Friday, July 2, 2010

Twas the Night Before Vacation

Growing up,  the second most fabulous, magical, wondrous night of the year... after Christmas Eve... was the night before vacation.  My calendar year was perfectly divided between these two main events.  Perfectly balanced on a calendar scale.

Every year in June, the last week of June, we would take our annual trip up to Big St. Germaine Lake up in northern Wisconsin.  My mom, siblings and their families have continued the tradition (36 years now)...and are up there as I type this post. 

Some of my most heartwarming, childhood memories are from all those splendid years spent at the lake.  Like something out of a was a perfect place for a kid. 

I learned to swim in crystal clear lake waters.  I took part in swimming races to the dock in order to lay out on it.  With arms folded under the back of our heads, we'd spend the afternoon lying there looking up into the blue skies.  I learned to kayak, row a row boat, paddle a canoe,  tube down a creek and personally mastered the art of  pulling blood- sucking leaches off  my toes.  All the while, I imagined I was part of Lewis and Clark's team of explorers!

I learned to scrub a ski boat clean in order to earn a free day of skiing lessons, shoot pool at the Rec Room, and pick out just the right firewood and kindling in order to build the perfect fire.  It is where I had developed my first "crush" on a boy.  Met numerous friends to boot!  All of us came from somewhere in the Midwest.  Yes, the perfect place to vacation as a kid.

Getting up there each year was a trip all in itself.  Let me simply say, my poor mother!  I have no clue how she managed to survive.

My mother is a saint.  It was NO restful vacation for her.  She had to pack up the entire family and most of the house  in order for us to survive our one week trip up in the North Woods.

And while juggling all of that, she had to prepare to shut down the house...milk man, mail man, garbage man, who would come to water her flowers, mow the lawn...topping it all off with entertaining  nine totally hyper, ready-to-go-on-vacation-mode kids.  FYI...these were the days before microwaves and VCR's.

I always thought she was such a crab the days leading up to our grand trip.  I was always shocked to hear her say, "I wish your father would just take you all and leave me home by myself for one week!" 

As I am preparing this week for our vacation, I entertain the exact words in my head.  I look back and wonder how she survived.  Why she didn't go stark crazy mad, run out the door screaming, run down the block pulling out her hair, is totally beyond me!

My dad always ended up having to work that Friday before.  For us, vacation officially kicked in when he came wheeling around the corner pulling the U-haul behind.  Yes.  We had to take a U-Haul trailer on vacation.  With 11 of us smooshed into the suburban, where were we going to fit our house?

The U-Haul was a trip, to say the least.  Dad couldn't  back it in to save his life.  The poor man.  God bless him.  He would unhitch it near the street and the boys would help him push it up the drive....oh indeed it was  a sight to behold! 

And then all hell would break loose!  The excitement would be too great of a burden for us and we ended up growing super-hyper by that point.

After dinner, when all the luggage and household goods were strategically placed in the garage for loading, I was sent upstairs to bathe my younger siblings and get them into bed.  That job stunk and  I swear I got stuck with it every year.

I was suppose to read them bedtime stories and tuck them in.  Instead, we would dim the lights, quietly open the bedroom windows, and watch and listen to the show that was unfolding below us on the driveway. 

It was so exciting!  I sooo wanted to be down there, amongst the "older" kids, part of the action.  Looking back, I now see that I actually had the best seat in the house! 

The home became a beehive in a way.  Mom would be Queen Bee  inside, giving orders on what needs to go out...what needs to stay inside.  The older siblings were the Worker Bees, going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth...I assume, once in awhile, giving reports to Mom on what Dad was doing wrong.  Dad was the Drone Bee.  He would pack it all in only to have Mom come her inspection...unpack it all...only to do it all over again!

Kind of like how it happens in my house these days...

At some point, we'd all get into bed...sooner than order for Mom and Dad to finish up and prepare for the long trip ahead of them.

The drive up...Oh! the drive up...

Picture this:  A suburban, with 11 people inside (9 kids), a canoe on top, pulling a U-Haul, Mom in the middle with a wiffle bat ...her 'instrument of peace' ....we totally looked like a band of gypsies going down the highway! 

There were no tinted windows back then and we'd laugh at people passing us.  You could actually see them pointing their fingers at as, mouthing the number words as they were counting, and we knew when they reached number 11 because you could see a gasp coming from their mouths...a look of utter shock or even (at times) horror come across their faces...and we just laughed and waved at them.  My dad and mom could have cared less what people thought. 

