Rocky Mountain High
We are staying home or closer to home with the virus lurking about and this summer's vacations might be quite different because of it. Since I won't be going anywhere too far either, I decided to relive one of my most memorable vacations. It was the Great Cross Country Trip of 1966 taken by our family of 6. I believe it gave me a love of camping, a distaste for being cooped up in the car for longer than 3 hours and an appreciation of the fortitude of my parents. My Dad was 37 and Mom was 35 at the time. My brother Mick was 15, Steve was 2 and Jon hadn’t turned 1 yet. I was a gangly 12 year old. Car seats were not yet required so Steve was usually standing up in the front or back and Jon was in a portable crib on the floor. It's a wonder we all survived. Dad had bought a new pop-up camper (a Nimrod by the way) and a new car (a Chevy Malibu – teal green with a white interior). Just think, for a minute, about buying a new car to travel over 7,000 miles with six people in close quarters and picking out a white interior. Not the best move ever, Dad. One of the vivid memories I have during this trip was sitting in the car waiting for my parents to come out of a store. Mick was holding a packet of ketchup in the front seat. He said to me, quite confidently, “Just watch – I can roll this ketchup packet up from the bottom and because of the way it’s made, it will never burst.” I watched in fascination as he slowly rolled up the packet from the bottom until, of course, it burst with force all over the nice new white ceiling of the Malibu. Whoops. Perhaps that was what lead to Mick being left along the side of the road in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Mom was beside herself and said we needed to go back and get him. I was just happy to have more room in the front seat. We finally turned around but couldn’t locate Mick for quite some time. Was he kidnapped, hurt, upset at being abandoned or worse?? No, we finally found him having a grand time in one of the local establishments on Main Street. He didn't miss us one bit.
Another memory I have of the trip was traveling up the Rockies on the switchback roads. Until this time, I had no idea that Dad was afraid of heights. It was only when he tried to light a cigarette with the radio knob did I realize the extent of his fear. Besides, he didn’t even smoke. As we got close to the top, we stopped at a rest area and everyone seemed to settle down some. After we left the rest area, however, we had gone about 2 miles before we realized someone was missing. Back we went and there was poor Stevie, standing by the men’s room holding his potty chair – patiently waiting. I think it only scarred him a little.
There were many beautiful places along the way but we usually only stayed one night in each place. Dad, always the packaging engineer, had packing that Nimrod down to a science and the camper was ready to go in less than an hour. Once a week we stayed in a motel so we could shower (now that I think about it, it’s pretty gross that we only showered once a week). There was a recurrent theme as we looked for someplace to stay. Mom’s criteria was “kitchenette included” and the kid’s criteria was “swimming pool” (preferably heated). I recall staying in Anaheim, California for 3 glorious days at a motel, near Disneyland. Mick and I went to the park for about a half a day and spent the rest of the time in the pool. It had a slide and everything! So much for Disneyland.
We celebrated Jon’s first birthday in Texas. We were on our way back by then and itching to get home. The last day we decided to go further than planned so we could get home a day early. We happened to be in Indianapolis and it happened to be the weekend of the big race. So – there were no places to stay and we were tired. We finally found a rundown motel on the outskirts of town that was pretty sketchy. When we flushed the toilet, a geyser shot up in the shower. We decided not to use the shower. Mom made a delicious meal of canned shrimp and potato chips which was the only food left in the car. It made getting home the next day even sweeter!
This was the longest trip I ever took, about 28 days total, and it certainly was memorable – especially for a 12 year old kid. Even 54 years later, I still can't look at a ketchup packet without smiling.