Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Monday, August 30, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
Dad had always been opposed to city driving. He would go great distances to avoid driving through any metropolitan areas. It was surprising, then, that in 1973 we were able to get him to go to Milwaukee to take us to the Zoo.
The Milwaukee Zoo, then as now, is considered one of the country’s finest. It was innovative in the 1960s and 1970s by getting rid of the old iron bars in favor of more natural environments. Each exhibit would have predators of a continent at the back of the exhibit with its prey in the front, separated by a deep moat which went unnoticed by the zoo visitor.
Samson, the huge lowland gorilla, was a zoo star. In his enclosure was a large scale which he liked to sit on. His weight would at times top 600 pounds. He would eye up the visitors watching him, pick one out of the crowd and try to stare them down. If he got mad at you, he would rush the thick Plexiglas wall keeping him contained. On several occasions over the years, he managed to crack the thick glass.
The next day we toured the Cave of the Mounds, a cave west of Madison. Over the years, we have been through quite a few caves. I don’t remember anything special of the cave itself, but outside in what would appear to be the driveway, they had set up sluices so that young geologists could shift through rock from the cave in search of gemstones, or just plain cool rocks. Over the years, we have collected more than our share of just plain cool rocks.
Next we visited The House on the Rock in Spring Green. This would have to be the one tourist place I have visited by far more than any other. In 1973, it was still mostly about the House, which all by itself was interesting enough with all of its passageways, low ceilings, hidden seating areas. Carpet on the walls, stained glass windows, interior fountains, book cases in recesses that were not accessible.
The House on the Rock was the home of Alex Jordan, a sculptor and collector. I don’t know where in the great scheme of things he lost control, but to me, I just liked the simplicity of the House itself, the original Gate House and the Mill House. Over the years, the attraction has been added to and added to. The maze of buildings holding thousands of collections of everything from merry-go-round horses, to butterflies, to room-size music machines, though very interesting to experience, seems to detract from the straightforwardness of the original structures.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
In 1972, we traveled to Tennessee with my sister Judy and her family. After seeing Nashville and Chattanooga, they drove onto Florida, while Dad, Mom, Pat and I swung thru Virginia to see relatives there again.
The Country Western Hall of Fame must not have done much for me, because I don’t remember any of it. All I can see of it is the picture that someone took of Judy and Claude with two of their kids, Paula and Brian, in front of it. The young siblings were wearing matching outfits, Paula in pink of course and Brian in blue. The Wax Museum of Country Stars scared me; the figures looked so life-like. Either Pat or Dad kept saying, “Look at that. That figure just moved!”
Chattanooga was much more interesting.
Rock City, acres of rock gardens through wooded paths and narrow passages of solid rock, had been the dream of Frieda and Garnet Carter. They were also the ones who invented Tom Thumb golf, which would one day be known as Miniature Golf. Rock City also had Lover’s Leap, a rock outcropping several hundred feet above the valley floor. To get to it, a person had the choice of crossing a solid rock bridge or a Swing-Along bridge held up by cable. Naturally Pat charged across the swinging bridge with Dad swinging it all the way. I plodded across the rock bridge, scared enough by the distance to the chasm below that I certainly didn’t want to feel as if I would be tipped right off of it.
Following the beauty of the outdoors, the trail went indoors to Mother Goose Land, a cave-like place with cubby holes filled with figurines lite by Black Light. The figures were kind of lame, but the black light was astounding. We laughed at each other’s glow-in-the-dark teeth and at any white we had on our clothes. At that time, we were leading very sheltered lives.
Shortly after Chattanooga, Judy’s family headed south east, while we drove straight east to Virginia.
The first night we were on our own, we stayed in Cherokee, North Carolina, a little town on an Indian Reservation. Some time in the middle of the night, I woke up with a severe stomach ache. Soon, I was in the toilet with diarrhea – not a good thing in those close quarters. Next I was throwing up. Mom says she wasn’t overly concerned until I started passing blood, then it was time to pack up camp and find a hospital.
