The summer vacations of my youth are fondly ingrained in the old memory banks and as I reflect back on those wonderful days several thoughts occur to me. One is that vacations of today seem to be vastly different. Exotic locations such as Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Seychelles can be reached by cruise ships and airplanes. These places have fancy hotels with indoor plumbing, restaurants with waiters and I’ve heard that there’s even really cool stuff like nude beaches.
Conversely our vacations were to places with more familiar names such as Ormond Beach, Daytona Beach, Jekyll Island and Fernandina Beach. Those adventures also included side trips to such famous locales as Gator Land and Marineland. There was also the annual stop at Stuckey’s — a place where the pecan rolls were to die for. All those destinations were reached in the comfort of a Dodge station wagon complete with a push button transmission or (if we were pulling our pop-up camper) via a Ford F-100 pickup truck that included a state of the art three-on-the-collar transmission.
I think we were kind of like the Griswold’s depicted in the 1983 movie National Lampoon’s Vacation. If you are unfamiliar with that flick it portrays a family heading out from Chicago to Los Angeles on their own summer escapade. Their ultimate goal was Wally World and along the way they encountered all kinds of difficulties such as losing their way, vandals, car problems (in their own version of the station wagon), and dead pets. The final blow was that when they finally got to Wally World it was closed. For Mr. Griswold (Chevy Chase) it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He went completely berserk, attacked the park security guard and was arrested by a S.W.A.T. team.
For us the challenges were eerily similar. For example our station wagon was prone to overheating. U.S. 41 South was a long road and thus one of the standard pieces of traveling equipment was a goodly supply of gallon jugs. Those jugs served dual purposes. They could be used to get water out of creeks to fill up the radiator or they could be used as porta-potties. Daddy was judicious about the number of stops we would make along the way and bathroom breaks were not high on his priority list. With three little boys in tow we’d never get to Florida if we had to stop every time someone had to whiz. Happily we never had to contend with one problem the Griswold’s encountered. Every time we ventured to Florida (to the best of my recollection) it was open. I’m pretty sure daddy would have gotten himself arrested had they closed the border.
The stories that came from those vacations are too numerous to count. Once while fishing off the beach at Jekyll Island my brother Alan caught a shark. Even though this was in the days before Jaws my mother was thoroughly daunted by the teeth in the mouth of that beast and so there was no swimming in the ocean for the rest of that particular holiday.
In another instance our family ventured far to the south of our usual haunts and wound up nearly to Cuba in a place known simply to us boys as "They Keys". We had our pop-up camper in tow on that journey which took, in my estimation, about half the summer to actually reach. Once there we set up camp and were immediately beset by a wind storm that, for all practical purposes blew us back to Daytona Beach. It was a short stay to say the least and I learned later from my parents that the storm was so bad it had a name. Hurricane something or other I think they said. This was, of course in the days before there was a Weather Channel.
One summer momma and daddy decided to venture north instead of south so we pulled the camper to a place called Amicalola Falls in the mountains of Georgia. Our F-100 pickup was more accustomed to the flat hayfields of Morgan County and those higher elevations had put a severe strain on the truck ever since we got past Gainesville. Upon reaching our destination there was a monstrous hill to climb in order to actually get to our assigned slot. Daddy gunned the motor and got all the way to third gear before "The Little Engine That Could" began losing steam. He downshifted to second and then to first gear and barely crawled to the top. The trip home was a relative breeze.
I must say in hindsight that our vacations of the 1960’s were much more exhilarating than those of today. Camping, fishing, playing on the sand dunes and swimming in the ocean suited us right down to the ground. Just getting to our destinations often had quite a bit of entertainment value. On balance I’ll take those days over present day trips although I am still curious about one thing.
I wonder if any cruise ships make stops at those nude beaches.