Griswold Par-tay (Family Vacation edition)

I received some complaints, in comment and email, about my previous Griswold post. Evidently the title raised hopes of something related to a certain movie franchise, and readers were disappointed to learn it was boring lawyer stuff instead. So I’d like to use the last post of my stint as a BCC guest blogger to make amends. This is a meaningless post about Family Vacations.

My family growing up had an atrocious track record when it comes to family vacations. I suspect that this is true of many LDS families. Lots of kids + stretching limited budgets + Utah’s proximity to that Bermuda Triangle of minivans, Nevada, adds up to a high likelihood of the kind of thing that would be hilarious if it were in movies.

Speaking of minivans in Nevada, there was that time ours broke down just outside Battle Mountain, NV, and we squeezed my parents, myself, and 3 siblings, along with the driver, in the cab of a tow truck for over 50 miles to Winnemucca, itself hardly a weary traveler’s Shangri-La. And, no, it was not one of those “crew cabs.” There was also the time our flight to Hawaii was delayed for hours on the tarmac with no ventilation or refreshment, but you can read any of the news accounts of those kinds of things to get a picture of that one.

Instead I’d like to focus on the chef-d’oeuvre of our family vacation disasters, a reunion in the resort town of Sunriver, OR.

For one day, the adults all went golfing and the kids took off on our own adventure. I don’t recall if we had been instructed to stay together, but we didn’t. I went off with my older cousin–I idolized her–on a bike ride (I was a very scrawny, awkward 8 or 9 years old, she was a couple years older and much prettier). She was chasing some cute boys and I was struggling to keep up. I kept losing sight of her around corners of the bike path. Whipping around one corner and full speed, I slammed head-on into another cyclist. We were both thrown from our bikes. I got up and inspected a few nasty scrapes, but was basically ok. The burly police officer I had run into, on the other hand, was still on the ground moaning. He radioed for help and I stayed until an ambulance could come collect him.

Meanwhile, another of the kid splinter groups got lost and had to be picked up by a passing squad car and taken back to our rented condo.

Meanwhile, my grandmother had been feeling very ill and was taken to the ER to be evaluated for possible heart problems. (This part isn’t funny unless you know that our family has yet to have a vacation sans ER.)

So, we’re all back at the condo eating dinner and laughing uproariously about the crazy events of the day. And the adults are pretty much acting like a bunch of drunks, because Mormons are good at getting in that kind of mood without the assistance of alcohol (maybe it’s just my family). And another squad car pulls up. Turns out one of the littlest kids didn’t end up in any of the kid splinter groups, and had been quietly amusing herself alone at the Golf Pro Shop all day, just putting a ball back and forth down an aisle. Finally the shop had to close and the employees discovered her and called the police. At some point when things get bad enough, you just laugh–so all the adults were positively howling over the fact that nobody had noticed the absence. Police officer did not think this was funny.

Anyway he leaves, and we’re all winding down a bit, when grandma arrives back from the ER (she’s fine), and says, “You’ll never believe what I saw in the ER today!” And proceeds to tell us that all the EMTs and a few police officers were passing around an x-ray of a fellow officer’s wrist, which was very broken. Poor guy was being mocked mercilessly, because apparently this didn’t happen in a fight with a dangerous criminal (and here Grandma announces that we’ll never guess how it happened), but in a bike accident with a little girl.

Now, that’s not a bad tale, but I’m sure that collectively the bloggernacle can one-up me many times over in vacation and/or ER/accident horror stories. So, please, have at it.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    I can’t one-up you at all, but I do have a vacation tale. My family always went back to Utah for vacation to visit relatives. We had one of those station wagons with what looked like wood paneling on the sides. Hard to believe people ever thought that looked cool, but when it was new some did.

    Anyway, this was back in the days when parents would make a space for the kids to take turns sleeping in the back of the wagon (no seat belts or anything like that). So once when I was about seven I had been sleeping in the back, and we stopped for gas. I went to go the bathroom, and when I came back out the car was gone. I still remember not panicking or anything; I just sat down and waited. About 20 minutes later my family comes screeching up in this fully laden station wagon, with a bunch of grass hanging from the undercarriage (when my dad realized I wasn’t in the car, he just flipped a uturn across the interstate meridian, dragging a bunch of tall grasses with him).

