The Family Vacation
Written by Jim Bartlett on July 18, 2015
When I was growing up, we were took a vacation almost every summer, at least for a few days.
The first vacation I can remember must have been in the late ’60s or maybe 1970. We visited Mark Twain’s hometown, Hannibal, Missouri, where my mother bought a copy of Tom Sawyer. The sole memory I retain of that trip is of my brother and I lying in our motel bed each night while Mom read a chapter to us. The first trip I can date was in 1971. We went to Detroit to tour the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, and I can remember wanting to listen to the local radio stations, because at the tender age of 11 was already obsessed with radio. We went to Mackinac Island one year, and another year, we went to the Black Hills of South Dakota. That may have been the year our car broke down on the way home, or maybe not. As I have shared vacation memories with my family over the years, I’ve found that the dates and the places blend together, and I can no longer keep them all straight.
I do remember that the last family vacation all five of us we took together was in 1977, although I’ve forgotten where we went. That August, I was a sullen 17-year-old about to enter his senior year in high school, and I did not want to be on the trip one bit, because my girlfriend has just returned from a month in Europe only days before we left. I am guessing that my parents made me go because I had quit my summer job not long before, and they didn’t want me hanging around the house at loose ends by myself, particularly if my girlfriend was no longer safely across the Atlantic. So I got dragged along, and one afternoon on the way home, while listening to a Cubs game on the radio, we heard that Elvis Presley had died.
I realized only years later how fortunate we were to take extended family vacations at all. My father was a dairy farmer, with cows that needed to be milked twice a day every day, 365 days a year. It’s not easy to find somebody to milk cows for you, since most people who are capable of milking cows, or who want to milk cows, have cows of their own. Lots of dairy-farm families never got to take the sort of trips we took.