hYZX6w-bVzHF2Ylz_I_tlmKpisCjGy2_QsQ0RLmdjxgBy Timothy Sullivan

I’m one of ten kids, eighth in line. Yes, Irish. Yes, Catholic and no, that isn’t even all of us in the photo because my little sister wasn’t born yet. I am dumbfounded as to how my parents managed. I think the recipe called for gracious measures of coupons and casseroles, hand-me-downs, patience and faith. Let’s compare family dynamics in the late 1970’s versus those in 2013 through the microcosm of the family wagon shall we?

We’d all squeeze into a 1971 Ford LTD Country Squire with the wood paneling for family outings. It was roughly the size of a hotel room and handled like a Boston Whaler. It only had AM radio but they spun tunes like Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy” so who could complain? In the summer, we’d go to the YMCA in Greenwich, CT, which was just over the line from White Plains, NY where we grew up. This was essentially our “country club” (and to my knowledge not attended by anyone who actually lived Greenwich).

My parents would typically share the front with one of the middle children.  Dad would prop his left elbow out the open window and enjoy a smoke during the 15-minute drive. The center bench held four or five across, possibly a smaller child on the lap of one of the big kids. Seatbelts shmeatbelts. It was the 70s, so the shorts were short and if our exposed thighs weren’t sticking to the vinyl seats, they were sticking to each other. Why fuss though when soon enough we’d be in the pool, which was tantamount to Shangri-La and would cleanse us of any stress, sweat or wayward peanut butter.

The way-back, as we inhabitants called it, had a pair of mini-bench seats that would flip up and face each other. Four of us sat knee-to-knee with nothing better to do than hold staring contests or compete over who could spot the most Volkswagen Beetles. Rare protests for a better seat assignment were met with a terse declaration, “I’m older.” Entirely inconceivable to me now, it would just end there. It was as simple as stopping Swiper from swiping, “Ohh maaan!”  (And if this reference escapes you, be happy about that.)

Fast forward to 2013 and the Chrysler Town & Country minivan I now use to cart our family of four around town. Each kid has a comfy booster seat contained within their own bucket seat. There is satellite radio, CD and DVD players and about 84 cup holders. Seatbelts galore! Each passenger can be cooled or warmed to their preferred degree. While sizable, it pretty much drives like a regular car.

On longer trips we’ll keep one of the kids’ car seats in the middle row and put the other in the third row. As chauffeur, I get the better gig by far. Kristen sits in the middle to serve as waitress, maid and movie theatre operator. They cycle through snacks and drinks and DVD’s like a pack of stoned frat boys, but it is so much better than fighting or a refrain of Are we there yet? And that’s not to say there aren’t complaints, because there are still plenty. I’ve tried using “Because I’m the Dad, and I say so,” but my kids are like pint sized attorneys who aptly pick apart seemingly airtight cases.

I am now the age my parents were when they had their tenth child, so griping about the difficulties of raising two should be accompanied by the world’s smallest violin.  Times and norms have changed though and while some of it is progress, it’s hard not be nostalgic for simpler times. I would love more than anything for my kids to have a chance to sit knee-to-knee in the back of that old wagon, heading up highway 684, AM radio on, windows down, and catch a whiff of my Dad’s unfiltered Salem.

 

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.

44 replies on “TimmyDaddy: Family Dynamics – 70s Style”

  1. Fantastic read, Tim! Makes me nostalgic for our many rides to and from the Elks pool, where we “vacationed” while growing up in Somerville, NJ with all the Riehman clan!

  2. Fantastic read, Tim! Makes me nostalgic for our many rides to and from the Elks pool, where we “vacationed” while growing up in Somerville, NJ with all the Riehman clan!

  3. Omg, Tim, this is so true! We had the same type of station wagon, wood paneling and all! No DVDs, cup holders, snacks, etc. somehow we would survive 4+ hr drives without killing each other. I think my mother had eternal patience!

  4. Omg, Tim, this is so true! We had the same type of station wagon, wood paneling and all! No DVDs, cup holders, snacks, etc. somehow we would survive 4+ hr drives without killing each other. I think my mother had eternal patience!

  5. I love when I can read something and smile from start to finish… I grew up with only 3 children and ‘Grandma,’ who lived with us. But your article brought back a flood of memories from the 70’s and long drives with carloads of kids and adults, windows open, and no seatbelts. And yes, … “t’s hard not be nostalgic for simpler times.”

  6. I love when I can read something and smile from start to finish… I grew up with only 3 children and ‘Grandma,’ who lived with us. But your article brought back a flood of memories from the 70’s and long drives with carloads of kids and adults, windows open, and no seatbelts. And yes, … “t’s hard not be nostalgic for simpler times.”