I don’t remember how we got to the hospital; all I remember is laying on a gurney in the Emergency Room. I slept on and off, while Mom sat at my side the entire night, and once when I was sleeping I dreamed about Cheerios. What in the world was up with that? And more importantly, why do I still remember that all these years later?
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
How is it possible that I remember so much about some trips and so little about others? It seems as though every trip has had something memorable, something that needs to be passed down through the generations. A story that would make the headlines if there was a news channel dedicated to just our family. There was no such story on our first trip to the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota.
But by now, you realize that I won’t leave it at that. If there is no story, I will have to create one.
In 1971, we went out west again, only this time our destination was the southwest corner of South Dakota, where yet another tourist mecca lies, the Black Hills. The Needles Highway is incredible, with its hairpin curves, fascinating rock outcroppings, and narrow road. When the highway went through the solid granite mountain, Mom would get out and film Dad driving the camper through. If we could have stuck our hands out of the camper windows, we would have been able to touch the sides of the mountain.
Custer State Park has an impressive herd of buffalo and a band of friendly burros. The Badlands area, by contrast, is stark and moody. Throughout a single day, the weather can change from warm to cold, from sunny to rainy, and with every change the rainbow colored hills go through a wide range of hues.
One of the big tourist attractions of the Black Hills is, of course, Mount Rushmore. The giant heads of four of our most adored leaders are stunning. It is so hard to believe that someone could carve that out of the side of mountain. Well, ok, that a crew of 400 could carve it still seems unreal. A little further down the road is another such carving, but sometimes it’s hard to make the comparison.
Dad was always fascinated by Crazy Horse. Mount Rushmore was a finished work when we first saw it. It was built between 1927 and 1941, for just under one million dollars, at least half of which was government funds. Work on the Crazy Horse Memorial started in 1947 and has accepted no government funds. It is being built strictly on donations and admissions to the grounds. I haven’t been able to find out any estimates on its cost, and no one knows exactly when it will be finished.
We stopped there for the first time on our way to Yellowstone in 1969. Two years later, no one could tell that any work had been done on it. We traveled through the area again in 1976, and again, I sure couldn’t see any advances. But they were there, what appeared as a small fragment from 1500 feet away amounted to several tons of rock.
The whole story of Crazy Horse is fascinating, I can see what Dad saw in it. I would recount it all here, but you can just as easily find it on the web as I can. With pictures too.
Unfortunately, on the way home, we had to stop at yet another tourist trap. Everyone stops at Wall Drug and I don’t think anyone knows why they stop. Advertising free ice water since the 1930s, the small drug store grew and grew, and now encompasses most of the downtown of the small town of Wall, population less than a thousand.
So we stopped, wandered around, looked at all the cheesy souvenirs for sale, took pictures of Pat and I on the bucking bronco, and got our free ice water.
Monday, August 16, 2010
In 1872, Yellowstone National Park became the first ever park of its kind. It was dedicated to the American people, to be preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come. At the time, though, since there had never been a national park anywhere before, the government and those put in charge of the park didn’t know what to do with it. There had not even been any funds allocated to preserving the area. Poaching was common in the area. At the time the Wyoming territory was in a very remote area of the country, so the public the park was created for had a difficult time getting there.
Before long, though, there were railroads and roads into the park. Though visitors on horseback were the first to explore the park, automobiles began arriving by 1915.
When we traveled to Yellowstone in 1969, it was already the most visited national park, but the American population was a lot less then too. There were no hoards of people, just the same hoards of bears that still hang out along side of the roads, blocking traffic and looking for handouts.
Old Faithful was very popular and easily accessible. A crowd would gather when it was predicted to be due to erupt. The other geysers were just as fascinating, even when they weren’t erupting. Just the thought that at any moment they could spew hundreds of gallons of water high into the air was enough for me. Morning Glory Pool was gorgeous, so hard to believe that hot water bubbling out of the ground could attract such amazingly colored algae and other organisms, microscopic life forms that thrive in the hot water. At various other pools the blues and greens and pinks seemed to glow under the boiling water.
Some of the other geysers and pools were a short hike away from the parking lot. So, at one such place, Mom wanted to stay in the truck while Dad took me, Pat and the cameras to check out hot ponds and steaming pools.
