The other day, in The Boston Globe, there was an article entitled “Nostalgia Craving baby boomers are driving tourism.” Between that and the sub-head – “From Route 66 and Disneyland to Hawaii and Cuba, childhood memories beckon” – how could I resist a clickthrough?
According to the article, the boomers are looking for a return to a kinder, gentler time, when, apparently, people who weren’t us used to do vacation things like swan around the Cal Neva, watching our folks chill with the Rat Pack.
Well, I’d like to get my kicks on Route 66 with the best of them, but my childhood travel memories don’t beckon from places like Hawaii and Disneyland, let alone Cuba.
The family vacations for this baby boomer came in one of three varieties:
- Chicago to visit my mother's family
- A week or two in the modest Cape Cod cottage of my parents’ friends Mae and Nemo
- Day trips
I still head out to Chicago on occasion. It’s one of my very favorite places. But the way I experience Chicago now – and how I get there – is quite a distance from the biennial trips we made when I was I kid. Back in the day, there were two ways to get to Chicago: car or train. Car involved starting out at dawn, crammed in our car, my father doing all the driving, my mother riding shotgun, the latest kid in her lap in those days before seat belts. My first recall of this jaunt – I was 3 or 4 at the time – has my sister Kath and I laying down on the back seat with towels up to our chins so we could puke into them.
No wonder we took the train the next time.
We went steerage, on the Lake Shore Limited, sitting up in the regular car. My parents made some sort of shelf out of their suitcases, and some suitcases donated by our neighbors, so that Kath, Tom, and I could stretch out and get some sleep. (The trip was overnight. We left Worcester at 5 p.m. and pulled into LaSalle Street Station at about noon the next day.) My favorite part of the train trip was the chillier than chill water from the water cooler, that you drank in those flimsy little paper cone cups. Yum! (The not so favorite part was my mother packing tuna sandwiches for us to have for dinner. It was always a Friday. Something about a slightly aged, slightly chilled tuna sandwich has never quite done it for me…)
On our next couple of train trips, we upgraded to cabins, so at least we could sleep in something that resembled a bed. Plus our own toilets. On one of these incredible journeys, we were split up into a couple of different roomettes. My mother got to sleep in a single narrow bed with my brother Rick next to her, and my 1 year old sister Trish hanging over her in a webbed hammock. Great fun – at least for the kids. But there were still those tuna sandwiches.
The final trip we took to Chicago en full famille, we split up. My mother flew out with the two little guys, while my father drove with the Big Three. On Day One – in 90+ degree weather (un-airconditioned car, of course) – we had a flat outside of Buffalo. To make up for lost time, we didn’t stop for food on Day Two. My father bought a giant bag of orange marshmallow “circus peanuts” and a couple of bottles of (warm) Pepsi. I will say this about my dad. He had an excellent idea of how kids like to travel. Plus he let us blast the radio – and pick the station. The big songs that summer were Surf City and Danke Schoen.
Whatever the mode of transpo, once we got to Chicago, we did mostly family things: a few days in Grandma’s sweltering bungalow in the city, then out to “the country”, the lake house my grandparents had bought in the late 1930’s. It’s now part of Chicago’s suburbs, but at the time it was the real sticks: there was a duck farm across the street. As kids, we loved every minute of it, especially given that our cousins the Dineens – also 5 kids, roughly age parallel – were there, too.
In Chicago, we always did at least one city thing so, as a kid, I saw the Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute, and Museum of Science and Industry.
These days, on my Chicago trips, I stay with one of those all-grown-up Dineens, my cousin Ellen, and get to see her mom and those of her sibs who are still local. But, fortunately, my visits to Ellen do not involve 20 people sharing one bathroom. It also involves eating out at nice restaurants, something we sure didn’t do as kids.
I love visiting Chicago, but nostalgia doesn’t have all that much to do with it. I love the city, and get to visit with my wonderful cousin Ellen.
Back in the day, in our non-Chicago years, we either went to the Cape or did day trips.
At the Cape, we stayed in a tiny little ranch house, but it was within walking distance of the beach, and within walking distance of the Barefoot Trader, a long-gone souvenir/gift shop. They sold a lot of barefoot-related crap, including a pinky-beige (a.k.a., “flesh”) ceramic ashtray, which I recall quite clearly, because my parents – who were, quite possibly, the couple least likely to spend any money on a souvenir – bought one, and it sat on a side table in the family room well after there were no longer any smokers around to use it. (Now that I think of it, maybe I bought it for my father for Christmas one year…)
I loved the Cape then, and I still do. Only these days, the ante’s been upped. Mostly when I’m there, I’m at my sister Kath’s in Wellfleet, where we can spread out and no one has to queue up for the bathroom, as there are 3.5 of them there.
Some years, we just did day trips. One of those day trips was always a trip to the beach – either Nantasket or Horseneck, neither of which I’m especially nostalgic for (although I do wish that Nantasket’s LeHage salt water taffy was still available – Oh, so good!) On one of the other days, we’d go somewhere – maybe drive to Bennington, Vermont to see a covered bridge or something, or go to Sturbridge Village (a recreated ye olde town) so we could thank God we didn’t live in 1820. And one day, we’d go take a dip in a local lake. Somedays, we’d just “take a spin” and stop for ice cream. Some days, we did nothing. (I.e., my father got to relax for a change.)
Anyway, I really don’t have any cool childhood travel that I feel nostalgic enough about to replicate.
I would like to visit Cuba, but nostalgia has nothing to do with it. (Okay, seeing all those old cars from the 1950’s might be fun.)
But, seriously, whose family vacationed in Havana? The farthest south anyone I knew got was Misquamicut Beach in Rhode Island.