Lying on the deck behind the backseat and staring upward through the rear glass of a Buick gave a kid the perfect view of the sky and clouds. A cloud could look like a bear one moment, and a crocodile the next.
Family road trips of the 1960s and 70s obviously did not have safety at the forefront, but boy, were the car rides memorable.
No family I knew had enough money to ride in airplanes to their destination. So we, and all of our relatives and friends, took the family car to Carlsbad Caverns, Dodge City, Kansas, DisneyWorld, or wherever else our brood was going that year.
Deck sailing (what I called lying behind the backseat ) was just one of a handful of options available to a child to pass the time on a family summer vacation. Others included standing on the hump behind the front seat and peering between your parents, through the windshield, and over the long white hood of the 1960 Le Sabre; reading comic books, drawing, or showing your artistic prowess on an Etch A Sketch.
Fifty years ago, cars were built to comfortably accommodate large families. You could easily put a family of six in the average sedan and still have room leftover inside for a Volkswagen Beetle.
On the longest road trips, sitting in the backseat and staring out the window was the least exciting option. My dad would tell my sister and me to ‘count the cows,’ but that lost its luster faster than just about anything else on a long drive.
After you had exhausted all of the other possibilities, there was always the enjoyable leg of the trip spent trying to defend yourself to your parents when your sibling screamed, “He touched me!” “He’s messing with me!” Or “He’s looking at me!”
My family never owned a station wagon, but my grandmother and some of my friends’ families did. I always thought that station wagons were the perfect vehicle for taking trips. You could put four to eight adults in the front and back seat, and then stack children on top of each other in the back by the swing out door.
The nicer station wagons had a big, electric window in the back door. Most people today would be mortified to have witnessed this, but it was quite common to see a Ford Country Squire barreling down a two-lane highway with six kids hanging out of the open, back window.
Flailing our arms and waving at everyone we passed was another way to occupy ourselves as we continued on to our destination.
Reading barn roofs was another way to pass the time. “Visit Jesse James Hideout – Meramec Caverns, U.S. 66, Stanton, Mo.” was painted on the tops of many a farmer’s barn as a means of advertising a tourist stop. It was not uncommon to see dozens of them. Today, spotting one is a rare treat.
Singing was also a trip option for kids in a car. “Puff The Magic Dragon” was the one most often kicked off by my father as he steered and tried to engage us. As we got older, sometimes the singalong songs were current hits that emanated from the AM radio in the dash, and its two speakers; one in the dash and the other in the back deck where we would take turns deck sailing.
Coloring books were another opportunity to fend off road trip boredom. On one particular trip, my parents gave me a “Jungle Book” traceable edition. In between each page of images of Mowgli and Baloo, there were pieces of onion skin paper. This allowed me to trace the images with a pencil before I colored the paper pages with my 64-count box of Crayola Crayons.
Riding down the road, I would go through some colors faster than others. Green went rapidly because of coloring the grass, and blue went fast from coloring the sky. I would peel back the paper from each crayon and sharpen it in the back of the Crayola box, then continue on.
You just had to remember not to leave your crayons in the car, lest 64 colors became one melted blob.
Each activity would always be interspersed with, “Are we there, yet?”
Kids now have iPods, cellphones, and other isolating distractions for when they travel.
That’s all well and good, but but I’d never trade any of those for the memories of singing “Puff The Magic Dragon” with my dad.
©2017 John Moore
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