By Martha Reed
A friend of mine from work came back from his family vacation, and I have to give the guy credit – he packed up his wife and kids and took them to Gettysburg, PA to visit the battlefield and talk a little about American history. At first, he worried his kids would get bored, but as they hiked the landscape and studied the monuments, and later listened to a CD in the car while they toured the larger area, he said the kids were fascinated and they asked a lot of pertinent questions that proved to him they were listening. It’s such a nice vision of a family vacation that it made me reminisce about a couple of mine.
We lived in northern Ohio, and since our extended family lived in Pittsburgh, we piled into our Country Squire station wagon and hit the road for every major holiday (think Thanksgiving, Christmas, some Easters). Mom always sat up front with Dad, but she brought a pillow so she could sleep (or at least pretend to) during the trip. This was in the Seventies before car seats, so us kids would unroll sleeping bags in the very back and play Battleship or Operation for the few hours it took to travel across the state. I remember one winter trip when the roads were so slick with ice we could only crawl behind the salt trucks, and being kids, we decided to see if we could push Dad over the edge by deliberately and repeatedly buzzing the patient in Operation. I have to give the old man credit; he told us to knock it off and didn’t stop the car and heave the game over the snowy fence line into the next county like I would have.
In sixth grade, we got big news: our class was going on a sponsored overnight bus trip to Gettysburg, PA. This was a big thing; it would be only the second time I had ventured away from my family, and I was thrilled. I was finally going to be independent – and the trip only cost $54. Isn’t that far out? And then my mother said we couldn’t afford it.
This was dreadful, because in my family no meant no. We had learned early on not to argue because an argument wouldn’t get you anywhere. So, and maybe I have the next bit wrong, but what I remember is that for the first time in my life I truly pitched a fit. I stomped upstairs and slammed a couple of doors – I probably slammed the same door two or three times to make sure my parents got the point. I stayed up in my room and even skipped dinner – and that never happened, because first off I love to eat and back then even when you were sick dinner came up on a tray. I can only imagine the thunderously black look I must have worn the next day when I came back downstairs for school. Knowing me, I was probably clutching the permission slip prominently in hand.
(One caveat: I am a much more reasonable person now.)
I planted myself at the kitchen table and got the shock of my young life: Mom said she had figured out a way to get the money. I was so surprised I actually won the argument I felt stunned. Mom went on to explain that she could squeeze the $54 out of the budget but we would all have to agree to make the sacrifice so I could go. Nowadays, I can see where Mom was trying to go with this, but my pre-teen brain said ‘Sure!’ and both of my sisters agreed, mostly because none of us had a clue what making a sacrifice meant. It turns out that sacrifice meant you have to eat a lot of turkey pot pies (Safeway, 3 for a dollar) and canned fruit cocktail.
Of course, in the end, it was Mom who made the sacrifice because she was the one who had to feed her kids a lot of cheap food, and I know she hated that because Mom was always proud about serving a good dinner: meat and two vegetables was our family standard. To cap it off, we kids elevated that to the next level by scrapping over who got the most cherries in their cup of fruit cocktail. Mom was reduced to picking cherries out of each can and dividing them into pieces to ensure a completely equitable distribution. What puzzles me now is why Mom didn’t just eat the extra one or toss it out? I can only speculate that maybe it was because her generation was raised not to waste the tiniest bit of food?
The greater question, though, seen clearly now with the benefit of hindsight, is how on earth did we manage to survive our childhoods, being such perfect little monsters?