Family Road Trips: Well-Traveled, Cherished Memories of Days Gone By

Growing up as a kid in Texas, June was the most enjoyable month of the year.  The next school day was months away.  Hallelujah!  The neighborhood pool was open.  Hallelujah!  It was a time for daily Slurpees, cannonballs, can-openers and belly flops off of the high dive, zinc oxide, suntans and sunburns. Pure heavenly joy.  Summer break is Fort Bend Strong.

Late June was usually the month for the annual Olson family vacation. The trip was the same for nearly a decade. We would leave home for two weeks. Our station wagon was bursting with our “necessities” for the seventeen-hour drive to my Dad’s family in southeastern Wisconsin. The first day was always the longest – ten to twelve hours to “put the worst behind us.” Departure was on Saturday morning at 6 am, so my dad could beat the rush hour traffic.  (I never questioned the heavy traffic on Saturday morning logic.)  My sister, brother and I were walking zombies in our pajamas, loading into the station wagon around 6 am with the back seats folded down to make a mobile playground/battlefield.

After thirty minutes, our brains would start functioning at a very low level. All we could focus on was personal space; we each wanted as much as we could get.  Ten to twelve hours in a car puts a premium on comfort and room.  After one hour on the road, we would attempt to draw our “property lines.”  We would use our fingers to draw an imagery “property line” on the folded back seats. The three of us marked off every square inch on the playground/battlefield.  The family dog was relegated to the top of the Igloo cooler.  Without fail, there would be the first “transgression.” Maybe my brother Mike’s foot would be on my “clearly marked property.”  I would retaliate by pushing him off with a bonus poke into his ribs.  He would let out a shout of pain.  Within minutes, he would accuse our sister, Kris, of invading his space – another push and poke. Another transgression meant another push and poke and another scream in pain.  We became out of control.

My sweet Dad hoped he could stop the pandemonium with a verbal threat: “I can’t take this for twelve hours. If you kids don’t shut up and stop the fighting, I’m going to pull the car over and stop it myself.” We got quiet for five minutes, and then we reverted back to pushing and poking each other.  Then came the first punch.  We starting punching anything we could hit.  The dog would take a few wild punches.  The tears started to flow.  Dad would calmly put the right turn signal on, pull over on the shoulder, put the car into pack, and explode!  He flew around the front of the car, ripped open the door to back, and grabbed the first ankle he could find.  We kids were in full self-preservation mode.  The three of us would scramble to the back of the car.  We pushed the dog, the cooler, our pillows – anything – to keep us out of Dad’s grip and wrath.  Whoever Dad grabbed first got yanked out of the car with fingernails futilely scratching across the hard seat back.  He would hold “the victim” up by the arms for all the passing traffic to see, and then give “the victim” a quick spanking.  He would fire “the victim” back into the car, calmly walk around the car, get in, put his left turn signal on, put the car in drive and pull back on the highway.  He did not talk for hours. And that was it.

For some reason, as we got older and had our own kids, we relish the memories of those trips. We laugh until our stomachs hurt remembering the idiotic bewilderment we had when Dad finally reached his limit and stopped the fighting. We cherish the memories of bologna sandwiches or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches soaked in the melting ice in our cooler. Kris, Mike and I would loudly sing “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall” from 99 to zero. It took us nearly an hour to finish. Auto bingo was competition central.  We would slyly see what was left on others’ cards and try to distract them if one of us saw the bingo before the others saw it. Those memories made my family strong. Those memories we all have make us Fort Bend Strong.

Kate encountering the American Alligator at Brazos Bend State Park.

Summer vacations do not have to be two days on the road for hundreds of miles, cramped into a car, to spend quality family time together.  Fort Bend has great family activities that are only an hour or so away.  If you want to take the family camping, we have the best park in the Texas State Park System at Brazos Bend State Park. Our park has camping sites if you want to pitch a tent, powered sites if you want have a trailer or cabins if you prefer something a little more “civilized.” There are many hiking and biking trails in our park. Our park is known as the “Home of the American Alligator.” Hopefully, you see why as my daughter, Kate, did a few years ago.  If you do not mess with them, they will not mess with you. The park’s website,, has all of the information you need to plan your family adventure.  Brazos Bend Park is Fort Bend Strong.

Is your family full of daredevils? No ride is too fast or too high for the group? Maybe you want to jump out of an airplane at thirteen thousand feet and return to solid ground in less than two minutes? If so, Skydive Spaceland is just the adventure you are looking for. Kate and I did it in 2015 to celebrate her eighteenth birthday! A lot of you know a Fort Bend icon and former Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Betty Baitland.  Ask Betty about the thrill of skydiving.  She’s seventy-seven years young.  Recently, she did the same dive Kate and I did. Interested? in Rosharon has all of the answers you want.  (Warning for parents – be careful promising your three-year old child that you will skydive with her when she turns eighteen. You will forget. She will not!)

Celebrating the big 18: Kate and I skydiving.

Maybe your family is more “normal” than mine. If your family prefers to stay in the air conditioning, and your kids are not allergic to learning during the summer break, I have some suggestions that are enjoyable and not overcrowded with long lines. The Lone Star Flight Museum (LSFM) is a great place for summer adventure and education. The museum has flight simulators for the pilots in your family. LSFM just received the actual Space Shuttle approach and landing simulator from NASA.  The museum has a massive collection of historic aircraft. Being a former Naval Aviator, my two favorites have deep ties to Texas and the Navy – the B-25 Mitchell Army bomber and the TBF Avenger Navy torpedo bomber. Both planes made history launching off aircraft carriers. The B-25 was never supposed to takeoff from a carrier, but our desperation to show the world that America would beat Imperial Japan after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor forced us to do the impossible. Led by Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, sixteen B-25s took off from the USS HORNET and struck Tokyo on April 18, 1942. Colonel Doolittle’s copilot was a friend and a Texan, Dick Cole. The Lone Star Flight Museum has an exact replica of Dick’s B-25.  And, it still can fly!

The Avenger was the plane that LTJG George H.W. Bush was flying when he was shot down over Chi Chi Jima on September 2, 1944.  After floating in the water for hours while being strafed by Japanese, LTJG Bush was picked up by the submarine, USS FINBACK.  Here’s a black-and-white video of the rescue on the FINBACK – If that pilot had died, he would not have become our 41st President.  And his son would never have become our 43rd president.  There’s real Avenger at our Lone Star Flight Museum that is an exact replica of POTUS 41’s warbird.

I recently was asked to serve on the Board of Directors for the Lone Star Flight Museum. Please email me if you have questions or want to check out

Sadly, you would have to cut down a small forest of pine trees to have enough paper for my ideas for your summer vacation in or near Fort Bend. Here’s some of my other thoughts: The Houston Zoo (, the Houston Holocaust Museum (, the Czech Center Museum Houston ( – “Bez prace – nej su kolae” – “Without work, there are no kolaches” – quote from former Rosenberg Mayor Joe Gurecky), the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum (, Typhoon Texas Waterpark (, jet skis in Clear Lake and Tookies restaurant in Seabrook afterward, or see a gusher at the Spindletop Gladys City Boomtown in Beaumont.

I hope you have a great start to summer with family. Please email me at with your ideas for a local, family vacations. Even with the occasional poking, punching and spankings, these times together are irreplaceable.  They make our families Fort Bend Strong!