Every spring, my dad would spread out his stash of state maps on the kitchen table and rumble, “well, where shall we go this year?”
Like millions of families in the 1960s, the annual car trip to Somewhere, USA was a family tradition.
Packing suitcases, kids (4), parents (2) and a hamper with sandwiches, lemonade, etc. into a four-door sedan with those wonderful wing windows that no longer exist, we would set out for wherever at four a.m.. There was no air conditioning, no seat belts, and my father was the only driver.
As the eldest, I sat in the death seat between my parents, crammed into the front of the car, always prepared for the head-first flight through the windshield in case of of a really sudden, unexpected stop.
My three siblings, five, ten, and thirteen years younger than I, sat in a sweaty tumble in the back seat, squabbling over window rights and whose turn it was to sit straddling the hump in the middle.
We drove on the interstates, testaments to the Eisenhower administration, with its complex of cloverleafed entrances and exits.
Any type of communition between the car occupants was nearly impossible, because all the windows were down to facilitate breathing and keeping us mostly heat-stroke free.
All the ingredients for familial homicide firmly in place, we would head to Arkansas, or Colorado, or the Black Hills. We could always count on my mother to become severely constipated, and a good part of every vacation was devoted to finding relief for her. We never resorted to blasting caps, but we came perilously close a couple of times.
I don’t know if my dad knew how big our bladders were, but he refused to stop very often, because we were “Making Good Time,”which for some never explained reason was always terribly important.
My mother spent most of the driving day digging things out of the hamper. I read a book. My father cruised along pretty calmly except for the times when the whining arguing, and struggles for supremacy in the back seat powered his right arm into a mad, sweeping motion intended to strafe his miscreant kids into submission. He never hit anybody. It was merely a warning shot.
Our nighttime accomodations ranged from one star to none. We once stayed in a cabin that featured a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling and elicited a “What a crummy place” from one of my brothers.
We saw some sights, we bought crappy souvenirs and ate mostly junk food for two weeks every year. We weren’t quite the Griswolds, but it was our family vacation.
Each time we pulled back into our drveway, cranky, over-tired, and totally sick of being hot and cramped, my dad would turn off the car and sit in stunned silence. Then he would say, “I hope you bastards enjoyed that, because it’s the last family vacation we’re ever going to take.”
We would then live through the trials of a hard, Kansas winter. In March, out would come the maps. He’d rub his hands together gleefully and ask,” Well, where shall we go this year?”