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Relaxing family vacations weren’t so relaxing for dad

It was 1970 and I’d just come home with my new paperback, “King of the Grizzlies,” a 50-cent treasure from my Scholastic Book Club order.

“Stash it in the camper for the trip,” Mom ordered.

I couldn’t wait for vacation to begin so that I could dig into the mess of books Mom bought to keep us quiet. And quiet we would be, unless little brothers Tim and Dan wanted to touch the fresh 160-page Walt Disney’s Comic Digest before I got to enjoy it. Timmy might crinkle Goofy or Danny might spill chocolate milk on Donald Duck, and then there’d be war.

Dad rented the camper for our pickup truck that year because a decade of family vacations to aquariums, museums and landmarks was wearing him out.

He patted the camper and told Mom, “With this baby, you and I can ride in the cab and the boys can smack each other around back here in peace and quiet.”

Before the year of the camper, Mom and Dad tossed us in the back seat of a car, where we bounced around mile after mile. I admit, the constant screaming did get annoying: “Stop kicking the back of my seat!” and “I’ll turn this car around right now.”

Backseat seat belts were not a thing in those days, so we were free to ricochet off the doors, back window shelf and seats — and to engage in a little yelling of our own: “I’m not touching you!” and “Are we there yet?”

Eventually, the car would wheeze and Dad would gasp into a roadside motel. Dad would collapse on a bed. We kids jumped all around him on the mattress hollering to go to the pool.

He’d roll over and groan at Mom, “Pat, tell me again about relaxing family vacations. When do we get to take one?”

“Why don’t you boys watch TV for a while. It’s in color,” Mom would say, pushing buttons on the boxy set mounted to the wall. While color TV was a big deal, watching Walter Cronkite talk about nuke treaties, Vietnam and jobs wasn’t nearly as exciting as a real, live, swimming pool!

“These boys are getting on my last nerve,” Dad would bellow from beneath his pillow. “Get my swim trunks out of the suitcase and stuff them in their little mouths.”

In a day or two, Dad would limp the car and the remains of his last nerve into a massive parking lot at the vacation destination. We boys jumped circles around Mom and Dad, asking insightful questions about the point of interest: “Can we go to the gift shop?” and “Where’s the bathroom?” and “I’m starved. Do they sell hot dogs?”

“Why would the museum of antique automobiles sell hot dogs?” Dad snapped. “You’d splotch mustard all over the seats of their 1923 Model T.”

“I don’t like mustard. I want ketchup on my hot dog. And relish.”

As the years ticked by, we kids aged into our sullen teenage years when we didn’t talk to adults, a baby sister was added to the menagerie, and band camps and show cows at the county fair replaced family vacations. Mom says Dad finally got some decent rest while we kids bounced around in a cow barn at the fair 20 miles away.

Now, a half-century later, I want to revisit that automobile museum. Our vacation cars probably are among the antiques now. If they have a 1968 mustard yellow station wagon on display, the grape juice stain on the backseat wasn’t my fault. The ketchup splotch, however…

Take a trip with Cole at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, or visit the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or www.burtonwcole.com.

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