When I was very young, perhaps four or five, I remember my dad waking me before the sun was even up. He scooped me in his arms, blankets and all, and carried me to our family van. Strapping on my seatbelt, I settled in and rubbed my groggy eyes. My brothers and sister scrambled in after me.
My mother said a prayer before we began, and then we were on our way.
This wasn’t an unusual occurrence. At least three times a year, for as long as I can remember, my family would pack up the van and head out on our next road trip.
Most of the time, it was either to visit my grandparents and dad’s side of the family in Pennsylvania, who live about a 12 hour drive away; or to vacation in Florida where my parent’s own a timeshare, which is about a 17 hour drive.
Needless to say, long road trips don’t really phase me.
In fact, road trips are good for my heart. Back out onto the road, with nothing planned for the next day except to get passed the next exit. I would always bring stacks of books with me and plenty of crayons to color with in my coloring books to keep me busy. My brothers would bring DVDs so they could watch on my dad’s laptop and my sister was content with just her music. But the best part is not having to do anything.
Of course, there were also some rougher memories as well. I can’t tell you how many times my father threatened to “pull this car over!” and how many times he followed through. Or how many times one of my brothers were grounded for teasing me, or how many times I cried as a result of their teasing.
There was one particularly bad trip to my grandparent’s house one year during Christmastime. It had snowed so much (I think at least a foot, but probably more) that almost all of the exits were closed. My parents were tired and it was near 10 p.m. but we hadn’t eaten dinner yet due to the snow. There had been so much traffic that we watched all three Lord of the Rings movies – extended editions, mind you – just in the state of Ohio.
Note: Ohio does not normally take 12 hours to drive through.
We finally found an open exit and my dad pulled off. We turned into the first restaurant and just as my mom walked up to the door, the manager changed to sign from open to closed. My mother was furious and we were all crabby, but we finally managed to find an open Steak ‘n Shake. My two brothers were constantly teasing and picking on me as we ordered and waited for our food. I remember that I ordered chicken fingers and fries. My brother said one more mean comment and I snapped; I took a chunk of my chicken tender, dipped it in ketchup, and then shoved it in my brother’s face and smeared it all over.
In my head, I didn’t expect him to retaliate so fast.
He was shoving his food in my face as well and my mother was screaming at us both. My other brother was cackling in glee, while my dad and sister were oblivious to the whole debacle, absorbed in their own conversation at the other end of the table.
We both were grounded.
But even these memories we laugh about now. (I still take the stance that my brother deserved it.)
On Friday night, just like the old days, my family prepared for a road trip. There are some differences today. My parents no longer own a purple van so we took two separate cars instead. My eldest brother didn’t join us for this trip, but our family expanded last year, so Andrew was joining us for the first time.
Despite all of these differences, some things never change. Vacation in the Gray family remains the same: Daytona Beach, Florida.