Every year when school got out, we knew we could count on a few things. One, that freezer pops would magically appear in the freezer, two, that a new chore chart would soon make its appearance, and lastly, that we would be loading up the van and heading on a road trip soon!
And, if you know the Crains, you know it wasn't just a road trip a few hours away, but it was always some cross-country adventure that involved zigging to out of the way places, so we could say that we'd been to somewhere new. In my childhood, we criss-crossed the country hitting all 48-contiguous states, Canada, and Mexico.
But almost as much as it was just trying to cross a border, it was about the people. My dad LOVED connecting with relatives and old friends and we surprised many a person by showing up at people's doors to say, "hello," unexpectedly. I imagine that nowadays he might call them on his cellphone first, but back in the day, he would have his address book, a map (although the map didn't stop us from getting lost on a regular basis), and a plan for how we would surprise them. Sometimes a kid would go to the door first, sometimes he would feign an accent and try to sell them something, and one time I even remember them donning missionary tags for the occasion, but success was always determined by how big the reaction was and whether we got invited in for at least a quick chat (and a chance to use the bathroom)!
With there being ten of us, making the trip as cheap as possible was always one of the top priorities. We ate a whole lot of PB&J's, and our camping experiences are a series of escapades that could fill a book in and of themselves. We've camped during raging thunderstorms, tornado warnings, swarms of insects, and sometimes all that with missing tent poles. I'm sure there were some smooth camping experiences in there, but I don't remember any. It was always some misadventure or another! Every once in a while my parents would give in and get a motel for the night, so we could shower (or stay dry after several nights in a row of rain), but even then it would be all of us in one room camping all over the floor!
But we did it.
Most people with eight kids and limited resources would just stay home, but I love the fact that our family has been all over this beautiful country together. It meant a lot to my parents that we kids see places and do things that broadened our horizons and they made it happen! It wasn't always easy or comfortable (is it even possible for 10 people in a van to be comfortable?), but I am so grateful for the opportunity we've had to explore national parks, see many great cities, and visit landmarks that many people only dream about going to.
And it's a tradition we've continued in our own family. Our van isn't quite as crowded, we don't camp very often (bad memories!), and we definitely watch a few dvd's mingled in with the hours of alphabet and license plate games, but when we zig 40-miles out of our way so we can cross North Dakota off our list, it's an instant flashback to the road trips of my childhood and I know the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree!
Happy road tripping!