Summer is officially underway and across the country, families are packing up for vacation destinations. And that is the theme of this week’s Throwback Thursday writing prompt.
My family took a summer vacation every year, but rather than destinations like Disneyland or national parks, we visited family. My mom had two families. Her east coast siblings and her Texas cousins who she was raised with. We alternated between those families every summer and at Easter we visited my dad’s siblings in Cleveland, Ohio.
Getting ready for the trips was always exciting, especially the longer trips to New Jersey and El Paso, Texas. My mom would pack up all of our stuff into the suitcases, but packing the car was Dad’s job. My dad is a packing genius and he taught me his craft. You pack all the big stuff first and then arrange the smaller bags around it. You also had to think about access. Things we would need along the route needed to be packed last so we didn’t have to completely unload the car at every stop. Genius, I tell you.
There was also the dilemma of how to entertain four young girls on what in the case of the Texas trip, was a three-day journey. That’s a long time in the back of a station wagon. Mom had this part down. There were notebooks in which she had written the lyrics to songs that we sang along the way. Each of us had a pad of paper where we could list the states we saw on license plates. (I was awesome at that game!) And then of course, there were the Mad Libs. We loved the Mad Libs.
My favorite entertainment was following along on the maps. Dad would save the maps he got from AAA, where someone had outlined our route with a marker. I would get the map from the previous trip and spent much of my time trace the route with my finger, trying to make the speed of my finger match our progress. My finger was always too fast. But it taught me a lot about navigation and how to read road signs.
One year on the way back from Texas, Aunt Muriel made us each three bags of goodies, one for each day of the trip. After that it was a tradition. Each morning when we hit the road, we got our bags and by noon we were asking for the next day’s bag. Lunch was sandwiches my mom had packed in the Thermos cooler that went with us on every trip. It had a shelf on the top where the sandwiches went so they wouldn’t get soggy as the ice melted. We ate at roadside stops and looked forward to one of the best parts of the trip for us—the hotel.
On the way to Texas, we always stopped in Joplin, Missouri, and Clancy, Oklahoma. I don’t remember the name of the hotel in Joplin, but in Clancy, I remember the Best Western. We always left really early in the morning and drove until about 3 or 3:30 so we would have the late afternoon to play in the hotel pools.
There were some adventures, like the time something broke on the car in Joplin and my dad had to get it repaired. I remember him being angry because they overcharged him because we were in a tough spot—out-of-towners with nowhere else to go. It made me mad too.
And then there was the time on the way to New Jersey, we ran into a huge traffic jam in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. It was for a Woodstock-like concert at Poconos Speedway. I found an old newspaper clipping in one of our vacation scrapbooks and with the date of it, was able to find more information online. The traffic jam tied us up for hours and cars were trying to get by on the shoulder and getting stuck there.
Now it’s your turn. What were your family vacation adventures? What was the trip like? Did you drive, take a bus or train, or fly? How did you stay entertained along the way? What was your favorite destination? Share your stories with us, and more importantly, write them down and share them with your family.
About Juliana Smith
Juliana Szucs Smith has been working for Ancestry.com for more than 16 years. She began her family history journey trolling through microfilms with her mother at the age of 11. She has written many articles for online and print genealogical publications and wrote the "Computers and Technology" chapter of The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Juliana holds a certificate from Boston University's Online Genealogical Research Program, and is currently on the clock working towards certification from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.