May of 8th grade, as Patty was set to graduate Wildwood Catholic, our family took a vacation. Mom thought this would be the last time the four of us would ever be able to do something together as a family. She was correct about that.
Our family didn’t really vacation. I do recall going to Williamsburg, VA when I was about 10. I flew to Dallas/Ft. Worth when I was three for Christmas. And we did travel a lot, but the children were often locked in hotel rooms all day while our parents played bridge in hotel ballrooms. Admittedly, the year before I traveled to Toronto with my parents. This, however, was going to be a real vacation.
As happens with our family, we ran into issues right away. Dad could not get into the cabin on the ship. His wheelchair was too wide. Oh, he was upset. He said something to the effect of, “Go. I’ll get a hotel room in Miami for a week!” But the cruise ship came to the rescue. They were incredulous that Dad couldn’t stand up and shimmy through the door, but they came up with a solution: they unscrewed the handguards on his wheels. That narrowed the width of the wheelechair. Of course, Dad had to put his hands on the wheels to move, but that seemed reasonable in order to sail.
We sailed to Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and St. Thomas.
When we sailed into port, children would dive into the water. They expected (and got) the folks on the cruise ship to toss silver coins into the water.
I think we sailed to the Dominican Republic first. We hired a taxi . . . kind of. It was a car with a blue Chevy. The first thing we did was go to a gas station. We had to pay ahead of time. Yes, we got gas, but we also got air in all four tires. When we came to an intersection, we didn’t stop. He who honked his horm first had the right of way. We thought we were going to die. We visited some house/hut. It was raining. I don’t think there were walls on all sides. We saw women carrying loads in baskets on their heads. We went to the Barbencourt distillery.
In Haiti, I took a tour to an orphanage, I believe it was. There was some show with fire walking. Wherever this was, two years later at St. Andrew’s, during mini-term, students traveled to the same place. I believe this is where my sister took a donkey ride up a mountain. A boy was leading the way. He accidentally struck a lasy in the ankle with his whip. I believe the boy was beaten for this, which greatly disturbed the woman.
We also toured the Barbancourt distillery. Yes, at 13 I was permitted to drink rum. And on the ship drinks and gambling were legal once we left American waters.
Our cruise was inhabited by a senior class from a Michigan high school. That very much fit my sister’s liking. The cruise people said the ship had never hopped as much as it had that week. The students over-bought. The hallways of the ship were overrun with statues and other inexpensively purchased items that would never make it onto the airplanes.
My sister toured Puerto Rico with these folks. That left me to hang with my parents. I remember eating in a diner with Mom. She stated it was just like eating in a diner in NYC. I recally being enamored with traveling on Roberto Clemente Boulevard. We went to the Bacardi factory. I think I was only there to carry the two cases of rum back tot he ship.
St. Thomas seemed to be the prettiest of the islands we visited. It was also here that Mom loaded up on the booze. This is where the pineapple bottle and the bottle that was divided into four sections came from.
Fearing we would miss our flight if the ship was late, Mom booked us on a late flight to Philadelphia. That meant we hung out in the Miami airport for hours. Our family was a sight! Patty was so sunburt. She wore a sundress and would not touch a thing. Mom played tourist. She had the straw hat, sunglasses, etc. Dad was in a wheelchair. And there I was, a 13-year old boy, pushing a luggage cart with four cases of booze. This is long begore the ubiquitous cellphone camera. Even so, some guy stopped up and took our photograph. Somewhere out there is a photograph of our motley crew. I want that photograph!
The last memory I have is aboard the airplane. We waited in line on the runway. When it was our turn, the engnes whirled, and we began racing down the runway only to feel the brakes applied and no liftoff. The captain came on and reported some light had come on and kept us from lifting off. Not to worry, he explained. We got back in line to fly again. Not to worry? We were!
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