In the 1970s I was a single mom with two young daughters and nearly empty pockets. Our weekend fun was often a Sunday afternoon drive. We could go some distance on thirty-five cents a gallon, so Carolynn, Leslie and I would scrape up loose change, invite their adopted grandmother Liberty to join us, and set off into the blue-hazed hills of the Shenandoah Valley.
Our favorite time of year for these trips was when the calendar reminded that fall had arrived. This time of year. Ah-h, autumn, when trees try to out color each other, blue skies bedazzle, mums glow, sheaved cornstalks stand tall, and pumpkins await their destiny.
We’d head out of town in whichever direction one daughter chose, not without an argument about who was to choose first, of course. At the first traffic light, stop sign, or crossroad the other daughter would point left, right or straight ahead. We’d continue on, them taking turns deciding our route, while I tried to keep track so I’d have some idea where we would end up. A good sense of direction served me well—my own personal, internal GPS years before the military technology was adapted for cars. Lib enjoyed our adventures, Carolynn and Leslie loved telling me where to go, and I liked the idea of fun for pennies.
At the end of the day we would try to find an orange roof—Howard Johnson’s—where the very best coffee ice cream could be found. Lib always insisted she would treat and I was in no position to argue.
Now this was back in the day when a smiling gas station attendant would pop out of the cluttered office asking, “Fill ‘er up? Check the oil?” He cleaned the windshield too. I never let any of them check under the hood though, because I knew, one look at the dipstick, and there’d be eye-rolling and head-shaking that I would have to pretend not to see. I drove a leaking English Rover that no one could fix, so I carried a case of oil in the trunk. At ten cents a quart that was a more cost effective option! I could top off the oil myself. If we were ever to get lost on our days out I could follow the trail of Hansel and Gretel-like drips to get back home.
These days who can find a “full service” gas station? This past summer when our grandson did odd jobs for us, one of his tasks was to fill my car. Strangely, for a technology-impaired doofus like me, I’m not confounded by the mysteries of credit card payment at the tank. No, it’s my mechanical clumsiness that makes me click the little thingie on the nozzle too soon so that gasoline pours down the side of the car. This occasionally happens when I try to put the darned thing back in the whassit too. I once drenched myself so thoroughly that I had to go back home, strip down, and throw my clothes away.
Here’s a thought: if I could find someone to take my car and fill it every couple of weeks, I’d buy the ice cream, double—no triple—scoop!
First, it is so satisfying to fill the boxes in your reply section – it looks like typewriter font. I just want to type away to see those old fashioned letters…
I love this story, especially the spontaneity of getting in the car and going without plans and making every turn decision in the moment. What fun y’all must have had! And I had no idea HoJo had good coffee ice cream. Are there even any Howard Johnsons around anymore?!
I was surprised to find out, thanks to Google, that there are some HoJo’s restaurants still around. And, yes, their coffee ice cream was the coffee-est.
I’ll pump for you anytime for a double scoop ice cream cone – coffee of course!! We used to do the Sunday drives too! Thanks for bringing back that memory!!
Better watch out. I might take you up on that!
I can just picture the adventures and how daring you are. I would have gotten lost and still do! FYI I don’t have a GPS either, internally too!!! My youngest daughter wanted to fill up my car when we were going shopping and she had a major blow out with the hose too! Couldn’t get her home fast enough (after attempting to shop at her insistence!). Keep the stories coming a wonderful blog!
Love your story and the memories it brought back of Sunday Drives around Butler in the Fall, and know you’ll agree with me that it’s hard to find any prettier scenery than Mohican State Park. I miss the full-serve gas stations, too!
My mom used to organize very early morning picnics at Mohican…5:30 a.m. early! Just learned we could move to New Jersey where they only have full service stations! I’m putting the house on the market tomorrow.
Gotta let you in on a little secret, Mom. Carolynn and I would tell you to turn based on our own internal (and ALWAYS incorrect) GPS trying to get home sooner. We would think we would know which way home was…but we would get further and further out. Looking back I’m glad we had those drives.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry! Might as well laugh.