The favorite Christmas holiday movie of all time, according to ranker.com (a platform that hosts thousands of crowd-sourced answers to opinion-based questions) is "A Christmas Story."
While the movie was filmed in 1983 and celebrates its 30th anniversary, it is a classic in the sense that it captures Christmas for many of the older generations of today. It is funny, clever, and spot-on with the experiences of children through the example of Ralphie Parker and his contemporaries. The film takes place in 1939 or 1940 in fictional Hohman, Indiana, but captures Christmas for many who lived in that era.
I didn't have the same experiences of Ralphie, bundling for snow and using secret decoder pins in find out what Little Orphan Annie was trying to tell her audiences. But I had my own experiences as a kid whose childhood was split between the 1960s and 1970s.
The house used in the movie is a real house that was purchased in 2004 on eBay for $150,000 and has been restored to become a money-making tourist trap at 3159 W. 11th Street in Cleveland, Ohio. On my once-in-a-lifetime road trip over 38 years ago I came within several miles of that house. The 1975 road trip course, of course was eight years before the movie was filmed. But I remember Cleveland looking bleak on that grey, overcast Midwest summer day.
That was the road trip of all road trips - one month long, mind you -- never to quite be repeated the way it went down.
I wrote a journal about that trip that I still possess today. But then again, nobody ever forgets a road trip that occurs inside an ugly, yellow 1974 Mazda station wagon with two brothers at each hip, dad in the driver's seat and mom in the front passenger seat. The trip was a veritable hell in some respects but I remember mostly only the good points.
It started in the driveway of our rural Oakdale home on July 31, 1975. I was 12 year old when we took left, 13 when we returned by Aug. 28.
A kid can learn so much about life on a road trip trekking through 21 states by car. Not only did I learn a boatload on history and geography, I learned what it is like to be confined in a back seat with two antagonists for brothers. And I learned how to deal with life when one brother decides to pass gas without a window rolled down, hours of boredom without electronics (way before smart phones), and appreciating the umpteenth stop at a Stuckey's so mom could buy another pecan roll.
By the end of that first day we were at Lake Tahoe. The next day we zipped through Lovelock and Winnemucca, Nev., before entering the Bonneville Salt Flats by 3:15 p.m. That night we were checking out the Mormon Temple before my dad had the smart idea that he was going to save on motel expenses by driving at night and having my mom drive during the day while he slept. For that reason I completely missed the state of Wyoming. My journal entry of Aug. 2 noted: "we drove all night and it was murder trying to sleep. Every time my dad went to a gas station we all woke up."
Much in the same way Ralphie discovered the disappointment of learning he was being fed a "crummy" Ovaltine commercial, the trip gave me some disillusionment. I thought Denver would be this "rocky mountain high" experience (probably due to John Denver's songs) but I noted: "I thought it would be cool, cloudy and thought the mountains would be closer to Denver but it's too big, too hot and you can barely see the mountains."
On day #3, I remember being in awe of this odd-sounding insect chirping in the trees around our motel in Colby, Kansas. That was so long ago that a postcard of the Chief Motel is now a collector's item.
A presidential history buff, I am sure I was the reason we stopped at the Dwight Eisenhower boyhood home and Presidential Library in Abilene on day #4. Probably also the reason we had to drive by the Truman house on North Delaware Street in Independence, Mo., where former first lady Bess was inside, on the same day.
Our first real destination was a great uncle's house in Gallatin, Tenn. He lived in an idyllic lush green setting on Willow Lake where my brothers and I would row the boat out into. I learned what humidity was about as we'd take a shower, go outside and be sticking with unbearable sweat. I also learned that while on one hand the Tennessee people were friendly, some - like my uncle - sadly had a racist streak in them.
We were stuck at his place from Aug. 5 to Aug. 13, which is an eternity for a kid home away from home.
Traveling days were long. From Tennessee we went to Cleveland, Ohio, a distance of 526 miles. The next day was much shorter, which followed Lake Erie to Buffalo, Niagara Falls and then Canandaigua, NY to see the famous Aunt Martha, a kindly woman who always sent us boys eccentric notes in birthday cards containing money. She took us to Roseland Amusement Park for rides. It closed 10 years late like many other small amusement parks that fell by the wayside because of astronomical insurance premiums and changing entertainment tastes and family practices.
We received a somber history lesson at Gettysburg but the highlight for me was searching a souvenir shop and buying a slug fired in the battle which I still have today. It was my 14th birthday that day and the icing on the cake was that we ended up at the major tourist spots in Washington D.C. I remember being able to touch John Glenn's Friendship 7 space capsule before the Air & Space Museum encapsulated it and stood in awe as we toured the White House, standing on the north portico where outgoing presidents receive the incoming presidents. I also stood right where John Wilkes Booth stood when he shot Abraham Lincoln.
From there the trip was all downhill as far as I was concerned. Being in the White House meant that stops at the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon and hunting for broken Indian pottery in Colorado were second-class activities. I must have had enough of traveling because I wrote on Aug. 22 "we traveled all this day to Oklahoma... we stopped at Checotah and got two crummy little rooms in a motel. We went to a Mexican food restaurant and we thought the place was unsanitary."
Every kid has a unique childhood experience to him. Mine included an epic road trip that comes to mind each time I hear Elton John's "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" and the O'Jay's "I Love Music" (two songs which were played incessantly on the radio during the whole trip). In this day and age when lack of funds keeps Valley kids from even being able to take a road trip to the coast just two hours away, I feel fortunate that I got to see parts of this country that few west coasters get to.
Whatever you do in your life -- whether it's for Christmas or a summer vacation - make memories that last a lifetime. You only live once.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know at email@example.com