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Nothing To Do and All Day To Do It

Are We There Yet?

Sometimes I look back over my childhood and wonder how my folks managed to provide for us all.  Then I remember what we didn’t have as compared to what I have now – what my family has now – and I realize, there was just a slightly different standard back then.  I think I must be coming to that age where I am just at the beginnings of my first nostalgic phase of life.  I hardly feel old enough yet to say, it was a simpler time back then, but, if I’m being honest… yeah… it was a simpler time.  And, truthfully, I really didn’t mind… I didn’t know what we were missing, and, so, I just didn’t miss it.
We had a home that was more than comfortable for everyone in it, on more land than we could ever use, fresh vegetables grown nearly year round (this was Florida, after all) on a 1 acre garden plot, eggs from our own coop, grapes from our own vines, wild berries from our own meadows, fireplace fuel  from our own woods, and all the books a pre-adolescent kid could ever hope to read.  And, for me, at least, that was all I could have hoped for.   That, and, the company of family and friends, which there was always plenty of to go around.
We had a TV, of course, and, I do remember what a big deal it was when we got our first VCR.  My folks had been sensibly waiting for that particular newfangled technology to be out for a year or so in order to come down in cost from the over $500 pricetag it debuted with to something more reasonable, but, my grandmother liked to spoil our family, and sent one to us when still only a few homes we knew had one.  We didn’t get out to movies much, but, when there was something big enough that just couldn’t be missed, Mom & Dad would find a way to make sure we all shared the experience.  (
Revenge of the Jedi was my first in-theater Star Wars, The Search For Spock my first Trek, and The Temple of Doom my first Indiana Jones… I still laugh at myself when I remember that they actually had to talk me into going to see Back To The Future.)
But we didn’t require all the electronic forms of entertainment that are available now to keep ourselves occupied back then.  We didn’t need every latest piece of fancy gadget or gizmo to come off the line.  I think all three of the brothers I grew up with (I have five) did get themselves a Walkman, but, I never bothered.   Mom & Dad had a stereo system with decent speakers, a sizeable vinyl collection (sizeable, yes, quality… that’s a matter of perspective), and I can actually remember many family vehicles equipped with 8-track cassette players. 
One such set of wheels in particular, a 1978 Chevy Suburban, was primarily responsible for providing our gang with a significant source of recreational merriment over the years.  It was the family vacation wagon.
1978 Chevy Suburban
Mom and Dad liked for us to spend quality time together as a group, and, one of the best ways they found to do that, outside of holiday shenanigans, was to schlep our traveling tribe in this giant beast of a riding jalopy all over the country.
We had a fair amount of downtime annually, of course, but that wasn’t always even necessary.   Our folks wholeheartedly believed that our private school education couldn’t hold a candle to the experience we would gain by seeing more of our nation, and, they prided themselves on having kids smart enough to learn something from it (and to be able to make up the work without any loss upon our return).  After all, if the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page,* then any old excuse would do.  Every year, there was always somewhere to go – some cousin getting married, some nephew graduating college, some family patriarch celebrating a three score and ten – and we would load us all up into the baby blue & white rolling juggernaut across a better portion of the continent to get there.   
Now, at this point, I should probably tell you that I don’t just come from a big family...  I come from a big family of big families, where most broods of offspring range from between 3 - 6.  And, man, can those folks get around!   There’s hardly a state in the domestic 48 that isn’t represented by some member of our kin.  So, on years that we were just tooling around for fun, anywhere we wanted to go, it was usually a pretty good bet there was someone we were related to along the way who would be more than happy to put us all up for a spell, and show us their town.  A favorite in-law shuttled us around
Colonial Williamsburg; a second cousin gave us the best highlights of DC; an Aunt & Uncle in Boston toured us through historical New England
And, of course, we were the Floridian clan of the family for a while, the greater stopover for folks among our numerous band of brethren on the way to
DisneyWorld or one of the many coastal beaches; until we got to Minneapolis, and became the wayside of choice for any parts of the bunch checking out The Mall of America, or other sites of the great white frozen tundra of the North American Midwest.   Those were fun times, too, but, what sticks out to me most is all of us gallivanting state to state in the time-honored transport affectionately nicknamed by my oldest brother (who eventually inherited the thing after graduating high school) as “The Tank.” 
As wide as it was tall – 6½ ft (2 m), and three times as long - 17 ft (5½ m), there was a lot of space for hauling kids, company, and all the crap that goes along with it.  It weighed nearly three tons, and some days seemed to hold almost as much.   We’d pull out the third row seat, and fold up the second row seat, leaving enough room for luggage behind the fourth row seat, and a place to sit for any aunts & uncles or grandfolks and other adult types who were along for the pilgrimage.  The rest of us kids and cousins got to sprawl out on the bed.  The five foot (1½ m) span between the front and way back rows was just large enough to lay down a mattress, every pillow our house could give up, a few blankets, a week’s worth of traveling snacks, and all the time-passing activities we could come up with.  Pile on top of that anywhere from 4 - 6 kids, for somewhere between 7 - 28 hours, depending on the destination, and you’ve got a recipe that will either bring you all as close together as any family can be, or slowly drive you all a little nuts.  (The jury’s still out for some!)
In 1985, with a favorite Aunt and cousin, we took a three month-long trek through the
Appalachian Trail up the entire East coast, from Florida to Maine, stopping along the way at anything we cared to see.  There was The Smithsonian Institution Museums (that took a whole week!), the Liberty Bell, Lady Liberty (sadly, I had to wait for another trip to get close to her… she was scaffolded up that year), the Walk of Independence and the Freedom Trail (another week there), and Plymouth Rock, among others, and we actually got to compare clam chowder styles from Manhattan, New England, and Maine in the same trip, just to name a few of those highlights. 
In 1991, it was through the
Black Hills from Minneapolis to Sturgis, by way of Rushmore, and any other roadside attractions, big and small, that tickled our fancy, including Wall Drug, Crazy Horse, and Devil’s Tower (that last one came after the rally was over).
On one trip, Mom read to us out loud, and got us through a fair portion of the
Little Women series.  We listened as a family to books on tape (mostly mysteries), discussing the stories as we went.  We played games, sang songs, told jokes, and napped and snacked our way across most of greater America.
We must have looked like a veritable gaggle of circus clowns, tumbling out of The Tank by the dozens at wayside rests and family diners (from a configuration which I’m sad to say is no longer a legal form of highway cruising in most states)...  a traveling travesty, to be sure.   But I look back on the personal cultivation I gained from these expeditions as some of the greatest moments of my youth, and the memories of their adventures will last a lifetime.
As of today, there are only seven states I’ve never been to… but they’re on my list, and I’m counting down, ticking them off, one by one.  There are more adventures out there to be had, and after I’ve conquered the Northwest corner, and the non-continental states, from there, it’s on to the greater globe at large.  So look out world, here I come!

