Saturday, March 16, 2013

Travel back in the Day

As I cleaned up in the kitchen this morning, I had occasion to pitch out an empty oatmeal box. You know, the round ones that plain oats are sold in. It brought back memories of my childhood.

Traveling around the country when I was a kid was very different than it is now. First of all, hotels/motels were rare and mostly patronized by folks with money. I never stayed in a motel until I was about sixteen--and that was only because I was there to keep my cousin company. My first night spent in a hotel was my first night as a married woman.

Normally, when we traveled, even after we were married, we usually spent the night with relatives who lived along the way. Sometimes, we drove a bit out off our route so we had some place to stay, but that was all right. That was the way it worked. And we had the bonus of visiting with folks we didn't otherwise have a chance to see.

Interstates were rare. Almost all the traveling I experienced was on two lane roads that wound over hill and dale, through small towns and large cities. Smart drivers found routes that avoided the larger cities because that was all stop'n'go traffic that wasted travel time. Imagine traveling from Arizona to Chicago, using only two lane roads! Our family did that more than once.

Now meals were another item that was treated quite differently than now. There were no fastfood restaurants. And frankly, our family was pretty poor. Usually, we got along with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and whatever fruit we picked up at roadside stands. I remember my folks buying a watermelon, then cooling it off in an irrigation ditch while we ate lunch at a roadside park. Usually, the park had two or three picnic tables...and that was it. Toilet facilities were bushes at the edge of the park. And of course, we carried our own toilet paper. The fancier parks had a hand pump where you could get water--if you had a container.

I suppose you're wondering about that oatmeal box. Well, this was before the days of Tupperware and such. I remember my grandmother baking small chocolate cakes (cupcakes without the papers) and packing them in empty oatmeal boxes so they stayed pretty fresh. Sometimes the boxes were used for cookies. Whoever was responsible for the oatmeal box of treats was always very careful to make sure it didn't get squashed!

We didn't have air conditioning in the car. Or seatbelts. If the weather got too hot, my parents would dampen small towels, roll up the front windows so the towels covered the windows and then opened the little vent windows so the wind would blow over the damp towel and cool down the car interior.

And most cars had a heavy canvas water bag that hung across the front grill. Gas stations were only in towns. If you had a breakdown, you always wanted to make sure you'd have water so you could survive until help arrived.

My favorite memory is the night we drove across the desert, the full moon was filling the car with light, and Purple People Eater was playing on the radio.



  1. Here's what I loved about traveling by car when I was a kid - the two lane roads that wound past farms. We counted horses and cows and windmills. The food my mom would pack for our journey. We'd always find a place to stop, usually at a park in some small town. We'd eat our meals at a picnic table. Sandwiches always tasted better on the road, I swear.

  2. We played 'I-spy', my older brother pushed and shoved us around, my mother yelled at him, my father looked straight ahead at the road rarely speaking, we ate homemade sandwiches and stopped in less than salubrious places on our way to the next posting. Do I prefer those days? Only that my mother was alive then. That's all.