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The long and winding roads

Posted: August 3, 2017 4:13 p.m.
Updated: August 4, 2017 1:00 a.m.

Starting this afternoon, I am on vacation, taking my sons to see my father up in Maryland for a week.

Ah, road trips!

Growing up during the 1970s, my father often strapped me and my sister into our car, station wagon or Jeep Wagoneer to travel from the Washington, D.C., area (where he still lives) to Wantagh, N.Y., on Long Island, where his parents lived.

I can no longer remember the precise routes we used, but I seem to remember portions of the New Jersey Turnpike and the Staten Island and Southern State parkways, but with my having been so young, I could be misremembering.

One of the funnier memories I have -- and I’ll apologize to New Jersey natives now -- is crossing the Delaware Memorial Bridge and announcing to ourselves we had just entered “The Garbage State.” We only said that because of the awful odor of industry on “The Garden State” side of the bridge.

Something else I remember about those trips is rest areas and even restaurants, shops and gas stations being in the middle of the parkways. You would exit left and have to return to the highway on the left. It was always very strange to me.

My father (who was born in Brooklyn) and uncle, Mike, lived with my grandparents right by Wantagh High School, which they attended. We usually visited them twice a year, at Passover and Thanksgiving. My great-grandfather, Morris, originally presided over these gatherings; later, my grandfather, Ira, did.

On occasion, we would travel in a slightly different direction, to Croton-on-Hudson, where my grandfather’s sister, Joan, and her family lived.

For those trips, we would end up crossing into New York over the George Washington Bridge, picking up Route 9A and then use either U.S. 9 or the Saw Mill River Parkway to make our up through Westchester County. These routes would either take us through or near Irvington, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, places my sister’s family would later live.

The neat thing about visiting my great-aunt’s family is that they lived in a round house. As far as I remember, my Great-Uncle Al designed it -- a three-story circular structure built into a hill with a winding staircase in the middle. They also owned the most beautiful Afghan dogs. It was always a treat to go there.

Other trips took us south. My father had some older relatives who lived in Florida and we would go there sometimes. The one big trip to Florida I remember involved driving all the way down to the very end of U.S. 1 on Key West. I’m not sure exactly from where -- South Beach, maybe? -- but Dad made us look directly south to a smudge on the horizon. Cuba, or so I remember him saying.

The biggest road trip we ever took was in the early 1970s. I was 6 years old; my sister, 3. My father, recently divorced, was in a relationship with an Australian woman who joined us. He rented a pickup truck with a camper shell attached to it. I couldn’t possibly tell you the exact route we used, but we spent three weeks traveling across the country and even up into Canada.

I have a vague memory of visiting the St. Louis Arch. I also remember my father driving into Nebraska, putting his foot down so he could say he’d been there, and then driving on into South Dakota. This must have been near Sioux City, Iowa, where the three states come together.

I remember visiting Mount Rushmore. I have a vague recollection of knowing we were in Canada, but couldn’t tell you where. I definitely remember coming back into the U.S. in Washington State and marveling at snow (!!) at the height of summer. We visited Disneyland and went to Las Vegas. I remember a kid’s park named Jellystone (after the Yogi Bear cartoon) and the Grand Canyon.

I’m sure we saw more on the way back home, but those memories have dimmed even further.

Any child of divorce will tell you it’s not easy growing up that way, but my father did his best to make these trips fun.

Hopefully, even though they’re teenagers now, I’m doing the same for my sons.

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