Back in 1975, my Dad worked for a small plastic injection company. The owner , Mel, was a real penny pincher from way back. Our Dad said, He would pay his electric just before it was to be disconnected so he could keep his money as long as possible. And, He was known to break pencils in half rather than give anyone a whole one. He was an odd, RICH man.
Mel, had a mini-motorhome. He wanted to trade it in on a newer larger unit but He said the Dealer ships were hesitant to trade it as the miles were too low on it. Our Dad had been planning a family vacation, and wanted to take us all out west to see the Badlands, Mt Rushmore, Rapid City, etc. So, after a lot of coaxing from Mel , Dad finally agreed to take the mini motorhome on our trip out west.
Early one summer morning, with the mini motor home loaded up with our clothes, light groceries and a few essentials, four kids and two parents we embarked upon the journey. My Dad was 39 that year, Mom was 33… Older Brother Stan was 14, I was 13, brother Bryan was 10 and the baby of our tribe Jimmy was 5.
Let me begin, first by explaining that when it comes to men, you won’t find a better man, more intelligent , with super common sense, honest, steel blue and blade straight than my Dad.
He does however have the faintest little sin. He can cuss like a blacksmith when he’s frustrated or angry. They are only words to him…..its what he does when he is fed up with the set up. When he’s fighting time or animals. He never calls people these names, I have NEVER known him to belittle anyone, and He doesn’t beat on people or animals….In fact the older I get the funnier the moments seem sometimes when I look back on them now.
I will confess, as a child that it would scare me, I would get all nerved up and pray for bedtime because that was the time everything was ok. In my child like mind, I thought if Dad was THAT upset surely the sky was going to crack open and fall down, or something equally serious was about to happen. With years comes wisdom and knowledge, and with years I have learned that not only was this Dads way of dealing with things, but all four of us kids would come to “deal” with things that same way as adults ourselves.
We are somewhat proud of it actually, like it was right of passage or something . And if this is our biggest sin, well then bully for us in a world gone mad.
Dad gave us children the quick run down of the motorhome and how we needed to be very careful with it as it wasn’t ours, and what a privilege it was to be able to travel is something so wonderful. The gas mileage of course really was atrocious. And gas was pretty expensive that summer. We heard him talking, we saw his lips moving , we even nodded in agreement, but we were kids, country kids going to the big city.
So the trip began, and we weren’t 6 miles down the road, the boys got to scuffling around and busted the gold plexi-glass that separated the kitchen sink from the couch. DAD WAS SLIGHTLY IRRITATED BUT KEPT DRIVING.
We traveled during the days, parked in KOA camps at night, used bathhouses, and explored everything and anything whenever Dad would stop.
A trip out west from Lower Michigan is a bit of a haul. With four kids on board, we colored, read comics, fought, and ask a million times “Are we there yet”. Our oldest brother Stan, was the ring leader of our circus. He loved to have fun in quiet ways, and so one morning early, while we were all stretched out in the sleeper over the drivers cabin He came up with a brilliant plan.
He ripped the back cover off of one of our coloring books, with red crayon he wrote “HONK IF YOU ARE FROM MICHIGAN. My part in HIS brilliant plan was to put it in the back window so people could see it. I jumped down , went to very back of the motor home to the bathroom, lifted the blind, placed the “poster” in the bathroom window using a band Aid for tape and put the blind back down.
Us kids would count as the cars would pass and honk…there weren’t that many trust me. What’s funny about this story is…. if you could have seen it through the eyes of the man driving the motor home.
As per most kids, as time passed we forgot about our funny little prank. Now and then We heard Dad saying things to Mom like:
“What the hell is wrong with people, why are they honking. Do you think we are dragging something? Maybe we have a low tire, or He would even comment and say things like
” Look kids that cars from Michigan too”. This went on the entire day. Every now and then Dad would pull the vehicle over, get out and walk around the motor home checking tires, looking underneath it. We were kids. We had already forgotten what we had put in the window. We thought there was really something wrong with the motorhome and we would have to go home and not be able finish the trip.
We were just as concerned and worried as Dad was. Every few hours He would pull off again and check out the vehicle again to no avail. Late into the afternoon, we stopped for gas and to get a few things that Mom could cook at the KOA camp once we checked in a few hours up the road. Dad was pumping gas. Us four kids were above the driver cabin talking and reading books, rolling around and fighting over silly , small things.
All the sudden the back door of the motor home opened up instead of his drivers door. Cussing as he climbed the metal steps Dad went to the bathroom, pulled up the blind, and ripped the sign out of the bathroom window. He told us kids that every time he heard someone honking he thought something was wrong with the vehicle and ask us why we didn’t tell him about the sign. We just stared at him. We were kids…….. we forgot it ten minutes after we did it.
DAD WAS SLIGHTLY IRRITATED BUT KEPT DRIVING.
Through the years, Dad would tell this story to others, or just be remising about it at the supper table and we all would laugh.
As we travel along, there were always signs that said, “Wall Drugs 1300 miles, visit Wall Drug South Dakota. We kept asking Dad what is this place called Wall Drugs and he would just say “you will see when we get there”. And we did.