We took our share of pictures and home movies, Pat and me scampering in front of the camera for Dad. But we didn’t get to view any other geysers discharging. When we got back to where the camper was parked along the far edge of the lot, Mom was all excited. She pointed to a small lake not far away.
“A moose came right out of the woods and went through the water. He was just a couple hundred feet away. And you guys had all the cameras.”
And since we had the cameras, there was no way to prove it. As I said, the crowds were small, so there were no witnesses to back up Mom’s story. We believed her, but continued to give her a hard time, mostly because we were jealous that all we had seen was hot water.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
In June of 1968, and again in 1972 and 1978, we went to Franklin, Virginia. My mother had a pair of aunts and uncles who lived there, and she’d been there to visit before.
Luckily Mom's cousin Georgia had kids close to the ages of Pat and me. This meant that instead of spending our vacation days inside with the female adults, while they shared tea and stories, we could be outside where her son George would dare us to curl up inside a tractor tire so he and his sister could roll us across the yard. OK, Pat accepted the dare; I was too chicken try it.
At night, in the backyard, we caught fireflies in a pint jar and then released them in George’s room. With the lights on, the drab insects seemed to disappear into the furnishings of the room. When we threw the room into darkness with the flip of a switch, the fireflies would appear as if by magic, bringing a glow to the room.
Mom’s other cousin Shirley raised horses, trotters, and lived in a restored plantation house. Riding up the long driveway was like entering a different era. The house looked like something out of "Gone with the Wind". The interior seemed to go on and on and on, one room leading to the next until I felt lost, antiques everywhere.
The animal life at Shirley’s farm was quite varied. In addition to the beautiful sleek mares and their gangly foals, there were several riding horses along with a small herd of round furry burros. A pair of Great Danes was off set by a pair of Welsh Corgis, with their German shepherd type heads and short stubby legs. And everywhere there were either peacocks, their long iridescent feathers or their droppings. The birds would constantly be emitting their loud cries, scaring those of us who had never seen the exotic creatures before.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Smelt fishing was an annual event for our family, kind of like Christmas and the Fourth of July. If you have ever lived in the Northwoods you will know that that does not make us strange at all, it means we fit right in.
There was no question that on a Friday afternoon in April or May, Dad would pack us all in the camper as soon as he got home from work, and we’d head to Ashland.
Dad and his cronies from the paper mill would spend much of the night in the lake. Wearing chest-high waders, they would trudge with their nets into the freezing water of Lake Superior, then pull the nets back in full of hundreds of three to six inch fish, many of their undersides bulging with yellowish eggs. Or at least that’s what I pictured happening. Since this all went on after dark and it was cold out, Mom was reluctant to let us out of the camper. Someone usually lit a bonfire though, and occasionally Mom would let us out to bask in its heat.
The most vivid smelt-fishing incident involved chili and hot chocolate. Pat, the son of one of our neighbors, and I were sitting at the table in the camper sipping hot chocolate. Mom was at the stove heating up a big kettle of chili. The camper was parked in its usual spot, far from shore, when suddenly it started moving. Well, we were all stuck inside. Mom was understandably vexed, but she was willing to ride it out and see what Dad had in mind.
Then he drove over a set of railroad tracks. These were not ordinary railroad tracks you would find on a downtown city street. These were hideous tracks, compact-car-eating tracks.
Though we kids were tightly clutching our cups of cocoa, we could do nothing to prevent their contacts from making a quick exit and spilling all over the table. That, however, was nothing compared to what happened to the chili.
Tomatoes, ground beef, sauce sloshed all over the stove, the back wall, the ceiling, Mom. You name it, there was chili everywhere.
When the truck had come to a complete stop a short while later, Dad came around to the back door to sheepishly apologize. He had decided to drive down to the beach and hadn't realized that the railroad tracks were that rough.
I don’t remember what Mom said, maybe nothing. Or maybe it was one of those things so awful that our subconscious buries the memory so we won’t be haunted by it the rest of our lives.
It didn't matter what she said or did next; the fact is that she was wiping up tomato sauce for months afterward.
