Where did you go on Family vacation as a child?
Winter weather where I lived in Illinois as a child was unpredictable, especially near Christmas. I don’t remember once taking a family vacation during Christmas vacation. But, I remember the inches of snow to build snow forts, make snowballs, and shovel during that vacation.
The vacations I remember occurred during the school’s summer vacation. My Dad was in the Navy, and he tried to arrange his annual leave for the summer months. It allowed him to spend part of it with family in Kentucky or Indiana.
The only trip not to family was to Starved Rock State Park in La Salle County, Illinois. As the story goes, in 1760, a group of Illinois Indians was attacked by Potawatomi and fled to a 125-foot sandstone butte. A park ranger told us how the Ottawa and Potawatomi Indians surrounded the butte and remained there until the Illinois Indians died of starvation. Hence the name Starved Rock.
Most of the trips to Granddad’s Harris’ place were unremarkable. He had a small house that we made smaller, filling it with an extra six warm bodies. My parents shared a spare bedroom, and the children slept on blanket pallets in the kitchen. Grandfather led prayers every evening. Sometimes we listened to mystery shows or the Grand Ole Opry on the radio before bedtime. We kids spent the day outside playing with our cousins living next door.
But…one vacation, we were at my Grandfather Harris’ house out in the country. I played in the yard with my siblings when my grandfather called us to get in the house. He was frantic that we obey. I shepherded my sister and brothers through the front door but stopped to wait for him.
He ran to his car, a 1940’s something, and backed it up several feet. He left it and entered the house, dragging me with him. Granddad had us lay down, and we listened as something sounding like a freight train passed. When the noise stopped, he led us outside. His car sat between two fallen trees. It escaped damage because of the few feet he backed it.
Another trip to Granddad’s
We arrived on another trip to find my Granddad had a dog he kept chained to a doghouse. I think it was an Alaskan Huskie. One night after we went to bed, there came a sound, unlike anything we kids had ever heard. My grandfather said it was a bobcat or cougar. Anyway, we settled down when it didn’t come again.
The dog was gone the next morning. Granddad said not to worry because this was nothing new. The dog had figured out that it could get on the flat roof of the doghouse and leap off, breaking the chain. (I never understood why he chained it if it could get away whenever it wanted.) He said the huskie likely went after the cat. Sometime later, he came back a bit worse for wear. It appeared he found the cat.
I saw a bobcat or cougar on the way home from his house one trip. I was lying on the ledge before the back window. It was dark, and I was staring out the rear window when a big cat jumped out of a tree and ran across the road. One moment it was there, the next gone from sight again.
Some trips to Kentucky were to visit my Grandmother Knott, who lived in Owensboro, Kentucky. Her husband died when I was less than two-years-old. She shared her house with my Uncle Carl, who took care of her and the house’s needs.
My brother, Cletus, and I spent some time with them one summer. That was the summer one of them gave us some steel-tipped darts. Hours of playing pretend-dartboard left the front porch marred with tiny holes. Grandmother was unhappy with the damage, but my Uncle Carl more for he had to sand and repaint the porch. The next time I saw real darts, I was a First Class Petty Officer in the Navy, far from porches.
There were a few brief excursions to see other families before I left home after graduation to work in a foundry located in Skokie, Illinois.
We spent a couple of days on one trip with my Uncle Albert and his family. My uncle had lost an arm in a farming accident. I remember I was uncomfortable as I tried not to stare at the empty shirt sleeve.
Sometimes we visited my father’s sisters, Aunt Imogene and Aunt Merici, but nothing stands out in my memory.
Everyone is gone now, but I have the memories.