Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Three-Hour Tour

Gilligan’s Island has been in syndication forty-five years, yet whenever someone over-packs for a trip, the first thing he is called is Lovey Howell. Her name was actually Eunice Wentworth Howell.

I used to be a light packer. I spent a week in Austria in 1992, and I travelled with one carry-on bag. I don’t know how I did it. I also travelled from Germany to Austria and back again with no GPS, cell phone, computer or fluency in German.

Try that today.

When we had our goodbye luncheon at my last government project, the event coordinator declared I was the best packer she ever met. Only one person raised an eyebrow. Apparently, I can pack a lot of stuff into a small space. I have a talent; I don’t question it; I just accept it. As a matter of fact, friends ask me to pack their trunks for trips.

I still can pack for a trip in about fifteen minutes. Yes, I am also a fast packer. You never knew what hit you.

Oh, he didn’t just go there.

However, somewhere along the way, while my packing skills have remained, I have become Mrs. Howell. When did I suddenly start needing so much stuff? Recently, I had to go on an overnight business trip, and I brought enough underwear for a month-long safari, even though I don’t have a bladder control problem. My size fourteen shoes can take up an entire suitcase on their own, but when did I start needing four wardrobe changes for every day of a trip? It’s a good thing I don’t travel very often even though I can still pack all that stuff into two suitcases. If one of my bags ever explodes, there will be a brief disaster.

After my last over-packed trip, I decided to a look back at those glorious family vacations we took in the 1970s. My brother is gonna love this.

Arnold and Harryette Stern loved to spend money the few times they had it, and there was a time when vacations were the recipients of their retirement, our college and everyone’s grocery funds. Since they didn’t have money very often, there weren’t that many family vacations. Thank God for small mercies.

Forgive me all you loyal family vacationers, but I cannot think of anything more horrible than a family vacation. My friend Chris used to claim that all divorces were the result of a family vacation. Think about it. You spend twenty-four hours a day for seven days with people you normally see for fifteen or twenty minutes a week. I worked in restaurants in Williamsburg, Virginia, for close to a dozen years, and I never saw a happy family on vacation. Never. I still remember the one mother who came up to the bar, ordered Scotch straight up and proceeded to tell me that she was glad she didn’t carry a gun on this trip. Not only did they have three kids in tow, but also, both grandmothers, who apparently did not like each other. I asked her one question, “What the hell were you thinking?” Her answer was to order another drink.

If Jews learned anything from Moses and Zipporrah, it is never to take your extended family on a trip. Imagine traipsing through the desert for forty years with 630,000 of your closest friends and relatives following you. Moses didn’t go up the mountain to talk to God; he went up there to get the hell away from all those whiny Jews.

What we also learned from Mr. and Mrs. Moses was that Jews always vacation where it is hot. One of our family vacations was to Miami in August. Seriously, and we stayed at the Aztec hotel for one night. It was such a dump that my mother left an unflushed present in the commode before we moved to the Thunderbird Hotel.

As you can see, I come from really classy stock.

Now, let me tell you about a typical Stern family vacation. My mother would bake by the pool covered in Coppertone, smoking cigarettes and reading a book, while my father played golf, and my brother and I swam in the ocean. We knew better than to bother either of them. At night, they would go to an expensive dinner, and my brother and I would be on our own. I don’t remember our doing much of anything as a family, but my parents were married for more than forty-six years at the time of my mother’s death, so while this sounds like a strange vacation routine, perhaps they knew something other families didn’t? We spent as much time together on vacation as we did when we weren’t. Stick with me; I am trying to find the positive in all this.

The funny thing about our vacations was how much they packed. Of course, the portable bar was the most essential item, and the first thing that was opened upon arrival. After that were my mother’s things, which would only fit into a complete set of Sampsonite, three wig boxes, a Hollywood-sized make-up case, and four garment bags. All of this would fill the car’s trunk, and the rest of us were on our own. Maybe this is when I learned to fit a lot into a small space.

The most bizarre vacation was the trip they took to Cape Cod after dropping us off at Nana’s in the Van Ness North Apartments, in Washington, DC, in the summer of 1972. At that time, my father drove the prettiest car I think he ever owned – a 1967 Mercury Monterey four-door sedan, which was seafoam green with a black vinyl interior. We called it our Hawaii Five-O car. The trunk of this huge car was filled with Mother’s things, and for this trip, they put one of those poles across the back seat and hung up what had to be half of both of their complete summer wardrobes. My brother sat up front, while I squeezed into the back, against the passenger-side door, with all those clothes taking up ninety-percent of the space as we drove to Nana’s from Newport News. I couldn’t see beside me, and I started to cry. When they asked why I was crying, I told them I felt like a piece of luggage because the three of them were up front, and I was squeezed among all these clothes and wig boxes as if I wasn’t part of the family.

Their trip was for only five days. Who the hell needed all those clothes?

And for the five days we stayed with Nana, she carried on about two things: Aunt Flossie’s divorce and why our parents were spending all their money on these ridiculous vacations. We did get to see the Panda’s when they first arrived at the National Zoo. About that, Nana complained that they needed a bath.

If you have ever wondered how I turned out the way I did, you should have no difficulty understanding that now.

When they returned to pick us up, somehow they had managed to fill the car up with more stuff, and we were also hauling Nana’s black and white RCA television home since she bought a Sony color set to replace it. There I was in the back seat again – this time with a television banging into my head.

I made two vows on that trip. I would never go on a trip where I ended up in the back seat competing for room with someone else’s luggage and used appliances, and I would never travel with a middle-aged Jewish woman.

While I do pack quite a bit for the few trips I take these days, I leave the wig boxes at home, and I leave enough room for me to see out the rearview mirror. And yes, on the rare occasions when I do sit in the back seat, I still cry.

If you feel crowded out by someone else’s stuff, follow me, join me, get on my list.

1 comment:

  1. OMGosh.... You have become your mother!!!