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(34 Stories)

Prompted By Family Trips

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My family was not really into vacations when I was young.  Trips often centered around meetings my dad was attending.  For several years he was a member of the board of the Ohio Bar Association, and we would head off to the Bedford Springs resort in southern Pennsylvania for their annual meeting.  Once I turned sixteen and could drive, they left me at home to take care of chores on the farm, milk the cows, etc.  I actually enjoyed those non-vacations more, because while they were away, I could bring my high-school girlfriend out to the house where no one could police what we were doing.

I get to drive and carry stuff.

We had one other trip, with the Boy Scouts, to Washington, DC.  I remember seeing Lyndon Johnson, who was at that time the vice-president, with his feet up on the desk in the Senate chamber.  And I remember listening to my first transistor radio, hoping to hear Neil Sedaka sing “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” as often as possible – “Come-a Come-a Down Dooby Do Down Down”, an earworm for you.  And for some reason we went once to Niagara Falls – my only memory of that trip was buying a little change purse in the form of a bear, which I might still have in a box somewhere.

I married my first wife, Marilyn, in 1973.  She planned, and paid for, all of our vacations, which meant that she got to choose where we went, and she did a pretty good job of that.  In 1980, she was coming back from an education conference somewhere, and they had a promotion where you could rub off a ticket for a prize, and she won a trip for two anywhere in the world that TWA flew.  We ended up going to England, where we were treated like royalty by several companies that manufactured coal mining equipment that my company had bought, and to Paris, more of the same.

We also had a yearly camping trip, especially after our girls were born.  My parents had a camper, and the girls would stay with them in the camper, while Marilyn and I slept in a tent, which she hated.  We often were joined by my favorite uncle and his wife and grandkids.

Now you might be wondering at this point how Canada ties into this.  There a several links.  First, we had friends who lived near us in Logan, and the woman’s parents owned a small island, near Sealey’s Bay, on the Rideau system of lakes and canals in eastern Ontario.  The wife had spent every summer there since she was born, and her husband would join her for several weeks.  We visited them on the island twice, once when Marilyn was pregnant with Adrienne, and later when the girls were maybe four and six years old.  One day, I took Adrienne down to the lake, where she caught a couple of bluegills and proudly announced “I’m helping to put dinner on the table tonight, right Dad?”  Then Danielle climbed onto my lap and insisted on fishing as well.  She got a small bluegill on the line, and reeled it in, a half-turn of the handle on the reel at a time.  When she finally got it out of the water, she excitedly grabbed it to her chest and hugged it.  We had fish that night, as we did every night, but we added their catches to the northern pike and bass that were our normal fare.

But here’s the real story, which starts in Canada and ends up in Syracuse, NY.  In 1998, Marilyn announced that she would, just this once, let me choose where to go on vacation.  I told her that I really wanted to go to Montreal.  She got excited about that idea but said that we could stop in Montreal on our way to Prince Edward Island, the site of the “Anne of Green Gables” books that she had loved.  I pointed out that that would mean another 1500 miles and 25 hours of driving.  Montreal was scratched.  Instead, we planned a trip to Toronto, then down to Seneca Falls, NY for the Women’s History celebrations, and then on to Syracuse to visit my sister Mindy and spend some time with my parents, who were camping in that area.

Toronto was wonderful, a clean city with a great public transportation system, including special accommodations for tourists, and a Chinatown with some of the most interesting open-air food displays we had ever seen.  The days we spent in Seneca Falls were also interesting.  The week before we were there, Hilary Clinton had been there for part of the Women’s celebration.

And then we went on to Syracuse, where we spent several days camping next to my parents. One evening we went into town, where my sister’s all-lesbian band was playing.  My parents, of course, went with us.  My daughters, who were then fifteen and thirteen, spent the entire evening trying to sit between their grandfather and the dance floor, to spare him the sight of the couples who were dancing.  At one point, looking at the torch singers. Dad said to Marilyn, in a very loud voice “It would take two of you to make one of them!”  I tried so shush him, but he then yelled out “What do you want me to say, that they’re fat?”  That capped the evening, and we soon went back to the campsite and then on back home to Ohio.

I still have never been to Montreal, may never get there.  June, who traveled all over Europe when she worked for TWA in the 80s, says she has no desire to travel except to see her kids (SF, Durham, Nashville) or to manage her real estate empire on Kaua’i, in SLO, and in Brentwood, TN.  I get to drive and carry stuff.



Profile photo of Jeff Gerken Jeff Gerken

Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Marian says:

    Never been to Toronto, Jeff, and one day I’d like to go. I found the other places you describe very interesting and envy having everything planned for you as far as vacations. Often I’m so tired that I want to say to a “fairy godmother” “just send me somewhere.” But as you say, you can miss where you really want to go.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    You’re singing my song. If you have still not been to Montreal, it is something to consider, since it is really not like anywhere else in North America, and it is not far away. Somewhere I read some advice that family vacations (whole family) are over-rated, fraught with expectations, and it is often better to spend time with one or two family members doing something fun instead. I kind of got the impression that your best family vacation was the non-vacation one on the farm with your girlfriend. A precious memory indeed.

  3. Love the story and your dry delivery Jeff, what fun!

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    You seem obedient, Jeff. You went along with what others planned for you. Did you enjoy those vacations? I do love the image of your young daughter hugging her caught fish to her chest with pride. That’s a great one.

    Your father’s reaction to the women’s singing festival sounds, well…provocative? Shall we assume he does not approve of your sister’s lifestyle?

    My husband and I traveled through Toronto and Montreal on our honeymoon (a long time ago) and enjoyed both cities. I also went to both on business (before there was hard border – one didn’t even need to show passports to enter). I spent a lot of time at Bell Canada in Montreal in the early ’80s. They would speak French if they didn’t want me to know what they were discussing. I once laughed at something they said (my French was still fairly good at the time) and the “jig was up”. But an excellent city.

    • Jeff Gerken says:

      My dad, who as it turned out was not really my dad, was a bigoted, racist, crude person. His attitude toward the singers in Mindy’s band, and to the idea that women were dancing together, was typical.
      He died in 2001. No one in the family mourned him. My mother died in 2020, having left clear instructions that she did not want her ashes anywhere near his.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    We took a great trip to Toronto with our kids (3) and another family with their kids (2). I remember it was really fun for all. Have been to Montreal as well and it’s worth the effort to go once Canada welcomes Americans again.

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