I just got back from a driving vacation through several states and national parks. Along the way, there was lots of time to think about our family vacations of yesteryear, specifically, when baby boomers were youngsters. How different they were. How did families survive in the days before mini vans and SUVs? What did kids do without iPads, tablets, DVD players and energy drinks? That got me thinking about the games our mothers created … counting cows or horses along the way; finding items in an alphabetic or numerical order, guessing when we might get to the next waypoint, etc. My most fun was trying to hold my breath as my dad drove through the tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I don’t think I ever made it through one without having to gasp before we got to the other side.
Remember when the entire family got into the car, hopefully a station wagon, and drove off in search of adventure? Families were larger, with three to five kids being typical. Cars seldom had air conditioning and only roll up windows. There were no seat belts, and car interiors were principally metal, with lots of sharp edges. If your family was lucky enough to have a station wagon, kids had the option to crawl over the back seat to occupy the “way back,” where they might spread out and play games. Entertainment was whatever reception the driver could pick up on the car’s AM radio. Depending on where your family was driving, the “sounds” might be really unique.
Bench seats allowed for three (or four kids) to sit alongside each other (without seatbelts) in both the front and back seats. If you got tired, you could lay down on the back seat’s floor until the “hump” that ran down the center of the car (for the drive train) got too uncomfortable.
If it got hot, your parents would roll down the car’s windows so that you’d get air (albeit hot air) circulating through the car. When it rained, the windows would stay rolled up, and the car’s interior became sauna-like. If your brothers or sisters hadn’t bathed, everybody suffered.
There were few national maps. When your dad (or mom, in the case that she was the driver) stopped for gas, an attendant would fill up the car with gas, check your oil, and clean the windshield. You could go into the gas station to get a soft drink or a candy bar, and you’d definitely need to get a road map, especially when you crossed a state line, and the state map you were using stopped. Very seldom did your family have reservations along the way, so you might have to stop multiple times to find a hotel that didn’t have a no vacancy sign hanging or illuminated. When you found an available hotel, the entire family would sleep in the same room, hopefully with two beds and a few cots, after swimming in the motel pool.
It was so much fun.
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