THERE MAY BE NO HAZARD MORE THREATENING TO PLEASANT family communication than long, consecutive hours spent in the confines of a moving vehicle. Homecoming artists and their families should know. At a recent concert, we engaged some of the younger travelers of this bunch in some productive backstage chatter on the topic.
By the end of the evening, consensus had been reached on several travel issues: trips were fun to anticipate, but there were some problems, most of which had to do with waiting. Waiting to get there (forever), waiting to eat (place usually chosen by someone older or younger), waiting for a potty stop (most often determined by the male parent, who has the largest bladder capacity), waiting for your turn to ride shotgun, hold the doll, use the red crayon, be “it” for 20 Questions, play your favorite game, or choose the next CD or video (in the order established by some higher authority).
In this group of kids, ages 12 and under, many of the more amusing stories (to them) were centered on the potty stop issue. Angie Penrod, wife of Gaither Vocal Band member Guy, intervened when her kids brought up the topic. “Those are the funniest stories,” she agreed, “but most are not fit to tell.”
“At least you have boys,” chimed in Laurie Phelps, wife of GVB’s David. “Your problems are more easily resolved.”
Everyone agreed that dads are the hardest to convince of the urgencies in that area. “Guy is so organized and structured,” Angie said. “He has a plan or a system for everything. But with six children, it’s just not possible to maintain control.” Angie’s statement is accompanied by a “what’s-a-mother-to-do?” shrug.
At this point an adult Homecomer listening in disclosed her mother’s solution to such problems when she, the oldest of four children, traveled with her family “in the old days.” She said that her mother, wary of germs and possible diseases on seats in public restrooms, always scouted for a wooded place along the road where the children could potty. “We had an occasional bout of poison ivy,” she reported, “but no trouble with diseases!”
What does your family do on a long trip for entertainment?
Angie Penrod threw her hands in the air at this question. “For the last 10 years, we’ve always had a 2-year-old to entertain us,” she quipped.
Oldest son Tyler interjected a story about a trip to Family Fest a few years ago. “In the four hours it took us to drive from Nashville to Gatlinburg, Joe preached all the way. Well, it was more like jabbering. Joe was 2 then. Now that he can talk, he comes up with some pretty funny things. Whenever he sees a whole flock of birds lined up on a telephone wire, he says that they are having Praise Gathering!”
The older Penrod boys talk about the travel hours when they work on singing with their dad. They have fun making a game of matching tones and harmonizing, no doubt with designs toward becoming part of the next vocal band upon Bill’s (and Dad’s) retirement. “It’s a lot better than doing homework,” says Tyler
Tori Taff, wife of GVB’s Russ, declares that three times a year for seven hours, their family of four is blessed with the perfect components for family togetherness: two Yorkies, a huge cat with no tail, a cockatiel, and two kids who chatter constantly. No chance for boredom there! Apparently Mama Taff exaggerates slightly because young Charlotte says that she and her big sister, Maddie Rose, often are watching videos as they travel.
Maddie Rose admits that she prefers this traveling menagerie to the faster air travel option because she tends to get airsick. Once when it was necessary to fly, Russ decided he was going to sit and talk with her in an effort to distract her from thinking about her malady. For a while, she seemed to be taking it all in stride, but then suddenly threw up into his conveniently located leather briefcase.
Young Mr. W. Jake Hess III (“Trip” for short) had a good deal to say about traveling with his mother. Five-ish in age, he, too, had issues with waiting, but was quite polite and exceptionally long-suffering about them—in retrospect. The story is that he had a party to attend and was waiting for his mother to come home to take him. She was late, of course, but quick to apologize. “Are you mad?” she asked. He assured her it was all right.
Unfortunately, it took longer than usual to get the other young family members rolling, so even more time was lost getting everyone strapped into the car.
“I’m so sorry, Trip.” She glanced sideways to assess his temperament once again. “It’s OK, Mom. I’m not mad!”
The traffic was snarled, things were moving more and more slowly. Judy could just hear the moments ticking away in Trip’s head. Then something happened to distract her, and she accidentally ran into the car stopped ahead of them.
Trip announced, “Now, I’m mad!”
The best “mad” travel story is the one Bill Gaither most hates to hear. A whole group of families had gathered at the Gaither household to begin a vacation trip to New England. Bill had graciously offered his bus for the trip so that the multi-age collection of adults and kids would have room to move about, eat, sleep and be comfortable. The kids were especially excited because the bus had TV and video — a novelty more than 15 years ago, when this event took place.
There was an unusual air of anticipation because, a couple of summers before, this same group of families had spent an entire weekend filming a drama that had been written, produced and acted mostly by the kids. Suzanne Gaither Jennings, the oldest of the children, was also the major writer and the director.
Like a well-oiled machine, adults and kids had worked together on the script and sets, taping at indoor and outdoor locations for hours. The resulting film was quite an accomplishment of which everyone was extremely proud. (Talk about making memories!)
Well, on this trip, once again, most of the original cast and crew was going to get to enjoy the film together.
The bus headed out, destination many hours away, and expectations were running high. After the first en-route meal, the happy travelers hunkered down to watch themselves on video. The tape was mounted, the appropriate buttons activated and — shazam! Onscreen appeared not the opening titles of the family drama, but an Indiana Pacers’ game, in progress.
Just a minute — it must be the wrong tape! Or something must be wrong with the TV! Suzanne rose to action. She pushed the eject button and retrieved the tape. There on the label, in her own handwriting, was the correct title.
There was a long, tense silence followed by an excruciating howl. “Daaaad!” Suzanne’s worst fears had been realized. In a hurry to record his favorite basketball team’s big game, Bill had pulled the wrong tape off the shelf. (Hey, it could happen to anybody!) The treasured, multi-family drama was obliterated — gone forever!
Observers at the scene report it was hours before anyone on the bus spoke to Bill. Some, after 15 years, still find forgiveness difficult.
Those much-anticipated moments of making family memories don’t always turn out as you dreamed. But between the dreaming and the coming true, there are stories, good and bad, funny and sad that will live on to be told and retold and to tug at your heartstrings forever.
• It’s fun to cut pictures of faces and bodies and feet out of magazines, mix them up, then make new people out of the original parts. You can make a whole page of crazy, mixed-up people!
• Gloria says she often made up lists of things to watch for on a long journey. If you have more than one or two children, divide them into two teams and assign each team to one side of the vehicle. Each team has a copy of the list (and perhaps even the number of points awarded for each object): a white dog, a steeple, a flower garden, a white Mercedes, a red wagon, a yellow mailbox, a California license plate, a black and white cow, a pine tree, a barber shop, a kid in a ball cap, a house with a flag, a corn field, etc. If they pass a cemetery on their side, they have to bury all their points and start over again. If they pass a school, they can double their points. Of course, the team with the most points wins. They get to pick the next fast-food stop!
• A roll of adding machine tape and a set of colored pens or pencils are items easy to tuck into a travel bag. On a long trip, these are good for making comic strips, film strips, mini-murals or even brightly colored strip “flyers” that can be held in one hand and “flown” out the window on a country road.
• Adding machine tape is also perfect for making long paper chains. All you need is tape or a glue stick. See who can make the longest, prettiest, most colorful or most interesting one.
• Another contest involves looking for objects that begin with each letter of the alphabet—in consecutive order, A-Z. (It’s cheating to fill in ahead!) The individual or team that gets to Z first wins!