Friday, August 13, 2010
The end of October, 1967, Dad and some of the other guys from the paper mill in town were needed at the mill in Orange, Texas. Dad drove our pickup and the camper there.
At some point, during his absence, Mom loaded me, Pat, and several other people into her car and drove to Texas for a few weeks. For some reason we left at four o’clock in the morning. It was pitch black outside and freezing cold that November.
We arrived in Texas the next day to a warmth we never dreamed of in November. We were amazed that we could go outside without jackets or scarves. The motel where we stayed had an outdoor pool that was still in use. Or course, Mom wouldn’t let us use it, but no decent mother of the time would let their children go swimming outdoors in November no matter what the weather or where you were.
Our jaunt to the Gulf of Mexico was a little bit chilly, more seasonable for us, a stiff breeze coming off the ocean. Mom made us wear our jackets and scarves. Our plaid cotton scarves, with fringes, were almost extensions of ourselves, to be worn at all times unless the weather was extreme. Extreme being the cold we left behind in Wisconsin that November, requiring a home-knit cap pulled down around our ears. Extreme heat being the month of July which was those four weeks during the Wisconsin summer when the temperature consistently stayed above 45 degrees.
Two of the souvenirs we brought home were silky scarves with a picture of the lone star state printed on it. Pat’s had blue trim, mine red. Mine is still in the bottom of one of my dresser drawers, thread-bare and wrinkled, but still bearing the Texas logo.
The other item I remember Mom purchasing was a play cowboy whip for my 16-year-old cousin. I cannot fathom why she thought that was an appropriate gift. As soon as she gave it to him, he chased Pat and me around my aunt’s yard with it.
The free souvenirs are sometimes the best. Dozens of seashells found their way into the camper, only after Mom had inspected them to be sure no animals were lurking inside.
“You know that animals do live inside those shells, don’t you?”
“Yes, Mom,” we obediently answered and immediately thought, wouldn’t it be cool if one of those animals made it all the way home before crawling out when we took the shell to school for show-and-tell?
We really wanted to take the jellyfish to school. We found one washed up on the beach, its long transparent tentacles trailing into the ocean. It was positively unearthly.
“Get away from that thing,” Mom shouted before we could get within ten yards of it. “That thing is poisonous.”
“But Mom, it’s dead.”
“It doesn’t matter. It is still poisonous and can still sting you.”
So much for cool wildlife.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
The first big trip we took in the new camper was to New York State. It was June 1967. We visited my brother Tom, who was stationed as an MP at West Point and then went on to see Niagara Falls.
I remember next to nothing of West Point and absolutely nothing of my brother’s role there. He was 21; I was just a kid, a punk, not even in kindergarten.
I do remember the falls though. I can still hear the thunder of millions of gallons of water rushing over the edge of rock eons old. I can see the lights they turned on at night illuminating the falls in a rainbow of color.
Dad took my sister Pat on a trip under the falls; I was too little to go. The story of my life seemed to be being left behind with Mom while Pat, two and a half years my senior, did something cool with Dad. Pat was all excited about it, but never admitted until 20 years later that it had scared the wits out of her.
It became almost a quest during the 1980s and 1990s, for me, Pat and our other sister Judy to view every waterfall in northern Wisconsin and the UP. Even the tiniest trickle of water tumbling down stream was a fascination and a photo opportunity to be sure. Often the smaller waterfalls were the better ones, less people, often no people, just lots of peace and stillness, except for the sound of water.
Niagara Falls certainly was the biggest waterfalls I’ve ever seen, but would I go back there? With all the congestion and commercialism? I think I will take a ten foot waterfall in the woods in the middle of nowhere. But the passion of it all maybe began for me at that New York tourist trap.
(And in case you didn't realize it this is not a picture of Niagara Falls.)
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Wisconsin Dells -1966
The first trip we took in the new camper was a weekend getaway to Wisconsin Dells.
The Dells had drawn tourists since the advent of the automobile. In the first half of the twentieth century, the beauty of the Dells themselves, the rock formations carved by thousands of years of the rush of the Wisconsin River and the work of glaciers, were what people came to see. The famous ducks, amphibious vehicles engineered and first used by the military, would ferry tourists across land and directly into the water for scenic views of the area beginning in the late 1940s.