  2. Latter-day Guy says:

    Wow. Cynthia, the funny thing is, had these trips been on the way to the temple or something, we would all solemnly say that the adversary was trying to stop the work. As it is, these are hilarious! I hope that you have recorded them for posterity, because kids and grandkids will love this stuff; these are the kind of details that make family history worth it.

  3. When I was about 10, we drove from UT to Yellowstone. On the way back, we stopped for gas and lunch at Jackson Hole WY, then got back in our 4-car caravan and continued to UT.
    Upon arriving in Ogden, many worried adults kept asking me and my other cousins when was the last time we had seen 8 yo Brianne. At lunch, in Jackson Hole. Yep, we left her, accidentally. So, this wouldn’t have been so bad except her dad (my uncle) was recently divorced from his wife and they lived in Seattle. So, it was pretty much a train wreck for him. She flew down and it was a mess.
    Coincidentally, at the park where we had stopped for lunch in Jackson Hole, Brianne had encountered a friend she knew from elementary school who was there with her parents. The family took care of her when they realized she had been left behind by the caravan. She ended up staying at a foster home for a night and when she returned to UT, everyone treated her like royalty. I couldn’t understand that at age 10.
    But, I did understand the new rule that I must stay in whatever car I started in, no matter how many times we stopped.

  4. Mark IV says:


    I can’t imagine what kind of a crazy person would complain about your posts. They’re all outstanding.

    My family has also done the trick where you fit seven people in addition to the driver into the cab of the tow truck. In our case, a wheel bearing went out twenty miles from the nearest town in a remote area of western Nebraska.

    When I was four or five, I remember very vividly being impressed with my father when we were camping in Yellowstone. Late one night a grizzly bear was tring to get into the wooden food chest that was lashed to the luggage rack of the station wagon. (Yes, Kevin, ours had fake wood paneling on the sides, too.) Dad charged out of the tent and went mano a mano with the bear, throwing rocks, flashlights, and camp chairs until he ran it off.

    I regret that I let our kids talk us into taking them to a water park on vacation once. I must have experienced temporary insanity, because they convinced me to go off a high dive that I think was called The Widowmaker. The rest of the vacation is quite blurry.

    My family’s version of the vacation from heck took place when I was 10. The ‘rents decided it would be a fun and character-building experience to take all seven of us on a three-week cross-country drive in an un-air-conditioned Ford Fairlane. The first day we drove from SLC to Denver, where the motor went out. This caused delays in the schedule and also took a big part of the money. But instead of scrubbing the trip, Mom just called around to distant relatives and people who had lived in the ward 15 years earlier and asked if we could come and sleep on their floor. Some fun, huh?

    In the car, my older sibs all called window, so I had to sit in the middle and I did my best to make everybody miserable by squirming, pinching, and poking. Dad got lost driving around Washington, D.C., and Mom was reading the map and calling out directions. “Go Right! I mean Left!” Then she tried to put the map over in front of his face while he was driving in heavy traffic so he could see what she meant. It is a miracle their marriage survived that trip.

    The lowlight came when we were staying with one of Mom’s old friends. She was a wonderful woman, but a terrible cook. One night after dinner, all seven of us got nausea and diarrhea, and there was only one bathroom in the house. The next day we had an outdoor picnic and she served cold beet soup. I went looking around the yard for a good place to dump it out, and ran into Dad just as he was coming around the corner. He had already gotten rid of his dishful, and he showed me where to pour mine out, too. We were glad to get home.

    Thanks again for your contributions here, Cynthia.

  5. sister blah 2 says:

    Kevin–I think the wood panels are cool again, in a retro way. At least I think they’re cool.

    L-dG–I’m horrible at journaling. I’ll have to just print out my blogs.

    Jessawhy–yikes, that’s a long ways!

