The summer of 1961 brought free from school fun. Jack and Jackie headed the First Family and the nation. Patsy Cline cried “I Fall To Pieces” on the radio. The Mercury 7 astronauts were America’s new heroes with Alan Shepard being the first man in space. Barbie Dolls had been born two years before. I was 11 years old. All in all, it was the perfect time for our family to hit the road.
Our departure point was Winchester, Virginia…the home of Miss Patsy Cline and the “Apple Capital of Virginia”…just to add a side note here. Our destination was Livingston, Montana…the home of my aunt and uncle and near Yellowstone National Park. We would roll up almost 2,400 miles as we traveled in an auto with six people, no air conditioning, no radio. Along the way, we had picked up my grandparents who farmed in Osborne County, Kansas…they completed our half dozen passengers.
My dad was the master planner for the trip. He loved to collect road maps and plot out routes. Also, he researched points of interest to visit along the way. We took in the breath-taking splendor of the Rockies and the Grand Tetons. We visited the Buffalo Bill Cody Center and Whitney Western Art Museum. There I fell in love with the paintings and sculptures of Frederic Remington. I was much impressed that stores gave customers silver dollars as change instead of one dollar bills. Often, I would ask my dad to buy me state map postcards so I could trace our routes. I shivered when the temperature dipped to 32 degrees at night in the mountains.
The highlight of our trek was visiting the grandeur of Yellowstone. Erupting Old Faithful, bubbling hot springs, mama bears scaling trees with their cubs in tow set the foreground of our visit. Antelopes and elks basked in the background. To this day, I still wonder what happened to these tourists: they were frying bacon over a fire next to their camper while unbeknownst to them, bears were running down the road toward them.
When we reached my aunt and uncle’s, we visited and had family time together. One night at dinner, it was announced that we were having steak. That got my taste buds primed! As we were eating, I thought that this steak was a little different so I asked about it. I learned what it was venison…I did not know what kind of meat it was…imagine my horrid surprise that we were feasting on deer.
Today as I look at the photos my mother took, I remember that she bought her first rolls of colored film…we would appear in living color, not black and white. Today as I replay the details of that road trip in my mind, I smile to myself and feel blessed for living such a family adventure.