My husband’s grandmother, Roseanna, prominently displayed a picture of herself sitting atop a camel. The memory had been captured while she was on vacation in Egypt. The one time I visited her home, I noticed the photograph hanging on a wall. I silently admired her sense of adventure and her confidence in traveling alone to a far-away land. She reminded me a bit of the protagonist from the movie, Titanic. In that film, the main character, Rose, nearly froze to death in icy Atlantic waters. She survived and went on to experience life in a way most women of her time didn’t even consider. Passionate living and unconventional travel set these two women apart from others. “Am I anything like them?” I wondered as I examined my own interest in traveling.
During my childhood, my family and I went on summer vacations. The six of us woke before the sun, piled into our Oldsmobile Delta 98, and drove to our destinations. Early into each drive, Dad rolled his window down to let in crisp cool air. His maneuver to jostle us awake worked as we quickly shivered away our sleepiness. Our chattering coupled with the whipping wind to keep him alert.
On one trip, I squished beside my three siblings into the backseat of the car for a nearly week-long drive from Michigan to California to visit relatives. We didn’t have to wear a seatbelt back then. Frankly, I’m not sure cars even had them. Unrestrained, my younger brothers were small enough to take turns lying on the rear window ledge. That helped my sister and me because we had more room to stretch out on the cushy backseat itself. Before you scream, “That’s not fair!,” know that we girls needed the extra space so we could take turns strategically holding a white pail for those moments when our motion sickness couldn’t be contained. Besides, we were older and bigger than them, and I’m sure we had “Called it!” first.
Monotony made the drive close to unbearable. To pass time, we counted red cars to compare with the number of blue, gray, white and black ones. We played “I Spy.” We kept watch for different state license plates. There was no mistaking us as The Brady Bunch, however. We weren’t cheerfully singing any song but did manage to get through most of one, “99 Bottles of Beer,” after running out of other things to do.
We tried to come up with novel ways to have some excitement and fun along the way. Once, my family took a short break at a rest stop so we could stretch our legs (that wasn’t the fun or exciting part). After we got back into the car, my sister and I convinced my brother, Gary, to crunch down on the floor and hide, while we girls patiently held in and planned for an expertly timed exclamation. After several miles one of us yelled out, “Where’s Gary?!” LOL, right? It didn’t take long for Dad to find Gary and for all of us to see that Dad didn’t appreciate our joke. I can’t remember which of us took the most blame, but Mom swears that it was really an accident when I was lost on a later trip to an aquarium.
We eventually made it to Grandpa’s house where I met aunts, uncles, and second cousins for the first time. We visited Great-Grandpa who was a talented landscaper earlier in his life. In his backyard, we saw a tree that produced two different varieties of fruit. He had created his own hybrid by splicing a fig tree and grafting some different fruit tree onto it. I can’t remember what the second was. His peach tree, however, left a bigger impression on me. It was naturally free from pesticides and the peaches would probably be considered organic by today’s standards. I still wish I had known that before taking a bite and seeing little squirming, protein-enriched worms inside. For many years afterward, I couldn’t make myself eat another peach.
Dad risked his life on a number of different road trips. On several occasions, he’d spot turtles trying to cross the freeways we were on. He reacted by quickly veering off to the shoulder and parking the car. The rest of us would then watch as he dashed in and out of traffic to collect an additional traveling companion. The clean, emergency white bucket came in handy to hold our newfound friend. Dad always knew what kind of turtle it was. The sharp jagged edges at the rear of its shell gave away its identity as a snapper. A pretty red bottom meant it was a painted turtle. A box turtle was just that: boxy. It was never long before we released each back into the wild.
Another time, he picked up three fiddler crabs and placed them in a paper cup for Gary to hold on the car ride. “Don’t spill them,” was barely uttered before those little creatures toppled over and scattered for hiding places. My sister and I shrieked and squirmed to get out of the backseat as quickly as possible. There was no way we were getting back in that car until those creepy crawly things were recaptured. The problem was that Dad could only find two. He wasn’t afraid of getting pinched by the renegade, so he tried to find that third crab by reaching into crevices of the cushions. Eventually, my sister and I were forced to get back into the car and we all continued on our way. That was a long, worrisome ride, but we were never bothered by the phantom fiddler, which had proven to be a great escape artist.
Dad had flown in tiny airplanes as part of the Air National Guard, and he vowed to never go on a larger commercial flight because he wouldn’t be given a parachute. If I were ever going to experience flying, it wasn’t going to be with him and the family. Therefore, my first plane ride was with friends on a trip to Florida for Spring Break. For several years, I could recall the handful of times I had flown. Most often, I dreaded air travel. Turbulence made me tense. I fervently reminded myself that flying really was safer than driving and that nothing was better than arriving at my destination in hours instead of days.
My interest in traveling grew after I married. My husband and I looked forward to annually visiting his brother and sisters who lived in California. After he and I had children of our own, I could no longer remember how many flights I had been on and my nervousness about flying was easing. Our children actually helped me get more comfortable with that. Their take on air turbulence was far different than mine. When we hit a rough patch for their first time, they squealed with delight instead of holding onto their armrests for dear life. What I feared, they loved.
When a friend of mine recently asked if I had a favorite vacation spot, I admitted that I didn’t. Each place I’ve been to has offered something unique and charming. Soon, I’ll tell you about them. You see, I’m afraid if I wait too long, I won’t be able to recall the details very well or that my perceptions will evolve into tall tales. While trying to verify some facts about Roseanna and her inspiring photograph, I found out that no one in the family remembers her having gone to Egypt…or having posed for a picture on a camel.