Last week I was in Florida and found myself without a car. I was reminded of how so much of my childhood big family experiences prepared me for the challenges I faced in Tampa. I’ll share those another time, but wanted to re-run this column because Stephen’s story still makes me laugh – and identify with the random hitchhiker. Enjoy. – Susan
By Susan Dromey Heeter, Joyful Musings
Most ten year olds going on vacation today travel safely buckled into mini vans while listening to music on their I-phones. Their mothers have packed their bags, ensured they’ve got underwear and pajamas, snacks for the drive, DVDs for entertainment.
In June of 1973, Stephen Cary was having a very different vacation experience from that of a 21st Century ten year old.
Stephen began his trip from Springfield, Mass., to Maine’s Baxter State Park, in the back of a blue Ford pickup. Stephen’s parents were not along for the journey, Stephen’s chaperones were two 18 year old boys both named Chris, one being Stephen’s older brother, the other being one of the Ryans who lived a few blocks away. Both Christophers were in charge of caring for their younger brothers – Stephen shared the spacious truck bed with 11 and 13 year olds John and Tim Ryan.
John Ryan had recently discovered the art of gardening and learned how to grow potatoes. That, along with an axe, were what Stephen recalls packing.
He also remembers throwing some of those potatoes at passing vehicles from the back of that truck bed, an activity not known to too many ten year olds today. And according to Stephen, “Because of the stalwart supervision of the Christophers, we could only throw the potatoes at the trailer part of tractor-trailer trucks. They were teaching us moral vandalism 70s style.”
While they were headed to Baxter State Park, they took a detour to Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire; neighbors from Springfield had a house there and, while there was not an E-vite sent out for their stay, a text alerting their arrival, they knew they’d be welcomed. They arrived with potatoes and stayed overnight.
Meanwhile, the parents of these boys simply knew their sons were traveling to go camping at Baxter State Park.
Stephen left Sunapee and traveled, again, in the back of the blue Ford pickup, probably wearing the same bathing suit/underwear he’d worn since the journey began. Stephen does not recall attire, but does recall one of the Christophers pulling over to pick up a hitchhiker.
Of course, he sat in the back with Stephen, John and Tim. They referred to him as “Old Mr. Boston” as that was his aroma.
And Old Mr. Boston rode with them for a bit and told them the story of how he’d visited his girlfriend’s house and fell in love with his girlfriend’s sister. It did not end well.
Old Mr. Boston’s true name is not remembered today but that story stays with Stephen; a new friend made on the trek to Baxter State Park.
The blue Ford truck traveled across NH from Sunapee to 95; the back roads to Maine, through New Hampshire.
At one point as the Ford truck traveled the roads of Portsmouth, NH, Stephen’s gaze fell upon someone who looked exactly like his sister, Sarah. He could have sworn he’d seen Sarah hitchhiking under a bridge with her boyfriend.
Sarah had been attending the University of New Hampshire and Stephen had not seen her for months.
“I couldn’t believe it was her,” Stephen recalls, “I was so excited to see her and banged on the window of the truck’s cab. “It’s Sarah!” I yelled, “Stop!” But those 18 year olds were not listening, per usual, ignoring the requests from the little brothers in the back of the truck.
“Stop! I kept yelling! Stop!”
“Finally,” said Stephen, “they went back about a mile and I’m really relieved it was Sarah. I was so happy to see her – I loved Sarah!”
Of course, Sarah and her boyfriend jumped in the back of the truck and got a ride to their destination, the impromptu family reunion a warm memory. Unfortunately, Old Mr. Boston was not there and the Christophers and the brothers in the back continued on to Baxter State Park.
And, according to Stephen, the Baxter State Park experience involved potatoes wrapped in foil over a fire, sleeping in a lean to, renting canoes and fishing. “Life vest was not a word I associate with that trip,” recalls Stephen, “But I do know we climbed Mt. Katahdin.”
In a 1973 big family, car seats, seat belts and parental supervision were often left behind in many an adventure. As I muse joyfully on big families and think fondly of Old Mr. Boston and a reunion with Sarah, I thank Stephen for sharing a 1973 ten year old’s summer memory.
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.