By Chuck Woodbury
For four months in 1994, I lived and worked in a 24-foot Tioga mini-motorhome with my wife and then-2 1/2-year-old daughter Emily. We traveled 17,000 marvelous miles, through 33 states, on a media tour sponsored by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association. Our assignment: talk with newspaper and TV reporters about how great it was to camp with our child in an RV. And so we did, day after day, week after week, month after month in cities across America. It was, I must say, a dream assignment.
Our little home on wheels became very special to us during those wonderful months. It led us across Florida’s Alligator Alley, and to North Carolina to the very spot where Orville and Wilbur Wright first flew a plane. It took us Franklin County, Missouri, where I stumbled upon the last corncob pipe factory in America, and to a funky cafe outside Little Rock, Ark., where Bill Clinton once ate burgers.
Our Tioga took us to Boston, where we spent a hot day alongside the Charles River, failing to attract any media attention because, 3,000 miles away, O.J. Simpson was holding a gun to his head on an L.A. freeway.
Emily was wide-eyed at everything she saw and experienced. She rode in her car seat at the dinette table, hour after hour, looking out the window until she was bored, at which time we’d pop a Barney video tape into our 12-volt VCR to keep her occupied for awhile. Each time we pulled to the side of the road, she glowed with excitement at what new adventure awaited her. What would she find, she must have wondered, when she stepped outside? An ocean beach? A forest? A cafe to eat fish and chips (her favorite meal)? Or perhaps yet another playground?
She played in a hundred playgrounds — whether in campgrounds or city parks. The thought struck my wife and me more than once that we should name our tour, “Playgrounds Across America.”
Emily gathered a basket-full of seashells on a Florida beach, and dipped her feet into the Suwannee River. In Maine, she ate lobster, and near Indianapolis, chased fireflies by a cornfield. In tiny Millersville, Ohio, she celebrated the Fourth of July with the local population and her wide-eyed parents, who had never witnessed such small town patriotism. Perhaps Andy Griffith’s fictitious town of Mayberry really does exist.
Also in Ohio, Emily caught her first fish, a four-inch perch. She dined on perch, too, with her Uncle George in Cleveland. She wasn’t crazy, however, about the fried pickles in St. Louis, but she loved the strawberry waffle she shared with me in Orlando.
Camped on a cliff overlooking the Pacific, she marveled at the gray whales that passed outside our motorhome window. A thousand-plus miles away, she posed for a photo on the giant jackalope of South Dakota’s Wall Drug. In Indiana, she dashed from the motorhome with me during a break in a violent lightning storm so I could snap a photo of the grave of wild West cowgirl Annie Oakley.
Many nights, we built a campfire, where we would roast marshmallows and talk about that day’s adventures. Life, I suspect, does not get much better for a kid. Or for a parent. either. . .
Every night we tucked Emily into her own bed, which was familiar and safe to her no matter where we were camped. Today, that bed is still one of her favorite comfort zones.
My daughter was too young to remember most of that trip, but I believe it will always be deep within her. Now ten years old, she is always eager to hop in the motorhome for yet another adventure.