By the 1950s various entrepreneurs saw opportunities to expand the tourist attractions. One of the first such attractions was Storybook Gardens and Mothergoose Land. These beautifully landscaped grounds had life-size figures from all the beloved fairy tales of my youth. There was a little cottage with statues of the three bears, waiting to greet any girl willing to be their Goldilocks. There was the wall Humpty Dumpty sat precariously on. There were three men in a tub in the middle of a pond. Many more settings from children’s stories dotted the grounds.
When my family visited the Dells in 1966, Pat and I ran from one fairytale scene to the next. We pretended to eat porridge with the bear family and carried on imaginary conversations. We climbed the crooked ladder to the roof of the crooked home of the crooked man and his crooked wife and slide down the crooked slide.
Storybook Gardens is still in operation, and I hope that the children of today have as much fun there as I did. Unfortunately I bet that the kids who visit the Dells area now are much more interested in the multitude of waterparks that have sprung up all over town.
For me, though, it was enough to just frolic in the grass and pretend that I was Little Red Riding Hood.
Monday, August 9, 2010
In 1966, Dad bought an aqua-blue Chevrolet Pickup truck, with a standard transmission, a white roof and white stripes down the sides. The white stripes must have been standard on all vehicles in the 1960s, because every car or truck we owned during that era seemed to have them.
When we went for trips in the new pickup, Pat and me sitting in the front seat between Mom and Dad, one of us kids would use the wide metal clip of the seat belt to “shave” the stick shift. We’d slowly move the metal clip across the black ball of the shift, listening to the click, click, click sound and feeling the vibration as we traveled down the road at 40 to 50 miles an hour. At such speeds, no one ever wore a seat belt, or thought of it as anything but a nuisance (if you were Mom) or as an electric shaver (if you were a five-year-old).
Along with the new truck, came a Hiawatha pickup camper. This was the coolest thing I had ever seen. It had its own tiny refrigerator, stove, sink, furnace and even a toilet. The dinette folded down to make a bed for Mom and Dad, and to this day I have no idea how they slept in such a minute space. Pat and I had the best sleeping arrangements; we got the bed over the cab of the truck.
We not only slept there, we played there and when traveling down the road, we laid there on our bellies watching out the front window, a magical land of the unexplored rushing towards us. We waved at every passing motorist and pedestrian who would look our way. Sometimes we wrote up signs to flash at these people, something benign and amazingly original like “hi” or “smile”.
The one rule that Dad laid down for us, the law of the land which we were never to break, was that when the truck was moving the door at the back of the camper was locked and we were under no circumstance to get within three feet of it. The edge of the dinette marked as far as we could go. After that the closet on the left, the enclosed toilet on the right, and the door straight ahead meant certain death, for we were sure to fall out onto the pavement to be crushed by a passing semi if we went near the door when the truck was moving.Other than that we had free rein within the camper. On rare occasions we’d play cards at the table as we rode down the road, but more often than not, we’d instead crawl to the bed above the cab. To view all the wonders of our world
Sunday, August 8, 2010
It was a simpler time. People didn't have to jump in a plane and travel half-way around the world to see new and different things. Growing up in the sixties in the rural upper Midwest, it took very little actually to be new and different for me and my sister Pat. Everything was an adventure for us. And everywhere we went, our eyes bugged out in wonder and awe.
I could never imagine having had a childhood like the kids today. Where it is go, go, go, all the time, none stop. A barrage of internet images, high speed everything, information overload, no down time, not even on vacation.
Perhaps mine is the last generation to live through that simpler, idealistic time. We didn't know anything. And that was totally acceptable.
So I have written down the stories of all those family vacations. All those memories from an idealistic youth, a simpler time. A time when it was all right to spend time with just Mom, Dad and your sister.
As if I had a choice.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
I wish I could say I that I was going to write something immensely inspirational, that I have come up with my new theme, my new story to write. I am still mulling it over. Actually I have quite a bit already written and some of it is even already in my laptop. I just haven't decided yet which route to take.