  7. Fantastic! Things changed slightly in the 80’s when I had my Sony Walkman. And oh yeah the box of mixed cassette tapes at my feet! Keep them coming!

  8. Fantastic! Things changed slightly in the 80’s when I had my Sony Walkman. And oh yeah the box of mixed cassette tapes at my feet! Keep them coming!

  9. Our version of the family wagon was an enormous Cadillac. I would stand on the “hump” on the floor in the back of the car, lean over the front seat, and place my hand on my Mom’s shoulder while she was driving. I once choked on a Lifesaver on the drive back from Cape Cod to NJ – my mom tossed the candies out the window, and that was it for snacks in the car.

  10. Our version of the family wagon was an enormous Cadillac. I would stand on the “hump” on the floor in the back of the car, lean over the front seat, and place my hand on my Mom’s shoulder while she was driving. I once choked on a Lifesaver on the drive back from Cape Cod to NJ – my mom tossed the candies out the window, and that was it for snacks in the car.

  11. The LTD was always clean too, somehow (compared to my current and much smaller family wagon). Simpler times indeed. Eating and drinking in the car was never even considered. Only smoking and second hand smoking was allowed.
    -Brother Bill
    Way-Back alum.

    1. It’s funny you bring up eating in the car. A few years ago, I was with my dad and son, Evan. Evan started choking on skittles in the back seat. After Evan was OK my dad started yelling at me, “why do you let your kids eat in the car”. Never put two and two together that eating in the car never really happened in the 70’s.

  12. The LTD was always clean too, somehow (compared to my current and much smaller family wagon). Simpler times indeed. Eating and drinking in the car was never even considered. Only smoking and second hand smoking was allowed.
    -Brother Bill
    Way-Back alum.

    1. It’s funny you bring up eating in the car. A few years ago, I was with my dad and son, Evan. Evan started choking on skittles in the back seat. After Evan was OK my dad started yelling at me, “why do you let your kids eat in the car”. Never put two and two together that eating in the car never really happened in the 70’s.

  13. On point once again Tim! We went through 2 LTD’s solid blue and then the rite of passage woody! Oh and the smoke as if a cracked window helped at all but road trips with blankets and pillows in the way back in the middle of the night – our kids will never know. Thanks for sharing!

  14. On point once again Tim! We went through 2 LTD’s solid blue and then the rite of passage woody! Oh and the smoke as if a cracked window helped at all but road trips with blankets and pillows in the way back in the middle of the night – our kids will never know. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Did anyone get a station wagon handed down to them as their first car? Mine was a 1974 Dodge Dart. I still miss that baby.

  16. Did anyone get a station wagon handed down to them as their first car? Mine was a 1974 Dodge Dart. I still miss that baby.

  17. Kupe–mine was a shared car but when I first started driving at 16 we rolled in the LTD’s replacement–a Chevy Impala (maybe 1980?), aka the Big Blue Whale. With no wood on the side it seemed positively sleek.

  18. Kupe–mine was a shared car but when I first started driving at 16 we rolled in the LTD’s replacement–a Chevy Impala (maybe 1980?), aka the Big Blue Whale. With no wood on the side it seemed positively sleek.

  19. Kupe, I got more info on the Impala wagon from my eldest brother Mike. It was a 1979 and my dad bought it used from the Red Cross. Who BUYS a car from the Red Cross?? Apparently we Sullivans do. And I think it is official, the comments have trumped the article. I love it.

    1. I was thinking 80’s was too late for the old style Impala. I had no idea the Red Cross sold cars. I would love to know what he paid for that.

  20. Kupe, I got more info on the Impala wagon from my eldest brother Mike. It was a 1979 and my dad bought it used from the Red Cross. Who BUYS a car from the Red Cross?? Apparently we Sullivans do. And I think it is official, the comments have trumped the article. I love it.

    1. I was thinking 80’s was too late for the old style Impala. I had no idea the Red Cross sold cars. I would love to know what he paid for that.

  21. Tim, looking at this photo from Memorial Day 1975, it occurred to me we would soon be listening to such classics as John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a country boy” and the Captain and Tennille’s “Love will keep us together” in the LTD as we made our way to Barnegat Light, NJ that summer. Good times.

  22. Tim, looking at this photo from Memorial Day 1975, it occurred to me we would soon be listening to such classics as John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a country boy” and the Captain and Tennille’s “Love will keep us together” in the LTD as we made our way to Barnegat Light, NJ that summer. Good times.

  23. I was just a wayward way-back kid. Seatbelts? Ha. But what about those zany hard as nails wires popping out of the seats, hmmm? I still have nightmares!

  24. I was just a wayward way-back kid. Seatbelts? Ha. But what about those zany hard as nails wires popping out of the seats, hmmm? I still have nightmares!

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