Friday, February 22, 2008

Practice Runs; Summer, 1963

Well, my year with Mrs Fuller came to a close and another glorious summer began. I seem to recall this summer being the summer my father and mother felt it would be good to teach us something and show us America. “See the USA in Your Chevrolet” was the operating phrase here. We didn’t venture too far afield but after a week in Ocean City we took to the road in a series of trips designed to stimulate our young minds and get us out of Wenonah.
We visited Gettyburg, PA, and on the same trip, Strasbourg, PA and the railroad museum, Pennsylvania Dutch country and many other cheesy tourist sites en route. This particular trip was a big favorite for all us boys as it involved Civil War battlefields. Mick and I were mad Civil War fans with Mick even more rabid than me. We had our Civil War hats and our muskets and flags and our Civil War soldiers and games and books and so the chance to see where some Civil War battles actually happened was a rare treat. Or so we thought.
We arrived in Gettysburg after a trip of several hours and headed straight to the Diorama. This was a major tourist attraction and consisted of a huge miniature layout of the battlefield. Lights flashed, music played, and smoke billowed. Still and all it was just little men on paper mache but we loved it. We bought a few souvenirs with money we’d earned from shoveling snow and then it was off to the battlefield proper.
This proved to be a modest disappointment. No, a major bummer. It was just fields. Well mowed fields! No dead guys! No bones! It might as well have had corn growing in it and in fact did in some places. We were not real clear on the fact that dead guys were probably right under our feet and that this was essentially a vast military cemetery and memorial built after a terrible battle. Screw that! We wanted gore and guns and what we got was birds chirping.
Oh, there were some pictures of dead guys. Enlargements of Matthew Brady photos were placed at strategic intervals to illustrate the carnage and that was cool and all. I mean back then you didn’t usually see actual pictures of dead people on the news or in print so seeing the dead rebel sniper by the big rock was cool. Beyond that though we were probably happier swimming in the motel pool.
On our way back we visited the stupid railroad. We went to Strasburg cuz Ted was a railroad lunatic. Ted was an odd little child. He didn’t grow hair till he was like five and he took enormous interest in arcane pursuits and subjects. Railroads were on of them. Old railroads in particular. To give you a real sense of how weird Ted was one year his birthday gift was a push lawnmower from Sears. He loved that mower! Mowed grass for hours when he got it.
Anyway, then we saw the Pennsylvania Dutch people who it turned out weren’t Dutch but German and really not much to look at cuz they were working on their farms most of the time. They’re called Amish apparently and our parents didn’t bother to mention or didn’t know that they were a weird religious sect from Germany that came here to escape persecution. What they got was people following their carts in station wagons taking pictures and buying sho fly pie from them or pretzels. Pretty sad and not way up on the must see list for 11 year olds.
Our next big adventure was a drive down the Skyline Drive in Virginia. I’m fairly certain this was my mothers pick because she was real impressed with the scenery. We could give a fuck about that and mostly moaned about being hungry or tried weird southern food like hominy grits. It was mostly a long, long drive with three yelping boys and two hot adults (no ac in the car) through tourist trap after tourist trap and then back to Wenonah. If I recall correctly Mary Louise was parked with Nonny and Aunt Gersh for this one.
All these trips were, I think, test runs for the mother of all trips. The next summer we were going to drive across country to visit my Aunt Gert in Ventura, CA. You’ll get more of the lurid details on that one in a few months.
The rest of the summer was spent in blissful play. Well, swimming in the pool, running in the woods, and then getting bored. Really, really, really bored because after two months there was nothing to do. What fools we were. Had we known then what we know now I’m certain we would have felt otherwise. Instead we hunkered down on the front porch for marathon games of Monopoly and Risk for the last two weeks of summer and cried like girls because we were bored. My parents must have thought we were insane. I certainly think we were.

1 comment:

brother Ted said...

I loved your account of Strasburg and me, we even went there on vacation when I was 40! Just to see the trains! The kids and wife just roll their eyes when I talk about train trips.