    For the record–the only reason my family could afford to fly to Hawaii was that my Grandma decided to blow all our inheritances on flying all her posterity out there for a reunion. The condition was that you had to read the whole New Testament. Each individual owed her a book report (subject to oral exam follow-up), and each family had to produce a NT-themed skit. I think she was concerned for the fate of some of our souls, and that’s what prompted the whole thing. Not that I’m complaining.

  6. sister blah 2 says:


  7. Each individual owed her a book report (subject to oral exam follow-up), and each family had to produce a NT-themed skit.

    That’s hilarious. I’m picturing a bunch of wacky Mormons in their hotel room in Hawaii with bathrobes pretending to be the prodigal son.

    Generally I felt a great sense of injustice that my friends went on fun vacations while we checked off the state parks of California.

  8. sister blah 2 says:

    Who you calling wacky? And it was the Prodigal Gal, not the prodigal son (not a lot of male heirs in our family).

    Checking off CA state parks, ah, I loved every minute! Norbert, you’re crazy!

  9. The only place we ever went was to Utah, to visit grandparents. All nine kids, stuffed into the back of the station wagon. (This was obviously pre-seat belt laws.) It was like a cattle car.

    Our car had an 8-track stereo but my dad was too cheap to actually buy any 8-tracks so we would just listen to the sample 8-track that came with the car. It would play a few bars of one song, then fade out, then fade in on a new song, play a few bars, fade out. It made me feel like I was going insane.

    Then one year my mom gave him the Jazz Singer 8-track and so we would listen to that over and over and over again, all the way to Salt Lake.

    I can’t listen to Neil Diamond now without wanting to put a fork in my eye.

    (Although, actually, come to think of it, that might be sort of a typical Neil Diamond listening experience, so never mind.)

  10. I am relieved to know we aren’t the only family that loses members! About 10 years ago we took our 5 kids and 5 grandkids from Utah to NY for a family reunion. Two weeks with stops in Nauvoo, NYC and Washington DC: it was pretty much non-stop driving. We had a 12 passenger van and my daughter’s car. On the way back, in Wyoming, we stopped at a rest stop for a little while, hoping to get home early the next day. Three of the grandkids got out while we were resting and decided to chase a field mouse across the desert. We thought they were still in the car – my son thought they had gotten in the van to warm up. We drove 100 miles before we missed them. We got them back just fine and I thought it was pretty funny but their mom was not amused!

    An added plus, one of the grandkids got a A on his “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” report, but only after his mom took an oath that what he wrote actually happened!

  11. Please don’t tell me this. I’m hosting 22 family members from out of town for a reunion for the 4th of July. Now I’m getting worried.

  12. sister blah 2 says:

    Go, then return and report, BruceC!

    Sue, I’m falling off my chair laughing and crying. Not crying from laughing, but laughing and crying. oh, sigh…

  13. I’m glad your story didn’t end with Grandma on the roof of the car… :-P

  14. In May my Uncle got married in San Diego, initially inviting only his kids and his now wife’s kids because they wanted a small destination wedding. Then, my husband and I inadvertently invited ourselves via a misunderstanding, and once we were invited everyone else in both families also had to be invited.

    We planned on driving down to San Diego from Salt Lake since it would be cheaper for the two of us to do that than to fly. Perhaps not the most comfortable arrangement when six-ish months pregnant, but we’re both students so we try to be pretty frugal. Anyway. soon enough we were driving down with my Dad, and then with my Grandparents as well, which was convenient since my Grandparents have a Pacifica. My Grandpa decided he didn’t feel good enough to drive down within a few days, which was a good decision as it all turned out. Another uncle decided to schedule his carpal tunnel surgery just before the wedding so he could go too, and then about a week before the wedding one of my Aunts decided to come along as well.

    If you’re not paying attention, that’s six people in a minivan, one of whom (me) was six months pregnant. So, we decided to leave early (like 7 am) Saturday for the Monday wedding. My husband and I were running a bit late, so we called to let everyone know and learned that our lateness didn’t matter–as my Aunt was driving to meet everyone else at my Dad’s house her muffler fell partially off and she was at a shop getting it in to be fixed. Then, when my Grandma and the Uncle of the carpal tunnel surgery got to my Dad’s house they discovered that one of the tires on the Pacifica had a screw in it, and other had a bent rim and an aneurysm in the sidewall. Just what everyone wanted to drive 15 hours across mostly desert in.

