Summer of 1973
“A family that travels together, stays together.” ~ Anonymous
Hello, Everyone! Thank you for all your feedback and support. I hope you enjoyed reading my first blog just as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Family vacations can be fun and crazy all at the same time. Traveling with family is different than traveling with friends. No matter what happens, at the end of the trip you are still family. I have been on many family vacations, and I still travel with my family. Whether it’s a road trip to Las Vegas or Monterey, or a cruise to some exotic location, I do enjoy traveling with my family.
The pictures this month are from different vacations I have gone on with my family over the years. We went on a big family vacation in the summer of 1973 to Texarkana, TX. I’m sure we took some pictures, but unfortunately, after so many years, the pictures cannot be found.
I had, and still have, a lot of memories from the year I spent living in Texas with my grandparents. On our first day there, my sister, Sunshine, slid her foot under a fence and was carried home by the next door neighbor’s son. (To this day we still talk about how cute he was!) I was hit in the head with a 2×4 board. I cried when my mom left me on the first day of school, and Sunshine missed the bus to go home. At a parade, Sunshine found a broken fan belt (I think) and showed my grandmother. She later used it to spank us. There was an apartment complex behind my grandparents’ house, and the people that lived there were loud. There were the thunder and lightning storms that were so loud and scary they made me cry. Sunshine once sent a letter to my mom saying I was going to die because the uvula was stuck on my tonsil. We had chores. I had to fill up the water bins for the chickens and Queenie (my grandfather’s dog that liked only him). My sister didn’t have it so easy, though. She had to get IN the coop with the chickens to feed them and IN the dog pen to feed Queenie. There were also the goofy things we did: walking through a grassy field that had snakes to go look at a creek, watching my sister smash army ants, one by one, as they marched to their death, lying on our backs watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom off the reflection from the TV on the light cover. And then there was the time I put water in the Ajax can. (Doing something and not knowing why I’m doing it). The Ajax turned to paste, I got caught, and both Sunshine and I got a whooping from the fan belt she found at the parade. She was spanked because she watched me do it.
There were serious moments, too: snapping peas with Big Mama, going to three churches (Big Mama’s, Uncle Bubba’s, and my Grandfather’s). My sister grew a potato plant as a science project, but the teacher refused to give it to her when school was over, saying that it belonged to another boy. The most serious thing I remember is Big Mama standing in our bedroom window, crying as she watched her church burn.
We ate well in Texas, five times a day: breakfast (usually hot), lunch, a snack when we got home from school, dinner, and a bedtime snack. The bedtime snacks were from Grandpa. We had popcorn that he cooked in a black skillet or a butter and jelly sandwich.
The first and only time that my entire family took a vacation together was in1973. I had just finished 2nd grade and had adjusted well to being back in Alaska. I had lost my southern accent and I was with my family and friends. Life was good! This was an extremely exciting time for my family – Dad had bought a new station wagon. It was a 1973 blue Caprice Classic, with wood paneling on the sides. That station wagon was big! It had three rows of seats and a sliding glass window in the back. I usually sat in the 3rd row unless all eight of us were in the car, then I sat in the front between my parents.
That summer we were driving to the Lower 48, from Anchorage, AK, to Texarkana, TX. As a child, I was extremely excited and couldn’t wait. I was not part of the planning, as I was too young. Other than to see my grandparents, I had no idea where else we were going. I just knew I was going back to the source of all of those wonderful Texarkana memories and I couldn’t wait!
My mom had called a family meeting to let us know that she would be flying to Texas because my grandfather was sick. My dad would be driving the rest of us to Texas. One adult, with six kids ranging from the ages of 8-16. My dad was a brave man.
A few days later we were packed and ready to go. We got out of school a little early that year. The luggage was on top of the station wagon, covered with a tarp and tied down with string. In the back of the station wagon were food and drinks. On the morning we left, our next door neighbor, Mrs. Little (my 2nd grade teacher), my Aunt Ann, and a few others from the neighborhood stopped by to talk with my dad and see us off. Aunt Ann gave us some cookies that were dark chocolate. Almost like Oreos, but darker. My dad would refer to them as ‘The Black Cookies’. Looking back, I think everyone came by because it was not common for a family to drive so far for vacation. After some quick chatter with everyone, my dad made sure the house was locked up and we had everything we needed. We said our farewells, got in the station wagon and waved goodbye.
One adult, with six kids, was driving almost 4,000 miles on what would become one of my most memorable family vacations. I sat in the back with Sunshine, my sisters Lana and Alecia and our brother William sat in the middle seat, and my oldest sister Monica sat up front with my dad. Lana was in charge of the Milepost and the maps, and Sunshine and I were in charge of the food and passing it out when anyone asked for something to eat or drink.
I had no idea what “ALCAN”, “Milepost” or “Dawson Creek” meant, but those three words stood out to me the most because my Dad repeated them frequently. At some point I must have asked what a Milepost was, because I started looking for the signs on the side of the road. I figured the ALCAN was a road because my dad would tell people when we stopped, we were going to drive the ALCAN. As we got closer to Canada, my dad mentioned washing our clothes in Dawson Creek. I was 8 years old and very literal, like most kids that age. I kept envisioning us on our knees, washboard in hand, cleaning our clothes in the creek. (I cannot make this stuff up). Much to my relief, when we arrived in Dawson Creek I found it was the name of a city and we (not me) washed our clothes at a laundromat.
