Mike and I recently went on a road trip with our oldest daughter and two of our granddaughters — Makhya, who just turned 6 and Evan, who is almost 4.
We drove over to Spokane to spend the weekend with our son’s family — it was his daughter, Presley’s, fifth birthday.
The drive over brought back lots of memories of the trip I used to take with my Mom, Dad and brother Keith. The two trips are about the same distance — about 350 miles — but the trips themselves were oh, so different.
Back in the early 1950s, we lived in Niles, Ill., but all of our relatives lived in the Oberlin-Lorain, Ohio, area. So every Christmas we would head east to spend several days with the family.
After Mom and Dad got off work Friday we would load up in the 1949 Ford and hit the road. Dad always drove first and my brother sat up front with him — Mom and I in the back. I remember crawling up and laying on the ledge by the back window and riding there for quite a while. Then I’d get bored and sit next to mom.
I remember three distinct activities that kept Keith and me somewhat occupied for the trip.
While it was still light enough outside, we would play battleship. Dad would bring along tablets of graph paper from work and Keith and I would draw a square for our ocean on the paper — 10 squares by 10 squares and numbered 1 through 10 across the top and bottom and A through J along the sides. We’d place our ships — I remember a battleship took up 4 squares, then there were destroyers and cruisers and a submarine that carried a torpedo.
On my turn I’d shoot at Keith’s ships — four shots for the battleship, three for the destroyer and 2 for the cruiser plus the submarine’s torpedo. A ship would sink after all of its squares had been hit or after one hit by a torpedo. Keith usually won — obviously — he’s four years older and his gaming skills were lots better than mine, but it was still a fun game.
I guess now you can buy your own Battleship game with a nice sturdy board and plastic pegs for ships but on our trips many years ago, graph paper and a pencil worked just fine.
After it started to get dark, we would play the alphabet game. We had to work our way through the alphabet, one letter at a time in order, using signs along the road. Dad and Keith got to look on the left side of the road, Mom and I got the right side. When we spotted a sign, we’d yell out “A on the sign for gasoline,” or “I found a B on that Burma Shave sign.”
The rule was you had to call out your siting in enough time for the other team to see the sign or it didn’t count.
The first team to work its way through the whole alphabet won that round.
And you could use more than one letter from each sign so you had to look quickly to read everything you could.
When we’d get toward the end of the alphabet, the sign we really wanted to find was either Quaker State or liquor store ‘cause then you could get credit for q-r-s-t and u all at once.
On our trip over to Spokane, I realized the alphabet game wouldn’t be nearly as much fun today. Most all of the signs are on the right side of the highway and there are lots less billboards than there used to be. And besides, back in those days we drove through every little town and burg along the way so there were lots of stores, restaurants, gas stations and street signs to use for letters.
After we got tired of the alphabet game, we’d entertain ourselves with an activity that would never be allowed today. We’d tear long strips of newspaper and hang them out the window. We’d hang on tight, watching the mini kite soar and bounce around in the wind for awhile, then we’d let it go and start all over with another strip of paper. We’d probably each go through a whole newspaper in several miles.
By then it was getting late, and we were pretty tired (and probably cranky). So everyone in the car would fall asleep. Except Dad of course. Keith would lay down in the front seat with his head on Dad’s lap, and Mom and I would curl up in the backseat (backseats were a lot roomier than they are today!).
Looking back I wonder how Dad kept awake all that time. After all, he had worked a full day and now everyone was asleep, the car was very quiet and he had to keep driving. I don’t remember how long it took us to get there, but I’m sure it was at least 10 hours.
But finally we would arrive at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Dad would get to sleep for a few hours and then there would be a couple of days with aunts, uncles and cousins before it was time to get in the car and head back home.
The trip to Spokane was lots faster — the speed limit is 70 on I-90, so with one gas stop, one lunch stop and maybe a potty stop, the whole trip was less than 7 hours.
And the girls had many more things to entertain themselves with — there’s a DVD player to watch movies/cartoons — Makhya wanted to watch “The Incredibles” and Evan wanted to watch “Thomas the Tank Engine” but they worked it out and took turns. There were iPods to listen to music, iPads to play games on and of course I always bring along stickers, markers, coloring books and an egg of Silly Putty to occupy their time. Plus there were fruit snacks, granola bars, grapes and juice boxes.
It’s so much different traveling with kids now than it was when I was little, but I hope when the girls get older, they remember the time we spent together, traveling across the state to visit the rest of the family.