Saturday, March 10, 2012

Under the Dumb Plum Tree

Four kids, two dogs and a road map

Destination South
By Jaime Kaufhold
(February 20, 1991)

Thank goodness February is a short month, or at least it starts to feel that way as the sun shines higher in the sky and the days grow longer. Today as I sit down to write, I can see the Plum tree outside my window is covered in hoar frost, a pretty indication that the temperature is bearable.

Sometimes I get wild ideas, at least I used to. One of my favourite things to do is take a winter vacation. My parents moved to Florida when the children were little, so it gave me a wonderful excuse to try and persuade their father to take us there. In the same way that mothers forget the pain of childbirth and go on to have more children, fathers forget what it's like to travel 1,500 miles with a carload of kids and after some persuading, will agree to go again. The kids were as thrilled as I was because it meant they'd miss two weeks of school.

So on February 12, 1974 we folded down the seats in our Pinto Station wagon and loaded it with suitcases, pillows, four kids, two dogs, a road map and a packed lunch that was supposed to feed us for a whole day but between the kids and the dogs, was gone by 9:30 a.m. I remember the date well because it was one of the coldest we'd ever experienced in southern Ontario at -28 C and the car needed a boost to get going. Father took this as a sign that maybe we shouldn't go, but I took it as a sign that we definitely should!

Entering Detroit at 9:30 a.m. was a nightmare. I never realized there were that many cars in the world and the highway signs were confusing so our only hope to avoid taking the wrong exit was staying in the middle lane. A voice from the back seat made it known that we'd need to find a bathroom - and soon. We found a truck stop, fueled the car, used the washrooms and the smell of bacon cooking lured us into the restaurant where we all ordered cheeseburgers and french fries, one of the cheapest meals on the menu. Back then restaurant burgers (I'm not talking about fast food places) didn't have fillers and the fries were from hand cut potatoes. Today we have to search for places that serve wholesome "slow" food which just goes to show how much things have changed.

It was my turn to drive so I settled into the driver's seat, reassuring Father that the trip was going to be lots of fun, and at the same time, reassuring myself. Thankfully the kids fell asleep soon afterwards so it was a peaceful afternoon drive for me. When we pulled into a Howard Johnson's motel early that evening, the air outside was noticeably warmer than what we'd left that morning. It took another day and a half of driving and at least three more stops for burgers and fries before we pulled into my parent's driveway in Clearwater, Florida. We were stiff, hot, sweaty, grumpy and windblown since Pinto station wagons did not come equipped with air conditioning, but that moment stepping out of the car and inhaling the warm, salty air is one I'd never forget. Mom was thrilled to see us and Dad promised to take the kids fishing the next day. But right then all we wanted to do was put on our bathing suits and go to the beach. It was a wonder to be able to sit outside in February with flowers blooming everywhere and the ocean right there.

The kids went fishing with Dad and caught supper for us which was delicious. We spent three more days at the beach, visiting with grandma and grandpa and exploring. Then the day we were all looking forward to finally arrived - the trip to Disneyland. I remember as were were getting ready to leave Mom handed me a $50 bill which was a lot of money in those days and really helped us out.

Disneyland was impressive and surprisingly as much fun for adults as it is for children. We all loved it. There was so much to see we couldn't have possibly done it all in one day but we got sore feet and exhausted trying!

Our eight days in Florida went by fast and soon we were kissing Mom & Dad good-bye and on our way home again. By the time we reached the snowbanked roads in Stoney Creek, we were tanned, tired and broke. The kids went to see their friends and I turned up the heat, unpacked the car and since were all sick of burgers and fries, made a pot of chili for supper. For many years afterwards I anticipated our next winter holiday, but we were never able to make that trip again with the kids.

Now, 18 years later, Mom lives here with us. The kids are all grown but I still dream of winter holidays in Florida, and in those dreams, I'm now traveling with my grandchildren and we're looking for restaurants along the way that serve good old fashioned burgers and fries. But we're not riding in a Pinto station wagon!

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