The Making And Life Of A World Traveler: Well Almost–Chapter Eight–Traveling as a Child

While the first part of my travel book was devoted to discussing travel and how to prepare for it, the second part will be devoted to my travel experiences. I decided to break it up by age brackets. I chose to do this because not only did I want to discuss and provide a narrative of my journeys, I wanted to delve a little further into the psychology of travel.

The first chapter in this part covers my travel experiences as a child. While there is no denying that travel has a marked influence on the maturation of not only a child (birth to 12) but a teenager (ages 13-19) as well. The greatest influence is during the childhood period of growth, mainly because you are a sponge and absorb everything around you. This is also the best time to have a second and even third language introduced. Even thought it can’t be denied as to its import at this time in the child’s life, he/she also has little to no say on the destinations of these travels, with the exception of maybe coercing the family to go to Disney World or other such theme parks. Is this a good thing, your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the child just does not have the maturation to be making decisions such as these? I know that I had little to no say on our travels in my childhood. So basically I was just only there for the ride.

My first experiences with travel involved the venerable old Fish Creek. During our summer breaks from school, my relatives and their families used to get together and go camping at Fish Creek Campsite. We all had our tents, camping trailers and so on. We would roast marshmallows in the fire. And every night, we would get this little cup of ice cream with either chocolate or strawberry and this cool little wooden spoon to eat it with. The chocolate one was warmed up a little so that it melted in the ice cream. Talk about heaven! I also found out that I liked girls during this time. I was always trying to impress them. Especially this little girl that had a crooked arm. I really liked her. I don’t remember her name but I do know that I crashed my bike trying to impress her one summer. I will call her “Amy” to make the storytelling a little easier. My mother never liked Amy. I think that she thought she was not good enough for me. This is the first and only time that bigotry reared its ugly head with her. I think she became a little more mellow when my father died. Maybe she felt that we were knocked down a peg or two. I will never know now, she passed away in 2020. I also remember Amy’s father getting engulfed in flames by a camping fire accident. My father had to put him out. He was running around like a maniac until my father got him to lay him down and had him roll around in the dirt. Lucky, no real damage was done. Because Amy got to stay at the campsite a little longer. I still managed to sneak a little time with her. We just rode our bikes around the campsite, banged up though from my accident. I wonder what happened to Amy. I wonder if they ever rebroke her arm and set it right when she got older? Ah, to be young and smitten with “puppy” love, LOL.

In the month and year of August 1965, my Father, Mother, Regena, Robert and myself began an epic journey with Mexico City being the final destination. My father always wanted to see two things in Mexico, one an authentic bullfight and the floating gardens of Mexico City (more for Mom’s sake). Considering the road trip would start in New York state, it was quite an undertaking for those times. Such a lengthy trip is sure to be fraught with many mishaps and this one did not disappoint. One of the stops that our family wanted to make was in Acapulco City, Mexico to view the world famous cliff divers in action. They routinely dive greater than 100 feet off the cliffs of Acapulco. It is amazing to watch. The beaches in Acapulco are also amazing. They are however are known for their treacherous currents and undertows. That is why I was in water no more than waste deep. Which for someone less than four years of age is not much water at all. But the currents caught me anyway and towed me out. Down I went under the water. I remember being very calm, I did not struggle at all. I could see the light shimmering through the water, or was it? The next thing I remember was my father working on me. He was blowing air into my little lungs and pushing on my chest. I heard my Mother sobbing in the background. Then I recall the most violent coughing and retching. These are terms I did not, of course, understand at the time. All I knew was that my chest hurt some. I also knew that it was painful to breath. I heard my Father say I was OK, then I felt my Mother smothering me with hugs and kisses. Which incidentally was the only time I remember her acting this way. I, of course, wanted nothing to do with water for some time after that. It was not until many years later that I learned how to swim. 

Yes, my Father did get to see his bullfight. He, however, absolutely hated it. My Mother also got to see her floating gardens. But she never really said if it was worth all the hype. You just could never tell with her. She could be having the time of her life and afterwards she would say it was just alright.

