A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Remembering and re-inventing the old fashioned, family road trip summer vacation

Burk/Bro Summerpalooza on a family trip to Table Rock Lake

Family vacation.

Do those two words strike fear in you or something joyful?

When I was a kid, family vacations entailed driving 2 ½ days from our home in suburban Westbury, N.Y. to southeast Florida, not far from Miami Beach. During that road trip, I could always count on two things: 

1. That my parents would have a hellacious argument outside Washington, D.C. because — according to my father — my mother failed to navigate correctly, despite her consulting the auto club TripTik mapping the route in fluorescent yellow highlighter and 2. We would spend the night at a Howard Johnson Motor Lodge, the Futterman family preferred motel chain. 

Over the years, we went on other family vacations — mom, dad, brother Gary and me, but it’s really those driving trips to Florida that stand out. The only entertainment technology we had back then was the car radio, which my dad had tuned to sports or news, never music, on the rare occasions he had turned it on at all. So to occupy ourselves during long stretches on I-95, Gary and I would huddle in the backseat of the family Oldsmobile looping together paper chains made out of pre-cut, multi-colored construction paper.

We’d also count South of the Border billboards, which if I remember correctly, would begin appearing in New Jersey, gain steam in Virginia and really pick up in North Carolina as we got closer to its outpost in Dillon, S.C.

For the uninitiated, South of the Border was kitsch heaven, at least back then, boasting tchotchkes and hazarai galore, many with a Mexican flare (like my favorite, Mexican jumping beans, which I later learned weren’t Mexican at all). 

“Can we please stop at Pedro’s?” Gary and I would plead beginning with the sighting of the first billboard. Pedro was the attraction’s mascot, a cartoonish, stereotypical “Mexican bandido,” replete with oversized sombrero, bushy eyebrows and mustache and flowing, colorful poncho. He spoke (from his billboard perch) in corny puns designed to poke fun at his broken English, espousing cheerful nuggets such as “you’re always a wiener at Pedro’s” or providing a weather report: “Chili today, hot tamale.”

From what I understand, political correctness eventually mandated a billboard makeover, but that apparently hasn’t cut down on the traffic to this 350-acre compound, which now contains a miniature golf course, truck stop, 300-room motel, multiple souvenir shops, a campground, multiple restaurants, amusement rides, the largest U.S. indoor reptile display and a 200-foot observation tower with a sombrero shaped observation deck.

As an adult, family trips have become no less memorable even though the players have changed. Over the Fourth of July, we celebrated 20 years of Burk/Bro Summerpalooza with a family trip to Table Rock Lake, where 14 of us shared a house overlooking the lake. 

Burk/Bro is a shortened, combined version of my husband’s and brother-in-law’s surnames. For the past 20 years, these family trips have featured siblings, spouses, aunts, uncles and cousins renting a house together in locales such as Martha’s Vineyard; the Outer Banks; Myrtle Beach and Surf City, N.C., to name a few. 

While so many people cohabitating may seem chaotic — and it definitely can be — we tend to concentrate on the positives like cooking gourmet meals together, boogie boarding in the ocean and laughing until our sides hurt watching my husband’s brother sweat buckets trying to erect one of those canvas pop-ups on the beach. 

There are also time-honored traditions like gathering after dinner to learn who is “camper of the day” (as awarded by my husband, the patriarch), the dissemination of custom-designed Burk/Bro vacation T-shirts and the “big race,” where a younger family member competes against one of us “olds” in a 50-yard dash for bragging rights. 

Occasionally drama ensues. There was the time in July 2014 when we were forced to abandon our family vacation on North Carolina’s Hatteras Island because of Hurricane Arthur.  That was the year we rented two nearby homes to accommodate all of us but had to evacuate after three days because of 100-mile-per-hour winds and serious flooding from major storm surges. 

Disappointed didn’t begin to describe how we felt at the time, not to mention the money lost, but — as often happens with these sorts of happenings — this one became family lore. Now when it rains during family vacation, we are at least appreciative it’s not a torrential hurricane. 

This last trip to Table Rock included the first Burk/Bro experience for our granddaughters, ages 5 and 7. They listened intently as stories were told and retold, watched with glee as we gathered by the lake for fireworks, and participated as they could in many of the activities. Both cheered on their father when good-natured ribbing among cousins created a first-ever Fourth of July hot dog eating contest. Their wide-eyed expressions of joy at the fun and frivolity motivates us all to continue the tradition even though the growth of our family makes it more difficult to plan and execute future excursions.  

Social media now provides us a glimpse into other families’ vacations. Everyone seems to have their own traditions and like ours, they provide a welcomed break from the grind of the daily routine.

Ultimately, we are making memories in real time; memories that hopefully will be passed along for generations to come. The thought of our granddaughters sharing with their offspring the story of their father winning the first-ever hot-dog eating contest not only makes me smile but also brings to mind my beautiful Jewish mother (of blessed memory) who grew up near Coney Island, where this contest originated.

The privilege of being able to afford a family vacation isn’t lost on me. But what’s even better is having family whom I cherish taking a vacation with. For that, I am truly grateful.

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About the Contributor
Ellen Futterman, Editor-in-Chief
A native of Westbury, New York, Ellen Futterman broke into the world of big city journalism as a general assignment reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the latter part of the 20th century. Deciding that Tinsel Town was not exciting enough for her, she moved on to that hub of glamour and sophistication, Belleville, Ill., where she became a feature writer, columnist and food editor for the Belleville News-Democrat. A year later the St. Louis Post-Dispatch scooped her up, neither guessing at the full range of her talents, nor the extent of her shoe collection. She went on to work at the Post-Dispatch for 25 years, during which time she covered hard news, education, features, investigative projects, profiles, sports, entertainment, fashion, interiors, business, travel and movies. She won numerous major local and national awards for her reporting on "Women Who Kill" and on a four-part series about teen-age pregnancy, 'Children Having Children.'" Among her many jobs at the newspaper, Ellen was a columnist for three years, Arts and Entertainment Editor, Critic-at-large and Daily Features (Everyday) Editor. She invented two sections from scratch, one of which recently morphed from Get Out, begun in 1995, to GO. In January of 2009, Ellen joined the St. Louis Jewish Light as its editor, where she is responsible for overseeing editorial operations, including managing both staff members and freelancers. Under her tutelage, the Light has won 16 Rockower Awards — considered the Jewish Pulitzer’s — including two personally for Excellence in Commentary for her weekly News & Schmooze column. She also is the communications content editor for the Arts and Education Council of St. Louis. Ellen and her husband, Jeff Burkett, a middle school principal, live in Olivette and have three children. Ellen can be reached at 314-743-3669 or at [email protected].