Eight of Us in a Station Wagon And Bubble Gum in Mom’s Hair

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Courtesy photo

The Bittner family

Courtesy photo

The Bittner Family

By Susan Dromey Heeter, Joyful Musings

Yesterday I met a boy who told me of his propensity for motion sickness. “I once got sick in the car on the way to the bus terminal, threw up on the bus and then got sick on the plane.”

It was a trifecta of a travel story and brings me to this week’s star of Joyful Musings – Patty Bittner. Patty does not suffer from motion sickness but, as one of six siblings, does recall her 1970s family vacation to Ocean City, Maryland.

Susan Dromey Heeter

“My mother had packed the car to the brim. There were eight of us in our station wagon, four in the backseat, two in the way back and my parents up front.  I was sitting behind my mother.  I blew a big bubble with my gum and it got stuck in her hair; she got so mad – had just packed the wagon; we were barely out of Baltimore and had a three hour drive – and then she gets gum in her hair.”

Of course.

That would be travelling with six children in the ‘70s.

Patty’s siblings include Bob, Mary Kathleen (Kathy), Paul, Jim and Mary Ellen (Ellen).  Patty is the middle sister, the “Jan Brady” of the bunch who grew up in Baltimore, who considers herself an “over packer”  and who took great flack during that “Mom Got Gum in her Hair” trek to Ocean City when she brought Anbeeol.  “I brought it in case somebody got a toothache.”  And, in fact, one of the siblings did have a toothache during that trek.  “And I came through with the Anbesol.” Patty still recalls proudly.

Patty also recalls the family dinner at “Harpoon Harry’s”  in Ocean City.  “We were all sitting around a long table when one of the waitresses got distracted and tipped her carafe of hot coffee down my sister, Kathy’s back. I just remember looking at the shock on my sister’s face.” Needless to say, the family dinner at “Harpoon Harry’s” was not a relaxed outing.

Ultimately, Kathy recovered from the coffee burns but interestingly enough, it does seem to be the little moments of drama that stick with childhood  memories– the tangible moments of distress do leave their mark in any vacation, in any childhood.

And so, Patty shares about their bathroom.

“We had one bathroom in our house, one shower for eight people.  We never locked the door and I would cringe when I was in the shower and would hear the ‘tap, tap, tap’ of someone coming in to brush their teeth. My oldest brother, Bob, would fill up a cup of cold water and throw it over the shower curtain.”

Of course.

As with any large family – the oldest siblings can be counted on for a myriad of activities – from tossing cold water onto an unsuspecting sibling to acting as Godparents to the youngest member.  “My older brother and sister were 17 and 18 when my youngest sister, Ellen was born. Kathy and Bob are her Godparents.   In fact, My mother missed  Kathy’s high school graduation because she was in the hospital.  Giving birth to Ellen.

Of course.

Relaxing vacation seems almost an oxymoron, high school graduation and diapers seem  words equally out of place.  But hair, gum, Anbesol and shower terror all work beautifully to bring some joyful musings into the Bittner lore.  And if you’ve got a big family vacation story to tell, do tell, dear readers, ideally one not involving hot coffee down your back.

Susan Dromey Heeter, a writer from Dover who recently let her hair go au natural white, writes “Joyful Musings” for InDepthNH.org. Dromey Heeter is a secondary Spanish Teacher at Dover High School and the mother of two teenage daughters.  Writing has been her passion since her English majoring days at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.  Dromey Heeter has lived in The Netherlands, Alaska and currently basks in all things New England, including the frigid winters. An avid swimmer, Dromey Heeter’s great passion is to bring back body surfing as most children have no idea how to ride waves without ridiculous boogie boards. She also writes about thrift shopping and all things frugal  in a column called “Budget Vogue” for the New Hampshire Union Leader.

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