The weather in Northern California has been teasing us lately. One day, it’ll be cold with rain on and off for days. The next, the sun will peek through and warm us up for a few days. Everyone goes hog wild and washes their cars, gets their pedicures, and whips out the flip flops because the sun has decided to pay us a little visit. This weather also means people will be planning vacations, leaving to various destinations to relax and forget about the work world and everyday stresses. I’m in my 20′s, and I must say I enjoy a weekend away. I love staying in a hotel, drinking cocktails and laying by the pool. In my young adulthood, I have taken quite a few wonderful trips but there is one which will forever stand out among the rest. It was the summer of 1996, when my hard-working parents were determined to get away for a few days and give themselves (and their four children) an adventure.This is the story of that weekend.
My parents had met in high school and had fallen in love. My mom was Class President, a Lifeguard in the summer, and the little sister of my dad’s good friend. He was in a band with my Uncle Kevin and thought my mom was the cutest thing he’d ever seen. My mom asked my dad to the Turnabout Dance her Sophomore year, and they’ve been together ever since. They were married when my mom was 20,my dad only a few years older. They had my older brothers Tim and Pete, then came me, and then my little brother Sam. At the time, my mom was a substitute teacher and my dad worked at a manufacturing plant on the night shift, working hard year round and around the clock. My parents had decided they were going on vacation, and their favorite place in the entire world, was the coast. My entire family loves the ocean and I believe that is because my parents love it so much and instilled a love in us at a young age. My mom has told me this story numerous times, but the best part was that they had $74 in the bank and decided to go on this trip anyways. I remember packing my tiny suitcase and selecting my clothing very carefully. I had a plastic Lion King suitcase, no bigger than a small serving tray, which I stuffed with my bathing suit and homemade clothes (my mom could honestly stitch the cutest outfits!). We loaded into the white station wagon (which was falling apart) and my parents told me they said a prayer the car would make the trip. There was a large hill we drove over to get to the coast and my mom tells me now, “We prayed for the station wagon to get over the hill, we knew if it would make it over that, we would definitely get to our hotel”. They stopped at Luckys’ and picked out the things we NEVER were allowed to have in our lunches. We got Capri Suns, Gushers, Fruit Roll-Ups, and those bowls of cereal you tear the top off of and pour milk into. These were luxuries we never got in our lunches (we were on a PB&J budget), and we were giddy as my parents loaded up the cart. My mom tells me that they didn’t have their paychecks yet, but that they wrote a check anyway at check-out, knowing the grocery store wouldn’t cash it until Monday. We piled into the station wagon and were on our way. We listened to The Beach Boys, Jimmy Buffet, Neil Young, and Bob Seger on cassette tape as we clutched our pillows and blankets in the back seats. We listened to them back to back while we all sang the words and stared out the window of our station wagon whizzing through San Francisco, then San Jose. The station wagon crept over the hill, and eventually made it. We got to our hotel, The Islander, and my mom says it was $40 a night, which was a huge blow to my parents’ budget. Heck, tt was more than half the budget! With the remaining $20, they strategically broke up our weekend so they could stretch their dollar as much as possible. We were close to a boardwalk, which had numerous store fronts and souvenir stands, but we didn’t have the money to spend on sweatshirts or boardwalk games. My parents first gave us a Beach Day. We stayed out on the sand all day long, boogie boarding, making sand castles, digging for crabs, burying each other’s legs, letting the waves crash into us, and laying on the warm sand as the sun shone down on us. At the end of the day we were exhausted, and we headed back to our hotel. My mom and dad let us jump in the hotel pool (we didn’t have a pool at home) sandy bathing suits and all, before eating in the room and going to sleep. The next day we woke up and knew it was Ride Day. We were little kids back then, still afraid of anything too fast or loud or high. The kid rides were only one or two tickets a piece (about $0.50) so my parents bought a strip of tickets for us all to share. I have wonderful memories of riding the tiny tug boats and ringing the bell on the front of them. There were helicopters that spun in a circle and you could make them go up or down the whole ride. We were so excited to ride these things we had only gotten to stare at the previous day from the beach. I can still remember looking down from one of the helicopters and seeing my mom and dad waving at me from a bench on the boardwalk.
After the rides, we wandered down the store fronts and did a lot of window shopping. We looked at all the sunscreen, beach mats, hideous (but wonderful) T-Shirts, sun hats, postcards, and bumper stickers that were crammed into every corner of these stores. They had baskets of multiple seashells which you could buy for $0.50 by the register, along with dollar sand toys, and floaty things for your hotel pool. Next door was the candy store, where they made world famous salt water taffy. We would watch them pull the taffy on a huge hook and look through the window as employees dipped chocolate strawberries or spun cotton candy. Before leaving for the day, my parents bought us a small bag of candy to share. It was the most amazing thing ever to shove your hand in the paper bag and not know what you were going to get. There were green and white gummy frogs, brown Coke bottle gummies, gummy bears, and we always had a few pieces of salt water taffy in there too.
To extend our wonderful trip even further, we headed to San Jose to visit my Uncle Ray and cousin Phyllis. My Uncle Ray was (no joke) in his 90′s and actually was my Great Uncle. He lived at home taking care of his daughter with special needs , grew the BEST cherry tomatoes on his side patio, and always had little ceramic cases of mint-flavored toothpicks on his coffee tables. He had a wonderful house that was always impeccably maintained, and when we pulled up, we piled out and gave big hugs to Uncle Ray who was already waiting for us. He would always wave to us as we pulled into the drive way and always waved good bye as we left his house in San Jose. His house was an adventure because he had an old camper in his back yard we got to sleep in. There was a tiny black and white T.V. with the bunny ear antenna that we fiddled with in the camper until we got a picture (any picture) on the screen. We would play in his yard, hide in the camper, play basketball in the driveway, and always wake up to him saying he was “making flapjacks” in the morning. (I still love when someone calls pancakes, “flapjacks”). He had an office in his house where he was always playing with numbers and balancing his accounts. He put his money in several different banks and we would drive him to do his errands sometimes when we visited. I never understood when I was young, why he was so obsessed with balancing his accounts or why he had his money spread into so many different banks. I understood later in life, however, when I realized how much my Uncle Ray had lived through. He was alive when the Titanic sank. He was alive through WWI and WWII. I’m sure being alive during the Great Depression would cause you to be awfully careful with your finances and put your money in multiple places. After running errands with Uncle Ray, playing in the camper and watching Wheel Of Fortune with Phyllis, our vacation had come to an end. It was Sunday, we had to get home to the real world, and I hated saying goodbye to Uncle Ray (or his flapjacks! They were so good). He would pull us in for a hug and then (while my parents weren’t looking) he would give us a few dollars in quarters to keep for our next trip. I remember driving home and how quiet everyone was. My parents were looking straight ahead at the road and my brothers (who usually were always eating. talking, laughing, singing) were quiet. I think we knew that our parents were sad to be going home, so we thought we should be too. I have so many wonderful mental pictures in my head of driving at night with my family on vacation. I loved being smooshed together so tight in the bench seats, with our snacks, books, Walkmen, and pillows. I loved hearing my brothers snore as they eventually fell asleep, their heads propped up against the windows. I loved sitting next to Sam in the backseat because he was the sweetest (sorry Tim and Pete <3) and always thought my jokes were funny. I have wonderful mental pictures of Sam bopping his head to music, or Pete’s mouth gaping open as he snored, or Timmy as he motioned with his hands the best routes and highways to take. But I think the sweetest picture in my head is of my mom and dad holding hands in the front seat, as they headed over the hill, probably saying a silent prayer that their station wagon would make it over the top safely–just one more time.