Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Dawsons in the Dells, the Dawsons in the Dells...hi ho the merry oh...

As promised, another Dawsonian vacation story.

My father was a member of the US Army Reserves for about 10 years...from the time I was in second grade until the summer I started college. His commitment was one weekend drill a month and two weeks of annual training. Sometimes it was in the summer, other times during the spring. It was always different.

Two of our vacations centered around Dad's annual training. The first was to Wisconsin.

My mother borrowed her parents' Chinook camper thing for the trip. She took Ruthi, Ruthi's best friend Janet, and me on a fun fun fun road trip to Sparta, Wisconsin (I believe that's where Fort McCoy, WI is near...correct me if I'm wrong, gentle readers).

You know, it takes a brave woman to willingly submit to taking three girls under the age of 50 on a trip. Either brave or crazy...not sure what group my mom fit in best on that idea. However, it didn't really matter because we went anyway.

Highlights of the trip include:

  • Going to the Bily Clock Museum in Spillville, IA. Spillville was home for a time to Antonin Dvorak, composer of the New World Symphony, "Humoresque" and other gorgeous music. This museum contained many clocks...hand made by two brothers from Eastern Europe. There were some very impressive clocks in that collection.
  • Campgrounds, Campgrounds, Campgrounds...every night, a different one. The camper we were using was pretty nice, but there was no bathroom in it. Therefore we had to use the community showers/bathrooms. I suppose that's OK...however, I HATE HATE HATE pit toilets. At some rest stops or national parks, that's all they had, and I learned to hold my breath really well.
  • I learned to ABHOR the idea of a "scenic drive". You all read the earlier entry about the famous Dawson Drives to Nowhere...this is just a vacation version of the same thing. Whenever my mother saw a sign saying "scenic drive", you might as well give it up. She was just going to do it. We suffered through several miles of "scenic routes"...Ruthi and Janet were just scopin' for guys and I was just...well...a nine-year-old girl with major anxiety problems and wasn't really sure WHAT I was doing.
  • Mom made herself this huge saddlebag of a purse to take on the trip...good idea in theory, but in practice it was nothing more than "something for the girls to put all their crap in". She had a terrible backache and wasn't sure why. Then she happened to notice her purse practically straining at the seams with girly stuff...stuff we didn't want to carry, so why not burden Mom with our load? Seems fair, right? (She didn't think so either.)

One thing, though...if it weren't for that trip, I never would have known the wonder and majesty of (say it with me, now...) WISCONSIN DELLS.

Yes...Wisconsin Dells...home of Tommy Bartlett and his many entertainment extravaganzas. Home to the Flamingo Motel (where my mother stayed with dad on one of their own summer vacations, years later).

I remember at least two attractions where one could wander around through gardens filled with cement statues of various critters.

I remember Mom having a street artist draw Ruthi and I in profile...she still has the picture on one of her livingroom walls. I remember that it seemed like eternity before that artist was DONE.

I remember Wes Harrison, "Mr. Sound Effects", doing his routine at a Tommy Bartlett water show. He did "The Big Duck Hunt", and a few other bits. We liked him so much, we bought the album and promptly wore it out.

I remember riding on boats, and maybe one of the "ducks" everyone raved about.

We did go to Baraboo, Wisconsin (CIRCUS MUSEUM...and Ruthi hates clowns...good pick)

We made it to Sparta, where Dad was able to get away from base for a weekend and be with us. There had been a flash flood or something, so many places had that murky water smell. I remember that Bob Crane died that weekend and it was all over the news. I also remember that Ruthi's friend Janet was teaching me to forge Gene Simmons' signature, but it didn't work.

What I remember most is coming home after the vacation. I had the feeling that life was changing. Mom was working more hours at the shoe repair shop, and Ruthi's interests were different than before. I wasn't sure where I fit.

I remember I had my first BIG anxiety attack (at least, I can call it that now...wasn't sure WHAT to call it then) when I went to sleep-away camp. I slept away one night and then went back home the next day. I was anxious and scared no matter where I was. I'm sure my parents were fit to be tied. Things didn't improve through the school year, and it marked me as a "crybaby".

But that Wisconsin Dells trip...somehow, it stays in my memory as the last part of being a "little kid".

I guess that's good...right?