Daddy once advised me when I asked, “How were we always able to go on vacation?”, knowing preaching didn’t pay very much in those days. I was trying to figure out how to take my family on a summer vacation like my dad had managed gladly to provide for me.

He answered me, “Jay, I have always considered a vacation a necessity, not a luxury.”

He went on to explain his reasoning behind this affirmation.

Dad said things in a way that made sense. And this made sense this way: Families bond and rediscover each other on vacations. The daily grind and pressure escapes no one, not even children, wives, or husbands. He said it becomes necessary to have a “planned vacation” so that all can anticipate the upcoming getaway.

We took a summer vacation every year I can remember as a child and they always included a cousin or two and a car full of kids and a trunk packed tight and right…so Dad could access the big green Coleman cooler that we ate and drank from at various picnic stops along our route of travel.

Dad was a “Ford man,” and we traveled in Galaxy 500’s and LTD’s. In my younger days with four or five kids in the backseat, I would often lie in the back window or the floor board. Mom would pack the Coleman with her signature pimento cheese and tuna salad and Colonial white bread. We had crackers and cheese in the car for the ever hungry carload and we used the “recirculate” mode on the air conditioning, circulating Marlboro Red smoke  evenly to each rider. And I was always “hot in the back” and “don’t touch me” was second only to “how much further,” as the spoken word.

Finally the kids would be told to shut up and don’t touch anybody or we were stopping and daddy would warm that ass up for you out in front of the car where the others could see how lucky they were that it was not them and instead me getting raised by a daddy and not a fraternity.

One vacation I remember as the longest “road trip” we ever took and it was a trip to San Francisco. We had Danny Phillips, my first cousin, with us and we embarked on a 3-week venture.

We left Tennessee wide-eyed and excited, covering the predetermined miles per day by starting early and reaching our motel at each spot in time for all of us to swim at the pool which was usually in the center of the parking lot of a Best Western. We would swim until dark, eat some cereal and milk and go to bed exhausted in a double room with a “rollaway” or two. I always got a rollaway bed because I was the only boy in the family.

Mom would repack the Coleman, dad would repack the trunk, and about sunrise we were en route to the next stop along the way. This road trip took us north, the first few days to Kansas City and Boot Hill, Salt Lake City, and the Salt Flats, and each city was toured as we hustled from spot to spot. I think we saw “The Sound Of Music,” at the theater in Salt Lake City and we toured the Mormon Tabernacle and still saved time for us kids to swim.

We traveled west to Pike’s Peak and Yellow Stone National Park. It was July and we were all dressed in shorts and such, but Old Faithful was a cold wait and heading up Pike’s Peak, we encountered a snow blizzard, winding up snow covered roads, that had no edge and I can still see the view from the backseat of blinding white snow and mom telling dad to be careful. That was the only time during the whole trip that we were quiet without being told. We made it up the mountain to a dude ranch for supper and such on into the night and it was cold…in July.

We made our way to San Francisco and the BIG CHURCH MEETING, that gave us cause to go there. We experienced trolley cars and I loved it. People were jumping on and jumping off and bells were ringing and I was definitely ready to do some jumping, too, but Momma made sure I didn’t as we toured China Town, the Fisherman’s Wharf, and finally a telescopic viewing of Alcatraz from afar.

We stayed in San Francisco for about a week as Daddy attended meetings, Mom would watch us swim or take us somewhere, or we often gathered with other preacher’s kids and hung out. One day, Dad took us to Candlestick Park and we watched “Say Hey Willie Mays” and felt the constant wind coming off the bay chilling my young under dressed body to the bone. The Golden Gate Bridge was the coolest thing I had seen up to that point in my life; the Arch in St. Louis was tops up until then.

The BIG CHURCH MEETING was called “General Assembly.” In the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, once a year, representatives from “Presbyteries” come together for a convention and governing issues were addressed and Mission Work was reviewed and highlighted. It was always great 2 see the other preacher’s kids we met each year at General Assembly. And it was especially cool to meet all the foreign kids from missions in Colombia and China.

We left San Francisco and drove down Hwy. 1, LuAnne says, and went through Carmel and into LA. Hwy 1 wound down the coast viewing the Pacific until we turned for Anaheim and DISNEY LAND.

Disney Land was still kinda new then and it soon replaced the Golden Gate Bridge as the coolest thing I had ever seen. The Disney World in Florida had not yet been built, so going to Disney Land was a treat for the few from my neck of the woods. While at Disney Land we were at Frontier Land and a gunfight was about to happen in the streets of this fantasy land and the for real looking cowboys shot it out. And as they did it I was only four or five feet from one of the cowboys and that gun work amazed me, so I walked up behind him, (he was the bad guy,) and took his gun out of his holster before he could stop me and pointed it at him, after I nearly dropped it from the unexpected weight of this real Colt .45 that was still smoking hot.

