THIS IS THE TIME of year that Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy packed up their cheaper-by-the-dozen brood and went on vacation. Our family of five tried that this year. It didn't work.


Station wagon filled with basics for a week in the country: portable TV, bedding, high hopes. Drive to secluded retreat in northern Shenandoah Mountains. "Access to two lakes and swimming pool," said the ad describing our "chalet." Find pool located just off gravel parking lot. Lakes nowhere in site. "Chalet" is a mile up the highway, down a broken stone road and left at oblivion.

Gentle proprietor leads us inside A-frame "chalet" Very compact. Very. Sleeps eight, we are told. True as far as it goes. Actually sleeps two on main level. Smokes six (as in hams) in ultra-hot loft. Children skeptical. Parents sullen as they kiss $50 deposit goodbye and consider other plans. Three hours into blissful August holiday, clouds gathering on horizon.

Make a decision to spend night in West Virginia. No vacancies in Martinsburg. Take major gamble and head for Hagerstown. Find motel with pool. Cash two bonds to pay for room. Fill kids with $15 worth of fast food and go to sleep at 9 P.M.


$18 breakfast. Weep as children ignore French toast, sausage and orange juice. Take children to pool. Not a swimmer myself, I stay at tot pool with 3 1/2-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. A very nice time until son gets hot and tired. Spend next two hours alone with son in motel room watching him sleep.

Later, gather family and drive across street to grocery store. Buy $20 worth of lunch meat, cookies, juice and cooler to keep it in. Make secret pledge to have a bid day on Monday at Hershey Park.


Raining. Gloom. Room is tangle of clothes, newspapers, food containers and children, leaping from bed to bed. As tension builds, consider what Hi and Lois would do in a case like this. Decide Nick and Nora Charles would just pack up and go home. We do.

Trip is uneventful, but arriving home at 10:30 Monday morning from a vacation that had begun Saturday afternoon seems wrong. Stop at Tyson's Corner and visit toy stores. Spirits improve. Arrive home to $20 lunch. Take son for first $5 barbershop haircut. Beginning to have very angry thoughts about state of economy.


More rain. Decide to visit bookstore. Very expensive decision. Discover some real bargains in biography section. Purchase books on Aaron Burr, Winston Churchill and Robert La Follette for a total of $12. Good news. Bad news, discovered while unwrapping books at home, is that I have just purchased Volume II in life history of each man. Begin to understand meaning of midlife crisis, but can't think of another Myrna Loy movie to help ease pain.


Can no longer recall what we did on Wednesday, but sure it cost plenty and was done in the rain.

Had considered going to King's Dominion. Price of admission, plus cost of food, plus cost of gas, plus anticipated emotional anguish at cost of inevitable souvenirs cause shift in plans.

Spouse and daughters spend day at local swimming pool while son and I nap at home. Have saved lots of money. Save lots more by taking family to budget steak house for dinner. Satisfied that meal costs less than one served at Palmer House. However, become despondent when TV commercial makes me see that I could have bought Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs for 29 people.


Take children to chase geese at local farm. On way home, stop at K-Mart to buy tennies for son. Tennies end up costing $42 when all children get them and I O.D. on blue light specials. Items purchased will keep house insect free and kitchen organized for years.


Vacation near its end. Shortly after 2 p.m., decide to take kids for a ride. Three blocks from house, notice sign saying, "Ronald McDonald is coming." Almost escape unscathed when suddenly Ronald McDonald drives by on way to his show. After sreeching U-turn, spend next 40 minutes in parking lot watching Ronald and Hamburger amuse vast throng.

In the evening, finally go for a short ride. Angry hornet zooms through open car window and bites me in approximate area of right thigh.

Next year, will vacation in Azores. Probably cheaper.