French Lick, the WaWa Goose, and the Oregon Trail


‘Summer vacations, Midcentury Midwestern Style’

The Child is on Day 18 of her solo hike of the John Muir Trail. The JM is a 200-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Canada to Mexico. Her Childness started in Yosemite National Park a couple of weeks ago and will finish in three or four more days at Mt. Whitney.

Here she was on Day 13. Well, here is where the satellite said she was, anyway

We’re not too panicky, since we can track her via GPS. And sometimes, when she has cell service, she calls or texts. She even Facetimed us from the top of Half Dome.

The Child Instagrams from Half Dome, where there were still a few people. Unless those are bears in disguise

Now, I’m glad (sort of) that she’s doing this. But I must say that this kind of trip is certainly not my cup of tea. The blisters and bears and dehydrated food and being alone for hours at a time wouldn’t bother me so much. (In fact, I rather like being alone.)

Nope. It’s the sleeping outside part that’s the deal-breaker for me. Let me explain.

The Child’s home away from home. A veritable trailside Hilton

See, when I was a kid, when we took a family vacation, we drove. We didn’t know anybody who took planes. For one thing, back in those days taking a plane with a family with at least three kids (and ultimately five) was way too pricey. At least for families like mine.

Trains were on the expensive side too, though I remember taking one once from Memphis to Chicago. That was the trip where Middle Brother Roger (who was the youngest at the time) sat on a fancy lady’s lap and asked her why she had a string of dead squirrels around her neck. (It was, in fact, a mink stole, and she didn’t even get mad, he was so adorable.)

Surly Teen Me, with Laura and Roger, on a rare trip that (I think) did not involve sleeping outside. We went, for some reason, to French Lick, Indiana, and stayed in an old resort at the hot springs. (Oldest Younger Brother Scott snapped the photo)

And when we were on these driving vacations, we didn’t stay in motels. (See same reason given for not flying, above.) Nope, we slept outside. Well, not outside-outside, exactly. We stayed in a popup camper. (See our Nimrod in the photo at the top of this post.) In those days these things were too hot or too cold, mosquitoes (and little kids) whined around inside, and when it rained the canvas leaked.

Once in a while on a road trip, we wouldn’t even bother with the Nimrod. Dad would just pull over by the side of the road and we kids would grab some Zs on a mattress that was back in the cargo area of the Ford station wagon. (But, hey, at least it wasn’t outside.)

Getting ready to hit the road back home to Memphis after visiting the Peterson relatives in Northern Illinois. At least our luggage is on top, and the mattress is in the back

We drove and camped our way to Colorado, a trip I associate with the aroma of Alberto VO5. (It was super-hot in the car, no automotive AC available in those days, and the goop had liquefied. Younger Only Sister Laura, who was a mere tot at the time, had been playing with the jar and spilled its contents.)

Regardless of the smell, I also remember walking in the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail and being amazed by the vastness of the Badlands. Great Mom Quote: “Just think, the early settlers rode in their covered wagons straight into the sun for months at a time — and they didn’t even have sunglasses.

A couple of good kids (Scott and me) out in the Badlands

We drove and camped our way to Canada, too, a trip I associate with instant mashed potatoes “cooked” on a Coleman Stove and with “toasting” rinsed diapers on a stick held over a campfire. Heady times. I also recall a side trip to see the WaWa Goose. And I will never forget driving over the Mackinac Bridge, which is the longest bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the source of many a nightmare of mine to this very day. 

Dinner in the “dining room” — a tent that attached to the front of the Nimrod

Basically, though, these family trips were a lot of fun and made memories to last a lifetime. But I did promise myself that when I grew up I would never ever sleep outside again. And I haven’t.

Not even on the Upper Reaches of the Amazon River did I sleep outside. We had no hot water, but we did have real beds in that boat there in the background

Amagansett, New York. August 2019

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17 thoughts on “French Lick, the WaWa Goose, and the Oregon Trail

  1. What great memories you’ve shared!!! When I was a kid, we had a fluorescent orange hard top tent trailer…that thing glowed in the dark – which was great when you had to do a bathroom trip in the middle of the night! I loved sleeping in that thing…as close to outdoors as I could get, but still safe from mosquitos!!

    Thanks for bringing back some memories from my childhood and helping me remember it wasn’t all bad.

    • How thoughtful of you to reply in such detail. I can close my eyes and imagine your orange hard-top tent trailer! What fun that must have been. So glad we could “commune” through our childhood memories!

    • Hah! I’m inclined to agree with you! Out here in The “Hamptons”, they have this conveyance called The “Jitney”. It gets you where you want to go in style, complete with little packs of peanuts. (p.s. It’s actually a “bus”)

  2. josypheen

    I am sooo impressed with her childness! I hope she is having a blast!

    So, I know you are not keen on sleeping outside, but i wonder if you would enjoy glamping (especially if you stay in a gypsy caravan, or one of those giant luxury tents…) maybe that is how you could change your mind!?

    • Just heard from Her Childness, who reached the summit of Mt. Whitney (Day 20), and is now on her way down. As for me — yes! I do enjoy what little glamping I’ve done: once in Panama, and once in Uganda. Loved it both times — mainly because I had an actual bed as well as an actual roof!

  3. Ruth Meisenheimer

    We had a much fun trip to French Lick in the 80’s with three other silly couples. One of their decorative ferns went home with a friend and she named it Harold. Need I say more?

  4. you’re taking me right back to going Up North in the station wagon — same vacation every year — to stay in a cabin for a week. thanks for the reminders of musty cabins, rainy days, fishing, my first bikini (everyone called me Twiggy so you know what my figure looked like, the suit had a daisy on it), just such a great reminder — as always, thank you! xx

    • So glad I could take you on a spin down Memory Lane (or should I say Memory Highway), Teresa! Those were the days, eh? They may have been musty and uncomfortable, but they sure were fun. BTW, I must have had the same bikini (only we called it a “two-piece”) because I got called much the same thing.

  5. OMG, my best summer vacations were at French Lick. The resort there was such fun–they had all kinds of kids activities, so we didn’t have to hang with my parents the whole day! The arcade in the basement was where I first heard Prince–and it changed me (at least as a 13 year old!) My Uncle Frank managed the resort (this was the 80s). Now, his family occasionally goes back, and the resort has totally been fancy-fied! Such fun memories. Thanks for your fabu post. I have no desire to sleep outside either–something city people seem to like to do.

    • OMG back! I can’t believe that one of my virtual friends has an uncle who managed the French Lick resort! I honestly don’t remember much about staying there. I was in my 13-year-old-surliness phase — where I was trying to pretend that I absolutely was not present on a family vacation. But I agree that it’s been fancy-fied. I hardly recognized the place when I Googled it. Thanks for reading; I’m glad somebody else also refuses to sleep outside xoxo

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