I want to discuss the last major trip I took with my father and that was our sojourn to Florida. My father loved pecans and he had talked incessantly about his desire to buy a pecan pie once he got into the deep south. If you know anything about the south in the 70s, you will be familiar with Stuckey’s and gator farms. And if you are a true connoisseur of southern life, you will have heard of the world famous Silver Springs. You can take Interstate 95 from New York all the way to Florida. By taking this route, you will come across a wonderful little gem known as “South of the Border”. It is a tourist trap located between North Carolina and South Carolina, hence the name. It is also where the first Stuckey’s appears. So, of course, we had to stop so Dad could get his pecan pie. This little trap has since become a must-do ritual on each of our trips going through this stretch of road. It doesn’t matter which direction you are going you have to stop at least once. If you don’t stop the travel gods will wreck havoc on your trip. Knowing my track record I don’t dare take any unnecessary risks. I have even spent the night there in one of their hotels to appease these ever hungry gods. It actually was a pretty nice hotel that had a really cool indoor pool.

Being the world travelers that we were, we also had to stop at a gator farm. Because nothing screams the deep south more than alligators. If you have ever been to one of these farms, you will truly know the meaning of the term “cheesy”. But back in the 70s, they were a big deal and also a must-do item on any travel list that involved the deep south. The final mandatory theme park that had to be visited was the aforementioned Silver Springs. They were known for their glass bottom boats. They also had gators and snakes and all sorts of exotic southern animals on display. In retrospect, most people would not even give this park the time of day, unless you are looking for hokey and cheesy entertainment. Well, I guess I haven’t outgrown my love of cheese as is evidenced by my most recent trip this summer where I went to visit Bearizona. After spending a delightful and albeit mandatory pit stop at Silver Springs, we were free to actually do what we came to Florida for in the first place and that was too spend way too much time in the sun at the beaches in Panama City. Because if we did not at least get third-degree burns, our Florida experience would not be complete. Peeling and blistering skin were worn like badges of glory when we arrived back home. Only our most worthy friends earned the right to peel a little bit of our skin off. Oh, to be awarded such an honor. We were like gods, how wonderful it was to be able to travel to Florida. Little did they know the absolute agony we suffered to bring back these badges of honor. Looking back, it is a wonder that we all did not get skin cancer. Because we made this sacred pilgrimage to the deep south several years in a row, and each time we got sunburned.

If you have read my first book or second book, you will know that my father passed away when I was quite young. Since my father’s death my mother received a portion of my father’s pension, so we were not paupers. One piece of advice given by our family of which I agreed wholeheartedly on was the purchase of our little Winnebago motorhome. It was 20 feet long and it had no A/C or generator. We did not really miss the A/C, being that the temperature during the summer was quite comfortable in Upper State New York. It allowed us to travel with the rest of our close knit family groups during the summer months. We previously owned a travel trailer. It however was too much for us to handle. I was just too young to be of much help with the hookups and I could not disconnect the hitch. So we had to rely on the other families to set us up. That is one thing my Mother hated was being dependent on anybody. The Winnebago certainly made that easier. I loved sitting in the passenger seat. It made me feel like I was the co-pilot. We were up so high you could see everywhere.

I would have to say that the purchase of our Winnebago motorhome ushered in my Golden Age of Travels. While we had several group family road trips with our RV’s, the only detail I remember from these trips that I have not already mentioned earlier was that we all had hand held radios. This made it easier to communicate in the case we got separated on the road. They were especially solicitous towards my recently widowed mother in this regard. On occasion, my brother Robert would tag along on these trips. However, the excursion that stands out the most was our trip to Cape Cod. In the early 70s, Cape Code was not all commercialized and you could find lots of areas that were only infrequently touched by human hands. There were lots of sand dunes in Cape Cod. You had to traverse these dunes before you reached the water. It was a great deal of fun doing this because they were extremely steep and fun to roll down. I would take a great deal of delight in losing my footing and rolling back down the steep dunes. This exasperated my brother to no end because for some reason he actually wanted to get to the water. I don’t know why because it was just too cold to swim, so it was more fun just playing in the sand. But we finally made it to the water, where we did the ever famous “Chevy Chase” look and then we just turned around and walked back. Where is the fun in that?

