Thursday, January 21, 2021

Travels with Chet

| July 12, 2020 1:52 AM

Back in the summer of 1977 while I was in college and my brother Steve was in his first year of grad school, our dad wanted to “test drive” a 40-foot Winnebago to see if RVing was the kind of thing he’d enjoy in his future retirement.

Starting out in Ohio, the three of us embarked on a two and a half week cross-country road trip.

We struck out westward, stopping at Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower, then rambling through the Bighorns and Yellowstone where I took a picture of Steve in front of Old Faithful, pretending he had his finger up his nose. He was wearing a safari shirt and khaki shorts and said if he had a clipboard he could walk right up and look into the geyser because he could pass for a park ranger.

We then headed for Crater Lake via Boise, Idaho, where Steve recalls we all got drunk with the father — one Col. Parker — of one of Steve’s old buddies. I do not recall this encounter at all … but there could be a reason for that.

We cruised the Oregon Coast on down to California’s redwoods before swinging onto the Golden Gate Bridge and into Sausalito. (More than 40 years later I still have the flannel blouse I bought at a hippie boutique there.)

We took a respite at Dad’s sisters’ home is San Jose. My aunts had a lemon tree in their backyard, which I considered exotic and very “California,” and a piano in their living room where I taught myself how to play, one key at a time, the theme from the movie “Love Story”; the melodramatic tune having been burned years prior into our collective adolescent memory.

After San Jose we dropped in on the quaint Carmel-by-the Sea, one of Dad’s favorite places, then toured the Southwest — Grand Canyon, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest and Carlsbad Caverns where Dad let me get behind the wheel of the Winnebago for an approximate nanosecond, before heading for Dallas for a quick reunion with Dad’s nephew Randy, my godfather.

And at some point in what would wrap up to be about a 6,300-mile trip, I threw out my dad’s dentures … at a rest stop. We’d pulled off for lunch and Dad had (unknown to me) taken them out for awhile after eating, wrapping them in his napkin and setting them on the console. I was tidying up, picked up the napkin, paper plates, etc. and threw it all in a trashcan.

We were about a half hour down the road when Dad asked, “Where’s my teeth?”

Now Dad was a handsome (his friends called him “The Silver Fox”) and good humored (“pull my finger”) kind of guy; to meet him you’d never guess he had dentures. But there it was — his false teeth had gone missing and his good nature had gone sour.

As we headed back to the rest stop Steve and I were in the back of the motor home trying not to look at each other or else die laughing. After a good bit of digging I retrieved Dad’s dentures, thank God.

Other than a failed solenoid that set us back a bit in Sundance, Wyoming, that transgression may have been the only hiccup in the whole trip.

Somewhere along our travels we perfected the “RV Walk,” an exaggerated technique for remaining on your feet while traveling from, say, the toilet in back to the kitchen table in front. Upon request, I can still do a reasonable rendition.

Our final destination before home was New Orleans, where my other brother lived and where, in a burst of cultural immersion, I’d ordered trout meuniere (the first time I’d ordered fish of any kind in my entire life) at a fancy restaurant. Our sister, who was performing in summer stock theater in Virginia at the time also rendezvoused with us in The Big Easy and picked up the last leg home.

It was a fine trip. I don’t know about Dad, but I never got tired of being on the road. My ability to read maps, navigate and my love of travel all stem from our annual family vacations.

Dad died about 10 years later, unfortunately, before he ever got the chance to use the motor home he’d finally bought for his retirement.

Upon his passing my cousin Randy from Dallas called and said “One day we’ll be the ones to carry the torch.” — I’d always remembered his words.

And now we are.

Community editor Carol Marino may be reached at 758-4440 or by email at