Family vacations were a given. Dad usually had a 10-day vacation every summer and the only question was where we would go for the best fishing.
For years we went to Northern Wisconsin, but then Dad decided that those lakes were “all fished out” and we began an annual trek to Northern Minnesota. Naturally a lake which still boasted lots of fish did not have a world-class hotel on its banks. Our home away from home was a rustic cabin minus indoor plumbing, running water or electricity.
Ed’s job was to fill a pail with water several times a day while my job involved cleaning the soot off the glass chimneys of kerosene lamps. We both spent endless hours marooned in a boat while Dad lured fish.
Then, one year, Dad asked if our preference would be to vacation on the East Coast or the West Coast. Excited about the prospect of no water buckets or oil lamps, Ed and I voted enthusiastically for the East Coast. By evening he announced that we would be leaving in 48 hours. It is only with the benefit of my own advancing years that I can begin to appreciate the pressure this put on Mom, but we were on the road as forecast.
There were no water buckets or oil lamps, but we did carry a tent, a cot (for Mom), a charcoal grill (also for Mom) and lots of quilts and comforters for Dad and Ed and me to curl up in. If they had sleeping bags back then, we didn’t have any on that trip.
Dad wanted to return to Virginia, specifically to Norfolk and Newport News from which he had sailed for France during World War I. Ed and I each got to pick one thing we especially wanted to see and do.
Ed picked a visit to Yorktown. He had read there was a house there which had survived the Revolutionary War with a cannon ball (British) still lodged in the eaves. There was. My pick was Mount Vernon which was still undergoing restoration, but was on a beautiful overlook of the Potomac. I don’t remember Mom’s choice, but I’d bet it was finding the shortest and fastest way home.
It was the camping trip from hell! It didn’t rain every night, but there were those nights. Try to find a sheltered place to set up a charcoal grill. Sometimes supper was thinned with rain water. Mom was particularly colorful remembering one night when we camped in Ohio. We were too close to a railroad track which must have been on an hourly schedule, and to a honky tonk where the juke box ground out “Down By the O-hi-O” as the revelers’ song of choice far into the night. Mom could hear that song for years afterward and fight down hysteria.
But I remember the trip and fondly. We were all together. I do know that my idea of roughing it includes a clean bed, a shower, a restaurant and only a reasonable proximity to wilderness.
Liz Ciancone is a retired Tribune-Star reporter.