One summer when I was 15 Mom and Dad loaded up the station wagon with all 7 of us kids ages 7-17, hitched up a camper and headed to California to visit relatives. We traveled 2 ½ long days, for 13-16 hour a days. Each night we would pull into a KOA, set up the camper, prepare supper for the 9 of us and then would crawl into our assigned places in the camper. It was a long trip, in an overcrowded camper but it was more fun than imaginable.
The last 100 miles of the day Dad would announce “Kids, start looking for a KOA sign,” little did we know that he had already mapped out the entire trip. When we stopped for the night we were all ready to stretch our legs, move about and be shut of each other. As Dad and I sat up the camper, Mom and several of the girls began to cook supper on a camp stove. Other campers had arrived before us and had their supper cooking. You could smell different mouthwatering aromas lingering in the air.
When supper was finally ready we sat down around the picnic table and began to eat. Different ones began swatting at the air, slapping at their faces. Gnat, gnats were everywhere. It was like one of the plagues from Egypt. Between gulping down the food and swatting at the gnats, everyone finished their supper in a hurry and headed into the camper. There would be no enjoying the evening air or tossing a ball back and forth. The only safe haven was a camper full of nine people. We lay in bed that night laughing and coming up with cleaver names for a gnat plagued KOA. There was an occasional, “Mom he’s touching me.” But get real; everyone was touching everyone else in these cramped quarters.
On this trip we brought along a rubber gorilla. His place of honor was the dash or rearview mirror. Dad would drive and hold up the gorilla and make him do and say funny things. He also used him to tell wonderful stories. Occasionally we would pass the gorilla around and take turns telling stories. We had some good stories, but none could top Dads. We would also fill the long hours in the car singing John Denver and Carpenters songs. We brought Crayons and color books, but the Crayons melted in the Nevada heat and made coloring more creative. Ever 30 miles or so you would hear Trey say, “Dad, do you think there are any fish in that water?” The water could be described as a river, a lake, a creek, a pond or a puddle.
On our second day on the road we were traveling through hot Nevada and I looked out the back window and announced, “Dad is this thing supposed to be shooting sparks everywhere?” Dad pulled over and the trailer hitch had broken. Dad wired the hitch to make do, then we crippled into the next town where we found a welder that would be able to fix the trailer the next morning.
On our 3rd and last day on the road we stopped at a beautiful roadside park up in the mountains for lunch. There were Blue Jays, red birds and squirrels scampering about the tree tops. The smell of the pine was wonderful. The sun twinkling through the trees casts amusing shadows on the forest floor. Nothing could be more beautiful. Then a sanitation truck pulled up next to our table, ran hoses to the outhouse and began pumping out the toilets. Some pinched their noses; others gagged as we packed up quickly and left. After we got in the car and headed out everyone burst out laughing.
We made one more stop before arriving at our relative’s home, the Giant Redwood Forest. The trees were magnificent. We felt so small among the massive trees. All nine of us gathered around a gigantic tree, stretched our arms wide and finger tip to finger tip encircled the tree.