A vacation to remember, even today
Published 11:00 pm Friday, June 10, 2011
Daddy didn’t believe in vacations.
He had been in the Air Corps during World War II and said he had been everywhere he wanted to go and seen everything he wanted to see.
So, imagine our surprise when he announced at dinner one day that we were going on a vacation to Louisiana to see his Air Corps buddy and be gone four or five days.
It would be a long trip so Daddy said Bubba and I needed to take something to keep us entertained. Bubba took a shoebox of plastic soldiers and bow-legged cowboys and Indians so they could ride plastic horses. I had just finished ninth grade so I took two Nancy Drew mysteries and a package of typing paper so I could draw hearts with initials and arrows through them.
We went “on” our green Hudson car that looked like a big, puffy toad frog that might explode at any minute.
It was late summer but it would not be a hot ride because Daddy had installed an air conditioner in the car right under the radio.
But we had not gotten out of Pike County good when he announced that we would have to roll the windows down. The air conditioner had iced up. As soon as it defrosted, Daddy said he would turn it back on and we could roll the windows back up. That’s how we rode all the way to Louisiana – rolling windows down and up.
Mama was a nervous wreck on the road and warned Daddy over and over, “William, you can’t go 50 miles an hour on these curvy roads. You’re gonna kill us before we can get there.”
Mama helped him drive by putting on the brakes and jerking her knee up to break the impending impact. Back then, there was a strap on the window post for women to hold on to when their husbands were driving. Mama held on for dear life.
And, there was a “fearful” rhythm to her sucking in air, holding her breath and exhaling at every passing danger.
A little variety was added to the trip when we neared a town and could pick up a radio station. Daddy let us listen to hillbilly music. Static overtook the music as we left the city limits and we went back listening to Mama suck air.
We stopped only once between home and New Orleans – to get gas and use the bathroom. It was one of those fillin’ stations with bathrooms on the outside.
You had to ask for the key which was attached to a two-by-four that was sticky with the germs of all those who had gone before you.
“Leave the door cracked and don’t sit on the commode,” Mama cautioned. “Wash your hands real good with soap and shake them off. Don’t get those paper towels. No telling how many germs are on that turn handle. Push the door open with your foot,” (that was why the ‘cracked’ door).
We hadn’t been back on the road long before Mama announced that if she didn’t get a little something to eat at her regular dinnertime, she would get “weakish.” Her weak spell turned into a full-blown sinking spell but Daddy didn’t seem to notice.
We got into New Orleans in the late afternoon and Daddy made the ride through interesting with his tidbits of information, especially about the cemeteries.
“The city is below sea level so people have to be ‘buried’ above the ground or they’ll float away,” Daddy said, as he pointed out one cemetery after the other.
All the cemeteries looked the same to me.
“Daddy, I think we’ve been by this cemetery before.”
It took four more passes of the “different” cemeteries before Mama – and an angel statue – convinced him to stop and ask directions.
We were at a traffic light when Daddy jammed the car into reverse so he could pull into the fillin’ station.
“Stop, Daddy! There’s a car behind us!” Bubba yelled.
Daddy … and Mama … slammed on brakes. When the light changed, Daddy floor-boarded the car. But we were still in reverse and slammed into the car behind us and we learned the meaning of “whiplash.”
Back then, plastic bumpers had not been invented. The heavy chrome bumpers took the battering without bruising. Daddy didn’t even look back and the driver of the butted car just craned his neck to look over the hood. And that was that.
We got headed in the right direction and Daddy soon announced that we would be going over the Huey P. Long Bridge and Mama started sucking air again.
Mama had a long list of things that she was afraid of. At the top of the list was bad weather, followed by Gypsies, heights, bridges and water. The Huge P. Long was a high bridge above the water.
“What if we go over? I can’t swim,” Mama said tuning up to cry.
“If we go over, you won’t need to swim,” Daddy said, matter of factly.
Mama closed her eyes and prayed her way across. She missed a real pretty sight.
Just on the other side of the bridge, Daddy pulled off at a roadside hotdog stand. The air conditioner had iced over so we stood outside and ate the hotdogs on stale buns and drank Co-colas in paper cups without ice.
We hadn’t eaten in so long that those hotdogs hit our stomachs like rocks.
“Won’t be long now,” Daddy said when we got back on the road.
The next thing we knew, he stopped at a greasy spoon restaurant “to get a bite of supper.”
“But we just ate!” we protested.
After “supper,” we were back on the road and soon at our destination. Our hosts had the best food I’d ever seen waiting for us, including a seven-layer strawberry cake.
“No, thank you,” Daddy said. “We’ve already eaten.”
But, it was a good trip. I fell in puppy love with their son, Bo, (spelled Beau), got to see a lot of things I’d never seen before and do a lot of things I’d never done.
On the way back home, Daddy said it had been a fine trip and that we ought to take more vacations.
I didn’t say so but I was thinking that I’d just been everywhere I wanted to go and seen everything that I wanted to see.
Mama sucked air.
Jaine Treadwell is features editor of The Messenger. She can be reached via email at email@example.com