Most of our vacations were “trips around the lakes,” as Grandma Sophie called them. We packed Poppa, Grandma Sophie, Aunt Minnie (namesake of our labradoodle), Grandma Ida, and me into the 1961 Rambler, very tight. Grandma Sophie and Minnie killed time singing Broadway show tunes from the 1940’s. I got to be jammed between Grandma Ida and Aunt Minnie in the narrow back seat, and off we went.
We almost never stopped to eat in a restaurant, because it was too expensive and Grandma Ida hated restaurants. Instead, we took along a huge ice chest, stopped at a roadside picnic area, and ate staples like tuna, salami, tuna, salami, tuna . . . It was a mega-treat to go to Howard Johnson for breakfast, until Grandma Ida started grousing that the eggs, she said, tasted like “sage.” The funny thing was that I bet that she’d never even seen sage any time in her life! Sometimes Poppa got so hacked off that he asked for the check and we left in the middle of the meal.
One time we were crammed in the Rambler and a bolt broke off in the differential, which kills the car’s transmission, as in “you can’t drive anywhere.” It was Easter Sunday in Terre Haute, Indiana, and no one kept their mechanic shop open. So, they towed the Rambler to the only motel in town, and we stayed there for three days until we got the car fixed — all five of us in one room, no food left in the cooler. So, my parents acquiesced to taking us for fried chicken. Beside Grandma Ida moaning, all I remember was this really fat kid who chowed down on a bucket of fried chicken, then ordered two scoops of chocolate ice cream for dessert, and doused them with honey. So damned envious..
“Around the lakes” meant driving around the shore of Lake Michigan or Lake Superior. Thinking back, those were pretty neat places, but I was the only kid jammed in among four old adults , singing show tunes. This was no blast because no other kids were around. The neatest place was the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Poppa knew the area well, because he was stationed there in the Army, during WWII. But, things were still so boring that the greatest feature of the trip was Poppa teaching me how to skip stones on the surface of Lake Superior.
Occasionally we’d stay at a motel that had a big sign that read “No Food in Rooms!” Nonetheless, the family would parade into the room carrying in the big old ice chest. I was so afraid that we’d get nailed. But, it never happened. So, as usual, we opened the cans of tuna, ate sitting on the beds and watching Lawrence Welk, a musical show for old people.
Looking back, I realize that we did these “economy trips” because we were poor, although I didn’t feel like it at the time. Also, I think that Grandma Sophie genuinely liked them because it took very little to please her, and because she was basically a very happy person. She was in love with the world and the nature of whatever God created.
WILUDI, Marc Howard Wilson, is a retired rabbi who writes from Greenville, SC. Write him at email@example.com.