Poetic Essays

A World To See

You don’t remember, could you,
When this was luxury –
How can you come to feel a time
You never lived to see –

You do not know the several ways
That common made one king,
Nor how we terraforming bugs
Keep changing

Everything


We took family vacations when I was a child; different places every year. We saw cities, and national parks, and stayed in a lot of inexpensive hotels and motels. This was not all that uncommon in the decades immediately before the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, as automobile travel was cheap.

My family was a little unusual for the length of our trips, which were typically two weeks, and occasionally as long as three. Both of my parents were from large families, so we had relatives seemingly everywhere; in addition, they had made friends in the locations where my father had been stationed, and we sometimes visited them.

Cities I remember us visiting include Kansas City, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Nashville, Atlanta, St. Louis, San Antonio, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Washington (D.C.), and St. Augustine. We attended the Hemisfair in 1968 (in San Antonio). We stayed on a farm owned by some friends of my parents in New Jersey. We visited my grandmother in Rochester, NY, several times. We saw the Smokey Mountains and Mammoth Cave. I remember seeing Niagara Falls several times.

We never did, however, see Rock City. We saw the signs a lot, though.

For many of the trips we took, there were three of us kids in the car, along with my mom and dad. They typically split us up by having my brother sit in the front passenger seat with the map to ‘navigate’.

Apparently, we fought and argued a lot, and this made the time go easier.

In addition, my sister had motion sickness, so she would take Dramamine and sleep most of the way.

My parents were from a generation that believed that travel broadened the mind. It was good to see as much of the country (and the world) as we could afford, because it got us out of the narrow view of our little town and concerns as being all there was.

What you never know as a parent is how children will react to the things you introduce them to. We stopped to stay overnight in a motel once near Huntsville, Alabama, that had a pool with a waterslide, and that was, for years, our (we kids’) favorite place we ever visited.


A lot of things that bored me as a child have fascinated me since. I remember being bored looking at scenery out car windows during these long trips as a child; now, I love to do it. I could say the same thing about Handel’s Messiah (hated it as a kid), the opera (I thought I was going to die when I was thirteen), and even art museums. So, just because your kids dislike something you want them to appreciate doesn’t mean they always will.

We sometimes sang or played games in the car to pass time (so far as I can remember, we never turned on the radio, even once). Singing was tough, because my father wanted us to be like a professional singing group. This is not a figure of speech: we went around to different places as a family and sang, publically. I never liked performing – not even a little — although I liked singing.

The games were of the “find license plates from as many states as possible”, “find all the letters of the alphabet, in order, off of signs”, or “auto bingo” variety, with the last one being an actual game with little cards we each would get and close little red windows over the pictures of things we spotted as we went.

Auto Bingo, in all its glory.

After I turned thirteen, it was just my parents and me on these trips, as both my brother and sister had grown up and moved out. I tried reading in the car on a few of those trips, but that didn’t work very well for me.

By that time, the cost of gasoline was quite a bit higher, so our trips had gotten scaled back. In fact, the year I turned thirteen, I spent the entire summer at Interlochen International Arts & Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan; what my parents did that summer I couldn’t say.

Probably enjoyed the peace and quiet, I would imagine.


My parents traveled even more once I left home; traveling internationally for as long as their health and finances allowed it.

They went to Spain, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Israel, Turkey, Mexico, and Southern Argentina, I believe. They took the Trans-Canadian railroad, and did a couples cruise in and by Alaska.


About ten years after my father died, my mother, then around eighty-four, got a boyfriend (a “gentleman friend”, she called him). He and his late wife had also traveled all over the world – they were both ex-Navy – and he had a world map in his apartment of every place they’d ever visited or lived. It was quite impressive.

He even talked my mom into going with him on a cruise to Hawaii, which apparently was a disaster. “When you can’t even stand right on solid ground, a ship is no place to be,” my mom said, laughing.

When you see a person who is older than you are – maybe seventy, or eighty, or (like my mother-in-law) ninety – realize how much change they have seen their world go through. Even for those who constantly seek new worlds to explore, new things to learn, the pace and magnitude of change has to be something like overwhelming, at times.

And also remember, while they are seeing the world you know, you never saw the world they knew. We can read about it, but we can’t ever feel it, not like those who lived through it can.

So enjoy the chance to hear about it while it is still available to you.

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