joankingWhen General Motors linked “baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet,” it not only promoted summer fun, but appealed to families who loved to participate in sports, picnics and vacation travel.

The auto is still the vacation vehicle of choice. This year, with the newly coined “staycations,” many are finding relaxation spots nearer their homes to avoid budget-breaking gas prices.

Lake Michigan provides ready access to city dwellers for free or low-cost activities such as sunbathing, swimming and volleyball. Church and lakefront festivals plus county fairs provide music, food and games. Wisconsin is blessed with many lakes, parks, walking paths and camping sites at no-cost or low-cost.

Exploring a change of scenery at resorts or family cottages in northern Wisconsin or nearby states is also popular. With several generations of family gathered, summer vacations are great family bonding and memory-making times.

We often look back on good times with the family as we were growing up. When he was young, my husband’s family enjoyed several summer “up north” vacations at a lodge. We returned to the experience with our children by inviting grandparents along on several day trips to Wisconsin historic sites. They didn’t seem to mind sharing the station wagon with a few young children. We even found room for a cooler so we could picnic at a park while the young ones released pent up energy.

In those days, before seat belts, we just piled the kids into the back and kept them busy with “I Spy,” “20 questions,” license plate or road sign identification games, a rosary or two for quiet time or camping-type songs.

In my family, summers were always spent near the water at a cottage my carpenter father built, using mostly materials salvaged from a large showplace, turn-of-the-century home he demolished in the post-Depression years. Just 10 miles from our home but usually 10 degrees cooler, it provided low-cost fishing and swimming for family and friends.

His goal was to provide a summer place where the entire family could gather with the grandchildren, in a trend that had spread across the northern states. In many areas, cluster neighborhoods continue with cottages passed down through generations to enjoy.

Before the double lane roads, there were eight-hour trips, always “interesting.” We would stop for a picnic lunch at a Mississippi River park to watch the barges and other boats. Usually the kids would nap, but one young daughter would not fall asleep until about 10 minutes from our destination, which made for a long trip. This was when “air conditioning” was provided by the open windows, which also allowed the dust to blow in. One time, someone’s favorite book flew out the window during some high jinks. If a long arm from the front seat couldn’t reach far enough to settle an argument, we put the oldest child or two in the front and Mom tried to keep peace in the back.

My most memorable trip was to the cottage, driving alone with six kids and my mother in the station wagon and a small sailboat plus our suitcases on top of the car. That was my turn to say, “Are we there yet?”

The summer cottage is still there with its red and blue stained glass windows, long, full-screened porch, antique hardware, doors and woodwork, and knotty pine, but most of my children find the now six-hour trip too much unless they can spend more than a weekend.  At least once a year, it’s our turn to relax from daily schedules and visit with nieces and nephews and their children and grandchildren. My father would be happy that all of these descendants of his are still using and enjoying his foresight of providing a happy get-together place.

* * * *

  • With a computer, it is easy to find the website containing detailed information on recreation possibilities in any Wisconsin county. The librarian will also be helpful in finding information you can check out or browse. If you don’t have a car or travel companion, your imagination can take you there with a book, TV travel show or computer search.
  • Take a fall trip to Oconomowoc for a two-day family conference, “Gazing on the Face of Jesus,” sponsored by the Rosary Evangelization Apostolate, hosted by St. Jerome Church. On Friday, Oct. 7 there will be a 6:30 p.m. rosary for peace and the family followed by a Mass celebrated by Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. An all-day conference begins Saturday, Oct. 8, with (optional) 8 a.m. Mass, and includes speakers Fr. Wade Menezes and Dr. Edward Sri, and a closing Mass with Madison Bishop Robert Morlino as celebrant and homilist. Register online at or for more info call (414) 570-4389 or email – Fee is $35 per person and includes lunch if reservation is made before Sept. 7. Children under 12 are free.

(King, a member of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta Parish, North Lake, is married to Thomas. The couple has seven children, 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.)