I laugh at the picture and memory every single time.

There were no baby seats back then.  One year, my youngest brother was only two months old when we took the trip.  Mom and Dad just threw the baby bed mattress into the back...instant crib.  Fumes! What fumes?!

We never stopped to eat out on the way up.  Mom had lunch packed for all.  She really was a wonder woman!  McDonald's was something new...we never went there to eat.  And if by some crazy chance we did order out...we were paired up with another sibling, split a small bag of french fries and only got a cheeseburger and hamburger.  We drank what was in the fridge. 

There were no major highways or freeways.  It was a mostly two-lane trip going north.  And it took forever.  The first years there was no a.c. in the station wagon with vinyl seats.  Can we say sweaty? Our selection of music was solely based on what the older boys would be blaring on their boom boxes which happened to be like the size of coffins! 

Enter the brand, spankin' new suburban and it not only had a.c. and cloth seats,  but AM radio to boot!  Talk about the lap of luxury!

We made it in time to unpack, wash up, and hit St. Mary's church in Saner, WI for 5:00pm Mass.  By communion, half of us would be sound asleep in the pews.  Even so,  Dad and Mom never allowed us to skip Mass reminding us that God never takes a vacation from us.  What wonderful examples they set! 

So as I prepare this week for our upcoming vacation, I try to keep in mind these fine childhood moments and watch the excitement build in my kids' eyes.  Maybe someday they'll have great memories to share as well.


Last week I mentioned that Kat over Pappa Doodles had posted awhile back about goody bags she brings on vacation for her kids.  (For those really long car trips.)  I asked for some ideas and received some awesome inspiration...thank you!  thank you!

Here is what I've come up with...

I just need to add some red, white, and blue ribbon to them along with their names and I'll be finished.  Inside each bag you will find these....

I hit the $1 section at Target...don't you just love that area of the store?!...The patriotic tins are to hold all their little trinkets that they will inevitably pick up on the trip.  And you just have to have a flag on the 4th of July!  The flip-flops? Well, aside from being cute and patriotic, I thought they would be perfect to throw on when a toilet break was in need!  Inside each can I filled red, white, & blue gift bags with all sorts of can find some pictured on the right.

At this point, my inner home school mom was kicking in....

Every person received a new journal to write kids love to write, doodle and pretend.... and based on age, they each received a new car game.

They also received a couple of paperback books filled with puzzles and games and bringing up the tail end, I added a new reading book.

I'm so excited to see their faces when they climb into the van and find their bags strategically placed on their seats.   Like Christmas in July!

We leave early Saturday morning and will be on part of Route 66 for the first leg - St. Louis -  over the weekend.  Totally excited to see some old home school friends!  I'm hoping to blog here and there because there will be so much to share. 
Happy Birthday, America!!!


  1. Being from a family of 10 kids, we also had people pointing and counting as we rolled down the road! Gosh, y'all were lucky: you actually had music! We had no air and no radio...not any kind of music. And, since the trip took 2 days, mom wouldn't let us play any games the first day. None. Not even the alphabet game or license plate game.
    Loved the memories! Oh, and we never missed Mass on vacation either.

  2. oh my, this made me laugh out loud!! the night before vacation is a hoot. I love your mom's idea for an "instrument of peace". I also loved all the stuff you packed in their travel bags, your kids will love it. Enjoy vacation and have a blessed 4th!

  3. You had the childhood of my childhood dreams! Not that I didn't have a great childhood, but I longed for the long summer vacation at the lake that I read about in books. Growing up in Southern California we had different sorts of vacations...though the whole station wagon thing. We had our Ford Rambler with the fake wood siding and enough room in back for all the stuff (with some on top), three kids in the middle and one tucked in the "way back" next to the ice chest. My brother and I fought over that spot! What fun memories! Our kids spend car trips listening to their ipods! :)

  4. Great story Patty. I needed a chuckle. And to Carol - we too had a "way back". Did everyone call it that?

    Patty - the "Go Bags" turned out great! I hope you guys are having a great time. Let us know what you are up too. - Kat

  5. "Instrument of Peace"! I need to get me one of those! LOL!!!!! Your mom is an incredible lady.


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