The Family Road Trip
Just the other day I stopped for gas, and came to a halt next to a mini-van with four kids in it.
One of them was on a cell phone, another was playing a video game, the third was listening to an IPod,
and the final child was watching his own personal DVD player. There was so much electronic activity going on over there,
it was like I had pulled up
next to NASA's mobile command center.
As I observed then, I realized that when it comes to traveling, modern children have it made.
They have no idea of the tortures that their parents and grandparents had to endure as childhood travelers
back in the “olden days” when
conditions were not as posh.
As I pumped gas I thought of my childhood experiences. Two car families were rare so there was a lot of ride sharing.
Although cars were much larger then, parents made up for that extra space by having eight or ten kids ride along on every local trip.
These youngsters could either be homegrown progeny, or they could be handy loaners from the neighbors.
Child volume was the goal,
not child ownership.
Seat belts had not come into common usage, except when your mother leaned over the seat and belted you,
so most adults subscribed to the tight pack method for transporting small fry, which involved cramming as
many youngsters as possible into the back seat of a two or four door sedan. That way, if there was
a wreck, the kids were wedged
in so tightly that they couldn't get hurt.
Often Butch (and later Duke), our German Sheppard dog at that time were stuffed in to stabilize the cargo.
Nooks and crannies were
filled with whatever was needed for the day’s activities.
Any baby, and since this was the Baby Boom there was always a baby, got stored up on the back dash for extra safety.
You just had to remember to
turn him from time-to-time, so he wouldn't get too sunburned on one side.
My older buddy was the first to get his junior license. Ten of us chipped in 5 bucks each and brought an
old pickup truck for $50 from Cy Beebe’s Homeport Service in Sayville. We got it to run (most of the time). We put bald tires on it
(so we could ride on the beach) and it became our key to parental freedom. Gas was around $.30 per gallon.
We would chip in for gas (and
oil), put 3 people in the cab, everyone else in the back and ride around all
The routine for longer family trips was slightly different. My Dad’s car was a black 2 door 1950 Ford.
Every trip started with a mandatory stop at Blue Point Friendly Service for gas.
A thirty to forty minute conversation always ensued between my Dad and Uncle Al Furchert,
the proprietor of the station
and my Dad’s best friend.
In the car the front seat was occupied by my Mom with the food and drinks. This usually consisted of egg salad,
tuna, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, a material that was used to wrap food
that she hoped to keep fresh. If it was one of those rare occasions when it was leftover meat from a previous meal,
it was sure to be heavy on the mayo, so that it would be sure to turn brown after several hours or so in a sedan
with no air conditioning. The
load was topped off by a big Tupperware container of Kool-Aid that Mom usually
forgot to sweeten.
Road food was always brought from home because my parents, like most parent of that generation tended to be frugal,
due no doubt to the fact that
they was trying to feed multiple children on Dad’s $98.00 weekly salary.
Also, Dad after his conversation with Uncle Al, was late and had to make time and
couldn't be hampered by
details such as stopping to eat or go to the bathroom.
I was assigned the back seat behind the driver (Dad), brother John was stuck in the middle and
brother Dennis was assigned
the back seat behind Mom, so she could clean him up when he got car sick, as he
always managed to do.
As you passed the intersection of Blue Point Avenue and Montauk highway
you always waved to Jonah Lang, who knew the plate number of just about everyone in town.
Once the trip started we would start begging for food and drinks. Usually about 30 minutes after eating,
my brother would get car sick. He did this with such regularity that we had a spot on trips to the city (Dennis' Puking Grounds),
where we stopped so he
wouldn't get any “mess” in the car!
In the winter we froze in the cold, while in the summer we sweltered in the heat (the rear windows did not open).
We were kept under control
with threats of “knock it off or I will tell your Father when he gets back in
Sometimes on long trips we would run out of road food, which would necessitate a visit to that most
wondrous of highway oases, the truck stop. The conventional wisdom was that since the truckers were the
professionals of the open road, they always knew the best places to eat. You can't prove that theory by me,
but I will say that
everything on the menu tasted better than sour Kool-Aid and warm sandwiches.
Modern youngsters are for the most part unacquainted with cars that are not air conditioned.
They weren't that bad, actually, except for the ash from Dad's Camel cigarette, the occasional insect, rock,
or whatever else that got sucked into one of the two open windows as the family was tooling
down a two-lane highway at
sixty miles per hour.
Car interiors were much cleaner back then, as well, since anything weighing less than ten pounds
that was not mounted on or
tied to the car would eventually be swept out of those same windows.
In the winter the car was heated by a small heater in the front.
The rear was heated by shared
body warmth and thick “car robes.”
There were no GPS's then, so if Dad didn't know where we were going, we were doomed to circle the neighborhood,
as Mom constantly suggested
we stop and ask for directions.
Our travels occurred before cigarettes were known to be bad for you, long prior to the discovery
of the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. So many times the interior of the family car
resembled sitting in front of
a fireplace with the flue closed.
By current standards there are several expressions that might apply to several kids with full bladders
riding unharnessed in hot/freezing cars while inhaling second hand smoke and munching unrefrigerated sandwiches.
These would probably include
reckless endangerment, and child neglect/abuse.
But back in the "good old days", we just thought we were going for a ride.
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