It was Connie Francis who taught me to spell every school child’s favorite word.
V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N. My mom would spin her LP’s on the stereo that Dad had bought for her at Schoefer’s Furniture and I would kneel at the coffee table coloring in my book swaying my shoulders in time to the music.
Our family took vacationing seriously. Every summer there were trips to Atlantic City and weekends visiting my older cousins who had summer jobs in Ocean City, Maryland. I’d spend at least one week in the country with my Aunt Esther at her cabin that she and Uncle Charlie had built themselves. It was good for a city girl like me to get out and explore the wilderness. I loved picking blueberries and learning to cook the vegetables Auntie had grown in her garden.Our vegetables at home came from the frozen food aisle at the A&P.
I was not as fond of the outhouse we used or the family of black snakes that nested nearby. Summer was my favorite season and I looked forward to each of these trips.
One summer Nana announced we were taking, what she called, a real vacation. We were going to Disney World in Florida. It was a humid, sticky morning when we boarded the Amtrak for Orlando. Nana had reserved two sleeping compartments, each with their own bathroom. I was so excited I had to throw up before we left the house.
My parents, my sister and I shared one compartment while my grandparents and Aunt Betty and Uncle Charles stayed in the other. There was a connecting door between the two that remained open for the entire ride. We ate our meals in the dining car and watched the scenery pass by in the viewing car. It was all very glamorous and I felt like Barbara Stanwyck in one of those old black and white pictures Mom and I watched in the middle of the night.
The next morning we arrived in Orlando. Dad flagged a taxi and we all piled in. I was unimpressed. This place did not look magical to me, in fact it looked a lot like Richie Highway back in Baltimore. The driver dropped us at the Days Inn where we had two suites that were actually small apartments. Our bedrooms had sliding glass doors that led to a shared patio overlooking a wide pasture. Aunt Betty went out every morning to feed and pet the horses that grazed there.
Dad rented a car and we were off to the Magic Kingdom. Now, I’d watched Disney every Sunday night so I knew exactly how the castle should be with Tinkerbell flittering around, her wand dusting glitter over the roof. We pulled into an enormous parking lot. I’d never seen so many cars. I remember at that moment feeling both claustrophobic and exposed.
The tram took us from our car to the gate where people stood in calm, orderly lines and were greeted by friendly, smiling attendants. Finally, we were inside and I was overwhelmed with happiness. The joy I experienced at that moment of being with the people I loved most in the world in this truly magical place has yet to be matched. The park was much smaller then than it is today. It had only been open for several years when we went. I had more fun than I could possibly have time to write about in this post. We rode on the teacups, got stranded in the Small World ride for over an hour (Mom said she never wanted to hear that damn song again!), toured the Haunted Mansion, and had dinner at the Crystal Palace.
Aunt Betty, who was always a bit mischievous, slipped in as one of the band members and tried to walk with them in the parade on Main Street. Pop-Pop, who walked the entire park for five days with a cast on his leg, became entangled in a street vendor’s balloon display and nearly took out the poor man’s entire stock.
Too soon we were back on the train headed for Baltimore. Dad would be back to work the following day and the rest of the summer would go on just as all the summers before it.
Years later I would return to Disney World with my own children. We went to celebrate their birthdays. This time I was able to stay at a hotel in the park. From our room’s porch we were able to see a night launching of a space shuttle. A Beatles tribute band sang the birthday song to my daughter, and my son eagerly collected autographs from the characters. There was so much more to see and do five days was not enough this time.
Summer is still my favorite season. We spend a little time by the ocean every year and sometimes I have a chance to visit my Wicked sisters in New England. I love to visit new places or old familiar haunts, anywhere, really, as long as it includes time with family and those I love.
Readers: What was your favorite childhood vacation?