Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The last vacation with dad

Family vacations continued even after my brothers and I grew up, went off, were married.  Mom compensated for her dwindling number of children by incorporating the friends of children.  There were no trips the several years dad was hospitalized several times, being treated for histoplasmosis.  The “cure” took much of dad’s stamina, as one could only imagine loss of a lung and one set of ribs would do.  He recovered enough, by the mid ‘60’s, to be back on the bus.  Or in the driver’s seat.  His campsite responsibilities dwindled to picture taking;  mom, remaining children, friends, married children and spouses took up the slack.

The last year dad vacationed was 1975, 18 months before he died.  It turned into an adventure packed two weeks for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest.  There was only one borrowed kid that year, Adrea, the three year old daughter of a friend.  Walt’s youngest, Mark, was slightly younger than Adrea.  So, six grandchildren, Adrea, my parents, Walt and I set out for St. Louis.

Mom securing the camper

Walt wanted to ride his bike, with a bike buddy.  I agreed, not wholeheartedly.  I’d been bike buddy with my husband, and lost all enthusiasm in short order.  But, Walt’s my brother……   He would ride our brother Mel’s Honda 750 and I would ride Walt’s Honda 500.  Mom and dad drove the Dodge Polaris mobile living room.  When the weather was decent, Walt and I each had a kid on back.  The kids who rode behind ranged from 8 to 10.  The rest rode in the Polaris and were entertained by Adrea’s stories of her purple foxes.  When my sister-in-law Helyn (Mel’s wife) and I reminisced years later, we could only say we were young, confident, spunky……and stupid.

Drinks for the kids

We camped our way to St. Louis.  When we took side trips, Dad stayed at the camp with a newspaper, and occasionally the little ones, Mark and Adrea.  Adrea came flying back from the playground one day yelling “Grandpa! Grandpa! Mark fell off the swing!”  Dad got slowly from the chair, straightened up, ready to go to the problem.  “It’s OK, Grandpa.  Someone’s mother picked him up.”

Before bedtime, on Walt's lap

I learned shortly into the trip there was little possibility of eating enough calories each day to replace those pounded off by the wind and the road. By the end of the first week I was tying my jeans up with a piece of rope, since I didn’t have a belt.  The trip was interesting, but I was looking forward to seeing the arch and starting home.

Yea, coffee

Somewhere on a mountain road in Missouri I blew the back tire of the bike.  Beth was behind me.  I yelled “Hang On” and rode it down from about 50 mph to a stop, using every biking skill I had.  The pegs scraped pavement several times before I got stopped.  Beth never moved.  What a champ!  Mom pulled over behind me on the berm.  Walt, who had been ahead, rode into the distance.  Here I am beside the road, waiting for him to come back.  Beth put that picture on an invitation to a surprise 60th birthday party.

Young, confident, spunky...and stupid

When Walt missed us and came back he whistled.  Said something like “Good job.”  I said I was glad I’d been strong enough to keep the bike up and Beth had the good sense not to fight anything. I could not have controlled a front tire blow out.  We fixed the tire and went on our way.

Days later we were on our way home, on I69 through Indiana, due home that night.  The Polaris and Walt and I were in good formation.  For miles and miles we passed an Army reserve convoy of men and equipment.  The kids waved and all the soldiers waved back.  We weren’t long past them when Walt blew the front tire of the bike.  His oldest, Roy was behind.  As he fought the bike, I cut back and forth behind him trying to warn off oncoming traffic.  He’d be almost down, get it up….  He fought it into the inside lane, then reached behind himself, secured Roy with one arm, stood up on the pegs, jumped and rolled.  He rolled the two of them off the road.  I pulled in, jumped off.  He sat up and said, “We’re OK, get my bike.”  I walked into the lane, picked up the Honda 750 and walked it off the road.  So, we all sat along the road, waiting for the police, and waved at the Army convoy as it passed us.  “How did you do that?”  “I was a paratrooper, remember.”

From there on we were in the hands of the Indiana State Highway Patrol.  When it was over, Walt and I each wrote to the governor of Indiana to commend these officers.  One took Walt and Roy to a hospital and stayed while they were checked and treated for the mother of all road rash and dislocated shoulders.  Someone else took mom and dad and a load of kids to a camp ground, then got Walt and Roy there when they were released.  Another officer came for me at a repair shop where they were able to put the bike back in running order.  He would lead me to the camp ground.  I started the 750, which I had never driven in my life, released the clutch and realized I didn’t have 1st gear.  I revved, tried second.  Nothing.  No third.  No fourth.  I engaged in 5th.  The patrolman was already ahead of me.  I headed off behind him and drove that 750 through Terre Haute in rush hour in 5th gear.  My brothers were in awe.

When I got to the campground, Jan and Mel, who had been called to bail us out, were there.  Mel found the missing link and got all the gears of the bike back.  We set out for home next day.  Walt couldn’t drive a car, so Mel drove.  Jan rode the 500.  I got the 750.  When I stopped the bike I could only put one tip toe on the ground. Mom and Dad got home way ahead of us; they took the turnpike across Ohio, but Mel took the scenic route.  He enjoyed every minute of his two sisters on motorcycles.  One of whom knew she would never leave home again without four tires on the pavement.  The other already knew that.


  1. That was one adventure none of you will ever forget. So good that your Dad got to go one more time.

  2. The one bit you forgot about blowing the tire with your daughter is that we were thankfully on the country road with no oncoming traffic. I was only 10, but I remember with clarity the bike with the blown rear tire swerving back and forth, back and forth, maybe four, maybe ten times, across the double yellow line.

    I also remember being in the Polaris with Grandma saying, "Get your feet up, Walt. Get your feet up, Walt!" He was trying to hold the motorcycle up right after the blown rear tire, and it took Grandma a minute to figure out what happened.

    Each kid was securely tied to the driver, too. I remember you all complaining when we fell asleep on the back of the motorcycle. See - safety devices. You forgot lucky in the list. Young, confident, spunky, stupid...and lucky!

  3. You missed the part about Janice being 5'8" and getting the 500 and you being 5'4" and getting the 750... You ARE the big sister, though!

  4. Mel wasn't well enough to ride a bike at the time, and since I had 20 minutes more experience on the 750 than Jan, I said I'd do it.

  5. I can see where you get your strength from!

  6. Best adventure yet. And how wonderful that your dad's final trip could be so eventful. As long as everyone made it out alive! I drove my brother's big 750. Man, if it ever tipped over, I was sunk. It took four strong men and a donkey to lift.