    We tried to find replacement tires and rims, but only managed to spend lots of gas and a couple of hours in the pursuit. The Uncle getting married watched the whole thing happening, and I’m sure was thinking we weren’t going to go. I think most of us were thinking we weren’t going to go, too, but we’d put so much effort into going up to that point we just couldn’t abandon the trip. We decided to rent another minivan, which my husband and uncle upgraded to a Pathfinder (my husband hates minivans). We packed the six of us and all our stuff into the Pathfinder and drove a whole two miles before deciding it was way too crowded, especially with my belly. So we went back to the rental place and got an Explorer, which we drove down to San Diego with few incidents of any note. Nobody was left behind (though I think my uncle was really tempted to drive off when my grandma and aunt, at 4:30 in the morning on our all-night marathon drive back to Salt lake spent 20 minutes looking through shiny glass pendants in a gas station in Beaver), and I think everyone even had a pretty good time. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a trip where it was so difficult just to get out of town.

    On the way to San Diego my Dad also pointed out the part of I-15 near Nipton Rd. where the brakes on our station wagon went out during a family vacation when I was about 12 and he almost rammed some car that wouldn’t get out of the way. Maybe I should just never travel to CA with my family.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    Sue, that’s hilarious!

    I worked as a bagboy at a grocery store when I was a teenager, and the store next door was going out of business. I went over there after work, and there was this portable red eight-track player on sale for some cheap price, so I bought it. I didn’t have any eight-tracks, but I also bought two at the sale–both Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas albums. When I got it home, I learned that it would cycle through the same four songs unless you pressed some button at the right time for it to continue through to the next four.

    So I can relate to your eight-track experience, although mine was not imposed on me but was a product of my own stupidity.

  16. When I was about 12, we took a trip to southern Cali and hit all the theme parks. What I remember most was being on the freeway and spotting Mr. T driving a Mercedes in the lane next to us. He was driving really fast, and my dad tried to catch up to him so my brothers could see him, too. We got pulled over for speeding and weaving through traffic. When my dad explained he was trying to catch up to Mr. T, the cop let him off.

    And yes, he was wearing all the gold chains.

  17. I, alas, also thought your previous post was about the National Lampoon Griswolds as well. Pop Culture awareness 1, Legal Scholarship 0.

    With six kids and being a Utah expat in Washington State, I honestly cannot remember the number of times we have made that drive from Seattle to Utah, and are about to do it again in five weeks or so.

    Our most memorable came with a summer trip, four of our six kids in our VW Eurovan, when my wife notices that at speeds over 75 there is a knocking noise, aggravated at speeds over 80. It’s about 10 at night, we’ve been on the road for 12 hours already, and we are just outside of Snowville. I found that if I slowed down to about 50, the noise wasn’t so prominent, so we limped the last 100 miles or so in just over 2 hours, and then took the car in to our old VW mechanic in Bountiful, German accent and all. We were about to throw a rod, and I still had about a year to pay on the beast, so we agreed to leave it for an engine replacement/rebuild. It would take about six weeks, but I didn’t think I should try and drive it back to Seattle.

    We rented a car for the balance of our trip around Utah, and then my brother-in-law loaned us his Dodge Dakota Club Cab pickup until our van could get fixed, and then he’d drive up and we’d swap the cars at one of his family events in Spokane.

    So we loaded all our luggage in the back, and then tried to cram my wife, and basically three adult children, plus our youngest in this two door small pickup. Three of the boys, like me, are over six feet tall, but they were all in the tiny back seat with no legroom, my wife is in the passenger seat, and my youngest is crammed into the middle straddling the gear shift, looking at 800 miles. I could not position myself directly behind the wheel, so I am driving with my arms extended to the right, my right leg on the gas all the way straightened out, and no one has any room to stretch, scratch, or even fall asleep. Every time we stopped on the way back, we’d all dump out, moaning and groaning, for 800 miles and 14 hours.

