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?
I, like other clueless new spouses, signed my marriage license without reading the fine print. Later, I discovered I had promised to camp with my husband — for better, for worse — until lightning melted our tent poles or ravenous raccoons starved us out.
After decades of marriage, I now welcome
Or perhaps I’ve numbed to the point I think I
Either way, I’ve learned the Camping Commandments:
If thou ownest an RV resembling a Trump hotel,
wave pleasantly to those abiding in a bathroom-cabinet-sized tent. Similarly,
tent dwellers should show friendliness to those in luxurious quarters. After
all, we share the same pioneering blood — a fact well known to mosquitoes.
Thou shalt not concoct gourmet meals whose
tantalizing fragrances make thy neighboring cook’s peanut butter and jelly
sandwiches appear inferior.
Designer clothes on a campout shall be
In the community restroom, thou shalt not hog the
one working sink for three hours, perfecting thy mascara.
Always swat a bug that lands on a fellow camper
— after introducing yourself first.
If thou art a Boy Scout who attained the Pyro
Overachiever Badge, bless others with thy superior craft. However, if an
ignorant fellow camper adds an uninvited log onto thy perfect blaze, do not
toss him in after it.
If sharing a group meal around the campfire,
thou shalt not bring up scary research facts about hot dogs.
Neither shalt thou yank blazing marshmallows out
of the fire, lighting fellow roasters like birthday candles.
Thou shalt not spin in 60-mph circles on a tire
swing after eating four triple-marshmallow s’mores. (My grandson can attest to
If rain ensues, and thou ownest the sole camper
in thy group, thou shalt welcome all 47 muddy, smelly tent-dwellers — for a
When changing at night in a tent, stuff thy
flashlight into thy shoe for lower illumination. Otherwise, thy silhouette will
gather unwanted fans or frighten thy neighbors into hysterics.
Even a grandma cannot be expected to welcome a wildflower
bouquet featuring poison ivy.
Finally, departing campers should always share excess
firewood with neighbors. If their loud music kept thy family awake at 3 a.m.,
thou mayest bore holes in the logs and insert firecrackers first.
“Wait,” you say. “You’ve cited more than ten
commandments. Do campers really need that many?”
“Absolutely. We campers are wild by nature. Actually,
there are many more commandments than these.”
“Go back and read the fine print.”
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What Camping Commandments
would you include?
Every mother, no matter how devoted, experiences moments when she yearns to … go wild.
I should have known on a day when I dared sleep in, trouble would soon follow.
Sleeping in was unknown luxury during my years as a young mother, a fairy-tale fantasy that inevitably dissolved in a shower of Cheerios and the wiggles and jiggles and messy, precious kisses of my preschoolers.
Sleeping in existed in a different solar system — or perhaps in a different galaxy far, far away.
But that knowledge evaporated as I lay in a bed I wouldn’t have to make, savoring the ecstasy of a quiet — yes, quiet — 16th-floor hotel room.
My husband already had left for his conference. I went wild and indulged in forbidden pleasures: a cup of real coffee (double cream) in bed, steaming hot from the first mellow sip to the very last; a television program in which most people already knew how to count to ten; and a long, sinful bath filled to the top, with no Mr. Bubble or rubber duckies in sight.
After bathing, I ignored my ratty plaid bathrobe hanging on the hook. I didn’t decide what to wear. Instead, I wandered around the room, carefree and content as Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Prolonging my wild mama fling — unhampered by diaper bags, car seats, nap times or must-have blankies — I pondered how I would spend an entire day without children or Happy Meals.
Intoxicated with my liberty, I forgot my mother’s advice to always close the drapes and faced the room-sized picture windows. The panoramic view of city streets and smaller buildings far below dazzled my eyes, my soul. Embracing the endless, azure sky, I sang, “I’m free! Free!”
Chuk-chuk-chuk-chuk-chuk! A dragonfly the size of a 60s Cadillac suddenly hovered by the window.
I hit the floor as if attacked by enemy fire. I yanked the bedspread (Too late?) across my prostrate, naked form.
Had he seen me?
The traffic helicopter pilot waved.
Then he and his mighty machine swept off to corners of the universe where other derelict mothers in need of reform might lurk.
How about you? Ever have a day when you morphed into a wild mama?
Oh, my God, we just returned from two fun weeks of living in a pop-up camper. Glad to be home, especially during a stormy night’s bathroom visit! Jesus, during three years of ministry, You didn’t even own a pop-up to shelter You from rain, wind and mosquitoes. OMG, how You must love us!
Oh, my God, my niece took her mom and me on a road trip in her big, awesome truck. She said the experience was a mix of Thelma and Louise and Driving Miss Daisy. OMG, what do you think she meant by that?