Summer trips with stops at Stuckey’s and Storybook Land. Sleeping in genuine teepees at the Woocheekoochee Warpath Motel — with a swimming pool!
A normal vacation for many kids during the 1960s.
But nobody ever accused my family of normalcy.
Any July morning, Dad might casually inform my mother he planned a family departure to visit his parents in Louisiana. At 8:00 p.m. that day.
Mom would have scorned comparison to that Wonder Woman hussy in bustier and tights, but she herself represented a true marvel. By 8:00 p.m. she had washed and packed clothes. She had canned every ripe tomato and pickle within 20 miles. Pets were exported and schedules rearranged with the decisiveness of a Fortune 500 CEO. Why Mom also cleaned our car remains a mystery. One root beer stand stop, and the station wagon again was infested with French fries, seats freshly graffitied with ketchup.
Her most amazing feat: Mom never hired a hit man to bump off Dad.
Arriving home, he flattened station wagon seats, loaded suitcases and cooler, then stacked us on top.
Dad loved all-night driving because he endured few dollar-eating, time-consuming restaurant stops. No tinkle breaks every two miles. Nothing to interrupt his love song of the open road — after children nodded off.
I often awakened with a sibling’s foot in my ear or an arm strangling me in a half nelson.
Sometimes, I awoke to discover Dad catching a few winks along an unknown highway. Waking siblings — especially the baby — was a capital crime. So, I watched in mingled hope and terror as headlights approached: hope because they lit the darkness; terror because the Hatchet Murderers of America were traveling tonight, too.
Mornings, we played tag under cedars at a Tennessee rest stop while Mom cooked bacon and eggs over a campfire. The smells alone made the all-night drive worth it.
After crossing the Mississippi River, we soon stopped outside Monroe, Louisiana. Mom extracted The Washcloth from its plastic bag to scrub us, making us smell as if we’d spent the night in a dumpster. Still, it ranked above spit and shine with The Kleenex, Mom’s substitute if she forgot The Washcloth.
Dad called Grandma from a phone booth. We all knew this dialogue by heart.
“Mama, we’re in Louisiana.”
“No, you’re not.” She’d fallen too many times for his fibs. “You ain’t left Indiana.”
“Mama! We’re just outside Monroe.”
She didn’t buy it.
Finally, Dad admitted what Grandma had suspected all along: “The car broke down. We haven’t left home.”
“I knew it! Ya’ll think I’m soft in the head.”
His favorite part of “normal” vacation: 30 minutes later, when we pulled into Grandma’s driveway.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What vacation memory can’t you forget?