All went quiet in “Didney” Land; the cowboy turned and scolded me and took the gun back before Mom or Dad could grab me. Needless to say, Momma laughed and Daddy disciplined. He had to, there was 200 people watching his kid pull a gun on a cowboy. I could get into more trouble than the average boy for some reason; a reason that I’m still trying to find. All of Disney Land was awesome and I’ll never forget it.

From Anaheim, we took a southern route home, that took us through the desert and to more Best Western swimming pools and more pimento cheese sandwiches and cold whole milk. It doesn’t seem like we ever ate at a restaurant but I’m glad because “picnic table stops” that were so common through America during the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s were a much better dinner table, using that old green Coleman cooler as the sandwich making counter. It was so good to get out of that car and to stretch and run and pee because we didn’t stop to pee. A lot of the concrete picnic table spots would have a well traveled path into the trees nearby. The trail lead to a big tree and ended. That was where you peed.

People, like my family, used these rest stops that would dot the major roadways of travel consistently. These “picnic table stops” are all but gone now, replaced by the once in a blue moon rest stops or state line visitor’s centers and the thousands of McDonalds of today.

The trip home took us to El Paso, Texas, to Tootsie’s house. Tootsie was Mom’s cousin and her family, the Stricklin’s owned a very successful grocery store on the Mexican border. They made tens of thousands of fresh tortilla shells daily right there in their store, and their whole family was bilingual which I thought was 4 ever cool.

We visited Tootsie, Texas style and went to a bullfight in Juarez, Mexico, touring the poor parts of town and town central. Tootsie had a daughter that was sick with leukemia, so this stop was a very important visit for Mom and I experienced my first pain that cancer would bring to me, as I couldn’t understand why, since she was so young and so strong, she couldn’t beat this disease. Cancer is stout. Jim, her son and I see each other every five or ten years now. He is so nice and is politically active and operates a huge pecan farm…extremely well.

By the time we got home, half the summer had gone. I was ready to be out of that car but today, I wish I was back in that Galaxy 500 on day one of this very trip.

We had many great vacations because they were “a necessity,” not a luxury.

And as I look back, I can now understand so clearly how necessary those family vacations were. From that point, the day I asked my dad how he did it (take us on family vacations each year) on his income, I have been able to take my family on many vacations. As I was writing this entry, Ashley, my middle child now 24, came in and I asked her, “what was your favorite vacation you have been on?”  She smiled and said, “Dad, all our vacations were great and all our camping trips and canoe trips to Indian Creek were great, because you made sure of it.” She stopped and turned her head sideways in thought and continued, “I guess, that time you took us to Gatlinburg for Christmas was the most special vacation. I really, really enjoyed that one.”  And as she was walking to fold laundry, she says, “Or maybe when just you and me went to the World Series final game in St. Louis.” And she smiled with memories as she recapped this and that about this or that vacation or another and we were both refilled with joys of that particular trip.

Dad taught me by example ….and any time I would ask. I am so glad I asked “how did you do it, Dad”, about vacations. Vacations, especially planned family vacations, are a necessity in the formula for a healthy family. As you sit at the dinner table of life tonight, ask your loved one or loved ones what their favorite vacation spent with you was and also ask them to think further back to childhood for vacation memories and watch the joy fill the room with happy faces, laughter and chatter. So I asked my buddy, Raba Baba, what was his favorite family vacation and to my wonderment he said, “My dad never took us on one…but, Mother did.” And he began telling his story, recounting the fun he and his mom had on their trips.

So Dad, I thank you for my well planned summer life and vacations and I fully endorse your Affirmation: Family vacations are not a luxury, they are a necessity. And as Dad showed me, vacations are far more fun and far less expensive if you travel with a large green Coleman cooler filled with homemade pimento cheese, tuna salad and ice cold whole milk. Believe me, a sandwich never tasted so good as it did as when it came out of that old Coleman cooler; with Mom handing out the white bread sandwiches on the roadside, with the trunk lid up, and the sun shining down on her happy face. Mom was happy because she was proud of her Man, my Dad, and they made these special moments happier…year after year.

The roadside was our dinner table, but the wide world was our plate and I was the lucky one, the son of a preacher man who had to go to the BIG CHURCH MEETING that took us all on a road trip vacation each General Assembly.

Ashley said, as she was leaving the house, “and Daddy, that trip we took to Nashville for that BIG CHURCH MEETING (General Assembly when I was a delegate), was really fun…” and she passed me and said, “all those church trips were fun. I really liked all of them.” And she leaned over and hugged my neck and thanked me.

And I swelled with a tear and went back to writing about this trip as I remembered it…then I called LuAnne, my big sister, to get my story right about the travel path to San Francisco, and of course, I had us going there the southern route and returning the northern route, and I was wrong. So after a few changes and Lu’s help, we recalled that 3-week trip of a lifetime shortly over the phone. She nearly got excited. Then I wondered how many baseball games did I miss that summer and I couldn’t remember…… But I’ll never forget that trip.

So load up the kids and tell um 2 shut up and no we r not there yet and don’t touch her…..”but daddy she is still looking at me.”……and he looked at me with them Daddy stern eyes ….and I shut up.