On the Way to Summer

Like many Americans, my happiest memories of summer are of family camping trips. But while Dad loved fishing from a shady riverbank and Mom enjoyed reading in a folding chaise, my favorite part was just getting to wherever they'd planned for us to spend those lovely two weeks each year...

The best year was during my ninth summer. There were five of us that trip. My parents, of course, and my older brother who was 16. We also took my 15 year-old future foster sister who had come from Texarkana to spend the summer with us. My dad had a Volkswagen camper van that he'd outfitted with a dinette, an icebox, and, most important to the three of us, speakers hooked up in back so that we could listen to the AM radio.

We went to the Redwoods that year, a drive up the California coast that took two full days. Along the way we played Rummy 500, drank Shasta sodas, snacked on fresh fruit that Mom bought at a roadside stand, and listened to songs like Hit The Road, Jack by Ray Charles and The Wanderer by Dion. We were never a family that argued or fought, so the van was full of laughter and excitement. And, frequently, that one thing that dads and brothers are famous for on long trips in the family car...

The back of the van felt so cozy to me. I loved how compact and efficient every square inch was and how I could sit at a table while riding along the Pacific Coast Highway, a living room on wheels. It was all rather new back then, remember. There was no air conditioning, no movies, no cell phones, no laptops. Just the family, the fun, and the long road ahead. We always carried a first-aid kit that included Dramamine, Band-Aids, Bactine, insect repellent, and a spray-on sunburn relief along with the usual precautions against fainting, cuts, bee sting, and snake bite. As I recall, I used the Dramamine and spray the most.

My mom always complained that camping was no vacation for her because she had to do the same things she did at home, only the hard way. But even she enjoyed the getting there while she played co-pilot to my dad, helping him to navigate using a Rand-McNally's rather than a GPS. That was the year we discovered Presto Logs, Second Skin, and Bacon Thins, and it was the year we discovered how much fun we could have cooped up in a VW, on our way to summer.