YOUR STORIES: California, 1969
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Wednesday, September 30, 2015
By Kelly Tovornik
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If you are in your 40’s or older, all I have to say is “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and you visualize the movie and the events: station wagon, grandma, dog, relatives, Wally World….the list is endless.  What comes to my mind is our trip to California the year I turned six years old.  It was me, my sister, my parents and my grandparents (father’s side) and we drove from Harrisburg, NC to Los Angeles, CA. 

 Photo of 1969 Ford LTD Country Squire with German plates, at Power Big Meet in Sweden 2008 by Michael Spiller from Halifax, UK -- Wikipedia

My grandparents went with us because my grandfather had a brother who lived out there and this was a chance for him to see him for the first time in over 20 years.  We were on the road for two weeks in a Yellow Ford Station Wagon with wood paneling and the pop up seat in the back (for the kids).  It was the top of the line with powered windows and air conditioning (remember when that was an option?). 

We left at 4am on a Monday morning when it was still dark outside and no one was on the road….in those times only crazy people travelled at 4 a.m. -- say “hello” to my dad!

Neither me nor my sister were truly awake but we somehow made it into the rear seat and fell back to sleep using the pile of luggage as pillows. 

Image from (and luggage set available on)

This was a daily routine.  My father had it mapped out to the “T”…where we would stop for breakfast, for lunch, bathroom breaks and eventually stay for the night. The first few days when lunchtime would come my grandfather would say, “Just get them a pack of crackers and a coke so we can keep moving.” After the 3rd day, mother told my father that if he did that one more time she would take me and my sister back home on the next plane.  Needless to say, we ate lunch from there on out. 

For dinner and for two weeks straight I ate fried chicken (still my favorite to this day)…except one night where they couldn’t find anything but an Italian restaurant, so I ate spaghetti.  I remember the waitress apologizing for the lamp with the naked lady on it (it’s called “art”, I know that now). 

Photo courtesy of Kelly Tovornik. Me with mom, and Kim and Paw Paw (grandfather) at the New Mexico Border.

 We got caught in a parade when we took a wrong turn in New Mexico….my sister and I waving from the back to the crowd who, I’m sure, wondered who these strangers from NC were… but they waved back. 

 My sister lost my favorite stuffed, white, fluffy kitty….which is I’m sure the reason I’m so cat crazy to this day. 

Photo courtesy of Kelly Tovornik. Me in front of one of the motels with my stuffed kitty cat... before my sister lost it!

We stayed with relatives in Texas, whom I never knew existed and never saw again….they had two girls our age, so we put on a fashion show in the way only 6 and 10-year-old girls can do. 

Photo courtesy of Kelly Tovornik. Me and Kim with the cousins we stayed with in Texas.

We drove PAST the Gateway Arch in Missouri…wanting to stop, but it “wasn’t on the tour” (a la ‘Vacation’) and we drove THROUGH Las Vegas…where I got to see the cowboy with his arm moving (so cool) and where I put a quarter in the slot machine and won $5!  We wanted to stay, but, we had to get to CA by the next day because that’s when my grandfather had told his brother we’d be there. 

Photo courtesy of Kelly Tovornik. Kim, Maw-maw, Me, Paw Paw and Dad at the Hoover Dam. I don't look too happy in my striped shirt, do I?

Once we got to CA, we dropped off my grandparents and we headed for Disneyland.  An unforgettable experience seeing Cinderella’s castle up close when I had only seen it on Sunday nights when the Wonderful World of Walt Disney came on. 

We rode all of the rides, ate good food and bought souvenirs that lasted for years (Mickey ears!).  I didn’t get to see Mickey, but I didn’t care.  I was there with my mom, dad and sister.  Making memories. 

We also saw the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park with its geyser, the Redwoods and Mount Rushmore.  We stayed in motels across the country.  We drove south to get to California and north to get home. 

And I must add that wherever we were, if there was a college in the town we had to stop and look at the football field. Once again, say “hello” to my dad. 

We saw Alcatraz, but only from afar…we didn’t get to do one of the tours…that were still going on at the time.  (Interesting to realize in my later years that when we were in LA, Charles Manson was on trial for his killing spree. I didn’t even know about that then.)

It was this journey with my family that taught me a few things:

1.    There are many gorgeous football fields in the US and my dad can tell you everything about them.



Ph   Photo from Kelly Tovornik's Facebook page. Editor's note: Kelly and her dad still frequent football fields. Here's a favorite -- the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Featured in photo: Frank Tovornik (Kelly's husband), Brian Michael Hoyle (nephew), Kelly and her father.


 Never trust your sister to hold on to your favorite stuffed animal.

3.     My mother is never to be crossed when it comes to lunch.

4.     Despite saying I would never do it… Leave very early in the morning so you can enjoy the day at your destination.

5.     Riding in the back with your sister is fun!

6.     Disneyland is the land of kids’ dreams.

7.     Family vacations are where memories start and end.

8.     You don’t have to travel outside of the US to see beautiful things!

 Photo courtesy of Kelly Tovornik -- Me and my dad putting our hands in the Salt Lakes of Salt Lake City, Utah while my sister, Kim, poses.

Travelling with my family made me appreciate them and brought us close.  I looked forward to the summers, not just because there was no school, but because I knew there would be another adventure ahead to experience with my mom, dad and sister.  Those memories are worth more than any amount of money.



Tags: #Your Stories, Las Vegas, Texas, Salt Lake City, Utah, Disneyland, Los Angeles

Leave a comment:
Bekah Wright - Sarah,
So glad you enjoyed the story! And I hope you'll share some of yours with us! As an FYI -- LA must have had a huge impact on Kelly. She returned several years later and lived there for a while. Now, she lives in South Carolina and teaches drama to high school students. Another one of Kelly's stories will be forthcoming about a Harley-Davidson road trip. Stay tuned!
Sarah - Just got turned on to this site by my friend, Lianne, and I enjoyed reading about this road trip. LOVE the pictures too (especially the mandatory family at the state sign)! Road trips are my favorite mode of travel and I agree with the author that the U.S. has so much to offer when it comes to travel. I'm still in love with traveling the States and discovering all its beauty and meeting friendly—and sometimes quirky!—folk. Looking forward to reading more stories. : )