Writing the Family Vacation Story: Carolyn Adamson Shows Us How

by Memoir Mentor on July 14, 2011

It’s summer time—a time for family vacations. Most of us have memories of relaxing and entertaining excursions with our families when we were growing up. When families get together for holidays and reunions, it seems like someone always brings up a vacation story. Your sister might say, “Remember the time Mom dropped the camera in the river?” Another chimes in with, “I’ll never forget those long trips across the desert jammed in the backseat of the car with NO AIR CONDITIONING.” Someone else says, “Remember reading those Burma Shave billboards?” Everyone laughs. They remember.

Don’t let those entertaining and unforgettable stories become forgotten. Commit them to paper, so your descendants will know what family vacations were like in your era. Vacations reveal a lot about families. A vacation story may capture the essence of your family better than pages of description. It may reveal a side of your parents (relaxed, and with their hair down?) you didn’t typically see in your day-to-day interactions with them.

My student Carolyn Adamson splendidly captures the interests and personalities of her family with an entertaining story about their decades-long, love-hate relationship with a famous restaurant chain. And, no, it’s not McDonalds.

Waffling About: A Family Saga
by Carolyn Wood Adamson

With a huge sigh, we dragged our bottoms onto the stools at the counter there in Marietta: my three kids and I, plus sister Sally, who had met us at Hartsfield International Airport at the unseemly hour of 5:15 am.  She was the only sprightly one of the bunch, and understandably so: she hadn’t flown all night from LAX. Why did I think taking this red-eye to visit Grandmother in Georgia was such a good idea, especially with a layover in the smoke-choked Las Vegas airport?  So it saved a few dollars, so what! I thought, as I glanced down the counter.

“I don’t want anything!” Greg said, yawning; “My tummy hurts!” whined Elise; “ It’s hot and sticky!” complained Rachel. Stifling! The suffocating heat of a summer morning in Georgia cannot be matched, unless, of course, it’s a summer morning in St. Louis.

“What’s wrong with the windows?” Rachel continued. We all spun around on our stools to see they were steamed opaque, separated by random rivulets of moisture, allowing but a slivered view of the asphalt parking lot. Add to that a faltering air conditioner plus the combined odors of stale cigarette smoke, fry-basket grease, and a griddle that needed scraping down, and you too would have had thoughts about heading for that parking lot. Never again! Never another red-eye–and definitely never another Waffle House, no matter what!

~    ~    ~

True to my word, I didn’t darken a door of their multi-state chain from that June Georgia morning in 1970 for 35 years–no matter how conveniently “America’s Place To Eat” popped up during various travels. “Present in 34 states–1,350 locations and counting. . .” boasts an old brochure that I saved–who knows why. Fast forward to 2005. It was April. Now there’s nothing more lovely than a crisp, springtime morning in St. Louis, lush with blooming spirea and lilacs, unless of course, it’s a springtime morning in Atlanta when the dogwood blooms.

But there we were in St. Louis–extended family gathered for breakfast near Lambert Field. We had come from afar to rendezvous before the drive 150 miles to Charleston, Illinois, to attend Uncle Ralph’s memorial service. This time there were six of us: Sally and “her Steve,” plus son Morgan; “my Steve” and I, plus daughter Rachel.

“Do you remember that hideous breakfast we had in Marietta when I was a little girl?” began Rachel.  And we were off, both grimacing and chuckling at the memory. “And look at those Missouri rednecks,” she continued, tilting her head toward four men in work clothes in the booth adjoining ours.

“Whadda ya mean?” Suddenly, I felt defensive, back on my home turf. “We were taught there’s nothing wrong with an honest day’s work,” I added, killing the light-hearted atmosphere. Geez, we’ve ruined them, I thought. We should have never left Missouri to raise kids in California with its superficial values of sun, surf, and glamour.

As silence hung midair, the head waitress at the counter yelled, “What’ll it be, hon?” to a laborer who had slid onto a stool, squinting at the menu as he pushed back his grimy Cardinals cap. “Remember, hon, there’s more than 3,538,944 ways to enjoy our hash browns,” she teased. We all laughed at her sassy delivery and outrageous statistics.  Shortly, she bellowed above the din, “Make it a large–smothered, covered, chunked, and capped.” Consulting our menus, we figured out he’d ordered his hash browns with onions, cheese, ham, and mushrooms.

