When RVing is shared as a family, great memories are guaranteed.
By Karen Wilson
(Originally published in the March 1998 issue of Family Motor Coaching.)
The desire to cook on a propane stove, douse oneself with bug repellent, and search out the next KOA Kampground must be inherited. My late grandparents (Norman and Helen Wilson, F5012) were fond of camping long before I was born. My father and mother (Ken and Pat Wilson, L13812) began with tents, added a few kids, and “moved up” to a pop-up Jayco trailer they pulled behind the trusty family station wagon. By the time I came along, the RV gene was established.
There’s something special about growing up while traveling on the highways of America. My parents must be part nomadic. These days, I can’t imagine what would possess adults in their right minds to load the car with four kids — ages 10, 8, 6, and 6 months — and head from North Carolina to California. Oh yes, we brought the poodle, too.
Mercifully, I was 6 months old at the time my older brothers were perfecting torture in the backseat. The pains associated with “Make him stop touching me!” and “He’s sitting on my side!” were all inflicted on my older sister.
As I grew up, the worst threat imaginable to hear from the front seat was my father saying, “You don’t want me to stop this car!” In 1973, after Mom and Dad bought their first motorhome, any childhood offense committed while mobile brought the sentence of having to ride in the bathroom, which had no windows. I think I missed the entire state of Kentucky one summer after a really good spitball fight. By then, we kids were old enough to appreciate the fact that Dad couldn’t easily pull over and act upon his threat.
The coach also allowed us the freedom to do things out of parental sight! Unsuspecting truckers who drove up behind us often saw my brothers’ backsides bared and firmly pressed upon the rear windows of our motorhome. What those boys didn’t realize was the power of the CB radio. Dad’s handle wasn’t “Papa Bear” for nothing.
That first motorhome — a 23-foot Swinger — brought a sense of adventure as well as opportunity. Each day after sight-seeing, we had the campground to explore. My parents invited my teenaged brother’s girlfriend to accompany us to Disney World; she had never left North Carolina before, and she was so excited! We stopped at each state line so she could jump out and take a picture of the “Welcome to” sign. I think it’s easy now to take that spirit for granted. As an adult, I try to remember the journeys I take, rather than concentrating on getting there.
After joining FMCA, our family attended rallies and conventions across the country. I was a TOT. And a TWEEN. And a TAT [Teen-Age Traveler]. My older sister, Kay, should remember the 1976 national convention in Syracuse, New York, with a particular fondness — she received her first kiss there.
At that same convention, she also learned that a CB radio with a public address system can be equally entertaining, as it was used to broadcast the most vulgar sounds across the parking lots. Insults at passersby could be said with relative anonymity when spoken from below the high dashboard, but it didn’t take long to trace the sounds of giggling girls. Sitting in the bathroom wasn’t fit punishment for this crime, especially when one insulted woman came calling that night, and brought her husband with her to speak to our parents! As I recall, my sister was confined to the coach for the remainder of the convention.
As a small child, I remember thinking that the view from the coach was great. From those big windows, I could see the world. And our motorhome was a den of activity. Hide-and-seek wasn’t very challenging, but it occupied the time.
Motorhoming also means convenience to kids. No more unscheduled stops because “You should have gone before we left.” Cold drinks are available 24 hours a day, without lugging coolers of ice. The coach was also a place to go when it rained, where we played countless games of Yahtzee. Cooking without needing an umbrella was a true blessing.
Yet in spite of these benefits, finding comfortable places for all of us to sleep could be a challenge. When my brother Kevin got older (and much taller), he finally decided that the picnic table outside was more fitting. We had a bunk bed that dropped down over the pilot and copilot chairs, and my brother Keith usually occupied that spot. One night when I was 6, I finally got to sleep up there in my sleeping bag. During the night, while still in the bag, I somehow slipped off the front side without waking, and became wedged up against the windshield. Since I was in front of the big privacy curtain, I was completely out of the sight of my family. I finally awoke after hearing them loudly calling my name; to this day, I remember waking up with my face pressed against the windshield, looking out over the campsite. I can only imagine what anyone passing by must have thought. “That poor girl was forced to sleep on the dashboard, and the boy (Kevin) banished to sleeping on a picnic table in the great outdoors!”
When feeding us, Mom and Dad had a problem dealing with our tastes, so we ate plenty of peanut butter on the road. Once at a posh Charleston, South Carolina, seafood restaurant, we kids stayed in the coach and ate our dinner from the “Golden Arches” while Mom and Dad got their fill inside. They overheard other restaurant patrons commenting on those “poor, neglected children” outside who couldn’t enjoy a decent meal from the restaurant. In reality, we had begged for those cheeseburgers and wouldn’t have touched a crabcake with a 10-foot pole.
One of the best things about seeing so much of the country was that it made for great “What I did last summer” essays on the first day of school each year. My mother once was called to a school conference with Keith’s teacher to defend his “overactive imagination.” It seemed that every time a new place was mentioned in history or geography class, Keith would exclaim, “I’ve been there!” His teacher didn’t think it possible that he could have traveled to so many places, and she accused him of “stretching the truth.” Mom set her straight, and said yes, in fact, he had been to all of those sites.
Travel with little ones isn’t always rosy. My mother may have repressed the memory of the time all of her children were sick while on Prince Edward Island. Moses himself couldn’t have parted the crowd waiting at the campground showers any better than Mom did when she walked up with her brood, all collectively throwing up. I remember her stepping into the shower with me, both of us fully dressed.
When we misbehaved at home, we often had to stand with our noses in the corner of a room. In a campground, the scene was a bit different. The motorhome didn’t have enough corners for all of us, so Mom and Dad made us pick a tree near the campsite to stand against. Somewhere, there exists a picture of all four of us standing with our noses against different trees. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in this case, one really bad word was all it took.
Mom and Dad have now owned four motorhomes, each one larger and more convenient than its predecessor. What a different world it is compared to the one we grew up with, in a pop-up camper and 23-foot motorhome. We have great memories of those times; I get nostalgic when I smell bug spray and citronella candles. My siblings and I have wondered who will be the first of us to continue the RVing tradition; we’re all grown, love to travel, and may one day soon be fighting to be the first to put a F5012G goose egg on the coach.
By the way, last summer Mom and Dad took their 9-year-old grandson across the country in their 36-foot Safari. I forgot to tell him about “mooning” oncoming cars, but I’m sure he kept his grandparents on their toes.