First Travel Trailer

 

There are two versions of how Daddy came by our first camper trailer: According to what he journaled in May 1970, it was a 15 foot Mobile Scout, purchased for $1,050 in May 1957. However, in the late 1990s, I asked Daddy about our first travel trailer. I had not read what he had journaled about it. In fact, I didn’t even know he had a journal at that time. He answered that he had received the trailer as compensation for a job. He said he was working for Hughes Steel at the time, and he bid on a job for a trailer company. When someone asked him about compensation, he said he would like to be paid with a travel trailer. I can only guess why there is a discrepancy between these two versions, but the payment for a job scenario is highly plausible.

I remember when I first saw the camper trailer. I had traveled with Mother via train to Kansas to see her mother, and when we returned home, there was a new travel trailer parked in the driveway. I don’t know if Mother knew about it ahead of time. I think we all helped Daddy paint the black lightning bolt along the sides, and later we added cartoon animals on the front, sides, and back of the trailer. The cartoon characters are visible in the gallery photos of the trailer. I am not sure who drew the original designs, but they look like something I might have contributed to, even at the young age of seven. More likely, though, it was a group effort. I can still picture Daddy, paintbrush in hand, painting the designs on the trailer.

The aluminum trailer was equipped with a fifty pound icebox which was refrigerated with blocks of ice, a three-burner butane stove with oven, and a 16 gallon water tank with a hand pump on the sink. It slept five. The windows cranked open and shut. Hot water for sponge bathing, cooking, or washing dishes was heated on the stove. There was a large storage compartment underneath the bed, smaller storage cabinets on the wall, and one very narrow closet for hanging clothes. We hung our other clothes in fish net sacks on wall hooks. Often we had no electricity hookups. Our light source was a kerosene lantern hung on a hook inside of the trailer after dark. Mother did most of the cooking outside on campfires, and each morning she made a pot of campfire coffee in an aluminum coffee pot for her and Daddy. If it was raining, she cooked inside. The trailer was not self-contained. If we were not in a park that offered park restrooms, we relieved ourselves outdoors and if necessary took a shovel to dig a hole. We always disposed of any toilet paper properly. We took sponge baths in the sink, bathed in the often frigid mountain rivers or streams, and occasionally stopped at an overnight trailer park to use the showers and laundry facilities. Our favorite vacation destination was the west or southwest United States, especially the Rocky Mountains, and on several occasions we met our friends the Bowers somewhere in the mountains. We were protected from the elements by the tin can walls, and we entertained ourselves with silly family stories and anecdotes – so much fun.

I only remember one trailer trip with my oldest sister Patsy, who was nearly grown in 1957. I’m sure she joined us on shorter trips a few times, but this one trip I remember was a long vacation to California in 1957. I was seven years old in the summer of 1957. We were motoring across the desert in what I believe was a 1957 red and white Buick. It was the middle of the summer, the car’s air conditioner was broken, and I sat between Daddy and Mother on an old wooden box in the middle of the front (bench) seat, wearing only my ruffled red panties and holding a cup of ice water. My “job” was to flick ice-cold water on everyone within reach to keep the passengers cool. At least, that’s what I thought my job was. I’m not sure that my sisters were all too pleased about it. Daddy took the photo of me below during that California trip, clearly demonstrating that taking embarrassing photos of your children is not just a digital or cell-phone age phenomenon.

1956 Tina on pot roadside Disney hat
Me in my Disneyland hat sitting on a porcelain cast iron pot taking care of business; car door open and towels hung for privacy and to block the sun; 1957, apparently after we had visited Disneyland

 

We had many memorable experiences, one of which happened in 1961 at Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, where we camped for a few days. A large group of Native Americans began to gather and set up camp next to us. A man knocked on our trailer door in the afternoon and politely asked Mother if he could borrow a cup of sugar. She said yes, of course, and eagerly gave him what he needed. He returned a few minutes later, explained that they were having a “pow-wow” that evening, and asked us if we would like to join them. Daddy accepted, and that night we attended an authentic pow-wow. We were asked not to take photographs, and unfortunately, I don’t remember much about the ceremony, other than it was exciting and colorful, most of them were dressed in authentic Native American attire, and it was late when we got back to our trailer. Daddy and Mother greatly appreciated the invitation.

My parents had at least three camping trailers from 1957 on, until Daddy could no longer drive. Even after they gave up traveling, they parked their last trailer behind their country house in Merit, Texas, where it stayed until they moved to Bonham, Texas, in 1994. They used it for extra beds when needed. It must have been very hard for them to give up traveling, which they loved so much.

I loved these camping trips. We got up before sunrise to get ready to set out. Many nights, after a long day’s drive, Daddy just pulled over into a roadside park or even a wide space in the road he was tired enough, where we spent the night as 18-wheelers whizzed by, rocking the trailer as they passed. Among places we visited: Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, Pike’s Peak, Garden of the Gods, Royal Gorge, Jackson Hole, Mesa Verde, the Redwood forests in California, and the Dalton Gang’s Hideout in Kansas. We, fished, hiked, climbed mountains, rode horses, hunted for rocks, waded in and drank from cold mountain streams, and saw many majestic and unforgettable sights.

I vividly recall the smell of crisp clean mountain air, lush pine forests, campfires burning, the aroma of coffee brewing and bacon frying over an open campfire, the crunch of gravel roads under the tires, the smell of gasoline stations, and the delightful sounds of all types of nighttime noises (inside and outside of the trailer); and I can still feel the comfort of seeing the flying red horse and the Dallas skyline for the first time after a week or two away from home. I am so blessed to have been able to see all of these places as a child. I didn’t fully appreciate all I gained from these family trips until I grew up, when I didn’t get to do this sort of thing any more.

