Saturday, March 11, 2017

Family Search 52 Stories Week 5

As I mentioned earlier, I skipped the 52 Stories project in February as I was writing every day for the Family History Writing Challenge. As that extended a bit into March, I am just now getting back to 52 Stories.  Maybe I should rename mine the 47 Stories - ha!

This story concerns vacations:
What was the biggest, most exotic vacation you took with your family when you were a child? What memories stand out?

First of all, our family was not wealthy. I'm not even sure if we would have been considered lower middle class. My dad and mom struggled for years to pay off the expenses incurred when their first-born child, Roy, was born prematurely in 1942. Dad told me that before my mom was even released from the Catholic hospital, the nuns were already hounding him about how he was going to pay the bills. They arranged a monthly payment plan that took him years to pay off. The bills escalated when Roy was diagnosed at the age of 3 with aplastic anemia. While that took his life at the age of 7, dad continued to make payments on all the medical bills long after Roy was gone.

Vacations were a luxury our family could ill afford. We made trips from our home in Chicago and later Des Moines back to Cincinnati to visit relatives, and once in a while visited a nearby lake for a week's relaxation. So it was a complete surprise when my dad announced that we were taking a vacation to the Smoky Mountains in the fall of 1965, made even more surreal by the fact that they were pulling my brother Joe and me out of elementary school for a week. That was simply not done, and yet we did it.

Dad's Dairy Queen
Looking back on it, the trip was made possible because my dad had purchased a Dairy Queen in late 1964 or early 1965. This was during the time period that Dairy Queen pretty much only served ice cream treats. They did not have grills and fryers like they do today, but my dad offered loose meat sandwiches for sale. The whole family was put to work, with the older siblings working out front and Joe and me chopping onions and folding boxes in the back. Unfortunately that spring and summer were unusually cool and rainy in Des Moines, and people did not buy ice cream as expected. If it were not for the local business workers coming over to buy sandwiches, the Dairy Queen would not have survived the summer. By the fall, dad had enough and sold the business, thus the reason he had the time and resources to take his family on a trip.

View Master
We were not on the road very long before we came to the realization that all the fishing equipment had been left behind, as well as dad's camera! How were we going to document this trip? The thought of being on vacation and not having a camera nearly brings me to tears when I think of it. My camera is such a part of who I am, and my pictures help me to chronicle my journeys. Our fall back position was purchasing post cards and a View Master, which I still have packed away somewhere. While I would love to be able to open up one of mom's photo albums and see our trip outlined in chronological order, at least these other souvenirs help jog my memory about where we traveled. But how sad not to have any family photos from the trip.

My brother remembers traveling as far as Indiana and spending the night in a motel. He said the next day we stopped in Cincinnati for a quick visit before continuing on our way. The drive would have taken us through Kentucky, Tennessee and perhaps North Carolina. All of my recollections involve the area near Chattanooga, Tennessee. I remember walking the Swing-A-Long Bridge and being frightened when my dad made it swing as this suspension bridge spans 180 feet. At Lookout Mountain we walked to Lover's Leap and could see 7 states. And I vividly remember the Fairyland Caverns, where scenes from different fairy tales that were created by Atlanta sculptor Jessie Sanders could be viewed.

As I don't have the best recall in the world, I think the reason that this trip stands out so much for me, besides the fact that I got to miss a week of school, is that it was the first time just the four of us traveled, leaving my two older siblings at home as they were out of high school by then. Add on the fact that we actually went somewhere besides seeing family, and it made a lasting impression on me.