Sweet sixteen. For a year I dreamed of an amazing Okanagan Lake birthday beach party with all my friends. Many were the awesomely exciting plans we concocted. It would be the social event of the year. We could hardly wait.
And then my gypsy-spirited father dropped the bombshell. This would be the summer for his long-dreamed-of trip across Canada. The six of us, Pa, Ma, my 16 year old self, my 14 and 10 year old brothers, and my 6 year old sister would set off on a wonderfully educational nearly-seven-week trip across Canada in our family station wagon, pulling our 4 person tent trailer into which we would all squeeze each night.
Naturally, in typical teen spirit, I ranted, raved, cried, begged, and threatened to run away. My father could not understand what had happened to his lovely, obedient daughter. Actually he had been befuddled by her teenage behavior for the past 4 years or so; but that she should be displeased with the vacation of the century was simply incomprehensible to him. After all, he had planned every detail carefully, and he was generously doing this for the family, not for himself. Oh yes. Certainly. Yeah, right.
So off we went. Because of my attitude, which did not improve, I was banished to the third seat of the station wagon, which faced backward. Actually, I was quite pleased with this, as I did not have to interact with the rest of the family. I buried my nose in a variety of novels, and only appeared for bathroom stops and meals, if possible.
Unfortunately for myself, my father was a photography fanatic. We had to stop at every pictorial landscape, of which Canada has a distressing number. And we all had to pile out and pose in the foreground. Why he kept insisting I be part of the photos is beyond belief, as my evil frown created a distressing contrast with the idyllic scenery.
Also unfortunately, my dear father, a World War 2 vet and history buff, had a obsessive desire to visit every military or ex-military installation from one end of the continent to another. And of course we were all expected to tour each site, in respect of our great nation's history. I must admit that some sites, like Fort Steele, which had been rebuilt to colonial standards, were mildly interesting to me. But other sites, like the boot camp near Moose Jaw where dad had received his training, were now long-deserted boarded-up buildings, with dust and tumbleweed blowing across the barren prairie flats. We visited endless historical military sites of all descriptions, from one end of Canada to the other. On the return trip we visited Fort Louisbourg in New Brunswick.
Poor dad. We all piled out of the station wagon, and joined the tour group. Or at least the rest of the family piled out. Dad had to physically haul me out of my backseat cave. I was ranting and raving. The rest of the tour group stared at us, mouths hanging open. Dad got so upset at me that finally he shouted, "I'm going to put you on the next Greyhound Bus and send you home!" "Yes!" I shouted joyfully and started dancing with delight. Dad stared at me in horror! I suppose he thought this would be a terrible punishment; but to me it was a moment of pure bliss. Mom said flatly, "You are NOT going to travel alone across country by Greyhound." My heart sank, and I slunk into line in the tour group and trudged along. Fort Louisbourg turned out to be fascinating, but I did my best not to let on.
Most days we would rise at dawn, have oatmeal for breakfast, and drive till noon. No matter where we were, dad would pull over to the side of the road, and mom would prepare lunch with whatever she could manage without cooking. A regular was cold canned beans on brown bread. Yum. Then we'd travel another 6 hours or so, and camp again. Mom, who was on a tight budget due to the cost of the photos which would memorialize our vacation for all time, would do her best to cook something nourishing. Stew was frequent. Hot dogs were a treat. Dad did generously announce one day that he was taking us to a restaurant. We went to Dairy Queen and all of us had dipped soft ice cream cones. It was a highlight of the trip.
I could go on and on, and indeed I did so throughout the vacation, writing and illustrating a rather sarcastic journal. My father also wrote a journal, and you would never imagine that we'd been on the same vacation. My final entry noted that it seemed like we were on the road for 45 years rather than 45 days.
Oddly enough, over the years as I have matured a tad, I have actually come to look back on that trip with a bit of nostalgia. And I did actually come to appreciate my nation more. I enjoyed using my high school French in Quebec, and had an awesome time at the Ontario Science Center on my 16th birthday, thanks to elderly relatives who recognized my sorrow at not having a sweet sixteen birthday party with my friends. And years later, when I became a high school teacher and taught Grade 10 Social Studies, which covers Canadian geography and history, I always showed my classes my dad's photos. They totally loved laughing at my cranky glares and my wild striped 1970 bell bottom pants, hippie belts, and other fashionable attire of the era. And so it turned out to be an entertaining and educational vacation after all. For my 1980s and 1990s students, at any rate.