    When my brother-in-law and my wife’s sister drove up with our rebuilt van, they discovered that if you had the air conditioning on, and tried to put on the brakes going down a hill, it would kill the engine, so no power brakes or steering in this huge van. They were ready to kill us when they got the van to us, and were more than glad to take their pickup back.

    250,000 miles, two engines, three transmissions, and more hose blowouts and melted plastic hose couplings than Abraham has seed, we finally paid someone to haul away the Eurovan. We figure with repairs, interest, towing charges, and the initial price, that monster cost us about two and a half times what we paid for it one year old.

  18. “. . . the last post of my stint as a BCC guest blogger . . . ”

    Say it ain’t so, Joe. That’s the saddest news of the day.

  19. janeannechovy says:

    With six kids in the family, we never flew and always drove, usually in our full-sized van with some of the seas taken out (so we could stretch out) and all the windows open (because we didn’t have AC). We also had more than our share of ER visits from Sunriver (where we spent a week every summer–one of my favorite places on earth). There were several years running where my brother couldn’t swim the whole vacation because of a pool-incompatible injury sustained within moments of our arrival. A couple of times my dad was the injured party, once with a broken wrist from a bike collision (only his was into a tree, not a little girl).

    My favorite vacation mishap happened before there were six kids and before we had a van. I think there were four kids and it was a Volvo wagon. Anyway, we loaded up and set off down the freeway, and before we’d gone an hour a terrible rattling noise started coming from the vicinity of one of the rear wheels, its volume increasing with our speed. Oh, no, my dad said, I think it might be the U-joint. We took the next exit and went to the nearest service station. The mechanic crawled under the car a, wiggled a few things, and said, yup, I think your U-joint’s about to go. We got back on the freeway headed toward home, limping along in the slow lane with our horribly rattling U-joint (or so we thought). We kids were all heartbroken at having our vacation aborted.

    After less than two miles on the freeway, there was a sudden horrid lurch. I turned around (I was riding in the back back, curled up on the sleeping bags and luggage) in time to see sparks fly up behind the car, and then our wheel rolling past us, through the ditch and up against the fence. My dad managed to get us to the shoulder on three wheels (good thing we’d been driving slowly in the right lane), ran ahead to retrieve the wheel, and put it back on the car. We turned around at the next exit, then went back to the same service station we’d visited before. They tightened the lugnuts (amazingly, they’d all stayed inside the hubcap and didn’t fall out in the long grass in the ditch), bent back the wheelwell where it was in danger of scraping against the tire, and the vacation was back on!

    Moral of the this story: if you hear a terrible rattling noise from one of your wheels, always check to make sure all the lugnuts are in place and properly tightened. Unbelievably, many years later I had a guy in the lane next to me on the freeway on-ramp tell me I had a noise coming from my rear wheel. I went to the nearest service station and told them I thought I needed my lugnuts replaced and tightened, and they acted like I was crazy–why would I ever think that could be the problem? But it was, and once they were all screwed on right I went on my merry way.

  20. sister blah 2 says:

    janeannechovy–That’s awesome. I think one great thing about having all these disasters–bodily, car, and otherwise–in our past is that it instills a deep sense of calm when facing new disasters. I just shake my head when I see people flip out in the face of minor medical emergencies, car accidents, etc. To me it’s like, hey if anyone has a needle and thread I’ll just fix this up myself right here and now. ;-)

  21. sister blah 2-I’ll miss your posts!

    When I was a teen, my mom, sister and I went on a trip from Northern California to see the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately for my family, I had just broken up with my first boyfriend and was in the mood for Air Supply. The Greatest Hits for a week straight. And sighs. And sniffs. And then when we got to the Grand Canyon, that awe-inspiring sight, it was chilly. So my sister and I got out of the car wandered over the railing, glanced at the gorgeous wonder, and went back into the car to read. It was too cold. What in the world was mom thinking standing out there? It’s cold. Sure it’s pretty. Big whoop.

    It’s a wonder she didn’t throw out and make us walk home.