“Now see,” giggled Sally, siding with me, “there’s a working man with taste–he even ordered mushrooms.” Just then our server, a middle-aged gal like the head waitress–both with “big hair”–slapped down our plates. As I drooled over grits swimming in so much real butter they’d turned golden, I was suddenly home. I forgave that intolerable atmosphere in Marietta all those years back and wondered when and where my next chance to enjoy this fare might come along.

~   ~   ~

My wish was granted just two years later as eight of us hopped onto stools, filling the entire counter in St. Charles (location #1138).  It was an unusually temperate Missouri June morning, and all was right with the world. After all, the house I lived in from fourth through eleventh grade–the one Sally was brought home to as a newborn–stood just two doors away there on South Fifth Street! Her memories and mine tumbled over one another, tangling as we raced to share stories of our childhood in the neighborhood. I was filled with sentiment, pausing to appreciate that Steve and I were barely half way through our twenty-one day genealogical tour of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky. We had already celebrated dear Aunt Annie’s life, traveled in claustrophobic trams to the top of St. Louis’ famed arch, and visited six of scheduled eleven cemeteries, including the graves of my Peterson great-great-great- grandparents in Philo, Illinois.

Grandson Andrew brought us back to reality with his order: “Give me the pecan double waffle and a side of three eggs over easy–no grits!” I realized then we’d divided along grits lines: the lovers and the haters. Appropriate, I mused, remembering that Missouri was a border state.

“What a great roots trip so far,” proclaimed Elise. “I can hardly wait to see the Daniel Boone House. Dad, we’re descended from his sister, Hannah, right?”

“And who’ll ever forget the two-story outhouse yesterday in Gays?” chortled Greg and son Thomas in sync as we all collapsed in laughter. Though our group was divided: the pro grits vs. the anti-grits, we were one bunch of giddy, satisfied diners as we shoved off for Boone’s place down the road in Defiance, Missouri.

~    ~    ~

Barely a week later, we dispatched our clan to their respective home states, leaving Steve and me alone to roam through Kentucky, beginning with a visit to my college roommate in Lexington. Early the next morning, we sneaked away from Beth’s for a research day at Louisville’s Filson Historical Society Library. You guessed it:  there at Exit 35 from I-64W, another W-A-F-F-L-E  H-O-U-S-E (location #1530) beamed at us, its “Good Food Fast” slogan triggering our salivary glands. Where else could we pull off breakfast for two for only $8.90 including “classic blend coffee”? And I could have my grits, and Steve his raisin toast and hash browns.

Next morning, we repeated our routine in Versailles, Kentucky (location #1558), as we drove toward LaGrange to locate the grave of Dr. Samuel M. Osbourne, my paternal great-great-grandfather. Having had a fabulous trip with thrilling family discoveries, we did not want to face tomorrow, our last day. But that we did.  Heading from Lexington for our plane out of Indianapolis, there at Exit 29 from I- 65 N, we celebrated our final breakfast (location #512).  Three in a row.  As the waitress approached, “Our usual?” I asked, smiling at Steve.

“Naw, I’m gonna live it up!”  He grinned at me, snatched up the menu, and quickly made his choice.  “This time I’m having my hash browns scattered on the grill with onions, cheese, ham, Bert’s chili, tomatoes, Jalapeno peppers, and mushrooms!”

We laughed as our waitress, reminding us of the big-hair ones back in St. Louis, barked our order: “Two coffees, two All-Star Specials, and a TRIPLE ‘SCATTERED ALL THE WAY!’”




{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bob Stumpf July 20, 2011 at 9:07 pm


Thanks for reminding me that not all family vacations are perfect. Yet it is that not so perfect stuff that sticks to our memories.


2 Nancy Peralta July 21, 2011 at 4:54 am

I loved your vacation story. The title is very descriptive. I liked the pun on words. Your vacation brought back memories. I can identify with the “grits” as in our family vacations to Pennsylvania. We have division lines of scrapple or no scrapple. I’ve never eaten grits.
We have never eaten at Waffle House either but we have followed “Cracker Barrel” across the country.
I liked the detail, dialogue and descriptions in your story. You painted quite a few pictures of events and people. Great vacation family history story!

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