My dad and mom gave our kids one of the best gifts a family can have, at least if you like to travel. In the summer of 1964, we had a six-week adventure from our home state of Indiana to the West Coast and back, crossing 17 states and 12 national parks on our particular route.
After my mother died last fall, we kids went through all of her stuff. We discovered his little diary of the highlights of our trip. I drank it.
Mom’s travel diary begins with: “Leaving July 11 at 2 p.m. Forget pillows, soap, comb. I spent the night in Illinois in the pouring rain. Quite a mess for dinner with six in one place. You see, we rented a very, very small trailer for $2 a day. He slept five and we had six in our family. My brother ended up sleeping in a small tent or in the back seat of the car for most of the trip.
Not too great at first – like many camping trips. We also suffered a major breakdown when a spring broke and a wheel went through the floor of the trailer, if I understood the facts correctly. Dad had to work hard to find a place to fix it (and remember, no cell phones). I think someone finally stopped to ask us if we needed any help and drove dad to a town somewhere. Long story short, we were able to stay in a motel that night on good beds and my mom was thrilled because she could spend the morning washing and ironing our clothes. (Iron, on a camping trip?? Yeah!)
Dad always tried to visit people or families he knew, especially in the Midwest. We parked the trailer at the homes of about 10 different families or couples that Mom and Dad knew. Some were relatives, but most were guys Dad knew when he worked at Glacier National Park for alternative service during World War II. He so wanted us to see the things he had seen in the west.
Backyard camping, of course, saved a bushel of money. In 1964, gasoline was only about 30 cents a gallon, so we spent an average of $20 a day for a family of 6. It’s “meals, camping fees, entertainment, sightseeing and gas,” Dad was proud to tell people.
When we drove up to Pikes’ Peak with this 1960 Chevy (leaving the trailer at a camp), the Chevy had to rest, like many other vehicles. My dad and mom were extremely grateful when after a brief stop—where we kids crawled around rocks—the Chev started up again as we completed the 14,115-foot elevation on our climb up the mountain.
Towards the end of the trip, according to Mom’s diary, Dad was very anxious (like all of us) to get home as soon as possible. We even decided to give up the Tetons. At the end of August, the weather was turning cold in the mountains and we encountered snow on several occasions. We stopped in South Dakota at Mt. Rushmore.
The trip was planned five years in advance, set for the year my older sister graduated from high school. Some of us, the younger ones, had stomachaches that we would be too old to enjoy such a trip if we waited five years. I was only eight years old (the age of two of my grandsons now) when we started planning it. But it gave us time to save our money (and mom and dad too). We bought many souvenirs from the places we visited.
I love the note Mom put on the little Penrite Memo Book where she kept track of our adventures. In 2016, she made a follow-up note to the cover: “You kids will want to read this many years later. Ha.”
I don’t know why she added the “Ha”. I will be forever grateful for his little travel diary, because without it so much history – and memories – would be gone forever.
Thank you mom and dad for one of the best trips of our lives.
Comments? Write to me at [email protected] or Another Way Media, PO Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.
Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way chronicles are posted on FindHarmonyBlog.com a week after the publication in the newspaper.