The Surrey With the Fringe On Top by
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(244 Stories)

Prompted By Family Trips

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I love this photo so much.

I love this photo from a family trip in August 1957, where we are sitting in a carriage (not a surrey) with fringe on top.

It is from a family trip we took in August of 1957, so I was just turning six. I’m realizing as I try to write this story that I have only a few clear memories from the trip.** I have no idea how many days it took, or where we stayed. My oldest sister reminded me of all the places we visited. My middle sister only remembered “spending an awful lot of time in the car,” and she was eleven!

The featured image was taken on Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Island, which was the first stop on our family trip. We are sitting in a carriage (too big to be a surrey, if we’re being technical) with fringe on top, which is the only mode of transportation there. In the front seat, from left to right, my father, my mother, my uncle Ed. In the middle seat, a narrow space for my grandfather (who was taking the picture), then my grandmother and my aunt Daisy. In the back seat, all scrunched together, the five cousins, with little me in the middle leaning forward, probably on somebody’s lap. It is the only photo I have from that trip.

Here is the approximate route of the trip, courtesy of Google Maps. It’s only approximate, because the Interstate highways shown had probably not been built yet. To see our five stops on the trip, you will have to click on the image to make it bigger.

We had already driven from home to Interlochen to pick up my sisters and cousins, all of whom were at National Music Camp that summer. That in itself was a very long drive, but not technically part of this story. We obviously went in two cars. My aunt and uncle would have left from their house in Staten Island, and my parents, grandparents, and I (too young to be a camper) from our house in New Jersey. Hard to believe we were going to fit four more people into those cars, but somehow we did.

We probably went to the final concert at Interlochen, then scooped up the four girls (their clothes and other camp gear would have been packed in trunks and shipped home) and drove to Mackinaw City to get the ferry to stop # 1, Mackinac Island. (The name of the city and the name of the island are pronounced exactly the same. I wonder why they are spelled differently.) The ferry is the only way to get to the island. There are no motor vehicles allowed on the island, and the only modes of travel are walking, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage. Thus the reason we are sitting in a carriage. Too bad the photo doesn’t show the horse(s) that must have been at the front.

I don’t remember much about the island, except that I was impressed by the absence of cars and the presence of so many horse-drawn vehicles. There probably were even some surreys (defined as a carriage with two seats). It looks so charming to me now, I want to go back and see it again.

To leave the island, there is another ferry that goes to the northern peninsula, but we must have taken the ferry back to Mackinaw City because that’s where our cars were parked. Then we drove to stop #2, Sault Ste. Marie, where we crossed the border into Canada. I thought the most interesting thing about Sault Ste. Marie was that the first word is pronounced “Soo.” Also that there are two cities with the same name, one in Michigan and one in Canada. There are locks there, called the Soo Locks, and I have a vague memory of seeing the locks filling and emptying, and watching ships go through. There is a 21-foot difference in water levels between Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes, so without the locks, boats would not be able to pass from one to the other. The Soo Locks are on the Michigan side, maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, so we must have gone there before we crossed the border.

In Canada we drove east and south around Lake Huron, to stop #3, Toronto. My oldest sister remembers going to a department store in Toronto and buying a sweater and skirt that became one of her favorite outfits. If we got any clothes for me, I don’t remember it, but then that wouldn’t be as exciting for a 6-year-old as it would for a 13-year-old. My main memories of Canada: eating in restaurants where we learned that they call napkins “serviettes” even in the English-speaking areas, and having to stop and be questioned at the border, whereupon my cousin Betty said in a loud stage whisper “Uh oh, guess we better hide the Tommy guns!”

After Toronto we went to stop #4, Niagara Falls, another place where there are two cities with the same name, one in Canada and one in New York. This is where we crossed the border again, coming back into the U.S. I remember getting to go behind the falls, and I don’t know if that was on the Canadian side or the American side. The falls are spectacular to see, of course, on either side. My parents had gone to Niagara Falls on their honeymoon, so that made it extra special to be there.

The final attraction before heading home was stop #5, Corning, New York, about three hours southeast of Niagara Falls. There we visited the Corning Glass Works, and the Corning Museum of Glass. The museum was established in 1951 as “a gift to the nation” for the company’s 100th anniversary, so it was still pretty new when we were there. We got to watch glass blowing, which was absolutely fascinating to this 6-year-old as well as to everyone else! According to the museum’s current website, they have “make your own glass” opportunities for all ages, but either they didn’t have that then, or the adults didn’t want to deal with it and didn’t tell us about it. That’s another place I now want to go back to.

In fact, maybe I should just do this whole family trip all over again.


**I see the foolishness of planning fabulous trips that will “make memories” when your children are very young. We took our kids on European trips when Molly was only five (England) and six (Prague and Bratislava), and although the older kids have vivid memories (I think), she remembers almost nothing about either trip.

