When the kids were young, our family vacations were models of harmony and bliss as Tammy and I vacuum-packed four daughters into our sardine can of a station wagon, which we nicknamed Lurch.
Most years, we made the road trip across the bleak Nevada desert to visit relatives. The highlight was when baby Laurel detonated diapers all the way down Interstate 5, across routes 46, 99, 58 and up I-15 to Las Vegas, where we nearly went bankrupt buying another truck-load of jumbo, monster-strength, NASA-certified disposable Pampers.
Hailey and Boo-Boo elbowed each other black and blue for the right to sit in the front seat, so they could be elbowed by Mom and Dad. Genevieve whined that Nevada radio stations were for crazed aliens from a faraway galaxy, which should have made our girls feel right at home.
Did you ever wish that you had James Bond ejection seats in your car? One more wail, screech, scream, spit, pout or punch and Daddy pops a red button on the dash. Whoosh! A quad of startled kids rockets through the roof into the desert sky. Happiness is watching four parachutes in the rear-view mirror.
Another memorable fiasco was our pilgrimage to Disneyland. One day we spent 14 hours running, then walking, then crawling through the Magic Kingdom. I vaguely remember being jostled to the curb for the midnight Main Street Electrical Parade. I was a human coat rack draped with maps, cameras, T-shirts, mouse ears, bags and balloons. By the end of my ordeal in “The Happiest Place on Earth,” it felt like my feet had been run over by the Matterhorn bobsled. The only thing magic about the kingdom was that I was able leave it under my own power.
Let’s not forget our invasion of Columbia, a former gold rush boom town in northern California. Preserved in its Wild West splendor, it boasted bluegrass bands, dusty streets and a rickety saloon that served old-fashioned sarsaparilla. The root beer-like soft drink provided our little darlings ample opportunity to demonstrate their world-class belching powers while trying to make each other laugh so the drinks would spray out of their nostrils.
Columbia also had a Wells Fargo stagecoach ride. It was ambushed by real actors playing fake bandits who wore 10-gallon hats on 3-gallon heads and shot plastic cap guns into the air. I told them that they were welcome to take my daughters hostage but they declined. They said they’d rather go to jail than gag on sarsaparilla belches all day. Word spreads fast in a small town.
My all-time favorite family outing was our camping trip to Mount Madonna. We had borrowed a bewildering, battered old tent from my parents. It had more rusty parts than a junkyard, which is probably where they found it. It was after dark by the time I tried to decipher, unsuccessfully, the stained 17-page set-up instructions scrawled by someone whose native language was Swahili. We propped up our lopsided canvas shanty the best we could. During the endless night, as we thrashed about on flat air mattresses, a heavy downpour flooded the campsite, soaked our food and overflowed the outhouses, spewing a foul cloud of methane gas into the forest. We broke camp a lot faster than it took to put it up.
Our frenzied, frolicking family vacations taught our kids skills that have reverberated through the generations. Our grandchildren are carrying on the lofty traditions of their parents, such as blowing meatballs out of their noses. Knowing that our world will be in good hands for years to come gives my wife and me deep satisfaction. May your family vacations be just as rewarding.
Larry Alan Brown is a resident of Alpine, Utah. Email: email@example.com