Just the other day at a stop light, I came to a halt next to a mini-van with four kids in it.  One of them was on a cell phone, another was playing a video game, the third was listening to an IPod, and the final child was watching her own personal DVD player.

There was so much electronic activity going on over there, it was like I had pulled up next to NASA’s mobile command center.  I kept waiting for a flatbed truck loaded with a big missile to arrive.

Let’s face it.  When it comes to traveling, modern children have it made.  They have no idea of the tortures that their parents and grandparents had to endure as childhood travelers back in the olden days when conditions were not as posh.

For one thing, cars were much larger then, but parents made up for that extra space by having eight or ten kids ride along on every trip.  These youngsters could either be homegrown progeny, or they could be handy loaners from the neighbors.  Child volume was the goal, not child ownership.

Seat belts had not come into common usage, except when your mother leaned over the seat and belted you, so most adults subscribed to the tight pack method for transporting small fry, which involved cramming as many youngsters as possible into the back seat of a four-door sedan.

That way, if there was a wreck, the kids were wedged in so tightly that they couldn’t get hurt.  At least one dog and sometimes several were used to stabilize the cargo, and nooks and crannies were tamped with egg salad sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper, a material that homemakers once used to transport food that they did not want to keep fresh.  The load was topped off by a big Tupperware container of Kool-Aid that Mom had once again forgotten to sweeten.

The baby—and since this was the Baby Boom, there was always a baby—got scotched up onto the back dash for extra safety.  You just had to remember to turn him from time-to-time, so he wouldn’t get too brown on one side.

I mentioned egg salad because in my family, that was the road food of choice.  In your car, it may have been canned tuna or olive loaf.  But whatever it was, federal law dictated that it had to be heavy on the mayo, so that it would be sure to turn brown after five hours or so in the back of a sedan with no air conditioning.

Road food was always brought from home because every dad on the face of the North American continent was excessively frugal, due no doubt to the fact that he was trying to feed multiple children on a $48.00 per week salary.

Also, he had to make time and couldn’t be hampered by details such as stopping to eat or go to the bathroom.  The reason he had to make time was so he could get there, wherever there was, because the sooner he got there, the sooner he could come home.

Sometimes, new parents or bad planners would run out of road food, an offense which would necessitate a visit to that most wondrous of highway oases, the truck stop.  The conventional wisdom was that since the truckers were the professionals of the open road, they always knew the best places to eat.  You can’t prove that theory by me, but I will say that everything on the menu tasted better than sour Kool-Aid and warm egg salad.

Incidentally, modern youngsters are for the most part unacquainted with cars that are not air conditioned.  They weren’t that bad, actually, except for the occasional insect, rock, or small bird that got sucked into one of the four open windows as the family was tooling down a two-lane highway at sixty miles per hour.  Car interiors were much cleaner back then, as well, since anything weighing less than ten pounds that was not mounted on or tied to the car would eventually be swept out of those same windows.

And of course, I am referring to travel that occurred back before cigarettes were known to be bad for you, long prior to the discovery of the harmful effects of second-hand smoke.  So most times the interior of the family car resembled the skies over Chicago during the great fire of 1871.

With the exception of making time, which is a genetic requirement for all men who have fathered children, almost nothing about modern travel resembles the picture I have just painted.  These days, there are several expressions that might apply to ten kids with full bladders riding unharnessed in un-air conditioned cars while holding their breath and munching warm egg salad.  These include reckless endangerment, child neglect, and marginal parental interface.

But back in the good old days, we just thought we were going for a ride.

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Raymond L. Atkins

Raymond L. Atkins

Raymond L. Atkins resides in Rome, Georgia. His stories have been published in Christmas Stories from Georgia, The Lavender Mountain Anthology, The Blood and Fire Review, The Old Red Kimono, Long Island Woman, and Savannah Magazine. His humorous column —"South of the Etowah" — appears in The Rome News-Tribune. His industrial maintenance column — "The Fundamentals" — appears in Maintenance Technology Magazine. His humorous column — "And So It Goes" — appears in Memphis Downtowner Magazine. His first novel, "The Front Porch Prophet," was published by Medallion Press in June of 2008 to critical acclaim and earned the 2009 Georgia Author of the Year Award for First Novel. His second novel, "Sorrow Wood," was released in June 2009 by Medallion Press and has been nominated for the 2010 Georgia Author of the Year Award for Fiction. Both are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine booksellers. His third novel, "Camp Redemption," will be released in August, 2011.

12 Comments
  1. Kate McNally

    LOL, you’ve brought back memories! I always had to sit in the middle, between brothers who thought the windows were theirs exclusively and who defended the view through them with veryvery sharp elbows. Sigh… it was a LOOONG way from Atlanta to St. Simons. I now teach English to adults in Europe, and I’ve discovered that the phrase “don’t make me come over there!” is understood by former children from all over the world.

    Are we there yet?

