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Posted Tuesday, June 10, 2008, at 11:43 PM

With the onset of the summer season, menopausal minds turn to vacations, or lack of, due to the soaring price of motion lotion. And so, keeping in mind that the mortgage payment on my first home was only eight times the current price of a gallon of gasoline, it seemed an appropriate time to recall a memorable vacation. I can't afford to take one, so I might as well recall one.

It was 1987, I believe, and the youngest of three offspring was only about two or three. He was my little surprise later in life, not an "accident," as I used to refer to him. That term would infer that he was a "misfortune," which he certainly was not. He should be more aptly referred to as a "surprise," and that would conjure up all sorts of wonderful opportunities, as he did over the years. There was a 12-year gap between the oldest and the youngest and so the youngest, it seems, was raised, somewhat as a "toy" for the older children to direct and enjoy. Ah, but I digress.

1987or thereabouts…the ex-spouse (deservedly so) and I planned a rare vacation. We would venture to Nashville, Tennessee to visit what was at the time a tourist attraction, the then-famous "Opryland." It was the theme park of theme parks of its day and promised to hold attractions that would entertain all three offspring and their 38'ish parents as well.

And so we took off, in our 1979 Riviera without reverse…that's right. No reverse. Best I can recall, it was stripped months before and we couldn't afford a new transmission, so we just parked strategically in a manner that would not necessitate backing up in order to exit our allotted space. The procedure became somewhat of a challenge, as I recall. Parking in a parallel spot in the downtown area would at times require waiting for the driver of the vehicle in front to return to his/her vehicle in order to allow me the space to maneuver an exit from my chosen spot.

The scariest aspect of this is that at the time, it seemed not all that abnormal. Just something with which to contend until times got better. Funny what is ingrained in your brain in a given circumstance. If a child of mine today were to be placed in some of the situations that I was at times, I would have rushed to their rescue. It was a time of subservience, though, and one during which I just contended with the plate that was served upon my table.

Ah, but I diverse once again.

Another problem with the Riviera without reverse was that the air-conditioning system was somewhat faulty. It would cool for a time, and then start blowing warm outside temperature air. It was late July, as I recall, and temperatures were in the upper 90s at the onset of our "vacation," or as I affectionately refer to it as, "the trip from hell."

The first order of business was to stop and buy several cans of "Freon" to refill the AC system to keep the cool air flowing. Somehow, this never seemed a necessity so long as I was driving the vehicle to and from the workplace with three children in tow. It only became a vital issue when the male element of the parental team knew that he would be riding in the vehicle for a duration that would eventually result in 100+ temps. And so, every 40 miles or so, we would routinely pull off the highway and inject the canned Freon into the cooling system to insure a few more miles of comfort.

This routine continued for several miles until suddenly, approximately 80 miles from our Nashville destination, the Riviera with no reverse and a serious Freon leak, quit. Absolutely quit. No power. No air. No nothing. No cell phones at that place in time either and temperatures closing in on 100 and no breeze. It was hotter than ….well, usual.

The situation, as best I can recall, was so unbearably miserable, that I could do nothing but laugh. In an effort to allow the offspring to recall the memory with some semblance of affection, I chose the moment to retrieve the old 35 mm camera and capture the moment on film. And so, somewhere in the shoeboxes of my life, there is a photograph depicting a tow-truck hooked to a gray Riviera with no reverse and a serious Freon leak, headed toward a shade tree fixit shop, while the family of five, sunburned and dripping with sweat, one with a sippy cup full of warm lemondade, sits alongside the highway, awaiting a ride. I recall telling the now ex, "I want to capture this moment on film." And I did, much to his grumbling something about it being all my fault.

We somehow made it to Nashville and to Opryland. It was not what currently bears that name. We stayed, as I recall, in downtown Nashville at a Ramada Inn, which was pretty uptown at the time. The two oldest, around 13 and11, had not, apparently, been to town often and found the highlight of the trip to be the elevator in the hotel. The next best tourist attraction was the escalator. Both served to entertain the duo for the duration of the stay, or until we reached Opryland Theme park the next day, at which time the vacation from hell took another plunge downhill.

