As a kid I traveled with my grandparents for vacation. My family did not vacation, maybe a family picnic, but destination vacations were NOT in our family’s schedule. On the other hand my grandparents were always on the move and included me in their travels. Granny kept track of it and by the first grade I had visited all of the lower 48 but Florida.
I am not exactly sure why my grandparents thought traveling with a small child was a good idea, but the did and made lots of memories for me. My grandmother would put together a travel kit for each vacation. I can still see the tartan plaid tote all the goodies went into. It was all planned to keep me engaged, entertained and maybe learn something along the way. Things that went into this magical bag were only used on vacations so it was that excitement of see special things and new things each trip.
Each year there was a game card for license plates. Like almost all the games it was on the cards that hose were wrapped around in the box they were sold in. Some years it was a list of all the states and Canadian provinces, that could be in alphabetical order, or admission to the union order. Once in awhile it was even a map with no state names. It was before photocopy so it would mean Granny would draw the US with all the states on the card.
I had a magic whiteboard about the size of a piece of legal paper. It was drawn on with special crayons, that I would be able to rub off. There are two memories that stick out in my mind about that whiteboard because I used it to communicate with other drivers. I would often write honk your horn and hold it up in the window to other drivers. We must have been tooted at more than any other car. Once a group of nuns were following us. The nuns and I carried on a conversation for miles using my magic whiteboard and paper they had in their car. Don’t think about safe driving distance or the fact there were no seat belts in the car as I was doing all of this.
My bag was full of maps. My Gomper (Grandpa to the rest of you) had studied them before he left and Granny was the designated navigator. Yet I too was expected to follow us along on the map. Gomper would ask me what’s the the next town? How many towns till we get there? We turn of on route 78, what is the town just before our next turn? It is still the way I navigate, by towns.
There was a little notebook that I was to write in each day. I would give a small mint to read about the world from the perspective of a child and what I recorded in those books. When I was very small I would dictate my daily notes to Granny, who I assumed was faithfully writing it all down and not actually jotting grocery lists.
There was a collection of hose cards with the alphabet faithfully printed on them. These were for all sorts of games involving the the alphabet, some of them competitive between my Granny, Gomper and me. It was the days before Lady Bird Johnson cleaned up the highways from signs and we would see who could first find all the letters of the alphabet in roadside signs, motor court motel names, or anything else she came up with as possible.
There were travel bingo cars. They were a collection of commercially made cards with themes of what you were looking for. I think we had three of the sets. One with signs, one with numbers that you found on license plate, one with vehicles of all sorts , and one with objects like windmills, pigs, barbershops and the like. This last card would likely be pointless on today’s modern interstate system. Each of us had a card and Granny ran Gomper’s card as he was the driver.
Then there were the memory games that we played and went on forever. They were of the nature of my father owned a grocery store and in it he owned….. You worked your way through the alphabet and each person had to repeat all the previous items. We would do all sorts of things hardware store, farm, church and we did not let you have bananas in church so you needed to be listening and thinking about what you might have for that letter. I wonder if that is where I get my good memory from.
All of you know that I could not carry a tune to save my soul if you had a gun to my head. My grandparents on the other hand could sing wonderfully. We would sign songs in the car; the only time in my life that I have ever been encouraged to sing out loud. I think most of our songs were somewhat religious in nature (I suppose that was the minister who was driving that made that happen). I remember this little light of mine, found a peanut, and of course Jesus loves me. We would also sing in round which I only remember a few of those row row row your boat, three blind mice, allouette, and Frère Jacques. That was the only French I ever spoke or sang.
Lastly there was a new collection of activity books. They were full of dot to dot, mazes, find differences and color pages. Most of this went unused as I was a car sick girl who never got better with time. There were hundreds of “Gomper Stop the Car!” moments in my life. I have barfed along more roads than any little girl should have. I traveled most of the time hanging over the seat between Gomper and Granny looking forward. If this did not do the trick I stood in the on the floor in the front with my face in the AC vent right where the front window met the side window with Granny gently stroking my hair, looking forward breathing slow and deep. (Another of those OMG moments when I think about what if he had had to stop suddenly).
When we traveled recently for vacation these memories all flooded back. It took Granny lots of time to plan to to not have a bored child in a car for often over ten hours a day. That planning gave us all time together in ways the regular life did not allow. It made for special bonds and special memories of places and people. I was one lucky little girl growing up. Today when folks travel with children it is with portable video, iPods, iPads and when kid travel with their heads down. They have no idea where they have been or the changes that have passed them by. To me, who has no children, it seems sad that they have done exactly the same kind of thing they could have done for the travel time as though they had never left home. In fact at home you would not have likely let them watch videos nonstop for eight hours. Maybe Granny and Gomper’s travel method would not work for hours on end with today’s children, but a few hours of it might be nice on your next vacation. You might be making memories you will never know about until years later.