No matter what happens, travel gives you a story to tell.”  —proverb
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( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
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Dec. 15th, 2011 01:04 am (UTC)
Sounds like some wonderful memories for sure!
Dec. 15th, 2011 07:08 am (UTC)
Indeed... I hope to be able to provide some of the same for some of the special and important folks growing up around me these days.
Dec. 15th, 2011 04:04 am (UTC)
OMG are you my secret sister??? We had that exact same Suburban!!
Dec. 15th, 2011 05:03 am (UTC)
Oh, crap... I THOUGHT we lost somebody going through Blue Ridge... it was my cousin's job to count heads, and she was never very good at it, because she kept forgetting how many of us there were... So, um, yeah... sorry about that? Hopefully the last 25 years or so have been okay? I hear the hillbilly side of the family can get a little... off... Well, not to worry, I think we Macoys ran those pesky Hatfields out of Eva around 1820, so, at least you got to avoid the blood feud. Let's catch up at the next reunion!
Dec. 15th, 2011 04:39 am (UTC)
What great memories! :)
Dec. 15th, 2011 07:09 am (UTC)
And plenty of them!
Dec. 15th, 2011 05:31 am (UTC)
I would like to think that you make it to the other states on your list!

Love the waggon for trips, we hired a bus that took 12 of us for holidays and drove to Devon in the UK. Happiest memories as we took grandparents, dog,and friends too.
Dec. 15th, 2011 07:14 am (UTC)
Does sound like a blast. We only had a cat back then, and they don't generally make for great traveling companions, but, these days the big dogs generally come along for the ride, and sometimes even the birds, too (the cats still stay home).
Dec. 15th, 2011 05:52 am (UTC)
just that picture brings back memories of growing up in the 80s!
Dec. 15th, 2011 06:57 am (UTC)
Aheheheh... yeah... we were a very 80s family. Trenchcoats with buttons, the euro invasion, big hair... we had it all! ;) Chiclet (the 13 yr old) was just asking me the other day what the 80s were like... it's weird to be getting to that stage where a lot that stuff is starting to come back.... *shudder!*
Dec. 15th, 2011 02:07 pm (UTC)
Oh man, now I kind of wish I had written about our own Tank. We had a smaller family (my parents, my brother, and me) but our traveling vehicle of choice for many years was just as Tank-like. It was a 1970s Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon (although ours was blue, not green). That car lasted until my college days in the early 90s, at which point we FINALLY sold it. We had some great trips in that car.

