When I was growing up my Grandparents, Papa and Granny, were the center of my world. They were kind, caring, active and were always our escape from day-to-day life. When I was 11, we moved from Jacksonville, FL to Tallahassee, FL. This meant there was now 3 hours between me and my Papa and Granny. We were poor and although it was only 3 hours, this distance felt like we’d have to travel to another planet to visit them. I could never understand why my Mom would say we couldn’t go more often because the tires may not make it. Uh? We drove around town on those tires every day! I now understand that we only bought retreads and driving on the interstate that far would not have been smart. Isn’t it amazing how your perspective changes when you’re older and wiser?
Shortly after we moved to Tallahassee, I remember Mom told us we would have a week-long visit with Papa and Granny in Jacksonville. Yes! I don’t remember how we got there. I do however, distinctly remember driving down Jammes Rd into the Cedar Hills area and Papa pointing to an RV and saying, “boy, that must be so nice to have”. We talked about what it must be like to drive one of those and sleep in it! You see, we’d been camping in the back of his pick-up truck with a topper for many years. He’d made beds from plywood that were hinged on either side of the truck bed and then one at the front that went parallel to the cab. These three fold-down beds, together with one person sleeping on the floor in the middle meant me, my brother Clete, and Papa and Granny could camp just fine!
As we rounded the corner to their house that day there was a monstrous RV in the driveway. You know how things always look larger when you’re a child? Well, yes, at the time it seemed monstrous! It was a Winnebago Brave (the smallest one they made). But to us, this was monstrous and we’d struck gold for sure! I remember Clete and I running out of the car and jumping in the RV to see the palace we’d be camping in. It was magical as Papa showed us the beds, how we’d sleep in the pull-down bunk above the driver’s seat or on the dinette that made a bed. No more plywood fold down beds in the truck for us!
Over the years, the “hump” between the driver and passenger seats created MANY arguments between my Brother and me. We both wanted that special seat! Because, you remember back then, seat belts were just for decoration!
There are so many memories in the Winnie to tell you, but I’ll stick to the one that is most relevant right now. Papa and Granny eventually joined the Du-Bol Winnies. It was the local chapter of the Winnebago Owners Club (WIT). This meant, we would camp with other Winnebago owners! Of course, Clete and I had no idea what that meant, but we knew it meant going and doing so we were in!
Our lives in Tallahassee were hard day-to-day. There was never extra money for many things and living paycheck to paycheck and on welfare caused stress for us and our Mom. Mom did a great job raising us despite our financial issues, but the reality was that any break from these stresses was a much needed vacation.
Over the years, we would camp with the Du-Bol Winnies and have big breakfasts, dinners, games and travel in a caravan. Papa would have the CB Radio tuned to the common channel and we could talk back and forth. The members were generally all Grandparents and for some campouts we’d organize that people would bring their Grandkids. We had a blast! Can you imagine going camping with 20+ sets of Grandparents at one time? It was common for my Papa go to go Burger King and get the crown hats and then he’d pass them out to the kids willing to be servers at the meals. Are you kidding? I get to be fussed over by all of these Grandparents and wear a crown??? To say it was magical is an understatement!
On some occasions, Papa would use the Burger King crowns for Father’s Day, Mother’s Day or whatever he could invent to make everyone feel special!
There was one couple that were members, Linda and Charlie Hunter, and one time they described how they were developing an area in Florida where you would park your RV and use the RV only for sleeping. There would be an outside living area where you could cook and hang out and then go back inside the RV only at night. This sounded like another planet to me! Well, oddly enough, now, this is so common! They were quite the trailblazers apparently!
Papa eventually went on to be the President of the local Du-Bol Winnies from 1981-1983. This was a very long tenure considering the normal service was for one year. He loved every minute of it! He would pull a trailer that was loaded with cooking ingredients, a huge griddle, games and other stuff the group would use during our campouts. We’d wake-up early and get the griddle hot and begin cooking pancakes with sausage. And, I’d wear my Burger King crown and be adored by all of those Grandparents!
He and Granny kept the Winnebago Brave for many years and then traded to a Chief! Larger, better…. yep… that was amazing! He would bring the “winnie” everywhere! Campouts at the Florida Sheriff’s Boys Ranch, our house, Wild Waters in Silver Springs and many others. He loved it! I remember my Granny prepping for travel. Papertowels between items in the cabinets that would rattle (I do this now), removing things from the counter tops (yep, we do that too), storing some items in the oven and microwave (yep, we do that too) and helping Papa do a brake light check!
Now, the full circle part of the story.
Roger and I are owners of an RV. We started with tent camping, then a pop-up, then a trailer, then a larger trailer, then a fifth wheel, then a larger fifth wheel, then a motorhome, then a larger motorhome, then another…. Well, you get it.
We now travel the country in a Newmar Dutch Star. Until recently, Newmar was a privately owned company. In the past few weeks, they sold the business to Winnebago (by choice). Much like Winnebago (and other manufacturers), the Newmar owners organize membership groups that are centered around various geographies. There are the Florida Chaptesrs that include names like Sea Turtles and Manatees and other chapters for other areas. Because we live in our coach full-time, we are members of the Full Timers Chapter. We can join the “local chapters” as well, but have not done so yet.
This week was the Newmar International Rally in Syracuse, New York and we attended this rally along with 475 other coaches made by Newmar. It was incredible to see so many coaches like us! Everyone was so friendly and welcoming and we made many new friends. There was a special meaning for me because I used to go to rally’s with my Papa and Granny and now here I am as an RV owner at my own Rally!
We attended organized seminars, meals, entertainment and had time to meet and greet to make new friends. One night at one of our dinners we were sitting at a table with new friends and I overheard one of the couples talking and he said “Du-Bol Winnies”! What?! Of course, I jumped into that conversation :). Yep, it turns out, they had been members of the Du-Bol Winnies in the early 2000’s before they got their Newmar. We had a great time reminiscing about the club and me sharing my stories and them sharing the new(er) stories. Can you believe it? I’ve lived this life as a child, then grow up to get my own RV, then join a similar organization and then meet someone at a New York Rally that was in the same club as my Papa and Granny in Jacksonville, FL?!
Our set-up at the New York State Fairgrounds parked us with 475 Newmars!
The rally experience would have been amazing on its own. But, with my special memories it was magical and I don’t use that word lightly! We made some great new friends and plan to visit some of them in the coming months while we’re on the road.
Here’s to you finding your full-circle moments in life and slowing down to enjoy them!