It was here, that I got my absolute first pair of Levis’ . I had never heard of them prior to this. I was 13. Dad told us kids he was buying us all a pair of jeans, and that we should take a few pairs into a changing room and try them on . To this day, I can still feel the way they felt, new and dark, crisp, with shiny silver rivets and the infamous red tag . They fit me like they were made for me. I loved those jeans, and I wore them for years and years. When I married I still had them.
Also, that day, my Dad was buying one of my brothers a pocket knife and told me I should pick out a turquoise ring. Talk about a spoiling. Us four kids were LOVING Wall Drugs in South Dakota.
I chose a ring that looked similar to a class ring. I wore that ring and never took it off. At my wedding I wore it, during the birth of our three children I wore it, and I still have it today and though I don’t wear it much, it is one of my most prized possessions. It is from the “Fred Harvey Era Collection” and has thunderbirds imprinted on both sides and a perfectly square turquoise stone on top. It cost the same as my age then…I remember. 13.00. Today I found it on ebay and it is a collector’s piece and values for around 96.00.
We had lots of fun on that trip. On January 12, 1985 our old farmhouse caught fire and burned completely to the ground. Along with other memorabilia were the photos from this trip. Sadly, lost forever, but In my mind I still the pictures we took.
We stopped at the BADLANDS. Where my Dad told us kids to stay up on the trail but he wondered way down in between all the curves and twists that the boulders made. Always looking for some ancient treasure. There was Dad way down at the bottom, holding a Styrofoam cup of coffee up in the air as if to say “cheers” . I snapped that photo. Later, we read signs all along the route that specifically stated NOT to cross the rail and to stray on the path due to rattle snakes were everywhere.
We traveled to Mount Rushmore. Dad talked about the history of it all off and on all the way out west. We were all so excited to be able to see it in person. On the morning we arrived so did about 400 bikers. Dad wasn’t comfortable with the amount of people there, and they had taken up the whole parking lot. There was some sort of fighting going on amongst we had to view Mount Rushmore from the motorhome windows and we moved on down the road.
We stopped at CRAZY HORSE in the Black Hill’s, of Custer Country, South Dakota. It is a Memorial on a mountain still under private construction. It is supposed to depict “Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota Warrior, riding a horse pointing into the distance. A man named Korczak Ziolkowski began the work in 1948. When it is complete, it will be the largest mountain carving in South Dakota and the world. It is an awesome sight to behold, emerging from the granite and iron is the likeness of a legendary leader, Crazy Horse is said to be pointing towards a dream of commitment, a fervent legacy and proud future.
This stop was a blast for us four farm kids from Michigan. We were able to get out and walk, explore and see movies on how the man was using dynamite to blast the monstrous rock formations.
We traveled through and around mountains that Mom claimed you could go around with the front of the motorhome and see your tail end coming around as you made the turn. She did not like the mountains at all, and at one point she laid down in the isle of the motorhome so she couldn’t see where Dad was driving.
One tunnel we went through was sooo tight, that even with a MINI motorhome Dad was afraid we wouldn’t clear and He sure didn’t want to scratch up Mel’s vehicle. So, Stan got out and climbed up the ladder on the back of the unit, and rode that way through the tunnel. I stuck my head out the bathroom window and repeated to Dad whatever Stan said……..hold it, slow, slow, to the left, back to the right…. total redneck thing to do, but the memories of it all are SOLID GOLD.
One of our last nights out west, at a KOA camp, a storm came rolling in fast and hard. Lightning, lots of thunder and wind……our motorhome bounced and rocked back and forth. We had all gone to the cement bath houses for showers. Mom and I were last. While Mom was showering, I was waiting with a towel wrapped around me and all the sudden the doors blew open and the shower curtains went up in the air and mother yelled for me to shut the doors…. when I tried to get BOTH the bath house doors closed, the wind was so fierce it stole my towel and flung me naked out the door and on to the cement apron. No one else was outside at the moment, ( I don’t think) in fact , normal smart people were tucked away safely in their motor homes.
Not us country folks, we never would let a little storm stop us……. oh my goodness today it hilarious to write about, at 13 I assure you I did not find it funny at all. I was mortified over and over every time my mother HAD to repeat the story to someone.
As a family, we took a several short trips through the years. One year up near Grayling Mich when Dad was in the National Guard and at Summer camp, we rented a cabin nearby and fished for sun fish all day and saw a log church built deep in the woods with a glass cross in the peak of the building….some fun times.
Nothing ever stands out in my mind as much as our Trip Out West as a family. My first pair of store bought Jeans…(Levi’s) and a small sterling silver/turquoise ring from my Dad….a man that I still deeply respect, and love and cherish. I am the person I am today because I tried so fervently to emulate his ways. His wisdom, His kindness towards others, His self-reliance , His honesty and the integrity he uses when dealing with people.
I am Standing Behind our Ring Leader, our older Brother Stan
Bryan, is on the left of me, Young Jim on the right and Our Dad
My Dad and I 2015