Hello, Wall Drug Store
My son Doug is helping me with my tribute to our trip across the country from Pennsylvania in 1964. Remembering which state is next to another state gets a little confusing. I do know that taking your family away from everything familiar and jumping feet first into a new life wasn’t easy.
But I’ve always been that kind of person, sometimes with great results and sometimes not. That’s me! We left Indiana and headed into Illinois and stopped to visit some of the older boys friends. Of course, they wanted to take us to visit other friends close to Chicago, so off we went spending entirely too much time going in the wrong direction. However, it made the boys happy. Then we were off through Illinois and into Iowa.
Somewhere along the way we stopped to eat. The boys had been after me to buy them hamburgers, but then there weren’t all of these fast food establishments we have today. So when we found a stand we stopped. There we sat beginning to eat when Danny made one of those ugly “I don’t like this” face. The hamburgers were smothered with Thousand Island dressing, not ketchup or mustard.
A lot of scraping and getting some ketchup ensued with a talk that “we can’t waste food.” We soon learned that what is done in Pennsylvania, isn’t always done everywhere else. The AAA trip ticket finally took us to Mason City, Iowa and an unusual type of motel. A developer had built a whole section of small houses that hadn’t sold, so they were rented out on a daily basis.
This mother was tired, and it was time for us to slow down a little. The house we rented was really nice and it gave us a chance to bathe, watch some TV and unwind. We stayed two days and really enjoyed ourselves. Forgive me if some of the sequence sounds off, but this was back in 1964 friends, and memories fade. But there was one episode on our trip that stands out and our family still talks about it.
As novice travelers, our family didn’t always check things in advance, which almost got us into some real trouble. Please understand, that in Pennsylvania, you can’t drive five miles without coming to a new town. We simply didn’t understand that elsewhere were long stretches of highway without civilization. We came to the edge of the state of South Dakota where, within a couple of blocks, there were a dozen or so motels.
It was evening, time to stop for the night. We checked a couple of places for rates. I wasn’t a happy camper the prices were outlandish. We left deciding we’d soon find another place to stay further on, yeah sure. What we didn’t know was that we were at the edge of the Black Hills. Hello, tourist, welcome to miles and miles of nothing and nobody and no place to stop.
We drove and drove, discovering why it’s called the “Black Hills.” It got pitch black. We didn’t see another motel, car or human being, just black black night and hills. All I could think about was our running out of gas, and then my youngest began to cry. It wasn’t an easy trip and it didn’t end until midnight. When I saw lights ahead I almost cried, there was a motel, a closed motel.
However, there was a couple pulling away from the front door. When they saw this silly woman with five children they stopped and asked if they could help us. It turned out that they had a couple of cabins close by and could rent them to us. We found ourselves in two tiny cabins, one that had a fold down bed that when open covered the whole room. You had to climb over it to go to the bathroom.
The linen was white and the places were clean. We were only too glad to bed down until morning. Morning, ah that morning. We found out that right behind those cabins, not 10 or 20 feet was a cliff that went down, seemingly forever! One slip, had one of the boys left his cabin, could have ended with terrible results.
All through the Black Hills drive we’d seen signs saying “Visit Wall Drug Store.” Finally, we at last arrived there to see what was so special. We had survived! It turned out to be a fun place, but that’s another story.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.