Mom and Dad

My parents were loyal, loving, honest, and dedicated to each other and to their children. Mother was a stay-at-home mom and was always there for me and my sisters. We knew she would be there waiting for us when we got home from school. Daddy always provided for us, and we spent happy times together as a family. I never knew we didn’t have any money, and I never felt like I had to do without; but we didn’t, and I did.

I rarely heard Mother and Daddy complain about anything. Even as they fought the inconveniences, ailments, and often painful disabilities of aging, they rarely complained, and they both had plenty to complain about. Mother began going blind from macular degeneration in the mid-1960s, and Daddy had some serious back problems which became debilitating later in his life.

At one time both my parents smoked and drank, but some time before I can remember they gave both up. I don’t know about the alcohol, but I believe my sisters Nancy and Patsy were the reason they stopped smoking – my sisters couldn’t stand the smoke, especially in the car, and they said so. The only time I remember seeing cigarettes in the house was when I was very small. Mother and Daddy had invited friends over, and most of them must have been smokers. When the guests all left, they left behind ash trays full of ashes and cigarette butts. I picked one of the cigarette butts up from an ash tray that was sitting on an end table just below my eye level, and I put it to my lips. Mother saw me. She didn’t get upset, but she took it away from me immediately. All I remember about that cigarette is that I thought it was disgusting. I never put a cigarette to my lips again. Some of my high school friends smoked but never in front of me, and many of my friends’ parents smoked. I still didn’t realize at the time how unusual it was to live in a non-smoking household. I am forever grateful.

1948 Pat and Jim w cig
Cigarettes and Cokes; a rare photo of Daddy smoking; 1948

 

I never heard either of my parents utter a discouraging word, except one Sunday when I was about twelve or thirteen years old. Mother set the oven timer to bake some potatoes while we were at church. There must have been a roast in there with the potatoes. When we returned home after church with our Sunday appetites, she discovered the still cold oven holding the still raw potatoes. She promptly opened the oven door, removed one of the large potatoes, and threw it and a rather loud dammit across the kitchen.

Daddy had no interest in socializing, at least not at home. He did not enjoy card games (or other parlor games, as Mother called them). I think Mother would have enjoyed entertaining at home, but it was not Daddy’s idea of fun. The exception was family and a few neighbors and friends, who came over for impromptu visits. On Mt. Pleasant, on warm fragrant summer nights we often sat outside in lawn chairs and drank Cokes or iced tea. I caught lightning bugs, and on clear nights we watched the sky for Sputnik to fly over. (Did we sit outside so they could smoke? This is beginning to make more sense to me after so many years.)

1960 Daddy and Tina in front yard on Mt. Pleasant
Sitting in the front yard at home on Mt. Pleasant. Daddy is showing me something in the newspaper. He probably took this himself.

 

Mother’s hobbies were playing the piano and birdwatching. She kept a field guide to the birds nearby at all times – at home or when they traveled. As my mother’s eyesight failed, she identified the birds by sound or by a verbal description if someone was around to give her one. She enjoyed watching the birds so much, and I can only imagine how sad she was when she began to lose her eyesight and couldn’t see them any more; but she had a positive attitude and a delightful sense of humor which sustained her throughout her declining years. She also had the most wonderful contagious laugh. She laughed loud and often.

 

 

Daddy was quieter than Mother, and he had a drier sense of humor. He didn’t laugh much, but when he smiled, he lit up from the inside out, and he always smiled while listening to Mother play the piano. We all loved to hear her play. She loved to play, she played every day, and she played beautifully. My sisters and I took piano lessons, but Nancy excelled at it. As Mother’s eyesight deteriorated with early onset of AMD, Daddy made her what she called her “sheet music,” consisting of only a small sheet of paper with very large-lettered abbreviations of her favorite song titles written in black marker. Mother played the piano almost to her dying day. She became legally blind sometime in the 1980s but managed quite well with a little help to take care of herself and Daddy up until they moved together into a nursing home in Paris ,Texas, near my sister Patsy.

 

 

Daddy suffered from age related arthritis and back problems, and for the last few years of his life, he couldn’t walk without the use of his canes which he had whittled. Later he also needed a wheel chair. In early 1994, they moved from Merit, Texas, to Bonham, Texas, to be closer to the VA Hospital in Bonham. They bought a small house in Bonham which was just big enough for the two of them but was not built to accommodate his electric wheelchair. By the time they moved out of their house, the hall walls were scraped, scratched, scuffed, and nicked, and the doorways had chunks of wood knocked out of the frames from his wheel chair maneuvers. When they were still able to get out of the house (with help), one of my sisters or I took them regularly to Wal-Mart to do their grocery shopping. When Daddy went along, he used one of the store’s electric carts. It made Mother nervous when Daddy put his cart in reverse and it began beeping the reverse warning. She couldn’t see what he was doing, but she knew he was driving backwards, and it worried her.

Mother and Dad had a symbiotic relationship. In their later years, she became his ears and legs, and he became her eyes. After Mother began losing her eyesight, Daddy read to her from magazines, which she greatly appreciated; but, because her grammar and spelling were so good, she often became exasperated when he mispronounced words. But she let him go on, and if there were other people in the room at the time, she might offer up a “For Pete’s sake!” or “Mercy!” with half of a grin, and Daddy would continue reading, unphased. They loved each other deeply, and from the day they met, their focus was on each other and family. Whatever Daddy wanted to do was what Mother happily wanted to do, also. Her sage advice to me about marriage was, “You will both be happier if you let him always think the good ideas are his.” It worked like a charm for her.