We also got to go on a ferry boat ride to Nantucket Island. This was really cool because cars could ride on the boat with us. I had never experienced this before. I remember the island being a little lame for kids because all we did was walk and go into shops. We did not have enough money to really buy cool things. But we all had to get little replica lobster traps. Though Robert had to get a real one which was a royal pain in the butt to get back to the motor home since we had to carry it with us on the ferry boat. That damn lobster trap was bigger than me. One thing I do remember doing is eating lots of lobster because they were so cheap. I felt like royalty cracking the lobster claws and tails with my nut cracker. It was really cool.

On one occasion, we went to visit my sister Tina in Alabama. We flew by plane. It was my first time on a plane, the flight attendant even gave me a wing pin. We had a great time in Alabama. My sister’s husband was named Steve. He took me on a “safari” in the swamps of Alabama where we went hunting for all kinds of monsters. He taught me how to shoot a bow and arrow. Of course, not a real one. My sister even made ceramics with our Mom and me at the military base.

I guess I had lived a sheltered life in New York. I had no concept of race relations and racial tension. I was still too young for history to be a part of my school curriculum, so I did not know about the civil rights movement or separate but equal facilities. So, when we found a laundromat in Alabama we went in it. My mother started washing our clothes like nothing was wrong. We took no note that we were the only Caucasians in there. It became obvious to us when a Caucasian woman came up to my Mother and apprised her of the situation. My Mother politely thanked her and continued washing our laundry. Before I knew it she was chatting up an elderly Black woman. We finished up by folding our laundry and left with no more fuss. I never was prouder of my Mother than at that moment. She thought the whole matter was silly. She, like myself feel that all people are equal. But, of course, I was too young at that time to put all these thoughts together in a coherent manner. It took later reflection for me to realize how important what she did was. It has been the foundation of all my interracial relations and interactions ever since. We all bleed red blood.

One other cool thing about having a vet as a family member is that we had access to the military base drive-in theater. We got to see two awesome movies, Easy Rider and True Grit. This was my first experience with a drive-in theater. It did not take much to impress me back then.

This is one more little anecdotal story that took place in our stay with my sister in Alabama. As a special little treat her and her husband thought it would be nice to go to Panama City and camp on the beach there. It was a short drive from where he was stationed in Alabama to the beaches in Panama City. Unfortunately, during our visit it was the rainy season as well. Steve brought two tents and air mattresses and blankets for the four of us. They had one tent and Mom and I had the other tent. Everything was going along swimmingly and I was having the time of my life sleeping on the air mattress. Our mother was not fairing quite as well. Finally she did fall asleep. However our peaceful slumber was not to last because I woke up when my hand felt wet. I was also having a strange sensation that I was moving. When out of nowhere a loud crack of thunder jolted me wide awake and a bright streak of lightning illuminated the inside of our tent. We were actually floating in our tent, well at least I was floating, Mom weighed a little too much to float. Her mattress for that matter was also quite a bit thicker so she had not gotten wet yet, but she was now wide awake as well, due to the load clap of thunder. Well the next thing you know the four of us were all in my sisters little car, where we spent the rest of the night like four drenched rats. The deluge continued for the rest of the night. I expect if it lasted much longer we would have needed an ark. Needless to say our stay in Panama City was cut short and we promptly returned back to Alabama in the morning.

I remember one other high point in my life. That was our Greyhound bus ride to New York City. I tell you what, that ride was something else. We virtually flew down the road. Ronnie had rented hotel rooms for us in New York City for the weekend. We got to ride on the subways in NYC, little did we know that we were risking life and limb to do so. We went shopping in the world famous department store Macy’s. We also went to the top of the Empire State Building which was really cool. Of course, this is when my brother filled my head with crap about dropping a penny and killing someone. I believed that until I got to see it dispelled on a MythBusters episode. Oh well, we were pretty gullible and ignorant back then.

After Steve’s Alabama tour of duty ended, he was relocated to Orlando, Florida. After that he would be sent to Germany. After Cape Cod, our next big trip, of course, was back to Florida. However, since my sister was living in Orlando this time we went there instead of Panama City. This was also our first trip as a new family. My mother had just married my stepfather. Unfortunately, as luck would have it, our maiden voyage together was not without drama. A defect became apparent with our Winnebago, apparently the tail pipe was too long and therefore it created a great deal of pressure in the manifold and I remember my stepfather having to go under the motor home every couple hundred miles or so and do some tinkering on the exhaust. After the trip was over, we got the problem fixed. So thanks to his heroic efforts we finally arrived safe and sound in Orlando.

