COLUMN: Back on the road, back to summer car trips | Columns

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It’s summer, which means families are preparing to return to that most time-honored ritual, family vacations.

After more than a year of COVID-19 lockdown, about half of all Americans plan to take a vacation this summer, down 18 points from pre-pandemic figures for 2019.

Most of these trips will take place by September. The average US travel budget has fallen from $ 2,373 in 2019 to $ 2,319 this year.

I seriously doubt that my father, who was, shall we say, thrifty, would have found that kind of money for a summer trip. Luckily, that was back when a gallon of gas cost about 35 cents a gallon and motel rooms were … well, back then they didn’t call it Motel 6 for nothing.

So when the weather gets warmer and the days get longer, I can always count on a long family trip.

We always went to the same place: my father’s family home in southern Minnesota. There were no theme parks or resorts on our agenda. No sir, if it was the holidays we were heading to the land of 10,000 lakes (and mosquitoes the size of little birds).

In June or July, my dad would wash the car, check the tires, change the oil and put away the fishing gear, while mum would take out the suitcases and start packing.

During this process, dad was still whistling. He loved to come home to visit family and friends. Why wouldn’t he do it? He was able to do the three things he loved most: eat, sleep, and fish (and if he had to, he would gladly have given up on the first two).

I was with him. It was a good life for a child. I was able to play in the huge barnyard with my cousins, I was able to go fishing, I could sleep as late as I wanted.

My mother always complained about her chores before the holidays. I never understood why. I mean, besides the fact that she had to continue to cook, clean and do the laundry, while being surrounded by her husband’s relatives (with whom she didn’t necessarily always get along), while also struggling with horrible nasal allergies exacerbated by all the rural flora and fauna, what not to like?

When the early morning arrived, as the first rays of dawn began to appear on the horizon, we took charge of loading and hitting the road.

And we drove and drove and drove. Nothing got us off the road. Not a restless child with a full bladder, not a cranky child with an empty stomach. Only two things caused my dad to interrupt his relentless pursuit of vacation happiness: an empty gas tank or my mom saying, “It’s time to stop. When my mom said it was time to quit, we stopped.

So we stopped at the nearest Nickerson or Stuckey Farms for a pot break, a refueling, a nutritious lunch of chicken in a basket, and a quick visit to the gift shop offering valuables such as porcelain figurines, a souvenir scraper. and pecan rolls.

During the long stretches when the miles melted under the whitewall tires of the huge gas guzzler my dad was driving at the time, I must have had fun.

There were no pull-down televisions and DVD players, no portable video games, no iPods, no smartphones. I only had AM radio, the buzz of my parents’ conversation and my imagination.

So I counted the telephone poles, out loud (until my dad told me he’s had enough). I tried to spot as many license plates from different states as possible. I looked longingly at passing attractions such as Storybook Gardens in Wisconsin Dells, Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wis., Or Muffler Man and Bessie the Cow in Libertyville, Illinois, or maybe Niagara Cave in Harmony, Minn. ., or the Jolly Green. Giant statue in Blue Earth, Minn. They were, in fact, passing attractions. We have all passed them. They weren’t on our agenda.

These were great days, lying on your back, scorching in the sunlight coming through the rear windshield, trying to decide if that puffy cloud above me looked like a doggie or Abraham Lincoln.

Finally we arrived, with warm greetings and hugs all around, happy to be there but somehow a little richer for the time spent locked in that big old car.

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Mullin is an award-winning writer and columnist who retired in 2017 after 41 years with News & Eagle. Email him at [email protected] or write to Enid News & Eagle care at PO Box 1192, Enid, OK, 73702.

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