June was always my favorite month. It marked the end of school and the beginning of summer vacation. It also meant that we would begin planning our annual trip from New Jersey to rural Oklahoma to see family.
For me the process began with an excursion to the toy store a month before the trip. As far as I was concerned, this event was outranked only by Christmas and my birthday. In fact, it became a bit of a “Summer Christmas” for us. My brother and I were both allowed to select several new toys for our car trip.
My dad, brilliant man that he was, knew these new toys would keep us occupied for hours so that we would not realize how incredibly boring the two-day car trip was. We looked forward to this shopping trip, selecting board games we could play together, as well as some personal selections that wouldn’t be shared, as much as the actual vacation. Besides, my brother didn’t want anything girly anyway.
Sometimes it took hours to complete the toy selection process. I think my dad enjoyed these trips to the toy store as much as we did. We eventually reached our limit, otherwise there would be no room in the backseat for us. After our toys were carefully selected, they would be put away but not forgotten. We would count down the days to the driving trip just as we counted down the days to Christmas. Anticipation of the trip and the new toys reached a fevered pitch the night before. We could barely sleep.
My dad, who loved to tinker, created a board with legs that sat in the floorboard of the backseat. It was designed to allow both my brother and I to stretch out across the back and nap at the same time. I don’t remember using seat belts when we napped, but this was the 60s. My mom covered it with quilts so it was a bit more comfy. Pulling back the quilts revealed two trap doors and adjoining cubbies, so we could store our toys separately down below.
We didn’t have air conditioning in our car—most people didn’t—so dad chose to do most of the driving before 2 p.m., meaning we would leave before sunrise. Although we were still groggy, we were so excited about the new toys that we still couldn’t sleep. Instead, we played with our new toys as my parents watched the road. It was dark, but my dad had thought of everything. We were given our own flashlights, so we could see in the dark. My mom packed snacks for the trip, and we would stop for a picnic or eat in the car.
As the day wore on, the heat would become oppressive. Around mid-afternoon, we would stop at the same motel every time, the Holiday Inn in Terra Haute, Indiana. The first order of business was a swim. Then we would eat in the room while my parents would go to dinner without us. My brother and I, tired of being in a car for eight hours, would usually get a bit rambunctious. Horsing around was our way of dealing with all of that pent-up energy. I remember an especially bad rug burn on my back from getting dragged around the room by my feet.
The second day in the car the fun of the new toys began to wear off. “Are we there yet?” began in earnest. We ALWAYS arrived at the exact moment my dad said we would. I asked him later how he managed to get it exactly right every time. He admitted he would adjust his car’s speed up or down so that we arrived at Grandma’s house the exact minute he predicted.
I could tell when we were getting close because my mom would get out her purse and put on her red lipstick. That was a sure sign we were close. Pulling in the driveway was such a relief. As my parents slowly emerged from the car, my brother and I sprinted for the bathrooms.
After we took care of our pressing business and greeted Granddad and Grandma, I would notice a delightful scent in the kitchen. There was always something on the stove that smelled heavenly and a chocolate pie cooling on the counter. After spending one night with my grandparents, I would relative hop and spend the bulk of the visit with my cousins. My shoes and city clothes always ended up on a pile in the corner and untouched until we headed home.
Adding Summertime Ease My grandparents are long gone, but those trips hold a special place in my memory. I still strive to re-create the happiness of those long ago days.
There are many ways I like to add that summertime ease to my home. Here are some of my favorites:
Flowering Plants Impatiens are so pretty and look so cheerful in gray wooden planters. You can use something traditional such as wood planters or go “off-road” with something a bit unusual like an old sink, a chair without a seat or a chamber pot. I’ve even seen an old bed frame used as a garden trellis.
Comfy Seating If you want to linger on the porch, you’re going to need a nice place to sit. Rocking chairs are made for the porch, or try using an old crib. I transformed a delicate iron French crib into a settee. The blue striped mattress ticking says “country casual” while the cushion says “Sit!”
You can also use an old bed on the porch. Just be sure your mattress doesn’t get wet. I bring my mattress inside when not in use. All of my rocking chair cushions and pillows also come in when the weather turns.
An Outdoor Dining Space It’s official; food tastes better outdoors. Having a table and chairs for meals is one of the best uses of space on your porch. We love to take our meals outdoors and, weather permitting, we do just that as often as we can.
I’ve got a large table on our back porch that we have used for countless meals. Dining here with friends as we watch the sunset is one of my favorite activities. The food doesn’t have to be fancy for you to have a memorable evening.
Lighting As the sun sets, you’ll need some mood lighting. There’s no need for electricity when you have candles or solar string lights. Mason jars are great for candles and can help keep the wind from blowing the flames out.
Enjoy your summer, and don’t forget the chocolate pie. . . .