Vacation trips weren’t always made in luxury

Published 12:45 pm Thursday, July 19, 2018

Here’s a story about a man and his family

And a big trip that they took

I heard about it in a restaurant,

Read it in a history book

They rented a car at the Erie Canal

But the car didn’t have no brakes

Said Ma to Pa, My God this car’s

Gonna fall into the bottomless lake.

– John Prine

Summer vacations make memories. We look forward to them for months, and talk about them for just about as long after we return.

Around here, we’ve got it lucky. We can make it to the mountains in a hour, and only a few more to make it to the beach.

And while we complain about the roads, over the years, new roads have made it much easier and quicker to reach the more traditional vacation spots.

It wasn’t always that way.

My family “vacationed” to Alabama to visit and stay with relatives almost every year. And that was before I-85, rest areas and convenience stores on every corner. There were bits and pieces of the interstate in place, but inevitably, we went through most towns – with the stoplights – along the way.

We would always get up early, and head out before the sun had risen. Breakfast was usually at the Peach Blossom in South Carolina.

As the youngest of four children, my memories of these trips with the entire family are somewhat limited. I can only imagine what it was like for my parents, two older sisters and older brother and myself riding along in the old Chevrolet, windows rolled down because there was no air conditioning. And to top it off, the trip home most likely meant that Grandmother Pope would be riding along to spend a month or two with us. Seven of us packed into one car.

My sister reminded me about her favorite trip with the family to Alabama. It had nothing to do with the trip. It was all about returning home. If you needed to use the bathroom before that trip, you went to the outhouse. But when we returned, there was indoor plumbing – a commode inside the house. Funny, I remember the outhouse but not the moment we got indoor plumbing.

My brother talks about one of the trips that included Grandmother Pope. She was a small, feisty woman. My brother had to use the bathroom, and we were barrelling along somewhere in South Carolina. With not a filling station in sight, my mother coaxed him into relieving himself into an empty Coke bottle. It worked, but mom, of course, didn’t want to travel in hundred-degree weather with a bottle of urine on board. So she poured it out the window. Remember, we had no air conditioning. The back windows were down, too. And there was Grandmother Pope, and when the warm urine splattered all over her face, she uttered every four-letter word I had ever heard and some new ones, as well.

And to think they called those the Good Old Days.

About every other year, the family packed up for a trip to Kure Beach. If my memory serves me right, we stayed in the same cottage right on the sand every time. If we were lucky, there was a game of miniature golf to play right in front of Big Daddy’s restaurant. I’ll never forget my dad having the best time, diving right into the waves.

In the fall, we sometimes made a day trip to the mountains. It always included homemade fried chicken, and a stop at a grassy area along the Blue Ridge Parkway to enjoy our picnic. We traveled to Fancy Gap., Va. to get on the parkway, and got off at US 421 for the trip home.

The good old days? Maybe. But I prefer to ride in air conditioned comfort – without hot urine all over my face.

– Mike Barnhardt