There was an attraction at the time called, "Chaos," at Opryland. It was a roller-coaster sort of attraction that circled high above the street in a circular motion and in a darkened area. A flashing slide sort of light show flashed on the circular wall as the car elevated and circled and increased speed. For some reason, my two oldest thought I'd really enjoy this kind of vomit waiting to happen. I relented and rode with them, and tried unsuccessfully the entire ride to try to gain the attention of an engineer somewhere to halt the hideous circling. I don't think that I've been so sick in all my life.

Soon after unboarding the Chaos, we all boarded the repaired Riviera without reverse and now without any air whatsoever, and headed for home. The three or four hour trip lasted 18 hours, or so it seemed, and all the while I hung my grayish face out the passenger window hoping beyond hope for relief for the misery inflicted upon me from Chaos.

I believe that there is a purpose for everything under heaven, as the song says. I believe the purpose of the 1987 trip from hell was to make me appreciate every vehicle that I have driven since that era and every burst of cool air that is forced through the vents in a dashboard. And there isn't a time I see an escalator in a major city's mall, when I don't recall the wonderment on the faces of my then-young children who had never experienced being raised off the ground in a confined box, only to have a sliding door open a few moments later that exposed an entirely new view than the one previously seen. It was a miracle, as far as they could tell. It serves well to remind me at times of what the modern world must look like through the eyes of those who are experiencing it for the first time.

All was not lost on the trip from hell in 1987.Although the now-ex failed to see the humor, I look back and smile, as do the offspring. I believe the journey served to prepare us all for another journey, with many more challenges than what we faced over those couple of hundred miles so many years ago. By looking at the bright side, and by appreciating the "wonderment' of it all, we seem to have developed a skill to always look at the positive, appreciating the pitfalls as much as the opportunities.

Happy traveling!

Any favorite vacation memoirs?

Showing comments in chronological order
[Show most recent comments first]

Welcome back Minnie! You have been missed by all your blogger cronies! Seems they were afraid that you and Yellow Rose may have been abducted by aliens, chased away by a bear, or kidnapped by some government body!

-- Posted by greer958 on Wed, Jun 11, 2008, at 9:10 AM

The Grey Brigade, known as the Grey Panthers, to be exact. We all know that this sinister group is the "militant arm of the AARP." Ha! Gray Power rules!!

Minnie, dear, I absolutely love your "Trip from Hell" story!!! Especially the part about the kids' wonderment with the elevator at the hotel!! What a vacation!

I once took a group of high school students ....(ah, where were we?), well, wherever it was, they, too, were fascinated by the glass elevators. They got on without noting which floor they were supposed to get off on. They looked so ridiculous, going right past our floor. They finally had to stop at each floor, in order to find their way "home." You'd have thought they'd never been off the farm!

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Jun 11, 2008, at 10:01 PM

Oh, Minnie dearest, it's so good to see you. You have been sorely missed. It's good to know that you weren't kidnapped with Yellow Rose.

Lady Madeline was 14 when our youngest brother, Mark, was born. He was definitely a toy for her. By the time she was driving he was old enough to go along and they went everywhere together. She thought the boyfriend (later husband) was very unreasonable when he wouldn't let Mark go on dates.

I can also relate to the vacation from Hell. One hot summer Daddy, Mark and I went to Panama City Beach, Florida. I HATE having sand in my clothes. I become very unreasonable and recalcitrant. On the way home, Daddy stopped at a liquor store and bought sodas for him and Mark and a bottle of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill wine and a paper cup for me. He put me and the wine in the back seat and the remainder of the trip was much calmer and quieter, I'm sure.

-- Posted by mokath52 on Sat, Jun 14, 2008, at 8:06 AM

-- Posted by DanaMarie on Tue, Jun 17, 2008, at 3:45 PM


-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Jun 18, 2008, at 7:46 AM

I second that, GT....??????