At some point in Canada, my dad pulled over to rest. All of us got out of the car to stretch our legs and look around. I wish I could remember where we were, because this memory is something my family and I will never forget. As my dad slept in the car, we were playing at the rest stop, running around and just being kids. We saw a goat walking through the rest area. I heard the goat go “baa” as goats do and for some reason my brother said it back. When the goat heard that, it started to run toward us and then chased us back to the station wagon. We jumped in the station wagon, screaming. My dad woke up, startled, saying “Whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s going on?” The goat was standing by the station wagon. My dad shook his head and said, “That goat is not that big.” If my dad were alive today, he would still say it was a small goat, but it was big to us!
As we approached the U.S. border in North Dakota, we were stopped by the Border Control. I remember waking up and seeing a man taking the fruit from the back of our car.
Sunshine and I thought he was going to take all of our food, so we hid the black cookies. Later, my dad explained he took the fruit because you can’t bring fruit from another country into the United States.
The day we finally arrived in Texarkana, we poured out of the car and into my grandparents’ house. All those memories I had were coming back, but I found that some things had changed. The chickens were gone and Queenie was gone. In the two years since I left, Texarkana had become a city. Chickens were not allowed in the city limits and Queenie had died. But other than that, things were the same. I went over to see my neighbors. Ree Ree still liked me, despite me hitting her on the head with my lunchbox when I lived there. Sunshine went to see her friend, Deborah. And it was good to see my great uncles, Uncle Bubba and Uncle Curtis.
We spent a few days in Texas before we loaded the car again and drove to Memphis, TN, to see my grandmother on my dad’s side. I don’t remember what we did there, but I do remember she had puppies and we (my brother and sisters) each named a puppy after ourselves.
From Memphis we drove to St. Louis, where my dad’s brother, Julius, lived. We met our cousins, Dino, Deborah and Kelly. My uncle’s wife, Hattie, was nice. While we were in St. Louis, we went to Six Flags over Missouri. I was having a lot of fun until I got on the roller coaster. It was a kiddie roller coaster, and I was excited to ride, but when it started to move I was so scared I started crying and screaming for the operator to let me off. He stopped the ride after going around one time. It took years for me to get on another roller coaster! The next day we went to the Arch. I didn’t go up to the top because you had to take a roller coaster and I thought it would be just like the one at Six Flags. So I stayed behind with my mom. Sometime during our stay, my Uncle Julius promised to buy me a dress. I don’t remember why, but it would become a running joke every time I spoke with him until he passed in 1999. (He never did buy me the dress).
After we left St. Louis, we drove back to Texas. My grandfather was doing better, but still needed help. It was decided that my brother would stay in Texas and the rest of us continued on to California. We left my brother in Texas, but picked up another passenger, Larry, a nephew of my mom’s best friend.
Once again, we loaded up the station wagon, said our goodbyes and drove off. (I wouldn’t return to Texarkana for another 39 years.) I was in the front seat between my parents, Sunshine and Lana were in the third seat, and Monica, Alecia and Larry sat in the middle seat. We stopped in New Mexico and Arizona to rest. Along the way we would sing songs, laugh, read, or color. It was never dull in that station wagon!
Our first stop in California was in Atwater, to see the Holders (friends from Alaska). We stayed for a few hours to visit, and then we drove on to Inglewood, CA. There I would meet my mom’s best friends from Texas: Marie, Florence, and Joe. We stayed with Marie and her husband Billy. Marie had three kids – LaDonna, Philip and Ann Marie. Florence and Joe had three children – Bernard, Erwin, and Sonja. Ann Marie was my age, so we played together. For the most part, we had a lot of fun playing with each other. It was loud and crazy, but we all got along well, except for the time Sunshine got into a fight with some boy because he made fun of the way she spoke. We went to Disneyland, which was wonderful! Ann Marie and I stayed with our moms while the other kids went off together. In 1973, Disneyland had ticket books for each ride, and once the tickets were gone you either had to purchase another booklet, not go on any more rides or go home. I rode all the kiddie rides with Ann Marie. We spun and laughed on the Teacup ride. As we floated through It’s A Small World, my eyes were wide open and filled with excitement from all the bright colors. It’s a Small World is my mom’s favorite ride at Disneyland. I loved the Pirates of the Caribbean, and where the ride went down a slight hill I screamed and laughed at the same time. We all toured the Haunted House together and that was cool, especially when the floor of the elevator moved down and the portraits of the residents were revealed. Out of all the rides I rode that day, I mostly remember the ghost that was in our car at the end of the Haunted House ride.
When I went back to Disneyland 23 years later, I still felt the same excitement and joy as I did that first time I went. Even though some of the rides had changed, many remained the same and I remembered them as if I had just been there yesterday.
