The old Singer would be at full throttle weeks before the departure stitching little plaid shirts, shorts, pinafores and other accessories. She made all her own frocks too and the sports shirts for my Dad. And we had to match! Not each other but our tops to our bottoms. She just wouldn't stand for mixing it up with a plaid here and a stripe, dot or check along with it. And she was big on wearing good underpants. No safety pins allowed.
These folks drove like Andretti possessed as they wove their way from Arkansas to the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. Stopping only to fuel up and the inevitable "I gotta pee NOW and can't hold it any longer" stops. Probably an hour or two before reaching our destination we had to pull over sometimes right there on the side of the turnpike so they could retrieve clean clothing from the trunk and Mama would make up strip down and she'd go to work on us using a wash rag dipped from the icy water from the little styrofoam ice chest they kept in the car for our food and drinks. This ritual called the Bath left nothing untouched. Faces, armpits, feet and bottoms in that order got scrubbed so we could be pink and fragrant smelling before entering Grandma Gregory's. God how I hated those baths. Especially dead of the winter when we had to stand out in the cold exposed and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of the one supposed to love and protect.
On the way back home depending on the time we had left and what remained of their pocketbooks we sometimes made little side trips, stopping to look at historical landmarks or to visit souvenir shops if they had really been careful with their funds and had encountered no wacky car problems. We got to look through racks and choose our own postcards. It gave us something fun to do on the way home and we got to actually mail them to friends and family from the town we happened to be driving through, saying things like "Hi, having fun and wish you were here". Of course the cards did not reach them before we were back home and that always made me feel sad when I learned that.
While driving through the Carolina's and the mountains of Tennessee we'd get a pair of moccasins. Genuine handmade ones by real Indians. Or in Freddie's case a billfold which was in the form of a kit to be assembled with plastic strips. Sometimes I'd get an Indian doll, usually a maid with feathers in her braids. Fun and entertaining was the Burma Shave signs or the "I see something you don't see" game. Spotting license plates from other states, a good little diversion aimed at keeping us from squabbling was a good one too.
Sometimes we got to spend a night coming back in places called tourist courts and I loved it when they were the actual teepees. At least we thought they were truly authentic. We'd stop mainly at roadside parks and have picnic lunches but occasionally we got to have a real cafe meal. I loved those joints. Not just the good hot greasy food but the atmosphere that went along with them. They all had little jukeboxes at the booths. Talk about living. For a dime you could get a couple of songs and for a quarter you could hear music way up until your meal was finished. You hated leaving the music playing but when the plates were empty it was time to go.
Once back home everything was back to normal. Except the time we got home and found our house literally infested with fleas. Freckles had stayed with relatives and when she returned it seems the fleas held a welcome home party for her. They also took a liking to me and Mammy said it was all in my mind because fleas didn't bite anything but dogs or S.O.B.'s. She had some sense of humor didn't she. I've wondered all my life which category I fell into.
Growing up in the fifties was just the best of times for so many reasons. Freddie and I both collected comic books which were always referred to as funny books. Whether they were funny or not. Kinda like calling all sodas "Cokes". But to me that decade was the last era of innocence and we were ripe for the picking as rock 'n roll came of age. Midway into my thirteenth year was the summer I became aware of feelings both exciting and scary.
It was the introduction of Elvis, Bill Haley and the Comets which threatened to consume my very soul. In the past I was content to share brother and sister fun but that summer all seemed changed as Freddie became much younger and never again my little playmate. In my mind I had become of age and left innocence behind. Gone were the gentle days of pretend and leisure. I had growing up to do and I wanted it to happen now. It would take many years before I'd appreciate and yearn for the carefree sheltered time I had so taken for granted.
The fifties were history.Shifty baby.........the word had taken on new meaning.