Tuesday, July 31, 2012
The Magical Summer of '62
In 1962 my father sold his precision-plastics business. He had worked extremely hard to make a success of it and nearly ruined his health doing so; the doctor ordered him to take some time off and relax. So that summer our family took the vacation of a lifetime.
We left Southern California shortly after school was finished in mid-June and headed north, destination: World’s Fair in Seattle. My first memory of the trip is crossing the Golden Gate Bridge; I was in the very back of the station wagon, looking backward at San Francisco as we crossed.
It took several days to get to Seattle, where we did all the World’s Fair stuff — went to the top of the Space Needle, rode the monorail, etc. I remember thinking the monorail at Disneyland was cooler.
Summer Nights That Lasted Forever
An old friend of my mother’s lived in Seattle, and her family owned a cabin in the San Juan Islands. It had no electricity, an outdoor privy, and a propane stove. It was wonderful. So was the weather. That far north, at that time of year, the warm summer nights seemed to go on forever. It was light past ten o’clock, and sunrise was early, which was a good thing. Who could sleep?
Then we headed north for a leisurely drive through British Columbia before dipping down through Montana and Idaho to Jackson Hole, WY. We spent a couple of days at a cabin on a cattle ranch there, then another couple of days on a ranch owned by the daughter of another of mom’s friends. (How did she meet all these people?)
At the second ranch the son-in-law took a day off work and took his son and me fishing. We got into a Jeep and went miles up a dirt road, swerving off it whenever a logging truck came the other direction, finally ending up at a stream where we were the only people for miles around. All my previous fishing had been at more crowded places, and this was a revelation. I don’t believe we caught any fish, but the sense of being alone in the wilderness (except for the stray passing logging truck) was unforgettable.
After that, it was an anticlimactic journey back to Southern California, with a desultory one-night stop in Las Vegas the last night before we got home. I remember standing outside a casino on the sidewalk, in sweltering heat, while mom played out her slot-machine budget. It didn’t take long.
Before the Chain Restaurants Took Over
The trip lasted a month overall, and beyond the specific places we visited, I still have some powerful general impressions. The food, for example. This was just before chain restaurants really took hold, so when you got to a town at mealtime, you had to figure it out for yourself. Dad had several strategies, applied with varying degrees of success.
At lunchtime in Kelso, WA, we stopped at a café Nelson Algren would have advised against. I can still see, smell and taste the sour yellow grease that dripped off the inedible hamburger on to the bun. At that age, nothing was inedible, so it must have been really bad. Fortunately most restaurants we tried were better.
Other things I remember: Long, warm nights everywhere; Dad fiddling with the car radio dial, trying to find a local station in time for the hourly news; the most powerful thunderstorm I’d ever seen, while we were in Canada; being constantly forced to pose for photos when I didn’t want to. I don’t know where that photo album is now, but it doesn’t really matter. I carry my own set of pictures inside my head.