My parents were firm believers in the educational value of travel. They loved to travel, and my brother and I were certainly the beneficiaries. Our family vacations provided me with some of my favorite family memories and some hilarious incidents along our journeys.
It is important to note that Mom and Dad could not afford for us to travel in style, but I can honestly say we had so much fun that I never gave it a thought. We camped out under the stars, in tents, in homemade flip open trailers and in a tiny travel trailer. It wasn’t the Waldorf or even the Holiday Inn, but it was grand.
In fact one of my earliest memories is camping out under the stars on a folding cot. Our cots were softened with quilts that my grandmother had made. I have a distinct picture in my mind and the feel of the quilts under and over my body. I vividly recall the feel of the morning dew on the blankets and trying to snuggle deeper under the quilts to stay warm in the brisk morning air. I think I was three years old.
My paternal grandmother lived in our home. My grandfather died the year before I was born, and she lived with my parents until she died at the age of 96. Grandmother also loved to travel, and she was up for any adventure my father could devise. Traveling with her was an education in itself. She was a natural story teller and innately curious.
My father always believed that any problem could be solved with a little effort. He also believed in building or devising economical alternatives to what could be purchased. This belief led to the creation of his flip-top trailer. The purpose of this project was to enable us to travel and camp in more comfort. He had seen commercial trailers that folded open and had a fabric top that covered the opened area. Sleeping platforms were on either side of the open trailer bed where things like Coleman cook-stoves and lanterns, fishing poles and tackle, groceries and suitcases could be stored. Of course Dad wanted one and decided he could build one for much less than the purchase price.
Anytime Dad had a project my brother and I were expected to be involved. Dad and Chris constructed the bottom part of the trailer from an old pickup axle and built the bottom and sides from plywood. They painted it red to match our red and white Ford station wagon, and their part was complete. The women in the family had the pleasure of constructing the tent.
It is a testament to my Mom and Grandmother that they set to work without a pattern and managed to create the tent top. What a learning lesson that was for me on so many levels. Mom used geometry to figure out a pattern and how much fabric would be needed. Grandmother, who truly was an expert seamstress, bought enough canvass to complete the project. Laying out that much canvas on the kitchen table and cutting it into the pieces was an adventure I’ll never forget.
Then it was time to sew the tent structure including grommets to attach it to the trailer. Now most people would never attempt such a sewing project without a commercial machine, but we didn’t have one of those. Grandmother had a Singer home sewing machine that was her pride and joy. It had replaced her old treadle model. What perseverance it took as she and mother wrangled those huge pieces of canvas and tried to fit them under the presser foot so the needle could sew the seams. They broke needle after needle in the tough canvas. But they never quit, and they certainly never said a bad word, although they may have thought them.
We finally completed the tent, and it was hooked to the trailer. It was probably a miracle that it fit. But fit it did, and bingo, Dad had his flip-top travel trailer. He pulled that homemade flip-top trailer down the roads of America for several years.
One of our more memorable trips with that trailer was to Miami, Florida one December to attend the Orange Bowl. I remember it being pretty cold on our over night stops in Mississippi and Alabama. But it was lovely and warm in Florida. We saw alligators and went to a place called Monkey Jungle where we were inside the cage and the monkeys on the outside. We went to the football game and had a great time even though our Sooners didn’t win.
While in Florida we passed field after field of luscious red tomatoes and row upon row of avocado trees. Our family dearly loved both. So Dad stopped that station wagon and asked if we could buy or pick tomatoes and avocados. What a great experience. I can still see my mother sitting in the back of that station wagon with the back window down, peeling and mashing avocados, adding chopped fresh tomatoes, and everyone singing as we rode down the road. Nothing could have tasted better!
There were many other similar adventures as we traveled across our great country. I learned about our geography, our history and our people. And while those were of great educational importance in my life, they were not the most important lessons I learned through our family’s adventures.
I learned the value of family and the camaraderie that can be enjoyed with those we love. I learned that you do not have to be rich to enjoy travel and to provide valuable experiences for yourself and your family. I learned the value of dreaming, of having a vision, of not being afraid to try something. I leaned the beauty of creativity, and the possibilities wrapped in saying I think I can do this. I learned to be independent and adventuresome and to appreciate the beauty of nature.
My Dad and my Grandmother are no longer with me, but every time I travel I think of them. I see them in the towering mountains and the deep blue oceans, the evergreen forests and the quiet streams. Travel is more than just a vacation for me. It’s a connection to my past and my memories. And the best part of it all? I’m still learning.