Gas was 31 cents a gallon in 1967 and bread sold for 21 cents a loaf, which was a good thing because money was in very short supply. We were still coping with the “If the Army wanted you to have a family, they would have issued you one” period of our lives.
On Sunday afternoons, though, the world belonged to us when the whole family went for a Sunday drive. With a big bag of peanut butter sandwiches and a jumbo box of Cheerios, we’d set off to explore whatever our corner of the world happened to be at that time.
Cars weren’t yet equipped with seatbelts, so we’d just throw a blanket and the kids on the deck of the station wagon. Our secret weapon was the Cheerios. You could get as many as 10 comparatively peaceful miles out of a cup of Cheerios if everything went just right. There were rewards for the child who was able to eat the cereal one little “o” at a time.
From the late 1940s to the late ’70s, the Sunday drive was the national family pastime.
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Ask anyone in that age group and they’ll have a memory. “It was the only way to keep the baby quiet.” “It was all we could afford for the whole family.” “We’d drop in on people unexpectedly. We had to leave home early to keep them from dropping in on us.”
Everyone remembers singing in the car and playing license plate bingo — accompanied by sounds of the children attempting to destroy each other. Above the clamor, their father shouted at intervals: “If I have to stop this car, someone is going to be very sorry.”
Number One Son recalls being sorry upon being exiled to the “way back” — the very back rear-facing seat with his brother “who seemed unable to respect clearly delineated boundaries.”
Youngest Son adds, “I remember my brothers pummeling each other. Man, that was traumatic. Of course, had I known about the boundaries issue I would have been more sympathetic to the pummeling process.” He reflects, “I still haven’t gotten over getting chewed out for sitting on my little sister’s imaginary elephant friend, which was totally unfair because I was a fat kid and there was not a lot of room in the back of that car. “
Rest stops were few and far between, so we carried along a milk bottle, empty of course and with a tightly fitted lid, for the boys to use, in case of urgent calls of nature. Girls were just out of luck.
The trips continued wherever we were stationed. We chased steam trains in Taiwan; saw elephants and canals and made trips to the waterfront in Thailand. One Sunday in Bangkok, an Australian sailor invited the older kids down into a submarine.
I asked my son if those drives to the waterfront had anything to do with his career choice.
“I don’t know if going to the Chao Phya River to watch ships had anything to do with my career choice, but the submarine definitely did. ‘Wait!?!’ I thought, ‘One job that has both airplanes and submarines? Sign me up!’ ”
The U.S. Navy let him do his Sunday driving aboard the USS Enterprise.
“It’s literally a lost family pastime,” mourns Darrel Adams, self-described gearhead. “A car today is no more than a tool for getting occupants to work or a set destination.”
He says that you can get an approximation of the fun of those long ago random drives by tacking a map to the wall and throwing a dart at it. Make the spot where the dart lands your family destination for the day. Confiscate all the phones and video games first, Adams advises.
Enduring memories came from those Sunday drives.
Number Four Son recalled, “Our old wagon had a heck of a last few weeks with us. It stalled on the mountain and in Vantage and then (just to make sure it was no fluke) the radiator hose burst on the freeway. Dad and I were stranded in Tacoma just south of the mall. May have been the longest stretch I ever spent with Dad on my own. He bought me bottle of grape soda. Good times.”
Maybe it’s not too late for a drive. Do we have any Cheerios?
Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional speaker and writer. Follow Dorothy’s blog at itsnevertoolate.com. Contact her at P.O. Box 881, DuPont WA, 98327. Phone 800-548-9264, email Dorothy@itsnevertoolate. com.