Jean Spillman: It’s the not-so-perfect trips I remember the most


Writers do not need the perfect spot to write a story. I have been known to scribble ideas on napkins, the backs of check book deposit slips and paper towels.

For once the setting should be perfect: notes, computer, ideas, but there is little in my surroundings that seems the least bit inspirational. I am like everyone else staring at those same walls for the past four months. This solitude is good for memory. As I sit in the quietness of a perfect morning, I am desperate to travel anywhere, so it no wonder my mind goes back to those long ago vacations with the Chief and the kids.

July is the heart of vacation season. Trains, automobiles, boats and planes would usually be taking families to places near and far visiting places that would become “Where I Spent My Summer Vacation” essays. Not so for many of us this year.

Like thousands of other Disneyland visitors, we, too have experienced the endless lines to see Pirates of the Caribbean. We scaled the Matterhorn, and went spinning around in a Teacup. The same itinerary came many years later as we took our granddaughter to do the same thing only this time it was Disneyworld. We have explored most of the kid friendly and historical spots in the United States; however, as a military family many of our trips were back and forth across the country to the next duty station. It is these not so perfect trips, I seem to remember most.

Many of our trips had us traveling from east coast to west coast and back. We traveled through Arizona and New Mexico so many times, I had those Burma Shave signs memorized. I will never forget traveling through New Mexico and Arizona in July with a 3-year-old and one in diapers. Our car had no air conditioning. The Chief, who always tried to make the best of everything, would point out how fresh air was good for us.

“Air”, what air? Was my reply.

The trips were further complicated by the rules of the driver. The main rule was we would not stop until we needed gas. I was glad we drove a gas guzzler. There were times when he too had had enough of the heat, the back seat skirmishes, and the:

“I have to go the bathroom”.

“ I am hungry.”

“I feel like throwing up”

We would stop, sometimes in the middle of the day, for rest and fun.

Travel by air can be just as problematic. On our way to our new duty station at Pearl Harbor we became acquainted with some of our fellow passengers who greeted us with “Aloha” and were excited about their Hawaiian vacation. They said our children were charming. I believe this evaluation changed when our son suddenly turned green with a sudden onslaught of air sickness. He had no time for anything and his sickness spilled everywhere. The stewardess tried to clean up everything while we tried to console our mortified son. Our new friends were saying “Poor thing, that’s ok,” but their eyes were saying “Aloha,” and this time it didn’t mean hello.

If vacations don’t turn out as planned remember the messes will become memories and petty annoyances fade with the years. Whether the trip is to San Antonio, Santa Barbara, or St. Moritz or for many of us this year, our own back yards, the important thing is the time spent together away from computers, telephones, fax machines and other distractions that rule our lives and take us away from each other. These times are much too rare and we should treasure them.

Jean Spillman, a retired teacher and a past guest columnist for the Corpus Christi Caller Times, lives in Montgomery. Jean welcomes e-mail responses at

[email protected]


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