Saturday, June 4, 2011

Early travels full of fond memories

June is always a very difficult month for me. My father's birthday was today, June 4. Father's Day is also in June.

It just so happened, by father passed away on the eve of Father's Day, 1992.

So you can probably understand why June is not really one of my favorite months.

For that matter, the whole April-May-June quarter kind of sucks, from where I sit.

Mother's Day is in May. My mother's birthday was April 3. I put her to rest on April 5, 2007.

Suffice to say, I'm always glad when we roll into July.

So what's this doing in a travel blog, you may ask?

Well, like many people, my first memories of travel involve traveling with my family. As an only child, that meant jumping in the car and driving somewhere with my mom and dad, or sometimes, just with my dad.

Dad and I did a bit of travelling together, just the two of us, as I was growing up. Just us guys, hangin' out. It was pretty cool, actually.

My very first "road trip" took place when I was seven years old: my dad and I drove from Newmarket, Ontario to Niagara Falls. I remember anticipating the trip for weeks before school ended. Then, the second week of July, we were off.

I distinctly remember looking forward to not just seeing the falls, but also looking forward to eating a hot dog by the falls - which I did. I've eaten many, many gourmet meals over the years, but none more memorable than that one. Eating a hot dog (with mustard and relish), standing by the railing looking at the falls with my dad, the memory will never fade.

To quote that old beer commercial, "It doesn't get much better than this."

Our road trip took us across the border into New York state and into Grand Island. Why there? Because my dad was taking me to Fantasy Island.

I'm not talking about the one populated by Mr. Roarke and his sidekick Tatoo, but rather an amusement park with a decidedly western theme, rides, the whole deal.

In the early 1960s, a Saturday morning TV show on the Buffalo NBC affiliate featured hosts and a studio located at Fantasy Island. The hosts were dressed as cowboys, and they always plugged Fantasy Island in between the cartoons they showed. 

Three-year-old Cowboy John, ready for action.
Like most six- and seven-year-old boys, I loved the idea of being a cowboy. My dad decided that summer was a good time for a father-son bonding experience (although no one labeled it like that back then) and we made our plans.

I loved it.

I got to spend time with my dad, went for a Mississippi paddle wheeler ride, visited an old "saloon," went for a stage coach ride with real horses (I kept hoping bandits would try to rob us like the brochures said they sometimes did - so I could save the day like Ralphie in A Christmas Story - but they never showed). The day was capped off with a live shootout in the western town streets.

I remember much more about the trip: about teasing my dad when he had more spaghetti spots on his shirt than I did, following dinner in an Italian restaurant...drawing superhero pictures on paper in our motel room...just hanging out with my dad. It was just so cool.

Over the next several summers, our family travels took us to places like Expo '67 in Montreal, Old Fort Henry in Kingston, Ontario, Upper Canada Village near Morrisburg, Ontario, a cool cottage trip to Lake Huron and visits to relatives in Detroit.

However, we didn't do another multi-day father-son trip for another five years, when my involvement in the Boy Scouts of Canada, coupled with three summers attending Camp Richildaca, motivated me to convince my dad to go camping with me.

He eventually acquiesced, and camping then formed the basis for many of our family holiday travels for years to come, at least until I became a teen-ager and just didn't hang around with adults any more.

Dad adjusts the tent flaps,
first camping trip, June 1968.
My most memorable camping trip with him took place the first summer we camped, in the summer of 1968, when we spent a week in Algonquin Provincial Park. I camped, hiked and paddled there many more times throughout the years, but that first trip was special.

During that trip, he taught me how to play poker, at our campsite picnic table, using match sticks as chips.

We hiked, we played catch, we went swimming in the lake, roasted marshmallows over a campfire at night ... if it sounds like pretty idyllic stuff, that's because it was.

What I really remember is my dad being sick the second half of the week, but he wanted to stick it out for me as much as he could, so I'd have a good trip, a good memory.

I think it meant a lot to him, because he never got to spend much time alone, doing things with his dad. He was trying to give me what he had missed growing up. So despite his cold, he sucked it up and slept in a tent for the entire week.

After I went off to college, my parents divorced, my dad eventually remarried. However, they both began to travel internationally much more as I finished university and became more of an independent adult, with my own life and my own travels to plan.

My dad visited places like Florida, Greece, Turkey; my mom journeyed to Florida, Hawaii, the Caribbean, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil.

So you can see I came by my love of travel, my wanderlust, quite naturally.

Sitting at the top of Victoria Falls,
Zambia, Africa, 1993.

I never did get to travel internationally with either parent, which in some ways, is very sad. They were both still alive when I began to travel outside North America. My dad lived to see me take only one international trip, though. A year after I adventured in Belize for two weeks, he passed away.

His legacy for me became part of an amazing trip I took in Africa a year after his passing, as I used most of my inheritance to pay for a six-week odyssey through six African countries.

So even in his passing, even though he was gone, in a sense, he was still travelling with me.

And he still is.

Happy Travels, Dad.

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