We’d load up the family station wagon (a Mercury Comet, I believe), and my mom would make a picnic lunch to store in the green, Coleman cooler. And then we would hit the road.
In today’s times, it’s about a three-hour drive to Morro Bay from Bakersfield. But back then we didn’t have “freeways.” I remember a two-lane road that went up and down over little hills, stretching ahead of us like a winding serpent. There were few cars traveling the road, another anomaly nowadays. It was wide open.
My sister and I would tell my dad “Faster, faster!” We loved the flip of our stomachs as we topped one hill, rocketed down it, and then back up the next. I can still hear my mom saying, “Roy!” in that special tone of hers. Obviously, she wasn’t a rollercoaster kind of gal. Our squeals of glee drowned out her voice of reason, and my dad would laugh after each of our outbursts.
Now, back then, cars sometimes overheated in the hot summer. It wasn’t unheard of to drive by a car sitting on the side of the road, hood up, with steam spiraling out of it. The driver would be in the driver’s seat, calmly waiting for the engine to cool down, or he’d be funneling water into his radiator.
My dad was very careful. He checked our station wagon out from stem to stern before we took a family drive. I can understand his carefulness. Who wants to be stuck on the side of the road with a wife saying, “I told you so,” and two kids constantly asking, “when will we get there?” However, I do remember occasionally having to pull over and watch our dad wait for the radiator to cool to the touch before adding more water. Ah, those were the days.
If we made it without incident, and even if we were delayed, I can still visualize the moment we spied Morro Rock rising from the bay of the same name, with the three smoke stacks of PG & E in the background. My sister and I would bounce around in the back seat (no seatbelt laws back then), squealing like excited children do.
Most of the time Morro Bay is socked in with fog or overcast skies in the summer. To us, coming from the Central Valley sunshine, this cloudy weather was a gift from God. To this day, I still prefer fog and cloudy days to interminable sunlight.
Morro Bay is also surrounded by dunes. Wonderful, wonderful dunes, that little girls and boys can race up, and then plow down, pretending to be horses or dune buggies. My mom would spread a checkered cloth on the sand and organize our lunch, calling us when it was ready. While she was doing that, my dad would play with us, or teach us to surf fish, although neither my sister or I liked handling the slimy, scaly creatures.
I reenacted those days with our own sons, right down to the picnics. A whole generation later, and they did the same things my sister and I did. Running over the dunes, splashing in the cold waves, and clamoring to go to the Shell Shop, the same one my sister and I went to back then. We picked up a shell every time we went there, and so did my boys. Conch shells, sea horses, and starfish lined the windowsills of our rooms, reminding us of summer days spent at the shore.
Now that my parents are gone, and my sons are grown, I find myself remembering those enjoyable times of my childhood. Though we can never go back, some places do seem to slow the clock, and Morro Bay is one of them. It’s still a sleepy town, socked in by fog on summer days, and the shell shop continues to remain open until dusk.
And, whenever we drive up the California coast to visit our son in the army, as I drive by the exit that points to Morro Bay, a warm feeling engulfs me. In this ever-changing, fast-paced world we live in, sometimes it’s nice to hearken back to simpler, happier times. I’m glad I have the memories to do so.
Do you have a favorite vacation spot from when you were young? I'd love to hear about it!