I heard a rumor that Americans once knew how to live, even thrive, without the input of reality television. Some of us are old enough to remember those days.
In that pre-Kardashian era, true celebrities lived in far-off Hollywood, flying on vacations to exotic places like Monaco and the south of France. Normal people were so far removed from such glitterati they never dreamed of living like jet setters. Life for the average American was, compared to modern standards, mundane.
I can tell you, the Duck Dynasty family has nothing on my family when we took our vacations. I can only imagine what reality television cameras would have captured if they had followed us.
My folks had three kids; me and my two younger sisters. Our trips started at 5 a.m. with Dad mustering the troops to the garage. Regardless of age, any kid at our house was part of his car-loading bucket brigade. It was like the Navy preparing a ship for a six month deployment.
Mom had a supplies check-off list. There would be no purchases made while on the road. My parents, Ray and Lib, were so cheap they made a negative economic impact on the tourism market.
Dad was a master packer. He would cuss, cram, wiggle, but most of all sweat, while he manipulated an entire household of goods into our family vehicle. And, it really didn’t matter if we were camping or staying at a relative’s house. Nothing was ever left to chance. Every inch within and on top of the car was loaded with food, cooking equipment, sleeping bags, cleaning paraphernalia, books, toys, and medical gear… basically everything we could possibly have used if we had stayed at home. We were just headed to some mosquito infested wilderness to use it now.
Daddy wasn’t planning on paying anybody for anything.
“Okay, Libby,” Dad said. “The car is loaded. Let’s go!” He was always in a hurry. Mom, not so much.
Mother came out the door, pushing us girls, already fussing. I was fifteen and unwilling to be in the embarrassing presence of my parents, and even worse, the demeaning position of riding in the backseat with my sisters- ten-year old Teensie and five-year old Sissie.
Mother slammed all the car doors and turned to Dad, “Ready to go to the mountains! You have some money, right?” The car was slung so low we nearly bottomed out of the driveway. “I have a little, Lib,” he said, always unwilling to spend a cent. “But, I’ve been corresponding with a distant cousin in Cherokee who owns a hotel. We are going to stay with them.”
The car was a furnace and my sisters were noisy, wiggling sweatboxes. They wanted to talk to me, breath my air and worse- look at me. Occasionally, to my utter humiliation, Mom would encourage everyone to sing, which they did at the top of their lungs. I huddled by the window of the backseat, trying to be invisible.
It was a long day of driving, stopping for restroom breaks and then a picnic lunch at Oak Ridge. As we drove through the scenic Smokey Mountains we passed several campgrounds, small hotels and little communities offering tourist amenities and recreation. I was beginning to think this trip might not be too bad. I uttered my first words of the trip. “Dad! Let’s stay at one of these places. I see stuff to do and BOYS!”
He looked over his shoulder at me and glared. “We have a place to stay, Daisy!” Dad pulled some paper out of his pocket and handed it to Mom. “Here’s the letter about the Bear Scare Inn. It’s off of Highway 19 near Cherokee. Get the map.”
And I just knew Bear Scare didn’t sound good.
The first thing I noticed when pulling into the dirt parking lot of the motel was the sign, or what used to be the sign. Half of the letters were gone. We were going to be staying at the SCARE Motel.
I heard Mom suck in her breath. Dad said, “What?”
The place looked creepy and deserted. I decided I was staying in the car.
Mother and Dad weren’t gone long before they were headed back to the car, Mom in the lead, topping cotton. ”Ray, did you see that huge, moldy crack in the swimming pool? This place is a dump!” She had her hands on her hips. It was going to be a battle.
“Hey, it’s cheap. The kids can go to the creek to swim,” Dad offered.
Mom was just getting wound up. “And the rooms? They were filthy! Did you see the bugs?”
Dad was shuffling his feet but Mother jumped in the car, slammed the door and shouted out the window, “Get in! We are NOT staying here!”
It was sunset when Daddy drove away from the Scare Inn and started looking for alternate housing. “Libby, we aren’t staying in one of those high dollar motels,” he tried to assert. It was probably good he was watching the road and didn’t see the look Mom gave him.
After shopping Cherokee lodgings Dad discovered he was going to be lucky to find any kind of bed for the night. With the two younger girls wild in the backseat we headed to Gatlinburg.
“I also have a distant relative,” Mom said. “And they have a motel in Gatlinburg.”
Dad smiled, balance restored to his life again.
The Rainbow Princess was a beautiful motel in the middle of Gatlinburg; clean and spacious, with a pool. Staying there was so unlike my parents, I willingly got out of the car. Dad was impressed and told Mom, “This is great! Why don’t you go see your relatives and get us checked in. I’ll start unloading.”
Later I saw Dad pulling the motel paperwork out of Mom’s purse. “Good Lord, Lib! This bill can’t be right! Why didn’t we get a discount? What relation are you to the people here?”
Mom just smiled at him, took the receipt and said, “It’s a distant relationship, Ray. Just like yours with the PATELS at that Bear Scare Inn. “