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A Childhood Remembered - Vacations on a Budget

Updated on February 23, 2013
My Dad, my brother, and me at the Days Inn, Ocean View, Virginia 1962
My Dad, my brother, and me at the Days Inn, Ocean View, Virginia 1962 | Source

Vacation Planning - Never!

As a child born in the mid 50’s, my first real memories of family vacations are from the early 60;s. Thinking back to those days, I realize that very little planning went into our vacations. Most were what I would call – last minute vacations. They were last minute vacations because Mom and Dad rarely knew until the last minute if there would be enough money for a vacation. When I say last minute, I really mean last minute. Just imagine –

It’s a hot, July night in the Southeast. The humidity is about 97% and the temperature is still 89 degrees Farenheit. It’s nine o’clock in the evening and it’s just too hot to do anything. My brother and I are laid out on the grass in the front yard, staring at the stars and Mom and Dad are sitting in those funky folding lawn chairs with the vinyl webbing that sticks to you like glue in hot weather. Everyone is quiet because it’s just too damn hot to even talk. It’s too hot to go inside because there is no air conditioning so we just sit or lay in silence in the quiet darkness.

My Dad quietly whispers to Mom and then goes inside. When he comes back a few minutes later, he says to us "kids go get your PJs on”. Being typical kids, we raise a ruckus because we don’t want to go inside, we don’t want to put on clean PJ’s over sweaty bodies, and we sure as heck don’t want to lay in a hot room and try to sleep. We start whining and complaining and Dad quietly says, if you want to go with us, get your PJ’s on. We knew what he meant and went scampering in the house.

Mom followed and began tossing things in a suitcase. One suitcase was sufficient for all of us. A couple of pairs of shorts, a t-shirt or two, clean underwear, soap and shampoo and then it was squeezed closed. She made her way to the kitchen where Dad had placed a cooler on the floor and Mom began tossing in those cheap canned sodas, a loaf of bread, mayo and mustard, and a package of bologna. Next, a quick trip to the pantry for a jar of peanut butter, crackers, and instant coffee and we were ready to roll. Oh yes, our vacations were all inclusive vacations. They all included peanut butter and bologna, each and every one.

Ocean View, Virginia

Dad was a Navy man. While serving as a submariner, he developed a real love for the ocean. With the Navy having a heavy presence in the Norfolk area of Virginia, it was a prime target for our family vacations. My Dad was as at home with his feet in the sand or his body in the surf as most men are in a factory. He loved the sea and if we were going to be his family, we would learn to love it too. And, we did.

My family lived modestly. We had everything we needed but extras were a luxury. My Dad had done his homework though and had discovered a little place at the beach that he could rent for $3.00 a day. Remember, this was in the early 60’s. It was called the Days Inn and for $3.00 a day we had a combination living room/bedroom and an efficiency kitchen, right on the beach in Ocean View, Virginia.

I don’t know how they always had a spot available for us because we never called ahead. A typical vacation to Ocean View lasted two days. We would leave home late in the evening on Friday and drive four hours to get there. My brother and I would sleep on the drive down although I don’t know how. Our car had no air conditioning either and on those hot summer nights, we drove with all the windows wide open to capture a breeze. I rarely remember our arrival so am pretty sure Dad carried us inside and put us to bed on bedrolls made from the sofa cushions. We slept like logs.

USS Bumper
USS Bumper | Source
Family at Ocean View, Virginia 1963
Family at Ocean View, Virginia 1963 | Source

When morning arrived, our sleepy little eyes would spot Dad sitting out on the picnic table with his binoculars glued to the horizon. He was always on the lookout for those submarines he loved so much. Mom would be fixing peanut butter sandwiches and as soon as we scoffed them down, we headed for the beach. Oh how we loved it. This was where Dad taught us to swim and look for shark’s teeth. We collected shells and chased sand crabs. We buried each other in the sand and built sand castles. Life was wonderful.

Mom was happy too. She loved the sun and the sun loved her. All my mother needed to be happy at the beach was her family and a towel to lie on. It was a perfect time for all of us, until Sunday afternoon when Dad would announce that it was time to come home. Those weekends never lasted long enough but we knew we would be back, and soon.

Looking back on those beach vacations

It’s funny how you age and look back on those simple times with such love and fondness. We were kids who didn’t even know we were poor. Those cheap vacations were frequent events in our lives. Over summer vacations from school, it was not unusual for us to make six or seven trips to Ocean View during summer break from school and part of the fun was not knowing when Dad might have an extra $20.00 that would get us there and back. We could have been jealous of other kids in the neighborhood I guess. Their parents took them on week-long vacations in those vacation resorts like Disney World of Six Flags but we weren’t. I think we thought we were the lucky ones because we got to go to the beach so often. I’m sure the ocean called to my Dad from afar.

Cheap Vacations vs Resort Vacations

When we were older, my Dad changed jobs and once a year he would go to a meeting in one of those fancy vacation resorts for a week but he always took us with him. Most of the trip was paid for by his company so that helped. Those vacations were a luxury but no more precious than those last minute vacations to Ocean View. Over the years we stayed at various high end places like:

  • the Fountain Blue in Miami, Florida
  • the Homestead in Virginia
  • the Playboy Hotel in Miami.

We traveled to:

  • Hershey, Pennsylvania
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Killington, Vermont
  • Disneyland in Orlando, Florida
  • Williamsburg, Virginia

These are just a few of the nice places we went on those big corporate vacations. None hold memories any more precious than those days in that little efficiency in Ocean View, Virginia.

My Dad instilled in us the value of time with family and that it didn’t matter how much you had as much as it mattered what you did with what you had. That $20.00 weekend to the beach probably hurt more than I know but I can’t put a price on the joy it brought. As we got a little older, Dad took advantage of the sights and sounds of a beach town. He always tried to expose us to things we couldn’t see at home. We saw all the museums and vacation attractions within a 50 mile radius of our little place on the beach and once he even arranged for us to tour a submarine that was docked in Norfolk. I don’t know how he managed it but I’m sure it wasn’t easy. But, that’s who my Dad was and Mom always supported him.

I don’t remember there being a television in that little motel, nor do I remember a radio. But I also don’t remember missing them at the time either. I think we were so tired from the sand and the surf and the ocean breeze that at the end of the day, we were content to shower, eat, and sleep.

When I compare my childhood vacations to those of kids today, I know I am the lucky one. My parents gave us memories that last. I remember everything about that little efficiency on the beach but can hardly recall anything from those high end fancy resort vacations. Thanks Mom and Dad! Thanks for the memories.

© 2012 Linda Crist, All rights reserved.

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