Disney World had just opened up in 1971, so it was still pretty new when we visited my sister. I remember that they had not worked out all the kinks yet because certain rides were still closed. But it sure did put Silver Springs and our gator farms to shame. It really spoiled us. Now the only park that could even come close to competing with Disney World was Bush Gardens in Tampa, Florida. Eventually, SeaWorld opened up in 1973. But they had not opened up yet when we visited for the first time. They initially had tickets for each ride. Now they just have general admission tickets. With the original system, if you were not interested in going on any rides you could get in pretty cheap. If you had a change of heart you could also just buy single tickets for your favorite rides. Disney World was certainly an eye popper for a young sheltered kid like myself. We really had a blast there. My favorite ride was the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. However, it is the little crazy things that I remember the most about the trip. I remember that Steve had a pet boa constrictor. He even let me feed mice to it. He also had a cool sailing ship model of the Constitution. And much to my sister’s chagrin, I had a problem peeing straight and to top it off, I always forgot to put the toilet seat down. I remember getting scolded by my sister because she went to sit down on the toilet and, of course, the seat was up and there was pee all over the rim, so she really got a wet potty experience. I almost forgot one more thing, she had just had her second child, Hellboy. He was pretty innocent at this time, little did we know that he would turn into such a hellion. I was, however, quite impressed by the strength of his grip. Apparently this is a natural occurrence in newborns. The crazy things that kids remember.

Even though my mother had remarried, we continued doing family-oriented trips as long as we still lived in New York. On this particular trip, it was our first outing as a new family. Needless to say, thanks to his gregarious nature and personality, he was a hit with our extended family. He just fit right in. The reason I mentioned this particular outing, is that I learned how to play horseshoes. Not only was it my first time playing this game, it was the last time I played it. Go figure. It was also the last time we did a big family camp outing for quite some time. This trip was also of note, because it was the first time I had to pay for hot water in a shower. Well, let me give you a piece of advice never let your hot water get timed out in a mountain campground. So of course, you guessed it, the water for both of us ran out at the same time. I think we could have both tried out for soprano in a local chorus. Holy crap that water went from nice and warm to instant ice cubes in no time flat. Any and all dangling body parts were immediately absorbed by our bodies. Of course, it happened when we were both lathered up with soap and shampoo and neither one of us had any more money to put in the coin dispenser. So we just had to tough it out and shiver our way through the rest of the shower. My goosebumps were at least a half inch high by the time I was fully rinsed off.

While I have mentioned the camp ground Fish Creek Pond a few times, I have yet to mention Macomb Reservation State Park. This was my Aunt Barbara’s favorite camp site, because not only was it close to her house it was dirt cheap as well. Being that we lived close to the Canadian border, our families had several Canadian Friends. One family in particular was a nice childless couple that for some reason enjoyed my Aunt Barbara’s company. I remember the man’s name was John, but I for the life of me, I can’t remember his wife’s name. The only problem with John was that he was obese and he a had plumber’s crack. Well after camping with John and his wife on several occasions my aunt could not take it any longer. When the event took place he was bent over building a fire, showing his trade mark butt crack. This time my aunt did not ignore it and she snuck up behind him with an evil look on her face took a stick lying on the ground and stuck it in is butt crack. We were all speechless. None of the family could believe that she had done such a heinous thing. Well good old John never said a word. He quietly stood up and too the branch out of his pants and proceeded to break camp. They left with out saying a word to any of us and were never to be heard of again. So in my aunts typical fashion she tried to laugh it off and stated that he deserved it. Of course she was in the wrong. If she would have had half a brain and common sense at all she would have talked to him in private about his butt. Instead she chose to embarrass him in public.

As you can see my travels as a child certainly did not lack for interest and variety. If nothing else my family was certainly not boring. You might have also noticed one thing and is that with the exception of my one plane trip to Alabama, all of our trips were road trips. When I was a child flying was not a common thing. If you couldn’t drive there, you usually just didn’t go there. Even though we were not poor, we certainly were not rich by any stretch of the imagination and flying was considered to be the purview of the rich. Besides we had plenty of time to get where we were going. My first father was retired/disabled and my second father was a school teacher with his summer’s off. This allowed for a great deal in travel flexibility with both of my fathers.