I’m Baaaaaack and accompanied by a Friday Flashback (or an ode to family vacations)

by Janie Jones

Wisconsin Dells 006I’ve actually been home since Monday afternoon.  It’s just taken me 3 days to recover enough to be good for much of anything besides crying and moping.  The trip went as well as can be expected by someone who’s broke and loathes traveling to the point where I’d actually consider cutting my head off before agreeing to go somewhere.  I even managed to get through the whole affair with only having two small temper tantrums, one painful encounter with road construction, 4 minor episodes of getting lost, only one out of three hotels were scary, and I managed to make it home just a little under budget.

Sometimes being a neurotic control freak and obsessive compulsive organizer has advantages.

But, not all plans were frugal and practical.  I decided that while I was in for a penny I might as well go in for a pound and we stopped at the one of a few select places I actually remember fondly from my family’s vacations as a child:  Wisconsin Dells.

Insert Friday Flashback:

Growing up, my family was poo.  That is, we weren’t so broke we couldn’t afford two o’s but we were definitely too poor for the r.  None the less, my parents, for some unfathomable reason, insisted on going on a long family vacation every summer.  Because our poverty level excluded the ability to afford the r in poor, we definitely had no resources for air plane tickets, fancy hotels, or expensive amusements.  Most family vacations included cramming cheek to jowl into the tiny, rusted out, family jalopy, with two weeks worth of provisions and the emergency car repair kit (my parent’s vehicles were usually the crappiest of the bargain automobiles, held together by spit, chewing gum and the force of my father’s wrath), to sit sweating for hours on sticky, cracked and melting vinyl seats.  No air conditioning existed, much less would be employed.  My brother, 3 and a half years my junior, and I suffered from terminal sibling rivalry but would call a cold war truce for the duration of the trip because the best behaved of the two of us might get to sleep on the real bed at the skanky motel (that is, when there was a motel to be had instead of a lame camp ground with no running water or bathrooms) at the end of the day’s interminable 12 hour drive as opposed to a sleeping bag on a rickety old cot.

Anywhere from 10 to 14 days would be spent in various stages of carbon monoxide induced car-sickness from idling too long with windows closed due to pouring rain in bumper to bumper traffic or nausea and headaches from plain old heat stroke due to baking in 100+ degree weather in out in the countryside (“Hey, don’t drink too much, it’ll be a long time before we get to another bathroom!”), rambling gypsy like about the Midwest towards some free and usually boring destination, such as some state park that looked exactly like the state parks closer to home, stopping only when bladders threatened rupture, or there was some even more boring historical marker my father wanted see (“Hey, just stay bucked in I won’t be long.”  Famous last words, but then time always seems to go more slowly when you’re a kid who’s miserable).  Family vacations were not about family at all.  They were about my father, and possibly my mother, enjoying what they enjoyed, and the children had damn well better not be seen or heard if at all possible.  We were reduced to inconvenient and expensive baggage.

So, when my grandparents built a summer home in the wooded countryside around Lake Delton, which sits right next to Wisconsin Dells, in the late 70’s/early 80’s, family vacations actually, for a brief time, became something even us kids could look forward to enjoying.  Wisconsin Dells was only about 3 or 3 and a half hours from Chicagoland so the trip there felt blissfully brief.  Because the parental units didn’t have to pay for lodging or campsite fees, there was actually some money for touristy fun things like water slides and boat rides.  And of course, on account of being able to stay in the summer home, we had running water, bathrooms, a real kitchen, and despite the fact that we still had to share a room, my brother and I each got a real bed.   Even though most days we just went for “nature hikes” in the woods around the summer house, some years we managed to beg, cajole and wheedle for a trip to the deer park or a game of miniature golf.  The memories made there are the few family vacations that I actually remember fondly.   Sadly, my grandparents sold the house only about 5 or 10 years later.  Still to this day I lament the loss of the summer house there.

Fast forward to 2013….

Today I would have to say my circumstances are bordering more on po than poo.  However, seeing as I was committed to making this great trip south to Chicagoland and I had no school and pretty much no job to interfere with having the free time for such an excursion, I begged, borrowed and scrimped and saved to have some funds to stop at the Dells on my way taking the spud south.  A part of me wanted to revisit the Dells after all these years, and I didn’t know when I’d have such a chance to do something fun with the spud again.  It felt right and it felt important despite my dislike of traveling and my lack of money.  And, so we arrived in the Dells on the 4th of July.  We celebrated the holiday and our vacation by buying and wearing matching American Flag tee shirts, we visited the deer park, we feed deer and goats and pigs and horses until we were covered head to toe in animal slobber, we rode on the Original Wisconsin Ducks, we visited Parson’s Indian Museum, and we ate at Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty (after thoroughly washing our hands of course).  The spud left with a family of flocked deer as souvenirs and I left behind about $120 for these privileges.

I think the spud had a good time.  On the way home after the weekend’s events she said, “Momma, how much time will we have at the deer park today?”  She thought we’d be stopping again on the way home.  It had been fun.  I felt sad that we couldn’t spend more time there myself.  *Sigh*

“Well,” I found myself telling the spud, but also myself, “Maybe some other year we can go again.”

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2 Comments to “I’m Baaaaaack and accompanied by a Friday Flashback (or an ode to family vacations)”

  1. There’s nothing like a cold cut sandwich, some chips and the bargain brand sodas for a quick lunch, while travelling down the highway at 70 mph, with the windows rolled down, the roar of 18 wheelers and some diesel fumes to add to the aroma of hot asphalt.

    Your post brought back memories. Vacations were a special time, although looking back, they didn’t make a lot of sense.

  2. The spud will remember this day. I remember the odd amazing day with my parents among all the days of drudgery and rain, though you have to remember they were doing their best with what they had. She looks happy in the pictures, and you did a great thing by stopping there.

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