I loved this. You have been to some great places. I'm a bit confused, though, regarding 1985 -- you actually through-hiked the Appalachian Trail but still stopped at all those other places? Or did you mean you just went up the East Coast like the Appalachian Trail does? "Through" suggests you did a through-hike, which I know wouldn't leave time for all those other things.

Dec. 15th, 2011 05:00 pm (UTC)
No, we didn't hike it... we were in The Tank. There are road trip routes that follow the National Scenic hiking trail (see link). We started in Tennessee, because, every trip we took from Florida, wherever we were going, pretty much almost always started in Tennessee, because, both of my parents were born and raised in Memphis, and we always popped in on our Grandmother on the way to anywhere.

So... it seems YOUR family was in the Griswold mobile! ;)
(no subject) - dslartoo - Dec. 15th, 2011 08:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 15th, 2011 07:05 pm (UTC)
What a fantastic piece of memoir this entry is. How great that you could travel to all those wonderful places and enjoy it as a family!
Dec. 15th, 2011 07:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Yes, they really did give all of us an incredible gift in creating those experiences to be remembered for all time. And, it doesn't hurt that they weren't bad company, either. Thanks for reading.
Dec. 15th, 2011 07:44 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed this piece.
Dec. 15th, 2011 07:54 pm (UTC)
Dec. 16th, 2011 10:27 pm (UTC)
I hardly feel old enough yet to say, it was a simpler time back then, but, if I’m being honest… yeah… it was a simpler time.

Heh, yes, this! Life is so DIFFICULT when you're an adult! I enjoyed all your links! There were so many I didn't know about.
Dec. 16th, 2011 10:44 pm (UTC)
Awesome! I didn't know anyone ever followed those! Thanks for checking things out!
Dec. 17th, 2011 04:28 am (UTC)
I love all the different words you use to describe the Chevy Suburban. I think giant beast of a riding jalopy is my favorite.

I was in a family of five and we once drove across many states in a VW Bug!
Dec. 17th, 2011 06:58 am (UTC)
Oh, holy hannah, please tell me that was at least at a time when most of you were small! My earliest experiences scooting around town with my family were in a 1979 Datsun hatchback, in which my brother and I, from about 10-ish to 12-ish or so, didn't even get real seats, we had to share the wayback, where we perfected the "will you stop touching me!" interaction. Thanks for reading.
Dec. 18th, 2011 01:51 pm (UTC)
I used to love traveling in the car with my cousins! We had a station wagon and used the back rows as a bed-like space, too. Thanks for bringing back some awesome memories :)
Dec. 19th, 2011 04:25 pm (UTC)
It's really too bad no one is allowed to do that anymore. Glad I could strike some nostalgia for you, and thanks for reading!
Dec. 18th, 2011 05:29 pm (UTC)
This was sweetly nostalgic. Very enjoyable read!
Dec. 19th, 2011 04:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks, glad you enjoyed it!
Dec. 19th, 2011 12:44 am (UTC)
Those sound like quite the travels. I love road trips.

I don't remember our first VCR, or when they came out, but I remember our first microwave. I was so excited by it.
Dec. 19th, 2011 04:26 pm (UTC)
That's funny, too! I actually don't ever remember not having a microwave. I'm sure there must have been a time when we didn't, but I probably wasn't very aware of what was going on in the kitchen then. Road trips are good for the soul! Thanks for reading.
Dec. 20th, 2011 12:09 am (UTC)
I've got them all except Arkansas. They've a gemstone mine they let you pay to kill yourself chipping through but you get to keep anything you find. So Next year maybe. Good luck on yours and if you want something romantic when you finish, Canada has a train trip across the country for lovers that is fabulous.

Well done.
Dec. 20th, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC)
When I was 13, my family drove me across the border from Grand Marais into Canada at Thunder Bay, where it was raining, we walked around an overpriced mall, and I could barley see the sleeping giant through the mist of the rain. It was dull, but, they wanted me to shut up about being the only member of the family who'd never been out of the country. Personally, I hardly think that counts.
Dec. 20th, 2011 01:11 am (UTC)
I'm a child of the '80s, too. Well, I was born in 1976 but my childhood memories are from the '80s. I agree with you; it was a simpler time. And saying that makes me feel old, too. ;-)

I really enjoyed this post. You made me long to be a part of your offbeat, traveling family.
Dec. 20th, 2011 05:21 pm (UTC)
Oh, that's very sweet! I'm sure my family would be delighted to hear it. Thanks for sharing!
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