Jerry’s Travel Mania Begins

(Updated 2018 post)

Paula and I recently spent two nights at a wonderful bed and breakfast in Fernandina Beach, Florida. The room was spacious and clean and the decor was lovely and appropriate for the historic town in which we were staying. The innkeepers were delightful, and the breakfasts were novel and tasty. All in all, it was a good experience for a bit over $500.

How different things were when we Boomers were little kids. In the early 1950s, I accompanied my parents, Lois and Jerry, on a peregrination around Pennsylvania west of the Susquehanna River. Armed with AAA Trip-Tiks and AAA TourBooks, Jerry’s travel mania began in Harrisburg, and the first two nights were spent with my grandmother, Mawie, in Lois’ hometown of McKeesport, with side visits to relatives and old friends in the unincorporated village of Hillside north of Derry. There was one bright spot during these two days, and it was an afternoon spent at Kennywood Park. It was unfortunate that this was at the beginning of the tour, because compared to that afternoon, the next days were all downhill for me.

After we left McKeesport, we stopped to look at a big lake, Pymatuning Reservoir, which had an entry in our TourBook. A general characteristic of our trip was that we did not stop anywhere that was not in the TourBook, from which Lois would read every entry along our path. Our ultimate destination that day was Edinboro, where we had spent the night.

Edinboro is where my parents had been married and I had been conceived during the period when they were freshmen at the Edinboro State Teachers College (now known as Edinboro University). Both had been accepted at Penn State (then) College—my mother was to major in music and my father in engineering—but with the flood of G.I.s looking to take advantage of their G.I. Bill education benefits, the main Penn State campus was not able to accommodate their numbers; instead, Penn State freshmen were farmed out to the Commonwealth’s teachers colleges. Jerry was old for a freshman at twenty-five, but the other fifty or so veterans assigned to Edinboro were also older than the average, beanie-wearing freshman, so the G.I.s were housed in an old hotel a few miles out of town where my father, given his non-com rank of sergeant, was selected by the other G.I.s to be in charge.

Lois had done her part during the war by playing records in the cafeteria of a multi-storied Army building in Newark, New Jersey, to entertain hundreds of armed forces employees while they had their lunch. She arrived at Edinboro State as a fresh-faced but older than usual twenty-one-year-old freshman where she had roomed in a private house near the campus. The rooming house was owned and operated by a woman who I remember clearly, not only because she had a ready smile for me but because she raised night-crawlers that she sold for bait. Holding one of the wriggling monsters is a remembered highlight of the trip, of which there were very few for me.

The next day we drove to a lonely stretch of shoreline along Lake Erie, the body of water in which Lois’ father, Cumpy, had drowned when she was thirteen and he was thirty-nine. Cumpy and some buddies had gone fishing on Lake Erie on a stormy day, and somehow, he had fallen overboard and his friends had been unable to save him. That stop on the lake shore is a sad memory for me because I remember being unable to console Lois, who was crying about something other than my father’s treatment of her.

After Lake Erie and inspired by the possibility of seeing real “Indians,” Lois convinced Jerry to find the Allegheny Indian Reservation, which was actually in New York. Jerry declared their trip was supposed to stay in Pennsylvania, but the ever resilient Lois discovered—in the TourBoook—a small, adjacent, Seneca reservation in Pennsylvania. We followed a road map (our family loved road maps, but that is part of another story) through the Pennsylvania reservation, something I have learned was called the Complanter Tract. As we scoured the reservation thinking in our collective ignorance (at five, I might be forgiven) that we would encounter a longhouse, trading post, or someone who even remotely resembled a Native American, we were disappointed. I remember seeing lots of trees and hearing a lot of grumbling from Jerry about going out of his way “for no goddamned reason!”

We spent the next night in Wellsboro in Tioga County positioned in the center of the northern tier of Pennsylvania counties. We stopped there because it was near the Pine Creek Gorge, which is also known as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, a name I assume had been chosen as a marketing ploy to attract tourists. The featured image of this post is a photo of the gorge. Today, I think I would find the Pine Creek Gorge a lovely sight indeed, but I recall that the Pine Creek Gorge was singularly uninspiring to mini-me, or perhaps I’m remembering Jerry angrily haranguing Lois about wasting time and gas just to see it, something my brother and I came to hear frequently over the years on subsequent editions of Jerry’s Travel Mania.

State College was another important stop on what is beginning to read more like a pilgrimage to my parents’ first years together than it does a road trip. When they had been told in the spring of 1947 that Lois was pregnant, they had decided that she would drop out of school, and Jerry would continue on in the engineering program at Penn State’s main campus beginning in September of 1947. This decision resulted, among many other things, in my attending and listening to my first Penn State football game comfortably ensconced inside my mother. I have been a loyal Nittany Lion fan ever since.

When we arrived in State College on our tour, we visited the trailer park that we called home. It no longer exists, but it was located just northwest of town off of North Atherton Street. Jerry lived in the trailer pictured below from the fall of 1947 until he graduated in February of 1950; Lois and I lived with him until 1949, when my grandfather Emanuel—or Curly, as he was called—died.

The following photos are of Jerry, Lois, and me at the trailer park in 1948. They portray a certain happiness that does not resemble the memories I have—yes, even from that young age—of the hardships and pain that my mother and I endured inside that tiny trailer.

Not counting the two nights we stayed with my grandmother on our Pennsylvania tour, and one night when we stayed with college friends of my parents, we stayed each night in tourist homes. I remember the rooms in the tourist homes as being spacious, tidy, and welcoming, and in at least a couple of them, the breakfasts were good. In fact, my memories of those tourist homes are not unlike my memories of the bed and breakfast referred to in the first paragraph of this post. There are two significant differences between a tourist home in the 1950s and a B&B now, and the first difference is the cost.

Tourist homes in which we stayed during our trip cost between $4 and $8 a night, which I can recall because over the years those fees had been referred to every time my parents told anyone about the trip. Appearances were important to people of my parents’ generation as they still are today for most members of every generation, albeit different in emphasis. In the 1950s, perhaps because memories of having little of material consequence during the Great Depression were still on the minds of my parents, they may have feared being seen as lauding over others the ability to take such a trip, which meant describing such a trip required modesty in the telling.

There is seldom I time when I stay in a B&B or search for them online that I don’t think about the difference that six decades has made. For the record, $4 in 1954 is worth $38.70 today (2020) when adjusted for inflation, which means that our recent stay in a B&B in Fernandina Beach cost almost seven times as much in inflation-adjusted dollars as did two nights in a comparable 1954 tourist home.

The second difference between then and now that I alluded to above is the contrast between the folks who owned and operated tourist homes in the 1950s and the folks who began to own and operate B&Bs in the 1980s. The tourist homes of my childhood were often the homes of widows who were looking for ways to subsidize their meager incomes. The Fernandina Beach B&B where we stayed was purchased as an investment by a couple, one of whom was retired while the other was still working. Both of them had done well in their careers and drew upon their financial resources to purchase and remodel the home, which they hoped would provide (and apparently it has) a lucrative R.O.I.

That simple trip around the Commonwealth started my father thinking about greater challenges behind the wheel, the first of which was to conduct a time and motion analysis of a road trip through New York and Ontaria, the purpose of which was to prepare for the mother-of-all road trips: an 8500 mile, cross-country trip in 1962. But that’s another story.

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(The featured photo accompanying this post is By Snottywong – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13425854. No copyright infringement is intended nor is there an intent on the part of the blogger to monetize the use of the featured image.)