Select a topic from the list of firsts and write about it. Post poetry, prose, a memoir, nonfiction, or an essay.
My first vacation after my tour of active duty in the Naval Reserve was one of those combined business and pleasure vacations. I wanted to attend a 5 day cardiology conference in Philadelphia but take the family and a few extra days.
We rented a 3/4 ton Ford pickup with an 11 1/2 foot Hiawatha pickup camper. The arrangement was interesting. Just aft of the cab-over sleeping area was a couch which stretched across the width of the camper facing a large table. The kitchen area, closet/toilet etc. were toward the back. To convert it to sleep 4, we lowered the table to fit into the level of the seating area and rearranged the cushions as a quasi mattress. That simple layout had several advantages, including more seating space, more open floor space and more table space than many more sophisticated designs.
We headed east and stopped to see Juan Battle and his family; he had been a medical officer under me at NAF El Centro and was taking a gastroenterology fellowship in Cleveland. A citizen of the Dominican Republic, he was surprised that he could be conscripted into military service in this country. Their plans were to return to the Dominican Republic after he finished his training. I have been unable to reach or find out about them since. At the time I was concerned about him returning to the unrest in the Dominican.
One of the many things we liked about the camper was that we could visit and leave. When people would insist that we stay overnight, we could honestly point out that we didn’t even have suitcases and were not prepared for that. So without creating hard feelings we could leave, put a couple hours of driving behind us, find a place to “camp” for the night, and be on our way bright and early.
I was born in Titusville, Pa. As we entered northwestern Pennsylvania, we started winding our way toward my birthplace, up and down, round and round. There was a sign saying “Titusville 21 miles”. We drove and drove an came to a sign saying “Titusville 19 miles”. Finally we arrived around noon on a Sunday.
My dad’s office nurse when he practiced in Titusville prior to 1942 was still living there and from time to time we would get a card from her. Since our itinerary was flexible I had not notified her that we would be coming through. I stopped at the YWCA where she lived and was told that she was not back from church and had likely stopped at a particular restaurant with her friends. I went into the restaurant and asked if they had seen Edith Lang (we called her “Aunt E E” when we were toddlers) and he indicated a booth with 4 ladies. I walked over and said, “Miss Lang, I’m John Beck Jr.” and this tiny 90-some year old lady spoke back, “Well, I know you are!” We had a nice chat. Then we drove past our old house and were pleased to see that it had been kept up. Driving through the alley I saw that the elaborate outdoor stove which my dad had built from stone was still standing but in need of some TLC. We visited the Drake Oil Well before leaving the Titusville area.
Traveling by truck camper worked out great for us. Our sons were toddlers. We’d probably be in jail today, but in those days we allowed them to play in the overhead while we were in the cab. The intercom allowed us to keep track of them, and allowed them to tell us when they were hungry. We would then stop at a rest area and Barbara would fix a meal while I “ran” the boys. Certainly we saved on food, and we felt that the boys ate better that way than stopping as restaurants.
West of Philadelphia was a campground: “Frank’s Folly”. It was in a pretty rural setting with tall trees and a little brook. Every morning I would get up and drive to the Paoli commuter station, where Barbara would get up and fix us breakfast. The I took the commuter into Philadelphia and walked the rest of the way to my seminar, and returned at the end of the day where she would pick me up. The rest of the time the boys enjoyed playing at Frank’s Folly.
Unfortunately I was a member of AAA in those days. Their book extolled Fairmont Park and said that The Doll House was a must see doll museum in the park. So one day we broke routine and I drove to Fairmont Park. We saw nobody else except that we kept encountering the same car with two men in it. I got to The Doll House when our AAA guide said it would be open and saw a gain and padlock, but not even a sign to indicate when it would open. I got out of the truck and walked up the stairs to see if there was some indication of when it would open but found none. As I walked back to the truck the car with two men pulled up and stopped. “Can I help you?”
I answered, “Well I hope so. Our AAA guide said this was the place to take my family and I was going to leave them here while I went to my meeting.”
“See that iron fence over there? That street is the highest crime rate in the area.”
“Oh, great! What do I do now?”
“Follow us, and I’ll show you where you can park so the family will be safe.”
We parked next to an art center, and police cars were coming and going constantly from an underground garage. They stayed in the camper and I went to my conference. Afterward we drove on into the historic area so that the family could see the Liberty Bell and other historic sites.
On the way home we visited my dad’s only brother and his two living sons and their families. (The oldest had died in his sleeper when a hired driver took their semi over the side of a mountain.) Coming back across Ohio in a fog at night I drove within the limits of safe visibility. A car bore down on us at great speed, started to pass, then slammed on the brakes when they could see nothing! He pulled in behind me and followed for miles. The higher vantage point from the truck was an advantage in the fog.
In all, we packed a lot of adventures into my first vacation as a practicing civilian physician.