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Tookey & The Griswolds

14 days stuck in a car traveling cross country with a family of five makes for some interesting memories. If that doesn’t drive you bonkers, add a GrandmaTookey to the mix and you’ll be pushing the limit. Top it off with a Winnebago and trust me, you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Or, what some might call a Griswold vacation.

One hot summer day in the early 70’s, my dad got his hands on Mr. Smith’s Winnebago. Mr. Smith didn’t go to Washington, but we sure did.

Dad was overjoyed and jumped at the chance to get behind that wheel. Mom (as usual) went with the flow and was up for anything, and we (the kids) were cautiously optimistic about the hotel on wheels.

Game On

The WinnebagoDad decided that not only were we going to explore American history á la ‘bago, he also decided it would be a great bonding opportunity if GrandmaTookey partook.

The invitation was sent and graciously accepted. GrandmaTookey would be joining us on our cross country trek to the nation’s capital … with conditions.

She opted to participate in dad’s master plan because apparently she loved us a lot. The Winnebago? Not so much. So she made it clear she’d be going on her terms.

I guess you can say GrandmaTookey taught us the value of boundaries with her travel mandate.

This meant that dad had to unload ‘The Green Monster’ — a very heavy, very large leather suitcase without wheels — each and every night so she could check into her hotel du jour while the rest of us slept in the Bago.

That was so dad — naming her suitcase. And that was so GrandmaTookey — checking in to a suite. Being the trendsetter that she was, I tend to think GrandmaTookey was the original ‘glamper‘ (way before glamping was considered cool).

As evidenced by the family picture, we were dressed to the four’s while GrandmaTookey was dressed to the nines. Glamping was really the only option for someone sporting heels and pearls; whereas, camping suited this 8 year old culotte cutie just fine.

Gatlinburg, TN

And We’re Off

So we traded in the wood-paneled station wagon for ‘The Bago,’ setting off from Memphis. Our route would lead us through the Great Smokey Mountains, over to the east coast then up to Washington D.C. Our plan was to hit some historical sights along the way, appreciating the memorials and viewing American History in real life.

Our first stop was Gatlinburg, Tennessee, known as the gateway to the roughly 520,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It was at this point in my life that I fell in love with the mountains. Gatlinburg is a beautiful little mountain town that really left an indelible impression. So much so that I actually eloped there in my late 20s (but that’s another story for another day).

We lost my little brother during this first pit stop.

Times were different then, so losing him for 5 hours in a national park didn’t bring on full meltdown mode like it would today. But it was enough cause for panic. We found him nonchalantly hanging out at some Volleyball game, unscathed and completely unaware of the search party that had gathered to find him. It was kind of like when my parents left me at a random gas station on a random highway stop during a random bathroom break a few years earlier. They didn’t realize the omission until several miles down the road. When they returned, I was nonchalantly sitting on the curb, waiting for their arrival.

Either no one wanted to kidnap us, or we were just damn lucky. Times sure have changed.

On the Road Again

Yellow Volkswagon BeetleOh the games we played while traveling down the highway.

The 70s were all about creating your own fun. Board games like Monopoly proved to be the much needed respite from what seemed like a never ending, humdrum Bago game of Love Bug.  Do you remember that oldie but goodie? The game where the first one to spot a Volkswagon beetle got to count it in their tally.

So many beetles; so many colors. My favorite one was yellow, and I must have counted thousands on that trip.

Game Center on The Bago

In between Monopoly with siblings and Go Fish with GrandmaTookey, the Alphabet game kept us preoccupied, screaming out letters of the alphabet discovered on each passing road sign — first one to Z wins!

I’m sure dad just loved the peace and quiet (not) that arose from that activity, and I’m confident that those playful ‘shouting matches’ added to what some might describe as the frazzling of dad’s newly-fragile nerves.

From Gatlinburg, we headed east to Virginia Beach for a dip in the ocean then onward to Thomas Jefferson’s estate in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Did you know that Monticello is on one side of the nickel? I’d actually forgotten that. I’m hoping it doesn’t get vanished due to bitcoin (or political correctness). It’s an historic and beautiful home nonetheless.

Monticello and the nickel

Once our Monticello tour was over, we trekked on up to DC for the grand finale.

Are We There Yet?

Driving that Bago beast finally got on dad’s last nerve. In true Griswold fashion, he let it be known that we would be taking the DC express tour.

Instead of meandering our way through America’s monuments and learning American history first hand, we were granted one quick pic in front of each landmark (no matter how far away we were). We’d round a curb, park illegally, hop out of the Bago, snap a pic and hop back aboard in 5 minutes flat. At least we got to say we’d been there, done that.

Dad hated parking what had come to be known as ‘that damn RV’.

Funny, I don’t remember the leg back to Memphis. I guess, like most things, interest gets lost when you reach your destination. Or, more likely, we were told to sit down and be quiet or else endure the wrath of an angry mobile-home driver.

The Last Bago Story

Before dad died just a few years ago, we sat quietly talking for hours on end about family and life. I cherish this conversation like none other.

I had just returned from a family reunion in Nashville with dad’s side of the family. It had been so long since I’d seen my dad’s family, and I was excited to go not only for myself, but also to be dad’s eyes, ears and legs.

Dad really wanted to go (I believe more so than he let on), but being paralyzed, he felt it would be too difficult making his way around the old family farm. In all honestly, he didn’t want to be a burden.

I told dad that his family really missed him and happily volunteered to transport him around the next time. I remember how hopeful — almost excited — he seemed about the possibility of attending the next reunion after all. Over time, the conversation turned to GrandmaTookey, and dad got tears in his eyes — a rare occurrence which definitely got my attention.

He started reminiscing about the Winnebago trip with her, and he let me know how meaningful this trip actually was to GrandmaTookey. Apparently, she’d bragged to many people over the years about that Griswold trip.  I could sense dad’s pride that he made this trip happen. His tender heart really shown through that night, and so I consider myself doubly blessed by the Bago trip.

I guess you never really know the positive impact you make in someone’s life.

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2 thoughts on “Tookey & The Griswolds

  1. Wonderful story!!!
    And Grandma Tookey expecting the hotel room each night made me laugh…that is so her.

    1. Thanks Shelly! It really was so her. She was uniquely wonderful. It’s fun taking these trips down memory lane…. xo

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