Seeing the world from 'The Togetherness Box'

Carolyn Witte (second from left) with her family in 1962 before they set out for a three-week vacation in The Togetherness Box.

When I was young, my parents had the yen to share the wonders of America with their family, yet with the frugality of people who lived through the Depression.

What could be better than combining a '59 Oldsmobile 98 with a 19-foot travel trailer, which gave us the approximate length of a Greyhound bus?

Each summer, my father, bless him, would take his entire year's vacation of three weeks, and my mother would spend at least three weeks planning for the five of us to co-exist in, what I called "The Togetherness Box."

"It's perfect," my father said. The front section could be a dinette by day and fold down to a double bed for my parents at night. Then, there was a kitchen, really a hallway, and bathroom, all with cupboard doors with little clips to make sure they didn't swing open as we drove through the mountains. In the back, we had accommodations for the rest of us: a fold-out double bed I shared with my sister, and an upper bunk for my little brother.

If I had measured the distance from the back to the front of this trailer, I would have known I was in trouble. My father snored. He was a major snorer, one who could fall asleep in 30 seconds and provide the sound effects of a lawn mower for a solid eight hours.

Though I may have been sleep-deprived, I have some great memories of our travel-trailer days. Several summers, we headed from Iowa to Minnesota or Wisconsin, staying at resorts with fishing, swimming and water sports. (Never mind the waitress, at one of those places, who delivered our five glasses of water with a finger and thumb in each glass.)

In 1964, we did a "history tour" of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Gettysburg on our way to the New York World's Fair. Other years, we headed for the Ozarks or Florida, once again taking advantage of fishing, hiking, swimming, and family togetherness.

Probably, our biggest adventure was heading north from Iowa across Canada to Seattle for the Seattle World's Fair. On the way, we saw the wonders of Banff and Lake Louise.

Then, we dropped down to Seattle for photo ops in front of the Space Needle. On the way home, we stopped in Yosemite and several more National Parks. Forgive me if I don't remember all of them. I was a teenager and probably sleep deprived, eager to get home.

After three weeks of driving, finding campgrounds, eating in our tiny kitchenette, and burying my head in pillows to avoid the snoring, I can't tell you how glad I was to return home. We would pull into the driveway, unpack the trailer, go through three weeks' worth of mail, and retreat to our now amazingly spacious home.

If only I could have realized the gift I'd been given. My father worked 49 weeks straight, looking forward to his three weeks with his family. In preparation for any vacation, he and my mother studied maps and guide books so we could hit all the historic, educational places along the way. They tried so hard. At one point, I was in the backseat reading "Gone with the Wind," and I remember my father saying, "Stop reading! Look at this scenery!"

It's been more than 50 years since I took those family vacations. My siblings still tease me about calling the trailer our Togetherness Box. But now, I can see it all more clearly. While my parents taught us to live together with less, they taught us so much more.

Carolyn Witte has spent 15 years in public relations and 15 years teaching first grade. She is the public relations chairwoman for the Charleston Symphony Orchestra League. She also volunteers at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church and Charles Towne Landing.