Written by Pete Steciow
It was summer 1960 in northern Ohio, and it was turning out to be another excellent year for the one-acre garden. The three boys were busy weeding and tilling the garden. Mom and Dad were busy canning. At the end of the gardening season, over fifteen hundred quarts of vegetables were sitting in the cellar along with beef and chicken from th
e five-acre mini-farm animals that we raised. In addition, the root cellar was full of apples, carrots, potatoes and, cabbage.
Things were picking up economically, and more small machine shops wanted my Dad to do electrical work for them, which augmented his work at BFGoodrich tire and rubber company. After school, I would load up the tools, and Dad would do electrical repair and new construction at the various machine shops. I started handing tools to Dad. That progressed into bending conduit, cutting and threading pipe, installing conduit straps in the block and concrete walls, pulling wire, and taking inventory of electrical stock.
The BFG maintenance workers were always talking about taking trips to Florida. Dad would often talk to Mom about traveling to Florida for a vacation, but she would not hear of going to an alligator-infested area. At that time, Florida was not that commercialized as it is today.
The winter of 1960-61 was proving to be exceptionally long, cold, with more snow than usual. Dad visited the Chevrolet Dealer in Mogadore to get the 1957 Chevrolet sedan worked on. There in the showroom was a new 1960 nine-passenger Parkwood station wagon with a 348 V-8 engine. So instead of returning with the 57 Chevy, Dad returned home with a new station wagon.
Mom could hardly object because three boys and one girl in the back seat were always scrapping. Dad hoped the extra room would offer some peace.
The family was ready for winter to be over, and this time no convincing was necessary. Mom was on board for a Florida vacation. It was so exciting the thought of an extended vacation in our new station wagon.
The snow kept coming down, and I was not sure we would be able to leave. Then spring break arrived, and Mother Nature gave us a break, and some of the snow melted. Mom packed the Coleman cooler and Tupperware with sandwiches, macaroni salad, cookies, and pie.
We loaded the car, and Dad went through his checklist as though he was a pilot preparing for flight. He was a Marine Master Sargent in WWII, working on B-19 bombers in the Philippines. Therefore, his thorough preparation was second nature.
It seemed forever traveling south on the new interstate highway system, but the snow-capped mountains were finally behind us. We saw so many new sites. In Georgia, we saw red-colored soil. The orange-roofed Howard Johnson Restaurant was a favorite stop along the way where there were clean restrooms. Stuckey’s signs advertised their famous pecan rolls.
Atlanta, Georgia was a stopping point for our trek; this was our first time staying away from home. The common phrase all parents hear when traveling with kids, “Are we there yet,” had long ago worn out its welcome. Everyone was glad to get out of the car and wind down.
Getting up early the following day enabled us to get back on the road and jump on traffic.
As our southward trek proceeded, moss started to appear draped from the trees like Christmas tinsel. The farm fields were being plowed and planted for the significant crops of tobacco, peanuts, and cotton.
This trip was my first exposure to a different lifestyle and a population that was more diverse. Tiny houses with a small front porch surround the large farms. By today’s standards, they would not even be considered a house. Separate restrooms and drinking fountains were baffling to me.
When we crossed the Florida state line, I mistakenly thought we had arrived. We stopped at St. Augustine for a lunch break and tour. Seeing the fort with the gun emplacements made the history textbook come alive.
There is nothing like a long car ride filled with anticipatory kids to appreciate the length of Florida. Our destination was Pompano Beach, Florida, which is approximately three-quarters down the Atlantic Ocean coast.
After we unpacked the car and settled in, we had a good time meeting other snowbirds. Several other children our age were also staying at the same motel. We quickly introduced ourselves and found ways to entertain ourselves, being warned to watch for snakes.
We had fun at the beach making sandcastles, searching for seashells, and enjoying long walks along the coast, watching the ocean waves crashing on the beach.
Dad had heard so much about KeyWest that it was our next destination. So we packed up and headed further south. Along the way, the devastation of Hurricane Donna became more evident with every mile traveled.
Houses stood with nothing remaining but the cement slab and a few scattered cinder blocks. Donna had uprooted the vegetation lining the route to Key-West. Thirty percent of the state’s grapefruit crop was destroyed, and over half of the mangrove trees in the Everglades were leveled by the hurricane’s winds. Donna’s total damage was over three billion dollars in today’s valuation.
Crossing bridge after bridge en route to Key West, we arrived at a city struggling to recover from the hurricane. Street vendors were trying to sell their wares to a limited tourist population. The highlight was the key lime pie custard pie.
Returning to Pompano Beach, we enjoyed the smoked mackerel, which was new to our taste buds. One last excursion trip was to visit the sponge divers. Natural sea sponges were starting to being phased out, with the artificial sponges hitting the market.
Too soon, it was time to head back home. Driving through the South, planting was in full swing. Finally, reaching Kentucky, the grass was much greener. We saw many large farms with miles of white fences surrounding lush pastures with horses grazing on the fresh deep green grass.
With each passing mile, we were all getting anxious to get home now after our exciting vacation and spring break coming to an end.
As we reached Columbus, Ohio, it started to snow. Unfortunately, the snow was increasing as we reached Mansfield. Not sure we could make it, Dad pressed on through the blinding snow and treacherous roads.
When we were within a mile of our house, the snow was so deep Dad had to stop driving. So we left the car parked on the side of the road. Dad carried my little sister, and we finished our vacation trekking through the snowdrifts until we finally made it home.
Cold, wet, and exhausted, we were all happy to be home. As I drifted off to sleep in my bed, I reflected on our family vacation. It was undoubtedly a trip to remember! It was the best.