  2. I also so enjoyed your article. It reminded me of my boyhood and yearly summer trips in 40’s and 50’s from Summerville, SC all the way to southern Pennsylvania to visit grandparents. No interstates, no air conditioning, windows all open. Big Brother giving me knoogies all the way. Did anyone else play cow poker? One side of the car v. the other – my brother and Dad v. Mom and I. Cemetery took away all the cows – a white horse doubled the cows. Tourist homes in Virginia were slowly replaced by single dwelling tourist cabins which were later replaced by motels. During the polio scare in the late forties we didn’t stop – drove all the way through the night. These memories were relived in the 70’s and 80’s traveling yearly from Atlanta to Nags Head with wife and two little boys. Around Greenville “are we there yet?” always came from the back seat. From the front seat to the back – “I’ll give the first one to see The Big Peach a quarter.” This only got us through Gaffney. Thanks, Raymond – great memories all.

  3. Melinda Ennis

    Seriously funny and memory- evoking Raymond. My two brothers and I still have mental scars from the torturous 2-day summer vacation drives from our house in Richmond Va. to the the grandparents in Memphis. In the wind tunnel that was the backseat, the three of us would fight for our sleeping positions, always kicking my poor youngest brother to the “hump” in the floor. Meanwhile, my other brother and I would have foot fights to assume the best position on the bench seat. We would claim our turf and then scream to our smoking parents in the front that “he touched me” or “she got over on my side.” My poor little brother would try to use pillows on either side of the hump to even it out and probably ended up with a permanent curve in his back. Situating myself on my back on my own small portion of the hot vinyl (usually with my head hanging off the side of the bench), I would count telephone poles and constantly move to keep myself from sticking to the seat. Carsickness was a feature of all trips (my mother kept grocery bags on hand just for that purpose). Then there were the other bodily function incidents that were an issue in the day when there wasn’t a clean McDonald’s bathroom at every exit. My mother once told my little brother to pee in a jar as we sped down the highway. We all watched in horror as within seconds his pent-up supply began to reach the top of the jar. My mother yelled “stop”! My poor little brother wailed “I can’t.” Needless to say, my father was at last forced to stop the car.
    BTW—our road food box also included canned deviled ham and everyone’s favorite, vienna sausages.

  4. Darby Britto

    My parents drove my three cousins from Connecticut back to Georgia with us one summer. The four of us sang “A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall” for most of the two day trip. I believe this is the real reason my parents became hard of hearing late in life.

  5. Amen to all that. However, in those bad old days, we were communicating face to face, learning to get along, learning to respect our parents’ authority. We were also aware of our surroundings, counting cows, watching for landmarks and learning something about the geography of the states we traveled in. Today’s kids sometimes seem to be loners, playing games, watching TV or videos and eschewing face-to-face friendships.

    1. Ms. Willis the two lane roads help keep us aware of our surroundings and a couple of the things not mentioned was all the Stucky’s and the Burma shave signs we passed and once you crossed the Florida line going south an alligator farm was every 10 miles or so and a sign advertising the farm every mile between. As you say it was the family time that we most remember and long for.

  6. Ray…I love reading all you write! I was not one of the kids in the back seat but was the Mom on the passenger side in front! One sentence: “The absolute worse thing about raising children is traveling with them in a car and hearing over and over, ‘how much longer will it be.”

  7. Mandy Richburg Rivers

    Oh, Ray, I’m in stitches. You just described every family vacation I ever had as a child. Funny, funny stuff. Thanks for sharing!

  8. You didn’t mention “carsickness,” as we called it, not “motion sickness.” Or luggage flying off the top. Or getting lost in Orlando, where we could see where we wanted to be but Dad couldn’t find the exit. My 7 year old brother said, “we could cut a trail.”

  9. Mike Cox

    Another vote for vienna sausage and potted meat sandwiches. And the phrase “Don’t make me stop this car”.

  10. Terri Evans

    Hilarious. As the youngest, I was always forced to the floorboard, or worse – up front, between my parents! The floorboard was preferred although I’m now sway back thanks to the hump on the floor. This is not nearly as bad as the brain damage that ensued from breathing floorboard fumes. Mike’s reference to “don’t make me stop this car” rang as a familiar threat, only my Dad actually meant it as well for bathroom breaks! Then, of course, there was the time that we had a little sunroof in the top of the car and my (then) 13-year old brother had the seriously misguided idea that it would be funny to flip off a small town South Carolina policeman as we sailed by. No questions asked, Dad DID have to stop the car.

  11. Don’t even know where to start! You’re hysterical, Raymond! I have a few shorts to add to everyone else’s stroll…

    In 1966 we rode all the way from Atlanta to Miami in a VW beetle (no airco, of course). Dad and one kid in front, two kids in the back seat, me in the “way-back,” that little nook over the engine, pressed against the back window. Cozy! (You guys got food on your road trips?)

    Sixty miles an hour? Only sixty on a two-lane? Back in the day there were no speed limits. At least none as far as my grandmother was concerned. She drove the Pontiac over 100 miles an hour from one state to another, casually gabbing with her pal, while my brother and I clasped hands and didn’t dare blink for fear of missing something before dying.

    My four-year old grandson just told me that my car is no good.
    “Why not?”
    “No movies.”
    This from a boy who lives most of the year in Costa Rica and rides a horse to school.

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