 

 

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Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Wonderful memories of your 6-yr-old trip Suzy!

    I also was taken to Canada and the Falls and Corning as a young kid, and later as an adult living for a year in Buffalo I crossed that Friendly Border many times, and then again in more recent years for the wonderful Shakespeare and Shaw festivals, and nights spent in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

    Hoping for carefree travel once again after our tense Covid year!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Great story, Suzy. And though I’ve never been to Mackinac Island, I know enough about it and its modes of transportation that I immediately assumed that that was where your featured image was taken.

    It actually does sound like a fantastic trip. Though, as your footnote indicates, it is very hard to make memories for very young children. It is interesting, though, to reflect on how much and what we remember at early ages. That said, I think you should definitely round up your kids — and maybe your sisters — and do the whole trip over again.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, John. Great suggestion to round up everyone and do the trip again. We need to have eleven people to pack into the carriage, although one of them needs to be pretty small to make it work.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    Great picture of you and the family in the “surrey”. Glad you were old enough to retain a few memories, if incomplete. We are hoping to take a driving trip that may go through there later this summer, if plans aren’t foiled–would love to see Mackinac Island and Sault Ste Marie. Even though I lived in Michigan growing up, we never made it there.

  4. Marian says:

    What a fun trip, and it’s fascinating what memories come into play at different ages. I’ve never been to that area (either in the US or Canada), so now it’s going on my list.

  5. Jeff Gerken says:

    I’m glad you can remember at least some of the trip. At various times, I have visited all those sites except for Sault Ste. Marie.

    My then-wife and I and our daughters made one vacation trip to northern Michigan around 2000, and spent one night on Mackinac Island, and like your family we took several trips on the horse-drawn carriages there. Invariably, any time one carriage passed another heading in the opposite direction, one of the drivers would hold up a small mustard jar and ask the other driver “Say, do you have any grey poupon?”, to which the other driver would respond “Hey, there’s gray poop on everything here,” which resulted in much glee among the kids.

    We have two especially wonderful photos from that trip, both taken at a beach near Petoskey. One shows our older daughter, Adrienne, sitting on a dune, looking down and quietly contemplating the sand. The other has her younger sister, Danielle, standing atop a dune with her arms outstretched, owning the world. Those two photos portray the essence of those two young women even today.

    • Suzy says:

      I love your anecdote about Mackinac Island, Jeff. If you don’t already have another story in mind, I urge you to write it up as a story of your own, complete with those two photos. Click on the button at the bottom of my story that says “Write a story in response” so that readers will make the connection between our two stories.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Your trip sounds great to me and I think you should retake it once we Americans are allowed back in Canada. Toronto, Niagara Falls, and Corning are all very familiar to me. Being a Detroiter, It would make sense that we also went to Mackinac Island, but I don’t remember it. I have a photo of my family in a surrey-like carriage when we were young that I found in my mother’s photos, but neither my brothers nor I remember where we were. Maybe there?

    • Suzy says:

      Laurie, I’m pretty sure that photo of your family in a carriage was taken on Mackinac Island. I think that was the main activity there – riding in a horse-drawn carriage and getting your picture taken.

  7. Betsy Pfau says:

    Suzy, lovely story and I’m glad that even at the age of 6 you had a great time with your whole family. So much of what you described was familiar to me, since camp was a mainstay in my family for years. We once made the pilgrimage to Mackinac, but not overnight, just a quick jaunt over for an afternoon visit. On my father’s home movies, I have a scene of us riding in one of the horse-drawn carriages and the Grand Hotel, which remains beautiful. I think we were there in 1960, the summer before my brother started at NMC.

    I’ve never been to the Upper Peninsula, but always thought that “Sault Ste. Marie” was a funny and charming name, so much so that when my next-door neighbor and I invented a secret language, we spelled “Sue” “Sault”, of course (we were probably 6 and her name was Susie).

    I love that you learned the French word for napkins in Toronto. How chic! Better than shopping for a 6 year old. I think we should all plan a field trip to Niagara Falls; it has been far too long since I’ve been there. I would relish seeing that power and majesty again. I’ve never been to Corning, NY, but your description makes me want to see the museum (we have our own glass blowers on MV; I love to watch them). That sounds wonderful, for all ages.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful trip, and the wisdom to not travel with children until they can fully appreciate what they are seeing. I am storing that one away for future reference, since I will become a grandmother in December!

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks for your wonderful comment, Betsy! I love that you and your neighbor had a secret language with
      s-a-u-l-t as part of it. Of course there are often reasons to travel with small children even though they won’t appreciate it; my advice is just not to do it if your purpose is to make memories for them.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    One of my most indelible travel memories from when I was a kid is the Corning museum, especially the prototype of the Mount Palomar telescope mirror.

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