Unforgettable summer vacations
By Missy Izard Schenck
As summer comes to a close and the new school year begins, I am reminded of the first composition assignment that was given on the return to the classroom: “How I spent my summer vacation.”
Exotic resorts or rainy campsites, summer vacations with friends and family can be some of the most vivid and important memories we have. Those trips taught us about the world and about ourselves, as we can attest.
It took me growing up and having children of my own to appreciate some of those trips or weeks at summer camp. They are, in reality, part of the foundation that helped me become who I am today, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In 1964, my parents took all of us to the New York World’s Fair. It was our first and last family excursion. Up until then, summer vacations were spent at our beach house on Sullivan’s Island and at Lake Summit in the mountains of North Carolina. This was to be the trip of a lifetime, including stops in Washington, D.C. and college visits in Virginia for my sister, Ginny.
The bidding for the World’s Fair began in 1955, and my parents started planning for the trip the same year. They met in New York City when my mother was a graduate student at Columbia University and my father was at King’s Point. An introduction letter through my father’s sister (also my mother’s sorority sister at the College of Charleston) led to a date, and New York became the stomping grounds of their courtship. A marriage proposal at the Empire State Building sealed the deal.
Showing all of us NYC and where they went to school and spent their early lives was important to my parents. We were to spend a week at the hotel on the fair grounds and a week at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC. In all, the trip was a little more than three weeks.
To prepare for the trip, my father decided to purchase a brand-new baby blue Pontiac station wagon. It was the first of many varieties to have a third seat; something my parents deemed necessary for our family of six and comfortable travel. The third seat was smaller than the others and was turned to look out the back window. In those days, few cars had air conditioning; it was a new commodity. My father made sure we had it and all the other bells and whistles, too. Although AC was part of the car, rarely did it make it past the front part of the car.
As the two youngest in the family, my brother and I were assigned to the third seat — something we thought was a privilege. Boy did that novelty wear off fast! Both my parents smoked — a lot. The air conditioner required keeping the windows shut, so an enormous amount of cigarette smoke accumulated in the car. When we asked for them to roll down the window for fresh air, my father would tell us to quit whining — we had air conditioning and if the car was to cool off, the windows needed to stay rolled up. He truthfully did not believe us when we would tell him it was hot as hell in the third seat, we felt none of the AC, and were suffocating from cigarette smoke — not to mention that riding turned around in the car made us nauseated. Finally, we both puked — it at least bumped us up to second class seating. From then on, we all rotated seats and that seemed fair.
We departed on our trip from Sullivan’s Island a few weeks into the summer. Daddy had a custom car top carrier made to fit the top of the car to hold our luggage. The interior was made of aluminum bars and it was covered with baby blue waterproof canvas to match the car. He was very proud of this one-of-a-kind carrier and often said if he’d only patented it. Just about everything rode in the car top carrier except a cooler with sandwiches, drinks, snacks, a deck of cards and reading books. We played all sorts of car games along the way and somehow did not kill each other on our drive to and from New York.
Our first stop was to visit my mother’s dear friend, Virginia English, in Lynchburg, Virginia. Virginia’s husband, Bruce, was a professor at Randolph Macon Women’s College. My sister, Ginny, was a rising senior in high school and the namesake and goddaughter of Virginia. Billy and I were way too young to appreciate a college visit and as far as we were concerned, it was a waste of time. Our next stop was to Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. My mother’s cousin was president of the college at the time. That was boring, too.
Finally, we made it to our first significant stop, Washington, D.C. — the capitol of our country and home to my uncle, Ivey D. Craver — Uncle Ike — and his wife, Margo. Uncle Ike was full of energy and spunk and smart as the dickens. Many said he was the smartest man they knew — pure genius. He graduated from Furman University in Greenville, S.C. where he played football. After Furman, he went to law school at the University of South Carolina and somewhere in there he headed to Washington where he became the personal attorney for President Johnson.
Uncle Ike arranged for us to have a tour of the White House along with visits to the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian. My father attended George Washington University for three years and worked in the White House, so we all had a tour of G.W. and daddy shared highlights of the war years in D.C. as a courier for President Roosevelt. All in all, D.C. was an amazing adventure.
New York, New York — here we come! Driving into New York, I remember being dumbfounded at the number of high-rise apartment buildings and clothes lines all along them. I realized then and there how lucky we were to have a house and space to run and play.
The World’s Fair was in Queens at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. It covered 646 acres of land with 150 exhibits and the Unisphere located at the center of the park. The Unisphere is a spherical stainless-steel representation of the earth. Designed by Gilmore D. Clarke, it measures 140 feet high and 120 feet in diameter. My parents explained that the Unisphere would remain as a permanent part of the park after the World’s Fair was dismantled. Other cities that have hosted the World’s Fair also have installations in their parks to commemorate the fair. One of the souvenirs from the World’s Fair I have today is a silver charm of the Unisphere.
The motto of the World’s Fair was “Peace through Understanding.” There was a village for each of the 37 participating nations with native restaurants and attractions — people dressed in their country’s attire. The song “It’s a Small World” played throughout the park — everything about the World’s Fair was magical — even Mickey Mouse was there! Our hotel was one of many on the fairgrounds. We were able to spend mornings at the park and go back to the hotel for a swim and nap and back to the fair for the rest of the afternoon and evening. We went non-stop for a week and then it was time to go into Manhattan for our week at the Waldorf Astoria.
Driving into NYC, my father told us that The Waldorf was a very famous and luxurious hotel. As our hotel experiences were few, we were excited to stay in such a place and to discover “room service.” Our week in the city was packed with a tour including the following: The Empire State Building, the famous monument where my father proposed to my mother, a ferry trip to the Statute of Liberty and climbing all the way to the top, a day at King’s Point, trips to stores my mother loved, museums, Time Square, FAO Swartz and Tiffany’s. Wow. It was a whirlwind introduction to NYC.
My highlights of the city were the three Broadway Productions we saw. It was live theater on a level I’d never experienced, and I dreamed of being on Broadway for years. Blithe Spirit with actress, Tammy Grimes, Hello Dolly with Carol Channing and Funny Girl with Barbra Streisand were the three plays we saw. I can still remember the feeling I got sitting in the audience — I fell in love with Broadway. My father arranged for us to go backstage to meet the actors and have our programs signed. As a very shy fifth grader, I was dumbstruck — speechless. At the time, I had no idea or concept of the caliber of actors we had seen and none of their names were important to me at the time. Somewhere in all of my memory boxes, these programs might exist.
The trip home included spending the night in D.C with Uncle Ike and Aunt Margo. This go round, it was merely a stopover for the night. We were all ready to get home, especially my parents. After that one big family trip, we never went anywhere else except to our beach house and Lake Summit. We always wanted to go out West for a summer, but the mere thought of days in the station wagon did my parents in.
Recently, my three grandchildren were visiting, and I asked all of them to tell me about their summer. It sparked memories of writing those dreaded summer vacation compositions, so I tried my best to make it fun and encouraged them to include beach trips, summer camps and time at Lake Summit, where like me, waterskiing was their highlight. When I look back at my years of growing up, our family was very content with life as we knew it. We loved the beach and our weeks each summer at Lake Summit were perfect. My memories of the World’s Fair and our family trip to New York are very special — it was a trip of a life time; but, when it was all said and done, the grandchildren agreed that the most cherished and unforgettable summers were spent with cousins and family at the beach and the lake.
Missy Izard Schenck was born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina. She resides in Flat Rock, North Carolina where her family runs a summer camp.