-- Posted by bringwine on Wed, Jun 18, 2008, at 10:48 PM

Welll...not real sure where the first post went. I guess into cyberspace being the computer guru that I claim to be! Back to our infamous family vacation. Picture this: June 1978...seven adult couples thought it would be fun to take thier 14 children to Florida for a week. There had to have been alcohol involved when this idea was hatched. Children ranged in ages from two to 15. Some families flew, some families drove caravan style. Remember this was prior to MapQuest, Google and cell phones. But, we had something better than cell phones. We had the CB RADIO!!! Some silly such "handle" as "Sparkles" was one that I remember. Our first glitch occured near Cairo IL. There was a very cute, precious, endearing dark-haired, dark-eyed two year old who decided she wasn't going over a bridge without sitting on my lap. I was not in her car, nor was I her mother. I was the BABYSITTER!!! Does anyone know how many bridges there are between Dexter MO and Sanibel Island Florida??? I don't remember either, but Rachel didn't go over one without me. How did the OTHER two year old react? Well, he was in the middle of potty-training. Thank God his mother remembered to pack the sand pail. That pail didn't build any sandcastles that trip, but it served a purpose anyway. There was an overheated engine, so no air conditioning in "LY"'s" vehicle so she rode with "Sparkles". When finally arriving at our beautiful, beach-front condo, we were ready for our vacation. After battling green tree frogs that were making thier home on the stucco building. Who knew my big, strong, he-man Dad would have such an "adversion" to little green frogs?! Parents and children fell into bed anticipating a morning ocean swim. Oh, that wonderful travel agent, (who is now out of business) forgot to tell 14 adults and 14 children that Stingrays mate once a year, on the isle of Sanibel in front of our beautiful, beach-front condo. BEACH CLOSED! NO SWIMMING until the Stingrays are finished....sex ed lesson for some of the children. I didn't really believe that the Stingrays were just "playing a little roughly" with each other, but I didn't want to have to explain it to the basketball coach. (I guess he didn't teach a health class off the court!) Since the beach was closed, my family decided to drive to the Wonderful World of Disney!!! We got to see the WHOLE park in ONE DAY incuding drive time. We also found out if there was a waiting line, Gary didn't "do" lines. We moved on. Have I mentioned the "eating out" experiences? Have you ever gone to a restaraunt and requested a table for 26 with two highchairs, please? THAT endeared us to many a hostess/waitress. The only reason we went out to eat was because, our beautiful, beach-front condo refrigerator broke and spoiled ALL of the meat for the week.

FINALLY, our wonderful week is over and two 11 year old boys want to take a little Sanibel Island home with them, so they "pack" a suitcase with little critters who expire around Georgia, start smelling around Tennessee. I think the suitcase was ditched somewhere in Kentucky before it made it back to Missouri.

AHHH yes, we all have fond memories of our beautiful, beach-front condo on Sanibel Island.

-- Posted by DanaMarie on Thu, Jun 19, 2008, at 10:33 AM

DanaMarie, my vote is with you on the "Vacation from Hell" contest! Sorry, Minnie, dear - It's hard to compete with the sex life of a sting ray!! Hahaha!!

-- Posted by goat lady on Thu, Jun 19, 2008, at 5:26 PM

I agree, GT...sex life of a stingray, coupled with rotting critters in Georgia...can't compete with that. And I DO recall the old CB handles..do truck drivers still use them??? I agree...looks like DanaMarie takes the cake...speaking of which...where is Cake? You don't suppose one of her recent spouses found her recipe and turned the tables?

-- Posted by bringwine on Fri, Jun 20, 2008, at 7:54 PM

Oh bringwine...I am alive and well. My husband, though, must have cought a bit of a chill. We had just recently been reminiscing about our past travel experiences...although they pale in comparison to those of Minnie and DanaMarie. Roller-coasters and sex lives of sting rays, oh my.

-- Posted by letseatcake633 on Sat, Jun 21, 2008, at 5:09 PM

Great to see you again letseatcake! You have been sorely missed.

-- Posted by Ducky on Mon, Jun 23, 2008, at 1:16 PM

I'm planning my summer vacation trip early this year. I heading to the Caribbean at an adult and erotic vacations resort called charlisangels where i can relax with European and Russian escorts in beach villas. My friends has commented me about that resort and I'm excited about being there.

-- Posted by Fred44 on Mon, Jan 12, 2009, at 5:52 PM

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