— Dawn Dillard is a proud East Texas gal who loves all things southern especially cooking, music and family. She can be reached via email at

Family vacations! Some of my best memories are ones of vacations while I was growing up. For those of you my age and older, your family vacations may have looked something like this:

You began planning weeks, even months ahead. Marked off every day on the calendar with a big “X” until the day finally arrived. We always loaded our car out the night before, except for a few last minute things. Bright and early on “vacation begins” day, we would wake up, get our clothes on and go jump in the car, which a lot of the time, was a station wagon; one of the greatest vehicles ever invented. There were no car seats, no mandatory buckling of the seat belts; heck, those seats became the most awesome beds we would ever sleep in. Mom and dad would finally lock up the house and we knew vacation was about to commence when mom got in the car and in between her and dad was...the goodie box!!!!!

Food was probably priority No. 1 on our vacations. We would barely get out of the driveway before mom would start digging in the box. Let the snacking begin! Mom’s cardboard box consisted of homemade peanut butter cookies (the ones you make where you take the tines of a fork and press it in a criss/cross pattern on top), various candy bars, bread, chips, paper towels, paper plates, plastic cutlery—this was all in the box. However, we also had an ice chest in the back, which held bologna, cheese, mustard, potato salad, etc. Sometimes, we would pull over at a rest area and get out the ice chest and box and fix our lunch and eat it at the picnic tables (food somehow always tasted better there) but there were times when mom would say “Dawn, reach back there and hand me the sandwich stuff.”

I would dig in the ice chest and hand her the bologna and cheese and mustard and she would make sandwiches while we kept on putting the miles behind us. I think it was on one of these trips that I discovered if you put Fritos inside your sandwich, you get a crunchy bite every time. It’s delicious. Trust me.

One time, we took a vacation to Nevada with my great aunt and uncle from Terrell. Aunt Addie was quite a cook and on this particular trip, we didn’t just have sandwich stuff; she made fried chicken, homemade pie and bean salad! I can still smell it now. Basically, it consists of any kind of beans you want to dump in a bowl, stir in onions, celery and some vinegar and you have bean salad. The whole car reeked the entire trip. (I did not partake of any bean salad).

But, the saving grace on this vacation with Aunt Addie and Uncle Monroe was that we took their station wagon and they had one of those with a seat in the very back that faced the back of the car. It was my favorite place in the car. You could sit in it and not really see where you were going but see where you had just come from. You could wave at the people behind you and look out for miles and miles because the entire back was one big window.

I’m a big believer in “it’s the little things in life that matter most.” For a lot of folks these days, vacations mean get there the quickest way possible, stay on your electronics the entire time and then hurry back home. I’m just old school, I guess, and we continued the “family vacation” tradition (minus the bean salad) when we were raising our family. Lots of long road trips, eating in the car, talking, laughing, making memories.

Now, we are getting to watch our kids take their kids on vacations. Oh, they’ve flown a few times, but for the most part, they drive, in their vans (in the station wagon family, so I’ll give them credit.) The stories we hear from the kids are about the things they did while they were together on the vacation.

Our oldest son, Deke, and his family just got back from a 10 day trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They weren’t alone! Extended family went with them. In fact, they took a 12 passenger van, drove hours every day and then camped in the Grand Tetons. When I went by to see the granddaughters after they got back, I asked them “what was your favorite part of your whole vacation?” Without hesitation, they all answered “everything!” That, my friends, is the true testament of a successful family vacation.

Take time/make time for a road trip with your family. No electronics. No silence. Talk. Pack a goodie box. Eat. Laugh. And is for living and memory making!

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