In 1959 our parents rented a travel trailer and our family took off driving across the country from Delaware to California. The reason? Mother said, “Someday you girls will want to travel to Europe. You should experience your own country first.”
We spent days in the backseat of our red and black Buick station wagon. Daddy made a drop leaf table that hung on the back of the front seat. We could lift it and have a surface on which to color. Each day we were allowed to purchase one soda. We didn’t call them “soft drinks.” I had my first Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak near the Grand Canyon. Marilyn’s favorite was grape. We’d drop the soda bottles off for deposit at the next gas station.
We also read millions of comic books. I liked Little Lu Lu and Betty and Veronica. Marilyn was into Mad Magazine.
Each day at lunchtime we stopped, climbed in the trailer and had lunch. Cream cheese on white bread for me. I have no idea what they ate. There were mosquitos, ants, insects of all shapes and stripes. Mother often wanted to picnic outside. Daddy refused. Eating outside wasn’t his thing. There were mosquitos, ants, and bugs of all shapes and stripes, In Kansas, the flies were big, buzzy and aggressive.
Daddy wired our toy pink plastic Princess phones from the trailer to the front seat of the car. We were sometimes allowed to ride back there because we could easily communicate if we needed anything. Illegal? Yes. But I’m sure my parents got sick of our constant chatter. Marilyn and I had this silly sing-song ditty we would repeat over and over ad nauseum. First, in sad slow voices we’d chant, “School boo boo hoo!” followed by an upbeat squealing, “Flower! Ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha ha.” Can you imagine how fed up they got of hearing that for hours on end?
In those days cars weren’t air-conditioned. My parents were advised to drive the Mohave Desert at night. Marilyn and I were in the trailer the night we crossed. I was sleeping in the upper bunk overhanging the station wagon. I recall rolling myself into a small ball in an attempt to warm up. I tried calling from the pink phone, hoping they would pull over and find me an extra blanket. Theirs must have been off the hook.
Whenever my parents saw an Airstream, their dream trailer, they would yell “AIRSTREAM!” and we’d all peer out the windows.
Each night we’d be a different trailer park. Daddy had special language he used when hooking up the sewer, electricity, and water. We called it, “Under the trailer talk.” Those were the only times we heard Daddy curse. When there were no electrical hookups we lit gas mantle wall fixtures.
Some of the experiences we had traveling from East to West and back again:
Our first view of the Rocky Mountains. It was astonishing to see that majestic mountain range rise up before us. When we were finally on the peaks we stopped and made summer snowballs.
Watching fluffy black bears raid trash cans in Yellowstone Park. They looked cute and playful and it was tempting to approach them. While in Yellowstone we bumped into Newark neighbors and friends, the Browns. We had not known they were going west that same summer.
The cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde National Park and seeing Esther, the 1500-year-old mummy.
Hearst Castle at San Simeon. The views, the opulence. In every room, our guide shared amazing stories of astonishing wealth.
Floating in the Great Salt Lake. I got a terrible sunburn that day. Marilyn reminded me how floating in the lake caused stinging in places you really don’t want to sting.
The brilliant neon-lit Las Vegas Strip. We were too young to go into the casinos. Mother and Daddy gambled at slot machines we could see with our noses pressed against the windows. They would bring their winnings to us, we’d drop them into Mother’s red plaid fabric eyeglass case. They were doing well, the case was heavy with change when Daddy came out, took it and promptly lost all their winnings. That experience cured me for life of any desire to gamble.
But for Marilyn and me the real goal, the point of the trip, lay at end of those 3,000 miles. Disneyland! We set up camp in a trailer court near enough to see the Matterhorn from our little plot of California soil.
I just emailed my sister and asked how she remembered our Disneyland experience. Her reply echoes my memories.
“Walking into Disneyland was magic. Main Street USA was another world, with Cinderella’s castle right there at the end.
We had seen the construction of Disneyland on TV, probably on Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. Actually being there was a dream come true.
For kids from Delaware, making it to California was sort of unbelievable. Among other things, this was the home of the Mouseketeers!
I remember we had to “drive the desert” at night so the car wouldn’t overheat. Somewhere in the Magic Kingdom Daddy laid down on a small patch of grass and fell asleep.
Memories include the Matterhorn , the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse, and the spinning teacups. It was one of the best days of our whole childhood.”
We went again four years later. It was still wonderful, but nothing matches the magical first-time experience.