I was born to two African-American strivers. My dad had been born poor and my mom came from people who had “clawed their way up,” according to my maternal granddad, from “dirt poor to lower-middle-class.” Family difficulties early in her life, however, meant that Mom grew up working-class instead. My parents shared a great love – of each other and for upward mobility. They intended to take advantage of every opportunity afforded to them by the Civil Rights movement.
What does this have to do with vacationing? Everything!
People often forget that how you spend your leisure time is a key class indicator. When you have extremely limited class advantages, so are time and money for vacations. When you have limited class advantage, so too are your vacation options.
However, as our class privilege grew over the years, my family’s vacations reflected those changes. Some of the changes were great, but we also lost a bit of our extended family connections in the process.
Sunday Drives, Ice Coolers, and Road Maps and Naps
When I was a young child, my parents and I (an only child at the time) used to look forward to our Sunday drives – trips to fun New England locales. We would take the Mohawk Trail to beautiful terrain and country stores that sold maple sugar candy. We’d go to “fancy” neighborhoods with large houses and even larger yards, and my parents would talk about someday living there. We would visit relatives for Sunday dinner and barbecues in the summertime. Sometimes we would take my little cousins with us to get them out of the city for the day.
And once every summer, we would make the long trek by car down to West Virginia to see my father’s family. My mom would cook for days and pack a cooler with fried chicken, potato salad, soda, chocolate cake and more for us to eat. Restaurants were not an option. They were too pricey above the Mason-Dixon line and too dangerous below it. My parents would take turns driving and napping. When they got really tired, they would pull into rest stops on the highway and get some solid shuteye. Hotels (for the same reasons) were out of the question like restaurants.
When we arrived in West Virginia, we would visit every aunt, uncle, cousin and longtime family friend from county to county. They would bring out their best dishes for us and and liquor (sometimes moonshine) for my parents. After two weeks, we would head home, but not before my parents stocked my grandparents’ shelves and icebox (it really was an icebox) with lots of food.
The World’s Fair and Big Trips
As I got older and my parents got better-paying jobs and began their long-term higher education odyssey, our vacations got bigger. We went to the New York World’s Fair for five days. We still visited West Virginia but less frequently, staying at Howard Johnson Hotels on the trip down. We went to the tourist haven of Lake George, New York, or to New Hampshire theme parks. We visited my mom’s family less frequently, but still spent saw them pretty regularly.
I even got to fly to Washington, D.C., with my sixth grade class. By now, we lived in a different neighborhood, a lower-middle/middle-class one, and the schools took field trips that were far different from the inner-city school I had just left.
When my sisters were born a decade later, my parents now had careers instead of jobs and both had some college under their belt. We now no longer “took trips” but went on vacations to places like Montreal. We ate every meal at restaurants, paid entry fees for museums, boat rides, etc. After I left college and lived on my own, my parents and sisters visited places like Disney World and Toronto. My sisters went with their private school for month-long and two-week respectively trips to Mexico to work on their Spanish and the U.K. to study history.
As our class privilege grew over the years, my family’s vacations reflected those changes.”
As they settled into early retirement, my multi-degreed, stable-incomed parents began to travel more widely. They visited Mexico each year or traveled to Cape Cod and other U.S. spots. Then they set their sights on Hawaii, visiting every other year for more than a decade. I accompanied them a few times on wonderful family vacations there. I also regularly vacationed in Mexico, the West Indies, Paris, the West Coast, on Cape Cod and even extended a work-related trip to South Africa. I enjoyed cruises, too.
Gains and Losses
Now, I should be clear that none of my own trips were elaborate. I stayed in clean, 3-star (sometimes 4-star) hotels. I did eat at some truly amazing restaurants, but I did not spend much on tourist attractions or side trips. I am appreciative that I had the opportunity to see some wonderful places and meet some great people.
I have found though that I miss the trips to see extended family. I have not seen my West Virginia cousin except for a funeral in more than 40 years. I have not seen cousins living only 200 miles away for decades. So while I have gained experiences through more extravagant travel as my class changed, I have lost some other equally satisfying experiences.
I realize how lucky I am to have the leisure time to take vacations at all. And maybe it’s time to find a way to share that appreciation with the people who mean the most to me.