Monday, May 13, 2013

In the Lap of Luxury

NOTE: This was originally published as part of a blog for a class in October 2012; thought you all might like a little taste of a typical Swanson Family Vacation. Enjoy!

"Sorry for the bad vacation genes." - My mom, often

We call it The Swanson Family Curse - a widely known and oft joked about curse that has plagued every vacation we have ever attempted; dating from the early 70s, it has followed each of us girls on into our adult lives, never far from anyone's mind. Nevertheless, some of my fondest memories come from our obligatory family trip every summer, always via car, van, or rented RV because, you know, my parents were afraid of flying. Two adults, four daughters and one Astro van: what's not to love? In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that my two eldest sisters were out of the house and no longer vacationing with us by the time I was six. Lucky, lucky, those two.

There was nothing that the Swansons couldn't conquer in a larger-than-anticipated motorhome that terrified our conservative, drive-it-like-you're-85 father. Seriously, the one we got the summer of 1995 was enormous, an error in the reservation process from the rental company, apparently. The first three hours of the trip from western Wisconsin to Yellowstone National Park consisted of my older sister and I tucked up in the overhead bunk area, giggling and spying on our parents, below. The tension radiating from Dad was thick enough to feed all of us for dinner, though I think that's what they were going for.

More than once we heard our mom quietly suggest that it might be time to stop and "feed the girls" to which dad eventually snapped back "I can't park this thing in anything smaller than an airplane hangar; they can eat tomorrow morning." By the third day of driving, Dad had learned to navigate the rig as best as he'd be able for the remainder of the trip, which is to say, stressfully and at painfully slow speeds.

*This may not be my family, but it sure as hell could have been.

It seemed to take at least six months but we finally finished the long, flat trip through one of the Dakotas - does it matter which one? Because really, it'd be a crying shame to miss a single landmark in the desolate, flat, treeless vista that is The Dakotas, right? We barreled on into Montana with Yellowstone in our sights and relative peace in the confines of our little (enormous) home-away-from-home-on-wheels, though once we hit the park our trip headed steadily downhill. And fast.

*Something my parents totally would have done. By accident. Awesome.

A bear broke into our RV one evening while we were at a restaurant eating dinner, helped himself to the contents of the "kitchen" cabinets then shat on the rug before heading down the lane to the next campsite. We missed Old Faithful not once, but three mother loving times before we finally pinned her down; lemme tell you something, the name is as ironic as it gets. I spent almost every minute of the trip with motion sickness rivaling the aftermath of a 24-hour ride on a Tilt-a-Whirl because of the mountain switch-backs that are fricking everywhere in um, well, The Mountains.

The trip back to Wisconsin was fraught with near-constant bickering between my sister and I; I was bored, carsick and did I mention bored? She was in college, home with us for the summer and missing the daylights out of her boyfriend, Dan - but you can call him Tree. Because that was his nickname. Whatever. Because the fighting was enough to make our parents a little stabby, we took an extra-long stay-over in Cody, WY.

*This isn't us. Why, you ask? Because they're smiling, that's why.

While there we ate at a great restaurant, took in a rodeo and our toilet overflowed. Continuously. All the way back to Wisconsin. The last night of our trip was spent at a campground a mere 20 miles from the RV rental company because we arrived back in the area after they'd already closed for the day. We took turns using an empty Cool Whip container to scoop out the oozing toilet water while my dad spent the entire evening underneath our temporary home, doing his damndest to fix the issue before we had to return it with blue sewer water sloshing out all over the carpet, waving goodbye to our damage deposit. At 11:45 pm he came tearing into the RV - bleeding profusely from the head - started the engine and raced around to the dumping station, whooping and shouting with joy all the way. We were terrified.

Turns out, there was a secondary sewer valve that led to a holding tank and somebody had switched it to the "closed" position. The kinds folks at RV-Trainers-R-Us failed to point out the valve to my dad, thus the overflow and loss of our sweet on-board toilet for fully half of our trip. I'm not sure who was more relieved to be done with this lovely memory-making family vacation - the adults or the bored, unimpressed offspring. Though it may have been a typically disastrous Swanson family vaca, at least we have hilarious stories to carry with us, right? Right?!

*All photo credits to

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