Journey’s End 1971: Part Two

by John Delach

Guest Blog by Mary Ann Delach

The spring of 1971 was a stressful time in my life, trapped at home with a toddler and a new born on a bare-bones budget. Imagine my delight when Helen asked me if we’d be interested in vacationing with them at Journey’s End. Having the opportunity to get away with Helen who had become a good and supportive friend was special but when John lost his job, not having him for most of the week was a bummer. I cajoled my mother, Dorothy, to join me and help care for Beth and Michael. Dorothy drove but that also meant my grandmother, Catherine, who lived with Mom would be part of the entourage.


We had to explain to Mr. and Mrs. Rilling that we had two additional adults with us plus our dog. The ladies only cost us an additional $10 each but the bounty on Woofie was $20.


Catherine slept in master bedroom, while the rest of us shared the living room. Dorothy slept at one end on a Murphy bad, Beth and Michael in two cribs and I was consigned to a narrow single bed in the corner that doubled as a sofa during the day. Are we having fun, yet?


Helen’s fourth, Karen was also an infant just a couple of months older than Michael. Ann, her oldest, was eight, Bill, seven and Rita, three. Beth adored her cousins and couldn’t get enough of them. During the day, we would put the two babies to sleep in carriages under a tree near the pool while the older kids played. This gave us the chance to talk while smoking cigarettes and keeping one eye on the pool and the other on the babies. Our mothers would help by pushing carriages along the dirt “country road.”


Helen’s mother, Helen, aka, Big Aunt Helen, lived with the Markey family and it was not uncommon for the mothers to escape for a civilized lunch away from the fray providing us with a new sin of envy / hate. Some of the time they left Catherine on the front porch to her own devices. That didn’t sit well at all. Catherine enjoyed a drink now and then, especially Cold Duck or Southern Comfort. Dorothy decided to appease her with a couple of miniature bottles she bought at a souvenir store. My mother took the label to read Southern Comfort. Unfortunately, the look-alike label was for Northern Comfort, 100% Vermont maple syrup. She served it to grandma in a glass over the rocks. Catherine took a taste and exclaimed, “It’s a little sweet, Dorothy.”


One day Helen, Don and I ferried the six kids to Santa Land. What could go wrong, did go wrong. They sold animal feed from machines where one put in a quarter and turned a knob that dispensed animal food into a hopper that you caught with your hand. It seemed like a good idea at the time but, as usual ended in tears as feed spilled on the ground, animals were aggressive or the older kids threw it at the younger ones.


What stood out that visit was this chap, a total stranger, who saw Michael asleep in his stroller. He came close to look at Michael and exclaimed to me, “That is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen.”


Times were beginning to change but shopping and the choice of take-out remained limited. Few fast food outlets had yet to arrive but there was a Howard Johnson just across the river and their ice cream was a major treat. Back in the day, Howard Johnson was the nations eatery on the go and in many ways, they were the king of the road. By the early Seventies, they were losing their edge. Their food remained decent, but their service was awful.


There was a store in town called “Shop-o-rama.” We used this name to coin a new expression to describe bad days when we were at our wits end and the whip was flying. “This place is like being in a whip-o-rama.


Because Howard Johnson continued to operate more like a restaurant with take-out limited to ice cream, meals on the go weren’t yet available. Margaret Rilling ran a weekly spaghetti dinner that guests had to sign up for in advance, so she could have an accurate count. Besides the pasta, it included hamburgers, hot dogs, corn, Cole slaw and strawberry shortcake for dessert.


Washing was a must and the coin operated laundry was at the south end of Brattleboro, VT just across from the railroad station and bus terminal. The Giant Store, an early supermarket, became the place where Helen and I did most of our shopping.


On my own, without John, I had to exist only on the money he left me (setting aside what I could cajole from my mother.) Without a local bank account, the money you had in your pocket was all there was: no super market cards, no debit cards and no ATMs. What you had was all you had.


The electronic age was light years away. None of the cabins had phones and God forbid anyone asked the Rillings to use their phone unless it was a matter of life and death. The only place where I could call John was from a pay phone at the Sand & Sea Motel on Route 9 at the end of the dirt road. We had to agree on a set time for these calls otherwise making contact would be a disaster. Fortunately, we both kept the schedule, so I got through. If not, it was impossible to let him know I was trying to contact him.


Living with a toddler and an infant, my mother and grandmother made my head spin and it is safe to say that I was thrilled when John arrived early on the next Friday morning bearing a box of Dunkin Donuts.


All and all, despite the whip-o-rama, it was a wonderful experience making me look forward to a less hectic return visit.