From Inglewood we drove to the Bay Area. Since we left Larry in Inglewood, I was back in the third seat with Sunshine, my other three sisters were in the middle seat and my parents up front. We stayed in Berkeley, at my Aunt Normie and Uncle Albert’s house. There I would meet more of my family; my mom’s first cousins Jim and Chris, and Jim’s children, Jim Jr, Tanya, and Tamera. I wouldn’t meet Luke until a few years later. My Aunt Jack also lived in the Bay Area, in Oakland.
Aunt Normie had two beds set up on the back porch where Sunshine and I slept. The first morning we woke up to ants crawling all over the wall. Most kids would have been screaming and running scared, but not us. We got up and told my Aunt about the ants and went about our day. I’m still surprised Sunshine didn’t start smashing them as they marched!
While in the Bay Area we went to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39. Pier 39 was fun, not Disneyland fun, but fun because we walked in and out of so many interesting shops, viewed the Bay and watched different street acts. We also drove around to different landmarks in San Francisco. What I remember most about this leg of the trip is how happy Aunt Normie and Aunt Jack were to see my mom and us. I think saying goodbye to them as we left was the hardest on my mom, because she lived with my Aunt Normie her senior year of high school and they were very close. But the day came, and it was time to say goodbye.
We loaded up the station wagon again, all of us in our seats like they were assigned to us, and we drove off. We drove through Oregon and then Washington. We crossed over the Canadian border and then were back on the ALCAN headed to Anchorage. I was tired, we were all tired, and maybe even perhaps ready to come back home. As my mom was driving somewhere in Canada my dad was asleep, and we kids were doing our thing. Suddenly we felt the car speed up; my dad woke up, startled, saying “Whoa, whoa, whoa, what’s going on?” My mom stopped the car and told my dad she accidently hit the accelerator instead of the brake. We almost drove off a cliff.
I don’t remember my mom driving after that incident, but we made it back to Anchorage, safe and sound.
We still talk about that family trip like it happened yesterday. We were traveling for about four weeks. In 1973 there were no cell phones, no GPS, no internet, or any other technology to help guide my dad on the trip. Just my sister, holding a map and reading from the Milepost.
What are your thoughts about family vacations – yes or no? Please share your favorite family trip. Where did you go, did you have fun, and would you do it again? I would love to read your stories.
Next month’s blog: Traveling within Alaska
4 thoughts on “Traveling with Family”
What a wonderful adventure your family took. We drove the ALCAN highway twice. The first time we started from Florida City, Florida which is at the very bottom of the state right before the Keys. We had never seen snow nor had heat in our homes as that was something not needed that far south. My parents and 3 kids, a cat and a dog made this journey. I was 11 years old, my brother was nine and my little sister was 8.
We traveled in a small RV and I can remember my parents planning all the campgrounds we would visit. We stopped along the way and saw family in Tennessee, Arkansas and friends in Montana as we knew it would be a long 5 years before we could see them again.
First time I ever saw snow was in Montana. I remember thinking how beautiful it was but also how miserably cold it felt. We stopped at a base up there to buy my first real winter coat and a snow suit. I also remember well that Thanksgiving Day that mom said we would just cross over the Canadian border and have a nice Thanksgiving meal later that day. Well, Canada does not celebrate Thanksgiving on the same day as we do so that year it was bologna sandwiches and chips instead of a turkey with all the fixings. We still tease her today about that.
I remember well the Mile Post and also the Good Sam’s Club books that we used to plan the day. Dad taught me how to read a map and what roads to choose and let us help in the planning. I thought I was so grown up when he would let me sit in the “Navigator’s chair” up front while mom fixed dinner or took a nap. I remember playing some little red electronic game called “Merlin” for hours while he drove. And of course, we only had one so there were always fights over whose turn it was. My love for books was also cemented in that trip. I read Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys and the Archie Big Digest while my brother read Mad Magazine. I still have all my Nancy Drew books and still occasionally pull one out to re-read and see if I can remember who did it.
Love reading your story and can’t wait to read your next blog. Traveling builds memories that last a lifetime.
Leah, your family trip sounds a lot like mine. I don’t remember the books we read but I do remember the songs we sang and the noise. Six kids, there is bound to be a lot of noise. Thank you for comment and following me.
The only “whole family” vacation I can remember is the summer all 8 of us drove from Anchorage to Homer in a sedan, four in the front seat, four in the back, and stayed at Land’s End at the end of the Homer spit. I was 8 years old and it was cramped but magical!! Car rides were really the only way we traveled until I was in college. Always with lots of singing and snacks – Fig Newtons and Lemon Coolers!! Over the years we also had a couple of those huge station wagons with the rear-facing third seat – the preferred location for riding on long trips. My favorite car, though, was the Jeep Wagoneer, where we could sit on the wheel well bumps in the back and open the window, waving to everyone who came near. I know how crazy some of our day trips were with 6 kids – your Dad was a very brave man for taking you all to the Lower 48!!
I remember Lands End in Homer. I miss Homer. Your trip sounds fun and crazy like ours. To this very day I love a road trip. It gives you time to talk, laugh and reminisce with the person(s) with you. When all this COVID clears up I’m taking road to either Monterey or Morrow Bay.