My grandparents and a number of other relatives lived in New England, mostly Connecticut and Massachusetts. Eventually, my dad’s parents moved to the Florida Keys. The area of the U.S. where the geriatric community goes to retire and expire. A.K.A. God’s waiting room. That meant, to visit everyone, there would be many road trips. We would spend lots of time in the car driving up and down the East Coast.
None of the trips were the same but here are some of things one could expect when traveling in the Mike family land yacht:
In order to leave South Carolina we had to drive through kudzu. It’s a large leafed vine plant that grows so voraciously that is climbs everything in its path smothering all other forms of vegetation. Reaching to the tops of buildings and trees, it is sometimes known as the vine that ate the south. Driving through this was like making your way through a valley of green, to the left and right of the car was an equally impressive wall of kudzu. I couldn’t wait to get out of it because I am sure, that that plant had swallowed up entire families while still in their vehicles.
We didn’t have internet or cell phones and so we had to come up with ways to entertain ourselves. This usually meant that we bickered, fought and basically created a less than relaxing, driving experience. This made everybody crazy. By everybody, I mean my parents. Trying to be proactive, they had activities for us to do. If we opted out, the alternative was SHHHHH!
One of the biggest sources of frustration was breaking of back seat rule number one. Don’t cross the line. An imaginary line existed on the seat between each person. My sister sat in the middle between my brother and me. When she dozed off her head would slump to the left or to the right. This meant she breached the line, breaking the rule. When her head would touch one of our arms she got an immediate shoulder launch in the other direction. Then we would yell out, “Mom! She’s touching me!”
One of the games we played was called license plate. Each person tried to spot vehicle tags from different states. The person who had the closest to all fifty would win. As far as I can remember, we never found them all. Alaska and Hawaii were always so elusive.
My parents purchased coloring activity books to preoccupy us. They always started out fun, but after a while they induced nausea. The smell of that ink on cheap newsprint paper, reading and the movement of the land yacht was never a good combination. It usually left us feeling like our eyes were swimming around in the back of our eye sockets.
We also had the magic hair toy. A piece of cardboard with a printed image of a cartoon man. Surrounding the image was a raised plastic bubble filled with tiny black metal shavings. Using a magnetic pen, you could move the shavings around dropping them into hairstyles and beards. That was good for about ten minutes.
And then there was everyone’s favorite, the alphabet game. Each person would take turns yelling out a name of a food item with each corresponding letter. It’s all fun and game until you get to the letter Q. Curse you Q! Why does that letter even exist?
Sometimes we stopped along the way at various tourist attractions. Not your typical tourist attractions mind you. Only the most obscure, off-the-beaten-path type.
Somewhere in southern America is a swamp. In this swamp grows Cypress trees. Looking like stalagmites, the roots of these trees protrude from the surface of the black water. This water is also home to tons of green vegetation and unnamed creatures that move about beneath the surface. Fashioned out of gray, splintery planks of wood was a make shift catwalk that curved through the swamp in a shape of a U.
We paid to walk through the swamp to look at these tree roots called Cypress knees. The whole time I kept looking down because the planks were not super close together and you could see the murky water through the space between the boards.
Knowing that I sink in water, my only concern was, one wrong step and they would never find me again. After making our way through the swamp tour, we were greeted by the gift shop. Hundreds of Cypress knees were there, some polished, some not. Many were carved with murals or designs. Yes, we all left with one.
There are various retired naval vessels docked on the coasts of the US. Being a military family, this was always a point of interest. Anytime we drove by one, we were guaranteed a visit. It was awesome getting to climb around on battleships and submarines. Pretending we were sailors, we would take battle positions while posing to have our picture taken by our father. I’m pretty sure we’ve seen them all.
The thing that stuck with me the most about these trips was the pitcher. Some of you may know what I’m talking about, but for those of you that don’t. Imagine traveling in a land yacht for hours upon hours. With a bladder stretched to the maximum, your dad says, “We’re making good time, we’re not stopping.”
You have to pee.
You have to really pee.
You’re going to pee your pants.
So your mom sends a pitcher over the front seat for you to have your brother hold while you relieve yourself. Now I’m not sure how we did this in a moving vehicle but I’m guessing I blocked the whole thing out of my mind. Were there even any seat-belts in the back seat?
You could tell we were getting close to Florida when we saw rows and rows of orange trees. Since it seemed like we had been traveling for weeks, the oranges were a welcome sign that it was almost over. Without stopping, the trip actually was only about eleven hours, but I could swear that my face had sprouted a long gray beard by the time we arrived.
Today, we have: Music play-lists, built in dvd players, multiple charging ports for electronics, 24/7 access to the internet and even seat-belts in the back seats.
Traveling has changed quite a bit, but do we have any really cool stories to tell?
What do you remember about your family road trips?