A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE

By Shaindle Schmuckler
AJT CONTRIBUTOR

I don’t remember going on many family trips when I was little. My family, for most of our lives, would drive up to the mountains to spend the summer at the bungalow colony in Highland Mills, New York. The car would be packed to the hilt with everything, except the always maligned kitchen sink, we could possibly need to survive and indeed thrive during our summer vacation.

Beginning at around the age of six or seven, the trunk which contained my stuff for camp was included in this mix. My dad z”l would drive, starting out early on a morning. Our first and only stop was The Red Apple Rest, which was about half way between the Bronx and Highland Mills. My little sister Joycie would sit in the front with my mom, smooshed against the front right door and open window. Somehow she managed to convince my mom z”l that she suffered from a much more severe case of car sickness than I did. So my middle sister and I would be crammed into the back seat along with pillows, blankets, linens, pots, pans, and anything else that could not fit in the trunk of our car.

Maggie sat on the extreme left, smooshed against the back door and the open left window, while I sat on the right, smooshed against the door and the open right window, directly in back of the baby, Joycie. There was this one time when Joycie got car sick before my dad could stop the car. My mother made her lean out the window as not to soil dad’s car. Think about it. Do you have the visual yet?

There was this one time we all packed into dad’s car, making the long, arduous two-day drive down to Florida for vacation. We would stop at a motel about half way between New York and Miami. My mom had her list of accommodations the motel must offer. First and foremost, it could not face the road. To this very day we don’t know why. Second, it had to have a pool, and third, all five of us had to sleep in one room.

Then there was the time we drove to Patuxent River, Md. to visit my married cousin. We had to go over what at the time seemed like the highest bridge in the world. My dad AJT Shaindle’s Shpeil was terrified of heights. I, too, am very fearful of heights. When he realized how high the bridge was he became paralyzed with fear, and after a quick Chinese fire drill, his fifteen year old daughter was driving. Dad taught me to drive in his green pick-up truck, which he kept at the bungalow colony, when I was a mere 14-years-old. I must admit, the very first time I sat behind the wheel and drove down that steep hill, I knew I would be addicted to driving; it was the feeling of such power, such control.

Now back to the trip.

After switching to the inside lane, and staring straight ahead so as not to see the water. All I can remember of that vacation was the purple indentations my fingernails made on the palms of my hands, and the taste of blood from my chewed up cheek.

This one time we had what should have been the most exciting vacation ever when we drove up to Canada to visit relatives. I remember the excitement we all felt walking under the Niagara Falls in the yellow raincoats, boots and rain hats we were all given by our guide. It was spectacular. But then, we drove to our relatives, who graciously opened their home to us for what should have been three nights.

Their home, as I recall, was beautiful. A large, so it seemed to the girl who lived in a Bronx apartment, two-story stone home with dormer windows situated in the attic. When it was time for bed, my two sisters and I were led to the attic which was converted into a large bedroom/ playroom. Walking up the steps that led to the attic, my sisters and I kept eyeing each other, our eyes shouting ‘Help!’

We remember that the staircase had one light which shined just enough light to make it very spooky. Our Canadian cousin led the way. When she opened the door to the attic/ bedroom, the door creaked. OK, maybe it didn’t, but our imaginations were in overdrive and we were fast approaching what felt like the door of no return. Our cousin said goodnight, as we ever so slowly, climbed into our beds. She shut the door, the room turned blindingly dark. Within seconds, all three of us were in my bed, and crying. We were terrified of the ghosts which inhabited the attic.

What do you say, you don’t believe in ghosts? You would if you had been there with us. Finally, we sent my middle sister, Maggie, my mom’s favorite, downstairs to our mom to deliver the news that we were not staying in this house. We always used the fact that Maggie was her favorite to our advantage. We were happy to have a messenger. Our large crocodile tears convinced our parents we would have to leave, and off we went to the nearest hotel, which did not boast an attic, a dimly lit staircase or ghosts.

Since those early days, my sisters and I have been blessed with some incredible travel experiences. We’ve been to countries other than our own. We’ve met people who in small and large ways enhanced or changed our lives. “Strut this Way,” were the words emblazoned in oversized white letters on these huge green banners displayed around the beautiful gardens in the Opry hotel in Nashville, Tenn. We braced ourselves and got ready to hit the wild side.

My husband and I like to take mini vacations once or twice a year. This trip, Nashville was our destination. Our first planned stop was The Grand Ol’ Opry. The site of the Opry was the size of 10 football fields, perhaps 20. We parked, hiked over to the Opry hotel, spotted the “Strut This Way” banner, and being citizens who follow directions, strutted ourselves right into middle-America.

The hotel, which is the size of a city with 3,800 rooms, was host to a number of conventions taking place President’s Day weekend, which oddly enough was also Valentine’s Day. Trust me when I say we did not stay at this hotel. Instead, we found a lovely boutique hotel sans conventions or conventioneers. The conventions taking place at this aforementioned hotel included the largest antique show I have ever experienced, and I have been to a few. Elvis was quite popular, as were paintings of bears, ducks and deer. The wild turkey enthusiasts were very visible, and dressed to kill; by that I mean almost everyone was wearing camouflage.

The gun and knife show was another very popular event. I would be remiss in not mentioning the number of duck calls we heard. It seems these little instruments are very popular with children and adults. Is it any wonder that the stars of Duck Dynasty are millionaires? Think what you’d like, there is no truth to the rumor that I am the DD’s biggest fan.There was a long line waiting for the taxidermists. I personally witnessed two owls perched on sticks proudly displayed by their owners as they headed back to their truck or van where the owls would be kept safe until placed in or on their final resting place. Try to imagine yourself calmly driving on the highway, listening to the Comedy station when out of the corner of your right eye you suddenly spot what you think are two owls in the truck passing you one lane over. You don’t remember drinking too much, you don’t recall anyone suggesting a quick stay at the nearest mental institution, you blink once, twice and say to yourself “Self, this is just not happening, you must have imagined the whole thing.” Self, however, does not respond!

The Fainting Goats association was the final straw! Go ahead Google Fainting Goats, don’t be shy. You will discover way more than you thought you ever needed to know. A lovely lady wearing a pink satin football type jacket, with large white lettering and a goat lying on its side, were emblazoned on the back of her jacket, was kind enough to explain how fainting goats are part of the American history. Poor things.

Finally, we trekked over to the Grand Ol’ Opry. It was worth the wait, the hike, and was more than I could have imagined. So much tradition, a place filled with class. This little mini vacation turned out to be a mind expander in so many ways.

Fortunately we now all have air conditioning in our cars, so worrying about becoming car sick is not as large and looming an issue as it once was on my mini vacations with my mom, dad, and sisters. Best of all, I am the proud recipient of a valid driver’s license.